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Category: Women Date: 21 Jan 99


Around the same time some weeks ago, I had conversations with two older women. Separately. The first said the saddest thing I've ever heard: "If I had my life all over again, I would have never made the choices I did. I made poor choices, and I'm suffering for it. I didn't study. I married too young. I was too impulsive.

 

"I made the mistake of thinking my beauty would get me everywhere in life. Even that faded. And here I am, middle-aged.  My children have left me and gone to live abroad. I have no hobbies. I am depressed. I was too timid. I never took chances.  And the ones I did backfired. I wish I had my life over again.Ē

 

It was one of the saddest things I've ever heard.

 

The other said: "I'm ill and probably dying but I'm not afraid. I've done everything I've ever wanted to. I love my husband and children but also have a sense of an individual destiny.  I have travelled and worked and made wonderful friends.

 

"I am interested in everything from playing marbles to painting, music, art, and flowers. I have enjoyed every sunset, every breath through which I have inhaled jasmines, roses, frangipanis, freesias, lime and mango leaves. I have absolutely no regrets. I've had a wonderful life.Ē 

 

It was one of the most wonderful things I've ever heard. 

 

I've been thinking about the difference between these two women. What riddled one with regrets and gave the other wings? 

 

Sociologists will say I'm attempting a false equation. Numerous socio-economic factors are responsible for the direction of our lives. Psychiatrists will say they need to analyse their childhood, their traumas. Psychics will say it's written in tea leaves or in the lines in our palms.

 

So I look closer, not from the expert, but from the naked eye, and find that they came from similar socio-economic backgrounds, and in fact both of them had traumatised child-hoods.

 

They started off in life with an equal footing. So I did some amateur research. First I cross-examined a group of people who bubble with life. They work and play hard. They are successful, dynamic achievers, no matter what the odds.

 

 

And then to complainers, people whose lives always seemed filled with trouble and anxiety, regrets and depression. I discovered that both groups wanted the same out of life: financial security, love, comfort, friends. 

 

They also faced similar stresses such as bringing up children, bereavement and financial worries. So what made them so different?

 

What I found was that the group of depressed complainers, the ones who look back on their lives with regret, tended to be passive. They sat still and allowed the waves of life to wash over them. They didn't do anything to get away from the debris that life might have heaped on them.

 

They complained. Then they sat waiting for things to get better, waiting for someone or some outside event to rescue them. They were lazy because they expected happiness to come from outside, and were not willing to make the effort to create their own happiness from within. 

 

The other group: the people who said they could die without any regrets were something else altogether.  They understood that regardless of whether we started life in a hut or with a silver spoon in our mouths, we're on our own.

 

Now decisions are never easy.  We make them every day. Should we get new drapes for our house or should we go on a trip to a country we've never visited?  Should we go to a fete or should we put the extra money in the education savings account for our child? Should we marry the first man who asks us or should we get an education first?

 

Put simply, a decision is an intelligent gamble. You hope that if you spend money now on education rather than a new car that it will pay off in the future.

 

The successful people, the happier ones seemed to have managed themselves like a company.  They made long, medium and short-term plans. They juggled work and pleasure. They juggled love and stability. They juggled sense and excitement. They took charge. They understood that no one gets anything for nothing.  That lotteries only happen to other people. They never expected anything and so worked hard to make their lives a success.  Taking charge of yourself, responsibility for yourself. That then was the difference between the saddest woman and happiest woman I know.

 

Which brings me to my next point.

 

Everyone needs a fairy godmother or father.  Somebody to say, ďgo girl, well done man.Ē  They donít always come in the guise of mothers and wise old women and men, or your best friend.  Sometimes they are just people who give you a break: a contact to someone who might be helpful, a letter of recommendation, a shot at something you think you might be good at.

 

These people can make or break young lives.  Almost every successful person I know has been the recipient of this generosity, not of finance necessarily, but of spirit.  In this competitive world where everyone is always watching their backs, we hoard our successes jealously, believing that the more we share the less for us.  In fact, the opposite is true.

 

I have always found that the most generous people tend to be the most successful.  What passive people donít realise is that the act of remaining passive is hard work.  You have to depend on other people to carry you through life.  You have to ride on other peopleís successes.  You have to duck behind your desk when a supervisor walks in.  And because you donít lead active, full lives, you have a lot of time for regrets, for recriminations, for envy and depression.

 

This may be amateur but itís what Iíve consistently found from these two groups.  And to the saddest woman Iíve met and the second group in general, Iíll say: itís never too late to start taking charge of your life and stop blaming other people for your unhappiness.

 

And if you are successful, help someone up the ladder, encourage the young person you might have been 20-30 years ago.  And see how it comes back and how many times over.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur