Isn’t it interesting that thinking about our mortality can be beneficial for leading a healthy, constructive life? It provides perspective and can help us focus on how precious, precarious and short our lives are.   

Posted in my office is a sign reading, “What I do today is important because I’m exchanging a day of my life for it.” Every day I’m reminded that life is temporary. This encourages me to live boldly with less fear, with more intention and kindness.

I was forced to consider my mortality during my first job at 22 years old. I was the leader in a 12-bed intensive care unit where I dealt with life and death every day. Fortunately, you can learn about the importance of priorities, values, regrets and death through the experience of others. There’s a Chinese proverb, “To know the road ahead, ask those coming back.” 

An Australian nurse, Bronnie Ware, wrote an international bestselling book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, about hospice patients’ regrets during the final weeks of their lives. Note that in this list of regrets, there is no mention of physical beauty, status or revenge among them. As you review these lessons from these dying patients, contemplate which of these lessons you want to incorporate in your life going forward.

The 5 Most Common Regrets

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,” Ware writes. “When people realize 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 honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.” 

I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

“All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.” This is true of many women, too. Many people regret spending so much time on making a living versus making a life. 

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

“Many people suppressed 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.”

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 their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved.”

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. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content.”

Now what? 

Imagine a conversation with an older version of yourself who is reviewing your life. How will you answer these questions?

It may be time to have a serious conversation with yourself. What do you really want to do that you have not done? Who do you want to include in your life journey – perhaps a relative, an old friend, a favorite mentor? Is it time to make amends with an old friend where there has been conflict? Is it time to take that dream trip? Is it time to spend less time with people who make you feel inferior and not valuable? Is it time to show your true gifts and talents to the world despite being afraid of being judged? Is it time to be happy?

Dr. Susan Murphy is a best-selling author, business consultant and speaker in relationships, conflict, leadership, and goal-achievement. She is co-author of LifeQ: How To Make Your Life Your Most Important Business and In The Company of Women. She can be reached at [email protected]

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Comments (2)

  • Patricia Clark

    Dear Dr. Murphy,
    Always when you focus on an important issue you explain it so well. Thanks for your inspiration and friendship.
    With love,

  • Dr. Susan Murphy

    Dear Patty,
    Thank you so much for your thoughtful and generous comment. I am inspired when people I care about find my work worthwhile and important. This article seems to have hit a chord – I’m making changes to my own life, too, so I can prevent regrets later.
    I appreciate you.
    Respectfully, Susan


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