“As you grow older, you’ll find that the only things you regret are the things you didn’t do.”
My 20s seemed to go by in a blur, largely because my nose was buried in my work. There were lots of experiences I didn’t have and things I didn’t learn. There’s a lot that I did do, but it seems that some of the most fundamental things, especially the things outside of work, are missing.
As of September 2010, I have 8 months until I turn 32, and a lot to do between now and then. This is about getting out of the trap of “when” and moving into the space of now.
Avoiding Three Things
There are three things that I never want to be: boring, mediocre, and full of regret. The Regret Me Not Project is about me trying to avoid all three.
Here’s a little video explanation of The Regret Me Not Project:
Rockin’ the cliché
Under the Tuscan Sun. The Bucket List. The Buried Life. Julie & Julia. Eat Pray Love.
I know what you’re thinking. Another person undertaking a project to reinvent themselves, find happiness, discover the meaning of life, blah, blah.
Yup. That would happen to be exactly what I’m doing. Not because it’s a cliché and because everyone else is doing it, but actually in spite of those things. It’s just like cupcakes. I love cupcakes. I’ve loved cupcakes for a long time and the fact that everyone else all of sudden decided that they love cupcakes too isn’t going to make me stop eating cupcakes.
I’m going to keep eating cupcakes because I love them and I’m undertaking my little project because I need it. If other people happen to enjoy hearing about my adventures or get inspired in some way, then that’s awesome, but it’s not the main point.
More on the clichés…
When I explain to people what I’m doing, I get this:
Them: “Oh, so is this like your version of The Bucket List?”
Me: “Yeah, except that I’m not planning on dying anytime soon. This is my ‘to do before I turn 32 and the fact that haven’t done these things gets even more ridiculous’ list.”
What the #&%@# Jessica?!?!? How have you not seen that movie!?!?
I get that question a lot.
When people refer to a line from Top Gun or laugh at someone’s take off on a Matrix-style back bend or do an impersonation of The Godfather, I know I’m supposed to know what they are talking about. But the brutal truth is, I only know I’m supposed to laugh because I’ve heard someone say the same quote before or repeat the same Matrix move. The real truth? I’ve never actually seen those movies.
And that’s just the start.
To continue the embarrassment, let’s shift to food.
I say I hate mushrooms. But I realized the other day that I don’t think I’ve actually ever really eaten one. They just look gross. I also say I don’t like sushi. But the most adventurous I’ve ever gotten with sushi is eating a California roll. Now granted, I thought the California roll was gross (the seaweed wrap tasted too fishy), but I’m not sure that should have driven me to relegate myself to consuming only inari, the most unsushi of sushi, for the rest of my life.
You want more?
- Until recently, I had never run a tab at a bar (had to figure out how that worked).
- I’ve never read anything by Ayn Rand, J.R.R. Tolkien, James Joyce, Stephen King, John Irving…
- I’ve never seen Gone with the Wind, Aliens, Casablanca, Die Hard, Do the Right Thing, Pulp Fiction (only seen portions), Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Toy Story, Swingers, The Usual Suspects, The Big Lebowski…
- I can probably count on my fingers and toes the number of times I’ve cooked a complete meal (i.e. a meat or fish plus a starch and/or veggies)
- I’ve probably only uncorked a wine bottle two or three times in my life
- I’ve never traveled to a place with a language I didn’t know (trip to France in 11th grade didn’t count since I had been taking French for 5 years)
And that’s probably just the start…
Reactions A and B
You may be having one of two reactions right now:
Reaction A – How is that possible, you’re 31 years old!?!
Reaction B – Who cares!?!
Let’s address Reaction A first: How is that possible, you’re 31 years old!?!
How did this huge list of things I’ve never done become an embarrassment of not-so-riches?
The biggest, one-word answer is: work.
Two years ago, when my VP of Human Resources asked me what my hobbies were, my response was “work.” I was serious. I literally did almost nothing but eat, sleep, and work. On average, I usually spent 90 to 100 hours per week working. And it’s been that way for the last seven-plus years.
The funny thing is, the majority of that time, I was happy working that much. My work was exciting to me, and I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to have a hobby. To me, a hobby would have just been a distraction from what I really wanted to be doing: working.
No one told me I had to work that much, and no one told me that I couldn’t or shouldn’t do any of the other things that I haven’t done. I made a choice to focus on work.
I also let myself fall into the trap of “when.” If I had an urge to do something outside of work – exercise, go to a dance class, take voice lessons, read a non-business book – I would put it off with a “when.” I would say to myself, “I can do that when I’m done with this big project,” or “I can do that when work quiets down a little bit,” or “I’ll take that lesson when I make a little bit more money.” The problem is that the projects kept coming and work never quieted down and my expenses always seemed to expand to fit whatever size paycheck I was getting.
In a lot of ways my choice to focus on work paid off (in a few short years I went from Fund Development Associate to CEO), but it also left me with a one-dimensional, incomplete feeling life. Which leads me to…
Reaction B: Who cares!?!
Well, you may not care, but I do. (start playing sappy music now…) I care because it hits me really hard sometimes that we only get one chance at life and that when we get to the end, there is no rewind button so that we can go back and do things that we wished we’d done. If we don’t do them now, we never get to do them. We get caught in the trap of “when” until there are no more “whens” and then it’s too late.
I also care because I’ve realized that part of what makes me happy is connecting with other people, and a key part of connecting with other people is being able to bond over common experiences. Or at least have something to talk about other than the latest Girl Scout cookie sales figures.
All of this may make it sound like I’ve never seen or done anything, and that I therefore may not know that much. While that may be a true about a lot of things that people who are 31 would have normally done, there are a lot of other things that I do know a lot about. I can speak business pretty fluently, especially corporate culture, organizational development, workplace flexibility, social media etc.
And I’ve actually read a lot of different books and watched a lot of different movies, just not the ones, it seems, that everyone else talks about. I still remember trying to explain over and over to some friends why the original Japanese version of the movie “Shall We Dance” was so much better than the crappy Richard Gere version. Since the only version they had seen (and liked) was the one that I was calling crappy, that conversation didn’t go over so well.
This Is What It Is
The Regret Me Not project officially starts on September 14 and it technically ends when I turn 32 in May. I say technically, because I have a feeling I won’t want to stop. I’ve already started a little early dabbling in my Regret Me Not activities and, well, it kind of rocks. Whether I officially end or not, May will at least involve a big party to celebrate.
Nine months to experiment, to try things, and to stop putting things off. Between now and then I’m going to squeeze in moving as many things as possible from my “never done” list to my “done” list.
If your mind just went to the gutter, get it out. This isn’t about sex or drugs (although it may be a little bit about rock n’ roll).
My Regret Me Not to do list falls into two major categories (with exciting sub-categories too!):
- General Life Skills (like cooking)
- Artistic/Creative Skills (like lindy hopping and singing)
- Sporty/Fitness Skills (like running)
- General (like sky diving and kite boarding)
- Travel (like going somewhere where they don’t speak English)
- Food (like actually trying mushrooms)
- Books (reading stuff I’ve never read)
- Movies (watching movies I’ve never seen)
- TV (watching shows I’ve never seen)
- Music (listening to stuff I’ve never listened to)
What Am I Missing?
I’ve started my lists for each category, but since in many cases I don’t know what I haven’t done until someone calls me out on it and embarrasses me by their screams of dismay, you can submit your suggestions to me for things I should be doing in every category.
The Regret Me Not Project
Nine months of pretty life-changing activity. I’ll be documenting it all. Join me if you want.