I recently read a morbidly fascinating study compiled by an anonymous veteran hospice-care nurse about the top-five life regrets among her patients during the final moments of their lives. By far, she said, the most common regret was that they did not pursue their dreams, and therefore didn’t live the lives they truly wanted for themselves.
According to the nurse, this regret even outweighed the wish to have lived a happier life, which imparts a decidedly clear and powerful message.
In her words: “When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they made, or not made.”
I don't mention this to depress you. Quite the opposite.
FOR THE multitude of men and women who are traveling a beaten path, and not actively pursuing and living their passions professionally or otherwise, the recent New Year celebrations belied a likely painful self-evaluation that is far from the carefree parties they portend to be.
Indeed, during this time of year, much like Yom Kippur, many among us invariably take “stock” of our lives, and earnestly venture to make the adjustments necessary to ensure we do not live a life of regret by continuing to make the same self-defeating mistakes.
Of course, changing one’s life is far easier said than done.
Most of us return to the road we knew all too well within days, weeks or months of attempting to change course, preventing us from reaching a potentially better place.
I HAVE known countless intelligent and gifted men and women in the prime of their lives who labor away in professions they detest, keeping their dream jobs to themselves like an embarrassing secret because they were conditioned by the cynical and complacent among us to believe that such aspirations were unattainable, dangerous or even foolish.
For many years, I was among them, and fully understand the gravity of the collateral damage of being trapped on a dead-end road that sucks the life out of you; all the while daydreaming in seeming perpetuity about a new life.
I ALSO have had the pleasure of knowing a select few who took a different road.
These definitively unique men and women always fascinated me, captured my imagination, and frankly, consumed me with jealousy.
It always felt as if they inhabited a majestic and rarefied secret society that I was precluded from joining.
All of them loved their jobs, and because of that, loved waking up every morning, and carried themselves with a zeal and presence that had become completely foreign to me.
So, one New Year’s Eve in New York City a few years ago, I asked myself what was preventing me from joining their ranks, and began searching for honest answers.
THE DIFFERENCE between us at the time, I believe, was that like most people, I was afraid to follow the road leading to my dream destination because I listened to the pessimistic voices that we all get bombarded by, telling us why staying put makes the most sense.
Even more damaging, I gave less credence to the far fewer supportive voices that attempted to give me the confidence and courage I needed to pursue my true passion as a writer.
Like many people, I confused their incongruously dwarfed numbers with defeat by a majority decision.
That, I believe, is the biggest mistake we all make.
INDEED, IF there is one certainty I have learned in this life, it is that while the number of those who tell us why we can’t accomplish our goals far exceeds those who encourage us, their numbers should not reflect their value.
The unfortunate reality is that the vast majority of people we know don’t encourage us properly, not because they don’t care about us, but because they too were told that traveling the road not taken was a fool’s errand.
This, in return, creates a vicious cycle of “settling” in unfulfilling situations out of fear.
THEN THERE is that rare and righteous breed of human being who will encourage you and help you harness the confidence and courage necessary to finally break the cycle and follow your heart.
In my life, I can count these men and women on one hand, and to me, each one is worth their weight in gold because they helped me believe in myself.
My decision to finally listen to the outnumbered “right” voices may be the most important and empowering I ever made, and gave me the strength to change course.
And while my road is most assuredly not paved with gold, it has undeniably made me a happier and better man.
AS THE year gets under way, I wish the same opportunity for you.
Give it a shot! What do you have to lose?
The worse-case scenario is that you’ll decide it’s not the right road for you after all.
The best case: That you’ll find your own promised land that changes your life for the better.
Either way, at the very least you won’t spend your last moments haunted by the road not taken like the regretful souls the nurse cared for.
If you’re still not convinced, take it from someone far smarter than me: 'Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.’
– Robert Frost