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Posts Tagged ‘no regrets’

I often pretend that I’m eighty years old.

When I was eighteen, I went away to college and began studying music. My life wasn’t ideal: my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer that year, I had wicked insomnia, there were various college dramas to deal with, I had a bum ankle and was constantly sick, I wasn’t always making the progress I wished to make. But I remember very clearly walking home from the music building one spring day. I could see the ocean as I left the building, the sun was out, I was surrounded by beautiful redwood trees, and I was able to spend all my time studying music, which I was truly passionate about. And I thought, “There is nothing I’d rather be doing with my life right now.”

That’s a powerful thought, isn’t it? I decided then that I would try to live as much of my life as possible in the same way, and that is still one of my goals today. There are many things that I was wrong about when I was eighteen, but that wasn’t one of them. One of the ways I can check on myself and see how I’m doing is to pretend that I’m eighty. Whenever I’m making a decision or evaluating something I’m doing, I ask myself: How will I feel about this when I’m eighty? First of all, will I even remember it? (If the answer is no, then it’s probably not all that important, and if nothing else, I can bring down my worry level a notch or two.) If I do this, will I be glad I tried it when I look back at my life? Will I regret passing up this opportunity? Or will I wish I’d played it safer or made a different decision?

I was talking to a former student the other day who has decided not to pursue music professionally, at least for right now. She went to professional school for musical theater for a while and began to hate it, even though she had previously been amazingly passionate about the subject. So now she is studying a different subject. And you know what? Even though she ultimately changed her mind, I think she did the right thing going through the musical theater program. Because if she hadn’t, then when she was eighty, she might have regretted not pursuing her dream. Now she knows that she doesn’t want that kind of life, and she can move forward without regrets.

From photobucket.com by notapooka

According to this article, one of the top regrets of people on their deathbeds is not having followed their dreams. (I highly recommend you read the entire article.) Of course, we can’t always be doing exactly what we want to do. No one wants to sit around recovering from a root canal gone wrong or clean the bathroom or deal with any of a whole host of problems and difficulties that are part of our daily lives. But I think all the unpleasant parts are rendered more manageable if we can find and highlight the aspects of life that are so wonderful to us that they dwarf all else. For me in college, that passion was for music. Nowadays, I find it in my relationships, in writing fiction and this blog, in teaching, in travel. When I’m spending time on any of those things, I get the same feeling, that there is nothing else I’d rather be doing.

Steve Jobs gave a great insight in a Stanford commencement address that I think about a lot:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

So now I’ll ask you the same questions: if today was the last day of your life, would you want to do what you’re doing? When you’re eighty, how will you feel about the decisions you’re making today?

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