post written by: Angel Chernoff

One Lesson on Regret Most People Learn Too Late

One Thing You Must Do to Avoid Life’s Biggest Regrets

by Akshay Nanavati

A storm approached.  The clouds turned black and camp was over two hours away.  After many failed attempts, I gave it one more last ditch effort to capture the beauty of the frozen abyss.  In it’s own right, glacier caving high in the Himalayas on the Annapurna Glacier presented a formidable challenge.  Attempting to immortalize the experience through pictures proved to be even more demanding.

Finally, the perfect shot.  Or at least the best I could do with the limited light and the tight space.  There was no time for another one.  Korbindra, my Nepalese guide, and I crawled out of the darkness into the remaining light that pierced through the foreboding skies.  Three hundred feet away, two assistant guides waited with our packs.  All that remained now was a short climb down an inclined wall of ice.

We had to move fast.  The storm was not the only concern.  Just above us, giant rocks laid precariously on the lip of the ice cave.

I began the descent, carefully placing my ice axes and crampons on each step to avoid slipping.  Although my skills on ice were mediocre, I managed to get down safely and rushed away from the danger zone.

Suddenly, a thunderous crash.  The massive boulders slammed onto the very path I was on less than a minute ago.

My heart rate skyrocketed. “Holy crap,” I whispered to myself.  Any slower down that wall and I would have been crushed.

Almost instantly, my fear turned into joy as I became acutely aware of my own mortality.  In that moment, having felt the brush of death, I came alive.

Regrets of Dying

Steve Jobs once said, “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.”  He started a multibillion-dollar product line – the iPhone – shortly thereafter.

Our mortality is our most powerful ally, yet most of us live every day blissfully ignorant of its presence.  We move through our entire lives without even contemplating the reality that it will one day end.  Why else would 80% (according to several studies) of Americans be unhappy in their jobs and choose to continue working in those very same jobs?

Sleepwalking through life, we push all our dreams and desires to ‘someday.’  But someday may as well be never.  It is not without reason that cemeteries are the wealthiest places on earth.  For they are filled with millions of unwritten books, unsung songs and unfulfilled dreams.

For most of us, only when we come close to claiming our place in the earth do we start to discover the treasures that live deep within us.

Bronnie Ware, a palliative nurse in Australia, spent years working with people during the last 12 weeks of their lives.  While caring for her dying patients, she recorded their final regrets and found common themes that she documented in a book titled, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.”

Three of the top five regrets were:

  • “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
  • “I wish I didn’t work so hard my whole life.”
  • “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”

If you were to die tomorrow, what would you regret?

The question is not meant to simply trigger the age-old cliché of “live every day like it is your last.”  This question is intended to have you actually look into the future and picture yourself on your deathbed.  Visualize your family around you.  Picture them staring into your feeble frame.  Really immerse yourself in this reality.  From there, ask yourself that question.

Using Death as a Motivator for Life

“If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering.  Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death.  Without suffering and death, human life cannot be complete.”
―Victor Frankl

Ancient samurai warriors believed that every day one must meditate on their inevitable death and consider themselves as dead.  Their ideal practice involved picturing themselves dying in battle, drowning in an ocean, burned by a fire, falling from a cliff or any number of ways a person can be killed.

There is nothing morbid or morose about either of these practices.  Death is simply the other side of life.  Within its embrace lies the most powerful impulse of the human spirit, the desire to live a meaningful and passionate life.

I have lost many friends to drugs and war.  One of my closest buddies in the Marine Corps was killed in Iraq by an improvised explosive device.  To this day, I wish it had been me instead of him.  But there is nothing I can do about it now except honor his memory.  Remembering his death gives me the strength to live my life to the fullest and help others do the same, especially when things get tough.  If I was meant to live and he was not, then I must prove to myself that there is worth to my life.  His death continues to help me give meaning to my life.

My own encounters with the grim reaper have only reinforced that meaning.

By learning how to die, I have learned how to live.

Buddha himself said, “Of all footprints, that of the elephant is supreme.  Of all mindfulness meditations, that on death is supreme.”  And he was enlightened.

If a multi-billionaire and an enlightened being both agree about the validity of a practice, there must be something to it.

By embracing death, we gain perspective on life.  The power of perspective reveals that the highs of life can never be as high without the lows.  Without one or the other, life becomes nothing more than a static line.  Something like the one that you see when a person’s heart stops beating.

Meditating on death is simply the act of acknowledging the end in order to fully appreciate the now.  Thus bringing passion back into life.

For it is only when we risk losing something that we truly find its value.  And what could be a greater risk than putting all that is, our very existence, on the line for something grand?

Reigniting the Inner Fire

After working in a 9-5 job for almost one and a half years, in March of 2012 I finally quit when I noticed myself dying.  I took $15,000 of the money I saved up, which was almost all of it, and spent one month dragging a 190-pound sled across 350 miles in temperatures as low as negative 40 degrees on the second largest icecap in the world in Greenland.

The constant misery and the daily struggle brought me closer to life.  It allowed me to feel the pulse of life course through my veins.  Although death was not a regular concern on the icecap, it did present itself as a threat in the form of crevasses early in the expedition and polar bears during the end of it.  Nonetheless, the suffering proved to be a worthy companion of death.  Both provided me with the opportunity to reflect on the joys and comforts of life.  Collectively, the experience reignited the fire within me to embrace my life and create my own destiny.

I returned home from the expedition with little money and built two businesses from the ground up.  I have been living life on my terms ever since.

