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Looking back at your life in order to move forward

I had an interesting conversation with a family member recently who is retired and now focuses his time and energy on family, friends, and hobbies. He looked at me and said, “No one my age looks back at our lives and says, “Man, I should have worked more hours.””

At various times throughout our lives, we are faced with making what could be life-changing decisions. To go for that job or not. To raise a family or not. To spend money on that vacation or not. Sometimes we can come to conclusions fairly easily. However, at other times, we may grapple with indecision for quite some time.

When indecision starts to create worry, anxiety, and fear, you can try an exercise that may just help to see things from a different perspective. Close your eyes and imagine you are now living in the final chapter of your life. You may still have quite a few years to live, but those years are no longer filled with working so hard for that promotion or deciding to stay in that marriage. The years you have left will be filled with different stressors and concerns, including your own health. You are now reflecting on the life you have lived. You are sitting with the “what ifs,” and the time that you will not get back.

With your eyes closed, sit with these thoughts and the emotions that follow. What are those “what ifs?” What are those regrets? What do you envision was fulfilling? What created happiness and what dreams were fulfilled? What dreams were never put to paper? What would you have done differently? What would you have done the same? How does that feel? Are you looking back with the thought that something is missing? Or are you sitting there, eyes closed, with a smile on your face?

I was at a conference over a year ago when a speaker at the conference did a similar exercise with us in the audience. The exercise was even more powerful, as we had to imagine ourselves on our death beds. Here you are, lying on your death bed, and instead of imaging yourself surrounded by your friends and family, you are physically surrounded by the dreams that you did not fulfill, and now you will never have the chance. During this exercise, I experienced an epiphany that led to me making a life-changing decision, right then and there. I knew that implementing what I had in mind would be my biggest personal challenge thus far. However, once I visualized myself looking back at my life, the life-changing decision became ever so clear. We are here, right now, and we can choose the meaning we hope to make out of our lives.

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Photo taken by Monica Coulter in McKinney, Texas, 2016.

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