I've always thought regret should be one of the deadly sins. It is so pointless, so damaging, and so difficult to escape once it has taken hold. Bronnie Ware talks of this in her book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, and illustrates through the stories of people she has cared for during their last months, weeks or days, the five most common regrets. If you have advance warning of what your own regrets might be, she reasons, then you might be able to avoid them.
The regrets that I have most often heard people talk about are that they married the wrong person - or stayed with them too long; they went for the wrong career or missed career opportunities when they were presented to them; they let their marriage fail; they didn't have children; didn't develop a particular talent; didn't travel; didn't appreciate what they had before they lost it. I was surprised, then, when I read the ones that Bronnie Ware had identified, which were these:
I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me
I wish I hadn't worked so hard
I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
I wish I had let myself be happier
Her stories were of old, and sometimes not old, people lying on their death beds looking back over their lives and ruing the fact that they gave up on their dreams, their personal lives, their feelings, their friends or their happiness. The good news is that even these people were often able to put a few things right before the grim reaper finally arrived.
But even if what a person did or didn't do with their lives seems a mistake with the benefit of hindsight, there will always have been good reasons for doing it at the time. Studies tell us that men spend more and more time at work when they start having children, for example, while women spend less and less. Both may regret having respectively spent too much or too little time working, but the imperatives at the time were real. 'I did what I had to do,' you often hear people say.
You can't do everything in your life, earns lots of money for your family and spend time with them, take care of children and have a fabulous career. Dreams, too, can seem incompatible with adult responsibilities. 'When I became a man, I put away childish things' it says in Corinthans. When faced with the realities of earning a living and supporting dependants your dreams may seem childish, so you put them away with your comics and games.
Maybe, though, when a person is close to the end of their lives, the things that seemed important when they made those decisions suddenly look less important than the things they sacrificed for them? Hence regret. So to avoid regret you not only have to look at what you may have given up in your life, and understand why you have given it up, but you also need to consider the possibility that you have it wrong. That the family doesn't actually need as much money as you currently provide, but needs you more; that the children could manage with less of your time, and might grow as a result; that your dreams are not in fact childish; that keeping up with friends is important; that telling people how you feel is more important than protecting your heart or keeping the peace; and that you have more reasons to be happy than you have to fret and worry.
On the other hand maybe not. Maybe the decisions you're making now are spot on and any sacrifices you have made, you have made willingly?
1. If you knew you were going to die within the next few weeks, which (if any) of the top five regrets might you have?
2. Taking each one in turn, what have been the reasons for you living your life as you have? How valid do you think those reasons are?
3. Given your reasons, if you had the chance to live your life again, would you make the same choices?
4. If not, what would you like to do differently now? It's never too late!
Have a good week!