Deathbed Regrets: 'I Wish I Didn't Work so Hard'

Dying is never going to be a popular topic. So what if you could avoid some of the most common deathbed regrets, by making a few simple changes now - and improve your quality of life immeasurably at the same time.

Bronnie Ware worked in palliative care, looking after the dying for eight years. During this time she saw how people in the last days of their life take an incredible journey, often learning and considering things that they may not have done earlier. She heard the thoughts, the wisdom and the regrets of those who had lived full lives, and now brings their advice to everyone, in the form of her book, The Top Five Regrets of The Dying.

While talking about death might be in many ways taboo, learning the lessons we can from those facing death before us, makes perfect sense. Shockingly, the second most common regret Bronnie heard was specifically ’I wish I didn’t work so hard’ - a sobering message for all of us.

Regrets, I’ve had a few...

The full list of regrets Bronnie writes about is as follows:

  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 didn’t work 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 I had let myself be happier

Perhaps they hit a nerve. Perhaps there are one or two which resonate especially with you. Thinking about these now is surely more valuable than realising too late, that friendships have faded away, too many hours have been spent working overtime, and true feelings and emotions bottled up.

Maybe the most interesting thing about all of these things is that addressing them can be as simple as a series of small tweaks. Pick up the phone and call a mate. Decide to go do something fun instead of working late. Tell someone you love them. That’s not so hard, is it?

Just want to live while I’m alive

So, what can we do to make a difference now? It is the human condition that thinking about our own mortality is more or less impossible - so think instead about the actions we can take to address any of the above ideas that are relevant to you. The specific regret about working too hard is one which will hit home to many.

Bronnie describes this regret expressed by every single one of the male patients she looked after. Too much extra time spent in the office instead of with friends and family, time choosing to work instead of strengthening our relationships with friends, and pursuing the activities that make us happy, is ultimately going to mean a deathbed regret in later years.

This, of course, is not an invitation to ditch work and sail into the sunset - no matter how appealing that prospect might be. It is merely a plea for balance.

It’s 6pm already. Will that report wait until tomorrow? Go meet your mates, then.

You’re eating lunch over your computer again? It only damages your productivity anyway. Grab a friend and go for a walk in the park.

Checking your email on a Saturday morning? Use the phone to message an old mate instead.

Find yourself saying yes when what you mean is no? Reflect a minute on what you stand to gain and what you stand to lose from the decision.

Bronnie’s insight means that we have the benefit of hindsight in advance. Perhaps this will help more of us achieve a little extra balance in our everyday lives because the little changes can make a big difference.

Do you think you spend too much overtime at the office? Can you make the changes mentioned above? Your thoughts and comments below please...