Sunday, January 12, 2014


Given that I am on the on-ramp merging into the throughlane of age, I pay attention when articles or postings about age surface.  For that reason, I actually clicked on a link someone shared on Facebook, entitled 37 things you’ll regret when you’re old.  Not so much into regret, but rather focused on the present moment,  I was curious about what someone else would think I might regret about my life.

I am guessing the regrets enumerated in the list are in no particular order, or maybe the order in which they occurred to the author, a message in itself.  I wonder why Not spending enough time with loved ones ranks #35 while Not travelling when you had the chance leads off as #1.  Articles that simplify life into a categorical list of principles can have value.  They can offer an opportunity to reflect on guidelines we may have chosen to live by, and then neglected or ignored.   The other side of that coin is that they can also be dangerous.  Here’s why.

Let’s go back to Regret #1, Not travelling when you had the chance.  The benefits of travel are axiomatic, and I have never heard anyone complain that they had traveled too much, except maybe individuals who try to sustain insane business travel schedules through multiple meetings, hotels, restaurants, time zones, and climates for months on end.   Some people have the opportunity to travel and choose not to for reasons all their own.  They have other priorities.   I am fortunate to have visited a few places I always hoped to see.  I’ve traveled more than some, far less than others.   Nothing to regret here.

What about Regret #6, Being scared to do things.   Let’s take fear as paralysis out of the equation right off the top as an extreme.  How about narrowing the scope to fear’s persona, anxiety.  Notwithstanding its negative potential, anxiety can be a safety switch, an intuition that prompts us to reflect on the consequences of our actions and make more informed decisions for our own benefit and that of the people around us that our decisions impact. 

I will use myself as an example.  I have never zip-lined, and I don’t snorkel, simply because I don’t feel comfortable in those situations.  Perhaps I don’t trust the technology, or I don’t have the requisite skill-set not just to survive those activities but to enjoy them.  Yet, I have biked down the Klondike Highway in the Yukon, and I have navigated a Segway through the downtown streets of Dallas, Texas, and Washington, D.C.  Even more daunting, almost every week in my church, I perform as a liturgical musician before hundreds of people.  I make myself vulnerable, and conquer my anxiety, each time.   So, yes, I have been scared to do some things, and I have also gone way out of my comfort zone and conquered more than a few demons.  No regrets here, either.

I did pause at Regret #13, Not listening to your parents’ advice.  Parents are well-intentioned people, and their advice is heartfelt and meant to be beneficial.  Sometimes, though, parents are limited by their experience and their worldview.  Their advice may grow out of a worldview that worked for them, but might not fit  the future that their children are building.  Some advice from parents is gold, and some is not.  A developmental task of adolescence and young adulthood is differentiating between the two.  Kahlil Gibran says to parents, 

Your children are not your children. 
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. . . .
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts . . .
You may strive to be like them, but seek ot to make them like you. 
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yeserday.  (from The Prophet)

My own parents gave me encouragement rather than advice.  I strive to emulate them.

One more.  Regret #16, Supporting others’ dreams over your own.  Supporting others is a beautiful thing, but not when it means you never get to shine.   Life is all about supporting the dreams of others.  Teachers do it for a living.  They invest their entire lives in helping people cultivate the skills they need to realize their dreams.  In so doing, they realize their own dreams.  As for shining, the most accomplished people I know are not concerned about the recognition that comes with shining.  In fact, the less others know about their pivotal contributions to successful projects, the happier they are.  Their deeds are their voice.  They live out a friend’s memorable words, “I don’t need that.” 

Sir Nicholas Winton didn’t need that, either.  In 1938, when he was 29, a friend asked him to help out with a project in Prague.  Winton abandoned his skiing holiday to help out a friend.  He would orchestrate the rescue of 669 children, most of them Jewish, just prior to the beginning of World War II.  For almost fifty years, no one had any inkling of Winton’s humanitarian efforts.  He did not tell a soul, not even his wife.  In 1988, while rummaging in the attic, his wife, Grete, stumbled upon a scrapbook with photographs of the children her husband had saved.  Winton did not need to shine.  For the entire story, see Nicholas Winton:  The Power of Good at 

It’s so easy to orient our lives by standards others set for us, even people we don’t know and who don’t know us.  The influences are insidious.  Well-intentioned information and lists can perversely create an artificial standard for a meaningful life.  In fact, I cancelled my twenty-year subscription to a women’s magazine for that very reason.  I realized that I was no longer the artisan of my self-worth barometer.   Now, a few kilometers along on the highway of age,  I can read 37 things you’ll regret when you’re old with detachment.  And without regrets.

37 things you'll regret when you're old

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