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3 Vital Lessons on Living a Life That Won’t Lead to Regret

Carpe Diem

“I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” ~Brene Brown

Even though I’m a psychologist who has been working in the field of development and assessment for the last thirteen years, sometimes it still takes more than reading a theory in a book, or even seeing something work with a client, to make it real for me.

Here are three of the moments that have had the most impact on me and the way I live my life.

1. Each of us has the power to change our situation.

I worked for ten years at a company I mostly loved, in a job I mostly loved, but it was a job that didn’t really love me. It was long hours, hard and stressful work.

I thought I thrived on it for a long time, until I slowly came to realize I didn’t have much of a life outside of work.

I had some health issues that didn’t seem to be improving, but I was hoping, year after year, that things would somehow get better. But it seemed things never did.

My breakthrough moment was realizing that I had the power within me to change the situation. Sometimes a choice might be a hard choice, but it’s still a choice.

So instead of going for the next promotion, I resigned. I moved to SE Asia, where I’ve been living and working freelance for a year now. My life still has work as part of it, but also coffee shops, blogging, friends, fun, travel, and yoga. And passion and purpose in a way it didn’t before.

I had the power to change the situation all along, and eventually, I did.

Consider your own life.

Is there anything that you want to change?

Are you waiting for someone else to make it happen?

Take the power back and take a step toward change yourself.

Change can be hard, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. And if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.

2. Act to ensure you feel like you’ve done your best by the relationships in your life at any given moment.

My dad died six years ago, and after the worst of the grieving was done, it gave me another breakthrough moment.

He died suddenly from a heart attack with no warning at fifty-five. It was a terrible shock for all of us. But through the sadness, I was very grateful that I had no regrets about the way our relationship had been. I’d loved him unreservedly, I’d spent time with him, I’d laughed with him, and I’d shared my life with him.

The situation made clear to me that anyone can be taken from us at any time.

And that, even though it sounds a bit macabre, I should live my relationships as though the person could die at any minute.

It’s ensured I respond in a different way to situations that previously could have been blown out of proportion. It’s helped me to avoid many arguments, but also speak up and be honest about my own feelings.

It’s helped me to have the best possible relationship I can with the people I love. And, in fact, some I don’t. I no longer waste time, as I know that time is finite.

How are your relationships right now? With family, with friends?

How would you feel if someone you loved died today? Is there anything you would change about the way you contributed to the relationship?

Remember that while it’s not possible to change how other people respond, it is possible to work on your own responses. Sometimes that can take time and effort, but better now than when it’s too late.

3. What’s right for others isn’t necessarily right for you.

Another breakthrough moment was in the last couple of months, as I’ve been living a very different life in Thailand to the life of the corporate businesswoman I was in the UK.

The study of personality and individual differences is a core part of my training, and something I work with all the time.

I’ve viewed the success of Susan Cain’s book about introverts, Quiet, with interest, as I’m a definite introvert myself, but one who’s always adapted her behavior to demonstrate extrovert behaviors, at work and even with friends.

Recently, my very extrovert mum visited Thailand to spend a month working on our blog and website. This prompted me to realize that I no longer adjust my behaviour as much as I used to.

I spend a lot of time alone, I work in coffee shops with people buzzing around me, but in my own little bubble. But more importantly, I’m okay with that life. I accept that this is the right life for me at the moment, and is giving me the kind of nourishment I need.

And I don’t need to worry about making lots of new friends and doing lots of social activities, as some people suggest to me. I’m okay living the life that’s right for me.

Whilst it’s good to listen to other points of view, I know that what’s right for others isn’t necessarily right for me. And I have the strength to follow my own path.

Are there any aspects of your life that you are living according to what others think is right, rather than what’s right for you?

We are all, every one of the billions of us alive right now, different, and we need different things to grow and develop into our “best self.”

Give yourself the best possible chance at this by creating an environment that nurtures you, rather than what others think should nurture you, or what you think should nurture you.

You Own Your Story

All of these three breakthrough moments—taking back the power to make my own choices, ensuring my relationships are in the best possible state, and following my own path despite others’ opinions—had at their core me owning my own story.

If there’s one overarching lesson I would like to share with you, whispering it gently, kindly, but persistently in your ear, it’s that you own your own story.

No one else is writing it for you.

So write with a loving hand, reflecting on your own breakthrough moments, but don’t sit around passively waiting for the story to just happen.

Take a step toward a more nourishing, powerful, and loving life right now.

Photo by Chris Parker

About Ellen Bard

Ellen Bard’s mission is to help you shine more brightly at work and in life. She has a fancy degree, works with those who are too tough on themselves, and loves all things that sparkle. For the free cheat sheet: 5 Unusual Ways to Take Care of Yourself, click over to EllenBard.com.

