Fear, Regrets, And The What If

There are many questions in life that are considered dangerous. Most are considered so because the answer is one we typically don’t want to hear. For instance, when your wife asks, “Does this dress make me look fat?” Or, “Do you like my parents?” Some are dangerous to the heart. “Do you love me,” “Will you marry me,” “Do you want a divorce?” As fearful as we are of the answers, we need them for the sake of our own sanity.

There is another question that is more dangerous than all of the others, one that is the most terrifying of all simply because we have to ask it. What if? What if I would have taken that opportunity? What if I told her I loved her before she married someone else? What if I resolved that conflict before he passed away? What if is the kind of question that can haunt you for the rest of your life, but only if you give it a chance.
Regret is one of the most destructive emotions we feel. We continually look back at our lives and second guess it. We wonder what would and could have been. While we think about what could have been, what is passes us by.

I was recently driving across the country in a move to the west coast. It was a long drive, 32 hours in the car. While I drove, I was so focused on getting there because I scheduled the move down to the hour and I had to start my new job, that I missed something. I spent the entire drive staring out the windshield to see what was ahead, and checking my rearview to make sure I hadn’t caught the attention of any police. What I missed, was the scenery out the side windows. I was focused on where I was going, and where I had been, that I missed where I was.

Life is the same way. I notice myself working so hard for tomorrow, to make up for yesterday, that I forget about today. When I do this, I miss opportunities. These missed opportunities, eventually end up in regrets.

We all have regrets, at most stages of our lives, mistakes, missteps, and wrong turns are almost unavoidable. I have spent a long time looking in the rearview mirror, and because of that, I have compiled a pile of regrets. In sharing these regrets with a friend of mine, we were astonished to discover that, many of our regrets were the same.

So . . . off I went to find out what others were feeling about this. I found myself wondering if others had the same regrets, or if we’re so perfectly matched as friends that even our mistakes were the same. As you can imagine, coincidence wasn’t that prevalent.

We are all similar in the way we live our lives, the world has conditioned us to think that there is a path we must follow, playing it safe and avoiding things that risk all we have worked for. However, is what we worked for what we want? Or what the world has conditioned us to believe we need? I have put together a few of the most repeated regrets, and they are surprising.

life never happened, because life got in the way

I wish I would have lived the life I wanted, not the one that others wanted for me.
This seems so obvious when you look at it. Why would we ever let someone else tell us how to live our lives? It is easy to say you live your own life, but when you look deep within yourself, does that claim hold up?

To live a life that is true to yourself is much harder and more complicated than it used to be. The pressure of your parents to go to college, get a degree, and tackle the titans of industry are things that we all face when we are young. Then the influences of our friends to stay with the group and keep up with their successes sets in when we get older. Then, there is the most commonly overlooked, living our lives trying to emulate the lives of those we admire, such as actors, musicians, sports stars, etc. We live our lives based on what the culture of those people dictate is desirable.

We have such a finite time on this Earth, why spend it doing something we don’t enjoy? Spend your time doing what you love, listen to the voice inside you that keeps whispering that there is a better path-and have the courage to walk in that direction.

I wish I would have loved myself more, not tried to be loved by others.
When was the last time you felt hurt by someone else? A friend, a lover, a family member? Think about how you conducted yourself with them. I have lost some relationships that were extremely difficult. It is easy to look at the other and call them selfish, or thoughtless. However, maybe I wasn’t being true to myself, maybe I was valuing myself much lower than I should. It is possible that they valued me the same.

Loving yourself and focusing on your needs isn’t to say that you need to be narcissistic, it isn’t to say that you need to be selfish. However, you cannot take care of others’ needs if you are tapped out. You cannot love others unless you love yourself.

The number one thing to remember is that the most important relationship you will ever have in this world, is with yourself. No one can fill the void you create when you don’t give yourself the proper value. If you do not think of yourself as a 10, then invest in yourself to improve. If you are a 10 in your own mind, others will come to see you that way as well. Love yourself as if your life depends on it, because it absolutely does.

I wish I wouldn’t have worked so hard.
We have all heard the saying, work to live-don’t live to work, but how many of us actually take that philosophy and apply it to our lives? Think about the most successful business men/women you have ever known, one inescapable truth is, they have to work long and hard to achieve it. Now ask yourself, how much time did they put into that.

