Life: We only get one chance at it. Throughout our time in this world, we each face countless choices and opportunities, and no one’s path is quite like another’s. Where will we go? What goals and desires will we pursue? Which challenges will we confront – and whom will we meet along the way? And when it’s all said and done, how will we feel looking back on the life we’ve led and the decisions we’ve made?

It’s difficult to imagine what our life may look like decades from now – so we decided to ask those with the most experience of all. In dozens of interviews with older men and women in the U.S. and Britain, we sought to discover their deepest thoughts on the course their life has taken. What are the moments they’ll always remember, for better or worse? In retrospect, what do they wish had been different in their personal histories? And what can they tell us about the values that should guide us as we navigate this world’s possibilities day by day? Their many stories are a potent and inspiring reminder to make the most out of your life.

Read The Stories

Roger, 64
I have lots of things I wish I hadn't done, but I'm here, this is who I am, and that's why I am who I am.
Tommy, 76
I don’t have any regrets. Well I do, I wish who I am didn't impact my ex-wife as badly as it did.
Tom, 62
Marrying the person I did. Yeah, I would change that. I've been divorced since 2000, so 16 years. It's probably been the best 16 years of my life.
Camille, 70
That I didn’t finish nursing school. [...] I went the first year after I graduated from Trinity High School to Oak Park Hospital School of Nursing, and it was a pretty intense program. [...] I was too immature to understand that that intensity was really important, and all my friends were having such a great time in college, you know. They were all drinking in bars and dating a lot and traveling a lot, and I was stuck at 6:30 mass working until almost 5 at night, and studying, and I said, "this is crazy." So I left and I went to college. That was my biggest regret. I should have stayed there and I should have toughed it out for two more years.
Barb, 61
That the first time I got married that I didn't do it. That I didn't get married so young [...] it wasnt a very long marriage any way so it really doesn't matter at this point [...] - you think you're smart at 19. You're really not.
Betty, 90
I regret not having someone my age to grow old with me. Everyone is gone.
Betty, 89
Well, I really regret moving here; I don't have many friends anymore. Though they send cards and call, my son and daughter live in Louisville. I have met some nice people here, though.
Ginny, 69
A lot of it would be the same, but there would be a few differences. My self-confidence isn't that great. I would probably try to work on being more sure of myself.
Carl, 74
I had more opportunities than any 10 people you'd ever meet, and I blew them all. I walked out of law school – literally walked out. Walked out of Wash U. So I don't have either a law degree or a Ph.D. And those are two really big regrets, frankly. And I also, when I worked for the state of Illinois, I turned down about three different promotions, which could have led to pretty big things. I had a pretty good job, which I thought would last forever – it didn't. But I was kind of lazy, so I didn't really take the opportunities, and that, I have regrets about that, frankly.
Peggie, 71
Not going to school. That's easy.
Arthur, 64
I would have liked to change the way people have dealt with public education [...] and I would have liked to done more to make changes there. One of the things that we're dealing with is all the fake news, and I remember one of the things I used to teach about was making sure that students used reliable sources of information and what those characteristics were and so forth. And then we went into the age of testing, and then it became more important to test than it was to teach young minds how to think and solve problems and make great decisions.
Gary, 61
Never got to finish high school. I was in the 12th grade, and G-daddy got sick, and I had to run the farm. […] I wouldn't want to live it over again. It was rough the first time.
Catherine, 63
Both my children had extremely troubled adolescence; they suffered and my husband and I suffered. They are both doing good now, but it left scars that will never go away. If I could have known, I would have helped.
Charles, 86
I've accomplished anything I have ever wanted to. I got everything I ever wanted to. Went everywhere I ever wanted to.
Lee, 63
My only biggest regret is not going on to school to further my education.
Charlie, 61
So I guess the regret is not having been a better parent, perhaps. I never abused my children or anything else like that, but you know, their mother was difficult […] It didn’t work out too good.
Charlotte, 65
I guess, you know, career-wise, I always think, I wish I'd understood to kind of promote myself and to be more self-confident at work and to take more risks, you know? [...] I didn't go climbing a ladder; I didn't even understand how to do that, and I kind of wish in some ways that I had directed my own career instead of letting it just flow.
Emmagene, 96
I married, and then my husband died. I never had any children by him but I took over his son and raised him. I guess, well, if I could have changed it, I would have liked to have had a child of my own.
Maureen, 64
I think I would have been a bit more ambitious and more adventurous.
Helen, 90
I don’t have any big regrets. I just tried to do what my momma taught me to do.
Nieva, 74
That I didn't pursue my education further. I could have been probably a good PR person, you know. But I choose to stay home because I want my children to be successful, and I've raised two good ones.
Olive, 72
I saw my mom raising seven of us after my father died, and she never got remarried and she worked so hard to send us to school and take care of us and she just died [...] she used to give us to feed us her food, but no matter how much she gave us ,she was always giving us something from her plate, so I don't think my mother was getting enough for herself because she was always giving it to us. So my biggest regret is not being able to take care of her.
Patrick, 61
I thought about this, and I don't have any regrets, but when me and Lee and all of us were 7 years old, we made a skateboard. We took all the parts and made a skateboard. I wish I was smart enough to actually make a patent for it. We even made a ramp to jump. That was in the early '60s.
Wanda, 74
Live. Do everything you can. Go, visit, travel, learn. Get as much education as you can. Do what you love to do. Do your best at that. Something I learned from my granddaughter: "What's the best that can happen?" Live your life. Don't get stuck on doing nothing or not being able to accomplish something. Accomplish something every year.
Ms. Sullivan, 88
I'm very, very lonely. I come in here every day, I have lunch, I wait for the 4 p.m. bus, go home, empty house, I've got a big four bedroom detached house. I'm not happy at all. My last friends just died.
Sue, 71
I think I'm more casual, or not so uptight. I think I was too rigid. And I enjoy life a little bit more. Those are things, when you get older, you realize that some of the things you thought were so important, they're not.
Lu, 94
I have accomplished all I'm able to do.
Carojean, 93
Well, I would like to be able to do more things like I used to. Go swimming, hiking, and go on trips. Just being more confined, and I don't have a car. I don't think you can get a driver's license in your 90s.
Barbara, 61
The best part of growing old is more a satisfaction of being happy where you are in the circumstances you're in, looking back at the tough times and saying, "There were good times in your life." And just being a little more open to differences of opinions too.
Lois, 87
Be honest. And just be very careful in the things you do and what you say. Obey your parents.
Ken, 61
I think you're more aware of things when you're older because you're more relaxed. And you're not bossed around by other people as much.
Claire, 60
Live life to the full, definitely. [...] Whatever you want to do, just go for it, do it.
Alan, 59
Don't think about it, do it. Because you'll look back later and think, "I wish I knew, wish I'd done that all, I wish I'd asked that question and asked that person out," or whatever. Unless you try it, you'll never know what would have happened. Don't live your life regretting what could have happened.
Evelyn, 77
Right now, I'm really happy because my children are so good. They never gave me any problems. And that's one thing that I really love. And I think, because of that, I have accomplished everything already. And my husband is very good to me. And I have no regrets in marrying him because he loves me and I love him.
Graham, 68
Looking after my teeth, I think. Yes, I was very naughty when I was young; used to drink lemonade and not brush my teeth.
Betty, 86
I really don't have any regrets. I have had a good life. It's all been good. I have two children, a boy and a girl. I guess I have had a happy life.
Abdul, 56
Respect each other, and no matter what the race is – black, white, green, whatever – just respect. And respect your parents. Your parents are the most valuable people in this world. Listen to your parents. When they give you advice, listen to it. Nobody can give advice better than parents.
Howard, 85
That's one thing I would absolutely change: if my brother hadn't been killed in the war. […] My brother had more abilities than I did. He was calm, he was musical, and he could do a lot of things with his hands that I've never been able to really do. […] Because he loved music, he wrote music, he played the accordion, he loved it. And he was very good at everything he did [...] He was really something, and they snuffed his life out.
Linda, 65
I'm very content. Life hasn't been particularly easy, but I think you get to a stage where you just accept what life is and you enjoy what you've got to a point without constantly wishing something. You are where you are. So enjoy and make the most of it. And take up every opportunity that comes along. I do a lot because I think you should.
Loren, 64
There's nothing good about growing old. My dad told me, "Growing old is hell," and he's right. It's hell. There's nothing good about it. It hurts.
Lynette, 65
[I would've] not been so uptight about reaching certain goals and just letting some things go their own course. I've been pretty driven and it's not a bad thing, but I think I overlooked some things in relationships.
Marjorie, 79
Be interested in your children. Help them when it's needed, because most of them [parents] don't.
Mary, 84
There's not a whole lot I can accomplish now. Keeping my eyesight and my mind. […] I would travel more. Just anything. I've seen about all of it. Go to Alaska. We planned to go, but he [my husband] got sick every year – so we didn't go.
Mary, 68
I guess I regret not having more children. Because, you know, we waited a while before we got married, and then we waited a while after we got married, before Joey came along. If we had started a little earlier on having babies, because, you know, I was 43 when he was born.
Paula, 63
I really have accomplished it. I don't have too much left on my bucket list. […] I probably wouldn't change anything. Because everything happened for a reason.
Yvette, 70
Follow your heart, maybe. If you know what you want to do, kind of do what you love, the money will follow.

