The Biggest Mistake I Made In My Life

There are many mistakes I have made in my life.  I hope that as I have learned from them, the lessons I’ve shared so far will help you avoid the pain and regret that follows from them.

Today I want to share the biggest mistake I made with you.

The Importance Of Situational Understanding

Before I tell you, let me share with you how I got here.  Without understanding this, you may read it and not fully absorb how important it is.

See, that’s the thing about some of the most profound lessons in our lives: it takes more than just being told a lesson, to really understand the lesson.

We have to learn them at just the right time, in just the right context, or it doesn’t actually sink in and make any difference.

Your mentors may tell you this lesson in passing, but without a proper frame of mind to accept it, you won’t realize just how powerful it is and brush it off.

The SECOND Biggest Mistake…

And in fact, that may be the second biggest mistake I have ever made in my life:

Ignoring good advice, believing it didn’t apply to me, because I was not yet ready to receive it – and wasting years of my life until I finally came around and understood how valuable that information was.

How I Realized My Mistake

We all have subconscious assumptions we make every day. We don’t even realize we have them until we are suddenly challenged on something that is “obviously” true to us, or that we take for granted every day.

One of those “obvious” assumptions I used to make was, “it’s ok I can get a second chance.” Now I know logically that’s not true, but emotionally that’s often how I treated chances in my life.

However, the truth is, I learned there are opportunities where we never, ever get a second chance.

What we may get, if we are lucky, is a new opportunity to start over.

Or a new opportunity to try to make amends.

Or something that in our own minds allows us to “make up” for a lost opportunity.

But that friend you hurt, the birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions we miss – there is really no going back.

And that is why….

The Biggest Mistake I Made In My Life Is This

I didn’t truly value my time or the opportunities it afforded me: I pretended I would get another chance, and so instead spent time on things that didn’t matter in the long run and that I did not have to do – missing out on the single chance I had.

Now yes – that sounds vague, but let me give you some more details of why it matters, concrete examples and action steps.

Because understanding time famine, and how valuable each day is is what led me to this realization.

Why Fixing This Mistake Cannot Wait

There are a two subconscious issues in particular that drive this mistake.  And the problem is, these subconscious issues make you feel like this mistake isn’t urgent – even though in reality, it is an emergency.

Issue 1:  Pretending Letting One Thing Go Doesn’t Matter

When my days were passing me by, I never thought to myself “well, I’m letting my life slip away.”

Because in that moment, it feels like “It’s just one day” or “It’s just this one time” and “I can always see my friends tomorrow.”

You feel like there will always be another day, there will always be another chance.

But think about this:  depending on the study, up to 95% of people’s actions are habitual.  That is, we do the same thing over and over again.  Every time, and every day, we take an action that’s not truly valuing our time and making the most of it, that’s another step  towards building that habit.

And once you start letting one day or week go by without seeing your friends, or calling your family – it’s easy to let another and then another.  And then your new life, your new habit – is one where that experience no longer happens.

Why this matters: If we don’t treat this as an emergency today, we will build habits that reinforce not valuing our time – and it will be even harder to break those habits later.

Issue 2:  Not Realizing Our Mortality

While related to the first, this is a little more subtle.

And what changed it for me was when friends and family started passing away.

I remember one, she was full of life and still in college.  I was busy with classes as well.  We messaged each other, planning to get together but kept putting it off – even though we were literally at the same university.

However almost two years went by without us getting together once when she suddenly passed away.

Now what I want to emphasize is:  I didn’t have just one chance to see her. There were hundreds of days, and dozens of times we had kept in touch. But not once did we follow through on those plans because we were too busy.

For months, that experience really shook me.  I’ve forgiven myself and allowed myself to move on, but it’s a mistake that I made that cannot be undone. There is no second chance.

Why this matters: If you don’t appreciate your own mortality, you feel no urgency to change. There is “tomorrow” to change – and tomorrow turns into never.

 What Can You Do About It?

There are a few action steps you can take right now:

  1. Start calculating “costs” and “benefits” in terms of time. Often we look at something and weigh the monetary, currency costs because those are easy – the price of the item is right there. But try to get in the habit of thinking of time as your most important currency.  Is “express shipping” really too expensive at $20 (even if it looks like a total rip-off) if the benefit is 3 more days of using a product that will save you 2 hours a day?
  2. Try to be more aware of falling into habits and default behavior.  I talk about this at length in my article about taking control of your life, the short version is this: when you’re doing something, really ask yourself – is this what I should be doing? Or do I just do this because I’ve always done it? Example: Do I always walk in the house, sit down and turn on the TV? Or do I always check my phone for social updates as soon as I wake up, and before I go to sleep? 
  3. Start the day by paying yourself first. As the day goes on it gets more hectic, and you may have more external things to respond to.  If you can start the day fresh by focusing on yourself and your long term goals, even in just a small way for a few minutes, it will help you build that awareness of your time so you can value it throughout the day.