Monday 25 August 2014

Choices and regrets


Last Saturday we were invited to old friends of ours for a little dinner party. They are "old" in both senses of the word: Rich has known them for over 30 years, and their average age is somewhere in the 60s. I find it fortunate to have friends of that age, because you can see the other side of the story: what happens after the kids are grown up, retirement has started, and how to deal with the uncomfortable awareness of having lived more years than the ones that are left.

We had a delicious dinner, plenty of wine, and after they all settled in with their glasses of 12-year old scotch, one friend raised this question: "If you could do it all over again, what would you change? If you could do or have anything in the world, what would it be?"

Oh, how I love those questions. Unfortunately, not everyone shared my enthusiasm: half of the party declined to answer, and the other half was split between "I don't think like that" and claims of wanting to be in a movie with George Clooney, having a voice like Andrea Bocelli and winning the boxing world championships. 

The questioner wasn't that satisfied either, and it petered out before it was my turn. Not that anybody seemed that interested anyway - in their eyes I still have plenty of time to achieve my dreams, and you know what? They are right. 

All day yesterday I thought about choices, dreams, and missed opportunities. I am a firm believer in not having regrets about the past. We can't change it - whatever happened, even if we consider it to have been a mistake, I believe we can learn from it. Everybody makes mistakes - the trick is to not dwell on it and move on. 

When you look at people's paths in life, at lot of it seems determined by circumstance. We pick our friends amongst our classmates, neighbours and colleagues. Jobs are often chosen based on family expectations or history. Where we live, when we start families, even what house or car we buy - how much is really our free choice? Are we doing these things because our environment influences us, or because we really want to do them ourselves?
I realize that everybody is influenced by their surroundings, and by no means is that a bad thing. We all need role models and support. 
However, it does become a bad thing when you are suddenly 65 years old, and are hit by the realization that, if given the chance, you would go back in time and choose differently. Our friend worded it like that: "There are at least 5 or 6 instances where I would have liked to go left instead of right." 

Knowing what we really want in life is way harder than it seems. It involves a lot of soul searching, thinking, evaluating, and reflecting. During those busy years when we have jobs, spouses, children and mortgages, it is easy to avoid asking those questions. Who has the time? You have enough to do to get all those countless tasks done day after day. Asking yourself what you want from life seems like an indulgence, a question for people who have nothing better to do.

Nevertheless, I think it is so, so important to ask these questions. If you are happy where you are, that's wonderful! Contentment and happiness in yourself is the best thing there is, and something that we all strive for.

But maybe you sometimes get that nagging sense of "Is that it? Is that what my life is gonna look like?". Or a feeling of restlessness. Or you realize that you actually don't like your job at all, the neighbourhood you live in, or having to work all those extra hours just to be able to pay the mortgage on a house that's maybe too big and expensive for you?
What I'm trying to say is, if you get these little voices in your head, don't ignore them. Because they won't go away. As you get older, they will get more persistent. I have met so many people that have become bitter over the years, because they are stuck in a life that they don't like.

While I don't believe in regrets over things we have done, I do believe in regrets over things we haven't done. Missed opportunities can haunt you.


I once read the Top 5 regrets of the Dying, and it has stayed with me ever since. They are as follows:

- I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. 
- I wish I hadn't worked 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. 

Don't wait until it is too late. Learn from the mistakes others have made before us. Find out what makes you happy, and go for it! So that one day in 30 years, when someone asks you what you would change if you could, you can honestly say: "Nothing at all."

xoxo Miriam

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  1. I love this! I have only recently come to realize that I don't want to live with regrets. now before I make a decision I ask myself would I regret not doing this? If the answer is yes then I know I need to at least try.

  2. Such a lovely - and oh so true - post! Also, a very introspective (in a very good way) way to start the week :)
    I remember asking my grandpa once if there was anything he would change about his life. His response was something along the lines of "I have lived the life I was expected to lead...and you should do the same." Living outside those expectations has made me a bit of a black sheep, but it's so worth it! It is so much easier to live the life that's expected of you, but so much less satisfying. Thanks for the reminder that the best path is your very own :)

  3. Love this. I think this is why sometimes I would rather go on vacation even though the responsible part of me is saying we should save everything we can for our house. Because in 20 years I don't want to regret that I didn't take that trip or do that thing.

  4. I can't say that I have any regrets. Everyone goes through hard times in their life, but, the way I see it, if you learn something from it then it isn't ALL bad. I agree that the things you DON'T do are much more regretful. (WHOA... that's actually a word?!?! hahaha)

  5. My husband is going through this and it's now worse then a few years ago when he started questioning it. I have the same questions but not with the dread he feels some days. We are happy together but we know this is not where we want to be forever. We want to be our own boss, move to our dream home in the mountains... It WILL happen some day. This is a great post. So true.

  6. It can be overwhelming to think of what could have been done differently - regardless of age, but increasingly as we grow older. But if you can accept the choice you made, path you took, etc. I think it's easier to look forward and move ahead and not dwell on what could be regrets. This is a very thought provoking post! I really like the Top 5 Regrets of the Dying, and I love this line: "how to deal with the uncomfortable awareness of having lived more years than the ones that are left."

    Also - the Dumbledore quote = one of my all time favorites from HP.


  7. Oh man...great post! It's hard, it's hard to know if you are taking the right path or where you will end up. I guess it is about going for the things you think you would regret if you didn't do them :)


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