You Should Have Regrets (Suggestions Included)

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There are some very special people in this world that take a certain pride in saying they live with no regrets.

No regrets?  Really?  None?

Did you never make a mistake in your life?

Or you did, but you don’t regret it.  Why not?  Is it because you lack the spine to condemn yourself for making a mistake, or for some other reason?  Ahhh, I know: it is because you learned from it.  But now wouldn’t it have been better simply to have done the correct thing from the beginning?  I believe it’s called “Not making a mistake”.  As I view it, not making a mistake is always better than making a mistake.  The whole point of this learning you glorify is to prevent you from making mistakes.

But you persist, because you are (like I said) special and living in a culture that glorifies mistakes like they are an end in and of themselves.  So now you perceive a romantic value in your past shortcomings.  It’s not regrettable, it’s beautiful, you say.  Yes, you are the hero of your own story, a story in which the protagonist is modern and complex and flawed.  And you have no desire to change it.

No!  Education is a lot less thrilling to someone who knows what is true.

* * *

I live with regrets.  I regret, first and foremost, every wrong I have done to others, treating them as if they were less valuable or of less worth than myself (perhaps not every, but I try).  Second, I regret the myriad of times I’ve failed to take and fulfill good opportunities by my own laziness, fear, or lack of clarity in what I’m doing.  I think we are tempted to look at these past failings as inevitable. Whoops!  I didn’t know better– couldn’t’a helped it!

But let’s be honest.  Look at the challenges you’ll face and the opportunities spread before you.  Are you doing your best to take them head on?  I know that daily, I certainly let distractions and laziness get in the way of what’s really important to me, and I know that I have a chance to do something about these things.  Sometimes I don’t take that opportunity, and I have nothing and no one to blame but myself.

So why’s the past any different?

* * *

In a news article that’s been making the social media rounds lately, one nurse who worked in palliative care records what she’s tallied up as the top five most common regrets of the dying.  At first glance, they seem pretty typical, and you can probably skim to the bottom of the page without an inconvenient amount of soul-searching.  Let’s see, “courage to live true to myself”, yup, yup, “most common regret of all”, OK, “most people hadn’t honored even half their dreams and had to die knowing it was due to the choices they made or didn’t make”– wait, what!?

You’re on your death bed and you didn’t do half the things you wanted?  That’s downright depressing.  I’m assuming we’re not talking about “I want to sail around the world on my private yacht… made of gold” sort of dreams.  Nope, I think we’re talking about people who wanted to grow gardens, earn degrees, learn to ski, write letters to their friends, and, in other down-to-earth ways, push themselves beyond the drudgery of a perfectly crystalline schedule.

And they didn’t do half of those things!

This is why I am OK living with regrets, and indeed, the only reason you should have them– so that you do better next time.  Indeed, if you don’t let your regrets change you for the better, what can you boast over the blissfully unreflective who death steals like a thief in the night, only to find there’s depressingly little to plunder?  Realize you’ve made mistakes, and realize you can do something about it.  Live the life you want.  Start tonight.  You haven’t always done the best, but you can do better.

Regret now so you don’t regret later.

[How-to] Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro

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A few days ago, I returned from a three-week vacation to Tanzania, where, among other things, I accomplished a life goal of mine: climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.  I'd like to share some of these experiences here for those who are interested in doing a similar trek-- or just want to hear a bit about scaling the tallest mountain in Africa.

Mt. Kilimanjaro is not for everyone.

Specifically, the signs at the entrance to the park say it’s not for those with heart or lung problems, but I think it’s mostly not for those who don’t really, really want to climb it.

Best alarm clock of all time.

As the tallest mountain in Africa, and the tallest free-standing mountain from base to summit, Kili makes a lot of mountaineering lists.  Unlike many of the mountains on those lists, Kili is not a technical climb– you don’t need to know crevasse rescue techniques, or ice climbing or glissade or ice axe self-arrest– frankly, all you need to know how to do is to walk.

The main issue is that you need to walk a lot at a very high elevation.

And I don’t know if you know what it’s like to be up so high, but it’s not quite like it is down here.

Altitude

Have you ever been on the ocean for a few days?  You know how everything gets damp and salty and there’s water and salt everywhere and it contaminates everything and there’s nothing you can do about it?  (It’s the same with sand in deserts)  That’s what the elevation is like on Kilimanjaro.  Instead of there being salt and it’s everywhere, there’s oxygen and it’s nowhere.

Especially your lungs. Read More

Stop Reading Books about Heaven

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Photo credit: Thomas Hawk (flickr: thomashawk)

A perhaps apocryphal New Yorker cartoon depicts a man looking confused standing before two doors.  One is labeled “Heaven” and the other is labelled “Books about Heaven”.

