I wish I’d known that in my 30s….

Looking back, what do we regret most in our lifetimes?

Mark Twain once said “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” We hear people lament their lost loves, lost health and lost opportunities all the time.

“I wish I hadn’t sold that Noosa beachfront property in 1962 for $58,000 – it’s worth $2 million today.” Or “I wish I’d taken a chance and gone into business for myself when I had that great opportunity at age 33.” Or “I really regret not following my dream of sailing the South Pacific in a catamaran.” And on it goes.

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When we’re young, we feel we have all the time in the world to make the right choices, go after our goals and find our true purpose in life. By the time we become senior citizens, we will have accomplished some of those aims and missed out on others. That’s normal, because life is finite. And of course, what’s important to us at age 26 is totally different to what matters at 56.

Each life stage brings new challenges, new triumphs and new disappointments. Some of us seem to accumulate a formidable load of regrets by our 30s, while others manage to reach their last years of life and say “I wouldn’t have done anything differently – that was a full life and I’m satisfied.”

We’re all different in our expectations of ourselves and the world we live in. At the end of life, regret is useless – it’s a negative emotion that accomplishes nothing. But when we’re younger, regret has some use: it can be a prod that pushes us to live life as we wish, not as we must.

The Top Five Most Common Regrets of the Dying – as told by a palliative care nurse

Author/songwriter Bronnie Ware worked in palliative care for several years and published a best-selling book in 2012 called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Spending time attending to the needs of those in the final weeks of life, she learned valuable lessons about how the choices we make during life affect our peace of mind as we near the end of it.

It is a positive, reaffirming book that not only expresses how significant these regrets are, but suggests how we can avoid them by addressing life’s important issues while we still have the time. Here are her ‘Top Five Regrets of the Dying’ :

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me

According to Ware, this is the all-time most common regret: that we let extraneous things get in the way of pursuing our dreams. We let others dictate how we should live. We think our friends, our family or society in general will frown upon our goals. Sometimes what’s holding us back is ourselves – we let our own fears and doubts keep us from taking the necessary steps to achieve happiness.

We’re so busy keeping the rest of the world satisfied that we forget about doing the same for ourselves.

It’s a fact of life that many of us spend 40 (or more) hours each week working. We have bills to pay, mortgages to meet and families to raise. But how are we spending those hours? Are we challenged or bored? Are we loving every minute or dreading every second? When we get to the end of our working lives, what will we have to show for it?

Work takes up a huge proportion of the average adult’s lifespan, so making the right career decisions early in life can play a big part in our overall sense of achievement and happiness.

Will it be a sense of accomplishment, a comfortable lifestyle and good health or will it be financial insecurity and the sour taste of lost opportunities?

Work takes up a huge proportion of the average adult’s lifespan, so making the right career decisions early in life can play a big part in our overall sense of achievement and happiness.

That doesn’t mean you can’t change careers at any time (some folks start new careers in their 50s and 60s), but make sure your work is getting you closer to the kind of life you want to live, not further away.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard

According to the author, every male patient she nursed expressed this regret (and some female breadwinners too). Looking back, they were deeply saddened by the extraordinary amount of time they had spent ‘getting ahead’ at work – at the expense of spending more precious moments with their spouse, kids and personal interests.


Despite the popularity of the term, there is no perfect ‘work/life balance’. The main breadwinner is likely to walk through the door hours after the kids are home from school. He or she might need to work weekends, or the night shift, or more hours than they would like to pay the bills.

Our families need more than for us to just be present. We have to be connected and engaged, too.

What’s important isn’t necessarily the quantity of time we spend with our families, but the quality.Are we fully engaged, or do we immediately switch to shut-down mode at home, immersing ourselves in distractions? Or worse yet, do we bring work home with us, spending half the weekend stressing about ‘important work projects’ during our (supposedly) free time?

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings

Many of us become expert peacekeepers in our lives, suppressing our own feelings so we don’t upset others. We settle for less because we’re afraid to let people know what we really think or want. Honesty may be the best policy but it can sometimes hurt the ones we love, so we try to avoid that.

The frequent result of suppressing our true feelings is that we end up settling for an existence rather than a life, and never know our true capabilities. Suppressing what we feel over long periods can lead to resentment, bitterness and even serious health issues.

