How to avoid Death Bed Regrets 2

Guest Post by Lachlan Cotter, Personal Awesomeness Consultant.


I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately; I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life; To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived.

Henry David Thoreau




There are few things in life more piercing than receiving a diagnosis of terminal disease. While we all know, intellectually, that our time here on this Earth is limited; we still fumble our way through it as if it were a rehearsal. As if today is not the only day we ever have.

Sadly, many realise this only to discover there are all too few tomorrows remaining.

For some, the diagnosis is a wake up call. It teaches them to let go and to overcome; and their lives are forever transformed. For others, it is the beginning of the end.

It was Bronnie’s job to care for these people in the weeks leading up to their passing. She watched as they grew through the spectrum of emotions from denial to acceptance and found renewed connection and meaning with their families. And she learned of their greatest regrets.

While each of us walks a solitary road, there are themes that echo throughout the whole of humanity. Themes that colour our lives when viewed through the lens of retrospect. And according to Bronnie, the single most common regret, expressed by the dying, is this:

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

My father died of cancer when I was 22 and he was 53. His battle with the disease was neither graceful nor accepting.

I like to think he found some sense of peace before the end. But if he did it can only have been in a morphine induced delirium, or the deep stasis of coma. Outwardly, he resisted and struggled against it until fate overtook him and he no longer had the strength or lucidity to fight it anymore.

He eventually became so emaciated and feeble that he was unable to carry himself from his bed to the bathroom; and required assistance to perform the most basic of bodily functions. His entire universe shrank to the size of a single room.

I can only imagine the heartbreak he must have endured. How resentful one must be at a life that promises so much and then cruelly snatches it away.

His anger and frustration and defeat… so bitter.

He stayed positive as best he could and put on a brave face for our benefit; but inside I think he must have been wrestling with some terrible fear and regret.

That he spent the majority of his adult years in a job he didn’t like to support a life that was less than he deserved.

His passions relegated to a weekend diversion.

His grand plans forever a distant dream.

Regret that his 25 year research project—his life’s greatest work—would never be completed.

That his dreams of artistic freedom and independent business would never be realised.

That he would reach the end, a humble, college teacher. Loved by those dear to him; but in many ways a stranger to them none the less.

He didn’t tell me this. He couldn’t. He was an intensely private man; not the sort that coped well with such difficult emotions or the vulnerability that such stark honesty tends to engender. So much of his inner world remained hidden away to the end; he took it to the hereafter.

As a younger man, he was an adventurer. Intrepid, overland traveller, philosopher, artist. But the man my mother fell in love with, I never really knew.

By the time I had the maturity to understand who he used to be he had become a shadow of his former self. Worn down by the burdens of responsibility and routine.

He had the courage to endure and to be selfless and to provide for the needs of a family through hard times. But, alas for him, he could not find the courage to give his own dreams the urgent attention they so richly deserved.

And so they never happened.

They died inside of him.

And when he was gone the thing I wept for most sorrowfully was not the loss of him, but the loss of every moment when I could have showed him more kindness or compassion or gratitude.

To watch a loved one waste away is agonising.

Yet the wasting of dreams is far, far worse.

Things my dad never got to do

  • Wake up to a day totally free of worry and obligation
  • Say what he was feeling
  • Be his own man
  • Indulge in his passions
  • Go where the wind blew him
  • Be selfish
  • Taste the sweet air of a fresh beginning
  • Watch his boys grow into men
  • Hear the innocent laughter of his granddaughter
  • If you can read this sentence, it’s not too late

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life
Charles Dederich

What’s become of your grand designs? The image of the life you once imagined? Do you keep it at the center of your life? Are you moving towards it every day? Or has your purpose become subordinate to routine and survival?

Come closer, dear friend; I want to ask you a question.

What are you waiting for?

Think back on you life of 10 years ago. Does it seem like a distant memory? Or does it seem like the blink of an eye? Probably both at once. Funny how time does that. What you need to realise is: one day soon, today is going to look remarkably similar.

It took me a long time to realise what wise people had been saying my whole life: if it’s not happening now, it’s not happening. The path you’re on doesn’t lead to the life of your dreams unless you’re taking steps towards it today.

So why do you continue to stand in your own way?

What excuses are you using to justify your postponement of living?

What could be more important than living the life you were born for?

I thought so.

So put the most important things in life at the center of your life; not on the sidelines. Don’t make them things to get to someday, or to fit in around your routine obligations. Don’t think you have to follow the blueprint that was handed to you by someone else. Construct your life around what really matters.

Make a list of things that are most important to you.

Start at the top.

Orient your life towards the realisation of your dream.

How to create a bucket list that really lights your fire

Here’s what I’ve discovered.

It’s not actually having a bucket list that’s important. It’s making one. Yup. You heard right. If you’ve made your list properly you could throw it away and you’d still be well on the path to living the life of your dreams. In fact, making your list is really half the fun.

I don’t mean just going through the motions of writing down a bunch of fanciful, pie-in-the-sky dreams that you never intend to realise; paying lip-service to passion without actually feeling any. That’s not making a bucket list. That’s just another fidget.

No. To really make your list you need to go on an emotional journey. You need to feel the feelings you associate with living your dream for real. You need to feel it because that’s where real life actually happens—in your emotional world.

It’s in that moment of intense focus and intention that powerful dreams are birthed. The kind of dreams that will actually call you forward toward them and take over your life instead of becoming a death bed regret.

If your mental exertion is not palpable, you’re probably not in the zone.

When I created my list, I lived every moment. I used my feelings as the sole criteria in working out exactly what should go on it. And, I kept in short because I actually intend to do everything on it, starting yesterday.

Getting real about what you want

Who are you trying to impress?


Is your vision of a great life really your own? or did you inherit it from someone else?

