In Bronnie Ware’s book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, the number one regret expressed by people as they near the end of their lives is, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Grace was one of Bronnie’s palliative care patients and in her last days, she expressed her own regrets to Bronnie: “It’s not like I wanted to live a grand life. I am a good person and I didn’t wish to harm anyone. But I wanted to do things for me, too, and I just didn’t have the courage.”
As Grace reflected, she came to understand that it would have been better for everyone if she’d been brave enough to honour her own needs and if she’d spoken up in a relationship where she felt her husband was taking her love for granted. “I would have been happier and would not let this misery permeate our family for decades.”
It’s incredibly sad to hear a story like this when there’s not the time to create change. For those of us who do have time, we can be thankful to people like Grace who remind us, it’s up to each of us to live the life that is most true to our values, talents, interests and desires.
Take a minute to reflect on your own life. Are you living in a way that is true?
Maybe you’re holding onto a relationship that does you more harm than good or not speaking your truth in order to keep the peace. Maybe you’re in a career that doesn’t fulfil you. Maybe you’ve put your own needs on hold in order to support others. Or maybe you’re not sure what ’being true to you’ means to you right now.
Life is a balance (and overlap) between meeting responsibilities and living your dreams – and often there is more opportunity to begin creating those dreams than circumstances and means might suggest. If you’re someone who considers it selfish to pursue your own dreams, think about how it impacts the people you care about when you don’t. It’s possible you’re not sharing your natural gifts with the world and you may not be taking the opportunity to inspire others with your courage. Maybe like Grace, you can see that not doing things for yourself leaves you less than satisfied with life – which means you have less to give to the people you love.
Reconnecting with our true selves requires time and conscious effort, commodities many of us are short of. At the end of a busy day, it may be that the last thing you have the energy for is examining what gives your life most meaning.
But it’s essential we prioritise such reflection.
Try the following exercises to be more true to yourself:
- Use the morning pages practice, described here by Julia Cameron for a month or two to reconnect with the real you. This stream of consciousness writing can help you uncover hidden desires, identify your greatest fears and overcome your emotional blocks.
- Think back to when you were ten or twelve years old. What were the things you loved doing? If you find yourself stuck, think about who your friends were at that age and which games or activities you enjoyed most with those friends. If you spent a lot of time alone, try to remember what you dreamed about doing.
- Over the next few days, tune in to your energy levels from time-to-time during your day. Observe how energised you feel before an interaction with a colleague or friend and note how you feel afterwards. When you discover a significant drop in your energy, you can almost be sure you’ve been in a setting where you weren’t being completely true to yourself.
Identifying the direction you would like your life and career to take is an essential step towards making meaningful change.