Sometimes we can see things more clearly when we look at them from the opposite end of the telescope. Take our own lives for example. If we talk to those who are confronted with the demise of their health or their impending death, we could fill an entire book with the things that they could tell us, as palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware did.
Ware talks about the clarity of vision that people gain near the end of their lives and she found that common themes surfaced when she questioned these people about any regrets that they had or whether they would do anything differently.
She found that the top five regrets of the dying are:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I didn’t work 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 that I had let myself be happier.
Ware noticed that when most people looked back on their lives, they realized that they didn’t live up to their full potential because of the choices that they made or didn’t make. They stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. Their fear of change had them pretending to others and to themselves that they were content, although, they were far from it.
Contemplating this list helps us to keep things in perspective, to appreciate life more and to try to live it more fully. Such things as worrying, griping and complaining are exposed as the miniscule things that they are when compared to the bigger picture of life. Australian life coach, Joel Brown, later expanded this list and created a nice infographic to print and place where it can be viewed often.
A very quick and powerful exercise to help us clarify what it is that we want out of life and, hopefully, that will keep us from ending up with the wish list above, is this classic one: write your own eulogy. Here is the exercise:
- Write your own eulogy reflecting on these things: How would your life be summed up by your friends and family? What is it that people will remember about you? This is what they would honestly think to themselves, without being made public (there’s a difference).
- Next, write out your eulogy as you’d like for it to be written. What would you like for it to say? Set the bar high -what impact or effect did you have on the world and those around you? What goals did you achieve? What words do people use to describe you? What skills did you have? What contributions did you leave behind? What seeds did you plant?
- Now read over each version and compare them. You’ll notice that the second eulogy contains a pretty clear picture of the wishes that Ware found to be common among the dying.
This exercise reveals the actions that need to be taken to move us towards our goals and away from those things holding us back. For example, if your present eulogy would have your co-workers, family and friends saying that you went to work every day to a job that you couldn’t stand and that they all heard about it entirely too much – how might you change that downer image? Or, if your kids would say, “Geez, we never really got to know him or her because he or she was always at work but when they were at home, they were glued to the television, computer or phone.” How might you turn that around?
Thinking through these things now, recognizing the failures and setting forth on a new course may not guarantee success but it will alleviate any areas of being stuck in your life and set you on a path of personal growth and transformation.
“Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.” – Henry David Thoreau
Christina Galeassi is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.