The other day, I was asked by a colleague if there are things I regret doing or not doing throughout my life. Instead of immediately answering her question I remembered a study of 95-year-olds asking a similar question: “If you could go back and live your life differently, what would you change?”
Here is a summary of their responses:
- I would have reflected more. I don’t think any of us do enough of this. We’re too busy. We’re too scared. We’re too satisfied with our current situations and productions.
- I would have risked more. Man, I’m gonna be a risk taker! I never want the fear of the risk to hold me back from doing something.
- I would have invested more in things that would live on after I’m dead. Whoooo! This what I’m all about. I am going to live my life doing stuff that will continue to spread 1,000 years after I’m dead.
We certainly do not and should not wait until we are in our 90s to ask ourselves such questions; but as I considered my response to my colleague’s question I actually suggest a different question: “If you could go back and live your life differently, what would you not change?”
This question is not about nuance or “glass half full” but rather about the purpose we see in our lives; the relationships with have with others and the impacts we make.
It is a question we can ask anyone — of any age — fortunately, we all have experiences we can learn from and attitudes, skills, knowledge and behavior we can replicate, because they are beneficial.
It is also a question we can ask in the mirror and celebrate our progress and success to develop our competencies and to make a positive difference in our lives and the lives of others.
Instead of looking back with regret when we reach 95, we can celebrate the things we did not change because they had lasting positive impacts on us and on others.
I know I am not answering the question my colleague asked, so let me share with you that one thing I do regret is not asking the right questions throughout my life, especially when I was younger. I have been curious about a lot of things but too often failed to ask the right questions to address my wonder. Perhaps that is why now I tend to ask a lot of questions of a lot of people. The willingness of others to consider and respond to my questions is much appreciated and often identifies other questions I am eager to ask.
How about you “If you could go back and live your life differently, what would you not change?”