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  • Ben

    Great article Ellen – I’ll become that prog rock guitar hero one day….

  • Ellen Bard

    Thanks Ben – if you’d have told me a couple of years ago that now I’d be living on a tropical island, attending yoga school, working freelance in Singapore, Dubai and China and writing two blogs I probably wouldn’t have believed it…it’s amazing what we’re capable of when we actively choose our own story! I will look forward to seeing you perform a 20 minute guitar solo on stage some day, send me a ticket!

  • Ben

    I actually have the chance to go to Mexico and perform with a band I collaborated with on the internet to a small, very insular, very nerdy, but appreciative bunch of prog-heads. I just need to make the decision to go (and spend the money on the trip!). If I do, bring your laptop out there this summer and you can cheer me on whilst writing abstract reasoning items! 🙂

  • Ben

    p.s. I wouldn’t have believed it either (about you!) – but very impressed with the transformation! 🙂

  • ELD

    Very wise. You have inspired me to pick up the phone to ring someone I should have phoned a while back. Thank you.

  • Ellen Bard

    Do it. Psychology shows we regret the things we didn’t do more than the things we did…

  • Tess

    Very engaging and thought-provoking post.

  • Ellen Bard

    Thank you. Sometimes reaching out can be hard, but once we’ve done it, it can be a real relief. And it’s rarely as bad as we think it will be…

  • Ellen Bard

    Really glad you enjoyed it.

  • ELD

    I made the call and you were right; it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought it would be. So, thanks for being the catalyst!

  • These are some amazing lessons to definitely apply to life.
    I love the first one. This one is definitely my most recent breakthrough. I am
    beginning to see that I choose to stay stuck if I want to. Yes, some
    circumstances cause me to stay in a situation longer than others, but I still
    get to choose my attitude, my outlook, my whole perspective on things
    regardless. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Ellen,

    Congrats on getting out of the UK to live your life. That’s quite the bold commitment, and admirably brave. I love the points you make, and the power of writing your own story. I just got out of an emotionally abusive relationship ( yep, words can hurt worse than a slap) and the write your own story idea has been a big part of my recovery. My self esteem had been so damaged that I wasn’t taking care of myself and getting out of the situation. I let myself be a victim. I felt like that’s all I was worth, and it wasn’t until the scale tipped just a bit too far that I finally said, “Deuce to this. I deserve so much better than this. I’m done letting someone else write my story. I will not be a victim in my life.”

    Sorry for the tangent. Point is, you need to live your life for yourself, and I love how you present that idea. Thank you for sharing all of these great points, and keep taking care of yourself.

    Cheers

  • Cat

    “I spend a lot of time alone, I work in coffee shops with people
    buzzing around me, but in my own little bubble. But more importantly,
    I’m okay with that life. I accept that this is the right life for me at the moment, and is giving me the kind of nourishment I need.

    And I don’t need to worry about making lots of new friends and doing
    lots of social activities, as some people suggest to me. I’m okay living
    the life that’s right for me.”

    I LOVED this part especially because I’m an introvert as well who has struggled with health problems myself that are just starting to get better (thanks to yoga, meditation, and quitting psych meds). I often feel that I should be interacting more often with more people and these two paragraphs helped me realize that I’m find where I am right now being an introvert. I actually need alone time to accomplish some new goals centered around the kind of change you write about.

    For the past few months, I lived with a more extroverted person and I watched how much of her time, though she seems to be having fun, gets frittered away on social activities and her goals never seem to manifest. So I saw the value of being more hopefully balanced introvert.

  • Alexis Ameny

    Ellen, you inspire me. Thank you so much for sharing this article. I have been working at the same job for almost 5 years now, not because I’ve necessarily wanted to – but because I feel stuck. A couple months ago I finally broke down (I was pretty miserable) and realized I needed to take back control of my life. So I put in a notice to quit my job in July, where I will then take some time off to travel and experience new cultures. When I get back home I will focus on pursuing a career that will be both rewarding and will push me to be my best self. I wish you the best of luck on your story!

  • Talya Price

    Great for you. I am planning to do the same thing. Good luck. 🙂

  • Talya Price

    I learn something new about myself everyday. I have been taking more and more time for myself. The Universe keeps telling me to travel and take new challenges. And that is what I am going to do.

  • Ellen Bard

    Thanks Mariel. And I would certainly never suggest that change is easily made – sometimes our choices really are between difficult ones, and most involve a trade, or a loss of some kind. For me, giving up my good income and the hard won career progress was a tough call. But just the act of choosing empowered me, and I haven’t really looked back from there. Get friends to support your change, get a journal, write morning pages, read books about a more positive attitude – do everything you can to nurture and support any change you’ve decided to make. Good luck with the next steps.

