While working as a palliative care nurse in Australia, Bronnie Ware noticed that people achieve tremendous clarity of vision when they approach death. She wrote a book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, so that the rest of us might benefit from the end-of-life wisdom of her patients, while we still have time. The book is organized around five key themes:
1. Live a life that is true to yourself
2. Don’t work so hard
3. Have the courage to express your feelings
4. Stay in touch with friends
5. Let yourself be happier
The book is a lovely read and provides much more context and perspective than I’ve included here but these ideas aren’t new and you can find them in countless other self-help books. That doesn’t mean they’re not worth pondering. I’m all for living a life that is true to yourself; it’s going to come out eventually anyway, just look at Caitlin Jenner. And I can’t argue with letting myself be happier, although I’m not sure what that means or how I would go about it.
But I don’t know how to deal with suggestions like “don’t work so hard” and similar sentiments like “live each day like it’s your last” and “stop and smell the roses”. These platitudes don’t just come from people who are ready to die. I hear them from older people in general, many of whom are enjoying comfortable retirements funded by generous pension plans, the likes of which no longer exist.
If I decided to live today like it was my last day, I wouldn’t take my younger son to his karate tournament or help my elder son with his French homework. I’d let the dirty laundry pile up, skip my daily workout, forget about making the week’s healthy meals, call in sick to my volunteer commitment and take a break from gardening. I would eat all my favourite decadent foods, drink several bottles of expensive wine and lie on the couch watching the Matrix trilogy till the wee hours. And, then I would wake up tomorrow with a pounding headache, a garden full of weeds, and a few extra pounds on my midsection. And I would still need to get out of bed, make myself presentable for work and get the kids off to school, most likely with pizza pops for lunch.
And I get the concept of not working so hard. I really do. And I try hard to achieve work/life balance every day of my life. But I live in a time and place where people work really hard just to survive and the higher you climb on the ladder, the more work there seems to be. My life is modest but everything I have is the result of hard work. That doesn’t mean I don’t stop to smell the roses. But the roses only exist because I planned a garden, dug a hole, planted a seed, watered it, prevented weeds from choking it, covered it up in the winter and lovingly cared for it for several years. Hard work!
And, not to get all statistical but there is a looming retirement crisis in North America which means most of us are on our own when it comes to saving for the future. Do we have to vacation in the Caribbean every year? No! Can we do without a new Michael Kors purse? Of course! Do our kids need to go to summer camp? Well, yes, kind of, if both parents are working and there’s no other family to help out. And yes, we’ve all thought about just opting out of the rat race all together and selling bracelets on the beach but where would that really make us any happier in the end?
Maybe it would but I don’t have time to find out. I have work to do!