Q: I am a 52-year-old man who has been wrestling with the idea of retirement for some time. I finally announced my decision to go, but mixed with my sense of relief is a lingering sense of unfinished business and regret. Everyone is full of praise but I’m dying inside, filled with a sense of missed opportunities and wasted time.
How do I learn to let go, how do I leave regret behind, how do I stop those sleepless nights thinking about what might have been…?
P.C of Malvern, Victoria.
A: Dear P.C
You articulate beautifully the reasons why decisions are so very fraught. It sounds as if yours was indeed a difficult decision, and with it has come fear and uncertainty. Each step we take carries us one step away from the other roads we may have traveled. Each decision by necessity excludes other decisions. We cannot travel two roads at once, and as we get older, we also know that there is not endless time to travel those roads not taken.
Unless it is affecting your health, sleeplessness is not in itself a bad thing. I’m not sure why we are led to believe that our days should be free of a sense of regret, and that our nights should be forever peaceful. Why should they? You are not just dying inside. Like all of us, your life is coming to an end one day at a time. So it makes good sense that you are concerned with the crucial question of how to live without accumulating further regret. The rest of your life is still to be lived, and sleepless nights are bound to plague the end of one life and the beginning of another unknown one.
Clearly there is unfinished business that plagues you. How can you take on the tasks you believe you have left undone? Leaving concern for the praise of others behind, how can you live without wasting more time? How can you learn from the regrets you currently hold? Regrets can be precious. They are painful, but they also remind us that all experiences are transient and that all things will ultimately be lost.
There may be opportunities that you will not want to miss a second time. You sound as if you feel that part of this new decision has lost you some things prematurely. Perhaps it is not time to let go of everything. Allow your middle of the night regrets to guide you to those things you feel you would like to do. It may be easier to rest and to let go, when you have made decisions that allow you to live in a way that prevents the repetition of past mistakes.