Don’t have Regrets at the End of Your Life

regrets of the dyingI turned 59 in April. There’s nothing like a post-mid-life birthday to get you thinking about what you wish you’d done with your life to date…and hope to do before you die. I don’t want to have regrets when my time comes.

A few months ago, a friend told me to read The Top Five Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware. I bought the audiobook and soon found myself lost in the author’s lovely voice, stories, and emotion.

And I began to evaluate my life against the five regrets Ware described:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so much.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

As I reviewed my life to day against these regrets, which she collected over many years as a caregiver for the “dearly departing,” I found myself more and more upset. If I died tomorrow, I would regret all of these things!

Live a Life True to Myself

I was amazed to realize I was not—am not—living a life true to myself. Indeed, I have strayed far from the person I used to be or thought I would become.

No longer do I write because I feel a driving sense of purpose to do so—and to make a difference. I do it because it will help me build a career and earn an income. Not only that, I don’t write about the topics that led me down the path of authorship—metaphysics, spirituality, and personal development. Those were the books I set out to write…but I only write about those topics here on this blog. I have never finished the books on these topics nor gotten them published.

Not only that, I don’t spend my days in pursuit of my passions. It’s rare that I sit down and meditate, pull out my Tarot of Kabbalah cards, go for a long lazy bike ride, attend a spiritual or metaphysical class, or go horseback riding. I can’t remember when I last wrote a poem or read a book cover to cover in one sitting.

I’ve become someone else almost entirely. I can blame the fact that others “expected” me to be this person I’ve become, but I’ve only got myself to blame. I chose to conform, bend, and get along by being who and what others wanted. I decided to be someone else.

Since reading Ware’s book, I’m reading and meditating more. I’m horseback riding after a 14-year hiatus. I’m doing as much as I can to step back into the me I was before…and the me I’d hoped (still hope) to be. I’m courageously showing up as the self I want to become and not worrying about what anyone expects of me. Who they want me to be is none of my business, nor will I allow it to affect who I am as I move forward.

Work Less

I don’t remember ever thinking of myself as a workaholic…until the last 14 years. As my husband and I grew apart, one of the ways I sought his approval was through work. I would sit at my computer for just as many hours as he did, and he seemed to like this much better than me taking time off to go to the gym or for a bike ride during the day.

I worked all the time…just like him. And I forgot…just like him…what it was like to have hobbies and friends and to just sit on the beach and stare at the ocean.

And I began to feel burned out and to lose passion for my work…just like him. I went through the motions out of necessity not out of purpose.

But not any longer.

These days, I’m showing up at my desk later…or leaving it earlier. I don’t spend all weekend working, nor do I work until late into the night—unless I plan to sleep late and take the morning off.

Plus, I’ve focused my work on fulfilling my purpose, which is what I set out to do so many years ago. I’ve stopped letting someone else’s money issues influence how and why I work or other people’s ideas about what I should be doing affect my decisions. I began my career as a writer to make a difference—to produce writing that would have a positive and meaningful impact on readers. But I forgot that focus and, instead, focused on making money.

Now, I’m trying to break that habit and focus on fulfilling my purpose, contributing, and providing as much value as I can. This goes for my writing and my coaching work, too.

Additionally, I see my work not as a job but as a career, which is a different mindset entirely. And when I am at my desk, I’m not working; I’m fulfilling my purpose and being of service. I’m creating a legacy.

Express My Feelings

It’s amazing how much bottled up emotion one person can hold. There were so many things I never said to my husband, my children, my mother, my siblings, or my friends. Not any more.

All those bottled-up feelings weigh you down and make it impossible to be happy—truly happy. While speaking your mind might not have the positive results you desire—you might lose a few relationships—they free you to live fully and authentically.

I have two sisters. This last weekend I told one sister that I felt judged by her. I told my other sister that I felt it was challenging to be in relationship with her. In fact, I feel it’s difficult to be in relationship with anyone in our family. And I shared those sentiments with both sisters.

Two days ago I told my husband that his look of skepticism as I spoke about my business made it clear that he thought it impossible for me to achieve my goals. And, therefore, I would not share about this aspect of my life with him in the future.

Did any of these people like hearing my words. Not likely. Did I “like” saying them, not really, but doing so set me free. I don’t have to live jailed by the fear of what they will think of me if I speak up.

For years, I’ve kept my thoughts and emotions to myself around those most important to me because I wanted them to love me. All that did was make me love myself less.

Keeping your feelings to yourself isn’t worth it…not if you want to be happy.

Renew Old Friendships

Twenty-two years ago I left Atlanta, where I had lived for 10 years. While living there, I joined a women’s group that met weekly. It consisted of a few of my friends and friends of friends. Before long, all 12 of the other members were my besties.

And I’ve never found friends like them again…anywhere I’ve lived since. I’ve missed them dearly but only been in touch sporadically or when I would go back to visit them. (I think I’ve only visited three times in that period.)

Last year I began talking about having a Zoom meeting date with them monthly. But it didn’t happen. After reading The Top Five Regrets of the Dying I contacted them all again and set up the meeting. Now, my old friends are in my life again. Monthly we get to share our experiences and support each other. And I feel connected to them again but in a new—current—way.

This past week one of my college roommates reached out. We had a great chat via Facebook Messenger, and we now plan to get on Skype and talk.

