“Do not past and present confront us with similar phenomena and with the same problems: to be a man, to have been born without knowing it or wanting it, to be thrown into the ocean of existence, to be obliged to swim, to exist; to have an identity; to resist the pressure and shocks from the outside and the unforeseen and unforeseeable acts — one’s own and those of others — which so often exceed one’s capacities? And what is more, to endure one’s own thoughts about all this: in a word, to be human.” – Ivo Andric
I’ve always felt that this segment from the speech Andric gave after receiving his Noble Price in Literature brilliantly illustrates the struggles of a creature aware of its own mortality, torn between its animalistic roots and a higher form of consciousness. We humans can create great works of art, harness the power of the universe, and change the world around us, yet this immense potential is all too often squandered.
We often mourn the loss of our promising youth in the twilight of our lives, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It is never too late to start making positive changes, but it is best to learn how to be honest with yourself and to understand what it takes for you to be happy and fulfilled while you are still young, so that you can avoid these terribly common regrets when you’ve come to the end of the line.
1. I was afraid to be myself, always fearful of what others might say
When we’re kids we constantly try to blend in and elevate our social status within our group, but as we grow we realize that everyone has their own unique little quirks, preferences, and tastes. It is important for us to find out what it is that we like, what makes us happy and what helps us to stay cheerful and motivated. Try sitting down and being honest about what you look for in life, in a partner, in an outfit, in a great Saturday afternoon, in a career. Only then can you forget about what others think, and express your true self.
2. I mistreated my body and spent half my life feeling sick and rundown
Laziness, hedonism, lack of adequate motivation, thinking that you are indestructible when you are younger, and a lack of awareness about physical and mental health can all contribute to us having worn out, sickly, and tired-looking bodies before we even hit 40. It’s easy to get “set in your ways,” so make sure that you start developing good habits early on. Work on losing that extra weight, eat healthier foods, train your muscles, and stretch to boost your metabolism and immune system, as well as strengthen the body, and do some meditation or have some relaxing alone time to allow your mind to recover.
3. I kept hanging out with people who were never true friends to me
A lot of the entries on most people’s “friend lists” are actually acquaintances who are looking for some kind of quid pro quo arrangement, or even worse, emotional leeches and toxic people who are only looking out for themselves. Avoid the unnecessary drama at work and at home. Be realistic about this and hang out with those that actually listen to you, encourage you, try to help out without standing to gain anything, and just generally make you feel good. Cut all ties with anyone that’s dragging you back or causing you pain and worries all the time.
4. I missed out on great opportunities because I was too scared to put myself out there
The things we most regret in life are the things we didn’t do, like not working up the courage to walk up to that cute guy or girl, not asking your boss for a promotion, not taking a risk and investing in that interesting business venture, and so on. Sometimes, you’ve just got to learn from your mistakes, and learn that making a mistake or looking a bit foolish is not the end of the world, but the rewards you get for giving things a shot are quite incredible.
5. I never devoted myself to mastering any fun or useful skills
People often lament the fact that they never really picked up a guitar and played for just 30 minutes a day, or took up martial arts, or learned their way around the kitchen. It doesn’t take much to learn new things if you set your mind to it and stay consistent, and there are tons of great jobs that you can teach yourself how to do, so just jump into it and start learning something new right now.
6. I drifted apart from my friends and family and made strangers out of them
Spending time with family can sometimes be tiring, and if you’ve already got work, a partner, kids, and tons of little chores to think about, fitting friends into your schedule can be a nightmare. However, don’t allow yourself to become one of those people who realizes that they’ve alienated their friends over the years only after breaking up with a long-term partner, or one of the sad and lonely old folks who lives alone in a big house. Make room for friends and family at least once a week and keep those bonds strong.
7. I never admitted I was wrong and listened to honest advice
Pride can sometimes get the best of you, but if you aren’t willing to admit your mistakes, say a few sorry’s now and then, and be open to criticism and helpful advice, you will live to regret it. It’s all too often that we look back on a situation and realize that our friends were right, or that we could have really used someone’s help. Be open to suggestions and try to consult with several different people when you are not sure how to proceed.
8. I spent a great deal of time hating the world for dealing me a bad hand of cards
The easiest thing to do when faced with adversity is to ask “why me?” and start shaking your fist at the world, cursing all those who have wronged you. Of course, no matter how much someone contributed to your current predicament, it’s important to admit that you’ve also played a role in it – even sitting there and doing nothing or rolling over and letting someone kick you while you’re down is a conscious choice. Take responsibility for your life, clench your teeth and take charge – no one is going to be able to solve all your problems for you, so you need give it everything you’ve got and face your problems with a cocky grin on your face.
9. I never saw the world and experienced different cultures
One of the things that people find most excuses for is not traveling more. Of course, financial issues, hectic schedules, and various obligations may not allow you to spend ten years traveling the world, but anyone can go camping, drive to another town, or find fairly cheap ways of traveling abroad. It’s all about being motivated to save up and make the time, and committing to leaving your home country at least once a year. You have to make travel one of your priorities instead of viewing it as a luxury.
10. I didn’t leave behind a legacy
This one kind of covers several of the other points on this list. In order to truly say that you’ve lived a rich and full life, and have managed to leave a legacy, you must constantly work on improving yourself, be it becoming a better partner and parent, mastering a skill, achieving academic or athletic success, teaching and helping others reach their goals, or anything else you find a worthy goal. Look deep within yourself and think about all your talents, passions, and skills, then try to work out what you could do to be remembered and respected by those that come after us.
There is no definitive answer to the questions that we ask ourselves late at night when we are alone and fragile, and there is certainly no easy way of avoiding huge regrets at the end of our lives. However, these points, difficult as they may be to put into action, will help you live a better life. It doesn’t matter if someone else finds it boring, vain, or needlessly adventurous, it’s your life and you want to make sure that you’ve lived the way you wanted to live.
Featured photo credit: Ed Gregory via stokpic.com