We are busy. Every day is exactly the same as the other. We don’t just make a living anymore. We need more and more money to keep up with the Joneses. A bigger home. A better car. Chinese classes for the kid. Success at all costs.
Between daily routines such as unsatisfying work, shopping for food, or taking kids to school there isn’t much time left to just be and enjoy life. So we delay forever the fulfillment of our real dreams and postpone spending some quality time with the people we love. “Some day I will quit this damn job and start to live”, you think. But that never happens.
The reflection comes only when one of our friends, family members or acquaintances kicks the bucket prematurely. Losing a parent at a young age is a very eye-opening experience. Dealing with death makes us reflect upon our own mortality, and it’s painful to realize how much time you have wasted chasing things that don’t make you any happier. I can tell that I’m lucky enough to have learned at the age of 27 what most people realize on a deathbed. But it would have been much better to learn it from others…
One of my favorite books that I’ve read recently is Bronnie Ware’s bestseller The Top Five Regrets Of The Dying: A Life Transformed By The Dearly Departing. Dissatisfied with her life and work, Bronnie quit her job in finances to travel the world, and to make ends meet, she found herself working in palliative care despite no qualifications. In her book, Bronnie is sharing the experiences that made her grow and realize that it’s death what gives our lives true meaning.
So here are the most common deathbed regrets according to Bronnie Ware, with some relevant reflections of mine. Enjoy!
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
According to Ware, this was the most common regret of all. We are stuck for years in jobs we hate and we persist in abusive relationships, not having the courage to say “enough” and leave. Changes are frightening, but being unhappy for the rest of your life is even more so.
I’ve been working in the insurance industry for three and a half years after my father died. That’s what I thought I should do because dad would be proud if I succeeded in running his company. But I know he would be as proud even if I didn’t.
Becoming a lawyer or learning Chinese just for the sake of satisfying your parents’ ambitions is completely pointless. This is your life, and it is you who will suffer the consequences.
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
We live as if we were defined by our jobs, neglecting all other social roles. When someone asks who we are, our profession is the most common answer. This regret is especially common among men, and I know someone who’s a perfect example.
My cousin is a thriving businessman and a father of two lovely children – a sweet 3-years-old daughter and an 8-years-old son. They already have everything they need, which probably places them within the wealthiest 5% of human population: a new house with sauna and a swimming pool paid cash, all the commodities, decent cars and all-inclusive vacation abroad. I’m surprised that his children still recognize him, even though they see daddy only on weekends.
There was a video that went viral. Kids and their parents were asked whom would they have their dream dinner with. The parents opted for Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber. Can you guess what little humans said?
Oh yes, children know better what is really important in life.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
You know what? Most people don’t read minds, so it’s necessary to show your affection and tell people how much you appreciate them before it’s too late.
Expressing one’s true emotions is the most natural thing for a child. They don’t overthink or pretend to make someone feel better. Somehow, within the process of socialization, most people learn to suppress their feelings and say what they are expected to say. Being emotional is not regarded as a compliment. Too many times we hear that real men don’t cry, or are scolded for being “hysterical”. Showing your vulnerability as an adult is a proof of courage. It may feel awkward at the beginning, but what if you die all of a sudden, and your loved ones never hear how much you loved them?
I spent some time in Colombia teaching English to underprivileged kids, who would show me their true affection every single day. It was the time when I was still suppressing mine so their overload of emotions felt completely overwhelming. But as we spent some time together, it felt natural and honest.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Real friends are just as important as family, if not more. The people who don’t share a drop of blood with you are those who accept you just the way you are and choose to be with you. Age and distance don’t matter. You may have a bazillion Facebook friends, but research shows that on average we have only 7 to 9 real friends throughout our lives.
We are hardwired to connect with others, but as the time goes by we get caught up in our lives and daily routines, spend too much time in the office, delaying forever our meetings with friends… until one day we realize we’ve grown old, and lonely as the kids moved out. Maintaining friendship requires time and effort, but in the end, it is worth every moment you dedicated to it. Friends help one another grow spiritually and keep their sanity.
Don’t forget about your friends. Even if they live a thousand miles away, email them, call them on Skype, send them some photos with love, tell them how much you miss them, and once in a while find a way to reunite before they are gone.
5. I wish I had let myself be happier.
Some say happiness is a choice. To me, happiness is a skill that can be mastered. You can choose to focus on what you don’t have and where you rather be, or be grateful for what you already have. I am not denying it is hard, on the contrary. It is something one has to work on every single day. I am still learning to see the glass as half full, treat myself with compassion, show gratitude and find joy in the process of working towards my goals. Mindfulness practice helps a lot.
How about you? If you were to die tomorrow, what would you regret most? Below, you can share your reflections with me. Then, think what you can do to avoid regret and start acting NOW. The present moment is all we have.
PS. Check the reviews for Bronnie Ware’s The Top Five Regrets Of The Dying: A Life Transformed By The Dearly Departing.