This is a guest post from Betsy Wuebker. It fits perfectly with my recent meditations on action and fear. Betsy and her husband Pete are location independent entrepreneurs who currently live on the island of Kauai. She writes on travel, simplicity and independence at PassingThru.
More than forty years ago, I had a conversation with my father. From his hospital bed, he delivered a warning: “Never say ‘what if?’ There might not be a second chance. You don’t want to look back and be sorry.”
Dad died two days later, and his comment was cemented in my memory.
I think Dad sensed what was coming and stepped outside his normal comfort level to communicate a legacy. When my husband’s parents were passing decades later, they lamented the things they hadn’t finished. As they started to say their good-byes, both longed for second chances. Their voices joined my father’s to form a sort of heartbreaking chorus.
In Viralnova’s list of dying people’s regrets, things left undone are cited: not traveling, staying in a bad relationship or terrible job, hesitating, failing to risk. Clearly, unresolved regret can interfere with our sense of contentment to the very end.
When you’re younger, you might hedge decision-making with the illusion of a second chance. There seems to be plenty of time to try new things, to get things right.
But as the years have passed, I’ve gradually learned to make most decisions by following my father’s advice. I think about what I might regret the most, and then choose the opposite. And once in a while, I give myself a second chance. So I moved across the country and back, quit jobs and working for others altogether, traveled, resumed or let go of relationships, and took piano lessons again.
I’m not completely without regrets, but attempting to navigate life with less remorse compels one to settle things. I think in terms of the long run (which, at my age, is rapidly shortening). Can I change it? Do I want to try? Should I let it go?
I make choices by asking, “If I don’t do this, will I be sorry?”
Or, “Does this give me a second chance to get things right?”
Recently I got a letter from my elderly uncle. Reminiscing, he wrote, “I envy your trip to Russia. Always wanted to go there, but never made it.” I perceived only a small regret in this. Whether my uncle visits Russia now makes no real difference. He’s led a very interesting life with long-held other priorities, so letting go of this desire is okay.
Sometimes the universe itself puts forward second chances; if so, I pay attention.
Last year, we moved to Hawaii; it was a second chance at a plan I’d bailed out of in my twenties. I left a friend in the lurch then and I’ve regretted it ever since.
Six weeks ago, I gazed over the cliffs of Normandy. For twelve years, I’d regretted not making the day trip to the D-Day beaches from Paris. I’d have surely regretted not seizing the chance this time.
Regrets require that you accept them and acknowledge what you’ve learned, or act to change the situation. Thoreau said, “To regret deeply is to live afresh.” Second chances can determine whether we live afresh in sadness or joy.