Most Common Regrets of People on Their Deathbed – Reinterpreted

This post documents the findings of a nurse in palliative care; who takes care of patients in the last 3-12 weeks of their life before they pass away. When the patients were asked about their regrets, the 5 things she heard repeatedly were:

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 that I had let myself be happier.

Going over them one by one, I think you can easily draw some conclusions about how to live your life better, at least by the advice of those who offered their feedback from the days before theirs would end. Deducting the take away, you can make pro-active rules for yourself. I’ve recapped those here:

1. Have courage to know what you want and live the way you want, not how others expect you to.

This is a challenge for a lot of people, be it from our family, friends, society, or spouse, we feel pressure to live according to others expectations, even when they go agains’t our own personal aspirations. Do what you believe is right for you, it is not always so simple as just heading in the direction your heart tells you, but be clear with the people around you what that direction is, and if you ever feel held back, take note and free yourself from that obstacle.

2. Don’t work so hard. Focus on making time for your self outside of work.

Obvious but illusive; many people love what they do for work, and many people pour themselves into their work, but is it for the expectation of their peers, or for their own satisfaction. I think a lot of the time it’s for the former. I’ve found that the goals of my job, aimed for something I wanted to achieve, but eventually kept me from other things I wanted in life that I couldn’t get through work. Know when your work life balance is out of balance. Make the free time gaps in your work life that can be filled with your hobbies, passions, relationships, and life that you would never achieve through work.

3. Have the courage to express your feelings. Avoid people who don’t accept your true self.

If you can’t tell people how you feel. You will never feel understood. Because no one can understand you when you thoughts are unheard. It’s easy to slip into a life where you feel different from others and don’t see the need or place to share your feelings with them. But this is a habit that grows and grows until it’s normal to not share your feelings. Ultimately no one wins when you do this. People you interact with are being mislead, believing you want something else, and therefore wasting their time on you and supporting interests that aren’t yours. And you are wasting your own time, being with people who don’t understand you, or don’t want to understand you. Just imagine how fulfilling it can be to know the people around you support you and love you for who you are, not some carefully crafted image of the person you think you need to be.

4. Stay in touch with friends.

Perhaps work has something to blame here, perhaps not expressing your feelings does too. It’s easy to lose touch with friends, especially when you start investing your friendships in people from work, or the friends of your spouse rather than your own. In the end we all only have a select group of true friends. They are as important as family and it’s your job to keep them close, even if they aren’t good at it.

5. Let yourself be happier.

Since all of the above issues lead to a life of happiness and fulfillment I think it’s easiest said that if you don’t share your feelings, if you don’t keep your friends close, if you don’t make time for your personal life outside of work, if you don’t have courage to do what you truly want… you won’t be happy. And you aren’t letting yourself be happy. So start doing what you truly want to be doing, make it know how you feel to others around you. Keep your friends close and work, but don’t let it take away from the rest of your life, and have the courage to not work in the name of being happier and more productive when you are working.

Understanding Fondness

Following the compass of my joy has been a central topic for me lately. In fact one could say it’s the most important issue in my life at this moment. For the last several years my compass was strong, and I was following the course, I was sure about where I was headed. Maybe I never veered, but in the last few months, it seemed like I was at a very critical turning point and following the currents of my life was the most important matter, with serious consequences if not given full attention.

So I’ve essentially put myself on an indefinite sabbatical. I’m 32, barely have any retirement savings, actually make that none. Most people don’t do what I’m doing. This for me, and feels unavoidable. If I were to continue on in the same direction unchecked, I fell as though I’d surely have gone off track; resulting in feeling lifeless and unable to do the best job I could at anything.

If I were to keep going the direction I was heading without listening very close to my instincts, I would find my soul backed into a corner, I’d be stuck in a life I don’t want, or at least, a life I didn’t actively choose, and rather fell into. Even if it had all the staples of a “good life” i.e. family, house, rewarding job, vacations, passions, etc., it would have felt like I wound up in a place I didn’t want to be in, or didn’t choose for the wanting.

