16/04/2013 11:31 BST | Updated 12/06/2013 06:12 BST

Life, Death and the Greatest Regret

Bonnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying regrets and I felt compelled to explore the most common regret; which she recorded as: "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."

I can only imagine that in the face of death at the end of a long life; we as humans will gain a remarkable level of retrospective clarity about what truly mattered in our life and the crucial choices which we regret or celebrate making. So just imagine how valuable this kind of wisdom would be to someone who is yet to make these defining decisions.

I have come to realise that the things I will care about on my deathbed are the only things that will ever truly matter. In the face of the inevitable, all trivial concerns, that I at times have let consume me, will no longer hold any weight. The insecurities I have obsessed over, the insignificant day to day worries I stress over and the opinion of others I have let hold me back; will all pale into insignificance in such moments. For in these moments I will ponder only those I love, the life I choose to lead and the regrets those choices have left me with.

Bonnie Ware (the nurse who recorded her patients dying regrets) said: "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."

There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth - not going all the way, and not starting.

It is all too easy to let your true ambitions, your dreams and consequently yourself, be consumed by the expectations of others, by life's pressures and by fear of failure. This however; is no excuse to surrender. I often say that mistakes are things I did and regrets are things I didn't do. John wooden famously said "If you're not making mistakes, then you're probably not doing anything" and I can certainly see how those who aren't trying; make very little, if any mistakes. So don't fear failure; expect, embrace and let it develop you.

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

In preparation for this piece I spent a lot of time reading about the regrets of others and it honestly broke my heart. I read about 58 old Linda who describes herself as being deeply depressed because she never attempted to pursue her long standing dream of being a professional dancer; but for her it's too late now. I read about 74 year old Roger who always wanted to be a pilot but could never muster the courage to step out of his comfort zone and go to flight school, now he is crippled by his arthritis and for him it's too late now. I read about 81 year old Helen who had wanted to be a chef since she was a child but found herself stuck in a factory job she hated for 45 years, sadly her eyesight deteriorated severely with old age and she can no longer read her recipes; for her it's too late now but Is it too late for you?

To conclude, I have learned that although everyone is alive, not everyone is living. I guess what really gives life and purpose to us all is our personal pursuits and the trials, tribulations, joy and fulfilment that such pursuits possess. Paulo Coelho said:

It is the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting...the closer one gets to realizing his Personal Legend, the more that Personal Legend becomes his true reason for being.
We must learn from the wisdom of those who had no time left to act upon it, we must live the life that is true to ourselves, we must follow our heart.

Just a thought.