How do you know if you are living the “right” life? There are many ways to look at this question, but for me, I sometimes ponder the last day of my life. I wonder how I will feel about my life when I am on my deathbed. Will I have regrets?
This begs the question: what do people tend to regret at the end of their lives? Bronnie Ware, author and palliative care nurse, wrote a book on this very subject called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. She often spent the last days of life with the dying. In her book, she discusses what the most common deathbed regrets 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 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 that I had let myself be happier.
Guess which one was the most common regret? The first one: I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself …. So, what might that look like for you?
We might stumble through life and end up feeling satisfied. For some of us, serendipity works very well. For others, it can be risky. Either way, understanding our values and how we show up is almost always helpful.
For me, I want to understand how to express the better version of myself and use that as a north star in daily living and ongoing goal setting.
Have you read Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People? (If not, it’s really a must-read that has sold over 20 million copies in 38 languages.) In his book, the first two habits are: 1) Be proactive and 2) Begin with the end in mind. To me, these go together nicely in the context of this discussion.
We want to be proactive because if we are only reactive, our life is not being driven by us. We might respond to things as they arise but should something we care about not hit our radar, we will not give it the care and feeding it deserves. We want to drive conscious choice into our lives.
Begin with the end in mind.
In this context, I am referring to our ultimate end: the last day of our lives and arriving there with minimized regrets. If we really want to drive our lives, we need to understand where we are going, what it is we want, and then line things up so that ongoing activities align with where we want to go.
Try This Practice
To really think about this, try this practice, which is adapted from Stephen Covey himself. You can actually hear him narrating his version on this short two-minute video.
Here’s my adapted version:
Imagine you walk into a funeral. You see all kinds of people you know in the room. You start to listen and then it hits you, “Woah! This funeral is mine.” Now imagine listening to the comments made by your loved ones. Based on where you are now, what might they say about you? What qualities do they mention? Honest, creative, persistent, kind? Are these the ones you like? What would they say about how you spent your time? What good did you do for those around you? Your community? Now for a bigger question: Do you like what they said?
I love Lao Tzu’s words, “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” For you, should you continue on your current path (same activities, behaviors, reactions, etc.), do you like where you will likely end up? If so, Yay! Good for you! If not, it’s time to consider a change. Take some time right now (or very soon) and reflect on where you want to be at life’s end. Here are some questions you might contemplate:
- What you would want to be remembered for?
- If you could accomplish one thing in your life, what might it be?
- What qualities do you want to express or grow?
- How do you want to show up for others in your life?
- What strengths do you have that you can use to make a difference in this world?
Once you have an idea of how you want to show up, look at your day-to-day activities and plan to start putting related behaviors and actions into your daily routine. For me, each morning, I write down how I want to show up in my work and with my family. Some days I get there and some days I am off. Either way, I feel good having an idea of where I am going and how it translates to today.
I hope you found that to be helpful. I wish you a life of love and purpose.