The Biggest Regret on Your Deathbed

Treat Thompson



This is a republishing of The Steady Fella Newsletter. Twice a month readers use the timeless insights on passion, productivity, philosophy, and happiness from this newsletter to build towards the life they want.

What we’ll learn (in 4 minutes):

👨‍🏫 Topic: Understanding the biggest regret the dying have on their deathbed

🔍 Quote: Carl Jung on our fate

📜 Passage: Karl Pillemer on how the elderly are experts on living happy and fulfilled lives

The Biggest Regret on Your Deathbed

I like to look at our elders as a repository of the answers to life’s questions.

Having already lived through the roller coaster of life, their advice can save me years of struggle, pain, and questioning.

The decades of experience they hold over me makes their wisdom extremely valuable. And if wisdom grows with time, then the most valuable insight of all is the one we learn at the end of our lives, when it’s far too late.

Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse, came across one of those insights. After spending over a decade recording the top regrets that people have on their deathbed, she concluded that the most common of all was this: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

If you’re reading this, then chances are you have the power to make decisions in your daily life. We are part of the lucky group of people who aren’t forced to live in a way that we don’t want to.

But somehow, many of us still end up living lives that aren’t true to ourselves. Why is that?

Lack of Purpose

Author, James Clear, believes this happens when we don’t have a clear vision about what we care about and how to get there.

When you don’t have a clear purpose pushing you forward, you default to doing what other people approve of and pursuing easy pleasure. You take yourself out of the driver’s seat of your life and let your environment dictate it.

That’s human nature; we want the path of least resistance.

Living an Urgent Life Over an Important Life

Your next ten years are going to be spent doing something. A lot of the time that something is responding to what’s urgent instead of pursuing what’s important.

James Clear says, “Too often the need to make money (urgent) wins out over the desire to build something we’re proud of (important). Too often the urge to find a way to lose twenty pounds in six weeks (urgent) wins out over becoming the type of person who doesn’t miss workouts (important). Too often the craving to be noticed or appreciated (urgent) wins out over the ability to be present and satisfied (important).”

Yes, we all need money and there are times when we have to put important things on hold to get our lives under control. But how long will you delay what’s important to you just so you can handle the next urgent thing in front of you?

The nature of goals that are important to us is that they never seem urgent. They don’t demand attention right now. So it’s incredibly easy to lose years of your life chasing the next urgent thing and never setting time to do what we know we should.

A great way to live a short and meaningless life is to spend it putting out fires.

As much as I like to finish every newsletter topic with techniques or methods to address an issue, I don’t think that’s what’s needed this time.

I personally feel like what’s best is to use the information as a lens to look at your life.

Reflect on the present state of your life, the trajectory that it’s on, and what behaviours you have that are affecting both, while keeping in mind the biggest regret of the dying.

Like I mentioned earlier, we are part of a lucky group of humans that are free to make our own choices in life. Use that gift to shape a life YOU want.

Final thought

This quote illustrates a heart-wrenching and scary position I’m trying to avoid.

Bronnie Ware, the Australian nurse, said, “When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize until they no longer have it.”

Featured Quote

Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate. - Carl Jung

If you don’t shine a light on your actions, habits, and behaviours, they’ll shape your life and you’ll think it was out of your control.

Featured Passage

Older people are the most credible experts we have on how to live happy and fulfilled lives during hard times. They have experienced extraordinary historical events that tested their limits – and they have learned how to cope with them, to survive and to thrive. They have also been through the kinds of personal challenges and tragedies that younger people lie awake at night worrying about: loss of parents and spouses, even children; the ups and downs of marriage, bad jobs and unemployment. And they have come through them, and often are happier than younger people, as research shows us. What better source of advice for living for the rest of us?”