When I heard about this comic for the first time, it scared me just a bit– because my first reaction was “Ooh!  Books about heaven!”

There’s something wrong with that reaction.  If heaven is the place of ultimate happiness– the best possible experience you can have– what does it mean that some part of me deep down is more intrigued by words on a page describing this place?

 * * *

The Internet is a dangerous place.  It’s especially dangerous for those who want to do things with their life.  You can now pick almost any endeavor or accomplishment and read about it until you die.  Info porn.

You may notice that I’ve encouraged you to stop reading if you’re going to go do something awesome instead.  I stand by that.  The perfect situation: no one reads any of this because they’re too busy accomplishing their pacts with life.

In a way, reading about awesome things is a substitute for experiencing and doing awesome things.  And for me at least, I don’t want it to be that way.  That’s called white-collar failure and it needs to be fought.   Read More

2012: Eurisk

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Photo credit: John A. Ryan (flickr: insightimaging)

As I’ve said before, I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions.

If you’re going to reform your life, don’t wait until Jan 1 to do it.  People do, and they wonder why they fail year after year.

But in the spirit of looking forward on the next 12 months, I want to share my theme for 2012.

While not quite a goal, it’s a philosophy I want to adopt that encompasses a lot of the work I do on my goals this year.  I tried to find a single word to encapsulate the idea, but as one doesn’t exist, I had to make it up: eurisk.

Allow me to explain.

I got the idea from the word stress.

When people talk about stress, they’re usually talking about a bad thing– the stress of an upcoming violin recital, the stress of parents divorcing.  Psychologists, clever folks that they are, realized this one word stress actually meant two pretty separate things:

  1. Stress that causes us achieve things or perform well, called eustress (or “good stress”)
  2. Stress that doesn’t cause any good things, called distress (or “bad stress”)

When you think about your performance tomorrow and your palms start sweating and you want to throw up, that’s your body diverting what resources it can in the effort to make sure you don’t miss a beat.  And guess what– you’ll practice really hard and then at the concert, you’ll rip out a beautiful Bach partita with ear-melting arpeggios Read More

[How-to] On Learning to Unicycle

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Photo credit: Stefano Corso (flickr: pensiero)

This is an essay on learning how to unicycle.  It’s more philosophy than how-to guide, so be forewarned/get excited.

(i) A Thousand Falls

The simplest advice I can give to learn how to ride a unicycle is this: fall off a unicycle a thousand times.

Of course, there’s a bit more technique to it, but this is the gist.  Fall off, get on, try again.  Repeat ten-hundred times.

I, like most people I know, learned how to ride a bike at a very young age.  And although I don’t remember the specifics, I’d imagine I fell off hundreds of times before I got it quite right.  That’s quite a few skinned knees.  Yet I have zero recollection of it.

But that’s the nature of kids, isn’t it?  They dive in with confidence and just keep trying.  Setbacks fade fast.

I think we forget that as we grow older.  No longer do we forget failure with such alacrity.  We’re a little less bold in how we approach our endeavors.  But I accidentally found a blast from that past, and it has one wheel and a seat.  Never since childhood have I failed so frequently at something and kept going.

And never has it felt so great to finally learn!  Finally being able to balance is great, but even the process leading up to it is exciting.  Your progress isn’t linear, so the entire process is you improving slowly, but also in leaps in bounds.  You’ll spend a few hours of unicycling time going just inches before bailing.  Then you’ll upgrade to feet.  Later, you’ll clear ten feet.  And a few days after that, a hundred.  And then you’ve got it.  At some point, you just stop falling off.  Crap, it feels wonderful.

(ii) Blue-Collar Failures

One thing that stuck out to me about falling off a unicycle was that it was a pretty objective measure of failure.

And we don’t have that a lot.  Or at least, I don’t.

In a lot of projects I work on, motivated waxes and wanes; excitement fades away, and perfectly good ideas are never brought to glorious execution.  It’s easy to rationalize these abandoned dreams.  Failure becomes less tangible.  It looks less like defeat and more like procrastination.  It’s not a knock-out blow to the head; it’s a dull sense of regret and a light flurry of rationalized excuses. Read More

Merry Christmas! Here’s my Bucket List!

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After receiving numerous requests to post my own bucket list on the blog, I’ve done just so here.  Check it out.  The number 1 item is “Shave my face with a whaling harpoon”

[How-to] 5 Public Speaking Tips You Haven’t Heard Anywhere Else

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Photo credit: White House (flickr: barackobamadotcom)

Note: This is the first in a series of posts about skills and accomplishments that are either a.) common life goals, or b.) relevant to achieving specific life goals.  Want to create your own non-profit?  Or learn how to juggle?  Bucket List Society How-To's are guides and advice by people who've already done it.  Please leave a comment below-- is this useful?  What should I do different for the next how-to post?

