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I Coulda Been A Contender: Accept And Reengage Regret

I Coulda Been A Contender: Accept And Reengage Regret

Don’t Let Yourself Down Again…Stick With What You Care About

When I was 13 years old, I had the incredible opportunity of taking a summer language course in Spanish. By August, I had a great head start on learning an exciting language.

And then?

And then my family moved to a small Idaho town where there were no language classes in the school, and I didn’t take a Spanish course again. For over 30 years! All that momentum evaporated. In fact, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I began studying Spanish again.

I regret that I didn’t stick with Spanish. Like Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront, I feel like “I could have been a contender.” I missed out on 30 years of conversations, friendships, travel, and “what might have been.”

I’m not the only one. All of us have some things we regret letting go of. According to experts in finance, wellness and psychology surveyed by the online magazine Best Life, common regrets of people over 40 include:

  • Not spending time with family and friends.
  • Not starting to save.
  • Not learning a language.
  • Not eating healthy or making a habit of exercise.
  • Spending too much time in front of screens.

And of course:

  • Not learning a musical instrument.

Do you share one of these regrets? Or do you have another?

“A black belt is a white belt who kept coming to class.”

Luckily, these topics didn’t disappear after we stopped being teenagers, so most of us still have time and choice to follow our bliss–and to avoid future regret.

All we need to do is follow the martial arts mantra about how white belts turn into black belts…we just need to do what we wish we’d done on our first time around learning Spanish, playing guitar, or writing poems; start showing up–and then not stop!!

I’ve experienced the miracle of sticking with something over many years in a few areas of my life:

  • Family. I treasure my relationships with a big extended family which I know came from years of mutual commitment to making visits and calls a priority.
  • Savings. I shake my head in amazement when I see what my modest “paying myself first” savings have grown into over a couple of decades of investment.
  • Guitar. I feel amazed and skillful when I can quickly pick up a song, or play a solo over a new tune, or jump in with any group, anytime. It’s so fun! All that practice many years ago continues to pay dividends of enjoyment.

Regret Is Universal, And Useful

One of the great things about getting older is that we can learn from experience. And the universal emotion of regret is actually very valuable, because it helps us realize how precious time is, and how easy it is to let it slip away in activities that don’t actually line up with what gives us joy, meaning or benefit.

Ultimately, regret exposes the power and potential within this very moment.

So what’s next?

Well, how about picking something you’d like to do, and then doing it!?

I’m doing that–in fact, I’m starting my fifth year of studying Spanish as an adult. It’s fun, useful and I feel good about myself when I practice Spanish during my walk to work instead of listening to the news. And in my exciting moments when I am holding broken conversations with strangers in another language, I feel alive, I feel like I’m in the middle of life, and I feel like a contender.

How about you? Is there a regret from your past you’re ready to accept, and then re-engage with?

On To Greatness,

Dan Emery


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Dan Emery is dedicated to Coaching Personal Greatness, One Lesson At A Time. He is the founder of NYC's friendliest and fastest growing guitar schools, New York City Guitar School, Brooklyn Guitar School, Queens Guitar School and NYC Guitar School, East, and the author of the Amazon best-selling Guitar For Absolute Beginners and six other books on learning guitar and deliberate practice. He coaches new entrepreneurs through the Entrepreneurs Organization Accelerator program and especially enjoys helping other Educational Entrepreneurs. He has a Masters in Education from Columbia University Teachers College, extensive performing experience as songwriter and guitarist for The Dan Emery Mystery Band, a wife, three kids, a cat and some juggling equipment.


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