I Did it My Way
by Pat Pitsel
Who among us can say with any conviction, “I have no regrets”?
Remember the Frank Sinatra song? – I Did It My Way.
And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I'll say it clear
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain
I've lived a life that's full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way
Regrets, I've had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption
I planned each charted course
Each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way
Many of us would like to be like the singer and be able to lay claim to a life filled with only a few regrets. But for most of us, we have a life that is messily unplanned, full of events that we didn't intend, and far too many instances where we wish we had a do-over.
A survey conducted in 2019 asked the elderly what they regretted most. The conclusion was “The elders deeply regret worrying about things that never happened or things they had no control over. ‘Life is so short. What you will regret is weeks or months of the kind of mindless, self-destructive ruminating worrying that people do’” many told Pillemer. ‘You're going to wish you had that time back.’”
Many people once they are retired, spend time worrying about bad choices, about choices that looked good at the time but turned out poorly, about choices offered but not taken, or even choices that shut out what may have been more desirable choices. “When studying people and why they experience regret, researchers from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people experience regret more for the things they didn’t do rather than the things they did do.”
Like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day are we doomed to live our senior years constantly revisiting every failure, stupid choice, or careless selection? This is almost like one of those bad news good news stories. The bad news is that constantly revisiting memories of the things we have done wrong, and regret can be a habit. Some folks remember so many of these instances that there is almost no place left in their life to remember what they have done correctly. They should have married someone else. They should have gone to university or college. They should never have had that last drink and driven home. Our life, indeed, might have been different and much, much better were we able to see into the future. But we can't and we didn't.
So, how can we move from a life position of constantly regretting what we have done to a more healthy appreciation of the good that we can do?
1. Make a list, hopefully short, of the things you find yourself regretting and going over and over in your mind. What does each of these events teach you? Mistakes and bad choices are often the price we have to pay for learning how to do things right. You might even have had to repeat the mistake two or three times before the lesson really sunk in. I remember as a kid, making a bad choice, having it turn out disastrously, and saying to myself “Well, I better not do that again.”
2. If the regret involves something that still exists today, make amends or reparations. For example, if you regret shoplifting when you were younger, pay the merchant back if the store is still there. If you betrayed someone, and that person is still alive, apologize for not being loyal when they needed it. If you didn't get a post-secondary education when you were younger, then sign up for a continuing education course. It might be too late for you now to start a new career, but it is never too late to learn more.
3. Forgive yourself for not being perfect. Many of us would have made different choices had we known in advance what the outcome would be.
4. Balance regrets about things we have done in the past with gratitude for all the things that make our life worthwhile now. Every time you find yourself remembering something you regret, stop the thought right there and list three things you are grateful for right now.
5. Someone said: “Regrets are visitors in the guest house of the mind.” Ask yourself whether or not you have someone staying in your guest house who has stayed way past limits. It's your job to evict them.
6. Stop saying “What if?”
… I've loved, I've laughed, and cried
I've had my fill, my share of losing
And now, as tears subside
I find it all so amusing
To think I did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way
"Oh no, oh no, not me
I did it my way"
… For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way
… Yes, it was my way