I should put in a disclaimer; this is a first world problem, in fact it’s a meta-first world problem. most people never have a choice about what they do with their time, or who their family is, or what city they live in, or what size income they have. In that way I’m a spoiled brat. I’m not rich, but I am able to take time off, travel, or just fart around unharmed and that’s something most people can’t do. I am grateful.

But for clarity of the worthwhileness of this post and not wasting any time, I think there’s enough people who at certain points in their life can actively choose a direction and need to for the fulfillment in their life. It’s important to know when we’re at a junction for one of these life choices, and to follow the choice that is best for us. In my case, the choice that is best, is one where I can continue to grow as a person, where my day to day activities allow me to pursue knowledge, health, happiness, and creativity. Where I love the people I’m with, do not have to endure or create pain or harm to be with them, and we mutually benefit from each others company and support.

The process of this sabbatical has not been uniform, in a way it started months ago when I saw my role at my company waning in importance. But technically, it started yesterday, when I had finally gotten over my jet lag from flying to California from Berlin. I’m staying with my parents in Palo Alto, in the house where I grew up, sleeping in my old bedroom, removing as many external forces that cloud my focus as possible. I’m getting to the center of what I want out of my life for the next 5-20 years. There are many things to consider in this process, where should I be? What people do I need to be near? What daily activities are healthy and encourage growth? Putting it all together, what I should be doing will be very clear, that’s my guess at least.

An important development came to me this morning; I found a central point to the geography of my designs, i.e. where I would like to spend my future. It came to me by way of a creative activity. Yesterday, I went out on a photo safari, and took photos all over Downtown Palo Alto with a new 35mm camera lens, and then headed up to the dish in the Stanford Foothills to take wide angle shots during the sunset with another new 11-16mm lens. After the sun had set and I’d come home, I looked through the photos. I’d taken pictures of people, buildings, landscapes, sidewalks, streets. All of which I’d seen hundreds of times. As I enhancing the images I played with the exposure, perspectives, highlights, black and whites, and colors. Finally I choose a few to post online to share with the world. Some people are curious about Palo Alto (I figured), and some people just enjoy city scenes, architecture, and landscapes. But by morning I realized it was a cue for me. This is not where I want to spend out my days. Then and still now, the final feeling was that it was all so blah. Nothing in them sparked a fire in my mind.

Perhaps anywhere will become monotonous as my hometown feels to me; repetition destaurates mystery, and when mystery goes, so does excitement. But at least for the next 5-20 years, I cannot imagine getting much of any inspiration from the surroundings of Silicon Valley. Berlin was different. Every moment was a moment in Europe, with people who were still new to me, on bikes that are new (actually quite old), and cobblestones that I’d only seen in the days of my last two years. The weather patterns were still new to me. And this is something that is important for choosing my direction. It doesn’t mean Berlin is the only place I can live, but it helped me to understand what I need from my surroundings.

I need to be somewhere that provides a new perspective. If I can describe every detail of the surroundings, I probably know it too well, and won’t find myself pleasantly amused by ongoing discovery, and that’s something I need.

Cutting Down on Lattés vs Putting Lipstick on a Pig

Buy this car to drive to work, drive to work to pay for this car…

Handshakes“, Metric

20 years ago people didn’t buy $5.00 lattés on their way to work. 100 years ago we didn’t have air conditioning. We take jobs that require commuting 90 minutes a day, in cities with crappy public transportation, so we have to buy a car. Are you creating a life for yourself that allows you to keep the money you make? Or is it a life that requires more and more money to sustain the discomfort that comes from the things you buy and demands of the work life you get with ever increasing responsibilities? Which ultimately requires “shopping therapy”, and a bigger closet to store all the things you take home on said therapeutic outings.

This is a reaction, in two parts. One the one hand I’m trying to uncover one of the biggest catch 22s of the American Dream which are ultimately easier to solve than most people dare to imagine. And on the other, I’m looking at a point made by a blogger rome model of mine.

