I’ve met many, many people who realize only when they reach their final years that they have spent a lifetime doing what they thought they “should” rather than what they truly loved and felt called to do. In fact, it’s one of the most common deathbed regrets. Bronnie Ware, a hospice nurse who wrote the book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying after listening to hundreds of people in their final days, reported that the number one regret she heard was,
“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
Reflecting on these men and women for whom it was now too late, Ware writes, “It is a pity that being who you truly are requires so much courage. But it does…. Being who you are, whatever it is, sometimes cannot even be articulated at first, even to yourself. All you know is there is a yearning within that is not being fulfilled by the life you are currently living.”
The good news is, unless you are truly taking your final breath, it’s never too late to live a life true to yourself, or as I like to say, align with your “Yes!.” My client Laura was in her late fifties when, in the wake of her husband’s death, she realized that she’d lost the thread of her own life and her own vitality. Somewhere on her journey as a mother, wife, and caregiver, she’d wandered away from herself.
She said of that time, “So much of my life before was really tamped down in a lot of ways.” She didn’t waste any time getting started following her inner yearnings and, as a result, is more excited about life as she enters her sixties than she has been for decades.
Once you become committed to listening for and heeding your sense of yearning, however inarticulate it may be, everything changes. You are attuned beyond the surface level feedback, the quick fixes, the symptoms that go away with a pill. And you are listening for what it is that is really being asked of you in this lifetime.
What choices may you need to reassess? What contexts are you rooted in that really may not be a fit for you any longer, or maybe never were? What are you saying “yes” to? What are you saying “no” to?
Alignment involves an ongoing intimate relationship with the feedback you are receiving.
And the important thing here is that it is your internal feedback that will provide you with the support you need to create sustained change. When you become intimate with what is pointing you toward an alignment with your “yes!,” you are able to pop out of all the externally created rules that you’re surrounded by, all of the ideas and theories of what you are and aren’t supposed to be doing to be healthy, that you may constantly be trying to live up to.
When you are aligned with your “yes!,” there is an inner coherence on all levels that motivates you to continue to take care of yourself in those ways because it is not coming from a “should.”
It’s coming from the deepest level of self-experience and knowledge. The wisdom of your life-energy is given free rein.
Once you really start to get an ongoing taste of what it feels like to align with your “yes!,” there is no turning back. The other ways in which you may have tried to comfort or reward yourself in the past begin to reveal their true faces more quickly. You can’t fool yourself any longer.
This can be a painful transition. As you take the steps to align more fully with your “yes!,” you can see how unconscious you may have been. How you may have justified the behavior patterns to yourself. How you may have denied yourself the experience of really coming alive. How you’ve lived in numbness.
You may need to grieve in the midst of the openings and revelations. So as you transition in these ways, whatever it may look or feel like for you in your unique journey, please honor the tenderness of this, be compassionate and patient with yourself, and seek out external support as well.
Again, it’s never too late to stand fully in your “Yes!”. It’s not something you should put off until the kids leave home, or until you’ve made enough money, or until you retire. It feels so good to align with your vital life energy in this way. Don’t postpone it.
What is one step you can take today to say yes to your “Yes!”?
This article is an excerpt from my new book, The Vitality Map: A Guide to Deep Health, Joyful Self-Care, and Resilient Well Being.