Words of Wisdom

As we’ve seen, many of the men and women interviewed are content with what they’ve experienced in life – yet just as many wish they had done more, and continue to express a desire to pursue more of life’s joys in their remaining years.

We also looked at our interviewees' combined responses overall to see the topics mentioned most frequently when they discussed their regrets. While mentions of "life" were understandably the most common, men and women interviewed were most likely to talk about one specific thing: their education. Parents and children were discussed as well, while topics such as travel and marriage were discussed even less than that. Altogether, our interviewees had a couple of main themes they considered important aspects of life: their education and the people they share their time with.

Looking Back

In addition to the interviews above, we asked 146 anonymous participants what their biggest regrets in life were, and 36 percent admitted it was not saving more money. In the U.S., 1 out of every 3 Americans has no money saved toward retirement, and 23 percent have less than $10,000 saved. This lack of savings to enable Americans to retire comfortably was the biggest regret of those surveyed.

Over 9 percent wished they’d traveled more, and almost 9 percent told us their biggest regret was not having planned ahead in life.

Other personal regrets included choices made regarding friendships, either getting married or deciding not to marry, and not being adventurous enough – each accounting for over 7 percent of our responses.

Despite some of these emotional regrets, only half of respondents told us they would go back and redo their life if given a chance. Forty-nine percent said they would keep things exactly the way they were.

Getting a Second Chance

If you could redo a specific aspect of your life, would you?

Of those who said yes, over 20 percent told us they would want another shot at their marital and romantic choices, while the same amount told us their educational decisions left them wanting another opportunity.

Others told us they would want an opportunity to redo their professional choices (almost 16 percent), while some admitted their friendships and travel choices were their top pick for life decisions to go back and try again.

While not saving money was the biggest regret most participants shared with us, only 3 percent said they would want a chance to redo their financial situation.

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Methodology

We had photographers interview men and women over the age of 55. We asked these people a series of questions to reflect on their life as well us offer advice to the younger generations. In addition to the interviews, we surveyed 146 people to find out what types of regrets they had and if given the chance, would they redo their life?

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