Live a Life Today That Doesn’t Allow for Regrets Tomorrow
― Kurt Vonnegut
On a recent episode of Modern Family, while eyeing a Porsche for sale, Phil’s neighbor jokes, “You never see a person on their death bed saying ‘I wish I’d been more practical.”
All levity aside, when we finally do reach the end of the road, most of us hope we’ll be able to reflect on a life well lived, full of accomplishment, family, friends, fond memories, and love.
The choices we make today will inform how we feel then. Taking some time out now to contemplate what we can do in the present can help us change that future for the best, and allow us to live out our days peacefully and regret free.
Bronnie Ware, an inspiring caregiver who worked in palliative care with those close to the end, questioned her patients during their last days, asking them to share with her their regrets in life. The resulting answers are powerful, and allow us a unique perspective to consider when it comes to our own lives.
I wish I’d had the courage to live life true to myself, not what others expected of me.
Not following your heart or your dreams, and living instead in a way that is expected of you is, by far, the most common regret of all, according to Ware. Unfulfilled dreams, chances not taken, and choices not made will stay with you until the end.
I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
Hard work is important, and you’ll likely not achieve any of your goals without it. But incessant work, to the detriment of other areas of your life (family, friends, hobbies) will not only drain you in the present, it will leave you regretful in the future. Take time to enjoy the fruits of your labor, and enjoy it with those you love.
In Startup Life, Brad Feld advises entrepreneurs to spend 10% of the proceeds of a financial windfall on something frivolous. After all, what really is the point of accumulating capital if you never derive pleasure from it?
I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
People, in general, tend to suppress feelings and keep their mouths shut in the interest of keeping the peace with others. Whether it is negative (like letting someone know that you don’t like how you’ve been treated by them) or positive (especially those all important, three little words, “I love you”), getting these emotions off of your chest allow the other person to become a part of the equation, and this honesty can bring your relationships to new levels.
I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.
Ware says “everyone misses their friends when they’re dying.” While it’s often so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, and much more difficult to make the time, old friendships keep us connected to our past like nothing else can. Through a shared experience, the closeness with friends that we cultivate is one of a kind. Keeping in touch with these important relationships makes you happier and links you to your past as you move into the future.
I wish I’d let myself be happier.
Happiness is a choice, and the sooner we figure that out, the better off we’ll be. So often, happiness exists around the corner: once I’m married, I’ll be happy. When I get my business to 7 figures, I’ll be happy. Happiness exists all around us every day, if we just make the time to acknowledge it and let it in. Stop searching for happiness just around the river bend; it’s already with you. You only need to embrace it.
I never pursued my dreams and aspirations.
Fear of change can be a huge barrier to our own dreams, whether we realize it or not. By simply accepting things as they are, and as unchangeable, we’re really just refusing to leave the level of comfort that the known provides. By embracing the change and the unknown, we can fully explore our dreams, and really reach for the stars.
I didn’t make enough time for the people I love and care for.
Getting caught up in our work, our bills, our responsibilities, and our chores can make for a full schedule, but in the end, an unfulfilling one. After all, for whom are you working so hard, anyway? Your family and friends surely appreciate all of your efforts, but would likely appreciate some quality time with you even more. Slow down, clear out some space, and create some real memories with the ones you love.
I wish I’d seen more of the world, its people, and its cultures.
People often underestimate the power that travel can have on one’s life. Experiencing another culture will open your eyes, your heart, and your senses in a way that nothing else will. Travel is often looked at as frivolous, or is confined to vacation time. Travel will give you a new perspective that will carry over into all the other areas of your life, and provide you with amazing memories to boot.
I wish I’d explored and expressed my creativity.
Your creativity runs deep, whether you realize it or not. Giving it some air and exploring creative pursuits is oft ignored, but important for your soul. In the end, you’ll also leave behind not only memories, but also concrete reminders of your creative pursuits, which will become cherished by your family and friends.
I wish I’d healed broken relationships.
Forgiveness. Letting go. It’s easy to say, but much more difficult in practice. But by holding on to old insults and fights, the only one you’re really damaging is you. Step away from ego, say “I’m sorry,” and open up a dialog with those relationships that need repairing. Even if the end result remains parting ways for good, you’ll have come to an understanding and will be heading down that path peacefully and on the same page, instead of sitting still and looking down the unvisited path to resolution for the rest of your life.