Have you ever watched an interview with someone who’s suffered some hard knocks, but survived them and accomplished something or gained some notoriety? As often as not, the person being interviewed has been through hell and back, suffered tremendous personal strife, devastating loss and considerable suffering. He’s put his family and friends through the wringer and caused unnecessary mayhem. He may even have spent some time in prison.
No matter how difficult his road, somewhere toward the end of the conversation the interviewee usually says something like, “You know, if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.”
I have an ugly suspicion that most of the people watching are touched by that comment and feel a connection to the interviewee. All I can think is, “What an idiot! He lived a long and sometimes difficult life, full of good decisions and bad, triumphs and setbacks, peaks and valleys, and he’d do it just the same if he could go back and start over? He must not have learned much!”
I’m not saying I have no regard for people who are comfortable in the bed they’ve made for themselves and are now prepared to lay in it. I number myself among them. I’m just saying that if you’ve been on the planet for a while or run your own business for a while, I hope you’ve learned enough that you wouldn’t doom yourself to some sort of perpetual “Groundhog Day” nightmare where you have to relive your problems and errors. What sense does that make?
I can tell you that I’d like to have a do-over on last week! Forget about last year or the last 20 years. Of course I’d do things differently! And I’d like to think I could do things better with another chance, make fewer mistakes, get closer to the right people, further away from the wrong ones, take better care of myself. The older I get, the less patience I have for things that waste my time and the more precious that time is to me.
Wouldn’t it be great to live without regret? On some level, I think that may be the ultimate joy — heaven on earth. Regret is my least favorite emotion.
Sometimes, when I think about decisions I’ve made or things I’ve done, I realize I should have done something different. I should have zigged when I zagged or ducked when I jumped. Maybe it’s OK as long as I learned something from it. One thing’s for sure. I can’t do anything about it now.
But I can certainly learn from those experiences and try to do better moving forward. I can use the things I know now that I didn’t know then and put them to work. I can kick myself for past mistakes — usually just a little, but sometimes a lot — and move forward.
What lessons have you learned in your life or business that you could use to make things better moving forward?
I can’t offer you a do-over, but I am commissioned to reduce your guilt sentence … but you have to turn things around now. Straighten the ship, get it moving in the right direction. I promise that it’s not too late.
Whenever I think it’s too late to correct something, I think back to five years earlier and compare perspectives — then versus now.
Five years ago I might have thought I was too old to do something, but now I know I wasn’t.
Five years ago I might have thought I was too far down a path to change direction. Invariably, now I know I wasn’t. The bottom line for me has always been that it’s never too late to correct course, never too late to change direction completely, never too late to do the right thing and never too late to … well, you get the idea.
Think back to five years ago. I bet you made a decision then that you regret — just a little. Before you start telling yourself that it’s too late to correct it, realize that it’s probably not. No, you can’t go back and buy Apple stock when it was dirt cheap and you can’t change the relationship you had with people who are now gone, but there’s a lot you can do even without a do-over.
And if you tell me you’d go back and do it all the same, I say you’re either very lucky or very stupid … and no one’s that lucky.
A rising tide lifts all boats. Let’s be that tide.