Some recent events have gotten me thinking about a topic I think most 37 year olds don’t contemplate (but should) – what it is people really regret when they’re ill or dying. Are you living a life where you’ll have no regrets?
This is a subject I’ve thought deeply about for years now, and I want to share some of my reflections with you today.
As the caregiver during my husbands illness, I had a first hand view of the very real possibility he would die – at the same age I am now. So giving some thought to what I would regret, and what he would, is not a new subject for me.
We’re all going to die one day. It could be today, tomorrow, or fifty years from now. No one really knows-there could be a car accident, a house fire, an illness, or something else. Or your health can be taken away – I’ve seen young people become paralyzed in accidents, get diagnosed with cancer, and other terrible things. I’ve seen the slow and steady, then drastic decline of elderly relatives. Suddenly, there’s no more time to make your mistakes right or to live the life you’ve always wanted.
Obviously dying, aging, and illness aren’t at top of mind every day. But every once in a while, it’s good to stop and think-am I living life in a way that I could die tomorrow with no regrets? And if I’m not, how can I change that?
In addition to my own personal reflections, I found four articles that summarized the top regrets of the sick, elderly, and dying (sources are here, here, here and here) and pulled it all together for you.
Take a look through the list and make sure you’re not living the kind of life you’re going to regret once it’s too late to change.
I Wish I Had
The courage to live the life I wanted, not the one others expected of me
People regret living life for other people, rather than for what they really want. Other people may want you to get an education, become a doctor, buy a home, have kids – you name it, other people are willing to design your life for you.
But the question should be what to you want? What are your dreams – not someone elses dreams? Don’t succeed at someone elses idea of a perfect life.
The courage to express my feelings
Perhaps there’s something you’ve always wanted to say – a love you want to confess, a bully you want to stand up to, someone you want to defend. But you were afraid, so you said nothing. This is a top regret.
Stayed in touch with my friends
People who are ill, elderly, and dying want to be with others. One of their regrets is letting life get in the way of friendships, to the point where they drift apart and no longer stay in touch. Don’t let this be a regret – call your friends.
Let myself be happier
I get it – better than you know – sometimes it’s hard to be happy. Life is tiring. You have three kids, a demanding job, annoying co-workers, you need more money, a bigger home, a better car… why would you be happy? There’s too much to do, and too much to get. You’ll be happy later.
Later may never come, or later may look much different than you expect it will. Take time to be happy and enjoy what you have now. If you catch yourself dwelling on the things that make you unhappy, practice conscious gratitude and re-focus on the things that make you happy about your life right now. Living an unhappy life and then dying is no way to live.
Said I love you more
You’ll never regret telling people you love them. So do it! Let the people in your life know you love them all the time. I don’t let my kids go to sleep, or leave for school, without reminding them that I love them. Even if they’re in trouble for doing something wrong, even if they had a rough day, I love them.
Saved more money for retirement
I have seen, up close and personally, the huge difference in standard of care for the sick, old, and dying between those with money and those without. You don’t want to be relying on the government to pay your retirement and nursing home bills, because your quality of life will suffer. Your 50, 60, 70 year old self will thank you for foregoing something you didn’t really need at 20 to buy them a better life.
Been the bigger person and resolved my conflicts
Conflict is hard. There are hurt feelings all around. Sometimes there’s a good reason for a conflict, and it’s not your fault – it’s theirs! But unresolved conflicts are a top regret of the dying. So ask yourself, are there conflicts in your life that you should resolve, so you have nothing to regret?
More confidence in myself
Women especially suffer from imposter syndrome. We think we’re not good enough, smart enough, talented enough – and we may not try something, for fear we’ll fail. This lack of confidence is a top regret. When you find yourself doubting yourself, take a deep breath and ask what a confident person would do. Then do that.
Taken more trips
I’ve taken enough trips in my life to understand why people would regret not taking more of them. Traveling, seeing new sights, and exploring new places is exciting, interesting, and fun. But it’s also something that you don’t want to – or can’t do – while sick, elderly, or dying. So take those trips before it’s too late.
Buried the hatchet with a family member or old friend
This goes right back to resolving conflicts, but specifically asks you to reflect on your family and friends.
Gone for that dream job-or relationship
Just go for it! Not pursuing a dream job, or relationship – or likely any big goal – is a huge regret. You never know what might have been. So why not go for it? If it doesn’t work out, at least you’ll have tried, and you’ll have no regrets later on.
Spent more time with kids
You know that saying how no one says on their deathbed that they wish they had spent more time at work? People will often regret not spending more time with their kids. Whenever I see people with kids get so caught up with their work, or side jobs, that they miss their kids growing up I feel sad for them. I try myself to have a good balance of work and spending plenty of time with my kids, and at their events. Kids want your time – they don’t want stuff. So give them the gift of your time, even if it means somewhat less money.
Taken care of my health while I had the chance
No one wants their body to fall apart in their 40’s or 50’s, but if you don’t take care of your health, it just might. People regret not taking better care of themselves after they fall ill – but ignore and don’t appreciate their good health while they have it. Don’t let this be you. Take care of yourself. Also, it’s never too late – if you haven’t been taking the best care of yourself, just change that starting now. Do the best you can, and if you fall into old habits, just keep trying. Doing a few small things will be better than doing nothing at all.
I Wish I Hadn’t
Worked so hard
This is one I have to remind myself of a lot. I’m by nature a very hard worker (as evidenced by my corporate success, this site, my MBA, etc.) and not working hard is really difficult for me. But you know what? It’s OK to take some time off, relax, take it easy, and have some fun. Especially when things are hard, go easy on yourself.
Taken myself so seriously
Another struggle area of mine. Have fun! Lighten up! It’s OK to not be serious all the time.
Worried so much
You know what the terrible thing about worrying is? That it doesn’t actually do anything to help. Worrying about illness, death, your boss, the next promotion, your family, your friends, your kids – none of it does any good and it just stresses you out. Next time you find yourself worrying, ask yourself what you can do to prepare instead. It redirects the energy you were spending worrying in a more positive direction, into actually doing something to impact your situation.
This isn’t about YOLO, or engaging in reckless behavior in the name of living fast and dying hard. People top regrets center around simple things. Telling people you love them. Spending time with your kids. Not worrying so much. Having more fun.
So I Want To Know
Are you living a life where you’ll have no regrets?
And if you’re not – what will you do today to start changing that?
After all, you never know what tomorrow will bring.
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