“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.” – Steve Jobs
They say that hindsight is always 20/20. As time goes by, we gradually gain the objectivity to interpret our experiences with heightened clarity. We may reflect on our feelings, the lessons we learnt and, more importantly, how we handled the situation. Did we conduct ourselves with dignity and wisdom or were we impulsive and reckless?
I recently listened to a riveting audio book that featured fundamental life lessons from elderly folks from all over the US. Renowned gerontologist Karl Pillemer conducted numerous interviews with men and women between the ages of 65 to 105, which he compiled in his book. He asked them for advice on salient life topics such as relationships, career, parenting, happiness and avoiding regrets.
It was both poignant and insightful to listen to the stories of pain, joy and struggle of these distinguished individuals who had lived through some particularly difficult eras in Western history, such as the Great Depression, World War II and the American Civil War. Yet they spoke with an endearing sense of grace, humility and nobility while traversing the highs and lows of their lives.
As I listened to the various snippets of narratives, I got an instant sense of the fleeting and fragile nature of life. In our youth, we are inclined to seeing ourselves as immortal and omnipotent, and we never really consider the finiteness of our lifetimes. It is a blind spot that we must be wary of because it could cause us to take each day for granted and become less deliberate about our choices and actions.
Once we acknowledge this truth on a visceral level and adopt a big picture perspective, we’ll be more inclined towards making responsible and conscious decisions. Of course, no amount of preparation can prevent us from occasionally faltering along the way, but we’ll find it easier to bounce back because we possess a long view of the road ahead.
The elders that Karl Pillemer interviewed admitted that there were a few things that they have regrets about, and they were keen on enlightening the youth of today on how to avoid falling into the same trap. Although they had feelings of melancholy surrounding their incidents of regret, you could tell that they were immensely grateful for having the opportunity to pass on their legacy before their demise.
Regret is indeed an unpleasant feeling that is toxic to our wellbeing, and it is something that should be swiftly treated as an emotional malady. If you have any existing regrets that you’re harboring, it’s essential that you find closure so that you can release the emotional charge behind it. This article provides some useful ideas on how to release any previous regrets that you may still be holding onto.
If you would like to avoid the possibility of facing major regrets in the future, the best way to circumvent it is by becoming cognizant of your tendencies and fortifying yourself with timeless wisdom. I’m a big believer in the potency of the priceless wisdom preached by sages and other knowledgeable and seasoned individuals.
Based on a combination of what I learned from the sagacious elders in Karl Pillemer’s book and other sources, I have put together a list of six important steps you can take to avoid a lifetime of regrets:
- Tell the people who matter that you love them: As emotional and social beings, it is essential that we express our heartfelt feelings to those we love and care about. Too many of us hold back from conveying our affections to others because we take our relationships for granted or we are fearful of being vulnerable. We also want to avoid deliberately hurting others because, at the end of our life, our conscience will condemn us for the harm that we’ve caused others. As the Dalai Lama once said, “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others and if we can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”
- Take sensible risks and get outside your comfort zone: Most of the elderly will tell you that they don’t regret what they have done but the things that they didn’t do when they had the chance. If we want to achieve great things in life, we can’t afford to be timid and settle for the status quo. We should be willing to step outside our proverbial comfort zone because that is where the magic happens. Prosperity comes to those who are willing to take chances and get comfortable with sensible risk taking. If you aren’t happy with where you are right now in your life, you should muster the courage and strength to alter your situation before you become apathetic about your mediocre existence.
- Travel and explore the world: There’s a big, wonderful world out there, filled with adventure and stimulation. Nothing can broaden your perspective and make you feel connected to humanity and nature as traveling does. During our limited time on this planet, we want to strategically cover as much territory as possible, while keeping our domestic life and finances in balance. Many of the elders in the book emphasized on the rewards of extensive travel, and encouraged people to go off on foreign escapades early on and not wait until their retirement years when there’s a chance of developing crippling physical ailments and disabilities.
- Live in the present moment: The strains of everyday existence can cause us to frequently slip into lapses of mental time travel. We could either get caught up in the forlorn emotions of past memories or in the eager anticipation of the future. It’s healthy (and even enjoyable) to reflect on the past and plan for the future in moderation. We want to be able stay within our limits so that we don’t miss out on the bountiful gifts of the present moment. We can extract all the goodness and wisdom from the present once we immerse ourselves into an experience and open ourselves up to the sensory pleasures on offer. If you want to learn more about how to live in the present moment, I highly recommend Eckhart Tolle’s seminal book, The Power of Now.
- Don’t take life too seriously: Life is serious business and does require us to show up and give it our best shot. Yet we can’t deny that it is those tender and light-hearted moments that we will remember and cherish later on in our lives. Laughter and play is crucial to our overall wellbeing and a life well lived. Ensure that you allocate sufficient time during your week to engage in fun activities and spend time with the people who can bring out your inner kid and help you appreciate the humorous side of life.
- Leave a legacy: At the end of your life, you want to be able to say that you left the world a better place. Perhaps you raised children who grew up to be responsible, moral and successful individuals. Maybe you founded a business that now provides jobs and supports numerous families. Or perhaps you championed a cause that was dear to your heart and your efforts were instrumental in creating substantial, positive change. The scale of your contribution doesn’t matter as long as it has your finger prints on it. Your actions will model authenticity and valor for the youth because you dared to live life based on your own terms.
Imagine yourself at the dusk your life, reflecting on your journey on planet Earth. In those moments, how would you like to feel about everything that has occurred? It might be a tad unpleasant to think of yourself as an old, wrinkly man or woman, but you’ll find that this kind of self-inquisition can offer you incredible perspective.
Perhaps it will encourage you to be more bold and daring in your decisions and actions, or maybe it will make you realize how privileged you are to be given this gift of life and be part of this extensive human family. My sincere hope is that you will receive this kind of breakthrough.
All my best on your journey,
Question for you: What are some things that you can begin to do today to avoid lifelong regrets later on in your life?
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