As we age, it is natural to look back on our lives. This looking back can be especially poignant if we are facing a huge life change, like the onset of dementia. With looking back, there can come regret: I wish I had pursued that one relationship; I wish I had taken more risks; I wish I had pursued this career instead of sticking to that one.
I have two things to say to you about outcomes and regrets. One is for the present, and one is for the past.
First, about the past: Do not look at your past choices only in terms of their end result on your life; see them also in terms of their effect on you. Take a different sort of look back at your life, a view that takes into account not just how things ended up (what you accomplished). Turn your attention to the experience itself. What kind of person did it reveal? What kind of person did it create?
Second, about the present: Don’t look at your current decisions only in terms of their ability to attain a certain outcome. Even if your choices don’t achieve your objective, what might you learn about yourself on the way to failure? How will the experience affect you — not just when it is over, but all along the way?
Do we have room in our minds to consider taking risks to gain experience? Can we think of a decision not just in terms of what it will bring about in the long run, but also what experiences it will give us while we’re working toward the goal we have set?
Seen with this new emphasis on the importance of the journey, not just the destination, the lives we’ve lived so far might look different. And the risks we take today — taking into account not just the odds of success, but also the meaning of the experience itself — might be different too.