What even the most successful people regret on their deathbed
If you are thrilled with your life and business, happy in your relationships, and love the way you look and feel, then you should stop reading this right now. Congrats on having it all figured out and have an awesome day!
But if you are publicly successful, yet privately unfulfilled, or you have this persistent knowing that even though you are doing well, you can do a lot better, then I invite you to read this whole article right now. Why? Because it can make a real difference in your life.
Over four decades of studies revealed what even the most successful people regret on their deathbed. Confessions of the dying are profound, yet easy to disregard in our everyday busyness. Therefore, as I’m filling you in on the details, allow me to ask you some uncomfortable questions and invite you to be brutally honest with yourself (not because I like pushing pain buttons, but because you might find the outcome highly beneficial).
Is This What Success Is About?
I take it you are smart and resilient. You have many good things going for you, but you know that your success is not an accident; rather, it’s the result of your determination, sacrifices and hard work. You are a doer and you make things happen. When life throws curve balls at you, you don’t whine and complain much; instead, you find the strength to adjust and move forward.
You’re very pragmatic, but that’s because you’ve been burned before. As Oscar Wilde put it, “Experience is the name we give to our mistakes”, right?
You are a leader and a visionary, yet you are restrained by your insecurities. You value your independence, yet deep down you feel lonely and disconnected at times, longing to be recognized, appreciated and loved. You work hard and your life is highly unbalanced, yet you tell yourself that this is how you got to where you are now and that you’re happy. But are you really?
Have you ever had this feeling that, despite your success, something important is missing? Have you asked yourself questions like, “Is this all there is? … Is this what success is about? … Is this the life I really want?”
Perhaps you asked yourself these questions when you were having a drink (or a few too many) alone, trying to silence that lingering dissatisfaction with your life.
Perhaps you’ve achieved a goal or recognition you worked hard for, but instead of feeling the joy you expected would come with your success, you felt empty and unfulfilled, yet again.
Or maybe you are just tired of running in the endless rat race, doing the things that don’t really excite you anymore and, quite frankly, don’t have much meaning. And the funny thing is, the more you pretend to be content with your life, the more you need to numb and suppress your real feelings because some things just don’t add up anymore.
Deep down you know that you are meant to play a bigger game, make a bigger impact and have a happier, more fulfilled life. If anything from the above resonates with you, read on.
“I Wish I Had Let Myself Be Happier…”
As a coach to high achievers, it breaks my heart to see many smart, talented and successful people miss out at the end of the day. They tell me that they miss their kids growing up. They miss out on a deep, meaningful connection with the people they love. Sometimes they miss out on their own lives until one day they wake up too late – when the Universe hits them over the head with a cosmic two-by-four and they find themselves in a hospital bed or divorce court. It doesn’t have to be that way! We shouldn’t need harsh wake-up calls to start prioritizing what really matters in life, should we?
Now, don’t get me wrong – I am all for making money, having a great lifestyle, pushing boundaries and playing the game of business full out! What gets under my skin though is pursuing success at the expense of your own happiness and the happiness of those you love. By the way, this is one of the most common regrets of the dying: “I wish I had let myself be happier…”
Top Regrets of the Dying
Over four decades of studies revealed the common regrets that even the most successful people have on their deathbed, and here is the list of some ugly truths that might give you shivers:
- Most dying people regret the things they never did. They grieve over their dreams that have gone unfulfilled.
- They wish they had not worked so hard.
- They regret making money at the expense of relationships.
- They wish they had taken the time to love more and to express their love.
- They regret not staying in touch with friends and not giving the friendships the time and effort they deserved.
- They wish they had the courage to express their feelings instead of suppressing them.
- They wish they had the courage to live a life true to themselves, not the life to fulfill somebody else’s expectations or to prove they are good enough.
- Many of them confessed they never really knew themselves or weren’t clear on what they really wanted out of life.
- Many of them said they felt as if they hadn’t really lived. Just imagine: you worked hard, you sacrificed, and now you’re on your deathbed full of regret!
- And here is a sobering fact: most dying people regret postponing their happiness to “one day”. Guess what? That day never came!
The Million-Dollar Question
Here is the million-dollar question: why do we invest so much of our limited time, energy and money into our businesses, but not our own happiness?
Well, simply put, most of us just don’t know how to create a happy, fulfilled, truly successful life. When you and I went to school, they taught us a lot of stuff we never use in real life, but they didn’t teach us what happiness and success really are about. Our degrees printed on fancy paper didn’t come with a Happy Life manual; we are left to figure it all out on our own.
And unfortunately, so many of us have bought into the idea that if we choose money, power and prestige for the main course, happiness would automatically come as a side dish. This belief is so deeply programmed in our subconscious by the media and society that we don’t question it in our everyday lives.
