A Life of No Regrets: How to Avoid the Top Five Regrets of the Dying

sunset-surferI wrestled with the title for this blog post. My nature is to keep things light and leaning in a positive direction. But then I decided to go for impact.

Early on I made a pledge to myself and to my readers that I will write from the heart in order for you to wake up inspired and fall asleep fulfilled because you’re fearlessly giving your gifts to the world.

And sometimes that means taking a serious look at where you are in the process of becoming the best version of yourself.

So on with today’s topic…

When we are no longer young, what will we be most proud of?

When we are in the latter part of our life, what will we wish we would have accomplished?

Right before we take our last breath, will we be at peace knowing that we lived a full life with few regrets?

These are big questions, no doubt. But these are the types questions that I encourage everyone to ask themselves as often as possible.

Most of us spend at least some time trying to figure out how best to live, so that when the time comes to die we can do so without regrets.

I love the following quote from Wayne Dyer’s movie, The Shift.

“Do not die with your music still inside you”

This quote came from a scene in the movie where Wayne has a powerful realization and literally writes a note to himself that says “Dear Wayne, Do not die with your music sill inside you”.

You can view the one-and-a-half minute scene here.

What is the music inside of you that yearns to be expressed?

If you are not living your life exactly the way you want, why not? I realize that there is a ‘waking up’ phase for many people. I was one of them.

I spent many years after college just going through the motions and doing what I thought was expected of me. This involved many years of sitting in a cube and selling computer systems and software to companies that I didn’t really care about.

After while I began to wonder if this was really all there was to life.

I began to wonder if my deepest purpose was spending my most productive hours doing ‘meaningless’ things for other people.

I began to wonder if life was just about buying a house and filling it with stuff. And then buying two cars. And then buying a two week vacation to escape the insanity of it all.

I began to wonder if there wasn’t something else.

Something better.

Something more meaningful.

And that is what led me to the very deliberate act of getting a job that was a better fit for my lifestyle, so that I could begin pursuing things that I wanted to do outside of my day job.

And that is what led me to starting this blog.

And to begin exploring the things I really love to do.

And to begin experimenting with ways that I can earn a living doing something that matters. Something that excites me. Something that I can’t not do.

The only time it makes sense to do a job for the money.

I loved a recent blog post from Danielle LaPorte that stated there’s only one good time that working only for money makes sense.  And this is when you have a light at the end of the tunnel and an unwavering commitment to yourself to transition into doing work that lets you be more of who you truly are.

Amen!

Doing a job for the money is a lot easier when your Soul can see the bigger picture.

But isn’t the money important?

Of course money is important. But don’t let it drive you to do work that you don’t enjoy. That will eventually lead to an unhappy ending.

There is real scientific and medical proof that doing work you don’t enjoy will actually shorten your lifespan.

Lissa Rankin M.D. just stated in her newly published book that “It’s not just early death that work stress can cause. A recent study found that disenchanted, burned out employees developed heart disease at a 79% higher rate than those who liked their job”.

The entire focus and direction of this blog is about creating both money and meaning in your life. It’s one of the most debated subjects out there right now. Should I get a job even if I don’t fully enjoy it or should I do what I love?

Why not have both? It’s completely possible by taking steps towards creating a life you desire and having the persistence and patience to make it happen.

Into the Wind

I’m reading a fantastic book right now called Into the Wind’. It’s a true story about a guy that begins questioning the status quo and decides to do something about it. He opts out of a college basketball scholarship and leaves behind his previous life to wander the world and prove that we can find our dreams by following our heart.

Our culture would generally classify this guy as irresponsible and say that he’s throwing away a great opportunity in return of an uncertain future. But what he ends up finding is his true self. He literally has to remove himself from his familiar surroundings to understand that his true destiny can be reached by looking deep within himself.

The biggest gamble of all.

One of the important realizations of Jake Ducey, the author of ‘Into the Wind’, is that many of us are expected to take a huge gamble.

“Most of us are busy gambling on the most dangerous risk of all – living our whole life not doing what we want on the bet that we can buy the freedom to do it later”.

How many times have you been told that all you need to do is to go get a good job, make a lot of money, put it into a 401K and then everything will work out. And after 40 years of doing this, then you can go and do what you want.

Um…is it just me or does this seem like a really flawed idea?

We will all get old (hopefully!)

As we grow older, we gain not just wrinkles and grey hair but knowledge and wisdom gained from experience. You can’t log several decades on this little blue ball without seeing a lot, hearing a lot, and picking up plenty of emotional scar tissue. Along the way you develop not just perspective but understanding.

