Tag Archives: Regrets

Forgive


“Forgiving is not forgetting. It is remembering and letting go.”  -Claudia Black

I’m making progress on this one. We’ve all been hurt to the quick by people in our lives. Some of these scars are drive-bys:  a passing but cutting wound inflicted by someone who’s otherwise a minor player in our lives, except for that moment when they’re inflicting a lasting wound. We remember, often for years. What they did or said hurts, generally because they poked a spot already soft and sensitive inside us. It’s hard not to internalize these reinforcements of our deepest fears. Sometimes these are one-off inflictions which scab over, but sometimes they cumulate, one on top of another, and never fully heal. Either way, we take these blows and carry whatever part with us that we seem unable to set down.

Then there are the slow motion injuries, delivered by someone not easily steered clear of:  a bully at school or work, someone in a position of authority, a family member. These long-term assaults on our psyches are a whole other thing altogether. Each one is unique, depending on the relationship, the giver’s intentions, and the relative power of each party. If we’re not careful, these experiences can erode our humanity, turning us into someone we wouldn’t otherwise be. Heaven knows, I’ve struggled with that at times over the years. 

But I’ve turned a corner. As I’ve put more years on the odometer, it’s getting much easier to let go. Not fully easy yet (I’m not sure I’ll ever get there), but definitely much easier. I’ve lost too much of my life carrying around baggage that only poisons me the more more tightly I hold onto it. I’ve decided I’d rather be happy. And so, I now work hard at letting go much faster. Sometimes that means walking away from a situation or a person or even a whole chunk of your life, if that’s what it takes to move on. But more often, it just means taking the thing in your hands, turning it over and studying it for a short while to mourn or to learn, having a good cry, and then setting it down and walking away. And not looking back.

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”  –Mahatma Gandhi


One Week


I’m generally a good sleeper, but I had an unusual experience Thursday night that I can’t shake. When I awoke in the middle of the night, an odd question popped into my head:  “Another week of my life nearly gone, what did I accomplish?” I had helped a couple of friends on job searches. I had several meaningful conversations with the girls, always a victory with teenagers. And I visited my parents. A good week, is what flashed through my head in the dark, but not terribly impactful, leading instantly to a more difficult question:  “How do you wish you’d been able to answer?” The. Silence. Was. Deafening.

All through my life, I’ve asked myself the question that I assume most of us ask ourselves…what should I be doing with my life? A difficult question to be sure, but one which hasn’t been distressing to not be able to answer. It’s been easy to let myself off the hook with that one. I mean, who expects to know what they’re supposed to do with their whole life, after all. But a single week? Not having that answer was astonishing.

Of course, the irony is that our lives are made up of individual weeks and days and moments. As an organizer and planner, I am fully aware that not having near-term goals makes it less likely that I’ll achieve my longer-term ones. Yet for some reason, I’d never thought about breaking down the enormous meaning-of-life goal into achievable chunks. I don’t even know where to start. But it seems important enough to start figuring out.

“A year from now, you will wish you had started today.”  –Karen Lamb


Scars

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I’ve got enough life behind me by now to be almost grateful for the scars I’ve gotten along the way. While earning them has been painful, they’ve made me who I am. I hate the saying that what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger, but I have to admit it’s true…except, of course, unless you allow it to break you. What’s killing me now is watching my kids earn their own scars; it hurts me more when they hurt, than when I hurt for me.

When they are born, we tell ourselves it will be different for them. We will watch over and protect them. We will teach them our hard-won life lessons so they won’t make our mistakes. We will apply much of our financial resources to give them every advantage. How naive we are. It doesn’t occur to us that countless generations of parents before us made the same pledges, and yet the human condition remains largely the same. Yes, technological improvements over the last couple hundred years have partially lifted the burdens of billions, yet suffering and war and sickness and disaster are ever-present. But mostly we are still left with our own inexperienced, flawed decision-making which, for most of us, remains the largest source of our own, self-inflicted scars

Growing up is hard. I don’t know how to help them beyond giving them advice and making sure they know they’re loved and accepted. I know, you say, that is helping. But that’s never enough for a parent, is it? We want to fix it. And the hard part is, we want to fix it our way, not theirs. We not only can’t control the situation, we can’t control them. And so we care…care just as deeply (or more) as if it were happening to us, but without any control. It’s awful.

