Bronnie Ware’s article, Nurse Reveals The Top Five Regrets People (Have) On Their Death Bed (inspirationandchai.com), describes what she learned working in a hospice environment where patients typically had only weeks to live. When she’d talk to patients about regrets, the same themes surfaced. In her article, she lists the five most common.
I’m not on my death bed, nor do I have any reason to believe I will be in the near future. However, I wanted to do a mid-term review using Bronnie’s list. Here are Bronnie’s top five deathbed regrets, and an evaluation of whether or not I share any of the same feelings:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
My grade? Incomplete. Certainly as a teenager, everything I did was about fulfilling expectations others had for me. Given a strong Math and Science background, I initially majored in Electrical Engineering to appease my dad and a school counselor. I had more than enough ability to make it work, but it was a total personality mismatch. On the other hand, I recognized the mistake early, and moved on.
On a more positive note, I ended a very bad ten-year marriage despite enormous pressure from all corners. The decision was completely against what virtually everyone expected of me, but has paid off in more ways than I can count. It was the most courageous, and eventually rewarding decision of my life.
On some level, starting and running a financial company for over twenty years was courageous. But it was not an effort to be true to myself. Instead, I repeated the same mistake I made when I chose engineering. The financial career seemed like the kind of job people would expect me to have.
The 2013 decision to close the successful, lucrative financial company, and pursue a career as a writer/novelist may work, or it may flop. Either way, on my death bed (hopefully many, many years down the road), I’ll be able to point to this particular decision as evidence that I’d finally begun, in earnest, to live in a way that is true to myself. NET? I have high hopes I’ll be able to cross this regret off my list.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
I have missed important things because of work. And I’ll always regret it. If you can’t do your job in a reasonable number of hours per week, something’s wrong. Either with the job itself, or the way you’re trying to do it. Hard work is an important part of life, but without “whole life” balance, it’s useless anyway.
As I move forward writing, I’m really focused on maintaining that balance. My original NaNoWriMo plan was to write six days a week, and take Sunday off. The first Saturday writing session was the only bad writing session I had all month. From now on, Saturdays are mine too.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Here, Bronnie talks about people suppressing their feelings to keep the peace. A “Do you know what my boss did? I ought to give him a piece of my mind,” kind of thing. In this context, I’m in good shape. A manager that once worked for me wanted to fire an African-American office worker that reported to her, despite Average ratings on recent performance reviews. The manager went around me to her friend, my boss, and they fired the worker. It was clear her decision to fire the worker was racially motivated. I was eventually asked to lie at an EEOC hearing on the matter, and refused. Further, I did testify at the hearing, and the fired worker was nicely compensated. I was lucky the company didn’t retaliate, but I would fine with it if they had. No regrets here.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Ding, ding, ding! Part of this was created by moving out of my home town at a time before Facebook, email, and the internet. Twenty-five years after high school, I saw my old best friend at a reunion. We clicked like it was ninth grade all over again. Shortly afterward, he moved, and I haven’t talked to him since.
When I had a serious (Danger. Grave danger? Is there any other kind? – Col. Jessep, A Few Good Men) cancer scare in 2004, I was touched by the number of contacts from people in my home town with whom I’d been out of touch. That said, now that the cancer episode is over, I’ve lost touch with many of them again.
Death bed regrets? Yes, I have some work to do here.
5. I wish I had let myself be happier.
From the article, “They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.”
And again, “When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.”
Like most of us, I’ve worried about money, my job, and if the kids would be okay. I’ve definitely worried about what other people think of me. When I thought I might die from cancer, the only thing I still worried about was if my kids would be okay. Mark Twain’s once said, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.“
The whole abrupt career switch is an admission that I need to be happier, and to create a life where I can be. Recently, I talked with my daughter, who told me, “Dad, I’m so glad you’re writing now. You seem so much happier.” That’s why I made the change. And I do feel happier. I was surprised she could see it. Deathbed regret? Only that I didn’t make the change sooner.
Bronnie’s article provides a great tool for examining your life. It’s one thing to give the article a quick run through, it’s quite another to write a few paragraphs about each of the five most common regrets. You should try it! And if you decide you need to do some reinventing, check out my post from earlier this week!