In one of Brittany Krystle’s podcasts, she asks, “If I died today, would I be happy with the life I’ve lived?” And I’m obsessed with this question.
Living in America, we are given so many life choices; yet we seem to hold onto many life regrets. From our teen years, our 20s, our 30s and so on. We should have lived life, not worried what people thought, acted kinder to the underdogs, ignored the negative, focused on the positive and spent more time with family and friends. In today’s day, we all seem to focus too much on paying the bills, getting that promotion and being addicted to our phones. We often forget to slow down and focus on the little things in life that are right in front of us.
Regrets, by definition, are things we are disappointed by and apologetic about. So why not turn this around and use the biggest regrets in life as lessons on how to start living ….starting now. Let’s write ourselves permission slips to enjoy our place on earth more.
Every day I am making a concerted effort to shift things and to use past regrets as stepping stones toward happiness and positive change. As Bronnie Ware stated eloquently in her Ted Talk speech, “Time is a gift. How we choose to use that gift will determine whether we’re living a life with regret or a life of joy and the choice is ours.”
BIGGEST TYPES OF LIFE REGRETS
Many of us have experienced a variety of common life regrets. We have professional, personal, experiential — and financial ones too.
In this post, I wanted to lay out what people’s biggest regrets in life are — and I interviewed friends in the process. My main goal is to not dwell and regret regret — but rather to understand what actions we will take from here. What will people change knowing what they know now? If you’re alive now and reading this, it’s not too late. All negatives lead to a positive, no?
FOCUSING TOO MUCH ATTENTION ON WORK
This seems to be the biggest one – since as we learn, time becomes our greatest asset. Time spent toiling in the office and in meetings is time away from family, children, traveling. We are scared of shutting down – but then one all-day work day turns into decades.
I stopped doing things I loved if they weren’t related to my career. I have [now] been taking up hobbies and going back to things I once loved, but abandoned.
(LF, Hollywood Hills)
NOT HAVING ENOUGH CONFIDENCE AND SELF WORTH
What’s interesting about this one is trying to discern where this comes from. Is it internalized from worries about people’s perception of us? Is it about comparing ourselves to others? All I know is that the majority of us suffer from this internally induced emotional paralysis.
I spent far too many years questioning my self-worth and the need to be twice as good in order to be considered equal to those around me in school, work, and my martial arts. This was a dual-edged sword because the self-doubt fueled a thirst for constantly striving for excellence, but also caused internal disarray and problems with becoming truly close with people. In retrospect, it was necessary and debilitating. Overcoming those feelings remains a struggle and a source of strength knowing that I’ve confronted it head on and we’ve shaken hands in a truce.
(Mason Williams, Los Angeles)
PUT YOURSELF IN SOMEONE ELSE’S SHOES
Sometimes we don’t prioritize ourselves enough. But sometimes we prioritize ourselves and our comfort levels too much. We worry about how things will make us feel — but then forget to embody sufficient sympathy and awareness about how our actions or inactions are making someone else feel.
My grandmother had a stroke and lived with us for two years with her bed set up in our living room. She could barely talk — and I remember looking at her one day after school when she motioned for me to come lie in bed with her….and I didn’t. And now she’s not here.
I often think about how easy it would have been for me to climb into bed with her and hold her hand, or snuggle up to her. She needed and wanted comfort but because I was insecure and thinking about my feelings I moved onto something else.
What has it taught me? That life is not always about whether or not you feel comfortable. I have to constantly remind me to put myself in someone else’s shoes. All she needed and wanted was human touch, especially from her granddaughter. Something as simple as holding her hand would have made her feel loved and cared for in that moment. Life is temporary. She’s gone and I can never get that moment back.
BE THERE FOR THOSE WHO NEED YOU
This is a devastating one because those we love may not be around for you to express your sorrow and apology.
I was with a man that I loved very much for quite a long time. And then I wasn’t. Instead, I was with another man who I loved as much. About a year into the second relationship, the man from the first told me that he had cancer and asked if I would come back into his life for friendship and support. I, of course, said yes and let the man I was currently with know. I created space for him to voice any concerns. He simply asked that I not involve him in any part of it and I respected that wish. When it was clear that my ex had days left to live, his family invited me and his closest friends to come be with him during his last days.
This would have entailed flying to another state. And I didn’t go. I made that decision based on the agreement I made with my current relationship. I spoke to my ex the day before he passed and our conversation was full of love and kindness and he was able to express some regrets of his own. This was 9 years ago and I still regret my decision to opt out of joining the circle of people that surrounded him with love when he passed.
(AG, Hancock Park)
BEING UNKIND TO PEOPLE AND REJECTING NEW EXPERIENCES
Often people may be cruel or unkind toward someone based on jealousy, their own insecurities, trouble at home. Let’s all make a mental note to be kinder and to pay it forward to all of our friends, colleagues and strangers.
