A busy life is often full of regret
To live a life without regrets, it is essential that you know, and do, what really matters. The challenge for many is that we are unsure about what really matters. Life is busy. Few people have clear criteria for saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Most of us say ‘yes’ to too many things for fear of offending or missing out. Some have bought into the fallacy that they can do everything and have it all…. now. Some are still caught up in their own quest to prove themselves, to be successful, to become somebody, to make an impact.
In my work mentoring busy business owners and corporate executives, I speak with many people who are deeply dissatisfied with their life. Some feel out of control. Others are just unfulfilled. They are usually very talented people, earning significant amounts of money, but so stretched they are not sure they know what really matters. What really matters has been reduced to keeping the boss happy, or paying off the mortgage, or winning greater market share for their business.
What is essentialism?
I have recently finished reading Greg McKeown’s excellent book titled ‘Essentialism – The disciplined pursuit of less’. The main thesis of the book is aimed at those who are living a life that is too busy and feels out of control. McKeown shows various strategies to learn how to say ‘no’ to the non-essential and trivial. Such an approach he calls ‘essentialism’. It isn’t about getting more done in less time. It is about getting only the right things done. “Essentialism holds the keys to solving one of the great puzzles of life: How we can do less but accomplish more?” Adam Grant, author of Think Again.
You will never become an essentialist without investing in yourself
Most people are too busy doing to have much time or headspace to deeply think about what really matters. Businesspeople today are responding to a far greater number of stimuli (messages, emails, opportunities, calls, other market issues) every day than even 5 years ago. It’s almost impossible to keep up with everything.
“To discern what is truly essential we need space to think, time to look and listen, permission to play, wisdom to sleep, and the discipline to apply highly selective criteria to the choices we make.” (McKeown, Essentialism)
Many people struggle to know their purpose.
What is my purpose? How can I be sure my life is on the right track? These questions frustrate so many of us. I regularly hold themed dinner sessions with successful businessmen. The most intriguing topic we have discussed has been ‘purpose’. Many of the men were unsure and felt that purpose was elusive. They long for a stronger clearer sense of purpose which always seems just out of reach. McKeown asks what for me is a better question: What really matters? For me that is an easier question to answer than one about my ultimate purpose?
Discovering or Rediscovering what really matters
I am a man who has done a lot of good things in my life. I have served and helped thousands of people. But, at the peak of my ‘outward success’ I lost my way, became burned out and quite self-absorbed, and made some very poor decisions. This left a lot of people feeling betrayed and losing trust in me. I lost my marriage and family during this season. My whole world came tumbling down. Personally, I lost my self-respect and was overcome with regret. It took me several years to rebuild my life and rediscover healthy self-respect. That enabled me to work out what really matters in my life again.
I had been seduced by popularity, and success in the arena I was working in. I had worked hard for many years but towards the end had been on cruise control and was even bored with my role. I had become distracted from what really matters.
For me now, 15 years later, what really matters has become easy to know again.
What really matters to me is my family – my wife, children, and grandchildren. Getting to know and invest time and energy into these precious lives is uppermost in my mind.
What really matters is living in alignment with my values and making sure I am being authentic and have integrity across my life. What matters is time to think and reflect. I also love making time to be grounded by working in my garden, exercising, and walking my dog.
In the work I do, what matters is to be able to bring my best energy and skills to serve my clients to the best of my ability. I love helping release the potential in a person, a team, or a new idea. I enjoy the freedom and responsibility to work with the clients I choose.
Doing what really matters is the key to living without regret
Reading McKeown’s book helped me realise some things I have learned to be true for me.
There are things in my life I wish I could hit replay and do better second time around. In the period of about 5 years after my divorce, when two of my daughters were not speaking to me, I was overcome with regret. Regrets paralysed me. I had very little confidence to do my work and grow my business. I worked with a psychologist and did some personal development courses and prayed a lot. Together these things helped me process guilt and shame and gradually lifted me out of the clutches of the power of regret. I had to forgive myself and set my sights on the man I wanted to become rather than trying to be someone or something for someone else. This was challenging but vital personal work I needed to do to rebuild self-respect.
Gently and slowly, I reached out to my daughters without demands. I just wanted them to know I loved them. No strings attached. Over the passage of time, they began to let me in again. I focused on becoming the kind of man who could be the father and grandfather they needed in their lives. I wanted to be successful and have capacity (time and money) to be able to bless them when they were ready. Today, 7 years later, we have a wonderful relationship that is very healthy and open. I get to spoil my grandkids and spend time with them often. This is what matters to me. Driving my 10-year-old grandson to soccer games as he chats about his life and friends and latest video game and tells his Pop all about stuff that is important to him is what really matters to me.
Today I can honestly say I am living without regret. And I believe that knowing and doing what matters most to you is the key to living a life without regret.