While most of us aspire to live a life we won’t regret, many do express regrets at the end of life. If we could address the things we may regret now, we can focus on living the remainder of our lives with greater satisfaction.
I believe that regrets really stem from a lack of courage. We tend to regret the thing we did or did not do, because we lacked the courage to do it. We may have been too afraid of consequences, or the unknown, or what others may think. And so we settled for less, compromising our potential to live small lives of quiet desperation, as Henry Thoreau said, dying with our song still unsung within.
Regret-free living takes courage: it is as simple and as difficult as that.
Our lives are shaped by either courage or by fear. When we live a live true to ourselves, there will be others who judge us; voices that criticize us for stepping out of the box or label us as crazy. Fear of this dissonance often holds us back. To live fully and without regrets, we need the courage to follow our hearts, even when others may not understand our choices.
In fact, it is none of their business! Each one of us is fully responsible for our own lives and choices. When we choose to go beyond the comfort zone of the collective in order to grow and realize our full potential, that is a courageous decision that deserves support, not criticism!
It is this courageous process of stretching that develops elastic in our souls so we can extend further, believe more, and accomplish better outcomes. Courage to commit to our unfolding path is essential for a satisfying life. And nobody knows better than you what that means!
We need courage to break with norms, to expand beyond the confines of our tribe, and to let go of external expectations and pressures. Courage empowers us to fully live from our hearts, and to stay in touch with our true compass and purpose.
People at the end of life can teach us valuable lessons about living from their perspective at the end of the road. Bronnie Ware, an Australian caregiver who worked in hospice care, identified five core regrets among dying patients which can teach us a lot about living well.
- Not staying true to self
Look at a person disempowered and miserable about their life circumstances, and you will most likely find someone who never had the courage to break away from dysfunctional family dynamics. And if we lack the courage to make that primary break away from dysfunctional caregivers, we will end up staying put in jobs we dislike, putting up with abuse and lack of respect in relationships; we will ultimately abandon the opportunity to fulfill the purpose of our lives. To break free from any dysfunction, the discomfort of doing what is needed to be true to oneself must always outweigh the illusionary comfort of avoiding risk.
2. I wish I had not worked so much
People who work all the time develop no identity outside of work. Workaholics have no time to develop in other areas of their lives and when their work drops away, they have nothing else left. Developing healthy interests outside of work allows us to refresh ourselves; it also brings renewed energy to our work lives. Finding that space outside of work is an essential, enriching aspect of life often seen only seen in hindsight.
Deriving status and identity from our work can trap us into a role defined by society rather than by our individual truth. My mother was convinced that I should become an actuary – can you imagine how miserable I would have been in a profession that would have locked me into my left brain?? Another trap is buying into the scarcity thinking of the ego and never feeling as if we have enough money to follow our dreams or step away from a job we despise. Do you have the courage to let go of what does not bring you joy, so you can move toward what does?
3. I wish I had the courage to express my feelings
Many dying people long to express their feelings to loved ones, yet never had the courage to do so. Fear held them back. They were crippled by fear of rejection, fear of being misunderstood, or fear of being vulnerable…. The list goes on. We need courage to speak our truth – and when we do, we free ourselves to live from our core truth, regardless of how others may react. Having the courage to be honest with oneself, is vastly more important that how others receive it because it gives expression to our vital life force. Suppressing our truth ultimately suppresses our life force.
Expressing our truth in a compassionate and kind way, creates space for healing and compassion. We don’t have to make another wrong just for us to be heard. We simply need to express our truth – not for justification or to attack others, but for our own healing. Everyone is at a different place on their journey; at times, it may be helpful to write out feelings to another because it allows us to distill our truth while giving others the opportunity to revisit our expression when they are ready.
Expressing ourselves also requires us to become good listeners, because communication is a two-way street. Our honesty and vulnerability can allow others to feel safe enough to express their feelings. Being present with others in a kind, non-judgmental way allows them to share without fear. Can we listen deeply to the people in our lives? Can we find the courage to say the things that need to be said?
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with friends more
At the end of life, memories of happy times and friendships enrich one’s life. And yet, most people’s lives start narrowing down after kids leave home. The comfort of confining themselves to the same routines, friends and circles can lead to stagnation. Stepping out of earlier roles such as parenting can be a stepping-stone toward broadening relationships and connections, rather than narrowing them. If we expand our friendship circles throughout life, we can offer enrichment to one another even as old friends and relatives drop away.
Sometimes, the desire to maintain a safe personal comfort zone prevents people from getting involved in the messy business of true connectivity. I have seen people withdraw from opportunities to help because seeing another in a difficult situation, made them feel too uncomfortable with their own tenuous sense of stability. Life is messy and true connectivity requires the willingness to get one’s hands dirty! True joy is found in real life connections; not on social media or from the comfort of our easy chairs. When we have the courage to connect with people face to face, we ultimately experience enrichment and joy.
5. I wish I had let myself be happier
This regret stems from not understanding that happiness is a choice. We often look for happiness outside ourselves with self-imposed conditions: if I lose 10 pounds I will be happier; if I could just find the right partner, or make enough money, I’ll be happy. The truth is that happiness is a choice. It is an empowering internal decision that we can make regardless of where we’re at in life!
When we choose to honor the truth of our Being, we will find happiness.
We are in this life for a limited time only. This life is going to end, and it is the only life we will ever get to live as these unique beings that we are. This life is precious and sacred: how can we then live to make it really count?
Our greatest joy, highest power and ultimate fulfillment lies in facing the fears that hold us back. We can muster our courage and live from the truth in our hearts. Imagine how much we lose out on while operating from fear and other people’s rules!
To live a courageous life, we’ve got to stretch in ways that may be uncomfortable. Perhaps you’ve heard this from a fitness trainer or yoga teacher, because it’s true in all areas of life: we need to stretch to grow, improve and get strong. And growing in courage means taking risks in the very areas where we feel afraid.
Everyone already has times in life when they’ve been courageous. You may have displayed great courage in a relationship or a job. Perhaps you didn’t recognize it as courage at the time; you were merely doing what had to be done. Yet in every situation where your acted courageously, you valued the discomfort of change more than staying in the comfort of the status quo. You might have been terrified, but you did it!
You can take courageous action again. One you know what motivates you, you can do it again. Let your core values motivate your courageous actions. Practice letting your courage ripple out into more and more areas of your life, and you will live a life without regrets.
About the Author
©Copyright Ada Porat. For more information, visit http://www.adaporat.com. This article may be freely distributed in whole or in part, provided there is no charge for it and this notice is attached.