Australian nurse Bronnie Ware worked in the palliative wing of her hospital, caring for the terminally ill. Most of her patients had mere weeks to live, and as such her job was mainly one of keeping them comfortable and providing a sympathetic ear.
As time went by, she began to notice something about her patients. In many cases, they were at peace. They were philosophical about life, and had no time left for the trivial or the mundane. Their conversations often turned to a weighing of the checks and balances of one’s life, the wins, the losses, the great times, the tough times - and, in almost every case, the regrets. Bronnie always asked if they would do anything differently if given a second chance.
This is where things get interesting. Over the course of many years, she noticed that the same regrets kept cropping up. In fact, five regrets stood out above all the others.
1) I wish I pursued my dreams and aspirations, and not the life others expected of me (this was the number one regret).
2) I wish I didn’t work so hard (almost every man said this).
3) I wish I had the courage to express my feelings and speak my mind (almost every woman said this).
4) I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5) I wish I had let myself be happier.
In her subsequent book ‘The Top Five Regrets of the Dying - A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing’, Bronnie Ware encourages us to learn that we are all capable of shuffling the deck. If you only had months to live, how would you change your life? Would you pursue your truest desires, procrastinate less, worry less about the small stuff? In her case, Ware quit nursing and pursued her dream of becoming an author and singer-songwriter. She says she’s never been happier.
These are profound reminders, in the busy-ness of the everyday, of where our true priorities should lie. We’re all guilty of flying through life and occasionally (or not so occasionally) forgetting to stop and smell the flowers. These wishes are sobering in that they aren’t about making more money, owning luxury items, having a nicer house, or keeping up with the Jones’. They are about the joys of spending time with family and friends, about pursuing our own gifts and talents, about balance, about standing up for yourself. They are about doing more of what makes you happy.
Ware's message, in the end, is simple. Don't wait until it's too late. All those dreams percolating at the back of your mind can become a reality. On a smaller, everyday scale, it's about having the courage to be yourself, to embrace what makes you YOU.
May you live a life of joy and share it with others. May you have the fortitude to speak your mind. May you spread the wealth of your ideas. And at the end of it all, may you live a life of no regrets.