My biggest regret is the amount of time I spent in my youth being unkind to people or rejecting new experience due to my own insecurities and fear of rejection. However, it has made me always go the extra mile to make sure everyone in a room feels seen heard and valued. And most importantly, I feel I’ve passed that transformation on to my kids. Nothing makes me happier than when I hear a parent confess, “Lane was the only kid who really befriended mine and took his side no matter what!” And I hear it all the time.
(Meredith Morton, Encino)
GO WITH YOUR GUT
Trusting your instinct is often your biggest savior – but too often we don’t practice it.
My biggest life regret will always be when I was in my mid-20s and I stayed with the wrong person (and all that came with that terrible and toxic relationship) far longer than any sane person would have. I should have believed in myself like I do now and the first moment of dysfunction, destruction and disrespect should have been the last. I chose to give it a solid 3.5 years.(Angela Gulliver, San Pedro, CA)
DROPPING OUT OF COLLEGE
This is a common one. People who never received their high school or college degree feel like they lack a sense of completion. Just because of one piece of paper. What’s interesting to me is that most of my friends and colleagues who never finished are at the same level in their careers and lives as others who have Masters and doctorates.
My single regret and only one is that I never finished College.
(RS, Cheviot Hills)
NOT SPENDING ENOUGH TIME WITH PARENTS
When we are in our teens and early twenties, we want to spend our waking hours with our friends. But as they get older, it’s harder to travel, take walks with them and so on. And as we become a parent ourselves, it’s harder to find the time.
A big regret is the time away and locational distance from my family before my parents got older or sick. I finally moved back to Los Angeles after 15 years in New York.
(LF, Los Angeles)
TAKE CARE OF YOUR HEALTH EARLIER
Unless you’re an athlete, many don’t conscientiously take care of their health until there is an issue. Whether it’s obesity or diabetes, cancer or something else. We should all be prioritizing health and wellness at an early age so when we are adults, it is something that is instinctual for us. But it’s never too late – so start now!
Not starting an exercise routine in high school is my regret. I didn’t value the fact that I would grow older and my body would change with age and stress levels. It is so much more difficult to start a routine (and change your mindset) after you start working and having children. I am trying to start an exercise routine and get my daughter involved so she will think it’s a part of self care and life. She stretches with me, participates in my 8 Fit app and even watches me on the elliptical. Hopefully, as I get in shape, she will learn it is important to feel and look better.
(anonymous, Sherman Oaks)
LIVING YOUR OWN LIFE AND NOT CARING ABOUT PEOPLE’S EXPECTATIONS
This is one that speaks loudly to me. I have learned over the years to pursue your own dreams — and not the dreams and expectations that others set for you. I know that my parents always wanted the best for me, the most stability — so they kept the pressure on to become a doctor or a lawyer. So I became a lawyer.
I’m glad I gathered the courage to stop, take notice of how I was feeling, follow my gut — and switch to a path of something more creative. (But, of course, now I have regrets of not going to medical school.)
STANDING UP FOR YOURSELF MORE
Honestly, I don’t hold strong feelings of regret because I’m a glass half full kind of gal. I am always thankful for the lessons life teaches. However, I do wish I had stood up for myself on a couple of occasions. I did learn pretty quickly to be vocal about certain situations though and it taught me how to be more aware of who I’m around and that not everyone is nice just because they smile.(TSJ, Woodland Hills)
LET GO OF RESENTMENTS
Resentment and holding onto negativity colors many people’s lives. There are so many negative mental and physical side effects of not forgiving someone. The Mayo Clinic lays them out for you here.
I have matured to be grateful and let go of resentments.(LF, Los Angeles)
LIVING IN THE PRESENT
We so often live for the future – it’s something that’s instinctual until we mindfully keep ourselves in the present. Eckert Tolle, right?
He tells us, “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have.”
I regret not enjoying a lot of experiences when I was younger because angst was more present and powerful than gratitude. I have matured to be grateful, I surround myself with people who bring peace into my life rather than chaos — and I practice yoga to help with stress and anxiety.
(LF, Los Angeles)
LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER
Not listening to my mother’s advice on dating is a big one for me. She was young once. And now that I am recently single again after having two children, if I meet a man I’m attracted to, I will examine their values first above all attributes. If it isn’t a fit in the beginning, I won’t make special exceptions because he is hot!(anonymous)
I did ask friends (who are also my dearest childhood friends’ parents) what their biggest regrets in life are. Two of them had none. One writes from Beverly Hills and the other from Iran.
I have no regrets but only gratitude for all that has been given to me in life. I consider myself blessed
(JP, Beverly Hills)
It is hard to have a regret because every moment is tied to the next, and the whole thing is a tapestry. I can’t regret one piece because the whole thing would fall apart.
(SR, Tehran, Iran)
++ All of these answers are beautiful — and I thank all my incredible friends who participated. Life is short, our children grow up too fast….These cliches exist for a reason. Go live a true life, feel happy and have the courage to live.