The worst thing in life

I only regret in my chilled age, certain occasions and possibilities I didn’t embrace.
Henry James
1843 – 1916

I’d like you to take a few moments and think about the worst thing that could happen in your life. Now, depending on where you are in life, that might vary a lot. You might think that losing a promotion, breaking up with your significant other, losing your job, or enduring the death of a loved one would be the worst thing that could possibly happen to you.

But let’s fast forward a bit, to a time none of us really want to consider. While we all know that death is a part of life, most of us prefer to avoid contemplating our death. But think about when you’re close to the end of your life. That’s when you’ll get a very clear perspective on the worst possible thing that could happen.

I don’t pretend to be a fortune teller, but I do believe I can tell you the worst thing that can happen. Unless you’re quite different from the majority of people, when you’re near the end, you’ll look back on your life with some regret. And unfortunately, it will be too late. There will be nothing you can do about it.

What will you regret? For some, it will be that you didn’t spend enough time with your loved ones. For others, it will be the opportunities you let slip by: opportunities to make new friends, to help others, to make a difference in life. I can’t tell you specifically what you’ll regret, but I can tell you it will be the most gut-wrenching thing you will face.

If this is so important, then why do we let opportunities slip away? Well, as the current cliche goes, life gets in the way. We get caught up in urgent activities each day and fail to give enough time and attention to what’s important in life. We become a slave to daily crises.

And of course, the other reason is fear. We fear stepping out of our comfort zone. We fear that if we take a chance, if we try something new, if we decide to really make a difference in the world, we will fail. The truth is just the opposite; we fail when we don’t even try.

Often, we don’t face that failure to try until we no longer have the opportunity. That is where the regret comes from: knowing that we had an opportunity for our lives to be different, but we didn’t even try. And when we’re near the end, that is when regret will really haunt us.

But there is a cure. You don’t need to go through life knowing you’ll be burdened with regret at the end. Just take the time now to decide what’s important in your life, then set aside the time to do those things. Decide to make a difference in life. Life is for living, exploring, and growing. Life is for fully developing your unique self. There will come a day when you’ll no longer have the time or opportunity to do certain things. Then you’ll only have regret. To me, that would be the worst thing that could possibly happen.

For all sad words of tongue or pen,
the saddest are these,
“It might have been.”

John Greenleaf Whittier
1807 – 1892

Copyright © 2020 John Chancellor


The worst thing in life — 2 Comments

  1. Thank you for another great article John. When I spent some time reflecting on my goals for life I decided that I would die happy with no regrets; whenever that might be. Regret is such a pointless emotion to me. It is based in the past, which is an illusion. As you say, I live in the now and make the most of the time I have. As MeatLoaf sang, “the loneliest words there can ever be; are ‘if only…”

  2. Rosie,

    Thanks for your observation and comment.

    If you are not familiar with the song “I Don’t Believe in If Anymore” by Roger Whittaker, you might find the words resonate with you.