April 7, 2021

Regrets and Dreams: The Proper Place For Each During Retirement


Recently, I finished reading "
The Midnight Library." The basic plot involves a woman who, after her death, lands in an infinitely large library that is somewhere between life and death. The shelves are lined with books that describe how her life might have unfolded if she had chosen different paths at different times. Also, the library contains a large book of regrets, those things in her life, both mundane and consequential, that she wishes had happened differently.

While I enjoyed the novel, this is not a review. Rather, it is a result of thoughts I had about retirement and the whole idea of the power of regrets in our life, and what might be a more useful focus.

Former President Carter once said, “You are only old when regrets take the place of dreams.”  That simple sentence probably sums up the rather remarkable life of Mr. Carter. Since serving one term as the 39th president, this 96 year old humanitarian and intellectual spends every waking moment finding ways to stay active and help others. That quote is a philosophy of living, not just something he said during a speech at some point in his life. 

Stimulated by both the book and Mr. Carter's quote, I was prompted to think about the place each of these concepts has in our life. Both are needed. Regrets will happen to any human being old enough to wish he or she had done something different. Dreams come to many of us while sleeping. But, there is another type of dream: that of what we wish will happen, plan and strive for, even set as a goal.

Self-reproach is one of the ways we grow as individuals. Without reflecting on what we have done, or not done, hurt or helped, chosen to say or do something that didn't end up the way we hoped, alienated someone after a careless comment or action...regrets come with the territory. They are how we help learn from our behavior.

In a healthy person, regret is a good thing, as long as it doesn't become a sticking point. If we worry about the regret where it becomes the defining point of a life or an on-going focus, we have a much harder time moving ahead.

So, how do dreams fit into this mix? Humans are the only species that has the capability to hope. That feeling of expectation of a change or something new is what keeps us looking forward. A dream can be thought of as a hope given a physical manifestation. I hope I will be healthy. I dream about bench-pressing 100 pounds as a goal that helps me fulfill the overall hope. 

Many of us think of dreams in terms of goals. I dream about the day I will visit New Zealand. So, I develop a way of making that happen. I dream of how Betty and I will celebrate our 50th anniversary in about five years. 

This brings me back to President Carter's belief that dreaming keeps us from being old in mind and spirit. Regrets happen when the very human side of us does something we would rather take back.

Dreams happen when the aspirational part of us takes hope and gives it wings.


14 comments:

  1. I so admire how Jimmy Carter lives his life. He's such a good person who had done good things for humanity. Never heard that quote about regrets and dreams before but it makes sense. Thanks for sharing it. And that book sounds interesting!

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    1. Jimmy Carter is an inspiring human being. If I believed in sainthood for people, he'd be at the top of my list.

      The book has a very interesting premise. Personally, I think the author could have done more with his idea, but is certainly worth the read. It will make you think about regrets and unfulfilled dreams.

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  2. My daughter read that book and thought it was great. I am wait listed for it at the library. And I agree with Jean. Jimmy Carter is an amazing guy. So much to admire and I love the quote.

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    1. I had to wait about a month for The Midnight Library to be available for me, but it was worth it. It really prompted this post.

      Jimmy Carter did some important things as president (Mideast peace accord), but he has probably touched just as many lives with his hand-on approach to service and diplomacy.

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  3. Self-reproach is one of the ways we grow as individuals. Without reflecting on what we have done, or not done, hurt or helped, chosen to say or do something that didn't end up the way we hoped, alienated someone after a careless comment or action...regrets come with the territory. They are how we help learn from our behavior.
    I think that paragraph from your post just says it all! We all make mistakes, we all say things we wish we could stuff back in almost as soon as they have left our mouth, but we can learn from those moments to become kinder, more thoughtful, more "think before you speak" people.
    Thank you for all the carefully considered, thoughtful and insightful posts you have written over the years - on retirement and on life in general. Your blog is free from the shouting, the haranguing, and "my way is the only way" tone of so many other blogs, social media posts, etc. It is truly refreshing.
    My husband and I are starting our early retirement (he is 53 and I am 50) in just a few months, and I have read many of your posts as one of the ways to get ready...I am one of those people who likes to hear the experiences others before I start something new...and retirement definitely feels like it will be something "new"! :-) Thank you for all the work you put into your blog! It has answered many questions for me, quelled some fears, and after years of planning, reading, talking about it, and going over every detail again and again, we are finally ready to start our new phase of life with excitement. Thank you for the role you played in that, even though we have never met and don't know one another - although like you, we are residents of the Phoenix area, so can relate to some of your geographic-specific comments.

