Get Rich…with No Regrets

no regrets

Are savers missing out on fun?

As I may have mentioned before, I don’t think of buying less stuff as deprivation. It’s more money for you to buy your freedom with.

So I don’t buy the idea that you’ll be “missing out” if you pursue financial independence.

I think that everyone realises at some point in their life that more physical stuff is not the answer. The sad thing is that many only realise it when its too late…just as they’re about to check out of The Hotel of Life. Who on their death bed ever said: if only I’d had the iphone 33 rather than the iphone 32 then I could have died happy?

But why take my word for it? Let’s hear from someone that spent decades of their life as a nurse helping people on their deathbed.  Someone who witnessed what people really regretted at the end of their life.

So today I’m featuring Bronnie Ware’s classic article: The Regrets of The Dying and I’ve added my own notes in italics

The Escape Artist

For many years I worked in palliative care.

My patients were those who had gone home to die. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again.

Here are the most common five:

1. 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 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.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

TEA: This is the big one. Life is all about choices and trade-offs. You can do pretty much anything…but you can’t do everything.

If you are working a job that you doesn’t fulfill you, are you living your life based on someone else’s agenda?  That can be a noble thing (e.g. working to provide for a family) but working to keep up with The Joneses is for mugs and Walking Wallets.

Other people’s expectations of you are the fences of The Prison Camp It’s so easy to fall into the trap of trying to avoid ever offending anyone. But some people will always look for something to complain about…like pigs look for shit to roll around in.

Pursuing financial independence is all about making your own choices…choices that will differ from other people.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

TEA: I don’t regret working hard in my career. Yes, I was a bit of a workaholic at times…but overall I don’t regret it because it made me a more effective person and it got me where I needed to get to. It made sense for me to work hard on my way up the corporate ladder for long enough to stash some decent money. 

The last few years of my job were a sprint not a marathon. I couldn’t have carried on working that hard forever: I would have keeled over at some point.  One of the things that gave me the courage to quit at 43 was the (true) story of the investment banker found dead of a heart attack at his London desk at 7pm on a Friday evening. He was 44.

I’ve never said that everyone else should do exactly what I did. All good advice is contextual, it depends on the circumstances. There are plenty of lazy people who should work harder.  And there are workaholics who should spend less time in the office and more time with the people they love.

Your “why” matters. What is the money for?  If you’re working hard to buy more shit, then its probably a tragic waste.  But if you’re working hard to buy your freedom, then I salute you.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

TEA: This means not just honesty but also openness. It means removing the self-censorship that comes from the fear of other people’s judgements.

Expressing your feelings can be HARD for anyone. But if you were brought up British, then you’re starting the game 1-0 behind.  If you’re middle class, make that 2-0 behind. And if you’re male as well, you’re starting 3-0 down(!).

Women are much better at this than men. If you’re a guy, you need to actively work at this stuff. And if you’re from Yorkshire…well, you probably need professional help. 😉

I pushed myself hard at work when I was digging my tunnel out. I don’t regret that but one side effect was that I gradually buried my emotions over time.  After I quit, those suppressed emotions bubbled back up the surface.  I remember re-reading Steve Biddulph’s great book Manhood and realising how hard I’d been on myself.

One of the reasons I started this blog is that it helped me make sense of those emotions and to re-connect with the person I was before The Prison Camp squeezed much of the fun, play and humour out of me.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

TEA: I’ve kept in touch with my oldest mates from school. Our >30 year friendship has outlasted jobs, marriages and all sorts of life changes.

But I was guilty of letting other relationships slide when I was digging my tunnel out of the Prison Camp. You can’t do everything. Some plates get dropped and I try not to beat myself up about that. 

I’ve also reconnected with old friends after quitting my job. Sometimes successfully, sometimes less so. Its sad when guys (again, women are better at this stuff) lose track of their own friendships after they get married and have kids. But I remind myself that the world does not revolve around me and other people face their own challenges in The Prison Camp.

Your friendships will change over time…hopefully you will keep adding new ones throughout life. Financial independence gives you more time to water the plants in your garden of relationships.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

TEA: Why doesn’t everyone optimise for happiness?…i.e. live a life designed around sustainable happiness?

