If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
A sociologist asked this question to a group of people 95 years old and older: “If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?”
Their responses fell into three general categories. People with 9+ decades of life experience said they would: reflect more, risk more, and leave a legacy that would live beyond their own lives.
Reflect: The beginning of a new year – or a new day, or a new decade – invites this pondering. It’s not exactly a do-over, but it’s kind of a do-now: What do you want to do now? What do you want or need to add or subtract or change in your life? What do you hope and dream? What frightens you? What inspires you?
I’m asking myself these questions each morning. As Mary Oliver said, “Every morning, the world is created.”
Risk: Who or what do you love enough to risk everything for? What matters so much that you’re willing to stretch, try, reach, risk – and maybe fail? I’m not a natural risk-taker. I’m a spectacular avoider, really, and my specialties are fear-avoidance, conflict-avoidance, pain-avoidance, discomfort-avoidance, and failure-avoidance. But I’ve learned through fear, conflict, pain, discomfort, and failure that the good stuff is usually on the other side of all that fear, conflict, pain, discomfort and failure.
If I’d known how hard and demanding and wrenching it would be to write Trouble the Water, I’d never have attempted it. And if I’d known how gratifying it would be, I’d never have believed it. The whole enterprise was a ridiculous risk. But I dove in.
As each day passes, the window of opportunity shrinks just a bit, in terms of time available to take the risks and chase the dreams. On the other hand, there’s no time like the present – so unwrap it! Dive in.
Legacy: Last year, when Trouble the Water was published, a friend asked me: “Do you think he [Robert Smalls] ever dreamed someone would be writing about his life more than a century after his death?” I don’t know, but it’s a good question. Do any of us know what our life will mean after we’re gone? Today’s choices – this morning’s reflections, today’s risks and failures and triumphs, today’s commitment to others, today’s incarnation of hope and love – will be tomorrow’s legacy. What story will we leave for another generation?
So dive in, dear ones. Reflect deeply. Risk boldly. Love completely.
This world needs the mark that only you can make.