When she was younger, she was vibrant, happy, and passionate. Those were traits that, by her own admission, she lost when grew older. She had many unfulfilled dreams and goals. As I watched her die, I knew those were dying with her.
Bronnie Ware, a Hospice nurse, wrote a great article about the regrets of the dying. The people she cared for all shared similar regrets about how they wished they had lived their lives. These are my words and interpretations of what she wrote. Her original article is well worth reading, though.
Lack of Authenticity
The number one regret people had when dying was that they lived for someone else, not themselves. They cared far too much what others thought about them and made choices to please others, neglecting their own dreams, values, and goals in the process.
Countless people live for others. It can be based on a desire to please, like marrying someone because of family pressure, or taking over the family business you hate. Or, it can be driven by more subtle pressure or fear, like when a guy is afraid to approach a woman for fear she might reject him or a woman dumps a boyfriend she loves because her friends don’t approve.
No one else lives your life. You have to. In the end, you’re the one who has to answer for your choices. Being your authentic self, even if it means losing the approval of others, is far more important if that makes you happy and fulfilled.
Hard work is great. At least, that’s what everyone tells you. Isn’t it great to bust your ass day in and day out so that someone else can get rich? You make a company hundreds of dollars an hour and they generously give you $11.00 of it and some benefits, and they still label you as “overpaid” in board meetings.
And, a few side benefits of all your work are stress, lack of free time, and an early death.
Dying people wished they hadn’t given so much of their lives to their jobs. They missed out on spouses, friends, children, and other meaningful things to slave away making the lives of others better.
I’m going to give you an important truth: hard work is dumb if it primarily lines someone else’s pockets. I’m not condemning hard work and effort. But, they’re only great when you’re working for yourself, those you love, or the greater good. Working your ass off so Jeff Bezos or Larry Page can buy a second yacht isn’t something anyone should strive for.
Make your priority the meaningful things in life. Work hard to build your business and legacy (and those of others that you love and care about), and form great relationships. Don’t slave away and die to build someone else’s dreams. Yeah, you have to pay the bills, but a work-life balance is absolutely essential.
Not Being Assertive
You put up with crap from people at work, home, and in your social life. And, the resentment and stress build until you’re a mess.
Dying people wished they’d stood up and asserted themselves. Like with the first regret, they wished they were their authentic selves and didn’t kiss ass for the sake of a little more stability.
They learned an important lesson: better to be your true self and lose the fakes and haters than to spend your whole life in submission to others and their opinions. No one says on their deathbed, “I’m glad I was a wimp and worked those extra weekends when I really wanted to see my kid.”
Lack of Friends
The only time I saw my grandma smile in true excitement was when she talked about her friends from her youth. She loved to tell the stories of the adventures she had with her friends. Yet, those friends slipped away over the years as everyone become busy with work and family duties.
Sadly, as people get older they stop hanging out with friends. This is especially true of men as recent articles and studies have pointed out how lack of friends is literally killing middle aged men as they are over-stressed at work and unhappy at home.
Reach out to your old friends and make new ones. Having friends is very important for a happy life. Guess what? Your romantic partner doesn’t count if he or she is your only friend. And, if he or she tries to stop you from seeing friends or making friends, that person is absolutely wrong and controlling.
I know people who live ideal lives by cultural standards, but are miserable inside. Likewise, I know people who are happy and have little logical reason for it. Happiness is ultimately a choice. Sadly, it takes the deathbed for many people to realize that.
Many people are conditioned to believe that happiness is impossible, or even immoral. I know people who quit doing things that made them happy, or cut off people, based on the opinions of an oppressive religion, an uptight boss, or a judgmental best friend. They “settled” just because of the pressures of others.
You can be happy and the choice to be happy is in your control. You can make the choices to lead you to happiness and develop the mindset for it. Usually it involves being your best self and discarding the opinions of others who want to bring you down for no good reason.
These regrets are sad to read, especially for those of you who might be living those regrets in the present. The ultimate lesson is this: life is precious and it’s not guaranteed. Be authentic, pursue happiness for yourself and others, and give haters and detractors the finger. At least, when they are sad with regret in their last days, you can rest (eternal) assured knowing that you lived your life to the absolute fullest.