In Bronnie Ware’s best-selling book The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying, she talks about her journey as a palliative care worker and the life lessons learned throughout her years tending to the needs of those who were dying.
Bronnie’s life was transformed through this experience, hence the reason why she felt so compelled to share her story with the world. She found that the number one regret that people had who were dying was that they wish they had had the courage to live the life they knew they were capable of living.
Many of these people had a strong sense of calling and knew that there was something greater they were meant to do with their life, but a number of them felt they did not fulfill the dreams, ambitions or potential they had.
It’s easy to fall into a life where we need to fit in and follow someone else’s rules or be ensnared by the trap of conforming to other people’s expectations. Many of us have fallen prey to this. There are a number of reasons why this happens.
Perhaps one of the main reasons for this is failing to take ownership of our own life and the choices we make. Maybe it’s not having precision and clarity in regards to our goals, ambitions or what may be possible. As well, it could also be due to constantly reoccurring doubts about our own ability to live a life of genuine meaning and purpose.
Nobody can say with certainty why some people live unfulfilled lives and never tap into their true potential. The reality is though that many people simply go through the motions of every day life failing to take the risk needed to explore what may be possible. If only they were more willing to follow their gut and trust their heart, who knows the true impact they could have in their life.
Well-known French philosopher Henry Thoreau once said:
“If you advance confidently in the direction of your dreams, and endeavor to live the life you imagined, you will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
When contemplating Thoreau’s words, I am reminded of a story I once heard. In a commencement speech given by Denzel Washington, he talks about his own life, the hardships he faced, and how he never stopped believing in himself and his abilities as an actor.
What Denzel says to the audience is this:
“Imagine you are on your death bed and standing around you are the ghosts representing your unfulfilled human potential. The ghosts of the ideas you never acted on. The ghosts of the talents you didn’t use. They are standing around your bed…. angry, disappointed and upset. In that moment, they are saying to you, ‘We came to you because you could have brought us to life, but now we have to go to the grave together.’ So, I ask you today, how many ghosts are going to be around your bed when your time comes?”
This is a haunting, yet powerful reminder of the beautiful inner capacity we all have to make a difference in the world through the special talents and gifts we possess.
We all know that life can be brutally unfair at times. It doesn’t always offer us the opportunities or chances to apply our strengths in a way that helps us realize our potential. However, doing the internal work needed to have a crystal clear purpose and take the risks required to pursue the things that matter most to us, without question, can greatly help edge ourselves closer to our true potential in life. Regardless of our circumstances, we must keep our north star burning brightly, so that we always know our direction and head that way.
If you were to reflect on your personal and professional life, how clear do you feel your purpose is?
To what extent do you feel you are tapping into your true potential and what may be possible in your life?
What unresolved conflicts within yourself may be getting in the way of you being the best version of yourself possible?
And to conclude, I’d like you to reflect on Denzel Washington’s question, ‘How many ghosts are going to be around your bed when your time comes?’
This can be challenging to think about, but an important step in the process of finding and pursuing your best self. Thanks for reading.
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KAUST Faculty, Pedagogical Coach. Presenter & Workshop Leader.IB Educator. #RunYourLife podcast host.