Experts Explain The Two Greatest Lessons for Living

Death has a profound way of affecting your life. You become contemplative, you begin to rethink your life, you evaluate it, you start to discuss Lessons for Living that you have learned over the years. Sadly, Dan and I flew to Houston this past Saturday to attend the funeral of my Aunt Mary.  There is a ton of backstory to my relationship with Mary, all good.  In fact, I was adopted and only met her about 5 years ago, thanks to two of her sisters, who sought me out relentlessly 12 years ago and have become very much a part of our lives. But those 5 years of knowing Mary were filled with the love of 20.  Mary was a unique person, she truly was. We will miss her profoundly. 

While we were in Houston, Dan and I continued our custom of engaging in really deep conversations about our lives and our family and what we wanted for them.  We literally discuss the meaning of life on the daily and it gets deep and heavy. We have goals, we have hopes and the more we talk about them, the more they become reality because they are in the forefront of our minds. Basically our strongest desires for our kids boil down to three things.

  1. We want our kids to know, love and serve God.
  2. We want our kids to stay close to each other forever.
  3. We want our kids to be happy.

We’ve been hollering from the rooftops, to anyone that would listen, for the past decade (at least) to follow your passions, to take risks, to not follow the crowd, to dream BIG … and while we’ve been hollering, we’ve been doing.

Pushing ourselves even further outside our comfort zone, doing things that no-one would think possible. Trying to suck every last bit of goodness out of this life before we are called to leave and being our lives, hopefully, in an even better place.

So, it got me to thinking about an interview I hear on NPR whilst driving years ago somewhere in West Virginia or Kentucky. The man’s name was Karl Pillemer and he was discussing a book he wrote after a chance meeting with a “remarkable 90 year old woman”.  As a renowned gerontologist, he made it his mission to find out what older generation knows about life that is completely lost on us.


Life's Lessons include travel more!
The unanimous answer to biggest regret is the lack of travel. Photo: Susie Kellogg

He spoke with 1,000 Americans over the age of 65, most of whom lived through the Depression and WWII!  

The interview caught my attention when Pillemer began speaking of regrets. Something I strive to not have, yet something almost inescapable.

You’re not going to believe the number one answer the elders gave to the question, “What do you regret the most?” Unanimously, they said they wished they’d traveled more!  No lie!  He said they spoke of spending money on experiences not on things.  

He went on to say one woman he interviewed said if it’s between a kitchen remodel and a trip, “take the trip.”  

None of them said they wished they had nicer furniture, or that they drove fancier cars or that they spent more time at the office.  No. They unanimously endorsed travel at the sacrifice of others things!  

Traveling is soul searching. It strengthens you, it challenges you, it  broadens your horizons. Travel opens your heart, it brings you closer to the people of the world and it certainly brings you closer to the people you travel with. I can’t imagine a more amazing life than the one I’m living. I love it. Every day I’m surrounded by the people I love more than anything in the world. Every day we are experiencing the same awe, offering each other a helping hand, relying on each other in unfamiliar environments … it’s a bonding experience unlike any other.  

And, travel is one of those things that everyone, young and old, enjoys. In fact, I’ve never met a single person who says they hate to travel. Every person I’ve met eventually tells me they “wish” they could do what we are doing … live a life of travel and adventure and fun … but …

Those “buts” are all filled with worry and fear.  


Lessons in Life from the elderly.
This beautiful woman was caught as her smile faded. I always wonder what she was thinking. Photo: Susie Kellogg

Which leads me to the most surprising regret mentioned by the elders, and that is, worry.  These wise, been there, done ALL that Americans said they wished they hadn’t spent so much of their lives worrying.  

In fact they stated that if they had one single do-over in life, they would want all the time they spent worrying back. I remember a speech given by Sandra Bullock in which she says that nothing she ever worried about happened, other things happened, yes, but not what she worried about.

This is probably the hardest thing for me … as a mom I worry. I worry about everything and I mean everything. I remember once, standing outside our RV, Emmy had just been nipped by a dog at a kayak rodeo.

I was paranoid. I found the owner and asked for proof the dog had it’s rabies shot and he couldn’t prove it, though he swears it did. I didn’t believe him, this is my 6 year old daughter, you show me proof or I’m assuming the dog has rabies. I mean, RIGHT?

At any rate, I’d been standing right next to Emmy. The dog was a lab. It was sweet, but we went to pick up a stick and throw it again and it grabbed the stick from Emmy’s hand and broke the skin.

So, here I was talking to a friend, Kristine Jackson, in fact, and I mumbled something like, “Parenting is so hard.  So much can go wrong.”

And, I’ll never ever forget her answer. “So much can go right, too.”

Mic Drop. It was like a huge slap, I immediately came back from my completely ludicrous and unsubstantiated panic and looked her straight in the eye and was like, WTH am I saying?  Of course so much can go right. Parenting is the greatest thing on earth. I love it. I want to do it forever. Hell, I AM going to do it forever.

This is a story I tell a lot of people and I don’t even know if she remembers it, but it was a HUGE moment in, like, my life!  For real. It sound so minimal, but instead of freaking out and thinking, OMG everything sucks, everything is so hard, I want to put my kids in a bubble, just act. Be appropriate, be smart.

I asked that the dog be quarantined. Owner was more than amenable, no police, no ticket, no fines, just quarantine the dog and we’ll talk in a few. Dog was fine. Emmy was fine. All was good.

Worry is toxic. It keeps us from thinking logically. It makes us sick. It causes health problems and prevents us from enjoying life.

Worry also stops us from taking risks because we focus on all that could go wrong instead of all that could go right. We weight the cons and give them more weight than the pros because, “What if”.  Well what if it’s the most amazing experience of your life.  What if it leads you to the plan God has for your life. We aren’t called to live comfortably, you know. And we aren’t supposed to worry, ever.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

Don’t let anything stop you from living out your most amazing life. Find your purpose and live it passionately. Whatever that may be. Go out and make the world a better place. Start small, or start big, but just make sure you start.

The advice from those who are much older and much wiser is resonating, we should all heed it, lest we come to the last years of our lives and no longer be nimble enough to live our best lives, or no longer have time. Blaze your trail now.  



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