Whether it is quitting your job to build a business, running a marathon or traveling to unknown parts of the world, any worthy endeavor requires risk, struggle and sacrifice.  Some of these things may even terrify you.  But ask yourself, is the fear of the unknown stronger than the most powerful of fears, the fear of a wasted life?

To help you answer that question, here are some steps to take to reignite your fire and embrace the most powerful impulse of the human spirit, your mortality:

For starters, practice the meditation mentioned above.  Simply sit down, close your eyes and concentrate on the meaning of death.  See your own death and feel the impact of it.  The time it takes to practice this meditation is less important than the emotion it produces within you.  It is vital for you to really feel what it means to be at the end of your life.  That emotion will drive you to make the changes you want.  Once you awake from this meditation, take one action to drive your life forward, so that when you do reach that point in time many moons from now, you will be able to answer, “No, I have no regrets!”

For those of you wishing to take it to the next level, get out there and actually experience the presence of death or its close counterpart, suffering.  Take action to put yourself in situations of discomfort and risk.  This could be in the form of deep sea diving, skydiving, mountaineering, traveling to unknown parts of the world, running a marathon, anything that pushes you physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  Within the unknown, you will find infinite possibilities to value every single moment you have on this planet.  First, you must take a leap.

The choice is yours.

Your turn…

I would love to hear your thoughts on the question I proposed above:

If you were to die tomorrow, what would you regret most?

Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts and insights.

Author Bio:  Akshay Nanavati has spent 7 months in Iraq with the US Marines, quit a corporate job, traveled to six of the seven continents, explored some of the most hostile environments on the planet and now he works for himself.  Through Existing2Living he helps others push their limits and live lives filled with joy and passion.

Photo by: Hartwig HKD

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  • My regret would be that all I focused on was work. And it really is almost too late now.

  • I’ve done so many wonderful things in my life. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I don’t regret many of them. I do regret a few things which I’m starting to remedy.

    1. I should travel more. (In July I went to 3 states and another country. Still need to go to more adventurous countries though.)
    2. Building a business that fits my personality. (I’m slowly getting better at working with my ideal clients, but I still work with a few people I would rather say no to.)
    3. Being more relaxed about stupid stuff. (Some days I get all worked up and stressed out and a month later I laugh at myself. I’m trying to stop repeating this pattern, but old habits die hard.

    Thanks for a great post! I should write something like this for my work happiness blog.

  • That somehow I didn’t love my daughter enough for her to love me back.

  • I would regret not taking more time off from work to spend with a family who loves me, but who I rarely see. Right now I tell myself that my crazy travel schedule is temporary, but I know I need to make some changes very soon.

  • I want to live a passionate life. I lost my parents to the cold hands of death at a tender age. It affected me, but thanks be to God for being there for me in spite my losses. Now I just want to live the best, simple life possible - a life where I follow my dreams as best as I can, raise a loving family, and give something back to this world before I’m gone. I striving to make this happen now.

  • I would regret most that I didn’t take care of my SELF and I didn’t respect ME enough.

  • Great article! Inspiring story. The thing I would regret the most is not to be around for my family anymore. To take action is a great thing, but taking the risks where things are getting purposely dangerous is for when you are young - When you get older, you just want to avoid the trouble (smaller risks) … or maybe it is just me :)

  • This is a timely reminder!
    Thank you!

  • I actually worked myself into sickness I think sometimes. I worked 13 years at a job I loved, but it was too much for me physically and mentally to work 12 hour days and commute 2 hours and raise two children by myself. I came down with Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in my 40’s.. Now it seems I suffer all the time with chronic pain. I can no longer do many of the things I once took for granted. Still living with pain does make me appreciate the beauty of the world around me more because I have the time today to reflect on it. I also appreciate the moments when nothing hurts. I wish I had the guts to walk away from that job before it took my health like you did.

  • My biggest regret has been not living the life I want and settling for a life of convenience. Instead of having the courage to say, “No this isn’t for me.” I was nice and loyal and remained in a relationship that suffocated me mentally and spiritually. Thankfully the universe jumped in to save me. Now it’s up to me to finally go for it. I love the idea of meditating on death. I will add this to my daily meditation practice to push me forward. Thanks so much for this inspiring post.

  • I find myself constantly trying to balance what will nurture me and what I need to do as part of that nurturing that involves other people and causes. I don’t want to lie on my deathbed regretting that I had the opportunity to make the world a better place and didn’t do it. I’d like to be able to balance what fulfills me in all areas.

  • I love my work as a writer, sometimes having to remind myself I’m actually “working”. Over a long marriage, my late husband and I spent more on travel than anything else, surprising those who expected our everyday life to be more extravagant. But we lived for ourselves, acquiring what we needed rather than to impress although we lived well by our own standards. When he died 5 years ago, I thought of all the places we’d seen and the adventures we’d done together and wouldn’t swap any of it for things. I am so, so glad we chose as we did and will continue the practice in my life as it is now.

    I believe we create regrets through the choices we make day to day. And I agree, asking how I will feel in X years if I do/don’t do something is the best way of regret-proofing life.

  • One thing I already regret, but am working on now: Not spending more time on my passion for writing and playing music. I ignored my passion because I didn’t think I had time for nearly two decades. Now I dabble in a hobbyist band, and it has improved my outlook and attitude in all walks of life.

  • Not learning to trust my intuition and not learning the art of forgiveness. From where I stand now, those would be my two greatest regrets.

  • I’ve spent twenty years working in a hospital and around death. I am completely miserable not just from what I do but from what I see. The problem is the money in too good. I hope I can break the cycle before its too late for my own peace of mind.

