Today’s post is a special “repeat” of sorts. Special, because it’s a duet featuring blogger friend Amanda Kruse and yours truly. I wanted to stitch these two pieces together to underscore why true wealth is having no regrets. It’d been a project on the side of my desk for far too long. After reading an extremely heartbreaking story on LinkedIn this past week, I had to get this post finished. I hope you find some inspiration in the following few paragraphs.
Part 1: The Accident (By Amanda Kruse)
I write this as I stand in line at the DMV attending to the aftermath of a car accident. And I’m happy to be able to stand here in line on this beautiful spring morning.
I’m happy to be here at all. There’s something about walking away from a bad car accident that creates a ton of gratefulness.
My husband was driving, and I didn’t see it coming. My entire family – my husband, myself, our 2 teens, and our dog – were on our way to my in-law’s house for a family gathering. We were driving on a four-lane highway at 55 mph (the speed limit) through an intersection.
The first inkling I had that anything was wrong, was my husband saying, “Oh shit.” We’ve been married for over 20 years, and I knew this “Oh shit” was different. It was said with alarm and fear. Our car was in the right lane, and there was a large truck passing us and blocking his view in the left lane.
My husband didn’t see the van turning until it was right in front of us. He had no time to react, and we hit the van at full speed straight on their rear axle.
The first thing I remember is the sound. I’ll never forget that sound.
The intense blow of impact, the sound of our car’s hood crushing in. I don’t remember the airbags deploying at that moment (but they did).
I do remember the sensation of the seat belt pulling so hard it hurt, holding me in my seat as the back end of our car lifted off the pavement and started spinning. The cabin immediately filled with a smokey, acrid powder from the airbags.
At that moment I was utterly terrified. Our car spun for what seemed like an eternity. We finally came to a stop, but we couldn’t see out the windows and didn’t know if another car would come along and slam into us.
A couple of seconds go by, we figured we probably wouldn’t get hit. But we were still scared to open our doors since we didn’t know where we were or how close the traffic was…
After checking with everyone, we realized no one in our car had been seriously injured. Which was a total miracle.
Even our little 10-pound dog, Sammy, was sitting there shaking, seemingly uninjured (I’m guessing she had been thrown from the seat at some point). Of course, between the adrenaline and the shock, you don’t feel anything in those first few minutes.
We realized over the next few hours and into the next day that we’d been thrown around pretty good. All of us had lots of bruises, scrapes and very sore bodies. I ended up with a chest contusion and an ER visit.
Life Is Short
In half a second on the day of that accident, my family’s lives could have ended or changed forever. With no warning and by no fault of our own.
As much as we talk about “how life is short” and try to remind ourselves to “live each day to the fullest,” we don’t remember from day to day how quickly things can change. We certainly have control over some areas of our lives, but there is still so much we can’t and don’t control.
And all those tragic things? They don’t always just happen to other people.
That’s a negative thought. But it’s not meant to paint a picture of doom and gloom or to encourage folks to go through life expecting the worst.
Quite the contrary, I want you (and me) to remember how precious each day is. I want us to put all the important things first. I want us to love and enjoy our lives today. That doesn’t mean we should go all YOLO, go out and take unnecessary risks, and spend all our money. No, because important things don’t necessarily cost money, friends.
Make Today Count
I don’t have the answers, but I am searching for them. I want to learn how to live my best life every day. And I figure you do too.
I’ve come up with some ideas on how you and I can remember to make today count, prioritize the important things, and try to live our best lives every day. This list is far from exhaustive, so please chime in at the end and help me out!
Set an intention for each day. I started keeping a journal in January (I use the 5 Minute Journal). It’s a gratitude journal of sorts, but, each morning, it helps me focus on the question “What would make today great?”. Writing this down sets a positive intention for the day ahead.
Plan your day. I’ve started planning on how to spend my time each day. I feel more productive and successful when I plan. I set “work time” and “exercise time” and “reading time” (Rockstar Finance, 7:15 am, M-F!). And I write it down. This way I build good habits and routines into the day. Though things don’t always go according to plan, most of the time they do.
People first. Always. I can quickly get consumed by the busyness of daily life. I created a new rule this year – if I get a chance to spend time with family or friends, I make every effort to say “yes.” There are sometimes exceptions to this rule, but simply making it a rule has helped me let go of my to-do list in favor of spending time with family and friends. The to-do list will still be there later but the opportunity to spend time with loved ones may not.
Be kind. Do something nice for someone else. There is no better feeling in the world than making someone else’s day a little brighter. I try to do small acts of kindness. And when someone has done or said something to help me or make my day better – even something they think is so small – I make every effort to express my appreciation for their kindness.
Short story: We purchased the car we totaled 3 days before the accident, so the title and registration hadn’t yet been processed into our name. To get a check from the insurance company for a replacement vehicle, we needed the title transferred to our name.
I contacted the dealership to tell them the situation, and without even asking her, the title clerk promptly sent a driver to the county offices to get our updated title and registration the same day. At a time when not everything was going our way, and not everyone was kind (insurance!!!), this meant so much to us. I let her know how much we appreciated the kindness.
Let it go. Some days, things just don’t go according to plan. Stuff comes up and plans change. That’s okay! It’s not the end of the world. Though I’m far from perfect here, I’ve found that when I just roll with it and become more flexible, I feel better and get back on track faster.
Work on balance. It’s great to have a focus and work hard on goals. But it’s just as important to enjoy the process of reaching those goals. Notice the small things you enjoy each day. Take it one moment at a time and savor the journey along the way.