A life fully lived is one that has had its fair share of triumphs and failures, temptations, traumas, disappointments, false friends, and broken hearts. Once we reach a certain age we have discovered – usually through trial and error – what works and what doesn’t. We have a better sense of what’s valuable and enduring – and what isn’t. We may even have a few thoughts on how to grow older gracefully.

As we grow older, we gain a frame of reference unavailable to our younger selves.

Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse, worked several years in palliative care, and routinely spent the last three to 12 weeks of her patients’ lives with them. She listened to their stories and recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, which she later compiled into a book call ‘The Top Five Regrets of the Dying’. According to her, these were her patients’ greatest regrets:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. Wow, a biggie and, as it turns out, the single most common regret. Ware found that many folks get caught up in what well-meaning parents, children, spouses, mentors or bosses want for them. Consequently, they found it impossible – as Joseph Campbell put it – to follow their bliss. Little is more important than finding your own path – and accepting the responsibilities and obligations that come with it. However, it can take courage and determination to overcome the expectations of family, co-workers or “society.” The dying remind us that our time here is shorter than we think. Health grants us the freedom to pursue our dreams. Once it’s gone, we lose the ability to live the life that we’ve imagined.
  2. I wish I didn’t work so hard. I know what Ware is saying here but I wish she’d phrased it differently. Many people find meaning, purpose and even a sense of identity in their work. It often leads to a feeling of earned success. Hard work can be one of life’s great satisfactions, especially if it provides you with an opportunity to express your talents. So I would venture that working hard is not what the dying regret but rather working too much and losing balance in their lives. Workaholics often sacrifice so much for so little. A simpler, less materialistic lifestyle, for instance, enables shorter working hours, greater freedom and more leisure.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. This isn’t the case with everyone, of course. I’ve known people who have never had an unspoken thought. But others go through life with their opinions and emotions bottled up inside, often just to keep the peace. This is not only frustrating, it makes the individual feel like he or she is living a lie. Ware points out that, while you can’t control the reactions of others, speaking honestly either raises a healthy relationship to a higher level or eliminates an unhealthy one. Either way, you win.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. As we go through life, we never stop making new acquaintances. But, in my experience, true friends are irreplaceable. These are the men and women who have known us longer and better than anyone… yet choose to hang out with us anyway. However, even lifelong friendships fade with inattention or neglect. And near the end of our lives, it may not be possible to find them.
  5. I wish I had let myself be happier. It’s sad how many people only realize at the end of their lives that happiness is an inside job – an attitude – not a particular set of circumstances or what we own. Worry and regret can poison a life and diminish the only time you have to be happy: right now. For it is always the present moment.

Why listen to the elderly or the dying? Because it is an excellent way of getting the wisdom of experience in advance.

We don’t hesitate to listen to a CPA about advice on our taxes. Doesn’t it make sense to listen to the wisdom of people that are at the end of their lives?

With each day – each passing hour – our future grows shorter. That’s why it’s essential to determine who and what are most important to us.

Life is short. Let’s make the most of it!

– Michael

P.S. I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Leave a comment if you feel inspired.

 

4 thoughts on “A Life of No Regrets: How to Avoid the Top Five Regrets of the Dying

  1. Alissa leeper

    So well done! Perfectly put! I am inspired! Also, reminds also of “Tuesdays with Morrie”…

    Reply
    1. Michael Knouse Post author

      Alissa – thanks for the comment! I always appreciate hearing from others. Life is short so we certainly owe it to ourselves to live it in the most inspiring way possible!

      – Michael

      Reply
  2. Johnny Emerson

    I just walked away from a suit and and tie corporate job because I had the “moment” I haven’t worn dress socks in 2 weeks, trading shoes for sandles, and I walk my dogs and I have picked up my paint brushes again. A happier man I could not be. Do I need a source of income? Sure. But I will do it in a way that makes my heart sing. Thank you for this!

    Reply
    1. Michael Knouse Post author

      Hey Johnny – thanks for sharing! Ahhh…you experienced the ‘moment’! The ‘moment’ will show up over and over until we ‘get it’. And so many people don’t recognize the ‘moment’. So congratulations on listening to your intuition and allowing your creative genius to flourish.

      I just love hearing your words “But I will do it in a way that makes my heart sing.” Reminds me of something Mark Twain once said…”the more enjoyment you get out of your work, the more money you will make.”

      Best to you my friend!
      – Michael

      Reply

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