Are you writing an ‘oughttobiography?’

When I heard the term “oughttobiography” a few weeks ago, I truly laughed out loud.

As a writer, I am intimately familiar with biographies (life stories written by someone else) and autobiographies (life stories written by the subjects themselves). However, it seems, many of us are busy writing an “oughttobiography” of our lives.

This sad tale is about all the things we ought to have done other than choices we made in the past or are currently making, such as:

  • I ought to go to college, or take that class or buy that book.
  • I ought to spend more time with my kids, or go out with my spouse or call my friends.
  • I ought to start a business, or seek that promotion or start writing a book.
  • I ought to go to church more often or stop a nasty, addictive behavior.
  • I ought to save more money for retirement or do more investing.
  • I ought to travel more because there is so much of the state, country or world to explore.

The problem with “ought” is that it implies a obligation or duty to take a specific course of action. In reality, “ought,” when ignored, is nothing more than seeds for regret later in life.

Yes, it is comforting to know we have a choice to go fishing again or stay home and write a book about a topic we’ve been mulling over for years. But, in telling ourselves we ought to do something, we’re often lying because it almost always goes on a to-do list to accomplish “someday.”

But what if someday never comes?

Then the ought-to ideas morph into woulda, shoulda, coulda regrets. The older we get, the worse the feeling of regret we experience. That’s because regret reminds us the clock is ticking, whether we like it or not, and we either wasted time on unproductive endeavors, or we are running out of time to do the things we really want to do.

The only real cure for past regret is action today.

Yes, you ought to have spent more time with your kids when they were growing up. So don’t miss an opportunity to invest time today in the lives of your grandchildren and other young people you know.

Yes, you ought to have traveled more when you were physically able. So travel where you can today or do some travel research and share it with others to help enhance their experiences.

Yes, you ought to have saved more for retirement 20 years ago. So use your extra time today to start a business that creates a passive income for you now.

Yes, you ought to have read those literature classics many years ago before your eyes gave out. So listen to them as audio books today.

Yes, you ought to have learned how to golf, fish, cook, paint, write…whatever…years ago. So grab a friend who has always wanted to learn that, too, and take a class together.

Yes, you ought to have gone to college just out of high school. So audit college courses for free today or become Google and YouTube certified on any topic you’re interested in knowing more about. You get extra credit for sharing your new-found knowledge with others.

I think you get the point.

In a recent Forward From 50 interview, Gill Bentham encouraged people over 50 to return to things they left behind earlier in their lives, especially things they wish they had pursued instead of the life they chose.

“What’s stopping you from going back and pursuing it now?” she asked. “Make plans to make it possible. Don’t discount anything, even if it’s something physically difficult for you to do now that you’re older. I assure you, there is a version of your earlier dream that you can still pursue and it will be very rewarding.”

Regret is unavoidable. We all have things we regret doing or not doing. Choosing to live with that regret without taking action to remedy it — that’s a choice only we can make. So, which version of regret do you most want to experience?

  • I ought to do something now, but I’ll regret it later because I won’t make the time to start today.
  • I ought to have done this years ago, and I regret not starting earlier, but I’m glad I did it today.

Fortunately, as long as our hearts are beating, our lungs work and we still have some mental and physical capabilities, we do not have to live with the regret of not pursuing our dreams or purpose.

Stop writing your “oughttobiography” and follow Ben Franklin’s advice:

“If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth writing.”