  • What would I regret?

    Not being grateful for my wife. Not communicating more with her. Expecting too much and not telling her. I am needy–maybe too much.

    Not working hard either in school or my current job. Excellence comes from hard work–and I have consistently failed to produce that. I am an underachiever and I hate that. I also hate my current job–and have for years but I own the company and owe more than it’s worth now so I feel stuck.

    Trying to bring in others into the family who needed support in a backward/wrong and ultimately destructive way. Looking to them to complete the family I always wanted, and will, sadly, never get. And they still need support but now…

    Never being happy. Always worrying about tomorrow and what could happen.

    Not being brave or strong enough to chuck it all, declare bankruptcy, move to Maui work in a coffee shop, read books and surf.

    Never ever being happy.

  • I spent most of my life working in the corporate world and recently stopped and started working online. This has allowed me more freedom to work from anywhere and do more things. My next goal is to break through the invisible walls that are still holding me back so I can go/travel where ever I want.

  • I’m thinking about the people I want around me while I die. I need to make sure those relationships are strong. I need to be more accepting of people where they are in order for that to happen. Be kind.

  • I regret every single work day that I have not had the courage and determination to leave my current job. They treat us horribly and it has a negative impact on every aspect of my life; health, relationships, etc. I need to leave before I have a heart attack. I’m only 38 but feel like I’m going to die any day from the stress.

  • Many of us have the responsibility to provide for our families. When you get a good job that pays the bills it’s so hard to give up the “certain” good job to pursue an “uncertain” dream. The sacrifices and consequences aren’t mine alone but shared by all in the family. Rather than feel regretful about this good job, I chose to see it as a blessing and an honorable choice. It’s a change in perspective that works for me.

  • I regret the decisions I made that negatively affected people years later which I did not contemplate at the time. One decision of yesteryear can make a difference not only onto one person but on many surrounding that person or situation. To live now and in the moment with these thoughts in mind, allows one to want to live wholeheartedly, honestly without regret knowing that how you live the balance of today can truly make a positive influence on those around you and those around them.

    Thank you, as always M & A - very timely post for me.

  • I am so acutely aware of my mortality that it has the reverse effect…”They” say to get up and go get what you want…what if what I want is a family?

  • I would regret all the roads not travelled, literally and figuratively, all the creative things I could have done and couldn’t be bothered to right then. I would regret not trying to be a better mum to my daughter (who’s turned out ok anyway, mainly cos of her lovely dad). I would regret not learning how to speak my mind without putting people’s backs up. I would regret not meditating more and devoting more of my life to Dharma once I’d found it.

  • After a very long and challenging night in The Trauma Center at OHSU I wrote this line:

    “The closer to death we are, the closer to life we are.”

    Patrick Roden RN PhD

  • This post is very deep, but also very important daily life and it’s lessons. I would say I have some regrets being older and living life’s lessons through, but also from my bad decisions I have made when I was younger I have grown and become smarter. It really depends how deep you think about a regret, I think. Because if I would have made my life decisions differently, I would not be in the state of happiness that I am with my life now. Also, my life is not perfect as no one’s is. I believe in God too, and that makes the process easier on me.

  • @Jody. It’s never too late. Colonel Sanders started KFC at 65 while living on social security checks. Please feel free to reach out to me via my contact form on my site Jody, would be more than happy to support you in creating a plan that allows you to focus on other things outside of work.

  • @Karl. Awesome that you are proactively changing your life to be more in line with the way you want it to go. Glad you liked the post as well. As far as traveling to adventurous countries, I highly recommend Nepal, one of my favorites. Although I haven’t been to Patagonia next, that is next on my list and I have heard nothing but good things, so that might be a good place to check out as well. Regarding “being more relaxed about stupid stuff,” I recommend the book “You are not your brain.” Let me know if you have any questions about it. Hope that helps Karl. Wish you all the best in your future endeavors and I look forward to reading your post on your blog.

  • Spent most of my life worrying that others dislike me as much as I dislike myself! Not good enough for anyone even me. In my heart I know this is not true, so I will continue to work on my issue with help.

  • I will regret not relaxing, thereby enjoying all that life offers. To be able to sit in the sunshine in my backyard and not worry about the laundry. To just sit & stare out a window, without thinking the house needs vacuumed. I’d like to have a hobby, but feel/think I can’t take the time off from whatever needs doing to find one.

    Thank you for a very thought-provoking post - you really are helping others, me included.

  • If I died tomorrow I would regret not seeing how my children grew up and became the people they are meant to be. And I would regret not volunteering more. (I still want to help with adult literacy programs in my community). I love my life and try every day to find the good although that has been a journey and I didn’t always live that way. My parents are quite elderly and declining physically before my eyes. I spend quality time with them and love them fiercely as I know their time in this life is coming to a close. I can love them and be a witness to their journey. “Live every day like it is your last… because someday it will be.”

  • I am in my 50’s and my biggest regret in life is that I have never let myself fall in love. I am afraid to let go.

  • I regret being a functioning alcoholic. It is stealing my life away from me and my kids. Post divorce, I have very little self esteem. I regret that my life is out of my control.

  • I would regret having wasted away all my days being unable to move myself to anything. I can’t even remember the past 3 years because it’s been like one long day, always the same.

  • At 50, were I to die tomorrow, I would regret having lived safely and timidly - a life fulfilling others’ expectations versus a bold, fearless life realizing my dreams.

