Avoiding the Regrets of the Dying, Regret #1 (Thank You Bronnie Ware)

Trying to stay away from an unsmiley-face life

One of the reasons why I’ve pursued FI is because I want to learn from and avoid the regrets of those who have gone before.

In her 2009 blogpost entitled Regrets of the Dying, palliative nurse Bronnie Ware outlined the top 5 regrets that people have as they lay on their deathbed.

I came across references to it in many books. Avoiding these regrets became one of my driving forces in pursuing FI.

This is a series on my thoughts and musings about each one.

#1 I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

“So What Do You Do?”

I still have moments of doubt and embarrassment as I respond to the constant question of “So what do you do?”

This seemingly innocuous question is really an attempt by another person to evaluate my worth to society (and worth vis-à-vis that other person).

With that one simple question, all of society’s pressures and expectations get focused with laser-pointed precision on my response.

It becomes more difficult when the context is a social event filled with professionals such as doctors, lawyers, engineers, or business people.

And it’s exponentially more uncomfortable because of my background. I went to an Ivy League university, have a white collar professional master’s degree, and worked at investment banks and name brand consulting firms.

But if, in my heart of hearts, I hated the constant grasping for the higher bonus and the loftier title. As time went by the cognitive dissonance became self-imposed torment.

And at some point, the self-imposed torment became too much to bear. I had to break free.

And, guess what?

The longer I waited, the less time I had to figure out what I really wanted to do and actually do those things.

You know all those people who looked at me oddly when we first introduced yourselves? And those family members who rolled their eyes when they thought I’m wasting my life not making even more money?

Their approval won’t give me the comfort and peace as I look back on my life from my deathbed.

On your death bed, would you really care if you had kept up with the Jones’?

The Mental and Emotional Reckoning

For me, I realized early on that I was good at my work, but I didn’t love it:

I enjoyed the money, the perks,  and the prestige of the companies I worked for. But I didn’t love it enough to work even longer hours.

I gained satisfaction from awards and praise from the industry and my bosses. But I didn’t love it enough to play the political game.

I guided and mentored my reportees to improve their work and careers. But I didn’t love it enough to exploit them for my benefit.

So now, two decades into my career, I’ve developed the courage to try to find my own path and live a life true to myself.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I still have moments of self doubt, harboring what-if worst case scenarios in my mind.

But I realize I have a choice, with nothing less than 45 years of life in the balance.

On one hand, there is definite, safe unhappiness by pursuing society’s expectations.

And on the other,  there is the very good chance (but no guarantee) of happiness by living according to a life I design.

Putting it that way, why would anyone ever choose definite, safe unhappiness?

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