(This “ask me anything” answer is in response to a class of young college students’ questions.)
Do you have any regrets? Or, is there anything you would have done differently in your life if you’d known you’d die at this point?
What would I have done differently? I regret staying in an unhappy marriage for as long as I did. I can’t help feeling that those years were wasted, in one sense–though I of course was occupied with other worthwhile things during that time as well. The energy and effort I put into that relationship was certainly a waste: I was too determined to make it work. I finally learned with my current boyfriend that relationships should not be that hard nor so full of strife. I am glad I finally figured out how to have a healthy relationship and also found the right person to have one with!
If I could go back, I would also make sure I didn’t doubt myself and my gifts so much. (I talk about this in more detail in my post On Giving Gifts.) That means I would put all my energy into what I really wanted to do—which is also what I was good at. I would work really hard at my writing and make sure I found publishers for it too instead of letting myself be discouraged by people telling me it was too hard to succeed. My regret is that I listened to too many negative messages. If I turn that into advice, I’d say figure out what your personal gifts are, then get rid of any self-doubt and work hard (this does take hard work) to make the most of your gifts. That is what you have to offer back to the world.
I most regret that I was unable to find a way to take better care of myself while a single parent so that I could take better care of my children. I know I was often frustrated and stressed from carrying all my responsibilities alone, and my children experienced that as anger. I wasn’t left with much energy for fun and laughter, so their childhoods weren’t as happy as I hoped for them to be. I really wish our society truly made children a priority by providing better support for their parents, especially solo parents. I wish our society were organized differently so families weren’t so isolated and mothers like me so lonely. I know I had too much pride and didn’t ask for help often enough, but truly, there was little help (safe and healthy help) available.
All in all, however, I don’t regret too much because I generally made life choices that were meaningful to me. If anything, I erred on the side of working too hard for the values I believed in rather than in indulging in pleasure or having fun.
But we never really regret doing good in the world–as long as we don’t burn ourselves out. We never regret giving love–as long as that love doesn’t compromise our self-respect. And we rarely regret being kind–unless we expect something in return.