This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.
For some reason or another, I’ve been contemplating my own mortality a lot lately. I’ve been thinking about what I’ve done with my life, the impact that my actions have had, and the legacy that I’ll leave behind. As the hours turn to days and the days turn to years, I’ve really been thinking about how I can best utilize what little time I have on this planet.
If it were all to end tomorrow, would I be able to look back at my life with pride? Would I be able to state with any level of confidence that I led a rich and fulfilling life? One where I elevated those around me in a positive and meaningful way? I can’t be completely certain. But I can try to learn from those who came before me. And that’s partly what led me to palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware.
Bronnie Ware is best known for writing The Top Five Regrets of the Dying after working with so many people during their final moments. While I haven’t read her book just yet, these top five regrets are summarized on her blog. One of the biggest regrets her patients expressed, in addition to wishing they had stayed in touch with friends or allowed themselves to be happier, was the regret of working too much, working too hard.
Because we think we can do more.
Because we think we should do more.
It’s not just about the actual money. And it’s not just about what that money represents either. We yearn for some sense of accomplishment, because we want to feel like our lives mattered. Considering that we spend so much of our adult hours at work, it’s perfectly understandable that we seek out this kind of validation through our jobs.
I catch myself trying to work in all hours of the day, even if that’s not necessarily in my best interest. I want to do more. I want to be more. Maybe it’s because I’m not bound to a regular 9-to-5 that I feel compelled to fill in all the “gaps” with more work. But maybe what I should be doing is figuring out how to do less. It’s not about the money.
Life is fleeting. From the cosmic perspective, each of us represents barely a blip on the radar. But if we want that blip to matter, we mustn’t forget to catch the moments of our lives while we’re still young and quick. If we’re still young and quick. Because we’ll be old and dying before we know it, and we don’t want to look back with regret.