Don’t Focus on ‘Do-Overs’

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a story online that I shared in the ‘Critical Reads’ section of this e-newsletter. The story was about a whitewater rafting trip on which a young man met an older man who told him that he really had no regrets about how he had lived his life.

According to the story, the older man died on that rafting trip when he was thrown from the raft. The young man was moved because the older man accomplished a life with no regrets.

It’s a half-sad, half-inspiring story. It’s safe to say that we all think back and ask ourselves what we’d do differently if we “had it to do over.” In fact, “If I had it to do over” has become a pretty common phrase in our society.

It’s a useful one in some ways, I think, because it means we’re learning from our mistakes. In business, I often look back at things I’ve done or tried to do and, hindsight being 20-20, take valuable lessons even from failures, big or small. It helps me going forward.

After the real estate bubble burst, I was asked a lot whether I regretted getting into real estate. At first, the question made me stop and think. It was a new question in what was a new experience – an unprecedented housing slump.

Anybody who’s involved in any way with real estate probably asked similar questions of themselves at the time. If you owned a home, you were probably affected. If you were an investor, you were probably affected. But, truth be told, if I had to do it all over again, I probably wouldn’t have done much differently – unless I got to do it over again with a crystal ball and could have timed everything with the certainty of what things would happen and when.

Sure, anybody with property would have tried to sell in 2005 if they knew what was going to happen in 2006. Anybody in the market for acquiring properties in 2006 would have waited until prices and rates dropped … if they were able to see that coming.

The fact is, we can’t always see what’s coming. And I don’t think that inability – we’re human, after all, and most of us aren’t psychics – should be something that causes us to feel regret. That we can’t predict the future is, perhaps, regrettable, but you can’t live your life kicking yourself for not having that ability. You might as well regret not being able to fly or leap tall buildings in a single bound.

When I get the question about regretting getting into real estate now, I don’t even hesitate. I say, “No.”

The things that are regrettable are the times when we have all the information at hand and DON’T have to predict the future, and still do the wrong thing. It’s not the “I should have seen it coming” that’s worthy of regret; it’s the “I knew it was coming, and I still screwed it up” that’s regrettable.

The things that look like our mistakes on the surface, but are actually a result of things beyond our control aren’t necessarily things we should regret. They can be useful learning tools, in fact, and things we should use going forward.

I don’t regret getting into real estate. I don’t regret staying in real estate. I have accepted that the downturn that occurred was unprecedented and of monumental proportions, and I don’t kick myself over it. That said, there were things I learned about the industry, my business and myself that I can take from the experience and carry forward with me.

In that regard, there is a “do-over.” What’s done is done. But what lies ahead are opportunities still available, chances to choose how we want to do things. The key is letting go of the desire for do over what’s already been done and focusing on what’s left to do. When it comes to how we want to live our lives, what we want to accomplish professionally and personally, there is enough ahead of us to make up for the do-overs we won’t get on the things behind us.

I think that’s enough for me. And the story of the guys on the whitewater rafting trip just reinforce that feeling. It might sound eerie, but if I’m going to die tomorrow, I’m going to spend today doing things I can’t possibly regret.

I don’t think it’s common to accomplish what the older guy did; my guess is that more people carry regret to their ends than don’t. But I don’t want to be one of them. My guess is that you don’t either.

The way to do that is to let go of the regrets you already have and live the life you want to live starting right now. That might sound like a stale sound bite from a corny motivational speech, but if you want to end your life with no regrets, you have to start somewhere.

Regret keeps us prisoners of the past. The here and now, and the future, are where the freedom lies.