  • Ellen Bard

    Thanks for sharing Michael, you are right, sometimes it can be hard to see our choices when we are right in the middle of the situation, and sadly there are times when we have to hit rock bottom before we are pushed enough to choose. But I hope by sharing my story, and by people like you sharing yours, others will just get the nudge they need not to stay stuck. Thanks for your kind words.

  • Ellen Bard

    Thanks for sharing your experience Cat. Extroverts and introverts have different needs in social situations, and in our alone time, and general levels of stimulation. They also have different strengths and development needs! Getting the balance right for you can be the difference between being content and being stressed all the time. If you haven’t read Quiet, by Susan Cain, I would definitely recommend it, it’s a very accessible book about personality. I would suggest even for introverts, retaining some strong social ties, maybe only a few, is important, but the party circuit probably isn’t! Thanks for reading.

  • Ellen Bard

    Thanks Talya, and good luck on your travels. Well done for growing and continuing to learn on your journey through life, and hope you have an amazing time.

  • Ellen Bard

    Thanks Alexis. Well done on taking the control to write your own story. For sure it won’t all be plain sailing, but you probably already feel better from having taken back some control. And travel and new cultures are an amazing way of getting our own lives into perspective. Good luck and enjoy your travels.

  • Hi Ellen, I’m in a similar situation now where i’m doing work i love but I feel like the time has come and it’s now time to move on. I have a different calling in life now so am being pulled in a direction to do something that is more uncertain. Change is hard but regret is even harder. I’m trying to break through the fears and resistance in order to pursue my dreams. Thank you for the reminder that I am the hero of my story and the author of it too 🙂

  • Ellen Bard

    Thanks for commenting Vishnu, and remember very few things are for ever. If the new direction doesn’t work out, you will gain immensely from the experience and then move onto the next thing. Rarely in the 21stC will any of us retire doing the same kind of thing we started out doing in the world of work The possibilities are vast. Keep pushing through the fears and resistance, and writing your own story.

  • Kate g

    Great article Ellen, a definite call to action to do some things, stop others and make some phone calls!

  • Ellen Bard

    Thanks Kate, glad it helped you to reflect – we do tend to do a lot of things we don’t want to, and not do things we do want to! Helping swap these round really supports happiness.

  • “What’s right for others isn’t necessarily right for you.”

    You can say that this is one of my favorite motivators to keep doing what I do. Many of my peers would share advice or ideas about topics (e.g. 9-5 jobs, paychecks, marketing) that I can’t relate to or aren’t my true calling. It puts a lot of pressure and I often wonder if I’m the one going astray.

    These days, I continuously remind myself to listen to the inner voice inside, to let my passions pull me towards paths that I know I’m meant to tread. I can rest easy knowing that this is exactly where I want to be and where I want to go.

  • Ellen Bard

    That’s great Stef. I think it’s so easy for us to have the ‘herd’ mentality – humans are naturally social animals, so it’s understandable that many of us want to follow the pack. It takes inner strength and courage to do something different – but if what you’re doing isn’t hurting anyone else, then I think following your true passions can lead you to be truly content – and, of course, grow with the many challenges that are likely to come up on the way! Thanks for sharing.

  • It does take strength to follow one’s own path; You’ve summed the lessons learned up nicely” You own your own story, so write it with a loving hand! A great lesson to share and put into practice.

  • Jamie

    This story is very inspiring, thank you!

  • Danielle Dinh

    Thank you for telling me this. I’ve been sitting around for far too long, waiting for something to happen.

  • Ellen Bard

    Thank you Jamie. I think opening up to others and sharing our vulnerabilities is one of the most inspiring things we can do – and one of the hardest. I hope you can inspire some people in turn!

  • Ellen Bard

    And trust is important. But we let trust go to far when we trust that others will make things happen when we can actually take control ourselves. I hope this inspires you to make something happen for yourself 🙂

  • Ellen Bard

    Thank you Nicole. I don’t think you ever stop needing that strength, but that loving hand is critical too – we also, after all, ‘own’ the ‘mistakes’ or things that don’t go so well, so we need to blend strength with kindness – and we get compassion.

  • Ash

    Hey Ellen,

    Thanks for an excellent post. I too chased society’s dream for me for about 15 years. Finally I realised (the death of someone very close to me) that life was really short and I didn’t want to be doing something that didn’t mean anything to me. It was then that I started my own blog.

    I had a quick look at your website. It’s great! Keep up the awesome work! Thanks for sharing. I look forward to hearing more from you soon. 🙂