Following is the full text of author Bronnie Ware’s talk titled “Regret-Free Living” at TEDxGraz conference. She is the author of the international bestseller, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.
Bronnie Ware – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT
Hello, and thank you for sharing your time here today.
Time is a really very precious gift that we are all given. Something we all have in common. The length of time obviously differs.
Regardless of whether we’re here for a short life or a long life, time is a gift. How we choose to use that gift will determine whether we are creating a life of regret or a life of joy, and the choice is ours.
For about eight years on and off, I looked after dying people. I didn’t consciously go into that role; I was looking for a job with heart. One that would keep rental or mortgage out of my life.
So I took on a job as a live-in carer. The lady I was looking after became terminally ill. So after I looked after her, the agency I was working with said I did a good job.
But I’d like more training, so suddenly I found myself in this field. I’d never worked in a medical field in any way, and I found a real calling to it.
My basic job description was personal care. I was looking after meals and showering, wiping people’s backsides, helping them with their medications. All the things that just become too hard when you are terminally ill.
So the people I was caring for, with those who knew they were ill, and were in their last three to 12 weeks of their life, and they knew they were dying. So they’d gone home to die, and I was there in their home.
What I found over time though was that my role, the physical duties I did were just a byproduct of what I was really there for. And my key role was as a listener, and I didn’t realize at the time that so many of my own prayers were being answered.
Because I had some of the greatest teachers. These were regular, humble people, but they were just like all of us. The difference was that they were at the end of their lives. They were looking back over their lives. A lot of them had regrets, not everyone, but a lot more did than didn’t.
And those common things just kept coming at me again and again, and had a profound effect on me personally. I listened to their regrets, and I witnessed their anguish, their heartache, and I learned from them.
I realized that I was being blessed with these lessons for my own life. If I didn’t try to incorporate them, I too would regret that. So having seen the anguish and the pain that these people suffered, I wasn’t willing to do that.
So whatever was going to take to go in a different direction, I was willing to do it.
So, how do we do that? How do we actually get the courage? Almost every regret came down to a lack of courage.
How do we actually get the courage to start living true to the song that our own heart is singing, and to honor that calling?
One of the first things we can do is face the fact that we’re going to die. You’re going to die, I’m going to die. There’s no negotiating on this really. I mean, maybe times will change, but history shows it. You know, generally we are going to die.
Perhaps with reincarnation, we can think, “It doesn’t matter, if I don’t get around to it in this life, I’ll get around to it in the next life. I’m going to come back.”
What if you don’t come back? What if you come in a body that isn’t going to enable you to do things that you want to do in this life? What if you come back as a duck? You don’t know.
Regardless of your beliefs beyond death, the fact is that in this lifetime as who we are right now, we’re on limited time. Rather than face death as a huge and terrifying aspect of something gloomy, and shut the door, and don’t deal with that until we have to, let’s use it as a tool for living.
Let’s talk about death and accept it. It’s a big part of our soul’s journey. It is a part of the process. If we can look at death and realize, “We are going to die.” Some of us won’t be here in a year’s time. Some of us won’t be here in 10 years’ time. Normally, it is unlikely to be here in 100 years’ time that are here today or listening.
What do you want to do with that time you’ve been given? You want to live true to your heart, you don’t want to deny who you are, and who you’re here to be, so it takes a lot of courage.
One of the first things, other than facing the fact that you are going to die, is finding ways to honor that courage and how to be brave enough. You’ve got this calling in your heart. Every one of us has it. It doesn’t matter how — you can suppress it through busyness, or through addictions, through whatever else works for you.
Ultimately, you’re not going to silence that song. You can put all your energy into trying to silence it and to serving fear, or, if you want to create a life at the end that doesn’t have regret, then you need to find the courage to start honoring that.
One of the first things we do besides, as I say, the first fact that we’re dying, is use that through as a tool for living. But start being more gentle on ourselves, start with compassion. Compassion for everyone is such a powerful force within the world.
But compassion has to start with ourselves. We have to take the pressure off ourselves and realize that it’s OK to be vulnerable, it’s OK to be not perfect.
Look back on things that we’ve done with gentleness and compassion. Just think ,”OK, that’s who I was then.” I’m going to look back on that person. If there is something that you could regret now, plenty of people, most of us will think, “Oh, gosh, I really regret that.”
But don’t regret it, just look back on it with compassion. And think, “That is who I was, that’s not who I am anymore. I’m going to have compassion for that part of myself because if I can recognize that is a regret or a so-called mistake in what I’ve done previously, I’m obviously not that person. I’ve evolved, I’m more emotionally mature to even recognize it.”
We start by being really gentle on ourselves. Some of the ways to do that, there’s endless ways, but start giving yourself permission to enjoy your life and to do some of the things that you love to do. This is not about abandoning your families. It’s not about being selfish.
Self-love is not about not caring for other people. This is something I want to be clear. You can often hear people, say, “Those people that are into self-love are selfish.”