Most people think that the decade of our 20s is the one most packed with excitement, discovery, and the enjoyment of a world packed with possibilities. Whether you are looking forward to your 20s or looking back on them, you probably see this as the one time in your life when you can truly be free. The reality for those in their 20s, however, can be much different. With possibilities come choices. And with choices come regret.
As you’ve left high school, entered your early twenties and made decisions along the way, each decision you have made has reduced the number of options available to you in the future. This can feel empowering or it can feel overwhelming and create unnecessary pressure and anxiety about what comes next. Many are worried they will make decisions they will later regret.
I took a very unscientific poll of the women I know who have moved past their twenties. I asked them to look back on that decade and share with me the things they would have done differently if they had a second chance. Overwhelmingly, the response was they would have gone after what they wanted—whether that was a different career, travel, singlehood, coupledom, etc. They wouldn’t have listened as much to what others had said about their choices and followed their own dreams. My findings were consistent with a wide variety of studies, two of which were featured in Huffington Post and Business Insider.
When my clients come to me with worry about what they’re going to do with their lives and fear of regret, I find that one question is very helpful in clarifying their goals and dreams. It’s called the Death Bed Question, and though it may seem pretty grim, it really works. I have my clients ask themselves, “On my death bed, will I regret more having made decision A or decision B?” In most cases, decision A involves doing something while decision B involves not doing that same thing. Guess which one most people realize they will regret more?
This question has been very empowering for my therapy clients (and I admit I’ve used it myself from time to time). When asking yourself this question, visualize your future or journal as you contemplate the implications. Be open to all ideas that come to you and don’t let yourself be limited by thoughts of “But that won’t work” or “How will I accomplish that?”. When you begin asking yourself this question regularly and making note of your answers, you can begin looking for patterns that will helps you prioritize your goals. This will help you live with intention, which is one of the best ways to reduce anxiety.
When considering the many options that lay before you in your 20s, it is very helpful to look ahead to what decisions you wish you would have made when you are in your twilight years. Instead of focusing on regret, focus on possibility. As the poet Mary Oliver said in her poem The Summer Day: ‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’
If you are struggling with indecision, fear of regret, feeling lost, or experiencing anxiety or depression, please contact me and we can arrange a therapy session.
Jessica is a mental health therapist who specializes in helping women free themselves from anxiety, depression, and other stress-related conditions. She is honored to witness the experiences of her clients and work with them toward meaningful lives.