No Regrets

Sometimes I miss things on the Internet the first time round. I'm not aware they were things until I stumble across them randomly some time later. A week ago I came across the writing of Bronnie Ware, a pallative nurse in Australia who in 2009, documented the 5 most common regrets she encountered from the dying.

The regrets themselves weren't surprising. I've encountered all of them at some point. What surprised me was that the ones I'd encountered were the common ones. In her post, the regrets of the dying, Bonnie lists 5 regrets she commonly encountered from her patients:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Bonnie went on to write a book about this, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing. Her blog post touched a lot of people at the time, including YCombinator founder Paul Graham.

Graham viewed at these regrets as errors, in this case of omission. Not everyone has the opportunities Graham has had in life, and while I can understand his rationale, I'm not sure I agree with it. I believe these regrets have an internal element, but rarely arise in a vacuum.

I looked for signs of these regrets in myself and those around me. I found examples everywhere amongst my neighbours, family and friends:

  1. The regret of the women who married the man who knocked them up because it was expected at the time.
  2. The regret of the men who try so hard to provide for their children they never get to grow close to them.
  3. The gay men and trans women who attempted suicide because they couldn't reconcile their identity with their devout cultural or religious beliefs.
  4. The old man living alone in his house, slowly forgetting everything and everyone he knew.
  5. The women who spend their lives looking after everyone else, barely, if ever making time for herself.

I've experienced all 5 forms of Bronnies' regrets. Thankfully I've always had the ability to do something about it. I don't pretend that others have that capability. In fact I doubt most people are aware of these regrets until long after they've formed.

What I can do, is when I see this in others is be kind, be patient, encourage them to open up, and to listen. But I felt I should find a way to identify the first signs of these regrets in myself.

Graham inverted the regrets to create a list of 5 commands, but I found these to be very negative. Perhaps that's ok for him. It's not really for me. Instead, I chose 5 questions to periodically ask myself. Their purpose is to help me become more mindful of things that make me sad:

  1. Have I been authentic throughout the month, or was there a moment where I became a version of me to meet the expectations of others?
  2. Have I made enough time and space this week to be with those I love?
  3. This week, have I been continuously open and honest with myself and those around me?
  4. When did I last talk about something other than work to those I really care for?
  5. What did I do for me this week?

I've put these 5 questions up here, so I can check in on myself now and again. I also have them in a notes folder so I can go through the list once a week.

If the answer to a question is no, I make a note in Joplin about why the answer is no, and what I'll do to address it. It's ok for there to be a no response to a question, but I should at least make a conscious decision about it when it arises. There are no wrong answers, the thinking alone is often enough to kick me into gear.

My hope is that by asking these questions regularly, I can avoid things before they become regrets, instead of fixing them later on. That way, whenever it's time to die, I can do so with no regrets.