“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” – from The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing, a 2012 book by Australian author Bronnie Ware.
Does Ware’s regret apply to you? Are you living your life trying to meet the expectations of others? How would your life be different if you where living it true to yourself?
The regret that Ware postulates is actually quite common, whether we are aware of it or not. From a very young age we are “conditioned” to consider what others think or want from us and act accordingly. Being a “good girl” or “good boy” means acting like or doing what we are told others expect of us. If we don’t we are called bad and punished. It sinks in fairly fast for most and we become used to conforming to the expectations of others. It’s almost as if we start to think of ourselves in the second person.
As we grow up things like being considerate of others or being politically correct take the place of admonishments from mom and dad, and the awareness of our need to go along to get along becomes a driving force. This is not to say that being polite or not blurting out offensive remarks is a bad thing. That is a sign of self-control and consideration for the feelings of others. However, there ae probably other things “holding you back” from being true to your own feelings or desires. Those are the things that Ware was alluding to in the regret that she expressed.
Having the strength and courage to live true to yourself means taking risks in life. Sometimes that can mean taking big risks, like quitting a job that you hate to pursue a new career in a field that you love, even if it pays less. It may involve asking out that person that you ae sure is going to turn you down or maybe just working up the courage to introduce yourself to that person. Don’t end up regretting that you never took that chance to be true to yourself.
The secret to not ending up with these regrets is to continually ask yourself why you are dong what you are doing and who are you doing it for? Sometimes we are doing things to meet the expectations of others, but those expectations are what we expect of ourselves, too. Husbands and wives do many things for each other that they hope to meet the expectations of their partners. Parents also do many things for their children, sometimes thinking “I wish my parents had done this for me”. Oher times we might stop and think about why we are doing something, especially something that just doesn’t feel right. If the only answer that you come up with is just “that’s what’s expected of me”; it maybe time to ask the next question- “expected by whom?”
There are things in societies called “norms”, which are the expected behaviors in certain situations. Those are what we sometimes call “common knowledge”; however, that does not mean that they are irrefutable or true. For many years there were norms and even laws that defined the behaviors expected of blacks in America. There were separate areas on buses and in restaurants where they could sit or fountains from which they could drink. It was only through the concerted efforts by some blacks during the Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s and 60’s who refused to live up to the expectations of the whites in their communities that the laws were changed. It is taking longer to change the expectations of some. Some of those expectations became deeply embedded in the fabric of our society such that they became systemic. It is the battle to root out those systemic things that is being fought right now.
Maybe to avoid the regret that Ware wrote about one can pray each day for the courage to live life true to themselves. If one has to live up to the expectations of someone else, it might be wise to choose the best role model that we know of – Jesus. You might refer to this passage from the Bible – “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)
Perhaps being true to yourself is being true to God’s will.
Try it. You’ll like it. Meet God’s expectations of us.