Everyone wants to know what dead people say right before they die. Words maybe infused with speckles of a heaven. Beethoven supposedly said on his deathbed, “Friends applaud! the comedy is finished!” Lou Costello said, “This was the best ice cream soda I ever tasted.” Similar is, “What are common regrets of people in their 30s and 40s?” Can they be avoided if known?
Here are my regrets. And they can be summed up by the word “don’t.”
Don’t buy things
Buy experiences. A thing is a house. An experience is a trip. An experience is a visit to that girl or guy on the other side of the world who said, “maybe.” An experience is an invitation to meaning instead of material.
Don’t do anything you don’t want to do
You think you have time to get out of it. But you don’t. And then it happens. And then it’s too late. And then it’s something you did. You were the target and you got shot. A black ink stamp leaving its mark on your wrist. You went to the party and the next day, all blurry and inky, it shows and everyone can see.
Don’t try to please people
Nobody is more worthy of love in the entire universe than you. I wish I had reminded myself of that more. I could’ve saved all of that time where I was trying to please someone else. Money you lose you can always make back. But even five minutes of time lost is gone forever.
Don’t fall in love with someone who is in love with somebody else
These people are magnets of love. They’ve sucked all the love out of the room so when you walk in, it’s already too late, you’re past that zone in the black hole where nothing ever gets out and nobody ever knows what’s there. It’s lost in space and time. When I’ve fallen in love with someone who was in love with someone else, only pieces of me have ever survived. And even then I had to put those pieces back together into the Tinkertoy robot that became me for a long time.
Don’t make promises you can’t keep
And to that I can only say, I’m sorry to that one girl.
Run. Don’t walk
I don’t mean run to a goal or a destination. There are no goals and you realize this around the age of 30 or so. I mean just “run.” You build up your blood vessels. More oxygen gets to the brain. You get smarter. Life is better. And you’ll see more in life than the people who are walking. Who take their time failing. Who take their time falling for others. Who take their time while waiting for the right moment. Waiting for the right weather, the right coordinates, the right person, to drop anchor. There’s never a right moment. So just run to get there.
Don’t wait for them to say “yes”
Who is “them”? What are they saying “yes” to? What do you think will happen after the wait is over? Yes. That’s my point. All of the answers to these questions are lesser versions of what happens if you don’t wait so I’ll say it again. “Don’t wait for them to say yes.” Say yes to yourself first and everyone will say yes later.
Don’t steal paperclips from the office
It seems small. But a million paper clips in life add up to what you are, a mishmash of twisted metal. Be honest. Honesty compounds until your word becomes The Word. Try it and see.
Don’t eat bad food
And by “food” I mean McRibs. But also I mean the news. And dramas that kill lots of people. And coworkers who gossip in the hallway, everyone trying to pull everyone else down. And family who yells at you only because you have become the piano they play their own anguish on. And late nights with the girl who smiles but you know it will never work. At 20, life can either compound into beauty or into insanity. This is the “don’t” that forks into both.
It may look like these are regrets. But they are just tattoos that live on me right now. The illustrated man at the circus. Don’t time travel into the past, roaming through the nuances as if they can change. Don’t bookmark pages you’ve already read. Today it starts all over again. Every tomorrow is determined by every today.
This question originally appeared on Quora: When people in their 30s and 40s and older look back on their life, what are some common regrets they have?