2.08.2012

The Top Five Regrets Of The Dying

The Guardian recently posted an article about Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who spent several years caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. Bronnie journaled her patients' dying thoughts on her journal, Inspiration and Chai, and eventually used that material to create her new book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

I can attest personally that there is a clarity that comes when you realize you're about to die (as readers of my books and this blog know, I've had that clarity, oh, four times now). And during her patients' moments of clarity, Bronnie noticed five common themes that came up again and again:
  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Something that I realized for myself, perhaps much earlier than I should have: These aren't the top five regrets of the dying. They're the top five regrets of the living. 

I posit that we, as human beings, are all the same. This isn't a Tyler Durden style "You are not a unique and beautiful snowflake" speech, because I also believe that each and every one of us is unique, and we are beaten into a form of social submission that makes us dress the same and talk the same and like the same stuff. But that's because, deep down, we ARE the same. 

We want love. We want acceptance. We want to belong. 

We also want to be ourselves. We want to express ourselves artistically, physically, emotionally. We want our own unique thumbprint to be left on our existence, such that people remember us and think that there's no way life would have ever been the same without us.

But we're scared. We often see people who are themselves left out in the cold. Isolated. Not one of us. Not one of the group. Not one with society. We get scared when we think about that possibility; that our peer group or social group or family or friends will abandon us if we don't follow the trend and go with the flow and be what they expect us to be. 

So, men refuse to feel. They turn into Tough Guys. They shield themselves from feeling anything, and if they do feel something, they sure as hell don't let anyone else know it. They have to adhere to their fathers' standards of what a man is... Or their buddies', or their drill sergeant's, or their boss's.

And women feel miserable in their own skin. They spend an hour and a half every day getting themselves to look like the covers of the magazines that tell them how they have to look if they're ever going to live a fulfilled life with a handsome man and girlfriends who gossip over martinis. They smile in the right places and laugh at the right jokes at parties, so the other women in attendance won't ostracize them and the men in attendance won't see them as unlovable. They abuse themselves mentally with thoughts of being alone if they're not with the crowd, and they abuse themselves physically with social standards of beauty that no real man would ever concern himself with.

We all work way too hard every day to afford trophies that symbolize our success. Big TVs, Xboxes, nice cars, clothes, shoes, a decent house, a college degree... We go into debt to attain these things, which chains us to the job we have to work day in and day out in order to keep them. And of course, the newest device or car or gadget comes out and we have to have that, and the cycle repeats itself.

We let petty squabbles and differences in opinion ruin otherwise fantastic friendships, because our pride gets in the way and we'd rather be seen as strong than as rolling over for someone else's opinion. We let political maps covered in reds and blues tint our ability to like and accept people for who they are. We play teams with our morals and adhere to a nonsense line in the sand that says we have to believe everything our team believes.

And that is all 100% pure grade-A bullshit. 

The only people that are worthy of our time are the ones who want us as we are. When we die, we die by ourselves, not as a team. No one from your local political rally is going to show up and die with you. No one from your office will off themselves because you did. Which means you're ultimately the only person you have to reconcile any guilt with.

So why not start off not having any? 

If you're unhappy in your life; if you're sitting in a cubicle right now wishing you could be free from the confines of a life spent working paycheck to paycheck to pay down the credit cards you used to get your electronic trophies showing how successful you are...

If you're too scared to let someone know how you feel -- be it a family member or a friend or a group of friends or the entire internet -- because you'll be seen as a wimp or a wuss or be laughed at for expressing your feelings...

If you're so petrified of being alone that you live a life and act a way that isn't your own...

You can stop all of that right now by doing one very special, important thing: love yourself. 

When you make the decision to love yourself, you begin to realize that half of what you do every day in your life is complete bullshit. You begin to see the cracks in the foundation of the world you've built up around you. You start to realize that you've settled. You wanted something, but you settled for something else that approximated what you originally wanted enough to dull the pain of not having it. 

You quit wasting your time chasing acceptance, because you've accepted yourself. You're complete as a person. You know who you are and what you want. And you will see them -- those around you who are playing the game just as you did -- fall like flies. Some will outright abandon you; some will accuse you of changing to the point they don't want to be around you.

But here's the truth: they didn't abandon you. You abandoned THEM. You don't need the social reinforcement to live the way you want because you've already reinforced the only thing that matters: yourself. 

If you want to be beautiful, be beautiful. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? So behold your own beauty and love it. Show it. Stop regretting your life. Start living it. Today. Now.