“Learn all you can from the mistakes of others. You won’t have time to make them all yourself.” Alfred Sheinwold said this; he was an American bridge wizard who helped develop a bidding system for the card game, and he was clearly wise about the human experience. None other than actress Angela Jolie was thinking along similar lines when she said, “If you ask people what they’ve always wanted to do, most people haven’t done it. That breaks my heart.” Then there is this profundity from the psychologist Carl Jung: “Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and their children than the unlived life of the parent.”
I thought about these quotations recently when I happened across one of those ubiquitous lists on the internet entitled the “Top 37 Things You’ll Regret When You’re Old.” Some resonated more than others, but each struck some chord.
Not traveling while you could. Time is as important here as money. Traveling is easier when you are younger and less encumbered, and considerably less pricy without a large family.
Not learning another language. We Americans hardly ever do this because we do not have to, and it is a mistake.
Remaining in a terrible relationship and not quitting an awful occupation. No one ever regrets leaving these situations once he or she has stepped away. Most regret not getting out sooner.
Neglecting to make physical wellness a need, including disregarding your teeth and not using sunscreen. Your doctor and your spouse have surely mentioned this one, and truth be told, once wellness goes, it is hard to get back.
Letting yourself be defined by gender roles and letting yourself be defined by cultural expectations. Think about how much generations of men have missed by ceding childrearing to women and likewise what women missed by believing only men should follow career dreams. Happy and successful people define themselves.
Not understanding how beautiful you were and are. A friend went through some family photographs recently and found one of herself as a young wife and mother. She burst into tears, having believed for decades that she had been fat, plain, and ungainly when she was actually slender and lovely.
Not trying harder in school. For most of us, formal education occurs over a
limited time. Not using that time well too often defines the rest of our lives intellectually and economically.
Not listening to your folks’ advice. This one goes hand in hand with not trying in school. No one is going to love us more or care more about out futures than our families. Their advice is almost always in our best interests.
Not investing enough energy into friends and family and not playing with your children enough. Our families and friends are the people who will walk through life with us, and nurturing those relationships enriches our lives in ways nothing else does. These are our longest lasting relationships and the ones that sustain us over time.
Holding grudges, especially with those you love. See above.
Thinking a lot about what other people think and refusing to let friendships run their course. Others do have opinions of us, but what we think of ourselves counts more. People come and go in our lives, so the only person who will take every step with us is us. Life will be more satisfying if we learn to love and respect ourselves and to enjoy our own company.
Not volunteering enough. Volunteering is easier at some times of life than others, but nothing feels better than knowing we have improved the lives of others. Conversely, little feels worse than knowing we did not.
Not stopping enough to appreciate the moment and not being grateful sooner. Life can be so full and busy that we forget to “live in the moment,” but it can be wonderful when we do. Gratitude seems a quality we gain with age, and the older I get, the happier I am to be here and to enjoy travel and those I love.
So back to Sheinwold’s admonition to learn from the mistakes of others since we will not have time to make them all ourselves. Remember, too, that old saying that at the end of life, most of us regret not what we did, but what we did not do.
I am trying hard and crossing my fingers not to feel that way when the time arrives.