Choose your path

Life is a journey. It's a path filled with challenge and opportunity, and sadly, it eventually comes to an end. The path we choose will determine whether it's a happy trek, or one filled with regret. I came across an amazing article this morning, one I hope could change your life. Written several years ago, the simple article "Top Five Regrets Of The Dying" recounts the lessons learned by a hospice worker in Australia from her departing patients. It's a must-read.

Author Bronnie Ware writes: "For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.

People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learned never to underestimate someone's capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

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

This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people have had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I didn't work so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

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

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

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

Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

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

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness."

There's never an easy time to ponder the great questions of your existence. You're busy after all. How can you have time to contemplate with so much to do in the week ahead?

But there is no better time than right now to think about the future and how you'll look back on the past, on how you'll look back on today.

That's because every change begins with a start.

Are you doing what makes sense for you and your family? Are you doing what's right for who you are and who you want to be? Are you living the way you will wish you had wanted to?

My hunch is that your answer would be a resounding "no."

It's never too late to reinvent yourself. To live life with no regrets. Steve Jobs famously mused that our time on this Earth is limited, so why spend it living someone else's life? Sobering though all this might be, addressing these thoughts can be liberating, and can give us the freedom to be happy. 

In the past year, I have lost 90 pounds, and have gotten into some of the best shape of my life. I didn't merely go on a diet; I chose a new path, and changed my approach to eating and exercise. It's a fundamental change I will continue for the rest of my life. My new rule is to never miss a day. To eat better. To exercise, even when I don't feel like it. To love and appreciate, not regret. To move, not sit. To live, not just go through the motions.

By facing the person I was, and allowing myself to be the person I know I can be, my life is in better balance, I'm happier with myself, and I'm reminded that we can be anyone we allow ourselves to be.

Each of us is possessed with greater strength, courage and ability than we may know. We can go farther than we can imagine. What do you dream of being? Try. Go for it. If you do, whether you succeed wildly or fail, you will win. To come to the end, to regret, to think "if only..." would be sad. You deserve better. All you need to do is to give yourself the permission.

So get started. You can't change the past. But the future is yours. The fork in the road ahead represents your future. It's up to you to choose your path. Why not choose happiness? Happy trekking.

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