“If I can leave any good in this world besides my family, I leave these words. Don’t work too hard. Try to maintain balance. Don’t make work your whole life.”
This wisdom was shared by one of Bronnie Ware’s clients in his final days.
Bronnie spent 8 years working in palliative care, caring for the dying. She had the privilege of hearing the highest achievements, darkest fears, and deepest regrets of those she cared for. She shares these poignant lessons in her book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.
And while some might shy away from a book about such a heavy topic, I found the book to be hopeful and filled with stories about how to live a more meaningful life.
The words of her client “Don’t work too hard. Try to maintain balance,” speak towards the concept of having and being “enough.”
It’s easy to get caught up in your professional life and devote yourself to your work. You keep working towards something you seldom take the time to define. But you may fail to consider what it means to reach “enough” as you push yourself tirelessly in the process of attaining it.
Without perspective of what “enough” truly is, we fall into a scarcity mindset:
- I haven’t done enough.
- I haven’t saved enough.
- I haven’t achieved enough.
And how can we ever reach contentment and recognize our own success if we can’t slow down long enough to stop and see it?
Ware’s book helps shed light on how the elusive “enough” has less to do with our own needs and desires and is more about how society defines it.
There will always be someone with more money, gadgets, or awards. There will always be more things on your to-do list and more people telling you what you “should” be doing to attain success. But when we keep pushing toward an invisible finish line, we end up feeling burned out and later regret all the things we missed along the way.
So how can you get to a place where you’re able to see that you are already “enough?”
In Ware’s book, she describes how the same patient referenced above admitted that fear had been the thing that kept him from understanding it’s true meaning:
“I think I was scared. Yes, I was. I was petrified. My role had come to define me in a way.”
Fear kept him endlessly searching for validation and from ever feeling like he was enough.
Work can become your identity. It’s how you view yourself in the world. It’s how you define where you belong. Thus, scarcity mindset is not only the fear of not having enough money but also of not doing enough to maintain your identity. You feel if you don’t keep working hard and moving up the ladder of professional success, you’ll lose your place in society – which leaves you feeling an overwhelming sense of anxiety and dread.
But there is always a pattern to fear. Certain things will bring it to the surface. Once triggered, you have built-in reactions to that specific fear. But as scary as fear can be, it’s surprisingly predictable.
So, how can you change this pattern?
- The first step is to recognize it. Awareness lets you identify the fear loop.
Awareness happens when you are willing to elevate the view of your actions by pausing and asking, “What exactly is happening to me? And, has this happened before?”
By ignoring it, you allow the pattern to continue. Within this loop, your thoughts are running rampant about all the ways you need to do more. If you can pause during these repeating thoughts, you have the chance to see what’s happening inside your mind. And you can question if a similar type of fear has popped up before. If yes, then you have discovered your fear loop. Once identified, you can begin to work your way out of it.
- Second, see if you can pinpoint a specific trigger.
What event pushed the button for you to feel like you were not doing enough? Perhaps it happens when you are paying bills. Or maybe a peer got a promotion. Or maybe your neighbor just bought a new car. By defining your trigger, you can begin to explore why that issue bothers you.
- Third, define what is “enough” for you regarding your specific trigger.
Only you can answer that. Society will have lots of opinions about what you should consider to be enough. But everyone’s experience in life is different. The opinions of others are defined by what they want and how they view their own life.
YOU must define what enough is to you. It is deeply personal.
There is “enough” in terms of meeting your basic needs. And then there is the “enough” that takes on the deeper aspect of what living a meaningful life looks like to you.
What is your enough? It might be the hardest question you ever wrestle with.
“Of course, now as I sit here dying, I see that just being a good person is more than enough in life.”
This how Bronnie’s client wishes he would have defined “enough” long ago. Instead of pushing himself to work harder and longer hours, he wished he could have celebrated the good person he already was and let that be enough for him. That would have allowed him to find the balance in life that he missed by allowing fear to drive his actions.
What might happen if you defined “enough” in this way? What if you could stop chasing whatever you have been chasing and simply be a good person? How would that change your daily routine?
Who would you spend more time visiting? How would you take better care of yourself? How might you celebrate being a good person?
Perhaps you will decide that taking your dog for a walk is enough. Or having lunch with a friend. Or reading a book to a child. Or volunteering your time at a local charity. Or even taking a nap.
Freedom awaits those willing to embrace that being a good person is enough.
If you found the words of Bronnie’s patient intriguing, I encourage you to read her book, “The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying.” She weaves beautiful stories of her experiences with the dying into practical ways to live into those lessons. There is sadness as you come to love her clients and it is time to say goodbye. And there is deep joy in learning the wisdom of living into the true gifts of life.