Ruminations on the “Regret Minimization Framework”

It’s winter in Canada, and oh what a winter’s it’s been. So cold and so much snow, just like in the olden days. The problem this winter is that the cold has been caused by a glitch in the jet stream bringing down cold air from the arctic, but not in the usual healthy way. It’s getting so out of whack with the warming north, where the average temperature is 5°C (9°F) above normal, that it’s delivering this frigid air to the southern U.S. as well. Hundred-year-old citrus trees are freezing in the south. Sigh.

Well at least some of the emerald ash borers that are on their way to take out my ash trees might get whacked this winter! Take that you little invader species!

Winter has given me time to reflect. Time to read. I am working through a great Buddhist-type book right now that my friend Heidi lent to me. I can always count on Heidi when I ask her for suggestions for books about spirituality. It’s a great book, but the only challenge is the title. It’s called “Wherever you go, there you are” and I can’t help but think of the father in The Brady Bunch TV sitcom, Mike Brady, who liked to use this phrase. Maybe it’s not so much a Buddhist book, but more about mindfulness.

I’m also catching up on back issues of “The Guardian” and “The Economist” that I get from my dad and I’ve read two reviews of Jeff Bezos’ biography. Both refer to his “regret-minimization framework.”

I have mixed feeling about Mr. Bezos. Amazon has contributed to the decline of small independent bookstores. I am very fond of small independent bookstores. Many of these have been located in downtown areas, which I’m also very fond of. Amazon has come under fire for its avoidance of paying taxes as well as its treatment of employees.

On the other hand I have to hand it to him for what he’s done with Amazon. It’s an unbelievable success. I will admit to periodically purchasing books from Amazon when I’ve had a deadline for research on a book, or when I’m being particularly petulant and impatient and not wanting to wait. We can order a book and have it delivered overnight to our post office box here in the middle of nowhere. Who does that? How do you make money doing that? And how do they know what books I might like every time I go to their website? Creepy. Oh, and those emails you get from them … “We hear you’re having trouble sleeping, why not try one of our ergonomic pillows?” How do they know what I’m up to at night?

They do sell our books and DVDs and we have a link through our website so that if you access from our site, we earn a small commission on anything you purchase. They discount our books so heavily we figured that we might as well try to eek a little more out of each book or DVD sale.

So this “regret-minimization framework” is a model he’s used in his life to make decisions. He talks about it here;

He talks about thinking ahead to when you are 80 years old and looking back at the decisions you have made. Will you regret quitting your stable job to try something new, even if it fails, more than you will regret never having tried? Or if you were suddenly diagnosed with a fatal disease would you be more likely to regret spending your life selling your labor (and your time and your energy) to someone else, versus trying to build a business for yourself? I believe for many entrepreneurs the answer is that they’d rather have taken a shot and failed miserably than to have spent their life wondering what would have happened if they had attempted such a feat.

I was miserable in suburbia and dreamed of moving to the woods. It was terrifying to actually do it, but the result has been fantastic. I don’t ever walk out of my house in to the peace and beauty of this place without thinking about how much I hated the noise and pace of life where I came from. (See photos below)



But if I think about the “Regret Minimization Framework” as a scale, with “Regret” at one end, and “No regret” at the other end, I have to admit that at various times I have moved up and down the scale.

Initially I was way up the scale towards “No-Regret”. Several of my friends had died at young ages before we left the city and they were constantly on my mind as we encountered the many challenges in adjusting to life off the grid.

In 2008 we had morphed our business to the point where the bulk of our income came from selling books about renewable energy and sustainable living. It was amazing. I don’t think we could have been closer to the “No-Regrets” end of the scale. But then the economic collapse hit and all those people who used to buy books were now underwater on their mortgages so they stopped buying and our business began a slow decent. Other publishers brought out competing books and the whole market changed with e-Books and technology. And Amazon.

Suddenly I took a big step backwards on the scale, back towards “Regret”. What had we been thinking? Why had we given up our secure, comfortable life in the city? What a dumb move. It looked as though we were going to have to find jobs in the city, which would entail a long commute. That hadn’t been part of our dream of moving to the country!

It took us a few years to figure out how to earn a modest income right here on our own property and low behold, we finally found the formula in running a CSA. It uses our beautiful place in the woods, and our love of gardening, and our sense of what customers want, all our skills. And our members really seemed to appreciate our hard work. People like what we do!

We know that a lot of our readers are living in the city and dreaming of the country. There’s a myriad of reasons of why you can’t leave. You tell us that we’re living your dream. I write blogs like this not to gloat about my contentment with our choice but to suggest that you have to seriously think about those last moments of your life and create your own “regret minimization framework.” I don’t ever hide the difficulties we’ve had with upgrading the power systems in our home, or the challenges with earning an income in the country. These are monumental issues. And they have been challenging to deal with.

But once again there have been some recent deaths within our sphere of friends, and it is always shocking to hear of relatively young people dying. “He was just a month away from retirement” is a very sad thing to hear. I’ve just learned of some disturbing new trends in climate science that are pretty bleak. And this winter has been brutal with the cold and snow.

But I’m finding myself pretty blissful all the time right now! I’m way back up the scale, at the “No-Regrets” end! Lately with the sun and the cold our solar panels are producing at their absolute maximum potential output. The batteries are fully charged from the wind and so I’m already dumping excess electricity into our diversion load backup hot water tank. The sun is heating up our solar domestic hot water heater. We’ve been hearing stories of people who are having trouble getting home heating oil, or propane or who have run out of firewood this winter. We have more than enough for this year and I’m well into getting next year’s supply cut. It was -22°C below this morning (-8°F) so we just kept throwing on wood until the house was toasty warm.

We have placed our first seed order for the CSA and have got some flats of slow-to-germinate vegetables started. This morning we had bagels that had been baked in a wood oven in Montreal and shipped to our favorite healthfood store, “Tara,” in downtown Kingston. We buy a few bags of them whenever we go to Kingston and freeze them so that we can enjoy them from time to time. We had them with eggs from our oh so happy and spoiled chickens and hash browns from potatoes we grew last year. We had organic cream from Limestone City Creamery for our coffee. I’ve got three great books on the go right now. Two of these are from the library since Michelle has discovered how easy it is to put holds on books from the comfort of her own computer. If they don’t have the title you want, they will borrow it from another library system. We’ve discovered new sources for free documentaries on the internet that we can watch on TV in the evenings. I am off the grid and off the “Regret Minimization Scale”!

Dam the Torpedoes! Full Speed Ahead! No Regrets!

2 Responses to “Ruminations on the “Regret Minimization Framework””

  • Thank you for your encouraging words. Our goal is to be quite self sufficient. We are getting our garden ( no till) ready today. thank you for all that you do.

  • Musia:

    Thanks for letting us know about the amazon link that if we access amazon through your link you get a benefit -will try to always remember – actually I am on an agatha Christie kick right now – maybe I’ll go amazoning right is …:)

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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