Leaving Work Behind

Top Five Regrets Of The Dying – What It Can Teach Us About Living

Written by Tom Ewer on February 17, 2012. 35 Comments

Top Five Regrets Of The Dying - What It Can Teach Us About LivingIt has been a good week for Leaving Work Behind. I expended an enormous amount of time and energy compiling the LWB 100 because I had a belief that it would be a genuinely useful resource for my readers.

Thankfully, it was time well spent. Relative to the size of my blog, it has been a huge success – in just two days, it has become the most-read post on the blog of all time.

And so I sat down today to write this post, knowing that I have lots of new readers. It is therefore fitting that I should follow up my most successful post to date with an article that really defines the message of this blog – that life should not be full of compromise.

I believe that we all have the power to create lifestyles that revolve around what we want from life (time to spend with loved ones, location independence, freedom from the shackles of a 9-5 career), not what we need from life (money to pay the bills, food on the table).

It is also fitting that the inspiration for this post came from one of my new readers, Rob. Thank you Rob, for drawing my attention to something so truly thought-provoking and inspiring.


I read an article a couple of days ago. Its author, Bonnie Ware, spent several years as a palliative nurse, caring for those with terminal illnesses. She had a window into something that many of us do not see until it is too late – the regrets of the dying. I dare say that many of us get through a lot of years before we stop to think about how we might reflect upon our actions (or inactions) in old age.

There are few things in life that are more destructive than regret. Although I am just 26 years old, I regret many of the things about my past. Things I hope I never have to endure again. Things that I wish I had never done. And perhaps most regrettably, things that I wish I had doneIt is those regrets that drive me to get everything I want out of life.

But it is regret that can make life so unfulfilling. Those little moments in life – the mistakes, the omissions, the inactions – they add up over time, and eventually they define us. I do not want to be defined by my regret, and I am sure that you feel the same.

So today, I want to explore five ways in which you can avoid regret, by reflecting upon the most common regrets of the dying.

1. Live For Yourself

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

It is difficult not to shape your actions based upon an expectation of how others will react. As social creatures, we crave the acceptance of others. Doing something that risks our acceptance is seen as a risky path, and one best avoided.

But have you ever stopped to think about why? What is it that drives you to try to appease those who will never walk in your shoes? It is your life to live – not theirs.

Any person who does not support your aspirations is not someone whose opinion you should value (tweet this).

2. Never Forget That Life Is For Living

I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

Don’t let your work define your life. Because at the end of the day, it should not be what brings you ultimate fulfillment. There must be more to life.

To enjoy your work is a true blessing, but a fulfilling life must offer balance. No matter how much you love your work, always make room for the most important things.

We must all strive to make work but a small part of a life well lived (tweet this).

3. Wear Your Heart On Your Sleeve

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

The vast majority of us are reserved, at least to an extent. I personally have spent most of my life bottling up my feelings, and I have paid the price.

You can learn from actions that you would have been wiser not to carry out, but you learn nothing from inaction. Do not get fooled into thinking that the path of least resistance is without risk.

Do not live life in regret. Cherish foolhardiness, and embrace the courage you have to express your feelings (tweet this).

4. Never Undervalue What Is Most Important

I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

I am terrible at keeping in touch with my friends and family, and am perpetually reminding myself to try harder. It is something that I live in regret of right now. And yet, there are people I care about that I haven’t seen or even spoken to for months.

The realization that such regret will only grow over time will empower me to be a better friend to those who are most important to me.

Nothing in life is more important than your friends and family (tweet this).

5. Empower Yourself

I wish that I had let myself be happier.

You are not selfish to want to be happy. It is only possible to serve others effectively when you are truly content. If you don’t prioritize your own happiness, you will only drain those around you of their own contentment.

Any free human being has the chance to be happier. Happiness is not an absolute emotion – there is no pinnacle, no peak. All you can do is work towards providing yourself with the best environment for happiness.

The sooner you recognize that you are in control of your own happiness, the sooner you will be happier (tweet this).

Cherish Your Time

Reading the regrets of the dying was like traveling forwards through time to experience something that must be avoided at all costs. It is clear to me that living a life with few regrets is only possible amongst those who truly recognize that our time on earth is finite.

So please, join me in working towards a life that is as devoid of regret as possible. We will make fools of ourselves. We will risk ridicule. We will take risks. We will lose, and we will gain. We will profit, and we will suffer. But we will do it all without an ounce of regret.

