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Effective Leadership Retirement

Top 5 Deathbed Regrets (And How to Avoid Them)

We’re all going to die.

Morbid subject, right?  Since we’re all going to end up there, isn’t it worth spending some time thinking about it, especially when we still have time to make changes?  Isn’t there value in learning from those who have gone before, to avoid making the same mistakes?

A while back, I read an article in Business Insider, and it’s stuck with me ever since. It’s an article about Bronnie Ware, an Australian palliative care nurse, who recorded her experiences with dying patients. She said folks gain “phenomenal clarity of vision” at the end of their lives, and common themes surfaced again and again from folks in their final days.

Deathbed Regrets

Here then are the Top 5 Regrets, followed by my personal thoughts on how you can avoid having the same regret at the end of your life. 

1.  I wish I’d have the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

The #1 regret.  Interesting. I struggle a bit with what this means, but suspect it reflects the regret of not achieving personal dreams.   Perhaps it indicates the feeling that people have sacrificed their own personal dreams for the sake of others?

How to avoid this regret:  Focus now on what you want to achieve in your life.  Communicate with your spouse, agree on your priorities.  Carve out space for both your individual goals, as well as your goals as a couple.  Address expectations up front, and make a plan to achieve your highest priorities.  Take time alone to understand what “true to myself” means, then be firm on your convictions.

2.  I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

Men – this one’s aimed at you, as Bonnie claims “this came from every male patient that I nursed” (though she also noted it’s surfacing more with younger woman, who are facing the same regret as “dual income” becomes more the norm).  Can you imagine – EVERY man she talked with in their dying days had regrets that they had the wrong focus on their priorities during their working careers.  Learn from this.

How to avoid this regret: Prioritize life outside work, now. Take time to go to your children’s activities. Take a day off for your wife’s birthday. Recognize that work, in reality, is not as important as it feels on a daily basis. I know, I know you’ve got a million reasons why you can’t take tomorrow off. There’s that huge deadline (which, by the way, will mean nothing 2 years from now). Fine. You’ll end up with the same regret as every other man on earth. Do you really want that? Change your priorities. Make a personal decision to change your priorities. Retire early. Enjoy life.

3.  I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.

This one’s difficult. We often hide our true feelings to protect feelings, to keep peace. There’s a place for that, but it’s often overdone. When bitterness and regret result from our feelings towards others, but we say nothing, we’ve gone too far. Be aware of the trade off of keeping your feelings to yourself.

How to avoid this regret:  In love, preceded by prayer, communicate with compassion. Listen as much, or more, than you talk. But don’t keep all of your feelings inside on issues that are important to you. Balance this with the need to keep peace, but be conscious of your decision.

4.  I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

“Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver, the other gold” comes to my mind as I write this. More important than material wealth (which, importantly, did NOT make the Top 5 list!) are our relationships. Make them a priority in your life.

How to avoid this regret: Be intentional with your relationships. On my personal “bucket list”, I’ve created a “Relationship” bucket, and am trying to capture specific actions to maintain and strengthen relationships. Don’t overlook the importance of friends. Make time for them.  We all know “self-absorbed” people, who seldom focus on life beyond their own concerns. Don’t be one of these people.  Be generous, be giving. Put others ahead of yourself. Be a friend.

5.  I wish that I had let myself be happier.

“Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice”, said Bronnie.

How to avoid this regret:  Make a personal choice to be happy.  Happiness comes from within, it’s a choice. In my VERY FIRST POST  I talk about my personal decision to be content.  In it, I write the definition of contentment as a  noun  a state of happiness and satisfaction. Only you can choose this one for yourself. Choose wisely.

So, there you have it. The Top 5 Regrets. Ponder them, then decide for yourself if you’re willing to take action now to avoid the same mistakes in your life.

You won’t regret it.

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