When we reach that point in life when the middle years have passed, would we have done things differently if we had somehow gained the wisdom that comes from learning from our own mistakes?
They say that education is wasted on the young. When we are adolescent, suffused by swirling hormones and an intolerable need to impress our peers, how can we concentrate on learning those school subjects that will be so essential to our future life? How to show due diligence at schoolwork when the very act of striving for perfection brings a swathe of disdain and criticism from the very peers we so want to impress? We listen to school friends who say ‘why do I need to learn French? I'll never need that - I want to be a train-driver'.
The very fact of being a child, by definition, means that you can't possibly know or envisage a future, mature, life where unforeseen opportunities abound and hitherto undreamed of possibilities may require you to use those very skills that you disparaged so long ago.
And then later, when we take those first cautious steps into the world of work, how can we know that sometimes we may only get one chance?
As life progresses, many are the people who say they wish they'd known that time seems to speed up as you get older. Grandparents say that when they were at school, the long six-week summer holidays never seemed to end, but now in their later years the hours between each day's breakfast, lunch and dinner seem to whizz past more like Spring, Summer and Autumn. When you get older, it can be harder to find the confidence you once had, because confidence often depends on ignorance. When young, you have the advantage of not needing to be dignified so you can throw yourself forward with foolhardy arrogance.
Men who lived their youth in the baby-boomer ‘60s say they wish they'd said yes to taxes, rather than to drugs. And, they wish they'd realised sooner that taking alcohol to excess never made things better when life was bad; it just made things worse. Denture-wearers say they wish they had brushed their teeth more as children and visited the dentist more often. But, of course, in the days of yore, dentists were seen as horror-filled places of pain rather than the cosy world of pain-free treatments offered today.
As the UK announces that it is now definitely in recession, many are the people who wish they'd bought more property when they were younger. And those who now find themselves in negative-equity ask why they didn't sell five years ago when the house market was at its peak.
Walking along the teeming streets of our cities and seeing the different age-groups mingling together, we say ‘I wish I'd known that the person who gets older and frailer and eventually dies is not somebody else - it's me!'
So, what can we do to stop ourselves falling into a mire of hopelessness and depression? There's no point in beating yourself up over things you should have done or over yesterday's missed opportunities. The answer is simple. Live every stage of your present life as in your prime. Make a conscious effort to learn from those who have already made that mid-life transition and are living fulfilled lives. Do something that flies in the face of youthful self-consciousness, such as joining a drama group or choir. Take up something demanding, like an Open University course. All of these things will make new demands on you, and allow you to rethink your lifelong preconceptions about your own abilities.
Sunrise, sunset, swiftly pass the years. Life is precious, so don't waste a second.