Trigger warning: this blog contains references to the death of a loved one.
When somebody close to you dies, among all the feelings of grief and loss there is also a painful awareness of your own mortality. Or that’s how it’s been for me since I lost my dad last year. My dad was an incredibly impressive person, objectively speaking, – The Guardian did an obituary on his professional achievements and he was surrounded by an extensive family he created. But I don’t think it would be betraying his trust to say that he didn’t feel very satisfied looking back at the end. And realising that left me with a lot of feelings to process. Sadness, for him, confusion as to why and then a sort of grim realisation that this kind of perspective seems to come for many people when it’s too late to do anything about it.
Skating along the surface of life
I think it’s only natural, when you lose someone, to look at how they lived and died and wonder about your own experience. And, in a way, this is also a useful moment of clarity when it comes to working out whether you’re living right now in a way you’re ultimately going to feel happy about when the time comes.
It’s especially useful because the things that we tend to focus on when death feels like it’s going to be decades away are not the things that haunt us at the end of our days. We can spend our whole lives being driven by subconscious needs or early childhood wounds or imbalances we never take the time to heal.
As a result, we tend to focus on achievements in the now, quick wins – income, status (e.g. being married or not married), things we own, what we look like, whether we could be objectively viewed as successful. It’s not hard to skate along the surface of life like a video game, collecting the tokens for ‘new car,’ ‘great sex,’ two kids,’ ‘perfect tan’ etc and never go deeper. And, unfortunately, if the research is to be believed, this is part of the problem.
Waking up is not ‘too woke’
I’m well aware that there’s a tendency to see self-awareness, and the journey to it, as a bit woke, navel gazing or only for people who have the time and resources. But it’s the key to living your life in a way that is aligned with who you really are. And if you look at the top five regrets of the dying is a list that seems to do the rounds on repeat you can see why. Take the first regret: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” You don’t get to living a life that is true to yourself without first working out what it means to be true to yourself, unpicking the narratives that are stopping that from happening and getting into a courage habit. And that’s only the first one on the list..
- 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.”
(Top 5 regrets of the dying)
What’s really startling about this list is that there seems to be such a disconnect between how we live and how we wish we’d lived when we’re dying. There could be a million reasons for this, from social conditioning to what our parents taught us, a broken working culture or the values that are pushed in the media. Apparently there’s now evidence that our lives really do flash before our eyes in our final moments (according to a recently published study in Frontiers In Aging Neuroscience). So, how can you make sure that’s not a film reel of regrets?
The Deathbed Test
If you read that list of regrets and felt a sinking sense of recognition then you’re not alone. And as long as you’re still breathing (which I assume you are if you’re reading this blog), there’s still time to do something about it. It sounds morbid as hell but it can actually be very motivational (as long as it won’t be traumatic for you) to jump yourself forward to that moment in time when it’s all nearly over. At that moment, if you reflect back on your life, as it is now – and if it continues along the same path – how is it going to feel?
Are your current priorities likely to make you feel satisfied and proud or like you missed out?
Is there anything you know you want to be able to look back on that isn’t in your life right now?
How do you feel about your current relationships?
On the whole, do you feel the way you want to feel on a day-to-day basis?
Are you likely to be happy in terms of the relationship you have with yourself?
How does it make you feel?
For most of us, questions like this create an internal response when we read them – and that response is worth noting. It might be something as simple as a twinge of anxiety or regret. Or it could be something clearer, or more complex. That nagging feeling that you’ve known for a while your work-life balance is off and life has become too skewed towards office rather than adventure, creativity or home. That sense that you’ve been denying airtime to something that’s going to be painful but that you really need to talk about. Feeling like you never quite manage to have the friendships and relationships you want to and not knowing how to change that. A longing for a feeling of real purpose.
The Time is Now
What’s beautiful about all this is that there’s still time. You’re not too old and it’s not too late. Never. All it takes is a pause and a moment of self-enquiry and life can quickly take an entirely different turn. One that current you might not have expected but future you might really need.
Coaching is an effective tool for developing self-awareness and improving many of the areas where the top 5 regrets of the dying pop up, from purpose to relationships with others and also with yourself. I’ve coached people to leave behind old narratives and obstacles and take practical steps towards a more fulfilling life – have a look at my testimonials or book a (free) discovery chat with me to find out more.