Sadly, many smart and talented people work hard to get there, but when they make it, they often discover that happiness is nowhere to be found. Instead, they are left with the unfulfilled outcome of their fulfilled goals.
Listen, I’ll be the first one to congratulate you on your success and encourage you to set big financial goals, but if hitting higher revenues or moving up the Forbes list is the main purpose, then it really is a dead end. Because things like money, houses, toys, girls, titles or accolades just can’t fill the void deep inside.
Do You Postpone Your Happiness?
Let me ask you – do you postpone your happiness to a day that may never come? Maybe you can relate to some of my clients who chased that ever-elusive happiness for years, but ultimately accepted their unhappiness as the inevitable price of their success…
Perhaps, your life looks great on the outside, but on the inside you’re unhappy, bored or even anxious without a logical reason. Perhaps you feel that you don’t belong. Perhaps you’re trying to numb the unspoken sadness or feel something real using alcohol, sex or drugs. Or maybe you find yourself on the verge of complete physical or emotional burnout.
If this is how you feel, please know – you are not alone. In a recent Harvard Medical School study, 96% of senior leaders reported feeling burned out to some degree and one-third of them described their physical and emotional burnout as extreme. According to the latest Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index survey, 45% of entrepreneurs said they were stressed and unhappy, including experiencing mood swings, loss of motivation, depression, worthlessness, hopelessness and suicidal thoughts.
Not a pretty picture. And you know what? Every time I speak to a new client, it never fails to amaze me how much strong people are able to suppress and tolerate. The sad fact is that far too many pay a ridiculously high price for what’s considered “success” in worldly terms.
Suck It Up, Princess
Here is the worst part – most entrepreneurs and executives struggle silently because they feel that acknowledging their challenges, especially emotional challenges, would be considered a weakness. That’s not surprising though – we’ve been raised in the society where “boys don’t cry” and where it’s not okay to reveal how you really feel. We live in the society where our external achievements seem to be more important than our inner light. And as a result of being “strong” you might feel incredibly alone or unworthy at times, despite the overwhelming evidence of your abilities.
For the longest time my own motto in life was “Suck it up, Princess”. Little did I know that I could never change what I was not willing to acknowledge. Little did I know that suppressing all that lingering dissatisfaction with my life was what greatly contributed to repeating the same dysfunctional patterns in the first place! Also, little did I know that the longer I was avoiding dealing with my unconscious fears and unexplained emotional pain, the bigger blow I would have to deal with later. What goes in must come out; that’s why things like a middle-life crisis aren’t that unpredictable after all.
You see, most of us have never been taught how to deal with life’s challenges in healthy and productive ways. Often times we don’t even know what exactly we’re feeling because we have not spent much, if any, time to analyze things on an emotional level. Most of us have no idea how to process our bottled-up emotions and heal old emotional traumas that – surprisingly! – still greatly affect our present-day lives.
But here is the thing: we don’t want to be hurt anymore, so we unconsciously come up with sophisticated self-protection and coping mechanisms. We keep ourselves busy to suppress our real feelings. We stuff things down to avoid acknowledging our problems. We get angry to shift responsibility. We numb ourselves with alcohol, drugs and every other addiction in between. We put on weight to hide our vulnerability. We boost our ego to emphasize our importance. We change lovers like we change bed sheets to avoid real emotional intimacy at all cost.
Different strokes for different folks, yet the common denominator is this: deep down we are afraid. Consciously or unconsciously, we’re afraid to open up and trust again because we think it’s not safe to be vulnerable. Consciously or unconsciously, we don’t want to let go of all those stories in our heads that we bought into so wholeheartedly. Consciously or unconsciously, we are afraid of what might happen if we actually reconnect with who we really are and what truly matters to us.
So we create invisible walls that we think protect us from drama, rejection, criticism, disloyalty, abandonment, betrayal and all other emotional pain, yet these are the same walls that prevent us from receiving the love that deep down we are craving so bad. No wonder we can’t find happiness in the midst of it all.
And what do we do to numb that suppressed dissatisfaction with our lives and quiet down that nagging little voice inside? We go back to the treadmill and chase after the next big thing. Stressed, depleted, self-medicated, we are slowly becoming statistical data for those Top Regrets of the Dying surveys, unless we make a choice to simply stop or life makes this choice for us.
My Wake Up Call
I remember that intense, overwhelming feeling of how precious life is that flooded me right after I signed waivers for my emergency open-heart surgery, including the one that stated I might not wake up the next day. Apparently my aorta was about to rupture, and if it happened before surgery, I would have died instantly. I guess it’s not such a bad way to go (it’s quick!), but I certainly wasn’t ready for the worst-case scenario.
