Stop for a moment and reflect on how you’ve lived your life up to this moment. Now imagine that you continue living pretty much the same way until you reach the age of 70 and look back upon your life. Would you be content with the way you’ve lived?
When people are young, they usually don’t spend any of their time contemplating on thoughts like this one. They think that life is too long, and that they don’t need to worry about such a hypothetical question. But years pass by quickly and they suddenly find themselves in an old age. Then, they are forced to ask this question by life itself. And, in most cases, they are terrorized just by the thought of asking it, because to do so would mean to take a honest look at their life choices, and for most people this is enough to remind them of the regrets that lie within their psyche.
Our Biggest Regrets
If you could name the things you most regret about, what would they be?
I’m sure you could find plenty of things that you’ve done and which had negative consequences in your life and perhaps in the lives of others, and which you would undo if you had the chance to return to the past and live anew. But would any of those things be the ones you regret the most?
If you asked me, I’d say that what we humans regret the most usually aren’t things that we did. Rather, they are things that we didn’t do. Let me explain.
In life’s journey, we all make mistakes, which most of the time help us learn, grow and make better choices later on, by pointing out the bad choices we’ve made in the past, and urging us to change our actions in order to correct them and avoid repeating them in the future. Mistakes are a necessary and inevitable part of life, and although many people are disappointed by their past mistakes, these usually don’t make it to their Life’s Biggest Regrets list. Why? For two reasons: Firstly, because they didn’t consciously choose to make them (who would choose to make a mistake, if one knew beforehand that it was a mistake?) and secondly, because they’ve learned something out of their mistakes which helped them mature into wiser individuals.
Therefore, our biggest regrets in life don’t lie in things that we did. Rather, they lie in things that we wanted to do but we never gave a try. When you try to achieve something and you commit a mistake, you at least know that you tried, and that in itself is a very satisfying feeling, because you grabbed the opportunity to give yourself a chance — even if that was tiny — at succeeding. When, however, you don’t even make an effort to succeed out of fear that you might make mistakes and fail, then that’s a sure-fire way to fill yourself with regrets that will continuously torment your mind. By not having given it a try, you yourself took any chance of succeeding away from your hands by your own decision, and you can’t know what would have happened otherwise. By not having tried to succeed, you, in a sense, chose to fail, and you’ll most probably forever regret that choice, if what you wanted to achieve was and still is important to you.
The question is, if our biggest regrets don’t come from our failed attempts to succeed, but from not attempting to succeed at all, then why are most people so afraid of encountering failure?
The Fear of Failure
From a very young age most of us have been conditioned to fear failure. You see, we’re living in a very competitive world, where people constantly compare themselves with one another and try their best to outdo one another. In this world, we’ve been taught that by wining over others (for example, by getting better grades than our classmates at school or receiving a higher salary than our colleagues at work), we’re proving our worth to ourselves and the world, and that those who are better at doing so are the ones who manage to live the “good” life — the rest are just failures whose life is meaningless and not worth-living.
No wonder, therefore, we believe that failure is one of the worst things that can happen to us, and that we should avoid it no matter what. As a result, many people stop trying out new things in life and don’t set out to achieve their desired goals, even those which mean a lot to them and would contribute to their well-being, lest they make mistakes and encounter failure which they are so afraid of. In order to avoid failure, they’ve given up all their efforts to succeed.
But what is the point of living this way? To not live the way one deep down wants to live, how can one enjoy life and be content? It’s impossible.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what most of us are doing: living a life we don’t care about. Doing things that don’t matter to us. Things which, instead of lifting up our spirit and helping us spread the wings of our consciousness, are burdening us with all sorts of problems. And what are we doing about it? Nothing — we just sit and wait, until a moment comes when we can’t do anything, even if we want to, because we don’t have enough energy left anymore. All we have left is regrets that are torturing our soul and don’t allow us to relax and let go of life with dignity, knowing that we’ve made the most out of it while we could.
Failure is Better than Regret
If you don’t want to end up this way, you need to reconsider your life. Ask yourself in all honesty: “Is the way I’m living serving my happiness?” If not, think of what it would take for you to live in a way that fills your heart with joy. And whatever that is, go for it with all your might. To do so, you’ll most probably have to endure a lot of adversities and suffering, and you might make a lot of mistakes along your journey. But no matter how painful that is or how many failures you encounter, keep going, being aware that giving up is the only true failure in life.
Of course, be sure to choose your battles carefully. Many people are striving for years upon years to achieve things that won’t and can’t contribute to their well-being. For example, some are constantly trying to become financially wealthy and acquire as many expensive possessions as they can afford, unable to realize that, although money can fill their pockets, and material objects can fill their houses, none of these can fill their hearts. Some others, to give another example, are in an endless pursuit of sexual partners to sleep around with, not realizing that sex can’t substitute for the intimacy and loving affection they deep down desire.
So when I am saying “do what brings you joy,” I don’t mean what provides you with superficial, temporary egoistic gratification. I mean what truly makes you feel fulfilled and turns your life into a celebration. Like engaging yourself in creative work you feel passionate about. Or forming genuine relationships with like-minded people you enjoy sharing your being with. Or spreading kindness and contributing your gifts to the world for the benefit of all beings on earth. These are some things that can bring us lasting contentment and peace of mind, but most of us don’t give our attention to.
Life is short, so don’t waste it doing things that don’t put a smile on your face. Focus on doing what allows you to live totally and savor every single moment you’ve been offered by existence. Will that be easy? Probably not. Will it be worth it? Certainly yes. And, even if you fail at living to your fullest potential, you’ll still gain a lot along your way, for as the saying goes, it’s not the destination that matters, but the journey itself.