Why you shouldn’t regret doing nothing (sometimes)
A recent viral video tells the story of a chalkboard put up in New York City, where passersby were instructed to write their regrets on it. The common thread of regrets in these people’s lives were, predictably, the chances not taken. The missed opportunities. The broken family not reconciled. The food not savored and the mountains not climbed.
As a general rule, this is how it goes. At the end of your life, everybody says you regret the things you didn’t end up doing. As much as you regret the things you didn’t do, though, I bet you’ll completely forget the reasons you didn’t do them — and I bet you’ll forget that some of those reasons were valid.
Don’t misunderstand me — I’m all for taking big risks. I unswervingly advocate making a career out of your dream. Those who know me will vouch for my dependable spontaneity.
But I have also been known to say no to more adventures than I care to voice.
Fellow millennials in their twenties and even people I consider adultier and more badass than I am, in their 30s and beyond, voice not being where they wanted to be at this time in their lives. In the generation of self-deprecation, it’s easy to pick reasons to feel bad about ourselves. This is one of them.
I’ll give a recent instance of a thing I could regret not doing, if I ignored the reasons for not doing it.
Some context: I’m a musician. Not a self-sustaining one, though. In between tours, my life is 35-40 hours a week at a job that’s so exhausting, I rarely have any time or energy left over for travel, my friends, or — most importantly and most devastating — my art.
I think we forget that, as exciting and soul-nourishing as opportunities for adventure are, most things that get you out of the house are expensive. Most of us literally can’t afford to break the routine and go backpacking in the Cascades, because even a Saturday afternoon hiking trip could mean an overdraft or late fees or not being able to put food in the mini-fridge.
Even if money isn’t an issue, then there’s mental and emotional resources to take into consideration. They may be intangible and other people may not take them seriously, but they have every bit as much gravity as money in the bank. Everybody recharges from daily routine differently. Some of us have to take more time to recharge than others.
As much as I’d like to be out performing every Sunday night, I’ve turned down countless invitations to play because I know that if I do, I might not be able to survive the next day at my job.
Then there’s the simple fact that life happens and sometimes life happening isn’t pretty.
I have depression. I have anxiety. I have a friend in the hospital who may be dying. I got a huge traffic ticket on my last road trip which my last paycheck wasn’t big enough to cover. A fraudulent check when I tried to sell one of my guitars plummeted my bank account into overdraft. My computer, recording microphon, and external hard drive all broke in the same week — and my car had problems only days later.
It was too much. I had to pull the plug. So I canceled shows. I postponed my album release date. I took time off work. I sat on a couch in a nest of blankets, pigged out on delivery my boyfriend bought and played video games in my pajamas for 14 hours straight.
As a result, while many of my friends and colleagues posted their audition videos for NPR’s TinyDesk Concert Contest, I let the deadline pass me by. I’ve missed dozens of auditions, job applications, travel and tour opportunities, and chances to bond with my family in cases like this.
It’s easy to look back and berate myself for not spending every second of free time out on a grand adventure, or why every morning doesn’t find me awake at 5am, drunk on the zest of life, sweating ecstatically in a gym and squeezing fresh juice from exotic fruits into a crystal glass. I mean, carpe diem, right? What’s the use of toting that motto everywhere I go if I refuse invitations for adventures so I can hide in mental shutdown mode?
It’s easy to get down on myself for feeling like I didn’t do enough. The reasons why I don’t do them seem like excuses, so I don’t use them to buffer the crushing weight of failure.
But that’s not kind to myself. And if you do that, you’re not being kind to you, either.
If you look back on your calendar and see blank spots, if you regret not taking a memorable opportunity, please be nice to yourself. Remember that life happens, often unexpectedly. You are truly the only one who knows that’s best for you on a day-by-day basis.
I’m not saying you have an excuse not to chase your dreams — go! By all means, chase those dreams down. Make a career. Pedal to the metal. Be spontaneous and go on adventures. But don’t beat yourself up when it doesn’t happen.
No matter what you do with your life, it’s still your life. You’re the only person who ever had to live in your skin, in your brain, in your soul, with the circumstances and pressures and joys that happen to you. It’s never happened before and it won’t ever repeat itself.
I think that’s pretty cool.