The bottom line: speak your mind when you need to and be as honest with yourself as you are with others. Don’t leave important things unsaid.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends

In her book, Ware writes that “Everyone misses their friends when they’re dying.” Unfortunately, we often leave it too late to let them know. We ‘get so busy’ that we forget to stay connected to those we care about.

Even with social media providing ample opportunities to keep friendships from slipping away, we get slack. We don’t realize how important some people are to us until it’s too late to tell them.

But if we can spend a half hour of our lives watching ‘Dr. J’s Greatest NBA Dunks’, ‘Top 10 Revenge Movies’ or ‘Epic Car Parking Fails’ on YouTube, surely we’ve got the time to let people we value know they’re appreciated.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier

This regret is quite common, with many people not recognizing until the end of life that happiness is a choice. It’s easy to take comfort in familiarity, sticking to old habits and patterns that don’t give us joy but let us coast along without challenging ourselves.

It may seem like less work to pretend we’re happy than to make the life-altering decisions that actually fulfill us and bring us the contentment we deserve. Happiness doesn’t grow on trees – we have to go out and grab it ourselves, without letting our fear of change stop us from moving forward.

Living life with minimal regrets

The lifetime regrets listed above focus on love, relationships and being true to our dreams, but there are plenty more involving health (‘I wish I had quit smoking, drinking and eating junk food so I could’ve lived 25 years longer’), finances (‘I wish I’d started saving in my 20s instead of waiting until my 40s’) and careers (‘I wish I’d had the guts to get out of that dead-end retail job and taken a stab at freelance web design’).

Perhaps the biggest mistake we all make is saying “I’ll start tomorrow”. The time to start making the right choices for your life isn’t tomorrow – it’s right now, because tomorrow is never guaranteed. There’s not too much you can do about the regrets you already have, but there are ways to avoid a few of the ones you might have in the future. Here are some practical tips for ‘personal regret reduction’:

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Make a bucket list, and don’t waste time making a dent in it

The best way to clarify your dreams is to write them down and start crossing items off the list, one by one. It sounds simple because it is. The list can include anything you like: snorkel in Tahiti, become your own boss, find a life partner who loves dogs, retire by age 45 – whatever. You can’t achieve your goals in life until you have defined in your own mind what they are.

Stop accumulating so much junk

Modern life demands that we have the basics: food, water, clothing, shelter, transportation, etc. We want our children to be happy, healthy and well educated. We want our work to be fulfilling and enjoyable. We want to have meaningful relationships, a pleasant holiday now and then and maybe a grand adventure or two as we navigate life’s winding road.

The question is: where does a jet ski, 112 pairs of shoes or $46,000 worth of credit card debt fit into the equation? One thing you never hear people say on their deathbed say is “Geez, I wish I’d bought a lot more stuff.” In a way, we don’t own our possessions – they own us.

So de-clutter your life and buy meaningful experiences and memories instead. At the end of your life you’ll fondly remember the amazing experiences you had and forget ‘the stuff’ entirely. Buy what you need, not what you can.

Get your financial world in order

The time to start building wealth is in your twenties, and it’s accomplished by making sensible financial decisions. Financial maturity has nothing to do with age and everything to do with planning ahead. Put away part of your savings when you get your first job and make it a habit. Don’t gamble – it’s giving away free money.

Financial maturity has nothing to do with age and everything to do with planning ahead.

If you’re not sure what to invest in, get professional advice. Aim high in your career choices and try to work at something you love doing. Protect the money and assets you’ve already worked so hard to accumulate.

If you don’t have life insurance, what happens if you have an accident that prevents you from working, or your child suffers a life threatening illness or injury and you can’t work because you have to look after them, or some other unexpected event makes it impossible for you to continue to meet your financial obligations?

Plan sensibly for your retirement well before the grey hairs arrive – by then it might be too late. Debt is your enemy – treat it like one.

Negative people are of no use to you

Have you ever been really excited about a new change in your life and then run into a ‘friend’ who had nothing good to say about it? The thing about your dreams is that they’re yours, and the only thing stopping you from making them come true is negativity – from those around you or from yourself.

The key to happiness is doing away with the negative. It’s the first step in moving from uncertainty to success.


This post was brought to you by Budget Direct Life Insurance

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