Aiming for a life with no regrets

Productivity experts tell us we only use a small portion of our potential and scientists tell us that the human brain has unlimited capacity. This means that most of us are not in fact living our lives to the full and that we could do a whole lot more with the time, energy and other resources we are given while on this earth.

Time management programmes abound and many of them suggest that we divide our lives into sections such as career, family, spirit, health and on this basis, try to ensure each aspect of our lives receives attention.

This week we lost Wonder Bafana; a friend and a colleague. Bafana was one of those eternally cheerful people and he always seemed impossible to put down. Young and full of promise, Bafana’s death has been a shock to everyone at Alpha Media Holdings.

Just a couple of weeks before that we lost another colleague, Christopher Isaac. One of the star performers in our distribution team and another friendly face, Isaac, as he was affectionately known, leaves a big gap in the lives of his family members and his community at Munn Marketing.

As so often happens when one is confronted with the death of people one works with, it got me thinking about life and immediately an excerpt from the Psalms popped into my head: “Teach us how short our life is, so we may become wise.”

Because we so often don’t appreciate something until we no longer have it, the wisdom to live life in all its fullness is probably best found among those who realise that their lives have come to an end.
A couple of years ago I received an email entitled “Top five reGrets of the Dying”. It was written by someone who worked in palliative care, looking after patients who were dying and it summarised the author’s observations about what became important to people in their final three to twelve weeks.

One of the most striking things the author noted was how much people grow when faced with the certainty of death. This suggests that we were always capable of this growth, but elected not to pursue it. It is only at the end when one realises how little many things matter that one then chooses to change. Here is some of what she found:
The number one thing people regret most is that they did not have the courage to honour their dreams. This, according to the author, came up over and over again, with people wishing they had had the resolution to live a life true to themselves and not the life expected of them by others. By the time they realised how important it was to them to pursue the life they would have wanted, it was too late.

This regret comes with the realisation of how important good health is and how much we take it for granted. It is only when our health is gone that we realise how valuable it is.

Many people on their deathbed also regretted the amount of time they had spent working, rather than living. In the twilight moments they would get clarity on how little material things really mattered.

The third regret the author writes about concerns expressing ones’ true feelings. Many patients wished they could have said what they really thought instead of settling for peace with others and subsequently living a mediocre existence.

For opinionated and outspoken people like me, the idea of lacking the courage to express one’s feelings seems unlikely as we think of confrontation as a duty rather than a choice. But what we often forget is that positive feelings also take courage to express. To say, “I love you” or “I am sorry” or “I appreciate you” can sometimes be as nerve-wracking as challenging the opinions of others. It too, takes courage.

Interestingly, one of the regrets people have is that they didn’t stay in touch with their friends. I found this odd at first, that friends would loom so large in those final moments. But on further reflection, old friends are the family that you choose for yourself, so in many ways they are as valuable and important when all is said and done. Accordingly our friendships should get the time and effort they deserve, because it seems all we have left at the end is love and relationship.

And lastly, many people wished they had allowed themselves to be happier in the course of their lives. It was only at the end the many realised that happiness was a choice. They had deep regrets about simply letting go, laughing and living without pretense.

The author closes with these words: “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.”
So what will you and I do differently today to reduce some of those regrets for when our time comes?

Thembe Sachikonye writes in her personal capacity. Readers’ comments can be sent to localdrummer@newsday.co.zw. Follow Thembe on www.twitter/localdrummer

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