I have newer friends that I only see occasionally. Most recently, I’ve been scheduling Zoom meeting with them, too—or I pick up the phone and call. It’s easy to get too busy to stay in touch, and I’m at fault of allowing this to happen more than almost anyone I know.

Life is lonely without friends, and sometimes it’s the old friends that make the most significant difference in our lives. I have a few high school friends I connect with sporadically, but I always say that there is a context to those relationships I’ll never have with newer friends. They knew me “when” and see who I’ve become “now.”

As far as I’m concerned, friends make your life fuller and happier. I’ve gone years and years without friends, and I felt lonely and happy. I refuse to do that any longer. If nothing else, I will turn on my video conferencing apps and connect with my friends long distance. But I will stay in touch with my friends.

I will not lie on my deathbed without on friendly face looking at me, smiling, holding my hand, and supporting me on my journey to the other side…not if I can help it.

Be Happy

For me, This might be the hardest regret to avoid. I remember my mom telling me I was always an unhappy child. I don’t remember that…at least not until after my father died when I was 7.

I recall happy moments and even happy times in my life. The period I first dated my husband was enormously happy. All the time I spent horseback riding and competing in horse shows felt happy. Writing has brought me endless hours of happiness, as has reading and attending spiritual and personal growth events. Being with my friends has always caused me joy. Of course, my children also brought—and bring—me much happiness. And my time on the beach at Cape San Blass…that was bliss.

But it can feel like a struggle to be happy—especially when your marriage is strained, money is tight, and your work does not result in the payoff you desire. It can feel hard to be happy when you don’t have close friends nearby, or you aren’t pursuing your passions.

Every day I write down the words that describe the type of person I want to be. One of them is joyous. I want to surpass happiness and feel real joy…daily. While I don’t meet that goal each day, I work toward it and feel more and more moments of joy as time goes on. Sometimes I have to end the day watching a funny YouTube video to feel happy, but if that’s what it takes, fine. It’s better than ending the day without a smile or a laugh.

And you know what? I refuse to let the unhappiness of those around me affect my own happiness. It’s so easy to allow someone else’s depression, anger, or sadness to bring you down. I’m not saying I won’t be compassionate, but I will shield myself from being dragged down to their level. I will protect my own happiness at all costs—and if I’m too happy for them to be around, so be it. And, if being around them makes it too hard to feel happy, I will opt out of the relationship.

I’ve spent way too much time during my 59 years feeling as if I must calibrate my own vibration with that of others—especially when theirs is lower than mine. I plan to calibrate with the vibration of those who are joyous and hope others will choose to vibrate at the at level with me.

It doesn’t matter if you are 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, or 80—or 95 like my mom. There is still time for you to ensure you die without the five top regrets Ware identifies in her book. But you have to take action now.

After all, none of us knows when we will take our last breath. You could die peacefully in your sleep at the age of 101, have a heart attack at 45 (like my dad), or get hit by a car as you walk across the street at age 25.

How you live now determines the regrests you hae at the end of life. When my time comes, I want to die without regrets. That’s a goal I’m working toward every moment of every day.

Do you think you’ll regret these things—or others—at the end of your life? Tell me in a comment below, and include your plan for avoiding the regrets.

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Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

7 thoughts on “Don’t have Regrets at the End of Your Life”

  1. Hi Nina,
    I’m glad you finally figured this all out and realigned your priorities and goals. Forty years ago, when I started selling my writing, people criticized me for not devoting all my time and energy to my family. Fortunately, I came across a line that basically said, ” Don’t pass up doing something that’s really important to you and have the decision become a big REGRET at the end of your life.” That was my klaxon call!
    I wrote almost every night at the kitchen table from 10p til 2a, which took no time from my family. The money I made helped enrich my family. I quickly saw that if my family basked in the glow of my writing efforts, I would have no regrets later on. My husband and kids liked telling their friends that I was a writer, that my stories were in the big daily, that I was asked to be on panel discussions and TV interviews, and that the TroyBilt people asked me to write a book on community gardening. TIME Magazine once called me for a quote. None of that would have happened if I’d just kept polishing the polish and denying myself what I really wanted…and needed to do.
    I’m still a do-it-all kind of gal, a healthy 77-yr. old. I do as I damn well please, spend my winters in Mexico, and am happy as a clam at high tide. And I’m still writing about what interests me to supplement my Social Security and modest investments. It’s my life.
    Continue to take back your life, Nina, and make up for some lost time that may not be lost after all. Your family is living their lives of choice.
    You do the same, Nina.
    All best wishes,
    Diane Young

  2. I think when it comes to regrets, above all else, we need to be a bit more forgiving to ourselves. Making mistakes, even if it be not doing something you think is good, which I believe is a major mistake, is something we should all learn to forgive. Nothing is worse than reaching a certain point in your life and finding out that you regret something so deeply to the point where it begins to haunt you like a shadow.

    I also believe it is a good idea to become more mindful individuals, because this is what will help us overcome the dreadful regrets of life.

  3. Nina, thank you for your honest self-reflection. You are very brave to share it.
    I am rapidly approaching 72 on May 1 and have been reflecting on what I have and haven’t accomplished. You have provided guidance and inspiration for me to proceed. This includes writing about a great uncle who should be famous but isn’t.
    My mother once said “sometimes forgetting is a blessing”. Maybe the best we can do is forget our past regrets and just move on. I feel that is good advice.
    Helping others, as you do, is a noble calling. It is one you have excelled at.

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