In this article I want to cover a topic that I think is ultra important and it is something we are going to reflect on (if we are given the opportunity) towards the end of our lives.
For nine years, I ran a cardiac surgery program where I managed the patients before and after cardiac surgery. As you can imagine, over nine years I saw thousands of patients. And during that time, I noticed that there was a theme that was common right before people went into the operating room.
Now, it was kind of interesting because I had shoulder length hair and a beard so when I would walk into the room, people were like, “Oh, thank you, Jesus” or other times they'd be like, “Get that guy out of here. I think he's reminding my mother of death”.
Here's the thing; when people are going into cardiac surgery, they are confronting their mortality. They are coming to grips with the fact that this might be the end. Fortunately, most of the time people do really, really well with cardiac surgery. People who are having general run-of-the-mill valve surgery or bypass surgery do pretty well. It's a long recovery process, but they do well. They don't know that, though. When you are about to go into the operating room for a surgery on your heart, you are thinking about the end of your life.
And in those moments, I saw a common theme. Actually, it wasn’t just common. Every single person I saw that talked to me about death or regrets before they went into the surgery, no matter their gender, their race, their ethnicity, their language, their culture, their age, their socioeconomic backgrounds, they were all worried about the same three things. None of those differences mattered. It was the same thing across cultures, across genders, across ages, across languages.
They worried about God, family, and how they treated other people.
At the time, the cardiac surgery program was in Baltimore. One day, I was seeing a patient in her early eighties, as she was going in. They were starting to wheel her bed out of the room to go back to the operating room and I was seeing her off before she went in there saying, “We’re going to take care of you. I'll see you afterwards.”
I was trying to pump her up and get her ready to talk afterwards and her son looked over at her and said “Hey, Mom, don't worry. We'll be watching the Ravens together on Sunday”. She looked over at him and back at me. “I don't know what the hell he's talking about. I don't care about the Ravens right now,” she said and then just started talking about what was in her mind. “About seven or eight years ago, I was in a Wal-Mart and I had to return something. And I really mistreated the lady behind that desk. I wish I could just say I was sorry.”
Do you know how many times I’ve heard stories like this? Stories where people reflected on an estranged relationship or how they treated somebody at a moment where it seemed insignificant, like the lady returning something at Wal-Mart. Who remembers that? Well, she did. And she remembered it while confronting her own mortality.
What do we do with that feeling, that regret at the end of our lives?
Well, we can start reflecting on that now. Let's start reflecting on how we treat other people now. And this is actually the entire point of the Influence Every Day podcast; to treat others, and ourselves, better through influence, through rapport, through engagement, through behavior change. All these subjects can sometimes be used for bad purposes - a lot of these have to do with intent, and the social contract, and character, and habits. The point of Influence Every Day is to help you set up good habits.
And one of the primary reasons is to set up good habits on how we treat other people. This is what we are going to reflect on at the end of our lives. So, why not start acting on it now? Who do you have to reach out to that you haven't spoken to in a while? Who should you connect with? Is there a relationship that may have drifted apart? Perhaps it is okay that that relationship drifted. But can't you just reach out and let them know you appreciate them? Tell somebody you appreciate them. Thank somebody that did something for you.
Imagine a teacher receiving something from an old student, or an estranged family member receiving something from somebody they haven't heard from in a long time, or a friend they haven't heard from in a long time - imagine being told that somebody was thinking of you. Maybe they were praying for you. Maybe they were talking about you, telling a good story. And they are letting you know. Those kinds of moments are gold. So don't let them slip by.
Don't be like that lady who was sitting there with that regret – a regret that she can't act on. She may not be able to act on it when she is done with her surgery as she may not find that same woman at Wal-Mart to tell her how sorry she was. But she can treat the next person a little better. And this is one of the beauties of regret.
First of all, one of the beauties of it is that you learned of this story at Influence Every Day and have the ability to act on it. You learned from this woman's 80 plus years of experience and her concerns before she headed into an operating room, potentially confronting her own death. You have the opportunity to reflect on that now and take action on it. That's the beauty; you can learn from other people's regrets.
Another beauty of regret is that it can change your behavior. When that lady got out of the operating room, guess what? She watched the Ravens game. Do you know why? Because she realized how she treated her son as she was going in. She told me this later. She said, “I really shouldn't have said it to him that way. But I was just having a sort of spiritual moment”. I said, “Yes, I understand, but your son needs you too.”
The beauty of regrets is that we can act on them by changing our behavior moving forward. Even if you can't find that person to say “I'm sorry” to or if you didn't leave somebody in the best of ways and maybe they passed on, you can still act on those regrets to improve your life and the lives of others.
Perhaps a family member passed away and you didn’t manage to have a heart to heart conversation with them; you can still make them live on by reflecting on the fact that you weren't able to have that interaction. And you can treat people the way you wish you had treated the one that passed away. Or you can take a characteristic that is awesome about that person and pay it forward. Maybe your mother passed and she was really great with the neighbors. Go be great with the neighbors.
Daniel Pink has a new book out on regrets, the ‘Power of Regret’. Go ahead and check it out. This book will change the way you look at regrets. Hopefully, I changed that a little bit today with this story.
Remember, the theme remains the same time and time again; at the end of life, people reflect on God, family, and how they treated other people.
How you treat people is what you are going to reflect on at the end of your life if you are given the opportunity. But why not do it now?
Recommended Book: The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward by Daniel Pink - https://amzn.to/3CZu2fq
If you’re a busy professional who wants to have incredible success at work and at home (without neglecting those who matter most), then check out The Influence Playbook at https://www.influenceplaybookmonthly.com