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Day in the Life

Century Park Blog

Regretting What You Did? Or What You Didn't Do?

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Regretting What You Did? Or What You Didn't Do?

Though it may be a bit uncomfortable, try to imagine your final days in this life. You're contemplating how you spent your life, and you're recalling your best memories and worst regrets. As you reflect on your life up to this point, what are your biggest regrets? Are they about choices you made and things you did, or are they about the choices you never made and the things you never did?

Psychologists refer to this as "errors of commission" (regrettable choices we made and things we experienced) and "errors of omission" (regretting the choices we never made and the things we never experienced). Which of these errors do you think are the most common types of regret shared by people who are facing death?

Dr. Jordan Grumet is a hospice care physician who has been by the bedside of many people as they were about to die. In 2022, he published a book about his experiences taking care of dying people. The book is called Taking Stock: A Hospice Doctor's Advice on Financial Independence, Building Wealth, and Living a Regret-Free Life. Grumet's book reveals some fascinating truths about the regrets expressed by dying people. When these people talked about their regrets, they most often fretted about what they didn't do. They lamented over the choices they didn't make more than the choices they had made.

This may be understandable. Choices we make and experiences we have are measurable. We can clearly see how they turned out and how they affected our lives. Even if we wish we'd never made these choices, at least we can see how they turned out and can assess the damage, so to speak. But we cannot measure or quantify all those things we never did; we'll never know how they may have turned out, and this state of unknowing can be quite painful. We can only speculate on how our lives might have changed if we had made those choices.

Robert Frost's famous poem "The Road Not Taken" explores the idea of regrets over choices we didn't make, places we didn't go, people we never met, and risks we never took. Many of Dr. Grumet's hospice patients made statements like this during their final days: "I wish I had asked that person out on a date back in high school." "I wish I had tried learning how to do that hobby 40 years ago when I was really interested in it." "I wish I had taken that job in a new state just to see how it might have turned out." "I wish I hadn't been so scared of failure that I never took a risk on this or that."

Based on these insights, perhaps we should consider being a bit bolder and more confident when it comes to making changes, taking chances, and being more proactive in our decision making. Rather than always asking ourselves, "What could go wrong?", we might also start asking ourselves, "How many ways could this go right and bring me fulfillment?"

By the way, in Frost's poem "The Road Not Taken," the speaker does, in fact, take the "road less traveled" and is very happy about his decision. He knows that choosing the less-traveled path means that he will never have regrets about not trying it. As Frost says in the poem's final line, "And that has made all the difference."

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