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What Do Most People Regret At The End Of Their Life?

by sara burdick 2 months ago in Workplace · updated 2 months ago
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My conversations with patients near the end of their lives.

What Do Most People Regret At The End Of Their Life?
Photo by Eduardo Barrios on Unsplash

We crucify ourselves between two thieves: regret for yesterday and fear of tomorrow. Fulton Oursler

I have been fortunate enough to work with some amazing people in my career. I don’t mean nurses; I am referring to my patients.

I have been a nurse for 16 years. Working in intensive care and medical-surgical units.

I spent a lot of time with my patients and enjoyed having deep meaningful conversations in critical times of their lives.

Many of them would tell me all their friends have died and their families do not talk to them. They were seen as either a “burden or old”. This broke my heart, plus I loved to ask them all kinds of questions about their lives.

It was a walk down memory lane for them and for me it was knowledge.

We take the elderly for granted in our society when we should honor them. They have so much knowledge.

Believe me — I’ve done very good stuff and very crazy stuff, and I don’t regret the crazy stuff. Jean-Claude Van Damme

By Islam Hassan on Unsplash

What do you regret most in your life and what would you do differently if you had the chance?

Often in my life, I have been at a crossroads. I want a new job, or to change areas in the hospital. Travel the world, how can I do this, how do I know which decision is right?

So I would ask my patients these questions.

I was happy to get advice on issues that I was having in my life. It was almost like free therapy. Take a minute and sit with an older person, ask them for their advice. I guarantee you it will help you out.

I have had patients tell me they regretted having kids!

I was at a critical stage in my life, and I was conflicted should I have kids, even though I don’t want them. Thinking I was broken because I did not want them.

I never expected the answers I received. Most of them said kids were the biggest mistake of my life, yea I love them, but they did not better my life. Now they don’t talk to me, I am a burden to them or they were the opposite and said the kids don’t leave me alone. They think I can do nothing on my own.

The resounding answer was you need to be 100% certain you want them. If you are on the fence, do not have them because you feel obligated.

Patients regretted not doing what they wanted with their life.

They lived their life for someone else. Whether it was their spouse, their children, or their parents. A lot of the women said they wished they stood up and divorced their husbands, but it was the 50s and life was different.

They said never settle. Do not let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Do it anyway and learn from your own mistakes.

They regretted staying in careers that they did not enjoy instead of chasing their dreams when they had the chance.

Some wanted to pursue different careers. Their family would tell them that is not a good decision. Their friends would not support them and tell them they would fail.

So they never took the new job and stayed in a career they hated until they retired. These were always my bitter old man patients and a tough nut to crack, but I have my ways and ended up being my favorite patients.

Live a life that you want, because it will work out, or not, you have to try. If you want to change your career, do it. Do not wait, because there might never be a tomorrow.

A lot of them said they woke up one day, and they were old and dying.

Never wait to do what you want because that day may never come.

When I was deciding to travel, I was a mess. Should I quit my job, should I leave my family and friends. Is it going to be the biggest mistake in my life?

So I did as I always did. I talked to those who are wiser and have lived-my patients. I met this guy who told me about his travels to Japan and living in Asia teaching English for 15 years. He said it was the best experience of his life and he never regretted choosing differently.

He said his family thought he was crazy, but he did it anyway. He said you are a nurse. You will always have a job, you have nothing to lose. I have also had many other patients tell me this. I was obsessed with living my dream for about 5 years before I did it.

When I talked to my friends and family, it was a resounding, Sara you have lost your mind. Why would you leave a good job, and your friends and family to traipse around the world?

I said because I want to.

If you do not do it now you never will and that is the one thing you will regret.

You will not regret putting your career on pause. You will gain more from traveling seeing the world. They spoke from experience.

I met women traveling in their 50–60–70’s who say the only regret in life was not doing it sooner.

Life is not about money, fame, or success. Life is about experiences. I don’t care if your dream is to go to Niagara Falls or Iguazu Falls. Do not put off what you want to do, because what if?

What if you die tomorrow? What if you don’t die and are 98 years old and the only thing in life you regret is not doing what you want?

I know what you are thinking. Not everyone can just do whatever they want at all times. You are correct in this if you believe it. I believe I can do whatever I want and it will always work out. Why? Because it has always worked out for me.

It may not have been the way I imagined or what I wanted but it is better. It might be what I need, instead of want.

Life has a way of changing and redirecting when you follow your genuine desires. Your intuition, your gut, that feeling that just does not go away.

Would you rather try something and fail or never try to and wonder?

I would rather try to and fail than to wonder what if?

My life has not been the easiest, but that was my life path. I have overcome so many hardships and I would never change it. I like who I am. The struggled that came with living are worth it.

These struggles have strengthened me today.

Do not put off something because what if. If there is something that you want to do, make it happen.

Regret is the worst feeling in the world. These are not my words, but the words of 100’s of patients that I have taken care of.

One last regret from many patients is they regret not forgiving.

They regret staying angry and ruining friendships and relationships over pettiness. Sometimes the ego gets in the way and we can not get past it. Forgiveness and gratitude are the ways forward.

Do not take these above regrets to your grave.

I have never regretted my decision to quit a 6 figure salary to travel the world, I would choose it again and again if I had to decide.

So what are you putting off for tomorrow? Will tomorrow ever come?




About the author

sara burdick

I quit the rat race after working as a nurse for 16 years. Obsessed with moving off-grid, sobriety, and self-improvement. I live in Colombia.

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Comments (9)

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  • Sasha Austinabout a month ago

    Really enjoyed reading this! Great work!

  • Jess Kilby2 months ago

    I was in my late 20s the first time any of my friends admitted to me that they regretted having kids. I've never wanted children so it wasn't relevant in that regard, but their honesty was refreshing.

  • Ashlie Cross2 months ago

    loved this. thank you

  • Nicole Chardenet2 months ago

    The worst advice I got from older, but not old people when I was younger was, "Don't travel now! You won't have anything to do when you retire!" I thought how utterly depressing that was for a number of reasons. For how blinkered and short-sighted it was. What if I died tomorrow? I'd never have visited the homelands of my ancestors, France & England! And how the hell can you see *all* of this big beautiful planet even if you travel for fifty years? And what if I finally am old enough to retire, and have enough money, but am too sick to do it? Why wait like all the old retirees my friend and I met on our Greek/Turkish cruise who were not in the same shape in their sixties and seventies as Gen Xers and Millennials are and will be? There will always be some place you haven't been, and places you want to return to.

  • Carol Townend2 months ago

    I was told 'Don't waste your life writing.' An elderly person changed that for me when he said 'life is about living your dreams, not just capturing them.' Now I am a writer and an author, and it has proven so far to be the best thing I have ever done in my life so far.

  • Kendall Defoe2 months ago

    My mother worked in a nursing home for thirty-plus years, so this rang true to me. I have taught overseas, tried to learn other languages, gotten published, and lived my life doing something I like (teaching at a college). We really don't have that much time..

  • Sara Rose2 months ago

    Thanks for writing this! I appreciated these perspectives, especially the ones saying to see the world and to forgive.

  • This comment has been deleted

  • Emily Dickerson2 months ago

    Interesting piece. I wonder how many regret straying from God and living a worldly life now that they are faced with death and Hell or Heaven.

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