The Top Five Regrets of Dying

Shortly after I took up a role as Chairman of Ty Hafan back in 2011 I was sent a link to the work of Bronnie Ware who worked as a palliative care nurse in New Zealand. Having nursed hundreds of patients in the final stages of their lives she noticed common themes were evident when her patients spoke of their regrets.

In recent years I set out to reposition my own life – quite successfully as it happens, although that depends upon your own personal measure of success doesn’t it? It also depends upon when you are looking, if we are to embrace principles the five regrets. Bronnie Ware’s work was very much in my mind as I set off on my own journey, so thanks go to her and also to Mark Elliott at Pembrokeshire County Council who drew my attention to article in the Guardian about Ms Ware’s work.

I have never met Bronnie Ware – (Bronnie from this point) but I have shared her findings with most of the people I have mentored or advised in the last five years. Her five regrets of the dying rank alongside Stephen Covey’s seven habits of highly effective people as among the most significant influences in my adult life.

The five regrets usually make a significant impact on people when I first relate them, although like new year’s resolutions the impact isn’t always lasting. Truth is many of us don’t really have the will to make lasting transformational change. Some of us won’t be ready to make changes yet because it’s too early in the journey, and some of us will claim not to need to because life is just sooo great (I’m always suspicious of this crowd). Some of us are just too busy…. hmmm. I share Bronnie’s findings with you here and put my own interpretation on it to challenge you to do something only if you wish.

I add that much of Bronnie’s work was with elderly men, such was the nature of palliative care in New Zealand, so there is perhaps a male bias to these regrets. Regardless of whether they are gender specific or not I believe they are worth reading. I will also warn you that despite the possibly male bias there are no references to sex, fast cars, football or beer. I’d also say that there are more choices today than there were for the generation Bronnie nursed, so possibly it’s easier to change than it ever has been.

Regret 1.

I wish I had followed my dreams and done what I truly wanted.

This keeps on coming back. Do you want a life unfulfilled?

It’s time to look at what you are doing and ask yourself whether it’s what you really dreamed of doing. You don’t have to hate your job for this to resonate. It may be that you sort of like your job but you’re in a sector you don’t identify with, or even object to. Maybe it’s all just a bit “meh”.

Maybe you just wanted to play harmonica like little Walter or Sax like King Curtis – Be prepared to have a conversation with yourself, and then with the important people in your life about this. See also regret 3.

Regret 2

I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

This a key regret which surfaces with alarming regularity. When faced with your own mortality all that time at the office seems wasted.

I am fed up with hearing middle aged executives confessing that they missed their kids’ sports day or the nativity play, or they neglected time with their wife because of work pressures. Stop apologising and do something about it. We choose the life we have. There’s too much “presenteeism” and bowing down to corporate cultures that are frankly unhealthy. Whether you work for yourself or someone else it ultimately doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. A simplified life is often far more rewarding financially as well as spiritually.

If you own your own business work  on your succession plan NOW and recognise that the cost to your business can give you a more balanced life relatively free of regrets.

Regret 3

I wish I had expressed my feelings more often

This is a big one for the fellas particularly – but for some of my female clients too. We’ve all been there. While tact and diplomacy are undoubtedly important qualities silence is not always the best policy, particularly in close relationships.

I can remember many occasions in my early career when I would beat myself up for failing to say what really needed to be said at work. Corporate life does this to you, and let’s be honest – the boss is always right isn’t he / she? Learn to have difficult conversations in the right way and do it early. Focus on the right speech and maintain your politeness.

In your personal life tell someone what you feel. Tell your kids you are proud of them, tell your partner you love them – and keep doing it. Don’t hold back.

Share your problems with someone who can just listen or give you good advice, but be honest with yourself about what you feel.

Regret 4

I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends

It strikes me that women seem to do so much better on this one. Don’t kid yourself that the people you work with or for are necessarily your real friends. Do you see your lawyer or accountant socially just because he gives you referrals? Do you really feel at home socialising with the boss, or with your direct reports? Do you have 900 plus friends on Facebook?

Few of us make really good friends in later life. While it’s truly great if that happens, don’t neglect old friendships. Pick up the phone and call – evidence shows you won’t regret it.

Regret 5

I wish I had made more time in my life for nonsense and laughter

We do take ourselves so seriously don’t we? Well of course we do, we are quite important people by now, and gravitas is such a desirable quality in a business environment isn’t it? Anyway – If I’m seen to be a little silly it threatens my air of authority, and therefore my sense of self-worth – my very identity.  There’s no room for nonsense or laughter.

Well, I disagree. Some of the most challenging working environments have a great sense of humour. That’s the way we deal with many of the daily challenges that would otherwise derail us mentally or physically.

There is big difference between taking your work seriously and taking yourself seriously. Challenge yourself to lighten up – particularly if you are fortunate enough to be able to set the tone for others. Wear shorts to work, or flip flops to a board meeting, dye your hair if you can live with it for a few weeks. Don’t laugh at anyone other than yourself and laugh with others when they laugh at you.

It won’t undermine your importance, only your self importance.

So – how are you doing on the 5 regrets, and what are you going to do about it? Good luck.

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