As you get older, you think about what could have been. If complacent early in life, missed opportunities will eat away at you.
In our youth, we have the time and freedom to explore, grow, and learn. As we age, however, societal burdens and pressures increase, leaving less time (and opportunity) to change our current situation. This is not to say that it is hopeless if you are older, but rather to point out that it does become more difficult to change the older one is.
Regret is somewhat trivial in today’s society, as everyone finds it normal to complain and lament over every tiny situation. People regret everything; what they ate, who they dated, why they had a lapse in judgement, etc. These situations are low hanging fruit in the scheme of life, and long term stress or anxiety is unlikely to occur (although it can if you obsess on such things).
Regret shifts and becomes more troublesome as we age at begin to reflect on our past years and decades. It’s a different process when looking at the totality of one’s life, as opposed to a singular moment or task. This comes with aging, of course.
When one reflects on a long-lived life, you’ll see the clear picture of “what could have been.”
The older you get, the stronger the feelings of regret. Dwelling, to the point of obsession, becomes normal. You are truly unsettled reflecting on the missed opportunities and unrealized potential from your early years. At this point, the time to correct the action is gone. It’s too late.
The scope of this article will focus on regret in the form of lost opportunities, and less on the day-to-day regrets common in our younger days.
This article from Psychology Today explains the shift in regret over time:
Other research has compared regret over different time periods. Over short time periods, people are more likely to regret actions taken and mistakes made, whereas over long time periods, they are more likely to regret actions not taken, such as missed opportunities for love or working too hard and not spending enough time with family.
Lost opportunities become prevalent as we age and begin to obsess over actions not taken. It manifests fully when death is imminent.
Bronnie Ware cared for dying patients over the course of 8 years. During this time, she recorded the biggest regrets of the patients. She wrote a great book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, where she outlined the five most common regrets.
Here is the list:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I didn’t work so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
In an interview with Mindful, Bronnie discussed #1 above:
MF: In your book, the person who really encapsulated that first regret was Grace. You managed to get quite close to her. Can you tell me what that experience was like and what you learned from it?
BW: She was a woman who was in so much pain for not having given herself the life she wanted. It had a very profound effect on me. And she also made me promise, before she died, that I would live a life true to myself. I didn’t take that promise lightly. I knew that no matter how hard it would be to stay true to my own path—and it does take courage to do that—nothing could be as painful as lying on your deathbed with that regret. I was seeing it first hand.
What does it mean to live a life true to yourself?
It’s easy to fall in line and be comfortable.
Societal pressures are great. Peer pressure its even more influential. By living a life of comfort and convenience, you neglect yourself; specifically, your happiness and purpose.
No two people are alike. Thus, what sense does it make to use the people around you as a baseline for achievement and happiness? If everyone you know does something, does that make it the right decision? These are the types of questions you need to be asking yourself.
Most people’s wants stem from social conditioning. We simply want what we have been taught by our parents and educators. We want what our friends and co-workers have, because they seem happy. More importantly, we want to make everyone else happy, but we end of neglecting ourselves in the process.
You will be liberated when you discern what you want out of life and take the necessary steps to get there. You will surmise that those around you are irrelevant. They are living an unfulfilled, debt-ridden life full of high stress and anxiety. They rushed into life decisions because of social pressure and a desire to please those around them. Now, among the walking dead, they have assumed their place in society as lackeys, drones in the army of the average. One day they will reflect on life and marvel at the missed opportunities; the complete disregard of the self. Or maybe, they won’t even realize it. The latter might be preferable.
What does life mean to you?
Think about this. Really think of it.
What does life mean to YOU?
We live and we die, granted an undetermined lifespan; the privilege of existence.
What will consume you?
Will you spend your days enjoying life’s great gifts, or in the rat race that most call a life?
Will you live the dream of someone else, sacrificing your dreams and desires? Or will you stand up and take charge of your own life?
Do you work just to work? Do you really want to spend 30+ years sitting at a desk? Taking orders from someone else? Capped financially?
Leaving Behind Mediocrity
Inaction runs deep. Once you cave in to societal pressures, you become less and less likely to make a major change.
Buy a house?
Good luck leaving that boring, soul-sucking job and pursuing meaningful desires. It becomes all the more difficult as your list of responsibilities grows; you become dependent on the paycheck due to massive financial obligations.
Overwhelming obligations combined with debt are equal to modern day slavery.
Most people you pass in the streets are miserable. Swimming in coffee, they walk around with their heads to the ground, hustling to their office or cubicle. There they sit all day, barely moving for hours, to do a job they can’t stand.
The rat race of corporate America is the epitome of the herd mentality. These people once had everything ahead of them; anything they desired. They sold away their hopes and dreams to please others. They settled for a paycheck over happiness and fulfillment. Now, deadlines, stress, and emptiness rule their lives. Don’t let that be you.
Those who settle in life are also excuses makers. They are negative people and will eat away at you until you sucumb and drop down to their level. You’ll hear things like:
You got to do what you got to do
It is what is it!
What are you gonna do?
Worst yet, miserable people are desperate for partners in misery. They want you to join their ranks so you can “see what it’s like.” It makes them feel better about their choice, or lack thereof. Don’t give in.
It’s never too late to make a positive change, but it does become much more difficult. It takes more self-discipline and resiliency. If you are young AND you have avoided major life commitments, you are in the best place possible. I am 29, and blessed that I realize the importance of quality of life and fulfillment, and the devotion to myself, now and forever.
Live life on your own terms. Make calculated, positive ROI decisions that blend happiness with ambition. Life is short, but that doesn’t mean you need to rush through it.
Enjoy your youth and the freedom hat comes with it. Identify opportunities that interest you and pursue them. Try, fail, and try again. This is the essence of fulfillment and the antithesis of lost opportunities.
I’ll leave you with the below infographic from Addicted2Success. It lists 10 regrets of the dying with a graphic and brief explanation of each.
Here they are (no surprises):
- I never pursued my dreams and aspirations
- I worked too much and never made time for my family
- I should have made more time for my friends
- I should have said “I love you” more
- I should have spoken my mind more instead of holding back
- I should have been the bigger person and resolved my conflicts
- I wish I had children
- I should have saved more money
- I wish I had the courage to live truthfully
- I wish I realized happiness was a choice
Reflect deeply on these points and on your own life. Meet me below the Infographic for the wrap-up
This graphic really hit home for me. I realized how I have neglected a handful of the items above. I worked diligently to plug the gaps and focus on those areas in which I had created a void.
- Do any of these regrets represent a void I need to work to fill?
- What (if any) missed opportunities consumes me?
It pains me to see people who have given up on life. Make no mistake; if you have sold away your dreams and aspirations to chase quick money, or have sold away your life to please others, you have given up.
You may be successful on paper (good job/high earner), but that doesn’t make the voids any less severe. These people can be easily classified; bored, unhappy, anxious, and fearful. This cumulative effect takes hold as the years drag by; years of inaction and missed opportunities.
I hope this article resonates deeply with you. My goal isn’t to scare you or chastise your decisions, but to spark reflection on what truly matters TO YOU!
Remember: You alone decide the path of your life; to live a life true to yourself, on your own terms, and free from the wants and desires from others, however well-intended they may be.
Action today means a lack of regret tomorrow!
Find yourself today.
For when you close your eyes for the last time, your life, extinguished; you will be going in peace, absent the heavy heart and clouded mind of your peers, and the many misguided souls who have come before you.
Live and live well my friends.
Do you struggle with regret? Obsess over missed opportunities? Or, maybe you embrace challenge and change; always chasing fulfillment? Let me know in the comments!
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