“If I’d known I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself.” These words, attributed to jazz pianist Eubie Blake as he approached his 100th birthday, humorously illustrates a serious thought many of us have as we look back over our lives, “If I’d known what I know now, there are a lot of things I would have done differently.”
Do you have regrets about decisions you made earlier in life – maybe even as recently as last week? If so, you are not alone. Even people who appear to have perfect lives sometimes have regrets. That’s because no one’s life is perfect, no matter how much some may appear so.
Not long before his death at the age of 86, a young reporter posed a question to Andy Griffith. “Looking back over your life, is there anything you would change?” Considering the idyllic on screen life Andy Griffith lived as the wise and congenial sheriff of Mayberry, North Carolina, the young reporter probably expected Griffith to say, “No, not a thing.” But instead, Griffith paused for a long moment and then replied, “Well, yes, I guess I would change just about everything.” As some readers may know, in his real life this American icon of happiness was twice divorced, and lost his son to alcoholism at the age of 39. No doubt Andy Griffith thought these events might not have happened if he had done some things differently.
Of course we can’t relive our lives, and even if we could how do we know doing things differently really would have made a difference, that life would have been better – happier? The truth is, we don’t.
This brings to mind the old adage, “We must each learn to live with the decisions we have made.” I suppose this is true, but this “Grin and bear it” or “Suck it up and move on” attitude is both negative and pessimistic, and can be downright depressing – “Darn, I made another mistake – another bad decision. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to live with it.”
Let me suggest a different approach. Most of the time – and I’d like to think all of the time – when we make decisions we do so believing we are making the best decision we can at the time based on prior experience and the circumstances at hand. Whether we have time to mall over the decision or must make it in an instant, we try to make good decisions.
It may sound silly, but I believe virtually all of the decisions I make are or were good decisions at the time. I don’t mean to sound haughty, but just because a decision turns out badly does not mean it was a bad decision when I made it. Unfortunately, sometimes circumstances occur that cause perfectly good decisions to turn out badly.
When I’m the only person affected by a decision I make the outcome is usually easier to control – I make a good decision and, hopefully, I carry it out successfully. But more often than not our decisions also affect others, whether directly or indirectly, and the risk of a good decision turning out badly naturally increases when the outcome involves the actions of others.
If I loan you a $1,000, and at the time of doing so it seems in every respect to be the right thing to do, then it is a good decision. If something goes wrong, whether within or outside of your control, that causes you to lose the $1,000, does this suddenly mean I made a bad decision? No, it was a good decision that, unfortunately, turned out badly.
Right now you may be thinking, “So what’s the point, you still lost the $1,000, and that was bad.”
True, but the point is this. While I regret that you lost the money and may not be able to pay me back, I don’t regret loaning the money to you because it was, after all, the right thing to do at the time.
Give it some thought. Free yourself from the burden of regretting decisions you have made, especially those important decisions of life that did not turn out the way you believed they would; and don’t beat up on yourself in future when you make a good decisions that turn out badly.
If I’m interviewed by a reporter in the sunset of my life, and asked if there is anything I would change, I’d like to think I will say, “You know, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
George Brown is a freelance writer. He lives in Jackson Township.