And then when the time comes – we will look back and smile.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Jason A. Howie

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35 Responses to “Top Five Regrets Of The Dying – What It Can Teach Us About Living”

  1. Steve Rice
    February 17, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    Wow…loved this post, Tom. Congrats on your success with the 100 post! I know you put a lot of time and effort into it

    Crafting a well-lived life–the essential premise of your post–is my chief ambition. Not knowing whether today is the day or whether it is 50 years from now, I want to welcome that day as a friend.

    These are wonderful reminders!

    • Tom Ewer
      February 17, 2012 at 7:34 pm

      Hey Steve,

      I had a feeling that you would like this post 🙂

      As for crafting a well-lived life – what could possibly be more important? Everything you value in life essentially comes down to that, doesn’t it?



      • Steve Rice
        February 17, 2012 at 8:05 pm

        You are right, Tom! Right up my alley. I think you’ve hit on something here…the idea of a well-lived life is of paramount importance. Most of us feel this I believe, yet sometimes we’re not sure how to get there. There are so many people and influences around us telling us different things. It’s tough to go within and really listen to ourselves for what the truth is.

        Then once we have it, the challenge becomes how to do we “externalize” it? How do we bring the passion and values that are at the core of who we are forward into our experience in a practical way.

        This is what I’m working on at my site…being more clear about taking the abstract philosophical concepts and boiling them down into practical tips and steps that will help a person to construct that life that matches their internal intentions

  2. Therese
    February 17, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    Great post, Tom — every single one is on par. The one I’ve really come into touch with lately is #1, living a life true to myself. For the first time in my life, I really don’t give a sh## about what others think of me. I’ve finally realized who I am & what’s important to me, and I’ve found the courage to live that out everyday. It’s extremely liberating.

    You are great! Thanks for this truth. xoxo

    • Tom Ewer
      February 17, 2012 at 7:35 pm

      Hell yeah!

      #1 is big for me too, especially in light of quitting my job and getting quizzical looks and concerned comments from friends and family.

      Have the confidence to know that you are epic, then go and be awesome 🙂


  3. Duy
    February 18, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    “Fortune Favors the Bold.”

    I don’t remember who said that but it’s one of my favorite quotes 🙂

    Thanks Tom for another amazing post. Life is short. And we have only one chance to live, so why waste it living someone else’s life? I truly believe that every individual has the potential to accomplish great things in their lives. But it depends on themselves to make that happen.

    I’m like you. I have tons of things I wish I had done early especially starting my own business. But what done is done. And I’m glad that my business is growing now.

    Just a quick update on my new project. After failing short at my previous project, I collected the pieces and built up another site. It’s now averaging about 45 visitors a day and all of my main keywords are on page 1! I haven’t made much money from it but I know it’s just a matter of time. And I will keep updating the content to increase conversion rate.

    November this year will be the 2-year mark of my business and I hope I can see some big achievements. If I had given up after that initial failure, I would have never seen this success. And I know you agree with me on this Tom 😀

    Again, thank you so much for giving us another wonderful post. All the best!


  4. Writer
    February 18, 2012 at 7:07 pm

    A post that touched my heart! Hopefully, i will be able to successfully imbibe them in life 🙂

  5. Ruth Zive
    February 18, 2012 at 7:40 pm

    So, so lovely and true. Great post Tom!

  6. Mike From Maine
    February 20, 2012 at 8:35 am

    Being successful in Internet Marketing is difficult. A lot of us get so involved in it that we forget that the whole reason we’re trying to be successful is so that we can spend more time with family and friends. We work to make our other aspects of life better. We can’t forget this.

    • Tom Ewer
      February 20, 2012 at 3:31 pm

      Couldn’t agree with you more Mike – you’ve really hit upon what I was trying to get at in part with this article. We can all get wrapped up in what we are trying to do with our professional lives, but we must not neglect the more important things.

  7. Joy
    February 20, 2012 at 2:17 pm

    Absolutely bang on, my friend!
    Happiness is a choice – but surprisingly, we need a reminder bell to recall such a simple stuff!

    A burning example of how complicated we have made ourselves !


  8. Samuel
    February 20, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    Love this! I am a young person who happens to find this article a very guiding one in life. Even at my age, I have had regrets and insecurities to which I have fallen and continue to struggle with.

    No matter what age you are, these trials will come your way. But articles like this help guide you from disappointment that happens when you fail.

    I like number one. Live for yourself. Don’t live for others cause they have already lived their life or are living it currently. 🙂

  9. Phil Jensen
    February 29, 2012 at 6:19 am


    Great post….always great to be reminded of important life lessons.