  • Hi guys, just wanted to let you know your blog is a huge inspiration to me and I’ve nominated you for the Sunshine Bloggers Award. You can find details about it here - xx

  • Regret is huge. Brene Brown books are what I recommend. But I am going to trump the very process Akshay lays out so well.

    All of this leads to one thing…what the hell are you going to do about it? Seriously. I can swim with Great White Sharks, find enlightenment, etc. but I have to put into practice to make it stick.

    If you can watch one hour of television, then you can take back that one hour and apply it to something else. Call AA is you have a drinking problem, read a recommended book, volunteer in your community, write a poem, call a friend, write a letter, write out your bucket list, clean out the closet, the list is endless. But you have to start!!

    I have hit the gym 38 days in a row. Why? To lose the weight, get back in shape so I can live stronger and longer for my wife and son. Its not just for me anymore. I want to be the best David I can be for them, so they benefit from my changes. I cannot leave them out of my thinking.

    The one error I see in these responses is a series self-imposed limitations: I want to be happier, be a writer, start my own business, …and then what? To be a better parent, to be a better spouse, a better boss, a better teacher, to share my gifts-talents-abilities with others…now we are talking.

    SO I’ll post this out there: David Rapp died today two days shy of his 100th birthday while touring his beloved city of Segovia in Spain. He toured the world visiting almost 100 countries, 50 states, all the Provinces in Canada and all 7 continents. His greatest blessings are his 12 great-grandchildren, four grandchildren and one son: and a 62 year marriage to Beth. At 44 David gave himself permission to build a new life in his mind, and spent the next 55 years living it out one day at a time. He earned his doctorate, was an avid teacher and mentor, and built a small empire helping people construct their lives based on their dreams. He will be greatly missed.

    Every tomorrow is a today that was never promised. Risking your life is not about confronting death, its about greeting it with smile and saying “not today old friend.” But if you need to confront it, remember Fortune favor the Bold.

  • Those that look back will die of remorse!
    50,000 people are in Yankee Stadium, everyone throws their problems on the field but they have to take someone else`s problem back—guess what. Everyone takes their own problems back. words of- The Honourable Alan B. Sprague

  • Fantastic post. May have cured me on the spot of worrying and stressing about stuff ever again. Thanks!

  • Great to hea,r Murielle! Smile, and keep your eye on the road ahead.

  • What a great article! Thanks. I needed to be reminded to live now.

  • This post was so deep. It really got me and brought me to tears. My regrets are the product of my perfectionism, my insecurities and my fear of major changes. What hurts me is not knowing how to get out of the situation I am in today. I love what I do; I love my job, but dislike the people and the environment I have to work with daily. I feel trapped because I can’t stop working to venture in what I really would like to do, as I am single and can’t afford to lose my health insurance and my only income.

  • So many mistakes and wrong turns come to mind when contemplating tomorrow being my last day in this life. But which one should I choose, how do I know where I would be at this very moment, had I not experienced every one of those dark times now creeping into this moment of consideration. I guess I would choose not to regret any one of those so painful times. Perhaps because I would be so caught up in the regret of knowing that for me there would be no tomorrow night, and I would not be here to keep deliciously warm and cuddled up with my husband, my soul mate, my everlasting love.

  • Your article hit a nerve Akshay.

    We must be on a similar trajectory - I too quit my job in 2012 in pursuit of life on my own terms. For me it came after a slow and controlled destruction of my life over a period of years. In hindsight it was the best thing that ever happened to me because it forced me to ask the very questions that you have listed. Although the answers didn’t come easily, my journey has brought me half way across the world where I have the luxury of waking up in the morning and doing the things that align with my life’s purpose. I don’t know what’s around the corner, but that fact alone makes my life worth living.

    Whatever your circumstances and however big the goal, all I can say is have the faith to know that if you leap, the net will appear.

  • I would regret everything. I have lived my entire life either for everyone else or in fear. Even typing these words is scary.

  • This is a key one for me, and one I believe everyone should address regularly. I call it my “Big Mack Truck test.” As I am driving down the highway and randomly see a big truck coming from the other direction, I will ask myself, “If I knew that truck was going to cross the median and spread me over a city block, what would I regret” and whatever comes to mind - I deal with right away because who knows when the next big Mack WILL be mine? I’ve embarrassed friends over the years by calling them out of the blue and telling them I love them, but one I will never forget. My kids were about 1 and three years of age respectively, and the regret that came to mind was that someone else would have to tell them I loved them because they wouldn’t remember hearing it from me. As soon as I got home i took my video camera out and made a little video for each of them so that if I died in the next minutes, they could forever watch their personal video and hear me telling them directly. I have updated those videos as appropriate over the years (they are now 18 & 21). (I also have one for my wife).

    So i recommend that everyone adopt the “Big Mack Truck test” and may you be pleasantly surprised at some of the beautiful things that will come out of it.

  • For over 30 years I have kept a diary.
    This year is different - after having been told there are only a few months of my life left. My diary this year is a photo journal with a fresh picture daily. Not only am I living more fully, but leaving a happy record for family and friends. Life has a fresh and challenging meaning.
    Bob F

  • If I were to die tomorrow, my regret would be to have believed in myself more, like so many others have. Self esteem, well, lack of, is one of the biggest negatives that a person can have. It is also a constant that one must work on, well in my case anyway. Thank you for such a thoughtful post.

  • If I was going to die tomorrow, I think I might have regretted not considering having children. I always go back and forth about this in my head, but I think that’s what I might regret.

