I am a big fan of making mistakes. No matter how embarrassing, physically harmful, financially ill-advised, or otherwise, without making mistakes we cannot learn, and therefore cannot change. This isn’t to say that I go out of my way to make mistakes, but when I do, I try to welcome the challenge to be a better person. The trick is noticing the mistakes.
I recently read an article written by a Palliative Care worker. She takes care of patients at the end of their lives. Palliative methods do not seek to rush or slow death’s arrival, but rather provide emotional, spiritual and physical comfort to those dealing with the inevitable. Over the years, she’s observed that most dying people share the same reflections on how they spent their time here. She has compiled a list of the Top 5 regrets her patients have had.
For the “contributors” of this list it may be too late. For those of us still able to recognize and change our ways, it is not.
Here are those regrets we may come to have if we don’t start paying attention:
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Any psychologist worth a damn will tell you that life is about one thing: doing what you want. If you want to try fly fishing, if you want to own a certain kind of car, if you want to see that girl again, if you want to take a nap, if you want to learn to cook or bake… it is quite simple: do those things. Go out of your way to indulge your wants. It may not always work out (especially in instances of romantic wanting since that other person has the power to keep you from your goal), but that doesn’t matter – going after what you want is what matters. Whatever you do – and at whatever skill level – do things because they make you happy, and pursue them to the end.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
People come and go in our lives. If you find yourself ever wondering, “What happened to so-and-so…?” then you should probably try to reach out to them. A lot of who we are is forged in our early friendships. There will still be those moments of kinship and love, no matter how estranged or stubborn we may have grown. Let yourself reconnect.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Learning to express yourself is no different from any other skill. It takes time, patience and the willingness to do so. We cannot control who we love; we cannot control how anything makes us feel. We aren’t programmed to have a “proper” reaction to the world around us, or respond in a specific way to what people say and do. Get into the habit of expressing yourself to those you can trust. Be completely unabashed. Let it out. Cry if you have to. Hug someone you never hug if you suddenly feel the urge. If something pisses you off, say so to the powers that be. By not expressing yourself, you imprison a huge portion of your personality.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
America is one of the few countries in the world to not have the equivalent of a siesta. We work hard, long hours. We forget easily that the materials we gather in life cannot be taken with us. We may rationalize that we are working hard, procuring more and more money for our future, or for “our children’s future.” It is a noble motivator. But as we procure the money and means to provide a future we also deprive our loved ones of the most precious thing we have to spend: our time. When we are gone, regardless of regret, how will people remember us if we were never around? What are we really leaving behind? This isn’t to say we shouldn’t work hard – on the contrary, I believe true fulfillment comes from putting your entire heart into what you do. But, there has to be a balance.
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
We have to make mistakes. Each year that passes should contain as much folly as victory. But those mistakes cannot be made on a path designed by someone else. We can spend countless hours being lazy, gambling, drinking and playing games; and spend the same amount of hours writing, watching movies, recording music and reading. While not all of it is healthy, we will be able to look back and see that we lived the life we wanted to live – sometimes to our detriment, sometimes to our gain. By doing the things we love to do, we may find ourselves making a living doing what we once did for no other reason than self-fulfillment – because we have put in the time to learn the craft, to understand the nuances of our passion. I am not saying everyone should drop all responsibilities to accommodate this plan, but maybe there is a reason we are told time and time again to follow our dreams, and to listen to our hearts at all cost. It is true that life is short, but there is also plenty of time to live the lives we want to live. It isn’t too late until we’re looking up at a nurse, saying, “I wish I’d lived my life differently…”