Perhaps it’s timely, especially post-election when losers and supporters of all stripes and kinds are still nursing wounds and regretting so much about ‘what might’ve been.’
And it’s almost too convenient a topic to bring up the ‘woulda-coulda-shouldas’ now that the airwaves are full of L’affaire Petraeus of which, Petraeus friend and former spokesman Steve Boylan says the now ex-CIA Director mea culpas “he regrets it on so many levels.” Or as we once said about a hapless high school buddy at his shotgun-wedding — ‘a moment’s pleasure, a lifetime of regret.’
So talk about timing, on Sunday there was another one of those occasional articles that crop up now and then about life regrets writ big and small and particularly about remorse and repentance that comes at life’s end.
Written by a Jewish rabbi, scholar and author, Erica Brown, “Death: A Nice Opportunity for Regret” detailed an exercise Rabbi Brown conducted where she asked her students to list their small and large regrets on index cards. The responses were insightful, even poignant.
“We rarely connect regret to death, but then we rarely connect death to anything because we’d rather talk about grocery shopping, gardening and taxes. Reading my students’ regrets helped me understand the connection between regret and death,” she wrote.
Even “Ol’ Blue Eyes” who while doing things “My Way,” had his regrets, even if they “were too few to mention.” “Regret,” it’s been said, “is insight that comes a day too late” — although Woody Allen famously wagged that, “My one regret in life is that I am not someone else.” And Arthur Miller summed it up thusly, “Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.”
We try to avoid it but “the feeling of regret” has a way of catching up to us. Fortunately, most of the time, our regrets are private ones.
And yes, even lawyers, have their own share of prosaic regrets, like attending law school or becoming a lawyer. Just 3 years ago, a LexisNexis survey revealed 21% of law students regretted the choice.
George Costanza, who some of you may have now discovered is one of my most quotable philosophers, once decided “to do the opposite” rather than “sit here and do nothing and regret it the rest of the day.”
Our top regrets.
But as for inventorying our final regrets, well before we utter those final words or write them down on classroom index cards, reflection confirms what studies categorize as our biggest life regrets. They’re neatly compiled into “common domains” like regrets about education, career, romance and parenting.
A few years ago, palliative nurse Bronnie Ware came up with her own list, gleaned from those about to slip their mortal coils. She identified them as the “Top five regrets of the dying.”
As a nurse involved in hospice care, Ware had the perfect vantage point. She cared for patients at the end of life and then blogged about their deathbed revelations at her blog called “Inspiration and Chai.”
Ware’s top 5 list resonates with truth:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
In her essay, Rabbi Brown notes “You can’t eliminate a regret, but you can transform one.” This, of course, presupposes there’s time sufficient for transformation — never a given when you don’t ordinarily know “about that day or hour.”
It’s been frequently said that at the end, not many of us will regret not having stayed longer at work “or not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal.”
In discussing what he called Habit 2, “Begin with the end in mind,” the late Steven Covey memorably asked readers in his best-selling “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,“ to create “A Personal Mission Statement.”
The way to do this, according to Covey, was to start at the end — by envisioning our own funerals. “Imagine that as your casket is being lowered down into the ground and your family and friends are standing around watching. What are they thinking about? When they think of you and your life, which statements, images and memories come up to their minds?
“What do you want them to think, imagine, and remember? It is precisely these statements, images, and memories which should be your principles.”
By living in the moment but cognizant of where we’re headed, at the end — at least we might get to that place once said about living. “Nobody said life would be easy, they just promised it would most likely be worth it.”
Photo Credits: General David Petraeus, Commander of US and ISAF forces in Afghanistan, with author Paula Broadwell, via Wikipedia Commons image is a work of a U.S. military or Department of Defense employee, taken or made during the course of an employee’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the publicdomain.