The space on the YOLO bandwagon seems to have gotten much smaller in recent years. Everyone supposedly wants to “live every moment like it’s the last” in order to claim “no regrets” at life’s end.
A few years ago, Bronnie Ware wrote a book titled “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing.” That’s right: departing. As in, happening presently. Ware worked in palliative care, and in spending time with her patients, she learned of their most common regrets as they reflected on their life. And honestly, the list may surprise you. There’s no mention of bungee jumping, money, traveling or having more best friends.
There is certainly much to be learned from Ware’s patients. But rather than consider the regrets in past tense, I’ve taken the liberty of shifting the perspective in order to pose them as imperatives. This way, we can take the initiative to actively work against having these regrets in both our present and future.
(Please allow me to note that I do not mean to speak for Ware’s patients nor Ware herself but only to gratefully acknowledge and humbly share their wisdom with others while honoring their stories).
1. Don’t work so hard.
Ware’s patients cited missing time with loved ones because of working so much. Yes, you need to have a job, and yes, you need to pay your own bills. But don’t get so carried away working that you miss out on time with your family or friends. There’s a difference in working to live and living to work. And if you’re working for the excess money and accolades, they’re going to depart this world just as soon as you do.
Will you get a lot of credit while you’re alive? Sure, probably. But is receiving credit for your work worth more than time with people you love? Let’s remember what — or rather, who is important in life.
2. Have the courage to express your feelings.
There’s something to be said for keeping the peace; however, sometimes we can take this too far. It’s both possible and beneficial to express your feelings in a respectful way. Not only can stifling your emotions lead to bitterness, it can make for a very unhappy life. Of course, expressing what we feel doesn’t give us license to say whatever we want, however we want, to whomever we want; we must remember others’ feelings matter as well.
But a lack of bravery should not be what stops us from sharing our hearts and spilling our souls. And honestly, the people who truly care about you not only want to know what’s on your heart, they’ll want to tend to it as well.
… a lack of bravery should not be what stops us from sharing our hearts and spilling our souls.
3. Let yourself be happy.
Ware’s patients didn’t intend that we should go so far as to make ourselves happy at the expense of others. What they did mean is that where we have the opportunity to make the most of the things in life that are in our control, we should do so as best we can. For instance, comfortable isn’t always synonymous with happiness. Be willing to make a change, have the courage to ditch bad habits for good and purge what’s stealing the happiness from your life. Stop worrying about what everyone else thinks – even if you’re still in high school and especially if you’re not.
Laugh frequently and loudly, sing with the music up and the windows down and buy the biggest, sweetest ice cream order possible.
Like any good book review would do, I won’t unveil every regret. I’ll leave the last couple to Bonnie Ware herself. Check out a copy of her book or order one today to read about the stories behind these regrets. We spend our whole lives learning, so take advantage of resources like this that make it easy for us to do so.
As my sweet Granny often said, there’s no time like the present. Let’s learn from those who go before us and pave a better way for those who come after us.
How do you plan to “carpe diem?”
Image of Constance Wu via Kat Borchart for Darling Issue No. 17