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What Do You Have to Lose?

September 1, 2021
by TammyS | For Seniors


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“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did.  So, throw off the bowlines.  Sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover.”  This actual quote has erroneously been attributed to Mark Twain over the years, but originated with H. Jackson Brown’s 1990 book, P.S. I Love You, in which Brown attributes the quote to his mother, Sarah Frances Brown.  However, the basic formula of the quote dates back even further.  Whatever its origins, most of us have heard it in differing degrees and it is often said that when our lifetimes come to an end, we regret the things we did not do, rather than the things we did.

An article published by Jeff Haden in suggests that more people regret things they didn't do than the things they did, even if the things they did turned out badly.  “When contemplating whether to do something or not, a plucky voice in our heads may say, ‘You never know until you try.’ This is time-honored wisdom that encourages us to be game rather than to hold back. It reminds us that it is only through experience that we learn about this world and ourselves. Even if we regret the outcome, we have learned something, and the newfound knowledge is almost always worth it.”

When you're thinking about trying something new, you might think of the negative consequences that could occur if it doesn't work out.  On a grand scale for example, suppose you have a family and want to quit your lucrative job in order to start your own business.  If it doesn’t work out you could lose all your money, possibly your home, perhaps have to file bankruptcy and the entire family will suffer.  However, if your business succeeds, not only will you be happier doing what you like, but your family will have financial stability and they will be happy that you are happy.  Those are the types of “What do you have to lose that require a bit more thinking about whether you will do it or not. 

On a much lesser scale, if you wish to try a new restaurant or ethnic food that you have never eaten, the food may prove not to your liking.  But since eating something you may not like is not a big deal and you will only be out the cost of the meal, you don't have a lot to lose in that situation.  However, if you do like it, you have just opened up a whole new culinary world for yourself.

As an exercise to test your own willingness to try new things, make a list of whatever you regret not having done.  As your list grows, you may notice patterns and may gain greater self-knowledge from the experience.  Perhaps you are afraid to speak your mind in certain situations or are not open to trying certain types of activities.  Just being aware of opportunities you have missed might encourage you not to miss them again.  Or you might remain open to trying that opportunity in a slightly different way.  The right situation may or may not make you a convert.  But you'll never know if you don't try!

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