When I was 28, I moved back to the United States after living in Asia for over 6 years. I came with my toddler and my new husband, and that was about it. Money was tight.
That summer while living on the west coast, I’d planned on visiting my family in New York but had put off the trip until December when I was sure life would be more financially secure.
My Nana turned 91 that August and I wanted to see her again as well as enable her to hold her great granddaughter whom she’d met a year earlier.
But I never got the chance.
In October my father called to tell me that Nana had gone into the hospital, complaining of shortness of breath and had passed away peacefully. I was in shock. My Nana, gone?
I’d lost a friend of mine recently. She’d had a brain aneurism and died instantly. Linda’s death was so sudden and seemingly random. And I’d struggled to put it together but Nana. Nana had been there my entire life. She’d been the sun in my gloomy life with her consummate smile and cheerful disposition. Now she was gone.
And then I felt it, regret.
If only I’d gone to see her in July. If only I’d seen her one last time. If only I’d told her how much I loved her.
Okay, I knew she was old. But somehow it never dawned on me that I wouldn’t see her again, that she wouldn’t be there for me. Nana had always been my constant. She’d visited my sister and me, every week when I was growing up. Regardless of where we’d lived, she’d shown up with laughter, food and hugs. That was Nana, loving and feeding us, always.
I felt awful. Not so much because she was gone, because I knew that was an inevitability. And I also knew she wasn’t really gone, because she wasn’t a body. I felt awful because I hadn’t said goodbye.
That’s when I decided that I would do my best to live my life with no regrets.
And all these years later I still do.
It works like this:
When I’m about to make a decision, I ask myself this question. “If you don’t do this will you regret it?"
The answer helps shape my actions.
Here’s an example. Not long ago I went back to school to get a Master’s Degree in Social Work. After I was done, I was pretty burned out. Working full time, having an internship and going to class every week for nearly two years was exhausting. It would have been really easy to be satisfied with that and not have pursued getting licensed. Being licensed was another 2-year commitment, more classes AND a rigorous exam.
The thought gnawed at me that I needed to get licensed but I just didn’t want to do the work. This went on for a few months and then I asked myself the question.
“Will you regret it if you don’t get licensed?”
And my answer was, “yes.”
So I sucked it up, jumped through the hoops of completing the paperwork, finding a supervisor, and started.
I use my regret question with big issues like that one but also with small ones too.
It’s a way to keep me moving through even some of the small tasks that I “don’t feel like doing” because they might be uncomfortable or if I’m in a situation that might never come around again.
Like if I go to South Beach and they’re offering para-sailing and I don’t go because it costs too much. I’ll use my question to confirm my decision. Because I don’t want to get home only to discover that I really wish I’d gone.
My regret question is especially prescient when a decision is related to a loved one.
Over the years I’ve come to realize the importance of communicating how much I love and cherish those around me and I want them to know it.
Let’s say I have a disagreement with my husband. I can hold on to that grievance and brood or I can elect to talk about it with him and process it. Why? Because I don’t want any unsaid words to cause regret.
I want him to always know how much I love and care about him.
After all, life is fleeting and we don’t ever really know how long we’re here. We can pretend that it’s “if we die” but the reality is it’s “when.” Being cognizant of that helps me live more authentically and clearly. Because my goal is to come to the end of my life and to honestly be able to say to myself that I have no regrets.
How about you? Would this work in your life?
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