If I knew then what I know now

November 5, 2019
Mike Paul, DVM
Mike Paul, DVM

Dr. Paul is the former executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council and a former president of the American Animal Hospital Association. He is currently the principal of MAGPIE Veterinary Consulting. He is retired from practice and lives in Anguilla, British West Indies.

Retirement is not the end. Here are a few tips to help you live your best life right now, free of regrets.

Life might not always be a beach after retirement, but you can learn how make the most out of each day. (WavebreakMediaMicro/stock.adobe)

As I grow older and grayer, sometimes I look back on my life and think about the things I wish I had known earlier. Could I have made better choices? Been a better person? Made more of a difference? It would have made my life so much easier if I knew then what I know now… things I wish I could tell my younger self. But it's never too late and you're never too old to learn.

The fact is, learning is a lifelong endeavor. You grow from both your successes and your setbacks; painful and pleasurable experiences teach us different things in different ways.

Which wolf will you feed?

Every day, we make choices that influence the person we become. There is an old Cherokee proverb that says, “Inside every person there are two wolves in constant conflict with each other.” One is vicious and dangerous, representing anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other wolf is more nurturing, representing peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.

According to the parable, each of us decides which wolf we will nurture and feed.

Choose wisely

Our experiences and responses reflect which wolf we will feed. Perception and opinion can lead to biased judgment, fear and closed-mindedness, but it can also create openness.

The key thing to recognize is the difference between what you know and what you don't. So, how do you learn to understand what you don't know? I'll explain.

Nothing is forever

Life is a journey, not a destination. Every experience is a lesson and, as Yogi Berra so wisely said, “It ain't over ‘til it's over.” The good times are temporary, but so are the bad times. Life is full of twists and turns, ups and downs, and surprises. When you're up, enjoy it, bask in it and be grateful for it. And when you're down, know you will get through it. Make the most of each challenge. As the late singer Warren Zevon said, “Enjoy every sandwich.”  

Live in the present

If you are waiting for someone to save your life, you need to look in the mirror. The truth is, no one else is going to rescue you from yourself and your doubts.

Two of the most wasted human emotions are regret and worry. More often than not, we tend to worry about what has not and may never happen. Much of what we worry about is beyond our control and, in fact, most of our worries will never come to fruition. Similarly, regrets are results of prior events, decisions and actions. They rest in the past and cannot be influenced but must be recognized and accepted.

As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu said, "If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present."

Do what you love, and love what you do

Your work is a considerable part of your life. If you aren't happy with your career, that unhappiness will seep into your personal, professional and family life.

Invest in what you do and in yourself. Focus on making positive changes in your daily life. Be conscious of the type of people and activities you surround yourself with. Success isn't just a single moment or event. It is the sum of choices and events leading up to bigger moments of fulfilment and happiness.  

Bob Dylan said, "What's money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do."

Happiness takes work

Live every day doing what you love. Being happy takes a lot of work, but it's just as much work-if not more-to be unhappy. The choice is yours, so choose carefully.

Do not compare yourself with others. That is one of the worst things you can do. Enjoy your own moments while you have them. Author Anne Lamott admonished us not to “…compare your insides to other people's insides.”

Being happy means at some point you decided to take control of your life. It means you decided to not be a victim and to put that energy back into yourself. You only have one life. Work as hard as you can to make it your best life.

Dr. Paul is the former executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council and a former president of the American Animal Hospital Association. He is currently the principal of MAGPIE Veterinary Consulting. He is retired from practice and lives in Anguilla, British West Indies.