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Friday, April 23rd, 2010

3 Things Old People Wish They’d Done More Of In Life


Last year I attended an amazing workshop called Coach for America led by former NFL player (and now coach and Minister) Joe Ehrmann — Joe mentioned something that truly changed the way I think about my life.

He referred to a study of older people who were in the “twilight” of their lives; and the study asked these wise elders a powerful question:

“What do you wish you had done more of in life?”

The Path To A More Rewarding Life

Their answers were profound. Here they are:

Old Folks Wished They Had…

1) Left More of A Legacy

What do I mean by “legacy?”

I like this definition from :

“anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor”

This really resonates with me. As I get older, and read more about smart folks who’ve lived longer than me (Benjamin Franklin, Warren Buffet, Charlie Munger come to mind), the subject makes more and more sense.

A legacy is your gift to those who will follow you — does it get any more important than that!?

Examples of legacy:

  • In business, your legacy could be a company or product you build.
  • In the arts, legacy could be a book, music or paintings you create.
  • In family, legacy could be your children, grandchildren, nephews and nieces.

One recent legacy item I worked on was a book of 40 learnings I had by the time I turned 40. I wrote it just for family and friends (not to sell) and it was an amazing experience.

I love the fact that my nephew or niece might pick it up off their bookshelf one day after I’m gone and find some value in it.

2) Reflected More

When I heard old people wished they had reflected more, I have to admit I scratched my head.

Afterall, if they’re in their twilight years don’t they NOW have plenty of time to reflect?

But then I sat with it for a bit…and it made sense.

Old folks wished they had more often gone to the proverbial “top of the mountain”…to think!

In business, I call this zooming out.

I believe that arguably THE #1 challenge that business-people have is taking the time to zoom out, get altitude.

A mentor of mine Ralph calls this time “sitting under the apple tree.”

In fact, if you read my How To Innovate: The Five Things Top Innovators Do, you’ll remember that the most effective thing you can do to innovate is to “Connect” or “Associate” things that you’re observing in life. That’s certainly a lot easier to do if you’re “sitting under the apple tree.”

One way innovators reflect more is to travel outside their country — that really allows you to reflect on your life.

3) Taken More Risks

Old folks also wished they had take more risks in life. This old adage comes to mind:

“You don’t regret what you do, only what you didn’t do.”

I’m not just talking about physical risks/extreme sports type stuff — like when I jumped out an airplane in New Zealand or hanglided in Rio, Brazil  (neither of which I’ll choose to do again!).

I’m talking about the many day to day things that I’m trying take more risks on including in my career, relationships and hobbies.

A simple rule I’ve come up with is: “If I have some activity or event I’m thinking about doing — and I’m 50/50 on it (with the alternative being just to do nothing/stay at home, etc.  — I try hard to choose to do the activity. I’ve never regretted making such a move.

I do, however, regret some things I didn’t do or simply doing nothing.

So, is there a…

  • …business idea you want to pursue?
  • …a music CD/album you want to create?
  • …a book you want to pen?

I was so enamored with these three things that old folks wished they’d done more of in life that for the first few weeks after I heard it, I used them as the outline for my To-Do List every day.

I’d write down:

  • What legacy am I leaving?
  • What time am I taking to reflect?
  • What risks can I take!?

Listen to your elders!

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