Josh Irby

Live from Sarajevo

A life with no regrets

[This is the first post in a new series, Plan2Change, about the possibility and process of personal growth.]

Regret is one of the most powerful human emotions—it tightens your gut, drops your shoulders, darkens your eyes, and fogs your mind. As poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote, “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, The saddest are these: ‘It might have been.’ “

Photo credit Cesar Astudillo (Creative Commons)

Photo credit Cesar Astudillo (Creative Commons)

Men in their 40s often experience the power of regret. Looking back over the previous 20 years, they regret choices made in the name of business success—relationships lost, character compromised, paths chosen. We call it a mid-life crisis. Sports car dealers call it a business opportunity. The world is full of middle-age men trying to cover regret with new clothes and fast cars.

At least these men can make changes to their lives. There is another group for whom it is too late.

I sometimes think about the end of my life.

I am lying in the hospital connected to machines. The doctor tells my family there is nothing more he can do. My children and grandchildren gather around to comfort me. Their presence warms my soul.

I think back through my life, frames flickering before my mind’s eye. I should have . . . I wish I would have . . . I feel regret.

When I end the thought experiment, I take note. What regrets did I have? What should I have done? What should I have avoided? Then I celebrate the fact I am still alive. I jump and sing like Scrooge at the end of A Christmas Story. Then I make changes to ensure I won’t have those regrets one day.

Because one day my life will be over. Friends and family will travel from around the country to attend my funeral. Some people will cry. Some will laugh (hopefully while sharing funny stories from my life). Some will stand up and share about me.

What will they say about me at my funeral?

I know they won’t mention the things that occupy much of my time day to day.
“Josh could really fill out a form well.”
“Josh was so good at checking his email and staying up to date on Facebook.”

I hope they will speak about meaningful conversations, shared experiences, and life-changing interactions.

What do you want people to say about you at your funeral? Take 2 minutes and write out what comes to mind. [Then, if you’re willing, share it in the comments below]

When I’m dead, it’s too late to determine the words spoken at my funeral. Those decisions take place today.

I want to live such a life that one day people will say, “He loved his family. He lived for God. He gave his life for the good of those around him.” That would make me happy.

And this statement can work as a North Star keeping me focused on where I want to go. Your statement can do the same for you. [tweet_quote]Until we know who we want to be, we can’t become who we should be.[/tweet_quote]

In a few years, when I turn 40, I won’t buy a fast car or start dressing like a teenager. Hopefully, I will avoid a mid-life crisis altogether. Not because life is going exactly how I planned, but because I am heading in the right direction. Instead of a mid-life crisis, I will have a mid-life check-in.

Am I living a life that leads to regret or rejoicing?
Am I becoming who I want to be?
Will the path I am walking take me where I want to go?

[tweet_quote]I choose to live a focused life today, so I won’t have regrets on my last day.[/tweet_quote] How about you?

Open Letter Cover 2

If you liked this post, then consider joining the community here at JoshIrby[dot]com. Just for joining, I will give you my recent visual manifesto, An Open Letter for You from the Rest of the World, for FREE.

Plus, you will receive regular blog updates and exclusive newsletter content.

"I love Josh's writing. Big things to come from him." —Jeff Goins

About Josh

  • Josh – really poignant post; it is best to ask now than not have the chance later. Check out Psalms 90:12; I would recommend you check out this resource by Robert Smith, Andy Andrews manager:

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Joshua Irby

      I love that Psalm. and thanks for the link. I’ll check it out.

      • If I can figure out how to do it you would enjoy a talk given by John Maxwell that I have where he tells of his up close and personal time with John Wooden…I think I read at one point you played BB….you might enjoy it…would be happy to make a CD for you and mail it……if you would like, use email to say so and let me know where to send it….the title of talk…NO REGRETS.

  • renee

    Josh! Love, love, love this! I had the fortunate opportunity to experience loss at a very young age. Why fortunate? I learned that life should be lived to the fullest, don’t look back, do my best, have no regrets–these ideas landed me in a bit of trouble now and then BUT I could die this afternoon and I’d be ok with that. Early on (in life) I read Stephen Covey–his words “live with the end in mind” the exercise was to plan your funeral. If I died I would want my husband to say “she loved me beyond what I thought was possible” and I want my kids to say “my mom was never too busy to stop, listen and love me”.

    From my own personal experience I think 40 was easier than 50!

    Be Blessed.

    • Joshua Irby

      Awesome Renee. I am sad for the loss you experienced but glad for the results!

  • Josh,

    Great post. One of my mottos is to live life with as few regrets as possible.

    I would have to say the thing I would want others to say about me is that “No matter what she went through she still trusted God.”

    I believe God is not interested in some of the very things you mentioned, but he will want to know what we did with Jesus. And I am still learning that the very one I trusted for taking care of my sins, is the one I lean into when difficulties arise.

  • Josh, such a wonderful post! We buried my sister on her 45th birthday. I turn 45 in October. This subject has been so heavy on my heart this year as I face the end of the time frame she was allowed on this earth. I want to live so others can say they saw Christ through me.

  • Pingback: How I Met Your Mother and the Possibility of Real Change | Josh Irby()

  • Pingback: Take my advice, bury your regret | Josh Irby()

  • Pingback: An honest life (the power of reality) | Josh Irby()

  • Pingback: A deeper life (finding root causes) | Josh Irby()

  • Pingback: A life of celebration (setting clear goals) | Josh Irby()

  • Pingback: A life of action (step out and start changing) | Josh Irby()

  • Pingback: Cru New York City()