“If only I had bought that lakefront property way back when!” “If only I had asked her to marry me before it was too late.” “If only I’d tried harder in school.” “If only I’d been a little more serious when I was younger.” Regrets and “woulda, coulda, shouldas” are part of life for all of us. We have all blown opportunities, missed chances, and somehow squandered important moments. The goal, of course, is to keep these to a minimum while finding a way not to lament overmuch the chances that have gone by. After all, it does no good to keep digging up the past and what we should have done. We can learn from our missteps but should never grow demoralized by them.
Bronnie Ware, a woman who worked for years with the dying, wrote an article sharing “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”:
- 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 I had let myself be happier.
There are many such studies. What is striking is how similar the results all seem to be. It appears that when it comes to the living of our lives, we are all a bunch of amateurs. We tend to miss the main things a large part of the time.
As this list suggests, throughout your life, people will try to get you to live the way they see fit. Many of them are well meaning and truly care about you, while others, of course, are not. Sometimes, too, it is difficult to tell one group from the other. Ultimately, though, you’ve got to live your own life. You’ve got to answer that call you feel deep down inside and do what you were uniquely built to do.
It has been said that one route to unhappiness is trying to please everyone. Instead, we should try to please God first, and we will then find that only in doing so can we be pleased with ourselves.
Further, we only regret hard work when it is meaningless. This is why it is so important to align our lives with what we truly feel passionate about contributing. When we work in line with our passions and in pursuit of the highest calling we detect on our lives, we lose the feeling that it is wasted and begin to feel as if it’s a privilege. We come to realize that everything we have been given—our resources, our health, our abilities, our time— is part of the raw material we are to use to fashion our legacy. It is then that we realize that our privileges are not for our pleasure but for our purpose.
Know this: Without exception, our purpose will involve others. Our passions, our desires, our ambitions, and ultimately our legacy, will revolve around how well we did serving others with the days and the resources of our lives. This is why it is futile to become task-oriented at the expense of our relationships. Most of our greatest fulfillment’s in life will come through relationships. They should be given our highest priority. Being a good spouse, parent, grandparent, brother or sister, uncle or aunt, friend, or mentor should be part of any and every focus in our life.
No plan to leave a legacy should slight people or take advantage of them in any way. Quite the opposite: Our life’s direction, contribution, and legacy should be with, for, and about people. Forget this one simple truth, and be prepared to suffer the deepest regrets imaginable. Remember it, and you can rest assured that your life will not have been wasted, that not all of your potential was lost in spillage, and that, yes, you did accomplish something because no matter where else you failed, you at least managed to matter to someone.
And that’s as important as it gets.
(Posted by Kristen Seidl, on behalf of Chris Brady)