What are the biggest regrets of the dying? I was reading a blog post the other day by Bronnie Ware that provides a synopsis of her book titled Regrets of the Dying here. Reading her post, it got me to thinking so many of those regrets that she heard repeatedly in her work with palliative care are exactly why I was drawn towards FIRE.
Facing your own mortality has an intense clarifying effect when looking back over your life and the decisions that you made day to day. I see some of that happening in my own life as I get older and start to spend more time considering my mortality and opportunities that were missed or paths that are no longer really available to me going forward.
While I have not had to face my own mortality up close with urgency, I do believe it is definitely worth considering common trends by others as they know they are nearing the end with certainty, which is the case for those in hospice care.
Dying Regret #1: I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
According to Bronnie, this was the most common regret of all. It is very hard to pursue financial independence while playing the game of keeping up with the Joneses. Society around us pushes this image of luxury and high consumption to project an image of success. However, it is the very act of projecting this image that keeps us from truly attaining the level of financial success that we are portraying.
Living life true to yourself requires doing the introspection to decide what you truly want and making decisions that are consistent with that. This is also a theme behind my two articles on living strategically. Part 1 and Part 2. This is not just about financial decisions obviously, but they are also part of the equation. Is having the image of material success all you are looking to achieve? Or do you want to actually have financial success where you don’t have sleepless nights from the mounting credit card bills that are fueling your outward image?
Dying Regret #2: I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
It is so easy when we live at or above our means to get trapped into a hamster wheel. Constantly trying to make more money. After all, we must support our ever-expanding standard of living. As soon as you move up one rung on the ladder of material success, there is another rung that becomes visible. If you buy the BMW 5-Series, there is a BMW 7-Series waiting for you at the dealer when your lease runs out. It never ends and you will become trapped in the cycle of working too hard to maintain a level of consumption. This level of consumption never really satisfies, because there is always something better and material goods depreciate, break, and become obsolete.
In the end, the true enjoyment we find in life is through our relationships and experiences. It is not in the things that we collect. Spending your whole life working hard to enhance your pile of stuff at the expense of relationships and experiences will leave you empty in the end. Material possessions should help enhance the experiences and relationships, not replace them. It’s great to be able to take the family vacation to Cancun or London. It’s an enhancement to be able to stay at a fancy hotel for some of the trip.
Dying Regret #3: I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.
There are so many ways this can tie into FIRE. The current political climate today is very polarized. Many of us have workplaces where we may not agree with the office group think. You may be more liberal but work for a more conservative employer or vice versa. The daily conversation can be very wearing when you don’t agree. You know your beliefs will be held against you, so you remain silent.
You don’t have the freedom to express the real you when you are trapped in a job. This is not good psychologically. In my mind, FIRE is not about walking away from the 9-5, it is about having the flexibility to not be an indentured servant due to debt levels and paying the monthly bills. Reaching financial independence is often called having “Screw You” money, because it gives you the ability to express how you really feel, even if it has negative blowback.
In addition, not having the courage to express your feelings is a result of insecurity. Reaching the point in which you have accomplished financial security, through your own hard work and grit can do wonders for dealing with that. This accomplishment sets you apart from the masses as someone who is capable and has self-control and discipline. You have chosen to walk away from the group think and live life on your terms, not other’s expectations. That is a power that can benefit you across all facets of your life.
Dying Regrets #4: I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
This is so common when you are caught up in the hamster wheel of life, especially if you have moved around. I’ve moved significantly over my adult life, usually to a different state each time. In each place that I’ve lived, I developed friendships, but it becomes hard to maintain them when you move away. Working too hard can definitely have an impact here. If you are always working, how do you maintain your friendships?
Building towards financial independence, increasing passive income, and focusing on experiences instead of material excess can help give you the flexibility to invest in what really matters in life. That is relationships.
Dying Regret #5: I wish I had let myself be happier.
How you approach life every day is a choice. You can choose to be bitter, resentful and angry. Life is going to throw massive curve balls your way and none of us get out of it alive. That means you are going to experience difficulties and loss throughout your entire life. It often happens at the worst times, but how we approach it affects how we recover. In the last three years I’ve had the following happen:
- My best friend of 30 years died of a heart attack at age 41.
- A long-time friend died of cancer that came out of remission at age 45.
- My father passed away a few months ago from cancer.
- Laid off from a good job, 6 months to find a new job and a 50% annual pay cut.
- The new company I joined went under after 6 months and being unable to secure a new round of funding.
- Went through a very challenging divorce after over a decade of marriage with three kids.
- Went from a net worth in the 6-figure range to a negative 6-figure net worth.
However, in that same time I had the following positive things happen:
- Started a new relationship with someone who really makes me happy.
- My kids are all doing well and enjoying life.
- Found a new job that is going well.
- Finished my bachelor’s degree, which I had put on hold for over 20 years.
- Started and finished an MBA.
I’ve always taken the stance that happiness should not be the focus, it is based on happenings. The real focus should be in finding joy and contentment. The last three years of my life has really changed my perspective and helped me develop a much deeper inner strength. This was the result of the hard times, but how I approached those is what led to the good things.
Making Cents Of It
Life is a journey and the destination for all of us is the same. If you only focus on a destination, you will deprive yourself of all the enjoyment along the way.
I see the process of seeking financial independence as a way to bring focus to life. Making the hard choices about how I allocate my resources to live the best life I can today, while preparing myself to have an even better life today. It is not about inordinate amounts of sacrifice now and living in misery in hopes that tomorrow will be worth it. This also means not sacrificing the future by living beyond my means today.
This is the driving force behind my focus on living strategically. This is becoming the over-arching philosophy behind this blog and how I approach life. It involves looking at your life holistically, both the now and the future, and focusing time and resources to achieve future goals while making the most of today.
What do you think? Is FIRE a destination or a way to enhance the whole journey?