I’m trying to tell myself the obvious, that if I’m thankful for my scars, I must patiently wait for the day my children will be grateful for theirs. Somehow, we seem to need to learn important lessons the hard way. If they are hurting, they are learning and growing. While I pray for my children, I will also pray for myself, to remember that this is its own good.

“Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.” –Helen Keller


Terrified

mike

I’ve heard that 74% of American adults have “speech anxiety”, a fear of public speaking. Though I admit to still getting nervous when the stakes are particularly high, my job has required public speaking for decades, and I have largely overcome this fear. Yet the most terrifying experience of my life involved a brief presentation to an audience hand-picked to be the friendliest imaginable:  my family and friends.

As I was wrapping up publication of my first book, my editor told me that I needed to host a book launch. What does that entail, I asked? A book launch is basically a party of at least 100 people to introduce your book. My only obligation (besides issuing invitations and footing the bill) was to stand up for 10 minutes and talk about my book. I’ve stood up in front of much larger groups many times on topics I was less well-versed on than what I’d labored over for three years, researching exhaustively and painstakingly revising many dozens of times. How hard could this be?

Terrifying, as it turned out. First, I felt guilty for taking advantage of (or so it felt) my friendships to make such a shameless plug for something so selfish. “Come to my party and eat some free hors d’ouevres, then see if I’ve guilted you into buying a copy of my book.” But what was terrifying was the thought of sharing such a deeply personal topic with over a hundred of my friends, nearly all of them co-workers. We’re conditioned to only share our views on religion in “safe” situations so as not to offend others. Plus I had spent three years putting my heart and soul into this book…what if they thought it was awful? Faith is so personal, what if they felt like I was preaching to them?

I had two months to agonize over all of these questions. It was a long, slow adrenaline rush that hit every time I thought about it over those months. Did I really have to do this? I knew the answer was no, but I also felt like I needed to see this three year journey all the way through. It’s terrifying to put yourself out there, but I hadn’t been alone at any point on this journey–I had to have faith I also wouldn’t be alone in the darkened meeting room at the Minneapolis Sheraton.

The night came; the turnout was awesome. My parents drove 600 miles to be there. I let everyone mingle for a few minutes, then I went to the front of the room. As I bared my soul in front of all of those people, it…was…ok! A few minutes later it was over. I walked around the roomful of people who meant a lot to me, finally relaxed and able to enjoy their company. And guess what? They supported me, overwhelmingly. In hindsight, it was ridiculous that I would have feared anything different. Many said kind things, but mostly they just celebrated my achievement. I was blessed. Blessed to have such wonderful people in my life. Blessed to have had this spiritual journey. Blessed with a lesson that vulnerability and facing my fears can lead to such a wonderful outcome.

“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” –Muhammed Ali


Can You Go Back?

Victor

My grandparents owned a little vacation home in Victor, Colorado from before I was born until they retired in a different part of the mountains when I was eight. We called it a vacation home, but it was really just a small, turn of the century house built during the gold rush. Victor, with its sister city Cripple Creek, peaked at a population of 20,000 between them around 1900. By the time my grandparents bought the house in the 60s, the combined population had dropped to less than 750. I don’t know what my grandparents paid for it, but they sold it in the mid-70’s for $6,000. I just saw a very similar home for sale online listed for $139,000. Grandma would be upset she didn’t hold on for a better deal.

My memories of the place are unrealistically idyllic…I can see that now through my adult perspective. But as a child, our visits there were an adventure. It was small, two bedrooms and one bath, a living room, and a kitchen/dining area. My guess is about 800 square feet. I remember the furnishings looking old then, and not “antique old”, just worn. There was a small box of toys with missing parts on the porch and a black-and-white TV with a large cabinet and tiny screen which got a couple of channels, but otherwise entertainment was up to us.

I don’t remember hanging out in the dark house much: with the stunning Rocky Mountain scenery one step outside the house, why would you? I do remember heading five miles to bigger Cripple Creek to ride the train, browse the tourist shops (the candy store was my favorite), or see the “famous” melodrama. I remember long drives and sweeping vistas between small, neighboring mountain towns, each a to-be-discovered jewel of history and Victorian architecture. I also remember my anticipation of riding the deep, underground elevator in the nearby Molly Kathleen Mine. What I didn’t predict was how boring a mine would be to a 6-year old who lacked the adult perspective of its historical significance and the imagination to appreciate what would drive men to choose that harsh lifestyle.

