Hindsight is, of course, 20/20. And it’s impossible to live your life over again. But what if you had access today to the vast wisdom of a life well lived? What if you could live your life according to what others—with far more experience—know will work best?
Maybe it’s time to listen to some older folks.
Older people, I think, often have knowledge and clarity about a great many important things in life. I believe there’s so much to learn from them.
So, when I heard about Dr. Gerald Bell and his extensive research on leadership, I did a little digging. Years ago, Dr. Bell, founder and CEO of the Bell Leadership Institute and a professor at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, published a study of 4,000 retired executives whose average age was 70.
He asked them one question: “If you could live your life over again—what would you do differently?” Here are their answers:
- I would have taken charge of my life and set my goals earlier. “Life isn’t practice; it’s the real thing.”
- I would have taken better care of my health.
- I would have managed my money better.
- I would have spent more time with my family.
- I would have spent more time on personal development.
- I would have had more fun.
- I would have planned my career better.
- I would have given more back.
The No. 1 answer beat out all the other answers by far. I love the “life isn’t practice; it’s the real thing” quote. There’s a lot of wisdom in those words. There are so many lessons to learn—and follow.
I would add one more answer to this great list: I would have taken more risks. That would be my No. 1 answer. If I could go back in time, I’d take more chances—from asking the pretty girl to dance at the 8th-grade “sock hop” to meeting with businesspeople I wish I knew now. Rather than dwell on the reasons I couldn’t do something, I’d figure out how I could do it.
I’m not the only one with this idea.
Recently, the Birmingham Business Journal published an article about Jeanne Jackson, the president and CEO of The Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham. The writer asked Ms. Jackson this: “If you could tell your 18-year-old self something, what would you say?”
Her answer: “Be a risk taker. I think I am a risk taker, but to be comfortable with that role, not apologetic. That being adventuresome and willing to take chances and risk is good. There’s very little stopping you from doing that. It’s your determination to do that. Be a little more confident about choices.”
While none of us can live life over again, we all can choose to do things differently today. We can choose to take charge of our business goals and finances and health and happiness. We can choose to have more fun and spend more time with family. We can choose to take more risks.
I challenge you to make changes. Do the kinds of things that will lead to a life of no regrets. This is how you do what you do better both at work and in life.