When I was in graduate school, I had a professor who, at one time, worked with terminally ill patients. He told us that there were two types of patients: those who were ready to go, and those weren’t. The difference? Regrets.
We all have regrets. The secret is to get through life with as few of them as possible.
But how do we do that? Close your eyes and imagine that today were your last day on earth, and then ask yourself, what do I regret the most?
While pondering this question myself, here are a few things that came up for me:
Mind your words
They can cause untold damage and you can never take them back.
Don’t regret the things you never got around to doing
If you don’t have a Bucket List, make one up now. Make it a point to accomplish at least one item from your list every year (make it part of your New Year’s resolution).
Back when I was an (amateur) endurance athlete, most of my Bucket List items revolved around races (mostly marathons). Now they include things like: doing the Sound of Music tour in Austria, eating pasta in Italy and jumping on a Pogo stick again. The one I checked off this year was seeing the Rolling Stones in concert. (And maybe Santa will bring me a Pogo Stick for Christmas!)
Learn to speak what’s on your mind
For many us, speaking what’s on our mind is not an issue. In fact, some of us could probably never envision a world in which we could not, would not, express our thoughts or feelings. For others of us, the thought of speaking our minds can be a terrifying proposition. Even for smart, successful, independent women.
This is something I struggled with for a good part of my life. And then one day, I got sick and tired of living in quiet resentment because I was too afraid to say what I was thinking or feeling. And I made a conscious decision to start speaking my mind.
But it wasn’t easy.
I started by asking myself, what’s the worst that can happen if I speak my mind (to my husband)? Answer: he might leave me (I’ve wrestled with fears of abandonment a good part of my life).
And then I asked myself, what’s the worst that could happen if he left me? Answer: I’d be sad—devastated even—but I’d be. . . okay. In fact, I’d be better off because, who wants to be with someone who doesn’t value my opinion? Answer: not me.
And so I chose my moment carefully, summoned the courage, and spoke my mind. He wasn’t happy, and he did walk out of the restaurant (we’d driven separately), but when he got home he acknowledged my feelings about the matter and canceled the plans he’d made without consulting me.
Disappoint others, but don’t disappoint yourself
In an episode of the new hit show Nashville, bad girl Juliette Barnes, starring Hayden Panettiere, plays a country star diva who is growing tired of doing what everyone expects of her. In this scene she’s sharing her thoughts with the sexy Deacon Claybourne, played by Charles Eston.
“I feel like I’m in a straightjacket. You do one thing they like, and they make you do it over and over. I just don’t know that I only want to be this girl who dances around in sparkly dresses with smoke billowing around her. It’s fun and I want to give my fans what they want, but . . . ”
“What?” Deacon asks.
“What if I decided to walk away from being that girl and nobody comes with me? What am I supposed to do?”
“I know it must be real scary thinking about losing everybody, but wouldn’t it be worse to lose yourself?”
Don’t let others tell you who you should be or what you should do, even if doing what makes you happy has the opposite reaction to someone you love. In the end, if you‘re happy, they will be, too. And if they’re not, you may need to reconsider the relationship.
Learn to forgive yourself
When it’s all said and done, no matter how hard we try to live our lives in a way that honors ourselves and those around us, we will still have regrets. Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn in life is to forgive ourselves.
It isn’t always enough to say, “Well, I did the best I could in the circumstances.” It may be true, but the truth might also be that we didn’t do the best we could. We may have made the wrong decision, hurt someone intentionally, or maybe we failed to take action that could’ve prevented harm to another.
Seek forgiveness: from the person you harmed, from the universe, and then forgive yourself. Know that if you could do it over again, you would do it differently. And then let it go.
Above all, live your life authentically. March to the beat of your own drum. Stop worrying about what others think of you. Stop living up to anyone’s expectations except your own.
And live your life with as few regrets as possible.
What about you? If today were your last day on earth, what regrets would you have?
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