I was recently speaking with a friend who was recounting a conversation with a man in his mid-eighties facing up to the inevitable. Successful in his career, happy in terms of family; yet still he seemed to talk with a sense of regret. All his life he had lived up to expectations – he had done the right thing. Yet, in approaching the end of his life he noted that “he had not done the right thing for himself”.
Most people will of course take the mainstream path and for many it will of course be their choice. A desire to belong, to be loved, to work in a particular field. Gathering qualifications, moving through a career and having a family…or not. However, for many others they fall into jobs, stay in relationships for fear of being alone and have families because it’s what you do. It’s certainly not wrong, can lead to real joy and happiness and of course can be incredibly rewarding. What I fear however is that for a lot of people they become trapped.
I’ve heard many talk of being stuck on the treadmill where debt, family and the inevitable expectations of others prevail. Circumstances do of course make it harder for some to change but I still believe that with courage we can all take steps, however small, to live by our hearts. It’s funny. While there is a significant part of me that hoped that by my late thirties I too may have “settled down” as I currently pedal my way around the globe I’m thankful of my freedom to have been able to make such a decision and even happier that should settling down still happen – and I hope it will – that I have the chance to enter the next phase of my life knowing that I want it to bring joy and opportunity not another never ending run.
Making active decisions to turn down promotion, develop new work choices later in life, move on from “ok” relationships or live according to dreams and passions can often take a tough decision or an unexpected jolt from the norm, breakup or redundancy, for example. With these changes it we appear much more able to then look at what we really want. It seems a shame to me however that we wait. We wait for things to get really bad. We wait for others to make decisions on our behalf. I have also been there.
Back in 2012 I remember reading an article in The Guardian called “The five regrets of the dying”. Reviewing a book written by a former care nurse, Brownie Ware, the write up listed these top regrets following a series of conversations. Here they are, in reverse order:
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
Remember, there’s nothing wrong with settling down but there is something not right about just settling. The right thing has to be right for you too. Life is too short for regret.