Here I’m using the word happiness in a long term sense: I’m not talking about the sugar hit you get from eating ice cream.  I’m talking about the satisfaction that comes from good health, natural food and exercise. I’m talking about feeling good the morning after…as well as the night before.

Always remember: happiness IS a choice.  You don’t always get to choose what happens in your life but you always get to choose your response. 

And a little bit of gratitude and perspective go a long way.

good life2


  1. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

    That one. I’m at the point in my life when it’s harder to laugh properly and be super-silly, probably because the people I used to do it with are all stressed out with kids etc. And I’m part of the problem too.

    Good stuff, thanks for posting

  2. Who on their death bed ever said: if only I’d had the iphone 33 rather than the iphone 32 then I could have died happy?

    I suspect many more people than you would think. My daughter works weekends whilst at college and blew two months pay on the latest iphone. Her stock response to my relentless teasing over Christmas on what else she could have had – including not having to work so hard – was

    “Dad it is totally worth it!”

    On the bright side, I did take her old iphone off her hands and bought a PAYG sim. With free WIFI pretty much everywhere (via BT broadband) I have spent less than a tenner in 4 months!

  3. All rings very true. Especially “happiness is a choice”. I would add to that “happiness takes work”. Hate your job? Find a new one. Feel lonely? Put in extra effort to see your friends. Feel bored and listless? Make time for a hobby or leisure pursuits.

    I don’t mean any of this to patronise people who suffer from depression, suggesting that they’d be fine if they just “pulled their socks up” – I do appreciate that some people are unhappy for reasons completely beyond their control. But I do think a lot of people expect that happiness is something that either happens to you or doesn’t. Ultimately we are just sacks of meat and bone. There is no divine plan for each of us, so if you don’t put in the effort to be happy, no one else is going to make it happen for you.

  4. Survivor · · Reply

    The toxic busyness of modern life is really destructive in allowing us to distract from facing the reality of life-changing decisions that’re scary-scary at the time …..& in this way most cumulatively fritter away their lives until those options time out.

    On another of those points, even when people do have enough free time to keep up the friendships that matter, sadly often they can fall victim to the various negative social conditionings. So you can be intimidated by contacting someone who was in your peer group who is ‘successful’ now in a way you fear you’re not and the status anxiety this causes can lead your ego to whisper ”But won’t you feel ashamed if you meet up now?” – because they knew you when you were all at the same level – & now you have fallen behind, by the social judgement of others. This factor has the power to retain an effect even if you know you shouldn’t care what others think of you, or understand that your job description represents only one facet of the totality of who you are as a human being. Sadly, some cognitive biases are too hardwired to easily evade…..

  5. I remember reading Bronnie Ware’s list before and it had a big impact on me. It’s the same feeling I get when I hear “Cat’s in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin or Ugly Kid Joe.

    It’s very easy to get sucked into living day by day and not realising that the months and then the years are passing. To stick to song lyrics as Lennon puts it in “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

    Different people will find that particular ones resonate with them. For me the big one is old friends. I’ve slowly, too slowly, been reaching back out to them over the last few years and I haven’t regretted it at all.

    Thanks for reminding me of these again.

  6. Fully agree. Happiness is definitely a choice and pursuing FI does not mean not living.
    Kind of on the contrary.
    As I’ve been gradually reaching my FI-threshold, I’ve noticed that I have much more choice on what to do: whether to work this year or not, whether to go on a vacation abroad or not, whether to have a gym membership etc.
    I don’t buy a lot of stuff. I dislike having too much in the house. We’ve actually been actively reducing the amount of stuff we have, and it’s just incredible how much valuable yet useless stuff there is. But I do invest in experiences. I spend roughly 500 euros on average per month on experiences – most of them are a handful of trips abroad throughout the year. Best spent money there is, that I would not be able to afford, unless I was closing in on my FI thershold.

  7. Thank you for sharing the book. I am going to read it as soon as possible!

  8. […] life is short, how do we ensure it’s meaningful? […]

  9. […] care about would be spending as much time as possible with those you love. That’s because when we look back on our lives, we care less about work and status, and more about how much time, not money, we got to spend with […]

  10. […] you love or their presents? In our hearts, we all know the answer to this question. We know that when we reflect on our lives, we’re not going to wish we’d spent it surrounded by more stuff. After all, hearses don’t […]

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