By Rachel Birdsell
The other day, a friend and I were having an email discussion about regrets. More specifically, we were discussing me having an affair with a married man, and if, at the end of my life, I would regret not having one more than I would regret having one. While I had no plans on having said affair, I still wondered which would be the bigger regret when I reached 80. My friend responded that he hated that Mark Twain had ever said anything about regretting what you didn’t do, and eloquently stated that the idea was utter bullsh!t. He offered the argument that it’s easier to justify not doing something than it is to justify doing something.
The quote he was referring to is this, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
It’s not actually a Twain quote, but rather is more than likely from the mouth of H. Jackson Brown Jr.’s mother. But, regardless of whether it was Mrs. Brown or Mr. Twain who said it, I don’t agree that it’s BS. We all do idiotic things more than a few times in our lives. If you haven’t, you’re either not human or are living an especially dull life. All of us will look back at our lives and have more than one regret about doing something spectacularly dense.
But, how many more regrets will we have of things we never tried? How many times have we not applied for that dream job because we were scared we wouldn’t get it? How many times have we not approached that person we’re attracted to for fear of rejection? How many times have we not learned a new skill or taken up a new hobby because we were scared we wouldn’t be able to learn something new? How many times have we not even put our toe in the water because there was a chance it was too cold or too hot?
The thing is, we could live the rest of our lives and never weigh taking chances against having regrets. We could play it safe and rarely try anything new, and when we get to the end of our lives, tell ourselves that we didn’t try because it wouldn’t have worked out. We could make excuses for our lack of trying. But, who wants to live like that? I know I don’t. That doesn’t mean that I’ll be going ahead with a torrid love affair with a married man, but it does mean that I’m not going to pass up other opportunities if they’re something I really want. And while it may be some Grade A, farm-raised bullsh!t, I’m going to live my life with the thought of my 80th birthday in mind, and I’m going to do my damndest to keep the number of my regrets, fewer than the number of candles on my cake.
Rachel Birdsell is a freelance writer and artist. You can drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org