Puking hospital drugs that my body refused to process, I remember thinking, “I just turned 37 … I haven’t really lived yet!” I also remember feeling profound sadness thinking about all those unfulfilled dreams of mine … all the things I’ve settled for … all the love that I didn’t give and receive.
Luckily for me, I didn’t die and my recovery is another story altogether. But I have to tell you – I really didn’t like the things I had to face lying in that hospital bed. Even though I had been on a personal development journey for a while by then, the fact that I might be dead tomorrow put my entire life in perspective and, suddenly, everything that seemed important didn’t really matter anymore. This painful experience (with others along the way – believe me, I have an extended collection) helped me find my truth and stop postponing my happiness to a day that may never come. It helped me realize how short and precious life is, and shift my priorities accordingly.
And you know something? You really don’t need to have a near-death experience or lose someone you love before you start appreciating life in a whole different way. It’s just a matter of changing your perspective. As my friend Paul likes to say, “How many summers do I have left?”
The Ultimate Failure
Perhaps you too have experienced that intense feeling that life goes by way too fast. Perhaps you too can’t help but wonder, “How come do I have so much grey hair when I’m just about to start living?” Perhaps you too are tired of the inner conflict between the Old You that wants you to stay the same and the New You that somehow knows that there is so much more out there for you.
Pay attention now. I hear unfulfilled achievers’ confessions too many times in any given month to be impartial, and I’m here to tell you: there is so much more out there for you! You are important, you are worthy of everything your heart desires and you have a purpose that is meant to make you feel alive.
It’s only when we disconnect from who we really are, we start wondering what the hell we are doing with our lives. It’s only when the deepest parts of us go unexplored and suppressed, we can’t seem to find happiness, meaning and inner peace.
The good news is that it really is up to us to create a happier, more meaningful, truly successful life. If we don’t, what’s the alternative? As Tony Robbins put it, “Success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure”.
Now it’s your time to redefine what success really is about. And because you’re reading this, I already know that you are a smart, open-minded person who refuses to settle for a purposeless life, ordinary marriage, 1.5 kids and deathbed regrets. So I invite you to give some serious thought to what really matters to you, and take a brutally honest look at what works, what doesn’t work and what’s missing in your life.
What if you cut right through all the superficial crap? What if you clear out the fog that suffocates your creativity and inner knowing? What if you reconnect with the very core of who you really are and what truly matters to you? There is no statute of limitations on reinventing yourself.
Imagine a life of clarity and purpose. Imagine more authentic and deeper connection with people around you. Imagine making more, working less, and really enjoying all the things good memories are made of.
This is not wishful thinking. These are the real changes I witness in my clients’ lives over and over again. And it all starts with a decision. You are only one decision away from a totally different business, a totally different relationship and a totally different life.
And listen, I know you’re busy and your life might look like well-organized chaos at times. I know that life gets in the way and the first thing that happens is that you miss out on self-care. But I also know that the last thing you want to happen is to get to the end of your life without having done what you were supposed to do and having experienced what you want to experience.
Life is not a rehearsal. So whatever you might want to change, start today. Because if you don’t, your life will be predictably the same 3, 6, 12 months from now, staying on the same trajectory year after year. There is no change without action. By the way, time doesn’t heal anything; it just conceals the vulnerable parts of us that need healing. It’s only when we face our stubborn, unexplored emotional triggers, heal our wounds and move beyond our story, we transform our life for good.
And I get it that it might be difficult for you to drop your armour because we’ve been conditioned that it’s not okay to show our pain and vulnerability. Do it anyway. Reach out for help – talk to a mentor you trust or, better yet, hire an experienced coach – because we all need help once in a while. We all have pain and we all need compassion, and it doesn’t do any good to suffer alone. After all, success is a team sport, and happy, fulfilled, meaningful life on your own terms is certainly something that’s worth pursuing.
You Are Already Naked
One more thing. If you die in a month from now, what do you need to do today to die complete? Who do you need to say, “I love you”? Who do you need to forgive? Who do you need to ask for forgiveness? Who do you need to serve? If you choose to live your life from this place of awareness, you become profoundly connected and awake.
In conclusion, allow me to leave you with the excerpt from Steve Jobs’ Commencement Speech at Stanford. Over a decade later, this message is more relevant than ever.
“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? And whenever the answer had been No for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
Remembering that I will be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
… Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
P.S. If you’re successful and stuck, or you have this persistent knowing that even though you’re doing well, you could do a lot better, watch this video and reach out for a free 20-minute call with me.
Passionate about helping the best get better, I specialize in coaching highly successful men to become even more successful, happier and lead reach lives that are full of purpose. I worked with all kinds of high achievers ranging from Directors of The World Bank to entrepreneurs who’ve built multi-national businesses. And who knows, 20 minutes with me may just change your life.