Regrets at not living a fuller life

Imagine you’re 80-years-old, on your rocking chair, looking at your grandchildren running along in the large garden of your beautiful house, acquired almost 40 years ago. At that time, the house cost you a “small fortune” and (at least according to the stories you’d tell anyone who’d cared to listen), though you’re able to afford multiples of them now, it’d then took you “years of blood and sweat to have had been able to afford it”.

Just this afternoon you’d welcomed a blogger who wrote for an online magazine focused on “success and what it takes to achieve it”. Most of her questions were the standard fare, things like asking about what sort of qualities you thought were necessary to succeed in today’s world (“hardwork and luck”); what qualities you thought you possessed when you achieved the success you did in your yesteryears (“luck and lots of love”); and what lessons you thought you could share to help others achieve the sort of success you achieved (“wear sunscreen”).

But there was one question that hit a raw nerve: that of whether you had any regrets in living the life you’d live, and if so, what they were and how others might learn from that. It hit a raw nerve because try as you might, you never could forget the many trips overseas you’d forgone for the sake of career success in your younger days. Trips, which due to a horrific leg injury sustained in your later life, had to be “put on hold indefinitely”. Sure, overseas trips for you were common now after retirement, but they’d never have been the same than if you’d be been, in your words, “fully functional.”

You’d always felt that you could probably have toned down your emphasis on career success and “lived a little more. I’d probably have made it, and just as well.”

But you shouldn’t be too upset with yourself, especially if, financially and career-wise, you feel you’ve “got it made.” The thing about looking back and regretting decisions is that in your imagination, the alternative course of action (as opposed to the course of action you took in reality) is always going to be better. The “trip” you imagined yourself taking wouldn’t have included the little inconvenience of travel: airport delays; items missed during packing; the sprained foot occurred while overextending during a hike, in which the manly guide you felt your wife kept eyeing laughed his laugh while carrying you over his shoulder and trudging on.

There is a saying that you’ll always more likely to regret the things you didn’t do than the things you did. I don’t disagree with it, because I’ve often been victim to such feelings of regret. But I do think that when it happens, we’re doing ourselves a great disservice if we just let it at that. We should always remember that when we regret the things we didn’t do, comparing it to the things we did, we are pitting imagination versus reality, and in most cases, imagination’s going to come out on top.

What is more, I try not to believe that anything is better than anything else. I always try to frame it in terms of “different to”, as opposed to “better than”. Sure, he may have a gazillion dollars,  a trophy wife, and is well-loved by his community, but he’ll never know what it’s like to be poor , have a skank for a wife, and disliked by everyone and the kitchen sink.

And that’s his loss.

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