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?
How to Live Life With No Regrets
For those seeking an early exit from the office, there are some triggering events. An event that compels us to Google search terms like, “Help! I’m in Cubicle Hell!” or “Can I still retire early in my parent’s 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:
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 the early retirement mindset adds a clarity of purpose.
The first regret on the list may resonate most with women who are expected to be housewives, raise children, and run 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 wish 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 have 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!
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