Imagine it’s your 90th birthday. A large group of all the important people in your life from over the years have gathered to celebrate this special day with you.
Close your eyes and visualise the scene.
Notice where the celebration is happening. Who is here. Notice the hubbub, chatter and the buzz in the room – the sense of love and warmth in the air.
At a certain point in the celebrations, four people from your life take it in turn to stand up and talk about you, your life and the person you are. One is a friend, one is from your family, one relates to your work and there’s one other significant person.
Keeping your eyes closed, notice who is speaking and what they are saying. Take your time to really listen to everything each of them say about you.
Enjoy and take in all the positive things they say when they talk about you, your life and the impact you’ve had. Allow yourself to feel proud of all you’ve done, the way you’ve lived your life, as well as the person you are and what people see in you.
What themes and messages do you hear? What are the qualities they love or admire about you? What are the messages you enjoy hearing?
And then … notice what they don’t say.
Notice what you would have liked them to have said that they didn’t.
What are those things that, if you continue your life as it is now, will not be said about you?
What are the things you would have liked to have heard but you know you won’t hear if you keep behaving or spending your time as you do now?
What are the qualities that you admire in others, but you know deep down wouldn’t be said about you at the end of your life?
Learning from the future
The first time I did this exercise, it had a profound effect on me.
As someone who spends a significant amount of time focusing on creating the life that I really want – reading about this, reflecting on this and actively cultivating and creating this – I probably prided myself somewhat (pride before a fall!) on creating the life that I wanted to live as much as possible (and when I wasn’t doing so, taking action to try and change things).
Given my background and the work I do (not to mention my love of learning and growing), I’d also done countless visualisation exercises before.
But what I had never really considered was where were the gaps? Where were my blind spots? What were the areas that I was neglecting or not cultivating (perhaps partly because of prioritising other things)?
And what would I regret about my life I didn’t start to sow these seeds now? If I didn’t start to make some changes now to work on those areas in my life?
One of the things that came up for me was being fun.
I realised that while people might well say that I tried to live my life as fully as possible, that I tried to experience a lot of things and to grow and challenge myself, this exercise made me wonder whether anyone would describe me as fun?
Adventurous – possibly. Spontaneous – at times. Up for stuff – yes, definitely. Interested in the lives of others – yes. But fun? I wasn’t so sure.
And I’ll be honest, this made me a bit sad. And made me reflect on my life and not just on what I wanted to do, but also how I wanted to BE in the world. The kind of person I wanted to be and be remembered for being.
Creating a future without regrets
Since then I have been focusing more on being fun and having fun (as you can read in my blog about the Fun 50 Challenge). It’s something I’ve been intentionally bringing into my life.
Doing fun things always came a little easier to me (being the action-oriented, solution-focused person that I am!).
Prioritising fun, things I enjoy and time with others when I’m under pressure I’ve got better at.
And ‘being fun’ (an attitude, the how rather than the what) which comes less naturally to me, continues to be a work in progress.
But what I can say is that it’s incredibly useful to reflect occasionally not just on what you are doing day-to-day and on your longer term goals and plans, but also about the kind of person that you are being. How will you be remembered at the end of your life and is this how you’d like to be known?
Because it’s not too late to change.
NOW is the time to start.
And it doesn’t need to be any major change. A ship that changes its course by one degree will end up in a vastly different place from where it originally set out to go.
It’s really in those micro-decisions, those micro-moments and choices we make every day and in our interactions with others that make up the person we are and the life we have lived.
It’s actually the small changes that you make – those moments or choices – sustained over time, that make a really big difference to how you live your life, to the person you are being.
And to having lived a life with no regrets.