Embracing the Life That’s Waiting for You

Posted on March 15, 2017 by Robert Ringer


I love great movie lines, and one that I’ll never forget is from the classic film On the Waterfront.  It was spoken by has-been pugilist Terry Mallow (Marlon Brando), who said to his brother, Charley Malloy (Rod Steiger), “I coulda been a contender.  I coulda been somebody.”  Terry was expressing his regret over having taken a dive in a big fight in exchange for a payoff his brother had arranged, which led him down the path to obscurity.

That was probably the first time I ever thought about the coulda-woulda-shoulda syndrome that haunts each of us at one time or another.  Unfortunately, it’s a mental state that manufactures only regret and misery.

Joseph Campbell’s antidote to such a mental state was telling:  “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”  The life we planned versus the life that is waiting for us … so logical … so practical … so self-evident … but so rarely practiced.

Brando’s character was pretty hopeless, but the fact remains that he had it within his power to refuse to throw the big fight by exercising dignity, moral courage, and self-discipline.  That one error in judgment is what I have so often referred to as The Big Mistake, the kind of mistake that can be fatal to a person’s financial aspirations, health, and happiness.  In many cases, it can even be life-ending.  Learning through experience sounds like a good idea, but it doesn’t do you any good if you’re dead.

That said, I doubt that you’re a has-been fighter who has no options.  When a person is down, it’s easy to believe that all options are closed to him, but that’s rarely the case.  That’s why it’s a good idea to take inventory of yourself and your options on a daily basis and assess where you’re at in life — and what you have to do to get where you want to be.

I’m not talking about where you could have been had you done this or that right or not done this or that wrong, but where you actually are — right now, today, at this very moment.  Forgetting about the life you dreamed of … the life that could have been had you made a handful of better decisions … and focusing on the life that is waiting for you is one of the nonnegotiable skills when it comes to happiness and success.

My mother lived to be 101, and today would have been her 107th birthday.  She was an incredible woman who was a source of unending inspiration to me.  She never complained about anything, including some things that were very difficult for her over the last third of her life.

She spent more than 20 years in a nursing home without a hint of hanging onto the past.  The whole family was in awe of how happy she was in that nursing home, working in the gift shop for many years, playing cards with her newfound friends, and reading more books in a year than most people read in a lifetime.

Plans are a good thing to have, but we would all do well to recognize that Fate has a habit of interfering with even the best-laid plans.  It’s noble to continue trying when things don’t work out, but it’s also wise not to resist the life “that is waiting for us,” the life that could very well turn out to be even better than the one we had planned if only we would give it a chance.

Happy birthday, Mom.

Robert Ringer

+Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

29 responses to “Embracing the Life That’s Waiting for You”

  1. kauai_mike says:

    A dragon I still battle in my 60's (living in the future).

  2. Lana says:

    Happy Birthday to your mother. She sounds like an amazing person; someone who inspires others.

  3. Amazing article Robert. I have been reading all of your work for years. This post is probably my favorite. Thank you Robert. :-) Jonathan

  4. Tom D says:

    So true! The life I thought I would have went up in smoke about 10 years ago. I took quite awhile to accept the fact that it was over. And sometimes I still seem to slip back to that time. But I've mostly moved on. No idea if today's life is better than what it would have been but largely accept that it is what I have and do all I can to make the best of it.

  5. Rick G says:

    Robert, sounds like your mom was an extraordinarily amazing person. One does not find people who are like her. Happy birthday to her!

  6. Steve says:

    Enjoyed that one, very true , things change, weneed to take stock and rebuild and replan. Good advice and seldom thought of in that way.

  7. Jay says:

    Here is a fitting quote from the movie Cousins." You've got only one life to live. You can either make it chickenshit or chicken salad."

  8. steve says:

    Thanks for this Robert. Could this be the basis for a book? I hope so!

  9. Avery Horton says:

    Reminds me of another classic FAT CITY. The ending scene says it all:

  10. TheLookOut says:

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY MRS. RINGER, Thanks for keeping Robert
    on the straight & narrow, and being a such a good mentor, through
    you he inspires us all.

  11. nursenut says:

    Happy Birthday to you Mom. I too have been enjoying your articles, and it is so clear she passed on her unique values and literacy onto you, a beloved son.

  12. Reality Seeker says:

    "reading more books in a year than most people read in a lifetime".

    Sounds like a wonderful life to me…. And I can relate to that lifestyle, because both my father and grandfather were avid readers…. I remember how they'd stay up until 2AM reading but never filling their insatiable appetite.

    I sure do miss having them around, too…

    Good article filled with wise advice.

  13. Scott theczech says:

    It seems like you are speaking directly to me! I'm not ashamed to to say this article touched me deeply – made me cry.

  14. jim says:

    Sixty five trips around the sun and just getting started. Age is a number, old is a state of mind.

  15. edda says:

    Only Ringer coulda-woula-shoulda done it! Touching and wise – all in one essay. Mom and me – both Pisceans. I'm gonna channel her, Mr. Ringer. Thank You!

  16. Phil says:

    A beautiful piece, thank you!

  17. Raj says:

    Thanks for sharing.
    I am glad your Mom lived a long life and she knew how to keep herself occupied and happy.

  18. David Vigna says:

    A lovely and inspiring tribute to Etta. And a lesson for the rest of us. Thank you Robert.

  19. Nathanael says:

    Everything that happens to you happens for a good reason. If you plans failed fate has something good in store for you. A beautiful piece

  20. Jim Hallett says:

    This article reminds me of a couple of wise statements – "Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans", and "All we ever have is the present moment" (and often, WE are what is missing from that present moment, and I include myself in the offender category here). Your mom sounds very admirable and she raised a very wise and intuitive man (you), so her legacy continues through your writings. When people get to the end of their earthly life, they rarely regret what they did, but rather what they DID NOT DO, due to fear or the fact it did not fit into their grand idea scheme of what would make them happy. Traveling and reading are two things that really expand the horizons and give us glimpses of what is possible, starting from NOW, the only place we can really launch from, since yesterday is not returning. Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda, just lead down a path of misery and regret, and often blaming others. Thanks for the good read, yet again!

    • Jim, In college, I took part in a study about regrets at or near the end of life. The number one regret for men was overwhelmingly that those who did not choose to serve in the military, regretted that they had not. And for women, it was those who had chosen not to have kids, regretted it most….

  21. Enter text right here!

  22. Rock roach says:

    I'm glad this was a better day for your mom than some Enperor in Rome about 44 ad or so,One can't always change life's circumstances,but we can always change the way that we can react to a given situation,

  23. Jonah Kyle says:

    This also reminded me of Marcellus Wallace from Pulp Fiction talking to Butch about taking a bribe, because "if he could have made it, he would have made it by now." At that point, it's best to make a new plan, or turn the old one on its rear. Whether it's taking a Type Two down a couple of notches or taking it to the Big Man With the Band-Aid on His Neck, it's better to be prepared than to lament.

  24. Mic says:

    Wonderful story and wonderful article. Thank you!

  25. Stacy Gray says:

    I am an English teacher in language expert center. I must say in five headings you’ve described the whole phenomenon and importance of retaining tone in your blog.

  26. Cheryl Sharp says:

    Beautifully said – and so applicable to Capra's It's a Wonderful Life as well!

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