Tips For Living a Regret-Free Life
Right around my 20th birthday I started to grow up. I’m not sure what brought about the transformation or why the delay. Maybe I just needed a couple decades of sleepwalking through life before seeing what I was actually capable of.
As a late bloomer I’m unusually aware of wasted potential. If I’m not testing myself, there’s a voice in my head that’s happy to tell me about it. Still, as hard as it is for me to stagnate, it’s even harder to grow.
Growth in any form comes at a price. It’s just hard. There’s actual risk involved. Even pain. For reasonable people, these factors add up to being comfortable right where we are. No need to disrupt the soothing rhythms of the status quo. I get it.
As I type these words, I’m dealing with a bum knee and neck so stiff I have to swivel with my entire being to see things to my right or left. I did a hard thing. A few months ago I signed up for Brazilian jiu-jitsu (close-contact martial arts grappling with people half my age). While the jiu-jitsu community has been welcoming, being a rookie white belt has been a mental and physical adjustment. A hard one.
Why did I do it?
I’m not sure I can boil it down. I can only say that the hard stuff ends up being the only stuff that matters. Things in life that come easy offer no lasting satisfaction. Maybe that’s why my first 20 years are a bit fuzzy. Looking back, I can only see the value in things that required a chunk of my heart. A willingness to take the hard path and grind it out.
As certain as I am that the process of growing is hard, I’m equally convinced that it’s the only thing that matters. If you’re willing to take your first wobbly steps, here are a few thoughts on how to get through the hard stuff.
1. Step Into the Arena
We don’t get anywhere by rolling ideas around in our heads. Life takes place in the ring. Or, to paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt, it’s in the arena, where consequences are real. As hard as it is to fall on your face, get hurt and be humbled, there is a worse fate: never quite knowing what you could have done. Avoid regrets. Ignore the objections your mind will come up with, especially the reasonable ones. Show up.
2. Bask in the Freedom of Low Expectations
Most of us want to skip the journey and be masters right out of the gate. But this takes away the luxury of being a newbie — the person no one expects anything from. Enjoy your rookie status. Appreciate those who have already put in the hard work. It’s nice not having to be the best, or anywhere close to it.
3. Be Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable
People naturally gravitate toward comfort. We’re wired to seek it in all situations. Which renders us incapable of handling the adversity that most surely will come. Doing hard things is a form of conditioning. It builds up calluses and deepens our reserves so that just about anything we would complain about becomes less of a pain. Embrace the suck, and be better off in the long run.
4. Be Ready for a Dark Hour or Two
For those who took the brave step of showing up in the beginning there will come that moment when it’s reasonable to stop showing up. It could be a stray comment, an injury, or a setback that throws us off the path and causes us to question the whole enterprise. Don’t allow it. Be ready for the rug to get pulled out from under you. It’s going to happen. Keep showing up anyway.
5. Figure It Out
As you read this there’s likely a hard thing tugging on your sleeve. Mine was jiu-jitsu. For you it could be pursuing an MBA. Or signing up for open mic night. Or dropping down in salary to do that thing you’ve always wanted to do. Give it some thought. The only thing harder than the hard stuff is dealing with the inner voice of regret. Unlike the pain of doing hard things, it never goes away.
So here I am, sweating so bad I can wring out my uniform. It’s Wednesday night Jiu-Jitsu and the gentleman currently pinning me down outweighs me by a good 75 pounds. He’s half my age. Oh, and he’s a black belt. As my instructor, he kindly points out that there’s no worse place to be. He’s being literal. My vision is blurring from the blood choke he’s applying to my neck. My brain is no longer receiving blood. Before going unconscious, I tap out.
It’s a hard lesson. But I’m pretty sure I’ll be back for another next week.
* Also published in Medium.com