On death

There was recently this really good article on Hacker News about the regrets of the dying. The author had the privilege of working in palliative care for years, working closely with patients during the last weeks or months of their lives. The five regrets he talks about are really interesting, but it’s the first two that caught my eye:

  • I wish I had lived a life true to myself, instead of the one others expected of me
  • I wish I hadn’t worked so hard

They’re both pretty common death-bed refrains, but it’s the combination that caught my eye. The thing about working too hard has always bugged me, because it seems to subtly imply that work isn’t as important as other things in life, like friends, family, etc. But is that always true? Isn’t purpose the most important thing in life? And can’t you find that through your work? Would they have regretted working so hard if the work had been part of the life they wanted? I completely understand the sentiment of wishing you hadn’t worked so hard, but only if that work was part of the life others expected of you.

Will we hear this same regret about working too hard from Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, your local pediatrician, your local inner-city youth counselor, and anyone else who works hard at the thing they were born to do?

I hope not.