two people riding horses in a field with mountains in the background

#74: The most common deathbed regret

Bob Ewing
June 24, 2022
two people riding horses in a field with mountains in the background

Talking Big Ideas.

“Life is too short to be living somebody else’s dream.”
~ Hugh Hefner

I started rock climbing 17 years ago.

It happened by chance. I made a couple of friends who were climbers and joined them one day. I caught the bug. Soon, we were traveling the country on epic adventures. Being in the mountains was all I wanted to do.

“I’m moving to the Rockies,” I’d say. For years, I told people this.

And for years I didn’t do it.

I had a stable job. That’s what was expected of me. Of course, I couldn’t just quit and head west. “Maybe next year I’ll move,” I’d say.

Another year would pass and I’d regret how little time I spent in the Rockies. I was destined, it seemed, to live in the city and pine for the mountains.

Then I met Maryrose.

We’d go on walks together and discuss our lives. I’d talk about living out west one day and being an entrepreneur. She’d push me, “what would it take for you to actually do this?”

Conversations turned to plans. And then, together, we made it happen.

Without Maryrose I’d likely have had this regret on my deathbed: “I wish I moved to the Rockies and started my own company doing something I love.”

Deathbed regrets are real.

There was a nurse named Bronnie who comforted people at the end of their lives. Her patients would talk about their regrets. Over the years Bronnie noticed common themes and published them in a viral post called Regrets of the Dying.

She expanded her post into a book where she tells the story of a little old lady named Grace. Days from death, Grace opened up to Bronnie about her regrets in life.

Grace admitted to living a life that was expected of her. She got married, had kids, and supported her family. And while she adored her children and grandchildren, she regretted silently enduring abuse from her husband for half a century.

She dreamed of traveling and being happy.

But Grace’s illness, caused by inhaling second-hand smoke from her husband, confined her to a bed. By the time he died and she was free, she was too sick to enjoy her independence.

“Why didn’t I just do what I wanted? Why did I let him rule me? Why wasn’t I strong enough?” she lamented.

Bronnie says that Grace was not alone in having this regret. It was repeated by people from all different backgrounds and walks of life. In fact, Bronnie says this was the most common regret of all:

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

The author Dan Pink calls this The Mega Regret. He says it shows up all over the world. Put succinctly:

I regret living someone else’s life, not my own.

Pink created a World Regret Survey for his new book The Power of Regret. He’s combed through tens of thousands of regrets. His research shows four primary types:

We’ve discussed how regret is universal to the human condition. Like anxieties, regrets can be giant blinking lights telling us to pay attention to what really matters. Regrets can help us see the values we hold dear but are afraid to embrace.

Pink says if we muster our courage, regrets will direct us to lift ourselves up and improve our lives.

We just have to act before it’s too late.

Last week, I agreed with Leo Tolstoy in his advice to “read less, study less, but think more.” If our minds are always filled with other people’s ideas we don’t have space for our own ideas to emerge.

Likewise, if all our time is spent doing what other people expect of us, we end up not living our own lives.

The same principle holds for our writings and speeches.

The first time I ran a workshop on public speaking I showed up with my boss’s notes. I gave his presentation with his stories, anecdotes, and thoughts.

Effective speakers do the opposite. They have the clarity and confidence to share their own thoughts and feelings. And bring their own stories, insights, and values to life.

Just before Grace died she asked Bronnie for a favor.

With tears in her eyes, she said, “promise this dying woman that you will always be true to yourself, that you will be brave enough to live the way you want to, regardless of what other people say.”

Bronnie promised her.

It’s solid advice for living. And for speaking.



Be true to yourself.

If you found yourself on your deathbed today, what would be your biggest regret? What is one small way you can make progress toward changing that regret into something you’re proud you did?


There’s a viral video of a little boy and an old man talking about life. Towards the end they give each other their best advice:

Do the things you like doing that make you feel good . . . act normal . . . don’t let other people tell you what you should be . . . just be as you are.

For more on regret:

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