  • I regret not understanding that how I lived when young would affect how I could live when old. My mind and body are now paying the price of the poor decisions I made then. If I could go back I would eat better, exercise better, and work more on my social skills.

  • What a wonderful post, like so many others, so timely…
    My regrets if I were to die tomorrow… ignoring my intution even when it screamed at me, forgetting wonderful but hard learned lessons, not taking a moment every day for simply being grateful -grateful for the most amazing daughters, grateful that I have choices when others dont. I would regret not looking up at the stars every night and I would regret that I treated myself so poorly when I loved and cherished those who didnt return it.
    Humbled, blessed and grateful that for my suffering that I must ask myself this question everyday.

  • If I were to die tomorrow, I would regret not getting to experience motherhood. For 2.5 years, my husband and I have been trying to have a child, and it’s the hardest emotional roller-coaster that I’ve ever been through. We’re now onto IVF, here’s hoping (if our money doesn’t drain out before we get our precious little gift)

  • If I were to die tomorrow, my regret would be worrying about people, places, things that are out of my control. Not having traveled enough.

  • I regret not sticking up for myself when it comes to dating my boyfriend. I’ve spent too many years being the cool girlfriend that I lost my once strong voice. I need to learn to walk away, not drag it on. And on. And on.

    @peggymiller - you hang in there woman; I believe in you.

  • I don’t regret a thing. I am lazy and unmotivated. I am insanely driven and committed. I am manic and completely in control. I don’t give a darn what people want from me. This is my life, I don’t live for comfort or material possessions. I live for those moments when I can barely take another step, when everything and everyone tells me that I can’t do this or shouldn’t be doing that. I live for my catastrophic failures and my beautiful accomplishments. If you don’t like it, I don’t care.

  • Chris "Forever" Young
    August 7th, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    Great post, and even though my nickname is Forever Young (picked up from an announcer during my cage-fighting days) I know it’s not true, that old sonofab**ch Father Time is undefeated!

    I am deeply aware of the common mortality we all share. It’s not easy, but we must realize TODAY, right now is all there really is. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch is a great read, I highly recommend it… also Loving What Is by Byron Katie… check ‘em out, guys.

    Best of luck to anyone here struggling, some of your posts are tough… Hold your heads up, just because up until today you lived your life in fear doesn’t mean you can’t start Right Now to make the change. Once you see that YOU hold the power it’s so liberating that I can’t even describe it, folks! Peace and love, peeps!

    Thanks Marc and Angel, once again for what you put out on this blog… it’s more helpful to more people than you probably realize!

  • Thanks for this blog and the many extraordinary responses. David Rapp, I just tweeted your line, “If I can watch one hour of television, I can take back that one hour and apply it to something else.” Simple yet profound and anyone can do that one thing. Tom, your video diaries for your family are another simple, doable idea. And Bob Fletcher, many blessings on your journey. Your attitude is an inspiration.

  • That’s a hard one for me. I can’t regret working as hard as I did for so long, at the time I was thankful for the job that I needed in order to survive. That was/is just fact. Of course traveling or having time off for pleasure would have been great, but it was not an option for me.

    I don’t regret having my 2 children. They wanted to take both children from me and I said no. That choice caused me to have back problems, which caused me to be partially disabled and have pain, which limited me. I wouldn’t trade my kids for anything. They did not tell me what was wrong with me until after I had the second child. I’m sad that I have had fibromyalgia syndrome and RA since I was in my 20’s. I’m told that I lived as fully as I was able in pain, it did not feel like I was living to my fullest, no matter what anyone told me. I didn’t and don’t know how to change that. Inside of me I always feel that I should have done much more. The reality is that I could not. A devastating pneumonia damaged my lungs in my early 30’s and I was put on oxygen. That was not due to anything that I did, but it did limit me further. That does not take away from the feeling that I should have traveled and done many other things. The reality is that I did as much as I could within my means, at home and doing volunteer work, which does not seem like much to some others. I cringe when others ask me about myself while talking about their careers and travels. I am very happy for them and enjoy hearing about their lives. When it’s time to talk about myself, I feel like I have stories that people who ask “how are you” don’t really want to hear. It does show if I start to tell some about myself. I’ve limited it to I was disabled in my early 30’s, tell them briefly about my work at home, volunteer work, and end it there. That seems to be an acceptable answer. You somehow never seem to “fit” in the normal realm of “normal” people. When it’s time to go out for coffee, shopping, to an exercise class, travel, etc, what are normal activities, it’s something that I and others such as myself, cannot do. Who wants to drive here, pick me up and help me haul my portable oxygen gear, which I can’t carry, (RA) and take me out? Usually it’s only an aid or a relative!

    Living to the fullest has a definition to many people depending on their circumstance I feel. Of course I wish I could operate within the realm of “normal” people. That’s a fleeting thought now for me. It’s been a battle to accept that this is how I am and to find out how to be happy, doing as much as I can, in my world. Understanding and accepting it was difficult, and I try daily to keep busy, do more and try to find new things that I can do. Thanks for reading this.

  • I think my biggest regret would be all the time I wasted. Whether you quit your job or juggle one alongside your dreams, the time spent on things that aren’t really important to us is what robs us of feeling good about a meaningful life.

  • I would regret not seeing my family more, not traveling enough and not honing my gifts.

  • Like many of the above I have made some poor choices which resulted in pain to people that I love the most, who thankfully remained by my side without hesitation.

    If I had died yesterday I would have regretted not having been brave enough to confront my fears, admit my wrongs and make amends for not trusting my instincts which resulted in being manipulated by a con-artist who nearly destroyed me & my one true love.

