My Aunt’s funeral is this week, and as you can imagine that sort of thing makes you think a little more about the prospect of your own death and what you have done with your life. It makes you wonder how not to regret your life.
Coincidentally, I was listening to an old Fizzle podcast about How to Stay Motivated when you are running your own business, and they mentioned Regrets of the Dying written by Bonnie Ware, a one-time palliative care nurse (the kind of that cares for you as you die). In her post, she discusses the top five regrets expressed by the people she cared for, so I’m going to turn them around and look at how you can live a full and happy life and die without regret.
Live the life you want (not the one others think you should have)
The biggest regret people die with, is that they did not follow their dreams – they took the safe option. When you get sick it’s too late, you’ve lost your opportunity to follow your dreams forever.
My Aunt followed her dream into nursing, and she followed her dream through the prison system, Africa and corporate life. She chose her career every day and continued to develop her skills over time, even maintaining her credentials past her retirement because she was a nurse. (and you never know)
I came to live my dream late because when I was young I allowed myself to be persuaded that writing couldn’t be a career, but here I am writing books and living the dream. I am so fortunate that my transplant has given me this second chance to live the life I want, I could so easily have been on my own deathbed regretting the life I allowed to be imposed on me. And if you have been reading along, you know that I have spent the last year implementing Project Worthwhile Life in an attempt to live a life that I think is worthwhile.
You have the opportunity to follow your dreams right now while you are healthy. You might not become a prima ballerina, but you can still go to a ballet class and prance around your lounge room like the child you were when you thought there was no other option but to be a ballerina. And on a related note, if your playground friends called you stinky, or sissy or dumbarse (etc), you don’t need to continue allowing those names define you twenty years later.
Don’t work too much
You know what they say, no one ever wished they worked more… Choosing to work too much is choosing to miss your kids birthday parties, it’s getting home to a cold dinner and a sleeping partner, and it’s losing connection with the important things in life. You might think that this is not your choice, but not choosing to put other things first is choosing to put work first.
My Aunt did put her work first, but she chose to do her housework in the evenings so she could go out and play on the weekends. She saved her pay and chose to spend it on trips and vacations. She worked, and then she stopped. And only at the right time did she start again.
They say that when you follow your dream you never work a day in your life. I say that’s utter tosh – you are so inspired you tend to work all of them! I struggle to save time for not working, but as I mentioned in my Six Month Progress Review of Pleasure, it’s something on my list of things to change.
You need to choose to make room in your life for other things too. I know it’s hard, so start with something simple, like turning your phone off and really watching a movie. Then increase the time spent fully engaged in other things.
Say what you really think
Don’t settle for a mediocre life to keep the peace with others.
My Aunt was generally quite good at pointing out things you didn’t want to acknowledge, and refusing to do things she didn’t want to do. But like most of us, there were always people who knew how to crank up the guilt dial.
I’m much better at saying what I think than I was before the transplant. I’m learning to live according to my virtues and I don’t have the patience for mind games and guilt trips anymore. I explained this a while back using the “Does my bum look big in this?” example though I’m not sure I was that successful. I do think about what I’m saying (prudence), but I have the confidence to say it (fortitude) and while I may be quite blunt I do it in a controlled way (temperance) motivated by my concern for you (justice). I’m all rip the band-aid off quickly rather than ease it off one hair at a time.
If you want to live a life without regret, start telling people to stop treating you badly. If people treat your friends badly because of their religion, skin colour, sexual orientation (and so on) call them out on it. Don’t allow people to touch you in ways that make you feel uncomfortable. Either release unhealthy relationships or force them into a higher level.
Nurture your relationships
People do come in and out of our lives all the time for a variety of reasons. By all means, let people go when they don’t contribute to your life anymore, but don’t let them go just because you get too busy to keep them up.
My Aunt kept in contact with the women she went to nursing school with. She never travelled without paper and envelopes and wrote pages and pages and pages to them all. Sadly for her many of them have passed away and won’t be at her funeral, but she never needed to wonder where they were or how they were doing because she saw them all the time.
A while back I defined friendship, and if you’re up to date with the blog you know that this is one of my priority areas. And that I’m doing well for imaginary virtual friends but not so much for local ones. Though having said that, November has become my defacto month for catching up with them.
Where are your friends from high school and university? If you’re not in touch, find out where they are and make contact again before it’s too late.
Choose to be happy
Happiness is a choice. So many people choose the pain and anguish of the “devil they know” rather than taking a risky leap into the dark of potential chaos and uncertainty.
My Aunt laughed out loud in public at things that amused her, she danced to buskers and sang along (out of tune) to piped music when she liked the songs. She embarrassed the crap out of me and laughed at me as she did it. She was absolutely a glass is a smidgeon over half full person. She didn’t seem to care what people thought of her, she was just happy to be alive.
I am following in her footsteps. After the transplant, I realised that people barely notice me anyway because they are so caught in their own misery at the conformity of mediocrity. I am going to loudly slurp up the last of my delicious full-fat chocolate milkshake and smack my lips when I am done – there was a time when I couldn’t have any of it so I choose to do it, and enjoy it. I follow fellow Stoic Marcus Aurelius and look at it as a matter of perspective.
How many of you are clinging to jobs or partners that you hate rather than just letting go and finding something new? How many are clinging to mediocrity and conformity out of fear? If that’s you, start thinking about what would make your life happier. I’m going out on a limb and saying that there is always a silver lining but sometimes you have to look really hard for it.
Please don’t regret your life
I think my Aunt had little to regret. She made one huge life decision that changed everything, but she embraced her life and she owned her life. I wish that she had permitted herself to drink better wine and eat better cheese but she was perfectly happy with what she had.
I’m working on living a life without regret – this year was pretty damned good and if I do the same for the rest of them I will die satisfied.
You have the opportunity to make your life into something wonderful. Take it from someone who got a second chance – every second of every day you have the opportunity to choose your outcome. Today is your second chance to live like you mean it.
Will you choose to be happy or will you have regrets?