I was filling out an online form today, and I had to select my birth year from a drop-down menu. There’s nothing like scrolling through all those years to make you realize how much of your life has already passed you by. Having spent so much of my life being governed by fear, I’m now hyper-conscious of living in the moment and stepping away from regret.
I came across a brilliant quotation by Brene Brown in her book The Gifts of Imperfection that really struck a chord with me yesterday. “The universe is not short on wake-up calls. We’re just quick to hit the snooze button.” This is a perfect analogy of the way I have lived most of life. Periodically, I’m jolted by some event or circumstance, and I intuitively know what I’m supposed to do, or how I should react, but my default reaction is always to “hit the snooze button" and hope the problem or the feeling magically goes away on its own. This reminds me of that joke where a man prays to God as asks: “Please God, let me win the lottery this week.” The week goes by, and the man doesn’t win. Next week, the man looks up to the heavens and says: “Please God, I am a good man. I deserve to win the lottery.” The lottery passes again, and the man still doesn’t win. On the third week, the man drops to his knees and says: “God, I implore you, please bestow your blessings on me by allowing me to win this week’s lottery.” At which point, the heaven’s open up and a the booming voice of God declares: “Yes, I heard you, but first you have to buy a lottery ticket.”
Instead of waiting for the next “wake-up call" from the universe, I’ve decided to become an active participant in shaping the life I want to live. So, here’s my list of Five Things I Don’t Want To Regret In Life:
1. Don’t spend a lifetime amassing wealth and possessions instead of forging friendships and love. I find it so difficult not to get wrapped up in the pursuit of consumerism and the desire to have more of everything. I have to actively learn to turn off what my yoga instructor refers to as my “monkey mind”, and learn to really listen and be present with my friends and family. I once heard someone say that when we die, if we can have a handful of really close friends and family surrounding us, we have lived a rich life. When I think about that image, I’m terrified that I’ve been accumulating lots of acquaintances, but only a few people who I’ve allowed in to really get to know me. The path for me to change that now is through being authentic with people and relying less on self-sufficiency and more upon trust and vulnerability.
2. Cast out that voice in my head that says: “I’m not good enough.” Life has a way of beating us down and throwing what appear to be insurmountable obstacles in front of us. For years, I’ve been governed by my own self worth that I didn’t hold in high regard. Coming to terms with the physical and sexual abuse experienced in my childhood is showing me that I am “good enough” and I am “worthy of love.” Another common trap for me is to be handcuffed by perfectionism. I tell myself that if I can’t do something perfectly, then I shouldn’t do it all. My wife has adopted a great strategy to deal with this problem: “Stop trying to be perfect, and start trying to be whole.” Beautiful!
3. Stop numbing pain and discomfort and learn to “lean into the discomfort.” I’m an addict, so whenever things get too uncomfortable, my first reaction is to numb myself and construct a wall around that pain. Over the years, this numbing has come in the form of drugs, alcohol, food, and physical exercise. I now realize that before I react, I need to step back, pause, and slowly lean into the discomfort. It’s learning to accept discomfort as a natural part of my life that will enable me to grow and be present to witness the joy and happiness that follow uncomfortable personal growth. It’s impossible to only numb out the “bad”, without also numbing out the “good”.
4. Realize that having a passion is sexy! The people I’m most attracted to are those who have a passion that seems to ignite their entire being. From now on, I not going to be embarrassed about diving wholeheartedly into my latest passion. I’ve witnessed first hand what my passion for running has let into my life, so now it’s time to open the floodgates on other ways to ignite my soul.
5. I can’t give what I don’t have. There is a big difference between self-care and selfishness. Part and parcel of practicing mindfulness is identifying what I need to feel grounded, nourished, and whole. If you’re the type of person who needs a bit of “alone time” each day, then denying yourself this doesn’t do you or anyone else around you much good. If you’re like me, and you need structure in your day, then denying that basic need is bound to leach out into negativity in other parts of your life. I realized quite some time ago that I need to burn off some physical activity at the start of each day. If I don’t do it, I’m miserable to be around. As Brene Brown says: “We cannot give our children what we don’t have.” If I want my son to learn patience, trust, and courage, I need to nurture those in me and model those qualities for him.
So, the next time adversity stares me in the face, or life careens me in a different direction, I’ll try not to reach for the “snooze button” and instead, remember my list of regrets I don’t want to take to the grave.