Regret 1: I Sacrificed My Dreams to Please Others

Several years ago, a former palliative care nurse, Bronnie Ware, wrote a widely circulated article, based on her discussions with dying patients, describing the regrets they shared with her in their final period of life. The top five were featured in an article on her site and she has since turned the article into a book. Last week the web site addicted2success listed 10 Regrets In Life By Those About To Die. This week I’m discussing five of those regrets.

This week I want to look at each of the regrets and some lessons we can learn from them. I would urge you to read the full length article on her site for additional information.

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

This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people have had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. (Ware)

Disciples of Christ live a life that follows His teachings and example, reflecting His glory, which includes loving and serving others. Either through guilt or misunderstanding, we can sometimes allow others to have unnecessary influence in our lives or we yield to what they want in our lives instead of what we want. As long as we are following God’s commandments we have great liberty to choose what we will do in life and how we will live. Parents and friends may have ideas on how we should live our lives, where we should live, what career we should pursue, and other matters. We must not forget that our lives were given to us by God and we can make the choices on how to live. Even people who love us dearly may give us terrible or outdated advice.

Career Choices

For example, a young person may say that they want to pursue a particular type of career. Often the reply will be, “You can’t make money doing that” or “You may have a hard time finding a job doing that.” I’ve told young people going into unique careers that older people often respond this way when they don’t know anyone who does that type of job or do not know much about it. In fact, I have heard older people give young people advice to go into a certain career field that was undergoing massive job layoffs! In the past they knew that this kind of job paid well and was stable but their information was outdated. I’m not saying don’t listen to the advice but take it as advice, not the absolute truth. Investigate career paths for yourself. Learn what you have to do to make it succeed and pursue your dream. Perhaps your dream job doesn’t pay a lot but if you can conform your life to live within that pay then you will be successful. There was a career path I would have loved but didn’t pursue it because I listened to the “experts” in my life telling me that it wouldn’t be a good choice. Sadly, I listened to them and gave up something I would have really enjoyed instead of trying to see how I could make it work.

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Sometimes parents will drive their children to live out the dreams they didn’t pursue. A father may have been a good athlete but didn’t play at the college or professional level but pushes his child to do this. The child may want to please his father but does not have the heart for sports that his father did and will be miserable playing. Some people, following the dreams of their parents, pursue careers as accountants, lawyers, business owners, or other high profile jobs and are miserable in those jobs because they wanted another career path. If you are in this situation, discuss your dreams with your parents, be prepared to deal with the objections mentioned in the last paragraph, and share the career path you want to pursue.

Personal Dreams

Sometimes we do not fulfill our dreams because we are so busy trying to please others. We can help other people carry their burdens but each of us has the responsibility to carry their own burdens, Galatians 6:1-5.  Some people will let you carry all of their burdens: do their work, make lots of demands on your time, etc. They might try to make you feel guilty for not doing more but remember they are responsible for their own lives. Many years ago I spent several hours at the house of a husband and wife with marital problems AND problems raising their kids. I gave them some practical things to do to help in both situations. A couple of weeks later they called during the middle of some family time saying, “You need to come over here. We’re having problems.” I asked if they had followed the advice I gave earlier. They said “no.” I told them to discuss these things because I wasn’t going to come over repeat the advice they ignored. I didn’t feel guilty because they had ignored my help before. I would have sacrificed precious time with my family because these people were making poor decisions in their family and until they made different choices they would continue to have the bad consequences.

Your dreams may include time writing, drawing, performing music, gardening, sports, etc. but you are denying enjoying those dreams because of the demands others are putting on you. You need to feel confident telling people “no” so you can tell yourself “yes” to enjoy this life. This is a life in balance that serves and honor others but also honors yourself and your dreams. A quote attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes (and Benjamin Disreli…but I think it is Holmes) says, “Many people die with their music still in them. Why is this so? Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it, time runs out.” You do not know how long you have to live, enjoy today. Serve God, serve others, enjoy life yourself.

The Will of God: Pursue Your Dreams

Perhaps you think that wanting to fulfill your dreams is selfish and you must always do things to please others. A comedian once asked, “If we are to serve others, what are the ‘others’ supposed to do?” It is not selfish to pursue the desires of your heart, but it is the will of God. Consider this wisdom from Ecclesiastes 11:9-10:

Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity. (ESV)

The inspired wisdom of Solomon encourages the young to pursue what is in his/her heart as long as they are not sinning in pursuing it. If the ways of our heart and what we desire with our eyes is not evil, God says to enjoy it, not to stress about it, and to pursue it while we have the health to do it. In the next chapter he says we are to “fear God and keep His commandments,” reminding us that our desires must be good.

God has blessed you with special characteristics and gifts and you are unique of all people who have ever been made. Follow your dreams and glorify God in your life. Some will rejoice in the life you have chosen and some will never understand. One lesson you must learn early is that anything worth pursuing will have its critics, in achievements you will have people who are jealous, and some will never understand. Let them misunderstand and be critical: you do not have to please them. Ultimately you only have to please God and the person in the mirror.

Do you have regrets for dreams you didn’t pursue or success stories where you pursued your dream even when others could understand? Share those stories or other observations in the comments!

Other Posts in this series:

Regret 2: Missed Much By Working Too Much
Regret 3: I Wanted the Courage to Express My Feelings
Regret 4: I Miss My Friends
Regret 5: I Wish I Had Let Myself Be Happier

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Categories: Adult/Parent, Job/Career, Relationships

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