    If I were to die tomorrow I would regret not having had more time in this ‘new life’ that is filled with gratitude & peace, which arrived due to the difficult lessons learned.

    If I were to do it all over again I would have trusted less blindly, not permitted fear to deter me, not taken on other peoples chaos, danced
    more and played with lots of messy clay.

  • I really would not have any regrets if I were to die today. I quit my engineering job a few years back to do what I enjoy doing more which is ministering to the needs of people - spiritually and otherwise. I have started to build a blog that I am really enjoying. I do regret that I had not started this blog 8 years ago but I am doing it now. I love to travel and I have started to do so too. Visited one new country in March and I am going to another in November. Thanks for such a thought provoking post.

  • @Jegede I am really sorry to hear about the loss you have experienced. I also want to acknowledge you for moving forward despite them and for working to create a life where you follow your dreams. I invite you to get extremely clear on what that life looks like. Having immense clarity on exactly what you want and when you want will exponentially increase your chances of success. Clarity eliminates confusion and choice, which sends our conscious brain into a tailspin. A good book on that subject, if you are interested is called The Paradox of Choice. Please let me know if you need any support in getting that clarity.

  • While I regret that I did not find a strong and intense relationship with Jesus until 7-8 years ago, I have laid that aside since He blessed me throughout my life and I, like a spoiled child failed to thank him for these entitlements, he was patient and brought me wisdom to be as good a grandparent as I can for my loving grandchildren, and have lived content my with my husband for 41 years by the end of this month.
    Once I reached out and asked God to be with me and allow me to serve His will, I am a happier, less stressed about past sins, and anxious to share His Wofld with anyone’s who is interested in my Lord Jesus.
    Death is nothing I fear. It is where Jesus has assured me I will spend with him and will know I will be there to be met by and to greet others as their times come.

  • For many of you whose regrets are not living your passions, I invite you to start learning online marketing skills. These days, anyone can make money online doing anything and the initial startup costs are minimal. This is the time to get started as more and more people are coming online. You can all make money doing what you love. As always, if you have any questions on where to get started, please feel free to reach out to me.

  • Looking back on the things you regret is valuable to inspire change, but I invite you not to focus on the regret and let it bring you down. Remember that you did the best you could with the knowledge and ability you had at the time. It is never too late to change your life because the past does not define the future. Only you get to say how it goes from here. One practice to take on in service of building your self esteem is to also write down all your successes. Write down every little thing you have accomplished in your past, no matter how small. At the end of every day, write down what you achieved that day and write down what you are grateful for. Meditating on death will show you what you want to change in your life, this other practice will provide fuel for you to make that change. And then get very very clear on what you want the new life to look like.
    “The Success Principles,” by one of my mentors, Jack Canfield, is the perfect book to support you in making the changes you wish to make. I wish you all the best in your journey.

  • I can certainly relate to the comments here regarding living in pain and disability. Mountain climbing, sky diving, etc. Those types of (trivial) pursuits are not possible for many people myself included. On my deathbed I will regret having to sell the property my husband and I worked all our lives to obtain, I will regret the loss of my ability to walk without pain and not being able to pursue my particular passions in life. I will regret having to give up my dreams of travel. Yes I will have many regrets. Learning to accept limitations yet still being happy and content, this is my life’s goal now. I will not need to regret learning that lesson.

  • I have been diagnosed with cancer and I am going through chemotherapy. Death is an almost constant presence in my life. I have a job I enjoy, three beautiful daughters and loving family and friends. If I live long enough, I plan to travel and explore my more artistic side.  My only regret is that I have spent far too much time indulging and encouraging feelings of sadness, isolation and fear. It took me a while, but I finally realized there is a great big beautiful world out there waiting just for me (either here on earth or somewhere else). So, crack a smile, relax a little and give yourself permission to just be happy.

  • Wow, this is deep! In all honesty, I would regret my unhappiness.

  • @Rachel - give yourself much credit for you learned this sooner than later. You have time to enjoy your life, hang in there :)

    I too am learning the same thing!!

    I do have regrets but they have taught me the joyous side of life and to simply be grateful for each and every day.

  • I don’t regret anything now as I have read in one of Marc’s earlier posts that nothing is too late in life. We can almost do something new and special. I don’t want to rush through this life. I know life is short but I want to live each moment with a topping of good deeds.

    “The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”

    Lot of things in my mind, may not be able to be fully covered, but I still try to spend most of the time with friends and family, being my best at work, dancing to glory, swimming, driving mindfully, etc. I feel thinking about dying the next day would only burden me and make me do things in haste or rush through them.

  • I still have one regret despite asking myself every day what I will do differently today if I die tomorrow. It’s the regret of not contacting my foster family for two years. My fear of not knowing what to say prevented me from calling. Last year I was shocked to find out that my foster mother passed away just two months before I planned to visit them. She was in the final stage of breast cancer when diagnosed and had hid her illness from her family. I wish I could have called earlier and let her know that I did not forget her. Ever since then, I have been trying to keep in regular contacts with my foster dad. I just called him today to wish him Happy Eid al-Fitr. :)

  • If I were to die tomorrow, I would regret, not reaching out to more people I admire and learning from them. In a few months, I will be compiling a list of people I want to contact and going for it.

    This is such a great article.

  • If I were to die tomorrow, I would regret not finding true love and living my dreams of being a writer or an actor and everything else I desire. I know people say love is only in fairy tales and it’s fickle, but everyone should experience it to change their own beliefs.

