When I was in the seventh grade, I should have asked the girl in my English class to our school dance. When I was in college, I should have been more persistent and found a way to pay for the cost of a semester studying in Manchester, England.
In my mid-twenties, I should have stood up sooner to a bully manager who treated his team like hired servants. In my thirties, I should have taken more time off from work when my kids were born. (I took time off, but I should have forgot about checking email and voice messages until I returned to work.) In my forties, I should have learned how to let worries fall off my back.
In the grand scheme of things, my regrets are minor. We spend our lives running from this to that. We turn 13 and can’t wait for our birthday so that we’re another year closer to 16. If not old enough to drive, then we want to turn 18 or 21-years-old. We get a new job and can’t wait for a promotion.
If we don’t watch, it’s over before it even started.
My regrets may be small, but they still get me thinking. In particular, a healthcare worker I know who regularly works with the elderly talks a lot about some of the regrets she hears from her patients. Some are what you might expect, some not:
- They wish that they didn’t spend so much of their lives working.
- They wish they had done a better job in the moment telling their loved ones how they really felt.
- They wish they stayed in touch with friends.
- They wish they listened more to themselves than others expectations.
- And finally, they wish they had learned how to be happy with what they had.
I’ve seen variations of this list in the news, but they’re all generally in the same ballpark. I look at these and I want to cry — not for my myself — but for the lonely and for those who never really lived.
Turning back time
Oh I have my failures and decisions that I would love to go back in time for a “do-over” and the sarcastic prankster in me jokes that I’m going to be early goner, because I’m such an introvert and am horrible at staying in touch with my friends.
However, when I take an introspective look at my life, I feel strongly that the decisions I’ve made — rightly or wrongly — were made with the best of intentions. They might not have worked out. I may have missed out on certain opportunities or even cost myself more dollars in the long run, but I gave it my best. I made a decision on what I had at that moment and moved on. I’m not sure you can do much better than that.
Trading in regrets for thank yous
In the end, I feel extremely fortunate. I may not have everything I want, but I certainly have everything I need.
I’m grateful that in my teens, I came to understand that education was my ticket to a better life. I learned to value education and challenge myself. I’m grateful that in college I had a chance to find myself, find what I believed in, and come to value what made me special. I could go with the flow or I could be me.
I’m grateful that in my twenties, I found my best friend and soulmate. (Probably the best discovery of my life.)
I’m grateful that in my thirties we got married and created three beautiful, smart offspring. (Thanks to the grace of God and nothing from me, they are everything that’s right in the world.)
I’m grateful in my forties that my wife understands that I’m a work in progress and sticks with me through both the good and the bad, the crazy and not-so crazy moments. I’m grateful that I’m given a chance every day to start anew, praise God, and build a good life.
In the words of English author Victoria Holt (Eleanor Hibbert), “Never regret. If it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it’s experience.” I’m not sure I could describe it any better.