If we were to refine our lives to the top five most important components, I think we’d all come up with the same five.
When these five are available to us and functioning optimally, we truly possess all we need to live a happy and passionate life. Material possessions, money, prestige — these things mean very little when one or more of these top five priorities are no longer working well.
Palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware recorded her findings of conversations with dying patients regarding their biggest life regrets in her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. The number one regret was this:
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
Says Ware,“This was the most common regret of all. When people realise 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 a 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 realise, until they no longer have it.”
Here are the other four life regrets:
“I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” This was expressed mostly by male patients who regretted spending so much time on “the treadmill of a work existence.” By putting work ahead of family, personal goals, and friendships, they denied themselves a full and balanced experience of life.
“I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.” The inability to be authentic and express who you are and what you feel can slowly kill you. By repressing your true self, you are denying yourself compassion and love which are essential for emotional and physical health.
Says Bronnie Ware, “Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.”
“I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.” These patients didn’t realize the importance of their friendships until they were dying. They’d become so distracted by their own lives that they allowed valued friendships to slip away over the years. These social connections are so vital to our happiness and feelings of belonging.
“I wish I’d let myself be happier.” It wasn’t until they were near death that many of these patients realized that happiness is a choice. They had allowed themselves to remain stuck in negative, fearful beliefs and behaviors rather than choosing to focus on the positive aspects of their lives. Or perhaps they felt life was too serious or difficult to allow themselves to enjoy it.
Finding your passion in life requires simplifying everything.
There is an important take-away from these five regrets of the dying related to your life passion. Finding your passion is as much about clearing away non-essential distractions from your life as it is about searching for the thing you love.
The most difficult part of finding your passion is not having the time, focus, and clarity to know it when you see it.
If your days are spent moving at breakneck speed from one obligation or task to the next, you have no time or energy to seek your passion. If you never allow yourself the time to sit quietly to examine who you are and what you deeply desire, you will never find it.
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Sadly, many people are too afraid to let go of the distractions. They’re too afraid to let go of . . .
- Unnecessary tasks and obligations they commit themselves too;
- A job they find boring and unfulfilling;
- Material possessions that require countless hours of maintenance and lots of money;
- Mindless distractions like television and the internet they’ve become addicted to;
- Draining, negative people who put them down or hold them back;
- Physical clutter in their homes and offices that is distracting and draining;
- Unhealthy beliefs and outlooks that deceive and undermine happiness;
- Excuses they make to avoid taking action or making change.
When we are unwilling to release this life clutter, to simplify our lifestyles, our needs, and our choices, then one day we may find ourselves experiencing one or more of those five life regrets.
In order to create the best conditions for your life passion, first begin a personal life clean-up project. Perhaps the best place to begin is with the end in mind. Think about being one of Bronnie Ware’s patients at the end of your life and being able to make these joyful, affirming statements:
“I lived my life authentically, true to who I am and what I want to do.”
“My work was fulfilling and enjoyable, and I had a balance of time with my family and time with my work.”
“I had the courage to express my feelings, to ask for what I want, to be confident and fearless.”
“Until my last days, I had a network of wonderful, loving friends with whom I spent countless happy hours.”
“I lived a happy life, having made choices all along the way to support my conscious decision to be happy.”
Your Life Assessment
Taking an assessment of your life right now will help you see what choices, behaviors, beliefs, and obligations are undermining your chances for a “no-regrets ” future. Ask yourself these questions:
- How are you living inauthentically?
- What beliefs do you maintain that aren’t really your own?
- How are you spending time in ways that aren’t really you?
- How is your work-life balance?
- Do you spend enough quality time with your family and friends?
- Is your work fulfilling and pleasurable?
- What feelings are you repressing because you’re afraid to express them?
- How are you being controlled or negatively influenced by others?
- How are you “keeping the peace” at the expense of your true self?
- What friendships have you let slip that you’d like to maintain?
- In what ways has your life become so busy you no longer have room for people you care about?
- What people are you giving your time to who drain you or who don’t support you?
- What are the limiting beliefs and negative thoughts that hold you back from happiness?
- How are you giving away your power to choose happiness?
- What are you willing to release in order to have the time to find your passion, to enjoy your relationships, and to choose happiness through the simpler pleasures of life?
As you answer these questions, begin defining actions to simplify your life and clarify your passion. These might include:
- Clearing clutter from your house and letting go of material things you no longer use;
- Releasing or delegating tasks and obligations that are unnecessary or draining;
- Spending more time with friends and family and less time with people who drain you;
- Planning how you can transition out of a job you hate;
- Saying what you feel and setting boundaries with others;
- Looking at your negative beliefs and proactively changing them when you notice them;
- Making a daily choice to be positive and happy by focusing on gratitude and simple joys;
- Catching yourself when you make excuses for not taking action, and then taking action;
- Reviewing all of your personal beliefs (related to your values, integrity, politics, religion, relationships, parenting, etc.) to make sure they are YOUR beliefs and not adopted from someone else;
- Picking apart the fears keeping you from your passion or from taking action elsewhere, and talking them over with a trusted friend or counselor to move past them;
- Reviewing your financial situation to clarify how much debt you have, how you can save more, or how you can better live within your means.
As you simplify these areas of your life, as well as your behaviors and thoughts, you will have more space to explore the depths of your true self. You’ll have the confidence and security to experiment, to try various options for your passion, and to spend time with people who inspire you.
You’ll be free to design your life in a way that leaves little room for end-of-life regrets — one which holds the promise for passionate living every single day.
How are you complicating your life and holding yourself back from finding your life passion? What is one action you could take today to give yourself more time, space, and emotional energy to uncover what you love?