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How to Avoid End-of-Life Regret: Stop Giving Your Life Away

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“One day your life will flash before your eyes. Make sure it’s worth watching.” ~Unknown

Do you ever wonder what life is all about? You may wake up day after day and go to a job you can barely stand. You might be in an unsatisfying relationship that’s on its last breath, yet you can’t seem to let it go.

Maybe you spend more money than you have, or you eat or drink too much because it’s the only thing that distracts you from your misery. Whatever the distraction, you know you are unhappy, but powerless to know what to do about it.

In my early twenties, I had finished college and was working at my first “real” job. My graduation allowed me to become commissioned as an officer in the Army National Guard. Most importantly, and best of all, I was in love. I was on a personal and professional trajectory and right in line with societal norms.

The next step in my carefully predicted life was marriage and a family. My life was unfolding before me like I thought it should, and I was content to ignore the gnawing discontent that had been quietly eating away at my insides, for as long as I could remember.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, when the “love of my life” brought our relationship to a screeching halt, I was devastated. Like, I wanted to die, devastated.

My body froze in time, and I was unable to move with any sense of direction or intention. I was lost, as grief washed over me in relentless waves, threatening to drown me. Life had thrown me overboard, and I was not wearing a life vest.

The truth is, all those overwhelming feelings had less to do with him and more to do with feelings that had been living inside of me long before he came along. He just reminded me they were there.

Do you know the feeling? The feeling of the bottom completely falling out of your world, leaving you with nothing to stand on? That relationship was not my destiny, but it would turn out to be a critical turning point in my life.

Obviously, I did not die. After crying countless tears and dragging myself out of bed every morning for a few months, wondering what I was doing with my life, I made a decision.

I had four months of Officers training to complete at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, so I decided it was time to fulfill that commitment. So for four months I worked hard, played hard, made some fantastic new friends, and got paid for it all.

Something unexpected happened. An unfamiliar feeling of lightheartedness began to possess my body, and my eyes were opened to the seriousness with which I had been living my life.

I had no idea how burdened I had been feeling, having rarely known anything else. I realized that I had not been living the life I wanted. I was living the life expected of me, or at least what I thought was expected of me.

When my time in Texas came to an end, the thought of returning home wrenched my gut with dread. The feeling was in stark contrast to the lightheartedness I had been feeling. This got my attention.

Something had changed, and I could not return to life as I had known it. What I had not yet realized was that it was me that was changing.

I was discontent in all areas of my life, and that relationship helped me avoid it. It wasn’t until the breakup that I was forced to take notice.

I was barely twenty-four years old, and I was miserable. So despite opposition and my own anxiety, I stopped complying with my perception of societal expectations and I started to follow my gut. I followed my feelings.

I wanted to travel. Some said I was running away from things; nonetheless, I believed, instead, that I was running towards something. I had come to realize there were a multitude of voices in my head all vying for my attention.

Family, friends, religion, and society were all scrambling for possession of my mind, and I had been trying to live my life the way I thought I should.

I honestly did not know what I wanted, so used to pleasing others first. At that moment in time, what I did know is what I didn’t want. I did not want to go back home.

So I planned a trip with my youngest sister. We spent two and a half fabulous, fun, carefree months traveling and exploring the western U.S., camping and backpacking.

While in California I met a woman who had backpacked Europe, and I knew immediately that was to be my next trip. After my western U.S. exploration was done, I returned home to plan a trip to Europe.

After a couple months of planning, I traveled alone to Europe, where I spent four months backpacking Western Europe, the Mediterranean countries, and Egypt. All because I began to listen to my gut, to my feelings and desires, rather than all the voices in my head telling me what I should do.

As I stood alone on a street corner in London on the cold December day that I landed there, I was ecstatic. Cell phones were barely in existence, and no one could reach me. I was completely on my own and ready to find out what kind of grit I had, and I was amazed at how good it felt. I was amazed at how good I felt!

I was learning that taking care of myself and making decisions for my life based on what was right for me, rather than others, was a priority. I don’t mean that in an irresponsible, indifferent way. I mean it in a “this is my life and I get to live it my way” kind of way.

So, as it turned out, the ending of the relationship that I thought would last forever was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Not because he was a bad guy or would have made a lousy husband, but because his ending the relationship woke me up. 

It was not his job to be my “happily ever after.” It was mine and his leaving forced me to begin to figure that out.

Many of us expect others to make us happy and to fulfill our dreams, never knowing that we have the ability to do it for ourselves. Trust me when I tell you, you will be most happy and most contented when you do. Your relationships will be healthier when you do.

Here’s the hard part: It means taking a chance. Maybe risking failure, maybe finding success. Likely feeling very uncomfortable—at least for a little while. But if we don’t try, we will never know. We will never grow.

It can be difficult to make decisions that go against the grain, especially if we anticipate being rejected by or disappointing to someone close to us. I know, I lived it. Hard as it was, it was the best thing I ever did for myself.

I also know that to live your life pleasing someone else, or following what mainstream society dictates you do, will leave you doing things you do not want to do and feeling ways you do not want to feel.

Societal and family systems will pigeonhole us if we let them. We internalize limits based on what we have been told or taught. The key is to question what you have been told or taught. You get to decide if it is true for your life. It can be scary, I understand that. Do it anyway.

Keep what works for you and get rid of the rest. The limits we face are usually the ones we place on ourselves. We can blame no one else if our life is unsatisfying. Take small steps, but take a step.

The consequences of a life given away are greater than the consequences of living life on our terms. In other words, when we live life on our terms, we gain more than we lose. Period.

I came to further understand how important that was years ago, while working as a hospice nurse. That work became my teacher, as I recognized very quickly who had lived a fulfilling life and who had not.

