The opportunity costs of ‘should haves’ & ‘could haves’

May 20, 2023


I get asked a lot about how to live a life with purpose and no regrets — how to find your North Star, passion, or goals. My answer is you need to find your purpose and how to reach that purpose. Find what makes you happy and what propels you into creating achievements when creating your life story.

What do you want from life – recognition, respect, status, money, power, and/or a legacy? You need to figure out what makes you satisfied. But the big question is – can you achieve a life that, in the end, has no regrets?

Think on a small scale of what you can do today to make your story and life progress to LIVE and not just simply EXIST. Live for what is important to you and helps you achieve your goals. You may feel like you have all the time in the world, but through each stage of your life, no matter seemingly small or insignificant, each will only happen once. This moment … this life… will happen once, and there is no ‘back button.’

Looking at life this way can put so much pressure on you as you do not want to waste a single second. You want to make your short and seemingly insignificant life count – to make a difference. But life can seem even more stressful if you do not know who you are, what you want to be, or what kind of story you want to write.

You must figure out what creates true joy and fulfillment in your life. Create a fulfilling life not defined by ‘should haves’ and ‘could haves.’ You want to be able to look back on your life and be satisfied with your journey and achievements.

Not knowing what you want in life is normal, but getting out there and trying different things is essential to figuring out your passions and what drives you. Finding your purpose takes a while, but you will not regret it because you will have enjoyed the journey.

A step further: if you do not ultimately find your purpose or achieve specific goals, it does not matter. On the journey toward these, you will have become a better person with vast life experiences. This journey would have created a fulfilling life.

To find your North Star, set a goal that interests you. You may have this goal short or long-term (even lifelong). Do not worry about that time-frame or a specific plan – only a general direction is needed, as this goal will probably change over time. Next, enjoy the journey. Any goal worth accomplishing will take time. You cannot live your life in the future, so be content with your daily progress – the progress you make right now. And at the end of the day, regrets and mistakes are how we learn; just do not repeat the same ones.

Every decision we make has an opportunity cost. Even a wonderful life with seemingly perfect decisions means other good options were not chosen. We will always wonder about the outcome of those other options not selected because there is no way of knowing exactly how each would have turned out. And that is entirely okay. Life is about the journey, not the end.

Also, you do not have to be proud of everything you have done to keep the past from haunting you; put your mistakes behind you, learn from them, and accept them. But, if you forget mistakes, you are prone to make more of the same. Therefore, regret inadvertently is how people avoid making the same mistake the same way a second time.

Living life without guilt or bitter thoughts is essential, however. Your life could turn out a million different ways with an equal number of other decisions and choices. We want to live for all possibilities and try diverse options, but we all have only one life and must make choices. So, having no guilt for what you chose is imperative.

A life with no regrets is living without harming others and living to give to others. Affect others’ lives to create your legacy. Be compassionate and make the situation right if you do make a mistake. Make amends. Nobody lives a perfect life, and nobody expects you to, either.

I used to always look to my past and think: “If I did XYZ differently, then I wouldn’t have XYZ regrets.” But I concluded that what I did or did not do in the past was based on the person I was then. Learning from it is better because you can be a better person with a better future. Living in the past is dangerous and can lead to regrets. Instead, live in the moment and look forward, but remember your mistakes to avoid them.

Life is about experiences, so do what you want to do, even if you are afraid. Step outside your comfort zone, do not fear failure, and take risks. Older people always say that they do not regret what they DID but rather what they DID NOT.

The bottom line is that you must find your North Star – your purpose. And during your journey, you will regret things you did not try but may regret something you did too. You do not know what your 80-year-old self may regret, but the goal is not to live without regrets. Live a life that counts, creates a life story you enjoyed, and makes peace with the regrets that may pop up.

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Aaron Marino (alpha m.) is the number 1 men’s lifestyle influencer with over 8 million followers combined across multiple social media channels.

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