A palliative care nurse called Bronnie Ware made a list of the biggest regrets of the dying. Her list seems plausible. I could see myself — can see myself — making at least four of these five mistakes.
If you had to compress them into a single piece of advice, it might be: don’t be a cog. The five regrets paint a portrait of post-industrial man, who shrinks himself into a shape that fits his circumstances, then turns dutifully till he stops.
The alarming thing is, the mistakes that produce these regrets are all errors of omission. You forget your dreams, ignore your family, suppress your feelings, neglect your friends, and forget to be happy. Errors of omission are a particularly dangerous type of mistake, because you make them by default.
I would like to avoid making these mistakes. But how do you avoid mistakes you make by default? Ideally you transform your life so it has other defaults. But it may not be possible to do that completely. As long as these mistakes happen by default, you probably have to be reminded not to make them. So I inverted the five regrets, yielding a list of five commands:
Don’t ignore your dreams; don’t work too much; say what you think; cultivate friendships; be happy.
which I then put at the top of the file I use as a to-do list…
Zac: Thanks to Andy Hamilton for inadvertently introducing me to Paul Graham’s musings – great reading! This piece got me thinking about what’s on my list. It’d probably be (and relatively similar to many people, I am sure, including those who nurse Bronnie Ware cared for): be happy (or fix it / move on), don’t forget your family and friends (that work/life balance has its challenges, especially with workaholic flowing through your blood), give that one dream you have a go (today, for me, this is a software company), don’t let mistakes hold you back (they often turn out to be a blessing), and be wise in your decision making (ie. triple think if it’s the right thing to do). What are yours?