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    1. Thank you, Caroline, for your kind words. Occasionally, during the term of the former resident of the White House, I would get a little snarky. But, that is the exception, I hope. Keeping this a safe space for readers and those who feel motivated to leave comments has been my goal.

      As you get closer to the big day of retirement, and certainly afterward, please don't hesitate to send me an email with questions or concerns. I will be quite happy to help you and hubby create your own satisfying retirement.

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  4. Regrets are rather pointless. There are always things you might change in the past, but that would then cause many other things to change, so would it be worth it?
    As far as dreams...at my age, mine now are more that I just ponder things, like some travel, I’d like to do still. Dreams are different than just the little things you enjoy doing everyday or so. Dreams are big things..hopes for some future scenario or event to happen to you. That dissipates as you get older, as many of those things you have done and the ones you didn’t may not be practical now. I guess if I had to say, not enough travel would be my regret and still sort of a dream of, but to a much lesser extent.

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    1. You are correct: dwelling on regrets would be pointless. But, learning from past mistakes or questionable choices is how we cut down on repeating them in the future. At least that's the hope.

      My dreams are a combination of big and more mundane: the aforementioned trip to New Zealand and the dreams of improving my painting or guitar playing enough to feel a sense of accomplishment and joy in doing them.

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  5. What a sweet post. I was just interviewed about my experience being a parent and advocate for my two autistic sons. Dreams and regrets is a good way to summarize that interview! So after spending an hour reflecting on three decades of these experiences and memories, my heart is feeling full and tender, and yes a little sad. How timely to go to your blog and put this into a bigger life perspective. Just perfect. Thank you.

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    1. You can guess how pleased I am that these words resonated with you so strongly today.

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  6. What an inspirational man, Mr. Carter is. Although I may wish I had done a few things differently, I also realize that my choices - good and bad - brought me to where I am today... which is pretty darned good.

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    1. We are a product of our choices, and can shape our future with adjustments. That is what makes this time of life so enriching.

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    2. Thanks for another wonderful topic, Bob.

      I used to be awash in dreams and regrets. "Should have, could have, glad I did it, why did I do that?" But as I have aged I find myself moving more fully into the present moment--the only place we truly can live. I find my regrets and dreams fading in favor of the gratitude for "now." It is not always easy to do, but I have found it increasingly happens without any effort on my part. Realizing that there is less time ahead of me than behind, I find myself savoring the things I am currently experiencing. Sure, I still plan and have goals, and I find some regrets creeping into my thoughts on occasion, but for the most part I try to ground myself in the present.

      My father recently passed, at age 95, after a long and eventful life. He grew up in the Depression, served in WW2 in the Philippines and later in the occupation force in Japan. As a kid, I always used to press him to share his experiences of the war... which he never did... until his last several years. And subsequently I wished I would have never asked him. They were a horror. Many years ago I did ask him what his experience in the war taught him. After some thought he replied, "war is a total, unnecessary waste, and be grateful for everyday you have on this earth."

      In the spirit of my father's advice, I stumbled across this video (which I may have shared before) about being present and being grateful. It is narrated by Brother David Steindal-Rast, a Benedictine monk who is coincidentally the same age as my father. 95. I use it occasionally as a morning meditation to remind me of what is truly important.

      Rick in Oregon

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cpkEvBtyL7M&ab_channel=Mindfulness360-CenterForMindfulness

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    3. "Spend today as if it were the first day of your life, and your last." What a powerful line from that beautiful video, Rick. Interestingly, I will have a post about a new way I have begun to start my day: meditation. Trying to focus on the present doesn't come naturally to me. Yet, it is all we really have and it behooves us to make it the best it can be.

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