Regrets of the Dying (and other possibilities for life)


“One regret, dear world, 

That I am determined not to have 

When I am lying on my deathbed 

Is that I did not kiss you enough.” – Hafiz

regretful pose of sculpture against blue sky

If you could know the precise time and place of your death, would you want to know?

How would your life change?

Maybe you’ll think I’ve become obsessed with death, but if you did you’d be wrong. This is about becoming obsessed with the opposite – living life fully.

You see, yesterday I got word that an acquaintance passed away. He was not yet 50.

It was the kind of wake-up call that rattles complacency, and it rattled me more than I expected. I heard the news as a call to go deeper with my commitment to challenge ‘someday thinking’.

I didn’t ask for this path and it’s sure as hell not comfortable; the voice in my head shouting, “Who the hell do you think you are to shake things up?”

Somewhere along the way, without realizing at first, I became a waker.

That’s who I am. And I don’t always like it.

But resistance is futile as you probably know.

A waker, a cage-rattler, a warrior for you to step up and shine. Not much comfort on this path.

I call bullshit on your reasons and excuses. I challenge your status quo. And I rock the boat. . .often.

I will not settle for anything less.

Except when I do.

And it takes a serious reminder like illness and death to remind me of what I’m committed to, and what lights me up each day.

After I heard yesterday’s news, one question kept coming to mind…

If you died today what regrets would you have? 

That question went round and round in my mind until I got that’s where the work is – to move away from regrets and towards a life of satisfaction.

Making a difference for ourselves while we can.

In Regrets of the Dying, Bonnie Ware shared the wisdom that comes from knowing you are about to die and the common themes that arise near the end. Of course, the cosmic joke is we’re all going to die, we just don’ t know when.

Wake Up – There Are Other Possibilities for Life

I took these regrets, examining them more closely and here’s what showed up:

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

The most common regret of all and the reason I do what I do. Consuming yourself with the expectations and opinions of others is the fastest route to a life of regret. How can you start to break this one up?

“Bones mend. Regret stays with you forever.” – Patrick Rothfuss

Action: Ask yourself what one small action you can take every day. Then do that one thing before anything else.

Make it a promise. To yourself, to your dream, to the sacredness of your life. Then honour that promise, because your life depends on it. You do not have to die with unfulfilled dreams and this saddest of regrets.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard. 

Consider it’s not about working so hard, but rather the enjoyment you feel at your work. I’ve said this before, but work has gotten a bad rap. The key is to make sure your work has meaning for you, and the best way I know to get this is to be clear on your values.

Do you know what yours are? And if you do, do you honour them?

“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” – Mary Oliver

Action: Download this Values Alignment exercise to get clear.

Then start making more conscious choices. One value at a time, you can transform your life.

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

Self-expression is what’s called for, so the place to look is what’s in the way of you expressing? What are you so afraid of?

What is so bad about you and your thoughts that you can’t let them out?

Suppressed emotions lead to suppressed living. Kill me now if that’s the only choice. . .but thank God it’s not!

“When I look at my life I realise that the mistakes I have made, the things I really regret, were not errors of judgement but failures of feeling.” – Jeanette Winterson

Action: Start speaking your truth. Start small, practice daily.

Choose your words with integrity and feel the freedom of expressing yourself. Truth is most people are too busy worrying about what you’re thinking of them to spend any time thinking of you!

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

In a world so connected by technology, it’s easier than ever to disconnect and hide out. Maybe you don’t realize it at first, it can be slow and insidious.

It’s definitely a pitfall for those of us who are self-employed. One of the joys of the Summer Camp is witnessing the connections growing between the entrepreneurs in the program.

“The only regret I will have in dying is if it is not for love.” – Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

Action: Look for incompletions in your relationships.

Did you break your word? Clean it up. Disappear from someone’s life? Reconnect and open your heart. Stop trying so hard to protect yourself.

You’re missing out. . .on the best part of life.

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

This isn’t about depression and how it steals all resourcefulness. For those moments in life, it’s not a simple choice and I don’t dispute that one bit. It is though about the rest of your life when choice is a possibility.

Negative thinking patterns are just that, patterns. And it is possible to interrupt them, even those you’ve held your whole life. Not easy – but doable.

Part of the challenge of this regret is our obsession with getting rid of the old habit instead of creating a new one. Old patterns and beliefs are comfortable and familiar. Also soul-sucking.

“I want to live my life so that my nights are not full of regrets.” – D. H. Lawrence

Action: Check in with yourself. Ask “How do I want to feel?” every morning as you start your day.

Then again when you sit down to work. Then again when you reach out to connect.

How do you want to feel? This is without a doubt a question that will transform your life if you let it.

How do you want to feel? Playful, satisfied, happy. . .you get to choose, every single day.

Start saying something new. Create a new template, one that leaves no room for regrets.

“Maybe all one can do is hope to end up with the right regrets.” – Arthur Miller