Let's take a day at the beach. You expect to spend a day at the beach, and before you plan what you'll do, you think about how you want to feel when the day is over. For me, I want to feel relaxed and happy. I don't want to feel sore from sunburns, heavy from unhealthy food, or exhausted from too much activity. Then you work backwards and plan the day.
How do you want to feel at the end of your career? I just experienced this with the decision to retire, and I must say, I feel great. I worked hard throughout my career and did my best. I'm leaving this stage with a sense of satisfaction--that's good.
I asked myself this question, a long time ago, with respect to a loved one that was very ill. I thought long and hard about how I wanted to feel when that person died. I did what I could to support that person, and when that person passed away, I was very sad, but also satisfied that I did what I could to support the relationship in positive ways.
There are times when I have not taken this approach--times when I let emotion, current needs, and a lack of true thought lead my words and actions. These are the times that lead to regret. Getting back to the beach day--there have been beach days that I've ended feeling lethargic from too much junk food, sunburned by not taking the time to apply sunscreen or cover up, and frazzled simply because I didn't take the time to plan or prepare well.
It may sound crazy, but it's worth the effort to make some time to think about how you want to feel at the end of your life too. Some people even write out imaginary obituaries as a way to think deeply about the life they want to lead. None of us can predict our end or the challenges we'll face throughout our lives, but we can think about how we want it to be and work to live up to that vision as much as possible. While a bit grim, this is a step towards positive living. Onward.