by Darrin Schenck

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by Darrin Schenck

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Mitigate Regret

Sounds oversimplified, I know.  But it is true, and I will give several examples below.

I am writing this the day after doing a quick talk for a bunch of 8th graders at a graduation ceremony of sorts.  Seems like every minor milestone these days has a fair amount of pomp and circumstance associated with it, but that is another story.  I was thinking for days what to share with these kids in the short time I had on stage in front of them.  It was a tough question for me to really home in on, and in retrospect I probably missed the mark.  The reason I say this is that after speaking first to open the ceremony I sat back and listened to several of the teachers and faulty come to the microphone and after thanking the kids for a wonderful year, reiterate the same things I had shared with them.

I stuck to the basics, and shared thoughts such as being kind to themselves and one another, being brave, and being patient.  Don’t look too far forward in life while overlooking the present.  Solid advice overall, but nothing revolutionary, especially given that several others came to the table with the same thoughts.  As a paid speaker, I feel it is my job to present a unique offering, and I missed the mark on that.  What I should have done was share with them the topic of this blog, and that their best path forward was to live a life that mitigates as much regret as possible.  THAT would have been better life advice, even for this young audience.

In my opinion, the world is too quick to define what life should be about.  It seems as though the consensus of thought is to graduate from high school, choose a college and a major that will all but guarantee a high paying career, get married around 28 and have a couple of kids by age thirty.  Settle into that middle management job and spend the weekends on play dates and at soccer fields.  For some, this is great, but for many I think this is far too fast of a track.  And here is where it ties into the title…Mitigating Regret.  To me, this is the goal in life.  Figure out what you could possibly do, stretch yourself further than that, and start writing a list.  Check things from this list as soon as possible, and get to the biggest ones first.  If you want to backpack through Europe for six months, better hit that right after college.  Want to be a musician?  Better get that out of your system now.  Either of these examples required total freedom and lack of “classic” responsibilities like a mortgage, spouse and kids.

I do not regret pursuing my dream of being a Pro Racquetball Player, as it was the only thing I knew that I was passionate about during my teen years.  I did not have a dream job or other pursuit that I knew I “should be” working at that time.  Yes, I put off my working career until age 30 and then started to navigate my way through the working world.  I was broke when I quit the game, not a nickel to my name.  I got a late start, and didn’t jump into the corporate scene either.  I hated the idea of sitting in a cubicle in a tie day after day.  It was so foreign a concept to me that I never have gone that direction.  In all honesty, I avoided the trend of what most people do, and I am thankful for it.  This approach allowed me to check a lot of boxes on that life’s regret mitigation list.  By doing my own thing I won a state championship at 18, went to the Olympic Training Center for a racquetball camp, and eventually turned Pro at 24.  I traveled the country, saw lots of places and meet lots of people.  I lived it to the fullest, and then some.  I burned out and retired at 30, lost, confused and not sure where to begin.

Is this for everyone?  Not likely; but for some of us, anything short of this would be a huge regret.  If there is one pattern that I see holding true over and over, it is regretting not doing things.  Playing it safe seems to be a much more common regret than doing something and regretting it afterwards.  Should everyone buy a eurorail pass the day after graduation and hit the road?  Nope, not everyone is ready for an international adventure, but whatever form of the big adventure is for you, find and get after it.  The window of opportunity is closing quickly, and most of us don’t even realize it.

Life puts you on lockdown, and sooner than you realize.  As soon as you have a car payment and other basic bills to satisfy, you have an obligation to work to pay for these things.  When you add a house into the equation your chances of starting up a business or playing the dive bars in town with a band trying to make a name for yourselves are pretty much over.  And if this is truly something you want to do, you will regret not giving yourself a shot at making it.  It may haunt you for the rest of your life.  I have had too many conversations with people saying this exact thing to think otherwise.  You will regret not doing things far more than things you do choose to do.  A failed business, a move to another state, etc. all have learning and growth experiences tied to them.  You have time to recover and move on from them when you do them early in life.  Not doing something keeps you exactly where you are: no growth and no learning.  Waiting until later in life puts more than just you at risk.  You can couch surf at friends’ places for a bit to get back on your feet if needed.  You can’t do this with a family in tow.

When I sit back and look at my life and the things I have gotten (given myself) the opportunity to do, I know I have made the right choices in most cases.  There were things I didn’t pursue that I should have, and a few things that I wish I would have moved on from sooner than I did.  But overall I can tell you that I had chances and I took them.  I ran some to the ragged edge, leaving no question that the ride was over and it was time to move on.  I have few regrets, far fewer than most.  I hope you can say the same later on in your life as well.

I wish you luck in your pursuit of mitigating regret.

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