Regretting Our Regrets (#41)

We all have regrets; things we would like a second chance at or wish we had done differently. But what if we knew now what our biggest regrets would be and could change them? A few weeks ago, I came across an article from a nurse who worked with older patients who knew that they were going to die and kept a list of their most common regrets. This led me to search online where I found other similar lists based on reflections of those looking back on their life near the end.

The most common regrets that people listed were as follows:

  • I wish I hadn’t worried so much or focused on being happier
  • I wish I hadn’t worked as hard
  • I wish I had lived the life I wanted to live
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with friends and family

Regret comes in two varieties: the things you did that you wish you hadn’t done and the things you didn’t do but wish you had.

In the short term, we tend to regret things that we did. But almost every list I came across revealed that the deepest regrets actually come from things we never did, but wanted to; or knew that we should. This includes “working too hard.” Why? Because it usually takes the place of something we would rather have given our time and energy to. “Worrying” is another one. It’s usually associated with fear or inaction.

One of the most impactful books I have read in the past ten years is Tim Ferris’s Four Hour Work Week. Tim dispels the typical “life deferment” plan in which people save money for many years doing work they really don’t enjoy, essentially deferring gratification until they are retired and can begin to “enjoy life.”

The problem with this plan is that most of us don’t know how long we will live or how healthy we will be in our later years. This approach also discourages us from finding happiness along the way so that we can enjoy the journey and not just the destination. Tim credits many of his four week “mini retirements,” where he’d head off somewhere and do something he loved, with helping spawn the ideas for his new books or businesses

The lesson is, don’t wait; don’t make excuses for why you’re not living your life in a way that brings you joy and fulfillment. There’s no better time than now to start living the way you want to live. You may have to take some chances to get there, but rarely will you regret doing so.


Quote of the Week

“In the end…we only regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make.”

Lewis Carroll

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  1. Conor Neill October 14, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    So true.
    The balance between “delayed gratification” and “life deferment” is a hard one. We have to sacrifice pleasure for progress. I guess it is the discipline to do the hard things rather than the easy things…

  2. Patrick Brandon October 20, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    Bob –I’m sure you already know this , but this is really well done – I love the Friday Forward website- I immediately forwarded this to my wife and two “kids” ( Peter 21, Madeleine 18- yes time flies)

    Thanks for sharing – I’ll look forward to more in the future and to your upcoming book

  3. Matthew Weiss October 20, 2016 at 4:12 pm

    Rob, I enjoyed reading this. Thanks for sharing.

    Follow your heart and passions and you will never have regrets.



  4. Robert LaBonne Jr October 20, 2016 at 5:28 pm

    My wife Shelley has been a nurse for 29 years and she too has heard many similar stories from patients or patients relatives on their death beds. Speaking from experience after having a heart attack and a second stent 7 months later, don’t wait for a health scare to stop you from saying “No I can’t do that or go there, because I have to work”. Since 2012, I really try to never say no to any adventure.

  5. Patti Pagliei October 21, 2016 at 3:30 am

    I read this post when I returned from a three week vacation to celebrate the end of a year’s worth of chemotherapy and radiation for breast cancer, and it really resonated with me. It is amazing the empowerment that comes with being faced with a life-threatening illness, but hopefully it doesn’t take that for us to start living our dreams, according to our own compass and no one else’s. Great read, thank you.

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