Dying to Live

What if you found out today that you only had a few years to live? I don’t mean to be morbid, and I’m definitely not writing to say goodbye. I’m good, really. I’m very healthy. But what if? Do you ever stop to ask yourself this important question? I do.

More importantly, I have clients who have good reason to ask. They’ve survived cancer, heart disease, or substance related disorders, and now more than ever, they’re determined to live life fully and die with little or no regrets.

I recently read an article titled, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing.” The author, Bronnie Ware, worked in palliative care for many years. She discovered five common themes expressed by her patients—things they would do differently if they had the chance to turn back time.

Over the course of the next five weeks, I’ll share her patients’ top five regrets and invite you to reconsider some of your life choices. I’ll incorporate passages from a few of my favorite books that may inspire you to make a change before it’s too late. Here goes.

Regret #1: I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected me to live.  

Why is it that we can’t let go of others’ expectations? What drives us away from our dreams and keeps us stuck in unsatisfying jobs, unhealthy relationships, unfulfilling past times, or behavioral ruts? One of my favorite authors, Dawna Markova, hits the nail on the head in her book, I Will Not Die an Unlived Life. She writes…

To explore what it would mean to live fully, sensually alive and passionately on purpose, I have to drop my preconceived ideas of who and what I am. It is as if the salt of years is running free from me. Like so many of us, my head has been stuffed full of knowledge, but something in me is still starving. So here, I seek to empty it of the stories, explanations, and interpretations I am clutching in the fist of my mind. When did it get so tightly closed that it became numb? And what was it holding onto anyway? I want it free. I want my heart and soul free. Free of and free from. Free of struggle, free from doubt in the canyons of my bones, free from running from the truth of knowing that something has been missing.

It’s hard to follow such a beautifully written passage, so let me build on a phrase that is the essence of what I help people do as a psychotherapist and life coach. I seek to empty the stories, explanations, and interpretations I am clutching in the fist of my mind.  So many of us cling to the stories handed down by our families. We adopt definitions of societal success, thinking we should live up to these standards, instead of authoring our own. We cling to professional titles; we clutch onto secure, yet unsatisfying relationships. We close our mind and resist our heart’s desire. We ignore a haunting voice inside that whispers, something’s just not right.

It takes a great deal of courage to respond to that voice. It takes even more courage to say, It’s time to change my life.  If familiar old stories continue to hold you hostage, simply ask yourself the question I started with today, What if I only had a few years to live?

See where it takes you. Give this voice a chance. Maybe it will free your mind from preconceived ideas of who and what you should be.

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