Tomorrow I will be interviewed by 2ndActTV and the subject will be on the regrets of the dying. And it won’t be just us spewing our opinions, we will be looking at several studies and books written by palliative nurses and doctors who had recorded the final thoughts of their patients. And while a big one was usually some form of “I wish I hadn’t spent so much time working”, I was surprised to see that the #1 regret in the book ‘The Top Five Regrets of the Dying’ by Bronnie Ware was something very personal to me.
FEAR AND LOATHING AT 60 REDUX
A Look at 60 From The Other Side
Last year I did a video called ‘FEAR And LOATHING At 60? Does That Number CHANGE ANYTHING?’. A look at what turning 60 meant to me. (Spoiler Alert: I wasn’t all that happy, but was trying to be). And since that time I have made a major life changing decision … to quit my day job and travel the world for years. It actually wasn’t much of a decision. I NEEDED to do it. But then when Silke asked to interview me, I realized how everything had finally come together.
The number one regret in these studies was people wishing they’d had the courage to live a life true to themselves, and not the life others expected of them. Over and over, in each of the studies, this was the BIG ONE. Sure, there were many other regrets like wishing they had lived more in the moment, wishing they had taken more risks, and that they had lived their dream. But aren’t all of those just some variation (or symptom) of how they chose to live their lives based on the observations of others?
If you have ever watched a video of mine you will have seen this theme over and over. Nauseatingly so perhaps. It’s the thought that has driven me for decades. Even as I was living someone else’s definition of life, I was regretting it deeply inside. Sometimes out of guilt, sometimes out of procrastination and laziness. But it was always some form of existence that was from another’s textbook.
Now, having said all that, I know a lot of people for whom the standard version of life fits, and fits well. And I’m actually very happy (and perhaps a wee bit jealous) of them. But let’s look at it from a different angle. And yes I know, I will probably get flamed for this analogy … but it fits. (To me at least LOL!)
In today’s world we have learned to accept and celebrate love in its many forms. Gay and lesbian couples. Mixed race unions. But it hasn’t always been that way. Up until recently (and I know it’s still a huge obstacle for many) the very notion of living the life that you know is inside you felt impossible to achieve. “Coming out of the closet” or daring to live publicly with a person not of your skin color sent society into a tailspin. “How dare you not accept the one true way of life and follow it? Everything else is wrong!“. Right?
But you can’t change who you are. We have come to acknowledge and accept that you love who you love. That all people are built differently and that certain things are not a choice. They are just as real as the number of fingers and toes we each have. That there isn’t a single manual that fits everyone.
But what about the gray areas? Like lifestyle. Say someone had a dream to live as a painter and everyone shunned that dream as a fantasy. Told them they were destined to become a burden on society and wouldn’t be able to clothe and feed themselves. And so that potential artist thus lived the life of an accountant. Those are choices, right? Well … yes and no. We may not have a “painter gene” in us that we can’t alter or refuse, but happiness isn’t based in science. Nor is desire. Being forced by society to ignore and abandon that which brings us our greatest joy is also wrong.
Making our own decisions and feeling confident in those decisions gives us fulfillment and joy from life. Going against our guts only breeds resentment and bitterness. I personally know this from several areas. One is my choice of belief/religion. Mine isn’t the mainstream and I have been challenged many a time for what I hold to be true. But the big one is how I want to spend my days. And in this one I have to daily battle others, and also fight what has been taught to me since childhood.
The American Norm is to have a career (which pays well!), a home (which you’ll continuously upgrade into a bigger version), a spouse and multiple children, two week vacations in the summer, BBQs, and eventual retirement … where you’ll probably hold on to the family homestead for as long as possible and await visits from grandchildren. A little slice of heaven, that.
And for many … perhaps most … that is indeed nirvana. But what about for that Painter? Or that Traveler? Why must society try to stifle joy from others just because it doesn’t fit the majority view of happiness?
I recently turned 60. And as that day approached I was filled with this strange dread that I didn’t understand. 40 and 50 passed with no feelings other than a hangover. Why this feeling now? It was a wall that I didn’t want to hit. I was pre-feeling the regret of my deathbed. Now that I’m five months into my 60s I finally understand. That I have the choice of waiting a few more decades and lamenting that which I didn’t do. Or I can do it now. Take a stand, toss aside risks, and embrace that which I have always left on the side of the road. It’s a decision each of us have every day, regardless of when we were born.
“Is this the day that I start reaching for what I want so dearly?”