21 Regrets to Avoid in the Next 21 Years

In this year's birthday post, I wanted to reflect on the mistakes I want to avoid in the next two decades.

21 Regrets to Avoid in the Next 21 Years
Me in Alaska

See last year's birthday post here.

This May, my birthday month, I graduated from college, turned 21, and will soon be starting a full-time job. Naturally, I've been thinking a lot about my future.

Although I think it's important to figure out what I do want out of life, I think it is equally (if not more) important to consider what I don't want out of life. If I'm lucky enough to live another one of my current lifetimes, I'll get to see 42 years one day. In this year's birthday post, I decided to reflect on the mistakes I'm aiming to avoid in the next two decades. By proactively predicting the things I would regret most, I will hopefully be aware enough to avoid them.

1. That I talked more than I listened. I have a tendency to talk way too much--especially with people I'm close to. On the rare occasions where I let the other person speak, I often let my mind wander so I don't hear a single word they're saying. It's unfair to them. It's arrogant of me. It's a bad habit--one I need to break.

2. That I let my kids think work is more important than them. If I'm lucky enough to have kids one day, I want them to feel loved by me. This may seem obvious, but me knowing that I love my kid is different from them feeling loved. I want them to believe I love them, not by mere words, but by actions. This looks like spending as much time with them as possible, not looking at my phone when I'm with them, and listening to them when I could be doing something "more productive."

3. That I worked on things that didn't matter because it was safe, because I was supposed to, because of expectations.

4. That I based my worth on things that fade. Money, success, and material goods will not fulfill. Especially if, in my pursuit of them, I ignore the things that actually matter (relationships--with God, family, friends, neighbors).

5. That I became a cynic. Cynicism is too easy and happiness is fleeting. Joy is the answer. Joy does not shy away from the realities of pain or darkness or evil. Joy acknowledges all those things and still finds reason for hope.

6. That I cared more about impressing people than treating them well. It's intoxicating to want to be known as smart, driven, and successful. But I don't want my tombstone to just read "capable worker." I want to be remembered for how I treated people (hopefully well). Was she kind? Was she generous? Was she patient? Was she accepting?

7. That I let the Resistance dictate my life. Writing, creating, serving... any act which brings order and beauty into the world is opposed by an evil force; Steven Pressfield calls this force Resistance. I have a purpose, an assignment, a work to complete while there's breath in my lungs. I can't let fear stop my from living it out.

8. That I wasn't faithful to God. When he feels distant, when I do, or when it feels too easy to give up on him, I can lose my way. But I know the peace that comes from fighting the good fight will be worth it. I just need to stay faithful to him.

9.That I died to live. In elementary school, I was dying to go to middle school. In middle school, I was dying to go to high school. In high school, I was dying to go to college. In college, I was dying to start working. In my job, I was dying to retire. Enjoy this season. It's too beautiful to let it pass unappreciated.

10. That I didn't spend enough time with my parents. I have really good parents, and I'm lucky to be able to say that. When most people enter adulthood, they see their parents much less often. This is doubly true if they move far away. Responsibilities add up and life gets in the way. But my time with my parents is limited, so I never want to let my relationship with them wither because "I was too busy."

11. That I didn't take care of my body. In the realm of personal health, nothing beats consistency. Consistent sleep. Consistent exercise. Consistent healthy meals. These three things over a lifetime will make me more durable than any magic drug or treatment. As far as it's in my control, I have to treat my body well. Remember, the sick person only wants one thing.

12. That I let my ego rule me. The more you feed the ego, the bigger and hungrier it gets. It will never be satisfied. Period. Anything it tells you is shrouded in lies, so don't puff yourself up to take an ego trip that will only leave you deceived.

13. That I lived my life as a competition. It's not. Jealousy is toxic. Comparison is exhausting. Envy is crushing. Don't give in.

14. That I let pride ruin my relationships. When being right becomes more important than love, everyone loses. Even if I "win" the argument, if I lose their trust what have I gained? (See #12).

15. That I tricked myself into thinking I'm too important. Thinking I'm too good for anyone or anything is not only toxic; it's also a lie. Sometimes, the more money and status you accrue, the more important you think you are, and the less willing you are to "waste your time" with people or activities that don't have a "tangible return." I don't want to live that way because it feels icky, and God loves a humble heart.

16. That I became numb to injustice. I'm starting a full-time job in less than two weeks. I will be bringing home a steady salary and receiving great benefits. It would be easy for me to just live my comfortable life ignorant of the fact that--despite all my abundance--there are a LOT of people who don't have half the luxuries I take for granted (safety, education, savings, etc.). I need to remind myself, don't look away just because what you see makes you uncomfortable. Do something about it. Give your money, your time, and your energies to the people who need them.

17. That I let the job have me. Having a job is a privilege, and I am incredibly grateful to have one. My fear is that I will let the job define me (it doesn't), let it rule me (it's a terrible master), or let it give me all my purpose (it can't).

18. That I was a slave to validation in determining whether my creations were any good. Seth Godin says reassurance is futile because it's never enough. I agree. Let the work speak for itself.

19. That I lived for the approval of others. Don't buy things you don't need to impress people who don't care. Don't work yourself to the bone because you were too worried about your reputation to rest. Their approval is not strong enough to support the weight of your needy soul.

20. That I dishonored those who love me. The people who love you unconditionally are the easiest ones to take for granted because they stay even when you treat them poorly. I don't want to take the people I'm the luckiest to have for granted. Dishonor is the most insidious way to rot any relationship, and there are lots of way to show it. Directly, there are insults, disrespect, and rolled eyes. Indirectly, there is gossip, ignoring, and backhanded comments.

21. That I worried my life away. I know I waste a ton of energy worrying about the future. Looking back, 97% of the time, whatever I was worried about never came to pass. The 3% of the time that it did, it wasn't as bad as I thought. One of the hardest commands in the Bible for me to follow is don't worry about tomorrow. But for me, it is one of the most important.