Imagine yourself in the future, as a 93-year-old. You’ve lived a long life, and you reached financial independence long ago. But now you can barely stand on your own. Your skin is wrinkled, your eyesight is poor, and your bodily functions have deteriorated. You’re lying in your deathbed, breathing your last few breaths.
You reflect on your life. And you ask yourself, “What do I regret the most about my life?”
The 5 most common regrets of the dying
A palliative care nurse named Bronnie Ware took care of patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded the epiphanies of the dying she took care of, and even wrote a book about it.
Their most common regrets? You might resonate with some of them, especially if you’re trying to reach financial independence.
- “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” People realized how many dreams they had unfulfilled, and how much freedom good health brought when they still had it.
- “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” They missed their children’s youth. They missed the companionship of their partner. They wished they hadn’t spent so much of their lives on the “treadmill” of work.
- “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.” Many suppressed feelings throughout their lives, out of fear of what others might think. Some carried bitterness and resentment until the end of their lives.
- “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.” People miss their friends when they’re dying, and regret letting close friendships slip away.
- “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” Many didn’t realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They thought they needed certain comforts in life to be happy. Or, they were afraid of change. When deep inside, all they wanted was to be themselves.
The most common regrets of the dying seem to revolve around a few themes of what they wish they had done.
One theme seems to be the idea of living true to yourself: your dreams, your feelings, your happiness.
Another theme is nurturing the relationships you have with the people that matter most to you.
Also, all their regrets were all about things that they didn’t do (or didn’t do more of). In life, we tend to regret the things we didn’t do or didn’t try out, instead of the things we actually got to experience.
Now, how does this relate to FIRE-financial independence and retiring early?
When you dig into the motivations of people trying to FIRE, you do see that people say they want more time to spend with their family. More time to pursue their passions and realize their dreams.
Attaining financial independence and retiring early, or having the option to, is one way to help ensure we have more time later in life to do the things we truly want to do.
I actually don’t plan to quit working unless health or circumstances force me to. I’m interested in FIRE because it gives me more freedom to chose a job without money being the only (or primary) consideration. FI gives me independence and choices, even if I’m not interested in RE.
- a redditor
My main motivation is my kids. I am a stone mason and all the older masons have back, knee, and hip problems. I want to be able to still do things with my kids when they get a little older.
- another redditor
But on the path to FIRE, we can also become so caught up with work, saving money, and doing everything we can to get to FIRE.
We can sometimes sacrifice time with family, the companionship of a partner, or otherwise living, for work.
What personal dreams are you ignoring, or putting off for “later”, as a result?
You’ll question why you let yourself work so hard, especially if you didn’t find your work intrinsically fulfilling.
Achieving financial independence requires working hard, yes. And we’re so lucky to be living in a day-and-age where financial independence is even possible, let alone achievable before 65.
But also remember that you never get time back. It is the ultimate non-renewable resource.
At the end of the day, our time and attention are limited. Everyone only gets 24 hours in a day. And only around 4,200 weeks in their life. But you probably have a lot fewer left, depending on how old you are!
How I reflect on death to have a more fulfilling FIRE journey
I find that I constantly need a reminder of the big picture: who do I want to become, during my lifetime? Otherwise, it’s too easy for me to get caught up in the details of the daily work grind.
Here’s a practice I’ve implemented to help me take a step back and gain perspective.
Every month, I have a calendar invite to myself for Sunday that says “Review Regret Minimization spreadsheet”.
What do I have in that spreadsheet? It’s simple: in giant letters at the top, I have “When I’m 100 and on my deathbed, what are the things that I will regret not having done, or done more of?” Then below that, I have a list of items. I date the items in my list too, so that I can see how my values become more refined over time.
Every month, I go back to this list and reflect on if my values still hold true. If I think of something else or have a big upcoming decision to make, I think about it from the lens of “deathbed regret minimization”, and write it on my list if it’s something I’d regret not doing.
How do you value your time?
How are you spending your time? Are you building a fulfilling life, even before you reach FIRE?
Spend time with your family and friends. Don’t be afraid of change, or what others might think. Choose happiness, laughter, and silliness, now! You don’t need to have a million dollars in your bank account to be happy.