The second most-cited regret of people at the end of their lives is this: “I wish I hadn’t worked so much.” It’s an extraordinarily powerful and telling statement given all the things people could possibly regret when looking back at the lives they lived.
For those who have a lot of life left to live, this reality from the end of life points toward the wisdom in taking a different and more conscious approach to work and business.
The people who expressed this deep-seated regret acknowledged spending too much time on the treadmill of work while sacrificing valuable time with their spouses, children, extended family, friends and even themselves. They also allowed their personal dreams and lifetime adventures outside of financial success to pass them by. The profound truth is that once gone, these moments and experiences can never be recaptured.
During a discussion with a “successful” businessman, he asked about my latest vacation. After sharing with him how I had turned my business off for five days to focus on time with my wife, he replied, with obvious regret in his voice, “I wish I could say that.” This type of wishful thinking constitutes the very foundation of a silent and growing regret that must be caught early and turned around. If it isn’t, it will likely lead to behaviors that will become a top regret at the end of life.
The thought of becoming wildly successful financially — along with all the accolades that come with it — can become extremely addicting because it feeds the ego. As with any addiction, it has the ability to take over, blinding us to a more comprehensive picture of life and all that it offers. When this happens, it creates a situation where we’re out of balance, ultimately limiting the feelings of happiness and success for which we strive.
There’s a common and prevailing mantra in business about making as much money as you possibly can, about being successful at all costs. There’s no doubt that being as profitable as you can and standing tall above your competitors constitutes a primary aim in business. The question is: At what cost?
A business owner whose sole focus is making as much money as possible typically has the perspective that his or her team members should have the same focus. By forgetting these people also have lives, hopes, dreams and desires, these owners come to demand more and more. The reason is simple: When the focus is solely on money and the accumulation of wealth, people and their happiness and well-being are discounted and forgotten.
One aspect of my work with business owners is to help them see the bigger picture of their lives — to discover within themselves what they value and whether what they’re sacrificing in their pursuit of riches is truly acceptable.
Once my clients develop solid skills in balancing life and work, they begin to make different choices in how they allocate their time. Through this fundamental change they come to experience a more profound form of success — one that still includes financial gain (often more than ever before), but isn’t solely focused on money as a driving force in life. In turn, there’s a trickle down effect for their team members as their life and work balance is encouraged and supported.
It’s important to understand that once your children are grown, your youth has faded and your health has deteriorated, the dreams you left behind in the pursuit of money can’t be recaptured. That time has passed forever. We all know of people who worked their whole life to make enough money to travel and enjoy the many pleasures of life only to discover that by the time they’d “arrived,” they were unable to do so because they’d waited too long.
Your life is happening right now. There’s room within it for everything you desire, including making money and enjoying the multitude of other things that bring you happiness and pleasure. Once you’re mindful about your life and work and have the skills in place to create vital balance, you won’t have to work so hard to experience the happiness and success you want. And you won’t regret having worked too much.
Interestingly, the most-cited regret at the end of life is this: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
About Marcus Straub