Paul Graham wrote a great essay about doing what you love. In it he warns of the tendency young people have to be seduced away from their passions by the lures of money and prestige. He advises:

If you admire two kinds of work equally, but one is more prestigious, you should probably choose the other. Your opinions about what’s admirable are always going to be slightly influenced by prestige, so if the two seem equal to you, you probably have more genuine admiration for the less prestigious one.

Paul is one of those too-cleaver-for-his-own-good types. There’s wisdom here. But actually, you don’t have to resort to this kind of intellectual second guessing to work out what the right choices are: just listen to your heart.

Prestige is just another word for the approval of others. And when making your bucket list—or any decision for that matter—that needs to be the furthest thing from your mind.

I see so many lists that look like this:

  • Earn a PhD.
  • Learn seven languages.
  • Bench press 100 Kg.
  • Run a marathon.
  • Sell a company for $1 million.

And other such variations on impressive or respectable personal achievements. I can understand why people do this. I was a prime offender. But if your list has items like this on it, I implore you to ask yourself why. Is it because you’re genuinely inspired by the experience? or are you doing it for the prestige? For the label?

When you’re creating your list, be selfish but not egotistical.

Write down the things that you really want.
Not the thing you think you should want.
Not the things that society says are best.
Not the things you want for somebody else.
Not the things you justify in terms of prestige or legacy.

The things that you really want for the intrinsic value of the experience. For the shear, childish fun of it.

Most importantly: write down actual experiences, not accolades or accomplishments. A bucket list is supposed to enthrall you in the rapture of living. Not be another to-do list. Another set of things to check off before you reach the deadline.

So long as your doing something for a future pay-off rather than the intrinsic reward, you’re not sucking the marrow out of life—you’re still postponing living.

Now… if the experience you want is discovering something that no other human being has thought before… if the experience you want is to emerse yourself in other cultures… if the experience you want is transcendence of your physical limitations… if the experience you want is to see the world through the eyes of God, then all power to you. But get to the heart of it, and be honest.

Indeed, once you do get to the heart of it, you’ll be able to come up with a much more compelling description of what you want to create.

Live it emotionally, and all will be clear.

The difference between a Bucket List and an Awesome List

A bucket list is for sucking the marrow out of life.

An awesome list is for pushing out the edges of the universe.

Marrow-sucking is important. A life lived fully is lived deeply. It is lived in the moment, and in the heart. And that is paramount. But when I created my list, I had some additional criteria:

I want to be more than I have been.

I want to expand my potential.

I don’t regard my list as a bunch of experiences I’d like to have before my time runs out. I regard it as a compelling statement of who I want to be. That’s why, in addition to being tremendous fun, I recommend you choose adventures which actually scare you. Things that are outside the boundaries of what you think you can accomplish.

They must be things you’re actually afraid of wanting because you’re not sure you could handle the getting of them.

Hence, the awesome list forces you to grow.

And when you grow, the potential for marrow-sucking is exponential to that growth. That’s why of all the thrilling adventures there are to choose among, I give highest priority to this select group which will force me to be more than I am. That’s how you change your world.

Some totally awesome bucket listers

If you’re looking for some inspiration in imagining a life less ordinary, check out this short list of adventurers. They are certified fire-lighters.

Jodi Sagorin
Jodi just might have the best darn bucket list I’ve ever seen. She certainly is a girl with a healthy disregard for the impossible; and it’s not just wishful thinking. She lives and breathes adventure. If you need a hand to give your dreams a kick-start, I recommend her Adventure Sessions.

Jenny Leonard
There’s only one word I can think of to describe Jenny: holy-fucking-wow. She’s the only person I know to have stood on an exploding volcano and lived to tell the tale (other than Frodo and Sam—but they had those giant Eagles). Anyway, I think if Jenny did go toe-to-toe with Sauron, she would totally kick his ass. Read more about her awesome, globetrotting adventures. Her bucket list is here.

Cody McKibben

When I grow up, I want to be just like Cody: hanging out with billionaires or kicking back with a bevy of Swedish beauties on some tropical beach. Cody’s a guy who decided to live life his way. His blog, Thrilling Heroics is packed with resources to help you do the same; awesome stuff. Here’s Cody’s amazing bucket list.

Joel Runyon
Joel’s list is primarily focused around finding ever more gruelling ways to push the limits of his cardiovascular system. But, beneath his tough, Tim-Ferriss-looking exterior, he’s one of the nicest guys you’re ever likely to meet. Check out his Impossible List if you’re into tests of physical endurance. And keep an eye out for Joel—some day you might see him in an ad for Lynx.

Celine’s 30 Before 30 list runs the gamut from world travel to burlesque dancing. What I love about Celine’s project is that it’s not a someday-list. It’s a right-now list. I’m hanging out for her to do her epic bungee jump from the Macau Tower.

Tyler Tervooren
Tyler kind of reminds me of Thoreau, what with that crazy moustache and his passionate damnation of the status quo. He’s on a mission to join the 1% Club, by doing the things that few people ever do. He writes about risk taking, uncertainty and freedom of mind on his popular blog, Advanced Riskology.

Think it’s time to make a bucket list of your own?  Mirabai can help you with that.

Thanks to the Awesome Lachlan Cotter for this incredibly inspiring post – check him out here at  The Art of Audacity.

2 thoughts on “How to avoid Death Bed Regrets

  • Dona

    Loved it, this is how we should live every day. To be in touch with our soul, or the universal soul, to progress on our journey. We are never too old to progress, and make a difference. If, by any chance, we do have regrets, now, as we look back on our life, then, now is the time to change. We can change. I was 36 when I had my first child, and 37 when I received my BA. Our goals are pure, when our desire is to change the world from within.

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