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  • Writer's pictureGiacomino Nicolazzo

The Journey Is The Treasure...


April 2020

“The greatest adventure is what lies ahead. Today and tomorrow are yet to be said. The chances, the changes are all yours to make. The mold of your life is in your hands to break.” J.R.R. Tolkien

An old mentor of mine used to say, “Regret is insight that comes a day too late.”

How true is that! But what is even more true, is that for many of us, this insight comes not just a day too late, but years...sometimes even decades beyond when we need it. We reach a point in our life and we look back reflectively, wishing we had taken a different path or lived a more meaningful life. We die wishing we’d acted more authentically.

When I was a boy living in America, I had an aunt who was a nurse at Divine Providence, the Catholic hospital in the town in which I grew up. She worked in what is called the palliative care ward, doing her best to comfort terminally ill patients and their families.

I found her to be one of the more sensitive, caring and intelligent women I have ever known and so I was naturally drawn to wanting to talk with her when she had the time to spare, which sadly was not often. Of all the chats we had, there was one thing she told me that has remained with me for all these many years...more than any other thing she said.

“As my patients got closer to the end of their lives,” she began, “I noticed they would become profoundly reflective. They had a strong desire for telling someone...anyone who would listen, about what it was they’d learned from this life.”

More often that not, it my zia Teresa who was that one person who would listen...

“I often asked them what they would have done differently given the chance,” she told me. “More often than any other answer, this is what they would tell me...

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”


Facing the specter of our own finality demands honesty. My aunt’s patients expressed what many of us secretly yearn live a life of our choosing, not one that is controlled by our fear or guilt or about what other people might think or say or do.

This basic human need to live this way is called AUTONOMY.

Simply defined, autonomy is our natural desire to do things because we WANT to do them, not because we are FORCED to do them or feel in any way OBLIGATED to do them. It’s only by doing what we love, of your own volition, when and how we choose, that we become what we are meant to be.

But I also learned something else from my aunt. I learned that autonomy is not synonymous with independence. We are actually ‘hardwired’ with the need to interact and care for each feel connected and to know that we belong to something much greater, much bigger and much more important than just ourselves.

If you stop to actually think about it...the most meaningful experiences you have in life are rarely discovered alone. They are the ones you’ve shared with others.

And I guess, therein lays the challenge. How do we balance the ME with the WE?

All my life I have been a person who has yearned for self-expression. Since I was a young boy, defying my father’s authority and rules, I have believed in self-direction. Yet I have also always been drawn to other people.

I can live alone...I have done it for years. But it is not my preference. I find that at the very same moment I am wishing to pursue my own personal goals, I have this overwhelming need to care for those around me.

This tug of war I experience...this struggle to balance these two competing needs, can be exhausting. And if I am not careful, I find I can end up with regrets.

Here’s a simple thing I’ve learned to do to head off those regrets. I know that I am risking sounding ‘preachy’ again today, but in actuality all I am doing is satisfying my own need to care for those around me. Take it for what it is worth to you...

I have learned that the time I spend alone is not only best used for escaping from the world, but for introspective thinking as well...escaping into myself.

Quite a few years ago, when I was my most alone and lonelier than at any other time in my life, I decided to write down exactly what it was that I longed for most in my life. It came as a result of learning to start any goal or project with the end in mind!

What I learned back then is something I have remained doing all these many years. I find it becomes even more valid and more useful the closer I get to my own end!

You have no doubt seen or read the same thing. I’d read about an exercise wherein we are to picture our own death experience and then work backward to today. So while I lay there, metaphorically speaking, on my deathbed, I asked myself these two questions:

What do I wish my legacy to be?” and “Who will be there with me?

Asking myself these two questions challenged me to recognize my core values.

The first question pushes me to choose my OWN destiny...that would be autonomy in action!

The second challenges me to recognize who matters MOST in my life...this would be love in action.

Then I begin working backward to today.

This approach shines a spotlight on what I need to accomplish along the way...what I want to achieve in my work and my life as I am living it. And perhaps even more important, it allows me to work toward my greatest visions without regret.

And what I have discovered is what many others have experienced before me...that the journey toward the goal, moving toward the vision, with all the ups and downs, is actually the best part of the process. The journey is the treasure.

As far as I know, no one has arrived at their deathbed without admitting to having missed opportunities, failed goals, and having had relationship disasters. We all miss the mark. However, having the ability to embrace the “we and me” experiences along the way, happens best when we are in the driver’s seat of own destiny.

It is because we have taken the time to map it out, knowing that delays and detours will confront us along the way. Our destination remains firmly fixed on our horizon.

Join me if you will. Resolve today to live without regret. Don’t wait for tomorrow, next week, or the new year. It is in our daily experiences that we discover who we are and what we can become. Take some time to envision your own deathbed experience. Ask yourself those same two questions...

What do I wish my legacy to be?” and “Who will be there with me?

Then sit down and draw your map! Own your own destiny and become who you were designed to be.

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