I’ve been reading the blog “I will teach you to be rich” by Ramit Sethi, lately. I read his book of the same title 5 years ago and took away several money planning strategies and other finance methodologies that really helped me improve my money management, savings, and created a new perspective for budgeting an enjoyable life. Since then the blog has developed into a strategy guide for becoming rich by gaming one’s career, building a company from scratch, or optimizing a small business that isn’t scaling.

All those techniques work, and have great points people should know and practice. But, something caught me off guard about the change in Sethi’s tone, where he is trying make an example of fruitless wealth management techniques. The one I’m speaking about is a reference to people who talk about cutting down on lattés to save money (one method which his book actually would advocate for). I understand that Ramit wants to direct his readers towards methods for scaling income (that’s probably a better selling point for his products), and distancing himself from other financial self improvement guides who focus on reducing spending, but it bothers me that he’s putting those methods down. If nothing else, it’s because he realizes his readers don’t want to stop buying expensive coffee drinks, they don’t want to stay in cheap hotels on their vacations, or cut back on fancy dinners and Leica time pieces. Which – fair enough – is not what everyone wants out of life, perhaps they enjoy working more to pay for more stuff, and growing their business, because that is a sign of success. But really, putting down the reining in of someones spending is a risky card to play.

It doesn’t matter if it’s lattés, designer handbags, or pricey cocktails. You can’t put lipstick on a pig; if you’re burning your ability to enjoy life by working hard, and buying stuff that requires you to work harder, you’re living an imbalanced lifestyle and you could be happier. That’s a way of life I can’t get behind because it ultimately deceives people into thinking they are on a path to becoming happier, when really they are just adding more weight to an aircraft which has a limited capacity for fuel and distance. After all, if you can’t learn to manage your consumer expectations it doesn’t matter how much income you generate, you’ll always be chasing a bigger paycheck, a higher spending customer, a larger market. Are those the things that make American culture so ugly to begin with?

While living in Germany I witnessed a way of life that I think would improve all people’s quality of life. There is an emphasis on restraint, people spend less, and they buy less, and as a result prices for many things don’t cost as much. Homes are built with concrete instead of wood and cheap materials because concrete stays cool during warm seasons and holds heat in cool seasons. Doing so allows them to avoid using air conditioning and heating energy, and literally 95% of all homes & offices in Germany don’t use air conditioning, think about the energy savings they achieve from this.

Building with concrete reduces the need for deforestation, which allows trees to continue growing, producing oxygen, and reducing greenhouse gasses. Think about that, and take a guess which country produces more carbon emissions per person? In Germany, all consumer waste is recycled with the exception of dust and cosmetic (think q-tips and feminine hygiene). Everything else is processed to be used again or converted into energy. Meanwhile back in the US, our coffee drinks get more expensive, larger, fuller of crappy chemicals, and sold in cups we usually just throw into a landfill. We make new products for people to buy with packaging they cannot recycle, and the landfills we are running out of room for, are getting bigger. We keep buying the next big TV, and hand bag. Automobile marketing companies encourage us to trade in our car for a newer bigger car, and the governments continue expanding the freeways to make room for the additional cars we all use, instead of steering cities and civilians in the direction of better public transportation, they continue feeding the beast that requires more fossil fuels, more parking lots, greater commute times, which make people have to earn more money so they can afford the stressful lifestyle they’ve taken on. And, with all that driving, these people aren’t walking much anymore, so they probably need to spend more time in the gym, or pay for weight loss programs they can’t stick to. Or get diabetes which causes tragic deaths, painful lives while we are living, and brings massive health care costs to our government.

That’s enough venting, as you can see, this topic really gets me worked up. It’s one of the most difficult things for me about being an American. We have so many programs that are working agains’t our health, or freedom, or ability to save. It’s a downward spiral that I want nothing to do with. Meanwhile people around the planet, envy our pop culture, but not our waistlines, or congested freeways.