  • This article made me think:

    Without pain, joy cannot be fully realized; without death, life cannot be fully realized.

    If you’d have asked me the ‘regret’ question several years ago, I probably would have said ‘not achieving my full potential’ or ‘not yet achieving the success I had envisioned for myself’.

    However, since spending some time overseas, I’ve had a paradigm shift and have changed my idea of what success entails.

    These days, I measure success, not so much as by income or job title, but by the purpose and meaningfulness of my work. I also view it as having alignment between the values I aspire to live and the values I actually live out.

    Therefore, I can honestly say that since I’ve changed my direction in life, I am much closer to living a life sans regrets.

  • I regret that I have never found a point to life. Yes, there are moments of joy, but the struggle to survive and be happy requires so much effort that it overshadows the joy.

    I am fortunate to be retired and have enough money to travel and pursue hobbies. But the satisfaction these things provide is so fleeting! After all, our destination is death, so what is the point of any of it?

    Right now I have several trips I am anticipating, so that should provide fulfillment. Instead, it just provides relief because I know it is unlikely that I will feel sad.

    I constantly search for experiences that will fend off unhappiness. I challenge myself in small ways. People tell me I am a role model because I am brave and adventerous. I do not feel brave at all. I just think I am desparately fighting potential sadness. For the most part, I am successful. But I truly do not see the point of any of it. I wish I did.

  • @Bea, I can most relate to your response because I have a terminal chronic condition and am in late stage of my disease. When I meet new people and they ask what my job is I skim over the 10 years I was able to work and end it there. The post today about traveling, doing a job you love, getting out there and “living” is not always accurate for sick people. I live and love life every day, despite my limitations. I call friends, love my dog and husband and family to pieces. It used to bother me when I would hear of friends traveling, vacationing and raising families. I felt like I miss out, even not being able to work. But when I look into my dog’s loving eyes, I realize love and joy and happiness and realize my life is good. It’s all about a positive attitude, no matter what life’s circumstances are.

  • @Janice, Great point! Adventures can happen anywhere, and sometimes the best adventures happen on the inside.

  • My biggest regret would be not listening to my inner voice. Nothing is as brutally honest and completely accurate. Nothing.
    I am still living, however, so I am working on listenting & taking action more immediately.

  • This is perfect for someone with anxiety! Thank you! As someone who contemplated suicide and how it would affect my family for the past 2 days, everything you said is true. I was worried about every little thing that it drove me to the point where I was this close to knocking down that chair and a sense of adrenaline rush came over me and thought, “wait this is the third time I’m attempting this, if I got past the first two, there must be a reason I’m still alive” then I realize I haven’t really done the things I wanna do before I die. Always worried for other people never thinking about myself. Maybe it’s time to make me happy

  • I was deeply touched and also saddened by some of the responses to this article. I admire you all for the courage it takes to look back and experience the pain of regret and for sharing your experiences with all of us. That is not an easy thing to do. As you do so though, remember that no emotion is a “bad” emotion. Despite what anyone else has said, guilt, sadness and regret can all be powerful forces for positive change just as joy and happiness could lead to negative change. All emotions either empower us or disempower us. I invite you all to use the emotions, as painful as they may be, as a force to change how your today and your tomorrow goes. Guilt continues to be a strong force for positive change in my life.

    I am touched by the humanity I experienced in reading the responses and as such I would be more than happy to help anyone who reads this in finding the value from the pain of the past and using it as a force for positive change. Please feel free to reach out to me should you need the support. Thank you all for your courage!

  • My main regret would be not to have reached my main goal currently: moving to Australia where I have planned to go thanks of a man’s love & my strong desire to live a new experience abroad.

    Your post sounds deeply within me: I’m currently doing my best to fulfil my purpose. I’m already 49 & have realized how it was important to take care with our dreams (they are the mirror of our soul) since 2008. I can even tell I had an inner rebirth in 2010.

    PS: the web site whose link is given is very new & not completely set. But I have a Twitter account.

  • That I cared too much what people who contributed nothing truly positive in my life thought about me. That I was afraid to set my standard in life and fight to see these standards met. That I always put other peoples opinions first, that I believed them when they told me I wasn’t good enough and that I wasted what God put in me.

  • Fantastic post. I’m looking forward to the meditation. Carlos Casteneta who wrote many books, among others Wheel of Time has the underlying theme in the Way of the Warrior to know and smile in the face of death - as it is your ultimate motivator. Thanks for having the courage and to lead your lives as you have done, which has led to you to share your posts with us. Much gratitude always… a wake up call.

  • I often regret not being able to travel more. I’ve always supported myself and had to work hard. Life is hard, but I think we make it harder for ourselves.
    I started to re-evaluate my life a few years ago, I’m 33 now, and I know I don’t need to spend time or money on worthless endeavors. I’m starting to clear out my surroundings to make way for a simple, healthy and fulfilling life.

    I always wished I could switch careers, but not yet, I will one day I hope, something different and something I love. Until then, I’ll keep trying other ways.
    thanks for great article!

  • Good article helps people realize a lot of stuff. In my short life I do not regret much, but now that I read this article I know that I am going to try to enjoy my life and do what I truly want to do.

  • Thank-you very much for this meditation, this article and whole blog page, and for existing.

    Regret not living for myself now understanding that there isn’t anyone left that I thought was positive or really close now that I am alone. Then wiling my days away with all the anger for countless perceived failures and having no grasp on what is successful (thinking in black & white terms). I’ve never wanted to acknowledge this anger as the inability to accept a failure for more so a lesson than a destination because not much will ever go ‘your own way’. Every fleeting moment is an adventure.