I’m not always good at this, but I’m getting better. I set the intention to create balance each morning in my journal. Because when I push myself too hard, it’s tough to be creative and kind and enjoy the moments of life. Sometimes it just takes a break to reset.
Mindfulness. Being present in the moment is hard. I don’t know why we humans always think about the past or future and quickly forget about the here and now. And I don’t think there is a single answer or solution. But I do know the more I try to be in the moment, the happier I am. I’m more focused on the people in my life and what I’m doing at the time. It’s also a fantastic way to keep stress at bay.
Ask “What’s the worst that can happen?” This question helps me do the things that make me feel more alive. I’m more willing to take those risks I might not otherwise take and live my life more fully. My life has changed for the better over the past few years as I ask this question more often.
True Wealth Is Living a Life With No Regrets
Amanda’s words should make us all pause to reflect on what’s truly important in our lives. A meaningful retirement isn’t one built on stockpiles of cash or multiples of millions. We can find meaning and clear our path from the distractions that lead to regrets. Is there a formula for fulfilling a happy life?
For those seeking an early exit from the office, there’s some triggering event. An event that compels us to Google search terms like, “Help! I’m in Cubicle Hell!” or “Can I still retire early in my parents’ basement?”
My own personal “cubicle from hell” anecdote goes like this: I had just completed a two-year project that at times kept me from my family on weekends, evenings, and some holidays as well. It was around then that I realized, that even with a great manager and a job role that suited me well, this whole corporate scene was simply not sustainable for me.
Eventually, I stumbled across an insightful little study that pulled it all together for me, “The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying.” Sounds pretty grim, right? I figured, at 42 years old, I had a decent amount of runway to make some serious course adjustments. Boiled down, the list is as follows:
The Top Five Regrets of the Dying
1. I wish I’d dared 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 dared 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.
Regret #1: I wish I’d dared to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
This one is elusive for me. I’m just not sure what anyone expected of me, honestly. So I struggle with this regret. I never had pressure growing up to take on a profession or a family business. I was sort of left to figure it out on my own, so long as I stayed out of trouble.
Did I want to become a lawyer or a doctor? Nah. But I was sure I’d land on something, hopefully by the time I finished college.
With over two decades of career experience in a career, I didn’t pine for, I have no regrets. And bonus, I’ve found that an early retirement mindset adds clarity of purpose.
The first regret on the list may resonate most with women who are expected to be housewives, raising children and running a household. We’ve come a long way as a society, and nowadays, this is a choice, rather than an expectation. It’s a little mind-blowing, and ultimately sad, to consider how many more women from generations past might’ve contributed in all the fields historically dominated by men.
Regret #2: I wishing I hadn’t worked so hard
Here’s a regret that brings me back to the fall of 2014. All of the hard work that went into that project-from-hell did yield some worthy rewards via bonuses, recognition, and a for-reals sense of accomplishment. And yet, with two newborns arriving at the outset of the project, I felt I’d missed out on too much time with them, and my wife.
With the list of regrets now etched in my brain, I’ve gone on to turn down multiple promotions at work. Sounds crazy, when you consider how raises and bonuses can help you achieve early retirement sooner. But, I couldn’t risk taking on more when my family needed more of my presence. Thankfully, and somewhat unexpectedly, management respected my decisions.
Regret #3: I wish I’d dared to express my feelings
It can happen at home and at work. We hold back on showing gratitude. We hold back on letting people know how we feel about important things. Maybe a loved one isn’t treating us with respect? Maybe we have a crush on someone and we’re too afraid to approach him or her? Taking risks is the lesson here. We need to be willing to breach any discomfort by saying “I love you”, or “I think you’re wonderful”. We need to be ready to say to our bosses and colleagues, “I value my time with my family and working on weekends is not sustainable for me.”
Regret #4: I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
This regret, in my opinion, is one we can all remedy with relative ease. Maybe it’s harder here in the states to maintain bonds of friendship because of our vast geography. Just about every close friend during childhood moved out of state after college. Thank goodness for Facebook?!?
Contrast our situation in the States with Blue Zones – communities where people live to 100+ with good health (and, I imagine, fewer regrets). Blue Zone societies are woven together by multi-generational families that stay intact. Very few children move away from home. The village pub is where you’ll find 90-somethings mingling and joking with their contemporaries (i.e., the kids they grew up with)
We may not live in Blue Zones but we don’t have to live on the island of Sardinia to maintain strong bonds with friends. Give an old friend a call this Sunday night. Heck, write a letter, or even an email. Texting and social media help us keep more connected, but it has to be done with intent. Simply sharing a funny video or photos is good, but you can’t beat picking up the phone and having a conversation.
Regret #5: I wish that I had let myself be happier
Straight from the article: “…they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.” Cling to this observation and let it sink in for a bit. Time has a wicked way of steering you into comfort zones and familiar patterns. Those patterns could be the culprit that’s keeping you from being happier.
As we age, we get set in our ways. And maybe that’s a coping mechanism? So it can become harder to embrace change, be a kid again, and embrace the absurd. Remember to flex those laughing muscles whenever you can. It’s healthy, and it seems, it helps you live a life of no regrets.
It means freeing your mind of worry so you can a full life TODAY. We often forget to focus on the here and now while forging full steam towards that early retirement milestone…
Remember to slow down and make today count!
Call a friend (or two) whom you haven’t talked to in over a year. Have fun and be silly once in a while. Remember to laugh and to express how you feel to those you care about. And most important of all, be true to yourself!