So what’s the take away here? How can you start walking agains’t the current of consumerism that affects your health, savings, and ability to be happy? Let’s start with one simple thing. This eventually becomes a complete overhaul on your way of life, offering financial freedom, longer life, great relationships, more rewarding work, and much much more. But we’ll just start with one thing…

There is a muscle you can build, starting right now. A new skill, or trick in your back pocket. Something you can tell yourself you will do, before it happens (which makes it much easier to follow through). Find one symbolic gesture in your normal habits that starts turning the face that is the self-destructive american consumer. Be it a bike or bus ride to work one day per week, or the next time you go shopping and see yourself about to buy something you don’t need, decide to wait a few days and see if you still really want that thing. Maybe imagine a weekend of shopping and dining out, before doing so, tally up the money you’d spend on that weekend, and move that money into a savings account. Then call your friends and plan a picnic in the park, or a hike, or a home crafts day. Something that might still have a few bucks attached, but far less than that costly weekend would have been.

Now, the fun part is, just imagine how this one new skills has modified your life, if you keep it up.

  • If you’re now riding your bike to work one day a week, think about the exercise you’re getting from this, and the time you saved by not needing to do that exercise outside of work. Multiple the time you saved by weeks in a year, and years you will be working. Like a 30 minute bike ride, 1 day per week, is 2 hours a month, that’s 24 hours a year. Over 30 years, that’s 720 hours, or an entire month of free time you just got. And you’re going to enjoy that bike ride! You’ll get to work with endorphins making you happier and more motivated.
  • If it’s a weekend of diners, drinks, and taxis. Pretend you would have spend $30 on dinner, $10 on drinks, and $8 on a taxi. Let’s say you decide to cut this pricey night out of your budget twice per month. That means you can still go out and do it on the other nights if you want. But just commit to two days per month you wont do these things. $48 saved on each night, twice per month gives you $96/month saved. Over one year that gives you $1,152 dollars saved. Enough, if you invested this money in a conservative account, you’d have more than $80,000 saved. That’s enough to put a kid through college.

So there are just two examples. And I’m asking you to only make one of those changes. Think about the impact of working up to several of these lifestyle optimizations!?!

The best part is, as you learn to depend less on getting fulfillment from spending, and find ways to get more free time, you end up having the freedom to do more of the stuff you want to, instead of working. No one says they wish they’d worked more on their dying bed right? Need I say more? From the financial perspective, having more money to help cover the real costs of life such as education and retirement, means more financial independence, means more freedom to walk away from your day job and do something you’re passionate about. Or simply having the choice to say no to a promotion with more work hours and more responsibility, so you can have more time in life to be with the people you love.

Look at the benefits any way you want, it’s quite obvious that the upside is there. So what’s gonna be your one new skill? How much time or money will it save you? And what will you do with it?

When Problems Are Treated Like Seeds

Problems nag at us. They fill our thoughts, like a weed, growing up in between the things we deem important. They bother us, take attention away from what we want to think about. Many of us procrastinate, allowing the weed to grow, to form roots and eventually crack the foundation of the ground they formed under.

Others treat these problems like weeds, and hit them with some weed killer, applying toxic chemicals to take away the possibility that they become a strong life in the place where they coincidentally found refuge. Possibly introducing new poisons to our ecosystem.

Some problems can be treated not like weeds; growing up between cracks, but like crops. Perhaps they don’t present danger, perhaps they wont make things ugly. Maybe they are the spirit of new birth in our life, forming in the dark corners, conceived while we were looking in the other direction. And if we give them enough time to get past that seedling stage, provided they don’t offer any imminent danger, they will develop into a flower, or a hearty stalk. Something that can be used, or perhaps something that changes the way we perceive ourselves. Creating new life were there were only particles. The zygote of creation working it’s magic on our very own lives.

If we keep a passive eye on our problems, so long as they aren’t progressing into something bad, letting them mature, we can understand if they are actually a problem, or something new, beautiful, enlightening. We can reap the assets of those problems, as they in fact might not be problems, but diamonds in the rough. When the time is right, we can harvest them, make them into something great, grown organically in the backyard-chaos that is our lives.