Bronnie Ware is an Australian Nurse who worked in palliative care, which is a holistic approach to caring for patients going through the last stages of their lives.
She often asked her patients about their biggest regrets in life. These were the top 5 responses, which she heard over and over:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. 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.
On the regret of working to hard, here are some things to think about:
- Life is filled with choices we make.
- If you are working too hard and not spending enough time with your family, is that a choice you have made, or is there something you can do about it?
- Often we work hard/long hours – 1) to ensure we keep climbing the corporate ladder 2) to earn more and 3) for the prestige that comes with the first two points.
- Are there any choices/changes you can make, which might lower your career trajectory, earnings and status but let you spend more time with your family? Are you willing to make those changes? Why or why not?
Think hard about this. You might die to regret it.