Mid Life Wishes

Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care looking after people in the last 12 weeks of their life.  She wrote a moving blog and book titled The Five Regrets of the Dying which is well worth a read.

Inspired by this and by my work with people wrestling with mid-life issues, here is a summary of the wishes that are voiced most often in our sessions.   The challenge is to ensure that these wishes do not turn into regrets.  That is why this period of life is poignant, there are the first glimpses of regret coupled with the recognition that it is not too late to do something about it – no pressure then.

  1. I wish I could be more present with my children when I am with them – this came from both men and women.  Whilst some wanted to spend more time with their children, everyone wanted the time they did spend to be better quality, to involve more play and less time being distracted by phones and work.  The hard truth is that psychologists show over and over again that our greatest influence over our children’s security and happiness comes in the first 7 years of their lives.
  2. I wish I wasn’t working so hard and had more time for me and my friends – this is work in the broadest definition, work in your job, at home, on our children.  People just feel too busy, that life is passing by too quickly.  We put ourselves to the bottom of our lists.  In extreme cases this results in breakdown and the body enforcing a break from work.  Even in milder cases long term stress has a profound impact on our health and happiness.  Reducing our social contact can increase the chances of depression and result in feelings of loneliness or an over-reliance on a small group of people.
  3. I wish I could figure out what I really want to do and be brave about doing it – many people feel trapped in careers that they fell into, in jobs that they were headhunted into or in companies that do not fit with their values.  Mortgages and other financial pressures, as well as a lack of confidence, make moving seem impossible. A sense of despair or helplessness creeps in and starts to corrode our sense of self.
  4. I wish I knew it was all going to be ok - we take life pretty seriously.  Driven to succeed, to provide, to make our children happy, to be happy and fulfilled ourselves.  We do want to have our cake and eat it.  The last of Bonnie Ware’s regrets is “I wish I had let myself be happier”.  I find this tragic.  The realisation – too late – that we have the ability to allow ourselves to be happier.  Sometimes I look across the table at a client battling with a difficult issue and we find a way to laugh, to remember that life does not have to be all work and no play.  It is our choice.
  5. I wish I could make life simpler again –  Young children, ageing parents, mortgages, school choices, career decisions, marriage trouble, the list is endless.  I sometimes see a nostalgia for earlier lives perceived as simpler, or a misguided belief that if I can just get through the next [3/6/12] months everything will get back to normal.  Ages 40-55 show as the lowest level of life happiness over and over again in surveys (the best is still to come apparently).  Perhaps we could accept that life is going to be this way for a bit and not fight it

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