Beyond the few snippet memories of evening meals and cold bedtimes in the house itself, my most vivid memory actually happened just outside of it, playing in the front yard with my kid sister in the shadow of the glorious Rockies. The neighbor lady, ancient Mrs. McCreedy, kept a couple of horses just across the narrow street – we sure enjoyed watching them. One cold summer morning, as a bonus to the horses, a kitten wandered through our yard into hers. I was allergic to cats, which only made them irresistible contraband. Besides, kittens are put on Earth precisely for four- and five-year old girls. We had just begun to play with the little ball of fur when crotchety Mrs. McCreedy popped out of her house to yell at us to get off of her yard. It didn’t take twice! She looked just like the witch in our Hansel and Gretel book, who lured children into her candy house. We weren’t going to make that mistake. I suddenly lost all interest in playing outside, despite Mom’s surprised queries when we suddenly popped back inside. It’s funny what you remember, isn’t it?

It sounds like the area has changed a lot in the 40 years since I was last there. Cripple Creek approved gambling years ago, bringing in much needed jobs, and casinos now line the historic Main Street. Grandma didn’t approve. Listening to her describe how the changes ruined the once-picturesque area, I had never wanted to go back until recently. I don’t know what changed my mind, but it’s now on my bucket list. I just learned that despite multiple return trips to Colorado over the years, my parents never went back either. Grandma and Grandpa are gone now, and my parents (and me, too) are getting older. I guess I just want to revisit that thin chapter of my childhood one last time. I’m going to try to convince my parents to go with me–a long weekend trip down memory lane, with the people who originally walked it with me. I’ve always heard you can never go back…I think I’m going to try just this once.

“Living is like tearing through a museum. Not until later do you start absorbing what you saw, thinking about it, looking it up in a book – and remembering, because you can’t take it in all at once.” –Audrey Hepburn


How Dumb Is That?

bali

For two years, I had the privilege of working in a global role. My responsibilities covered 35 countries on all continents except Antarctica. In 24 months, I visited 12 countries in Europe, Asia, and South America. It was a blast.

The teams would go out two weeks at a time. Sometimes I was with them the whole two weeks, sometimes I joined them only on the second week. On the weekend in between, we’d take advantage by sightseeing in whatever exotic part of the world we found ourselves. I have amazing memories of those weekends: the ski weekend in Zermatt, Switzerland in the shadow of the Matterhorn; wandering the streets of London and Moscow; the bus-train-boat excursion to Mt. Fuji. The best weekend by far was roaming the Transylvanian countryside in Romania…incredible. I’d have never thought to go there on my own, but it should be on everyone’s bucket list.

On the whole, I took great advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves during those two years. But echoing a quote by Rory Cochrane, “I do not regret the things I’ve done, but those I did not do”, I do have one significant regret from that time. I was joining the team for week two in Kuala Lumpur, and they had decided on the tropical resort island of Bali for the weekend. I gave it serious thought (who wouldn’t?), but working in a heavy travel job with a family leaves you with constant work/life balance issues. I chose to spend the extra 48 hours with my family.

Looking back since, I’ve often thought I made the wrong choice. I love my family and have made lots of wrong choices over the years between work and family. This one time, however, I gave up the weekend of a lifetime in an exotic location that few people get the opportunity to see. How dumb is that? Life is full of countless tradeoffs we make every day. We can’t spend our lives living with regret over having made the wrong choice, as they were the best choice at that moment. At that moment, I chose my family. I believe I made the right choice.

“Of the choices set before you, make your choice, and be content.”  –Samuel Johnson


Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

A viral list raced around social media over the summer, purportedly written by a nurse about the top 5 regrets they’d heard from dying patients over the years. I didn’t read it because I don’t believe many of these stories are real, but the thought stuck with me.

I don’t have my own deathbed regrets yet as I’m only at midlife, but I do know the regrets I want to avoid. Here are the five I couldn’t tolerate having at the end of my life:
1. I mistreated others. Plato is quoted as saying, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” That pretty well sums it up for me.
2. Those who meant a lot to me didn’t know it. Hundreds of people have made my life awesome, enriched, rewarding, bearable, worthwhile. The very least I can do to repay them is to make sure they know what they meant to me.
3. I didn’t say thank you.
4. I didn’t live an authentic life. I have had a long, arduous journey to find the person I was meant to be. I must follow it with the courage to live life as that person.
5. I didn’t make the world a better place. Most of us will be forgotten within a generation of our deaths. But if I made a difference for a handful of others while I was here, then my life was worthwhile.

Wish me luck.

“Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.” –Sydney J. Harris