Choosing Your Regrets

Last fall, David Brooks asked readers over 70 to send him “life reports,” autobiographical essays evaluating their lives.  He posted many of them and they’re fascinating and insightful to read. 

Some have bitter regrets and in almost every case they have to do with broken family relationships (see my post on this).  They chose what seemed right or preferable or advantageous at the time, and their lives were never the same.  The sacrifices weren’t worth it.

I’ve thought often about what sort of “life report” I want to write when I’m 70 or 75.  In one sense, life comes down to what regrets you want to have when you’re old.

There are some regrets I won’t mind having. 

I’ve always wanted to run another marathon, but if I don’t, it won’t be that big of a deal.  I’ve always wanted to see a baseball game at every major league ballpark.  I’ve been to a bunch, but I may not reach that goal.

I may not publish that one article or book I wanted to write, I won’t be the best writer, the best biblical scholar, or the best teacher.  But I’m confident that I can deal with those things when I’m 70.

Here are the regrets I don’t want to have.

I don’t want to regret deeply wounding someone I love by saying something profoundly hurtful.

I don’t want to regret failing to initiate reconciliation sooner.

I don’t want to regret pursuing a professional achievement at the cost of being present with my family.

I don’t want to regret that I didn’t laugh with Sarah and the kids more.

I don’t want to regret that I didn’t listen more to my kids.

I don’t want to regret that I took myself too seriously.

I don’t want to regret that I didn’t enjoy my life more and make the effort to bring joy to those around me.

I don’t want to regret failing to put myself on the line for a friend or colleague who’s been treated unjustly.

I don’t want to regret not affirming my kids enough or making sure they know I love them.

It can be a seriously clarifying exercise to think about what sort of “life report” you want to write when you’re 70.

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