A friend from many years ago emailed me recently. In part of our email exchange, he talked about parts of his life I had missed in the years we hadn't been in touch. He let me know about a new hobby, and commented, "This is something I should have started thirty years ago."
Not much of the conversation stuck with me other than that comment of his, which was accompanied in my mind with the (possibly a) Chinese proverb:
"The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now."
In contrast to the quote, my friend's comment seemed hard to me. "Should" can be such an ugly word, especially when used with regret. It is judgemental. It is dismissive. It assumes you were wrong with a previous choice.
"I should have done this."
"I shouldn't have done that."
We are all making the best choices we can for ourselves, given the constraints of knowledge, time, and motivation at any moment. Who is to say that one choice is better than the next, even when looking back?
So, yeah, maybe my friend should have predicted the future with uncanny accuracy and known when he was five what he wanted to do for his entire life. I maybe I should be kicking myself for things I've done or left undone.
I'm not going to kick, though. Instead, I'm going to go plant a tree.
Today is the second best day to do it.