It was easy to see the peace and acceptance of the contented and fulfilled, which highlighted the sad and painful turmoil of those with regrets.

Those most at peace were the ones who had faced their fears, who’d taken chances, while risking losing. Those in turmoil had avoided themselves, their pain, their fears, and their dreams. They stayed safe or distant and disconnected and regretted it in the end. They suffered as a result.

Life is an invitation to grow and to make a difference. You are important. You are needed. Don’t be the one dying with regret. Do not waste another minute being afraid to break out of your rut. Take a chance!

Discover your passions. What makes you come alive? What gets you excited? What do you want? What is your gut telling you to do and what are the fears holding you back? Whose life is it?

It’s your life. Live it!

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About Sandra Cooper

Sandra is enthusiastic about plunging the depths of the universe and she believes that starts by plunging the depths of her own inner world. She believes that healing and loving ourselves is the key to a joyful and free existence. She would love to have you journey with her as you discover your true self! www.Sandra-Cooper.net

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  • maggiemay

    Sandra Cooper, really enjoyed reading this. I am in my 40s and full of regret about not having the courage to do what felt instinctively right for me, in terms of personal decisions, relationships and work. Regret is the bitterest pill to live with, really is. LIke you, my turning point and catalyst to stop living an in-authentic “existence”, was the very-recent unexpected ending of a relationship. The bottom did fall out of my world, I did want to die, but I am also intelligent enough to realise that this isn’t about him, the time we were together was simply a distraction from life-long issues inside me, and his sudden departure has just made those issues feel that much more critical to finally face. So for that, I am grateful. I just walked out of a new but highly pressured job. I applied just after he told me he’d met someone else, and I think my grief spurred me on through the whole interview process. It was a real career, would have led me down many exciting paths, but I realised pretty quickly that it wasn’t right for me, I am a people person, I need to interact face to face, not stare at a computer screen 7 hours a day. I know many people will feel let down by my not sticking with it, but I feel I have lost too much of what and who was right for me, I have to start doing what’s right, even if it isn’t financially lucrative, or a big “career”. Just feel I have to start being my real self, explore my spirtuality, do things which bring me joy. Look forward to looking at your website.

  • Christina

    Thank you so much for this article! I am presently in the nursing profession & feel so ‘burnt-out’ It’s not that I don’t want to care for people,I do,but in a different way.I was attuned to Reiki several years ago,best move I ever did.So want to make a career with Reiki,your thoughts have spurred me on!! Thank you again.

  • Sandra Krayeski Cooper

    Good for you!! All the best on the journey!

  • Sandra Krayeski Cooper

    It is never to late to start. Let go of the regret as best you can…it serves no purpose. If you could have done something different years ago, you would have. Be good to yourself as you explore all that you are! All the best.

  • maggiemay

    Thank you x

  • purna

    Sandra, thank you very much for this article. Congratulation on your decision to listen to yourself. I applaud you for that. I am in the process of doing the same. Wish we all the best.

  • Christina

    Thank you.

  • KV

    Such a powerful, beautiful article.

  • Sandra Krayeski Cooper

    I do wish you all the best! Its a journey well worth it.

  • Sandra Krayeski Cooper

    Thank you!!

  • shen

    Thank you for an amazing post 🙂

  • Kris Davis

    I can completely relate. Heart ache can be a great awakener to our life purpose or at the very least help us figure out what we don’t want in our lives. Thank you for that reminder! Great Post!

  • Sandra Krayeski Cooper

    Thank you for thinking it’s an amazing post 🙂

  • Sandra Krayeski Cooper

    Sad but true…heartache does seem to be the great awakener!!

  • Lilly

    Thank you for your beautiful and inspiring post. It has made a difference in my life and what I’m going through at the moment.

  • Inspirational Sandra! I left a high-paying job that was both prestigious and influential after a similar circumstances. Every day for a few minutes I think about going back to it but then realize that the transitions I’ve made have been worth it. I may not make as much money as before but today, I have freedom, passion, adventure, creativity and more. We don’t have to quit our jobs and lives and go live like hermits 🙂 but we can simplify our lives and pursue those things that bring us alive. Thank you for sharing this message.

  • bigdo

    if only we all had the ability to just fly off to Europa and do whatever we like… What you describe is escapism.. and that’s precisely what most people do need.. the realities for people in America on a day to day basis are just too much anymore…esp. minorities and women… Sometimes you just gotta fly away and get lost.. but the world is so financialized now that even that is a pipe dream for the broad majority.

  • Sandra Krayeski Cooper

    Thanks for your inspiring message, Vishnu…the most difficult decisions often give us the greatest rewards!

  • Sandra Krayeski Cooper

    It was more than escapism and one does not need to fly anywhere to do it…it is tuning in and doing what is best for you, rather than everyone else. Wherever we go….there we are. Freedom comes from within. All the best!

  • Sandra Krayeski Cooper

    I wish you all the best with whatever you are going through…stay encouraged. You deserve the life you want!

  • Julia Gomex

    Sandra, I feel so connected and so identified with your words that I’ve got tears in my eyes.
    I just started a blog with the goal of sharing my travel in the research of who I am and how I want to be. I was looking for some inspiration and randomly found your article. It’s amazing, it motivates me to follow my dreams and keep on trusting in who I am even if not everything is perfect.
    I’m trully gratefull, you just made my day. <3
    (sorry about my english, I speak spanish)

    Julia

  • Sandra Krayeski Cooper

    Julia, no apologies necessary…glad to have made your day!! All the best on the journey!

  • youngman

    Inspiring.
    How did you get the money to finance your trip?

  • Sandra Cooper

    I was a hard worker, not a spender and had been socking money away since I was a kid. Things were a lot easier years ago!