A nurse has recorded the most common regrets of the dying, and among the top ones is ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so hard’. What would your biggest regret be if this was your last day of life?

The top five regrets of the dying

There was no mention of more sex or bungee jumps. A palliative nurse who has counselled the dying in their last days has revealed the most common regrets we have at the end of our lives. And among the top, from men in particular, is ‘I wish I hadn’t worked so hard’.

Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, which gathered so much attention that she put her observations into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

Ware writes of the phenomenal clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives, and how we might learn from their wisdom. ‘When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently,’ she says, ‘common themes surfaced again and again.’

Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as witnessed by Ware:

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 realise 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 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. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.’

2. I wish I hadn’t worked 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.’

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.’

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.’

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.’

Source: Susie Steiner, The Guardian – 01/02/2012

Top 5 regrets of the dying

Thank you

Part of an e-mail from a vice-president:


Thank you for your outstanding efforts in the sessions. I will do my best as your ambassador.’

Thank you

Words create worlds

You can recognise a culture of a system by the behaviours adopted. Behaviour = what do people say or not say, and what do they do or not do?

‘Behaviour is the message’ when dealing with cultural changes:

– What type of behaviour do we want to see more of in our organisation? Wat else? (interaction, values)
– Suppose our client will notice us delighting him, what would he be able to see us doing with him? What can we tell him we have done well together then? What else? (client orientation)
– As of next week we would end up one point higher on the scale in terms of sharing information. How would the other teams notice that? How else will they notice? (process optimisation)

Words determine cultures and cultures determine words.

Start counting the number of times you use words and expressions like ‘problem’, ‘the reason of x is’, ‘I don’t want y’,…

Ask yourself the goaling question when you’re stuck: ‘What do you want instead of this?’

Or act like  a poet, and use magnificent words for their own sake. Be a rebel – not a saboteur – in your systems. You will help to shape new realities, new worlds.

In Germany the 1991 splasher word was ‘Besserwessie’. In Belgium in 2013 the Word of the Year was ‘selfie’.

Signs of the times?

What are your words of the year in your systems, i.e. team, family, friend groups, in 1 to 1 relationships,…? What do they tell you about your cultures? What words do you want to hear more often? How would you wish to replace some words with others?


Letting your epic juices flow – interview with Salman Kahn

Growth potential

You’re backed by the likes of Bill Gates and Carlos Slim. What have you learned from them?

‘All of them, even though they sit on top of empires, go deep and try to understand things themselves. They’re very hands-on. And they’re incredibly curious. The first time I met Carlos Slim, we sat on a beach for four hours and talked about what civilizations existed during previous interglacial periods. These people are big thinkers. Seeing that has given me the confidence to let my epic juices flow, so to speak—to indulge my science fiction, delusional dreams. You have to, for some of your stuff to become a reality.’

Read the whole HBR interview with Salman Kahn from Kahn Academy.