How to Avoid Living a Life you Regret

by Joe Barnes

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Inspiration

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Date: Apr 6, 2019

How to Avoid Living a Life you Regret

In 2009, Bronnie Ware wrote a blog post about her experiences as a palliative nurse. She worked caring for patients during the last twelve weeks of their lives and made note of their most common regrets. 

This blog post went viral, gaining over a million views in a year and landing her a book deal. Her book, ‘The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying’, sells well to this day and, in this blog post, I’m going to explore these regrets, offering you solutions for how to avoid missing out on what’s most important in life.

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

“This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing it was due to choices they had made, or not made.”
 
Throughout our lives, we have two voices vying for our attention. The first, is our inner voice. This speaks to us through the language of dreams, desires and deep emotions. It urges us to pursue the people and activities that we feel most passionate about or fascinated by.  
 
The second, is societies voice. This speaks to us through the language of expectations and commonly held beliefs. It urges us to conform. 
 
Typically, the second voice is stronger and more prevalent than the first. However, if you don’t want to end up with the strongest regret of all, then you must learn to silence it. 
 
What is your heart telling you to do? Leave your job? Or, start working on your dream so you can build up towards leaving your job?
 
Perhaps it’s telling you to leave a relationship? Maybe, you’re staying in a relationship because you don’t want other people to say you’re selfish for leaving? Or, maybe, you need to pursue a relationship that, up until now, you haven’t had the courage to initiate.
 
Whatever the case, start making decision based on what your heart is telling you. 
 
Amazing things happen when you do. 
 
Nelson Mandela was born into the Thembu tribe in 1918. Although considered a third-class citizen in his country, within his tribe, he was in a relatively privileged position. Taken under the wing of the tribes King, he had his education paid for and was set for a life of being a royal advisor. However, as Nelson was exposed to the wider world, and became of aware of the horrendous injustices that were occurring in his country, he could no longer ignore the call of his inner voice.
 
His heart told him to fight apartheid. During a 50 year struggle he sacrificed his freedom, time spent with his family and a relatively wealthy and harm free life as a royal advisor, to pursue what he believed was right. Ultimately, he played a major role in liberating a nation because he resisted the expectations of his tribe and royal guardian.
 
Of course, taking such a bold step is not without consequence. However, whenever you feel the pressure of your parents, friends and bosses causing you to question your decision, just remember they don’t have to deal with the fallout of regret.
 
YOU are the one who is going to wake up 30 years from now and have to explain to yourself why you chose to ignore your inner voice. They either won’t be around or will have completely forgotten the hassle they gave you. You can’t escape yourself!
 

Regret Number 2: I Wish I hadn’t Worked so Hard

“This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. . . All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.”

 

 

Take a look at the picture above. If you work an employed role, in a non-executive position, this might accurately depict your current situation. 

Why are you working so hard? Beyond the need to put food on your table, which is totally understandable, why are you busting your balls for a job that would replace you within a week? 

Is it a misguided sense of loyalty? Is it societal conditioning, making you think you’re a slacker if you don’t work beyond your contracted hours?

Why do you do it?

If the reason is anything other than necessity or because you love your work, then start cutting back.

  • Refuse to work beyond your contracted hours (at least on a regular basis).
  • Perhaps consider finding a job where you only work 30 hours a week.
  • Perform your role in a freelance capacity so you can be in charge of your time.
  • Use the Gig economy to mix and match jobs so you have a healthy amount of free time.

You may think these suggestions are naive, and that financial and work practise necessities won’t allow for such freedom, but what choice have you got?

Would you rather end up on your death bed, regretting spending 40 to 50 hours a week of pretty much your entire adult life being somewhere you didn’t want to be, doing things you didn’t want to do?

 

Regret Number 3: I wish I’d had the Courage to Express my Feelings  

“Many people supressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”

Don’t keep it locked inside. Whether it’s at work, in a relationship or creatively, you must express yourself.

This might mean telling your team you have an idea for a new product or that you think a campaign should go in a new direction. It might mean telling your boss you’re not happy about a situation.

In a relationship, it might mean expressing your love for another person without fear they’ll reject you. Or, it could mean expressing something you’re not happy about without fear of offending them.

There might be things you want to say and create. Maybe you have a message to share with the world but are afraid how people will react to it. Perhaps there’s a product you want to build, or a picture you want to paint, but are concerned it might fail. 

Whatever the case, and in whatever the situation, do not fear the consequences. Far worse than ridicule or rejection, is the possibility of illness or loss of spirit.

Bronnie Ware mentions that, ‘Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried.’  Cortisol, the stress hormone, has been linked with a multitude of illnesses and conditions from hyperglycaemia to supressed thyroid function and high blood pressure. 

On top of that, nobody loves a bland personality. Sure, they might leave you alone and think you’re ok, but to trigger deeper emotions, you must stand for something and be willing to express it. Just look at Muhammad Ali, never afraid to express his feelings and opinions, he went from being vilified to universally loved. 

 

Regret Number 4: I Wish I had Stayed in Touch with my Friends

“Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years.” 

Why do we lose touch with our friends? To answer that question, we must look at where most people spend their time and what they prioritise.

The average working week in the UK is 42 hours and 18 minutes. That’s not all, though, as you can expect an average commute of nearly an hour a day. 

When we’re not working or commuting, if we’re married, it’s likely we’re spending time with our family. Where we once lived in tribes, villages or communities, The System is driving us into ever smaller family units. We have our husband or wife, our one to three children and that’s it. The old saying, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ no longer applies. Time spent apart from the family is viewed as selfish and, as a result, we must give up our friends and pastimes. 

To find a solution to this regret, you must fight societies conditioning and rethink current ways of working and living. Perhaps working longer, in attempt to get wealthier, isn’t the answer. Maybe spending more time with your family, in an attempt to appear selfless, isn’t either.

What would happen if you worked less and focused more on your quality of life? And, would your relationship actually improve if you spent less time with your significant other and more time engaged in soul enriching activities like seeing friends, travelling and hobbies? 

You have a choice. If you want to create a new societal norm then you must take stand. The status quo is maintained because of apathy and acquiescence. Start saying ‘no’ and it gives others permission to do the same. 

 

Regret Number 5: I Wish that I had let Myself be Happier 

“This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice.” 

Avoid a ‘I’ll be happy when . . .’ mentality. I’ve met people who won’t allow themselves to be happy because they haven’t got a job. Sometimes, I don’t allow my happiness to flow as freely because I’m not yet a bestselling author and, am so focused on that goal, I forget what’s important in life. 

For you, it might be because you’re not in a relationship or because you don’t have children. You might be a perfectionist and find it hard to be happy unless everything in your life is perfect (good luck with that one!). 

Whenever I lose sight of the fact that happiness is a choice, I remind myself of a Tyler Durden quote, “This is the greatest moment of your life and you’re off somewhere missing it.”  

All you have is right now! This moment. That’s it. If you can’t be happy with it then what makes you think, two or three years down the line when you achieve the goal you imagine your happiness is dependent upon, you will be then? You won’t. You’ll just be looking for a new goal to achieve or circumstance you imagine is blocking your happiness to be put right.

Break out of this cycle. You don’t want to look back on your life and realise there was nothing preventing you from being happy. What could you experience and achieve today if you live with that knowledge? 

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(image taken from RedJinn photostream flickr.com)

 
 

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