“To me, there are three things everyone should do every day. Number one is laugh. Number two is think. Spend some time in thought. Number three, you should have your emotions move you to tears. If you laugh, think, and cry, that’s a heck of day.”
— Jim Valvano
“No regrets” is a popular saying. But how many people actually have no regrets?
Surely, we would all love a life full of happiness and joy. But sometimes we need to face the tougher parts of reality in order to learn how to truly live.
One of the best lines from the movie Braveheart is that “every man dies, but not every man truly lives.”
We need to realize that life is short.
There is a due date.
There is a deadline.
You only get so much time, and then, it’s done.
There are no do-overs or second go-rounds.
Gary Vaynerchuk talks about the most motivating words there are: You will die.
But don’t let this deter you.
This is fuel.
Do not waste your chances.
Do not waste a moment.
Move, act, think, love, laugh, cry.
So how do we avoid regret?
Make promises to yourself. And keep them.
Dealing with the deaths of loved ones has made me make promises to myself.
I understand that we have limited time because I have experienced loss. Now it is time for you to learn from my losses and make your own promises.
Do not let regret creep into your life.
Below are three promises that I have made to myself that will help me avoid regret.
1. I promise I will not waste my gifts.
You can’t take it with you.
I have not seen my friend Chris Kranz in over 20 years. But I think about him nearly every day.
I had a few classes with him in middle school and high school. His intelligence and creativity struck me. It was obvious. He had talent.
I had always been an athlete as a kid — never did plays or theatre because I did not have time. But an injury prevented me from playing sports my junior year in high school.
I needed to get my mind off of the injury, so I auditioned for the school play.
I met amazing people. Chris was one of the them.
The next summer I participated in a local community play: You Can’t Take It With You.
Chris and I would have quite a few scenes together. During rehearsals, I began to respect Chris even more than before. He could act, sing, play multiple instruments, draw, write poetry, and more. He was extremely talented. More than I ever thought before. I just knew he was going to share his gifts with the world.
But it was not to be.
I will never forget the afternoon that another actor bursting into the house we were rehearsing in.
“There’s been an accident.”
Chris died shortly after the car accident. He was traveling to our rehearsal.
The news crushed us all immediately. As performers and as people, we had no idea how to move forward.
We could not keep practicing “You Can’t Take It With You” ‒ not without Chris. It was too painful.
After some reflection, we decided to change our plans.
We wrote our own play, as a tribute to Chris. The play was hysterical, and fun ‒ a great legacy for our friend.
But I could not escape the pain of the wasted potential of Chris.
It crushed me to go from thinking that his talent was so obvious ‒ that he was going to perform in front of greater and greater audiences as he progressed.
But now his death would deprive the world of ever experiencing his talent.
I had to make Chris’s life meaningful ‒ to me.
“You can’t take it with you” was more than the name of the play. It was my promise.
I made a promise that I will never waste my talents. I made a promise to myself that I will share Chris’s talents with the world by taking every ounce of my gifts and making them into something tangible and real.
Never waste talent. Embrace your gifts. Life is too short to squander God’s opportunities and gifts.
Please learn from my pain. Promise yourself that you will never waste your talents.
ACTION STEPS: Identify your own unique talents now. Find some avenue to develop those talents and start using them today. Anything that you do not use, you will lose.
2. I promise that I will find joy in the face of pain.
Deanna Omron is my mother’s mother. She grew up in an area of the world that was near the precipice of war.
As a teenager, Deanna was walking home from school with two of her best friends. During the walk, her two friends ran ahead for a moment, while Deanna was looking down.
Deanna heard an explosion, and fear came over her.
She heard screams and cries. Deanna looked up. Her two friends were down on the ground, injured. She ran over to them, on the edge of panic. As she came closer, she saw what her heart did not want to see.
Her two friends were gravely injured.
The only reason Deanna avoided the explosion was that she was slightly behind the other two girls.
She immediately started to run for help. But they stopped her.
“Stay here,” they said. “Don’t leave us.”
Deanna stayed with her two friends. She held their hands and prayed with them. The two teenage girls did not want to be without their best friend in their last moments.
The two girls died holding Deanna’s hands.
Deanna lost her two best friends that day. But she was inspired by her pain to work for the United Nations as a nurse. She understood the pain that people went through when loved ones died. One of her jobs was to inform loved ones of tragic losses. She served cancer patients and the gravely ill. She voluntarily took on roles where suffering people needed help.
Most of us have never experienced that type of loss. But amazingly, Deanna was one of the toughest, happiest people that I have ever known.
She had felt pain.
She had suffered, more than most.
But she still found joy and life in the world that she lived in.
When she died, I promised myself that I would honor her joy in the face of pain.
ACTION STEPS: Connect with one person who you care deeply about that is older than you. Do it today. Schedule a time to listen and learn about that person. Learn their story. Find the part of the story that impacts you. Then share the story with the world.
3. I promise that I will never miss a chance to connect with a friend.
In my early twenties, I started working for a startup. On my first day, I met Dave. We sat right next to each other. Dave was taller than a tree. He was smart, sarcastic, and hardworking. He also pitched in the minor leagues until he injured his shoulder.
We connected immediately.
After I left that job, I was told that Dave had a serious disease and became bedridden. I wanted desperately to go visit him, but I kept telling myself that I was too busy, or that I just needed to finish one more thing and then I would schedule a visit.
I finally accepted the fact that I was putting it off with no good reason. I emailed Dave’s wife to schedule a time to visit.
Dave’s wife emailed me back.
“Dave died a week ago.”
The news crushed me.
I did not say good-bye.
I convinced myself that I was too busy.
I was in law school.
I was working nearly full-time.
I had a family.
I was wrong.
I promised myself that I will always prioritize spending time with the people I care about: I will never miss the chance to connect with a friend.
ACTION STEP: Sign up for a service that tracks all of your key relationships and reminds you to follow up with those people at intervals that you select. Then follow up religiously. You never know who is hurting or who needs a kind word or gesture. Let people know that you care, not what you need.
4. One Final Promise
I recently attended a funeral for a man whom I greatly respected. His name was Chuck. The funeral struck me because it highlighted why I respected Chuck so much ‒ he lived his life entirely by faith. He submitted to a higher power when he made a decision.
My favorite story was about Chuck sneaking illegal supplies into a foreign country to help kids. He did not care about the consequences. He had faith that it would work out.
And it did.
As I sat listening to story after story about Chuck, his faith impacted me.
I promised myself to live by faith: by conviction rather than indecision.
Life is short. So what promises will you make?