How to Die With No Regrets
You’re flat on your back under a fluorescent light that flickers on and off. Either side are machines that monitor your vital signs through various wires and occasional beeps. Clothed in a gown that rides up uncomfortably and encased in stiff cotton sheets, you’re surrounded by family and friends who stare awkwardly about the room. Your final day has arrived.
How do you feel in these last fragile moments? Did things turn out the way you'd hoped? What are you most proud of? Are you grateful for the adventure that’s now coming to a close? What would you change, give the chance?
Much has been said about the reflections and musings of those who are dying.
In her years working in palliative care, respected author and speaker, Bronnie Ware, noted common themes amongst her patients as they reconciled themselves with their last few weeks on Earth. When asked what they regretted, or what they'd have done differently, these were the most common responses.
- I wish I’d had the courage to live life true to myself, not what others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. (This one was very common with the men.)
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Stripped of others' expectations, their thoughts turned to what truly mattered. For many, it was the first and only time they would confront these thoughts head-on.
And when all was said and done, financial matters didn't even rate, apart from setting their affairs in order.
Building a business is a worthy achievement, and so is making the most of your talents to achieve good things for you and your family. It all has its place. But the measure of your life and the value ascribed to it comes from deep within, judged by you and you alone. It's up to each of us to define our purpose and to live our lives honouring it.
For the longest time now, I've made a conscious choice to define my life as no different to a hugely exciting gift – the kind you dream about as a kid and wait months to receive. Given the unlikelihood of being born (400-trillion-to-one), how could you define it any other way? Approached this way, life becomes magical, whimsical, and fascinating.
As Alan Watts so eloquently explained, “We don't dance to reach a destination. The point of dancing is the dance.”
And so it is with life.
Gratitude Changes Everything
For me, a turning point in my life came when I discovered the importance of simply being grateful. It occurred one stormy night as I lay in bed, with the wind howling and the rain lashing my window in violent and random bursts. Lightning flashed, and the cannon fire of thunder rolled on for hours.
For some reason, the picture of a fishing trawler came to mind. I imagined those on board being tossed around like a cork on an angry sea, fearing a rogue wave that could put them under in seconds. I imagined they were terrified.
My bed was warm and dry, and my roof didn’t leak. Protected by bricks and timber and steel, I was about safe as I could be, and the contrast of these two images filled me with an immense sense of gratitude. Consciously I vowed to remember this moment. To remember that there’s always somebody worse off.
Those who are struggling will think this point moot, but it’s incumbent on us to be grateful for our good fortune, no matter how relative it is or how tenuous the comparison. I believe it’s essential, actually. Practising gratitude is proven to benefit our lives in so many ways – physically, mentally, and even financially. While it’s important to strive for great things, it’s equally important to be thankful for what we already have.
As far as I’m concerned, peace of mind is King and contentment its Queen. Neither advocates laziness or an absence of ambition, but they encourage us to recognise and acknowledge what we’ve already achieved and to draw satisfaction from the paths we’ve chosen and the actions we've taken.
They allow us to feel gratitude for challenges that come our way – even the ones that nearly break us. Because we grow from the experience, and we become better people.
I feel grateful now for the financial hell I went through several years ago. If it hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have learned and grown the way I did, and I probably wouldn’t have created the life I enjoy today. Having said that, the absence of that hell would have been just as appealing; it’s just that I've chosen to be grateful for the outcomes it produced.
This is why defining your purpose is so important. It helps you make deliberate choices about what’s important in life. It informs your decisions whenever forks appear in the road, and it gives you a compass to navigate the long game with dignity and grace.
Most importantly, it lets you define your own measure of success, to set it out on your terms. So that when that last day arrives, having known and followed your purpose, you will die beautifully, peacefully and with no regrets.
Blog Posts That Might Help
The Tools I Personally Use and Recommend
Books for Entrepreneurs in the New Economy
Choose Yourself – James Altucher
James's unique perspective on life, wealth, business and employment is an eye-opener. A brilliant mind.
Do the Work: Overcome Resistance and Get Out of Your Own Way – Steven Pressfield
Steven forces us to face a simple truth: it's not about better ideas, but rather, actually doing the work.
The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything – by Sir Ken Robinson
Sir Ken is a remarkable thinker in the areas of education and nurturing one's innate talents. His TED talk is incredible and has been watched almost 43 million times.
Thanks for stopping by and I hope we get to hang out more in the future. And in the meantime, please feel free to share your own experiences. You can email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I respond to all emails. If this was beneficial to you, please consider subscribing and sharing with someone you think would also benefit.
Disclaimer & Disclosure: I'm not a psychologist, and I'm not a financial advisor's elbow. This material doesn't constitute financial advice but rather a collection of personal opinions, based on my own experiences. Some of the links on my site are affiliate links, which means that if you make a purchase, I will earn a small commission. This commission comes at no additional cost to you. I provide links to services or products I have used and liked or researched and recommend. Please do not spend any money on these products unless you believe they will be beneficial to you.
Also published on Medium.