I hope you’re living your life with no regrets—or, if not with no regrets, then with damn few of them. Stuff happens to everyone: rotten stuff, stinky stuff, uncomfortable stuff, and embarrassing, oh-my-goodness-I-hope-no-one-ever-finds-out-about-this kind of stuff. Sometimes the stuff that happens to us is tragic, as in the loss of loved ones; sometimes it’s just a hassle, or it hits us hard in the wallet. Sometimes the stuff that happens to us rocks us to our very foundations, and we need to take stock, and then start all over again, rebuilding from the ground up.
All of that stuff can be dealt with over time. But living with regret is a very hard way to live, because that sense of failure, of having missed the mark, of “if only”, well, that sense never goes away completely.
And yet, as we all have stuff, so, too, I suspect we all have some regrets. I guess it’s a luxury of getting older that I can often now recognize those moments when I need to do or say something, knowing that if I don’t I will live to regret it. Or maybe it’s something I’ve learned after racking up so many of those moments, where I’ve failed to think or do or say, and have been left with a pile of messy regret in my hands. I guess like most negative things, you get to the point eventually where you say enough is enough and do all you can to avoid it happening ever again.
Life is an untidy business but I have long believed, and have often shared in these essays, that the purpose of life is not to show you a good time. It’s not all sunshine, lollipops and glittering rainbows. The purpose of life is to provide a forum wherein you grow, as person. Here is where you enter in as a babe-in-arms, and God willing, exit as a wiser older person who’s lived and loved and laughed and cried—in other words, grown to your full potential.
We don’t any of us know how long we have on this earth. My personal belief is that this life is not all, and it’s certainly not the end. It’s the proving ground. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we figure out why we’re here. Then, armed with this knowledge, we can use our time wisely (for the most part), not passing up opportunities to live to our purpose and to our potential.
I believe in having a dream, and a goal. They are not the same thing at all, though many confuse them as being such. A dream is a pretty picture cut out of a magazine and taped up where you will see it every day. You look on it, and, when you’re feeling down, that picture helps to lift you up, remind you that all in life is not the stinky stuff, and hopefully, refuels your tank so you can get back to the battle.
A goal is a marker you intend to reach on your way to that dream. It likely will take a lot of goal-achieving, in order to come close to making your dream come true.
I have close friends who have recently made the dream they had since the beginning of their marriage come true. It was a near twenty year process (a real dream is never an overnight achievement), but they made it happen. They set goals, and achieved them, one by one by next. They didn’t let anything distract them from their dream, or stop them from reaching the goal they’d set for that next step on their way.
Often, achieving a dream demands that you sacrifice, to do so. For example, if your dream is to retire with a good income that will provide for the rest of your days, so that your golden years are financial stress free, well that means that there will be vacations you don’t take, fancy things you don’t buy, and indulgences you pass up. No, you don’t have to live like a monk. Instead of dinner and a movie as a night out on the town, maybe it’s popcorn made at home and a movie on your PVR. Instead of a week at a resort by the lake, maybe it’s a couple of day trips to local attractions or pools or beaches.
If asked, I would say my advice is simple: define who you are; find a dream; set a goal. Work to achieve that goal. Have some fun on the way but don’t take your eye off where you’re ultimately going. Don’t take your eye off your dream, or your purpose, or who you’ve defined yourself to be.
As I wrote that last line, an old saw came to mind. You may have heard it, but it bears sharing. It goes, “as you travel on through life, whatever be your goal, keep your eye upon the donut and not upon the hole.”
Do that, and at the end of the day, you’ll have few regrets.