    I don’t look outside myself in a way, but when I can pretend (maybe one day understand) that I am a ghost to this past life it’s much different because I am living again.

  • Dear Mr. Akshay, first i would like to extend my thanks for beautiful article and thoughts. To get rid of my past life i had choose the way what you were suggested, i started to explore new places and people even i had volunteered in Sierra Leon (W. Africa) for one year, i tried to help the people and enjoyed lot. But whenever i seat alone the ghost of past seat on my head, its disturbed all peace of mind. I again found myself in vulnerable situation, alone, helpless and weak. I want permanent solution i want to forget past, the past love, past bad experiences of life. I want to make fresh start, I am praying God, please give me strength to came out from my past. Please God help me.

  • I regret not showing myself the respect I deserve. I need to change…

  • Reading the comments, I wept uncontrollably. There seems to be so much sadness in people’s responses. I believe that those who regret are the kindest of people, because they are remorseful of the pain they have caused themselves and others. But they must also be kinder to themselves, stop chastising themselves so much because in the end, they’ll regret that too.

  • I, too, plan to work meditating on death into my life–what a wonderfully profound suggestion. Not that I don’t already do it to some degree–I do. But I don’t specifically dedicate time to it.

    My greatest regret was marrying (and staying married to) a woman I knew was totally unstable. Inevitably, our marriage fell apart, we split, and–horrifically–she took her own life. It really screwed me up for a while, and who knows what it’s done to our son, who’s now 16 and seemingly doing fine, at least on the outside.

    But I did end up meeting an amazing and much more stable woman, whom I’m now married to, and we have two young sons together, a wonderful home, and live in an awesome community. And yet, the regret of that mistake nearly 20 years ago is so powerful today that I’m letting it pollute my current marriage.

    This all came to a head yesterday, with my wife telling me that if it continues, it will eat away at her feelings for me and ultimately destroy us. Her powerful words have hit me like nothing has in years, and I’m committed to fixing this. Here’s hoping the meditating on death exercise contributes to that process.

  • Interesting perspective. Although I’m not so sure you have the right focus, even though I have followed much the same path.

    I did a master’s in theoretical astrophysics, a field that’s pretty hard to grasp, and so, I lived days and weeks with confusion, whether I got the point. I had already taken lessons from my sport, orienteering, which is an endurance sport where you read a map to find control points in the forest as fast as you can. I’ve run continuously off-track for almost 8 hours. I know that endurance and resilience are amongst the most important things you can have in life.

    I had a job that was boring in the corporate world, but my skills were in high demand, so rather than quitting, I accepted a new job only on the condition that I could take two months off to do a first ascent in Tibet. So, I bicycled some 1200 km, to successfully climb a mountain no-one had climbed before. On the way back, I decided to go alone. I remember a few days where there were extremely little water. Just barely enough to keep going in one of the harshest environment on earth. Rick Ridgeway (first American on K2) said that this area was a place that sucked him dry of all energy. Then, I finally found a river. I remember the exhilarating feeling of having water in abundance! Water! WATER! Obviously, one cannot have that feeling if one has never experienced extreme scarcity.

    Still bored with my job, I finally quit, and accepted a position as a Ph.D. Research Fellow. I had to accept 1/3 of my salary cut off from my previous job, but finally, I’m free to pursue matters I find intellectually stimulating. However, I’ve changed my field from astrophysics to computer science, so I’m often in a position where I don’t get the point.

    So, I suppose you could say there’s suffering in being confused about your subject, there’s suffering in running 8 hours continuously in the woods. There’s suffering in being in one of the harshest environments on earth, and there’s suffering in being without water for days. Did I suffer? Not a minute!

    How can you possibly suffer when you’re pounding your head against some of the most intellectually stimulating material mankind has ever suffered? How can you suffer when you’re in the Nature finding your way through an intricate course of controls? How can you suffer when you’re in some of the most astoundingly beautiful mountains on Earth? I seriously don’t understand why suffering is important to learn to love life. Endurance is what takes you to where the limits are, not suffering.

    Now, my own life at the edge ended there in Tibet. And that was one of the clearest things that stood before my one the summit of Toze Kangri. All that counted from that moment was to get home alive. Now, I find the greatest joy when my little daughter, conceived shortly after returning, runs towards the summit and yells “climb!”

    If I’d die today, I’d have no regrets, except that I would not have all the joys that lie before me with seeing my children grow up to enjoy life as much as I have. That’s probably the strongest life enjoyment I have ever had.

  • I have had quite a hard life so far and am only 23. My father was abusive and went to prison. His brother then tormented us for years and made our lives he’ll before he went to prison for that. During this my uncle tormented my family, and they abandoned myself my older brother and my mum when we needed them the most. I was one who stepped up and looked after my mum and brother and although we are finally on the right tracks now feel I have a constant worry regarding my mum. I have a wonderful boyfriend and he is moving to Oz to be with his family but I can’t leave mine as I cannot abandon them. It is just us three. I am devastated and heartbroken. I am worried I will regret this. I need to live my own life for me and don’t know how. I am worried I will go though my life living in the past and hating my father and uncle. This has inspired me and pushed me to let go of the past and move on. Tomorrow is another day and I have everything to live for. I am 9 weeks off finishing my degree and I feel I am ready to start living. Thank you so much. It’s also good to know that everyone else faces times like this too.

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