Thursday, December 15, 2011
Regrets? Too few to mention.
What do we regret as we lie on the proverbial bed awaiting the last gasp that marks our passing from this realm? It is a great question and one I have spent some time thinking and reading about over the years. How do we live our lives to minimize the regrets as we anticipate the end of our earthly experience? Is there some magic formula we can all use to make sure that we pass this live with as few regrets as possible?
A few years back I read an interview with a hospice worker on this very subject. In her many discussions with those about to pass through the door of life she found that most people regret the things they did not do far more than the things they may have done. Regardless of their crimes and misdeeds throughout their life their regrets were about not taking that trip, not kissing the girl, not chasing their dreams and not being who they wanted to be as they took their journey.
It is quite correct to point out that the whole wishing you spent more time with family and friends and other greeting card sentiments is probably a cliché of sorts. While there are not many headstones that say I wish I spent more time at work it is also true that very few of us actually pick our own epitaph. I am quite sure that many do pass those last hours wishing they had been better husbands, wife’s and parents. I am also sure many spend their last hours wishing they had done more with their careers, their business and professional life. We are all different and as much as we live different lives we will have different regrets as we approach our individual deaths.
The real regrets come from the fact that far too many of us do indeed live lives of quiet desperation. We are born, go to school, get married, have a family, get divorced, work at jobs we hate, raise kids we don’t understand, settle for less than we dreamed and do what we think we are supposed to do along the way. Our lives get shaped by television and pop culture and we drift along on a sea of conformity and apathy. I see it every day and I am sure the rest of you do as well. We all start out with dreams, hopes and desires and somewhere along the way let go of them to get along as best we can. I have yet to talk to a recent college or high school grad who told me they were going to get a job they hated, have a couple of kids who would stop talking to them in twenty years, spend thirty years drinking bud and watching Survivor reruns before dropping dead mowing the lawn in a house they hate while their ex-wife spends their hard earned retirement funds on a cruise to Cancun. I have however talked to a lot of folks my age whose life has played out exactly that way.
How the hell does this happen to us? We start out full of fire and hope. I never met a lawyer who planned to spend his years getting his soul crushed as a mid-level associate or a doctor who planned to spend a few decades doing colonoscopies at the VA clinic. We all want to change the world, to get rich, to create great art and chase big dreams as we start of the path of adulthood. None of us start out to become what so many of us do.
Little boys dream of being the star center fielder and or the hot gloved third baseman with the big bat not the backup utility infielder. Little girls want to be the prima ballerina or the singing star with the big hair and bigger voice, not the back up chorus singer. We all have the big dreams and hopes as life begins. That of course is much of the problem. We cannot all be the star we hope to be. If that was true I would currently be managing the Orioles after a long career as the much loved replacement for Brooksie on third base. I am not. I love baseball but I am about as athletic as a door stop. Never mind a curve ball I couldn’t hit a little league non fastball. Cant sing, cant dance and the only thing I can do with a paint brush is make a mess. I was never going to be a star ballplayer or artist no matter how much I dreamed.
This can be crushing. We get into the world and find out bills need to be paid, food costs money, bosses will work you into a nub of yourself without so much as a thank you or a fuck you. The world does not care about you or your dreams and no one was sitting around anxiously awaiting your arrival on the scene. You take a job to get by and next thing you know you are sitting in La-z- Boy bud in hand noticing that the only thing more absent than your hairline is your happiness. It is too easy to let live dictate you instead of you dictating life. You have to be vigilant to protect your passion and your dreams.
I can dream with regret of not being the hot handed third baseman and the world’s greatest baseball manager or I can love the fact that I can be a fan and sit in the stands on a summer day with a cold beer and a scorecard. I can bitch and moan about not going to college and maybe going to work for Goldman Sachs or even better the New York Times or I can love the fact that I am a pretty good writer and decent manager of investments and have managed to build a life around those two facts. I can spend my days wishing this or that or I can love what my life is and the fact that I have chased my dreams and made pretty good headway towards achieving parts of them.
Often life is just not going to go the way we want and wish. This does not mean that life cannot still be magical and absent of regrets for the most part. Even if life has forced you into circumstances you never wanted and instead of being the accountant that saved the world you are an IRS auditor does not mean that all the things you love and desire about life are gone. IRS auditors can still listen to Beethoven, watch sunsets, fall in love (just not with my daughter please) and appreciate the beauty of life. Just because you are selling Fords instead of driving one to victory at Daytona does not mean that life is not capable of being a beautiful and wonderful experience. There are still books, knowledge, music, art, and other parts of life that can produce great passion and meaning.
Life is precious and as far as we know we can only have one of them. We have to protect our passions and no matter what life deals out stay focused on what we love about living. We will all screw up along the way and it is probably not going to work exactly as hoped as we crossed the stage to pick out diploma. That does not mean we need to just lay down and accept what comes along the way and miss out on the adventure. So having kids kept you from going to Tibet and contemplating the navel of a Yak in search of the world’s great answers. You can let that beat you back into the chair and take in Snookies latest adventures or appreciate and love the fact that you have the chance to mold the spirit of adventure, love of beauty and learning in your kids and share the adventures with them as they grow. So you are not Clarence Darrow and the superstar of the legal world but to those you help on a day to day basis you just might be.
The problem with many of us is letting fear dictate our actions, or more accurately our inactions. Just because we got divorced or had a bad relationship does not mean we should harden our hearts against the possibility of love in the future. Just because our Fried Liver Chips franchise idea failed does not mean we should never explore another opportunity. If your first novel is rejected you have joined than ranks of just about every author who ever lived and it’s not a reason to set down the pen and turn on the TV. If you are not the star learn to appreciate and live the fact that most people never even make it to the chorus. Chase you dreams, your passion and enjoy where it takes you.Life will give you a lot of choices and paths along the way. I promise you life will give lots of chances to just quit. You will not be able to hit the curve ball. You voice will sound like amplified sandpaper scrubbed on cement. You will not promoted to department head. Someone you love will not love you back. It is not all going to go your way. It will be easy to quit. If you do you will spend those last days and hours thinking of all the things you did not do and struggling to remember who was the last one voted off the island.
I think the key to no regrets is to embrace the romance and beauty of life and to chase your dreams and your passions. You may not get all you want but there is a good chance you will get the life you want. Read the book, turn up the music, kiss the girl, take the chance. You will win some, you will lose some. But the dream come true really is the journey and adventure of it all. Don’t, as they say, sweat the small stuff because its all small stuff. If you want to spend more time with your family then do that. If you want to spend more time building your company, then that’s how you should spend your time and energy. It is your life. Live it. Then perhaps you can be able to die without regretting the choices you made along the way