This is a guest post from Betsy Wuebker. It fits perfectly with my recent meditations on action and fear. Betsy and her husband Pete are location independent entrepreneurs who currently live on the island of Kauai. She writes on travel, simplicity and independence at PassingThru.

More than forty years ago, I had a conversation with my father. From his hospital bed, he delivered a warning: “Never say ‘what if?’ There might not be a second chance. You don’t want to look back and be sorry.”

Dad died two days later, and his comment was cemented in my memory.

I think Dad sensed what was coming and stepped outside his normal comfort level to communicate a legacy. When my husband’s parents were passing decades later, they lamented the things they hadn’t finished. As they started to say their good-byes, both longed for second chances. Their voices joined my father’s to form a sort of heartbreaking chorus.

In Viralnova’s list of dying people’s regrets, things left undone are cited: not traveling, staying in a bad relationship or terrible job, hesitating, failing to risk. Clearly, unresolved regret can interfere with our sense of contentment to the very end.

When you’re younger, you might hedge decision-making with the illusion of a second chance. There seems to be plenty of time to try new things, to get things right.

But as the years have passed, I’ve gradually learned to make most decisions by following my father’s advice. I think about what I might regret the most, and then choose the opposite. And once in a while, I give myself a second chance. So I moved across the country and back, quit jobs and working for others altogether, traveled, resumed or let go of relationships, and took piano lessons again.

I’m not completely without regrets, but attempting to navigate life with less remorse compels one to settle things. I think in terms of the long run (which, at my age, is rapidly shortening). Can I change it? Do I want to try? Should I let it go?

I make choices by asking, “If I don’t do this, will I be sorry?”

Or, β€œDoes this give me a second chance to get things right?”

Recently I got a letter from my elderly uncle. Reminiscing, he wrote, “I envy your trip to Russia. Always wanted to go there, but never made it.” I perceived only a small regret in this. Whether my uncle visits Russia now makes no real difference. He’s led a very interesting life with long-held other priorities, so letting go of this desire is okay.

Sometimes the universe itself puts forward second chances; if so, I pay attention.

Last year, we moved to Hawaii; it was a second chance at a plan I’d bailed out of in my twenties. I left a friend in the lurch then and I’ve regretted it ever since.

Six weeks ago, I gazed over the cliffs of Normandy. For twelve years, I’d regretted not making the day trip to the D-Day beaches from Paris. I’d have surely regretted not seizing the chance this time.

Regrets require that you accept them and acknowledge what you’ve learned, or act to change the situation. Thoreau said, “To regret deeply is to live afresh.” Second chances can determine whether we live afresh in sadness or joy.

18 Replies to “On Second Chances: Why It’s Important to Face Your Fears”

  1. Ross Lukeman says:

    Betsy, thanks for the awesome reminder on this. I am not without regret, but when I’m faced with something risky I ask myself “Will I regret not doing this when I’m 80?” Often the answer is ‘yes’ and asking this question makes the risk seem less serious.

  2. Aloha, Ross – I really wish I’d asked myself the same question way earlier in life, as you’re doing. Thanks for pointing out that we can do a real number on fear by dispensing with regret. This keeps things in better proportion. πŸ™‚

  3. Becky Blanton says:

    You and Pete inspired me to go to Africa last year-twice! My father said essentially the same thing and I bowed I wouldn’t let fear stand in the way. I’m not perfect, but I do pretty much what I can. Thanks for setting a great example!

    • Hey Becky – I know those were life-changing trips for you in so many ways, and Pete and I were delighted and inspired by your experiences. So you paid it back to us! Aloha.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Betsy, this is a truly excellent post. Years ago I was faced with a decision to move with my job from CA to TX and I really struggled with the decision until I asked myself “What’s the worst that could happen?” The answer: that I’d hate it and I’d want to move back. If I wanted to move back, it would be no big deal, I’d do just that. Long story short, I stayed and love living in Austin, except during the summer. This phrase, along with the one you shared, are IMO great questions to ask oneself when facing big decisions. Looking forward to checking out your blog.

    • Aloha Jennifer – Such a great way to think. When we were moving to Kauai, someone said, “Oh, you’ll be back (to Minnesota) in six months.” That bothered me; it felt like they were characterizing that possibility as a fail. But then another friend said, “So what if you return? At least you went in the first place!” Exactly. πŸ™‚

  5. Marie says:

    Thanks for sharing this Betsy. It reminds me to be strong. And yes, it is very important to face fears so that we will enjoy life to the fullest and never be afraid of anything that may come ahead of us.

  6. Robert says:

    After a lifetime of wanting to pursue martial arts I finally got the nerve to start at age 41. Best decision of my life. Of course I wish I had done it earlier but now I wont say “what if”.

    I envision taking a fishing trip to Alaska with my two sons (now who are only 3 and 6). I know it wont be easy to afford but its something I must do so I wont regret it.

    • Aloha Robert – Love your two examples. Your boys will remember a trip to Alaska for the rest of their lives. Who knows what it will awaken in them?

  7. Avi Asuleen says:

    The best blog posts, for me, are the ones that inspire me to make the most of whatever I’m trying to do this day, week, month, etc. I really enjoyed taking a little work break to this one today, and I’m going to get back to all of my tasks with renewed effort!

  8. That’s an illuminating post. Yes, we all have regrets. In fact, if you find a person who doesn’t have regret, it means he/she hasn’t tried anything in life. I agree to the age old saying – ‘There are no second chances’. But not trying anything or having two minds on a thing is even worse. Believe me! making a calculative decision is one thing. But not doing anything is even worse. I learned it from my bad relationship in the past. I sat on the decision of continuing the bad relationship for too long and suffered a lot of not having the guts of coming out of it. but when I did, I felt better and look at me – I’m going great guns.

    • Aloha Martha – You’re so right to point out that there are huge consequences to indecision. Inaction can have an enormous cost.

      • Thanks Betsy for replying. Yes, inaction cost me dear in the past. I learned it from life experience. So, I’ve decided now to take a decision and implement it no matter what the result is. Loved this blog post. Thanks again Betsy for creating such a lovely blog.

  9. KellyB says:

    Hi Betsy,
    Wonderful post. And perfect timing, I’ve been going back and forth about an important decision and as soon as I read your post I got a huge smile on my face, and I now know what the right decision is to make!! Thanks so much πŸ™‚

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