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The Top 5 Dying Regrets

By Krupesh Kotecha

Bronnie Ware worked as a palliative care nurse. Her patients were those who had gone home to die. Published in her book called Regrets of The Dying, she revealed the most common regrets and themes from her discussions:

  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.

2020 will be the tenth anniversary of my father passing away, unexpectedly, of a heart attack aged 54. Unfortunately, I never got the opportunity to explore this topic with him, but I know he would have had at least a few of these regrets. For starters, as an only child, he moved to the UK on his own as a young teenager and he worked a working-class life ever since, often working seven days per week.

Here at Balance: Wealth Planning, I love coming to work and helping our clients, and I know the rest of the BWP team do too. But no one on their deathbed ever regretted not spending more time at the office!

In truth, we consider ourselves a progressive company where all staff have a great work/life balance. However, we recognise that not everyone has this flexibility with their occupation. Some struggle mentally to switch off from their careers as easily as others, and others will work with employers that are still a bit behind the times and hopefully on their journey to improving the well being of their employees.

The Evidence

As a nation, we’re putting in the most hours in the EU at two and a half weeks more a year than our European counterparts. One of the well-known side effects of this is the rise in stress and mental health issues as well the impact on physical health with an increase in heart disease and stroke which are the leading causes of death in the world.

Through Bronnie’s work, she found that people ‘grow’ a lot when faced with their own mortality and that we should never underestimate someone’s capacity for growth.

As expected, there’s a rollercoaster of emotions that she’s seen from denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial, and then eventual acceptance. What’s very pleasing is that every single one of her patients found their peace before they departed.

Bronnie’s findings were first published in 2009, and while academics have completed numerous studies worldwide since, the same themes persist.

Our relationships with others, by large, carry the most weight. This is no surprise as it’s well established amongst psychologists that the quality of our relationships is crucial to our wellbeing (aka happiness). Relationships are more valuable than work concerns or how much money you have!

If you consider yourself a financial planner (lifestyle or life planner, etc.), then you’ll already be familiar with exploring this issue of ‘time and energy/health’ with clients. Perhaps you’ve trained with the likes of the Kinder Institute of Life Planning and understand how to help clients take a step back and dig deeper, beyond their wealth.

But how often do we as the planner step off the treadmill to review this for ourselves (as the human first and not the planner) and just how capable are we of avoiding the blind spot bias?  I would argue that collectively we’re probably a lot worse than we’d care to admit.

So, what can we do about this?

Avoiding Regrets

Of course, I cannot tell you what you will come to regret the most, but this list is a designed to serve as a guide to consider what actions you can take today, in the present, so that your future self has fewer regrets when looking back.

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

The most common regret of all.

Bronnie found that most of her patients hadn’t honoured even half of their life goals and had to die knowing that was due to the choices they made or hadn’t made. Identifying your goals (whatever they are) is a step towards living the life you want to live. Write. Them. Down!

This is why when we talk about structuring finances for a client, we start with life goals and visions first. The two core resources we all have are money and time. We should be alright on the money side but the moment you lose your health, it’s too late. Start by thinking about all the things you said you’d do ‘tomorrow’ and take action today. After all, you have two other resources at your disposal – energy and talent. Put them to good use.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

It’s in our nature to work hard for our clients and strive to provide the best life for our loved ones. Unfortunately, this often comes at the cost of our loved ones because we spend so much time trying to do more for our clients by spending a couple of extra hours here and there or at the weekend, sending emails, and checking reports. Remember, your job was there before you, and it will be there after you, but you and your loved ones will not always be around. Make time for what matters most. Be open to new opportunities, ones more suited to a better work/life balance. If you live a fulfilling work life don’t forget to live a fulfilling life outside of work too.

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

Many people suppress their feelings to keep the peace with others. We cannot control the actions or reactions of others, so don’t focus on that. Speaking with kindness and honesty will raise your relationships to a healthier and happier level or free you from unhealthy relationships.

At the positive end of feelings, everyone wants to feel appreciated. Sadly, we’re sometimes better at receiving appreciation than we are at giving it. If you love someone you care about, then tell them often, before it’s too late.

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

As we go through our busy lives, it’s normal to lose touch with our true friends (as defined by Aristotle). We’ll have our imperfect friends, but these rarely persist through time unless they evolve into true friendships. Have you got true friends, the kind that when you do meet up or speak, it feels like you’ve never been away for so long? Be the first to call, write, or visit. Both of you will be glad you did.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

We all take ourselves far too seriously at times but taking life too seriously is one of life’s major regrets. Bad things happen to all of us, but they’re not always as bad as we make them out to be in our head. Happiness is a choice and unfortunately, many people don’t realise this until the end. There’s often an imbalance between the comfort of familiarity and the fear of change, causing us to stay stuck in our ways. Let go and smile again, laugh properly and deeply, and have some silliness in your life again.

No one is saying it isn’t important to work hard or become financially secure in your own right. But it is not only money that’s important.

Bottom Line

As financial planners, we know that plans aren’t set in stone so neither is this guide. Life is fluid and more nuanced, sometimes we need to work harder or spend more time on a case/project. Sometimes we lose touch with our friends. Sometimes we put others needs ahead of our own. All of this is okay.

Just don’t forget we should be able to help ourselves or better still, help each other to explore and identify our life goals and work out a plan that we can put into action. Naturally, this plan will keep all our financial affairs in order for our loved ones. So this becomes one less thing to worry about when you reach the end because in the final weeks, all that remains of importance is love and relationships.

Just as we want our clients to live rich lives, above dying rich – take a step back and do this for you and yours.

Krupesh Kotecha headshot
Courtesy of Krupesh Kotecha

Krupesh started his financial services career in 2001 and like most people he didn’t grow up wanting to be a financial planner!  You can find him working with clients as a Financial Planner at Balance: Wealth PlanningRead his full bio here.

The views expressed in this article are that of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Voyant.