    Especially #1…

    I remember how much wasted time I spent as a teenager worrying about what other people thought. It wasn’t until I matured into my late 20s where I really started to learn that you have to “live for yourself” and avoid wasting time considering what others think (other than people closest to you of course).

    This is easier said then done however…..I don’t imagine many teenagers can help but care a lot about what their peers think (which I can empathize with).



    • Tom Ewer
      February 29, 2012 at 11:37 am

      Yep – it’s a toughie. Often these things are discovered too late. All you can do is work hard to improve your life as and when the inspiration to do so strikes. Thanks for stopping by Phil.

  10. susie
    March 14, 2012 at 4:34 am

    hi tom,
    I love your post…it’s true that time we have on earth is finite..in fact it is borrowed..even our body…someday all that we have will have to be returned…my regret is not spending enough time to be with my dad..my siblings and i were all busy with life and work..and when my dad passed away suddenly recently, i realized that i had missed telling him how much i love him….death taught me humility and that life is a borrowed item…someday i will have to return it too…the sooner we realize this the less regret we make in our lives…

    • Tom Ewer
      March 14, 2012 at 8:19 am

      I’m sorry to hear about your father Susie. Sometimes realizing what we have, whilst we still have it, is the greatest gift of all.

  11. soorenccss
    April 9, 2012 at 5:12 am

    RECALLED song by Frank Sinatra ” My Way” that goes well with post,
    REQUEST that Tom, you download video of that song,
    READERS on decision-making mode,
    READING this post while song playing in the foreground,
    REALLY will made them
    RARING to go!

  12. John Banks
    June 19, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    Hi Tom,

    Great post – I have to say you know how to write very compelling posts. I once got told that death is actually a great motivator – and I tend to agree. I don’t want to get all morbid, but its true.

    They say as time goes on you won’t look back on the things you did, but you will have regrets of the things you didn’t do. I know I am guilty of doing this.

    Another way of looking at it is the time we have to today is a gift. Thats why its called the present.


    • Tom Ewer
      June 20, 2012 at 1:55 pm

      Hi John,

      It is a little morbid, but absolutely true. If only we better understood the value of life at an earlier age, right? I am a mere 26 years old, and yet I am more aware of my mortality than I was just a few years ago. And I’m sure I will be even more aware as the years pass me by.



  13. mikekt
    June 22, 2012 at 11:48 pm

    I am 67 years of age……..and I am not about to “beat” myself mercilessly wholistically,

    knowing full well there will be a “Great Judgement” with Jesus Christ Second Coming,

    I will bide my TIME………Repenting and prepare for THAT DAY !!!

  14. Clare
    July 2, 2012 at 7:57 pm

    This is a lovely post Tom. There’s a quote I really like : If you can change it, then don’t worry about it, and if you can’t change it – worrying about it will do you no good.

    When I was younger I used to care what people at school thought of me. Thank goodness I got over that aged about 14.

    I find it staggering that so many people seem to care when people think of them – life is FAR too short for that. So long as you are a GOOD person, if people are threatened by you or don’t like you or whatever, that’s just life – same with relationships – if you are more into someone than they are you – move on – it’s life, it’s nothing personal – it’s just better to focus on the people who DO make you feel special and loved and the ones who DO understand you and who you WANT to stay in touch with.

    I try to address topics like this on my blog sometimes as well as money making online advice. I love your writing style Tom – I hope we can inspire each other going forwards and best wishes with everything. Clare 🙂

  15. Clare
    July 2, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    LOL that was a typo – I meant to write ” I find it staggering that so many people seem to care WHAT people think of them – life is FAR too short for that.” 🙂

  16. Joey Augustin
    April 5, 2013 at 10:34 pm

    I’ve found that if you focus on helping others, all of these ‘me’ centered perspectives melt away. When people are dying its natural to turn inward and think of regret. With choice comes regret, but often we forget to realize regrettable choices can often lead to redemption. Regret is all about a limited perspective.

  17. Chris Clayton
    April 22, 2013 at 8:34 am

    Echoing everyone else I would just like to say that this is a great post Tom. It is always a shame when people come to certain realizations at the end of their lives when nothing can be done about it.

    Fortunately for me I realized about two years ago that I was not living the life that I wanted to live. Now I am working hard to build a life that I can eventually look back on as a life that was well lived and meaningful.

    This post certainly helps to boost the motivation levels. I just hope I still have plenty of time left.

    • Tom Ewer
      April 22, 2013 at 10:36 am

      Thanks Chris. I’d like to think I’m also a fortunate one who is seeking to make the most out of life. That’s all we can do!

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