As you approach your final days, it’s incumbent on you to review your regrets. I’m pretty sure that’s one of the rules. And I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to have at least a few regrets.
For example, I think I’m supposed to regret the many nights I missed family dinners or family weekends because I was working. I do have those regrets—kind of–especially since the last couple of months with Ginny, Jason’s family and Patti have been such potent reminders of how meaningful those times can be.
I certainly hate remembering the times my long hours hovered menacingly over my marriage. For whatever reason, I could never figure out how to do my job in less than 55 to 65 hours a week, sometimes more. Often more. Of course, that claim was always suspect because everyone knew how much I loved my work. He’s not there because he has to be. He’s there because he wants to be. (Can’t they both be true?)
In my days as a headline writer, I really did enjoy playing on the typewriter/computer when no one else was around. I loved seeing how the words looked on the page or screen. I loved figuring out how to reorder them to make them stronger, funnier, more dramatic, more compelling. When I was writing headlines, I’d write them over and over. Splitting them into two rows. Then three rows. Then four. Seeing how they balanced.
I have never been efficient in anything. I waste time. I read sluggardly, no matter how hard I try. I procrastinate. I do the easy, mindless things instead of the important things.
Today I can lose hours online accomplishing–what? It feels sometimes that I need a week to get 30 minutes of productive work done. Why?
For the last decade, I’ve gone to lunch not with my work, but with my newspapers and magazines. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t get too deep into the reading because the one thing I can do very quickly is eat. I’d actually get angry with myself for finishing the sandwich before I finished the story. Still, I treasure that time. HV protected that time for me for years: I just didn’t do business lunches. (OK, I don’t regret that at all.)
We’re told nobody on a deathbed ever said, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office.” Maybe, but I confess that I wish I’d somehow magically had more time to spend at the office–time that wouldn’t subtract from my other times. A 30-hour day would have been perfect.
I regret that I wasn’t able to accomplish more with the special projects I adopted over the past decade–the animated holiday movie, the new digital technology, the revamping of some important American Cancer Society programs, the selling-in of a few big ideas to Walmart, etc. All of these projects involved working with passionate friends–and that was great. I just wish I had more to show for it.
I’m a gracious loser, but I’m not a good loser. If the work wasn’t as good as I knew it should be (and it almost never was), I was convinced it was my fault. If the agency lost a new business competition, even if I wasn’t involved, that was on me too. My dad was a seriously good tennis player. When he lost, he loved it when the other guy threw his racquet into the net. I may not have shown it, but inside me, I was throwing a lot of racquets. I regret losing.
Last week John Adams, my partner for more than three decades, came by for a visit. For two hours we talked about things we’d never made time to talk about before. It was great. We found out things about each other that we didn’t know, even after all these years. I’ve spent my life surrounded by wonderful, interesting, smart people. I regret not making much more time to really talk to those people.
I’m thankful that I’m outliving my prognosis for all kinds of obvious reasons. One of those reasons is that I’m making up for lost time in getting to know a few of my friends. This time, like so much of my life, is a gift.
Regrets? Well, as the song says, “a few. But then again, too few to mention.”