1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expect of me.
I have said this ad nauseum for the past 10-15 years of my adult life. Why? Why has it become a mantra through so much repetition?
I feel an overwhelming need to remind myself repeatedly and frequently that if I don’t stay true to myself (or more importantly, true to who I believe God created me to be), then I will never….never….never…be content. The fact that I keep looking back over my life, at points when I could have done better and didn’t, when I should have chosen differently and didn’t, when I ought to have stood up for myself and didn’t, when I needed to defend myself and didn’t (or couldn’t), illustrates to me in a profound way how easy it is to go along to get along. And perhaps easy is the wrong word…perhaps peaceful is the word I’m looking for, because at least, when you’re going with the flow, you have less external conflict. What I didn’t realize at the time was that attempting to do or be what was expected of me, to the exclusion of any other motivation, was churning up internal dilemmas and discontent the likes of which I was only beginning (at that time) to notice. Fast forward 15 years to a woman who is dealing with disappointment (in myself), who believes myself weak and easily manipulated, who has moments of blinding rage at myself (and others) for situations both in the past and beyond my control, who struggles with believing I am a competent woman in any regard…in any role…in any capacity. I am working on it, because I truly don’t want to be an old woman full of regrets, or even worse, full of rage over these regrets.
There is more to say, but this is the short answer.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
I can gratefully say that this is not something I will ever wish, because I am not (by any stretch) a workaholic. I value my down time…perhaps a little too much. I guard my time, my space, my privacy (such as it is with a blog…ha) way too much. To the point where, rather than seeing that work is my idol (which it obviously isn’t), I am coming to understand that perhaps my idol is time. I do not crave the responsibilities of a busier life, though I am willing to take them on and muscle through them if necessary. However, when I have a spate of busy days, with appointments and obligations that keep me running and cut into an otherwise fairly quiet life, I start to crave the quietness and alone-ness. To the point that hunkering down at the house for a day, or having a day full of solitary errands, is what I want more than anything else. I understand that much of that need is fueled by the introvert in me, but perhaps it is also the selfish side of me that wants to serve myself first.
There’s probably more to say, but…this is the short answer.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
This, I can say with absolute certainty, is something I have never been afraid to do. I am a passionate, emotional person, and when it comes to those with whom I am closest, I have no trouble expressing anything that springs to mind. My father has told me that there were times throughout my adolescence when he just decided I had expressed myself enough, and then uttered the most torturous words in the world (for me): “Do not say another word. Do not react. Do not have an ugly look on your face. Do not even breathe hard.” Is it rhetorical to say that I felt like I would explode at those points? What I did learn was to choke down my emotions, especially my anger, and while I have never been one who could not vent, there were things I could not vent about, because they were painful and wrenching, and because I felt like I couldn’t talk about them to the very people with whom a dialog would have been healing…on both sides.
So there is more to say on this point as well, but this is the short answer.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Without a doubt, Facebook is the single greatest tool ever invented for reconnecting with friends. You here about its downsides all the time…lack of privacy, glitches, harrassment, inappropriateness, negative personal & professional impact, etc. etc. etc. Believe me, none of those problems are created by, or (to their greatest extent) fostered by Facebook. They are almost always user created. Make good decisions about your social networking, and by & large it will be a great experience. This has been the case for me. I have reconnected with friends I thought I would never hear from again. I have gotten in better & more regular contact with friends with whom, before, our contact was limited to Christmas cards or the like. I’ve gotten to know acquaintances from my youth much better as an adult…enough better that I would not hesitate to call them friends now. I’ve been able to rejoice with friends & family from afar as they grow, graduate, get married, have babies, get jobs, relocate, pursue passions, win awards, travel the world, and more. I’ve been able to mourn with those who have experienced losses. As one friend commented not long ago (and it’s true for me), I have prayed more for more people than ever before in my life, thanks to Facebook. This has enriched my life in ways I never imagined it would. It has given me an outlet for communication, for contact, for political debate, for spiritual discussion. It has provided me with confidantes I would not otherwise have had. It has made my life fuller in incalculable ways. It brought me to the blogosphere, which jumpstarted my writing after ten years of dormancy. As far as technology goes, this gift of connectivity is priceless.
My grandfather said a number of years ago , in the context of a conversation about which I have no memory other than this, that “family is all you’ve got.” It must have been in some reference to keeping in touch, or living close to each other, or something along those lines. It made me sad, because here he is near the end of his life, with perhaps a regret or two that what friendships he had are no longer. I vowed then, and vow now, that it will not be a regret at the end of my life.
Suffice it to say, that is the short…and the long…answer.
5. I wish I had let myself be happier.
I think I would have let myself be happier earlier in life if I had realized what I needed to be happy. As I look back on so many years of unhappiness, I realize that had I been confident in myself, I might have seen the myriad choices other than the ones I made. If I had been able to see past my own existence, I might have seen that changing my circumstances by making different choices would have changed my happiness factor. Sadly, I didn’t see all the options at the time. There is no question that I was stubborn, but I was also short-sighted and misdirected as to what my strengths were, what professional pursuits would suit me, and what goals I needed to strive for in order to move in a fulfilling direction. I was unable to shed some truly toxic relationships, and unable to see (as a young adult) that I did actually have the skills to be a fully functioning, independent, responsible adult. What a different life I would have had if I had been able to really see.
I get that now. I get that I was the greatest impediment to my happiness, and still am to some extent. But I am content now. Truly content, and this doesn’t mean I don’t wish for changes in my life, but it does mean that I have (to some extent) learned to be content with where I am, and to put it in perspective. A strong, loving, kind, believing husband has been a huge part of that, because he champions me, and encourages me to be better, to be the woman that God created me to be. He pushes me to keep focused on that goal, and he willingly and generously enables me to do whatever it is I think I need to do to continue in that direction. What an enormous blessing he is.
Here’s what else I get: that happiness is ephemeral & fleeting. Some days you feel it, and some days you don’t. But JOY…that is sold as a rock, and rooted in the Savior, and absolutely essential to contentment. And I do have joy, even on my most unhappy days. For that, I am immeasurably grateful.
That is the answer…THE answer. And I would wager than most of these people, when ticking up their regrets at the end of their lives, really regret having not been more joyful. I don’t want to be one of those, and by the grace of God I will rest in that JOY to the end and beyond.
Until next time…