Out of all the people that I spoke to regarding this subject, not one person said they wished they worked more hours. They all wanted to succeed, and the definition of success that culture provides us, is a high net worth. However, the trick is to ask yourself, what is success to you? Define it for yourself, and see where your job fits into the scenario. My guess, is that your job is what you feel is the best way to get those things, not the other way around.

you get good at what you practice
 I wish I would have been more open to others.
Alright fellas, this one is for you. Not one girl I spoke with said they wish they didn’t bury their emotions. This is where women have an advantage over us. We have an odd inability to process our emotions and articulate them in the same way a woman can. Now, that is not to say that men can’t and women are pros, we have all had the moment where our woman burst into tears because we didn’t fold the laundry (hint . . . it has nothing to do with clothes). But we are at a distinct disadvantage of being largely inept with it.

There were a lot of men that stated that they believed their failed relationships could have been saved if they only opened up. No surprise right? However, when you feel that there is no way you can keep up with her emotionally, you’re right. Effort is the key. Try to talk to her, or your family, or your friends, or your boss. Be open; be impeccable with your words.

It is going to be hard, but remember- you get good at what you practice.

I wish I would have quit my job to pursue what I really wanted to do.
How many of us wake up in the morning with the birds chirping and the sun shining while we whistle in the closet because we just can’t WAIT to get to work? If this is you, then the rest of us scoff at your good fortune. Why? Because most of us struggle every day with the knowledge that what we do is not what we want to do. We feel trapped in a job we hate because we have taken on responsibilities like a car payment, or a mortgage, or kids. We are told early on that the safety and security of these jobs are more important than that feeling of dread you have as you file in behind the rest of is on the freeway, on the way to your elected prison.

Settling is for people who have given up. If you have given up on your dreams, accepting that you will never be what you want in your life, then by all means, continue on this path. However, having life and having quality to your life are two drastically different things. Being ecstatic and whistling in your closet is not a pipe dream, it is just reserved for those of us who had the courage to risk the transition.

I wish I would have chased the one that got away.
Ah . . . Mary Lou and her sweet smile that you were smitten with in seventh grade. If only you would have had the guts to say hi, send her a note, and ask her to the dance. We all have that one girl or guy that we had a vicious crush on through high school, or college, or after. We never did say anything, and now we are left wondering . . .what if?

Why didn’t we say anything? Fear of rejection, fear of losing them as a friend? When we look in the mirror, we see something completely different than what everyone else sees. We see our flaws, our mistakes, we see every reason why we don’t deserve the person that we have put up on a pedestal. What we fail to realize, is that they are almost always doing the same thing. There are millions of people out there just like you, so get out there.

Remember what we said earlier? If you see yourself as a 10, then others will also. When we tell ourselves that we deserve to be happy, and we believe it, it releases some of the fear. It makes us want to go for all of the things that we desire. Including that girl. Don’t allow her/him to be the biggest regret of your life, tell her/him, before they marry someone else.

I wish I wouldn’t have wasted so much time.
Time is our best friend and our worst enemy. It is the one thing we want to save, that we are forced to spend. Oddly enough, we never know how much we have, until we are completely out of it. If you could find out how much time you had, would you want to know? What if you found out you had three days to live, how much Netflix would you watch? What if you found out you had another twenty years? Would you speed up or slow down?

Our time on this Earth is finite, there will be a time when we are no longer around. Only our deeds and our words remain. That is how people will remember us. What you have to decide is, what will you leave behind?

I spoke with a lot of people who were a little older, and the biggest regrets they had were the experiences they never did because they couldn’t fit them in around work or . . .well . . .life. One of them actually said that life never happened, because life got in the way.

What I didn’t understand until that comment, was that my definition of life was completely incorrect. Life, as I defined it, was my job, my house, my routine. He defined life completely differently, his purpose, his family, his experiences. I realized that I was neglecting my purpose for my job, my family and friends for my pursuit of the Joneses, and experiencing the world for Netflix and PS4. I decided then and there, sitting in the coffee shop with a man three decades smarter than me, that I was going to change that.

Never avoid something out of fear or logic. Give it all you have. When you are old and wrinkled, tell your kids you have your dream job because you took that opportunity, tell your wife that dress makes her look majestic. And you can even lie to her and tell her that her parents are your best friend because you gave it your all.

What if  is a dangerous question, but luckily for us, it is a rattle snake. Your fear is the rattle, warning you before it bites. Never ask it, live life, love without fear, and experience everything.

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