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?

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

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