I’ve read about, watched, and practiced public speaking.  I’ve been through seemingly endless hours of personal coaching in it.  And while I don’t guarantee you will never see these tips anywhere else, I want to offer here a breath of fresh air from the absolute inanity of tips like “rehearse in front of a mirror” and “practice, practice, practice” that adorn the first page of Google results for “public speaking tips”.

1. Get on stage early

I’ve never once heard this tip, but it’s the single best way I know of to deal with pre-speech nervousness.  Spend as much time as possible in front of my audience before the speech starts.  That’s all.

Are you speaking in a class?  Get up there as soon as the teacher starts jotting down her final notes on the last speaker.  Maybe you’re in a row of presentations at work?  Stand up and get your PowerPoint plugged in and ready to go as soon as you can.  If you can walk around the stage a bit, do that.  You’re getting to know the territory.  When you’re giving your speech in another minute and a half, it’ll feel just a bit more like your home turf. Read More

[Profiles] John Goddard: Patron Saint of Bucket Lists

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This is part of a series of posts I’m running called “Profiles in Awesomeness”.  In it, I talk about the disgustingly prolific and ridiculously accomplished thinkers and doers whose lives and philosophies can inspire us and teach us how to accomplish our own goals.

This is my first profiles in awesomeness post, and I think an appropriate subject is John Goddard.  Here’s why.

When John Goddard was 15, a friend of his dad’s told him he regretted not doing all the things he wanted to when he was John’s age.  John, struck by the comment, got out a yellow legal pad and scribbled out 127 things he wanted to do before he died.

He was a pretty ambitious 15-year old.  Heavy hitting items include:

  • Circumnavigate the globe
  • Climb Cheop’s pyramid
  • Climb Kilimanjaro, Rainier, the Matterhorn, and Everest
  • Milk a poisonous snake
  • Hold breath underwater for 2.5 minutes
  • Explore the Amazon, Congo, and Nile rivers from source to mouth

Etc, etc, for 127 items.

Now here’s the ridiculous thing.  While most 15-year old boys could have compiled a similar list, most of us wouldn’t dedicate the rest of our lives to achieving every single one of them. Read More

The Great War for Your Short, Short Time on Earth

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Photo credit: Chris Smith (flickr: cjsmithphotography)

If you ever undertake some project, goal, or quest that requires a serious commitment of time, there will undoubtedly be some point during your journey where you will pause to reflect and find that you’d rather do anything that what you’re doing.  “Pluck my eyes out.  If I can’t see, I don’t have to finish writing my novel.”

Good for you.  That means you’re doing something worthwhile.  The only reason you made this much progress is because you knew it would pay off in the end.  It’s awfully inconvenient now– heck, you’d rather be blind– but keep dreaming about the finish line, because if you got you into this mess, it can get you out.

And that’s what I want to talk about now– why you got into this mess.

You did it because you thought it would be worthwhile.  Not easy, but worthwhile.  And now that it’s living up to your expectations, you’re taking some time to reflect.  And potentially gauge your eyes out.

Here’s something I think.  I think it with all of my heart:

Never, ever evaluate Read More

Making the List

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Photo credit: Matt Beckwith (flickr: mattbeckwith)

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.  We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?  Actually, who are you not to be?

-Marianne Williamson

 

What would you attempt to do if you knew you would not fail?

-Robert Schuller

Considering this is about life goals, you might think I have some sentimental attachment to other goals that people make, like New Year’s resolutions.

I don’t.  New Year’s resolutions are awful.  If you want to reform yourself and think it’s worth waiting until next January to do so, you’re raising my blood pressure.  In fact, leave.  Here’s a link to facebook, where you can piddle away your time until the new year: www.facebook.com.

Instead, let’s talk about how to make life goals.

I’ve seen a few blogs and books that tell you how to make your list of life’s goals.  Those raise my blood pressure too.  If you want a discussion of whether you should use pen or pencil, I can provide links.  If you want to know the best kind of paper for writing your goals on, I’ll be glad to refer you elsewhere.

All of that is immaterial compared to two things: making a list and working on it.

Don’t worry about anything else.  Use a notepad, Notepad, a Moleskine, a napkin, whatever.  If there’s no paper around and you tattoo it on your arm, all the better (send pictures if you choose that route).  The thing is, you can make a perfectly good and fulfilling list of life’s goals without reading another sentence of advice.  I encourage you to take a few minutes and put together at least a draft.  When you come back, I’ll ask you some questions just to make sure you didn’t forget anything at the very bottom of your heart.

And if you think you have it and never read this blog again, then all the best!

The Scenarios

I know of four questions that trigger that wild, joyful thinking so critical to making goals more than anything else I’ve heard. Read More