The Things You Didn’t Do

The things you didn't do.Originally posted on in 2011

I was having breakfast with an old friend yesterday. He’s a big sports fan, so we ended up talking about college football, and since the recent Penn State scandals were very much in the news cycle, the topic of course eventually came up. I’m not here to offer an opinion on that whole mess, but my friend said one insightful thing that got me thinking. He said “Well, one thing’s for sure. No matter what great things Paterno DID do in his life, now he’s only going to be remembered for what he DIDN’T do.”

This idea often comes up as a result of the more dramatic events in life. As examples, the “Doctrine of Command Responsibility” is built on the idea of a certain “failure to do the right thing.” The book No Right to Remain Silent by Lucinda Roy touches on the idea that it may have been possible to avert the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007.

In business and economics, this idea also can come into play in dramatic ways. Arguably, the failure of American automakers to act in response to the innovative Japanese auto industry in the 80’s had devastating results, and many experts say that “failure to act” was responsible for creating a much more catastrophic banking collapse in 2008.

But these are failures of epic proportions. The fact is that “failure to act” probably plays a bigger part in personal unhappiness than many of us realize. The next time you think “maybe I should,” well, MAYBE YOU SHOULD. As Lucille Ball said: “I’d rather regret the things I have done than the things that I haven’t.”