I recently listened to the book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, after a recommendation from a trusted friend. It is a compilation of the stories of longtime caregiver to the dying, Bronnie Ware. 

The book was certainly thought-provoking on how we can ensure that we show up fully for our limited time here on earth. But, while I cover much more than basic endurance sports topics in this blog, I feel like going deep into this one was a bit out of my scope. Still, as we enter a season of celebration and gratitude, I saw some connections to how we can be mindful of the regrets that Ware identifies, as we focus more specifically on ways we can dream and set meaningful goals. 

Ware’s Regret #1: I Wish I’d Had the Courage to Live a Life True to Myself, Not the One Others Expected of Me 

I hope that setting goals is always part of living a life that is true to yourself. But, as a coach, I have seen many goals set out of the perceived, or real, expectations of others.

“I am going to do a race only because I told my friend I would do it with them”… “I want to lose weight because ‘they’ say it’ll make me happier”…”I am going to college because my parents’ want me to”… etc, etc.

I have done this plenty of times, going after a goal because it was (or appeared to be) fulfilling to someone else. Or, allowing an outside source to tell me what I should do. It is why as a coach and athlete I insist on understanding the “why” behind each goal. And it is also why I try to expose the many industries that influence our decisions. 

There is no doubt that it is hard to truly know ourselves in a world that is constantly telling us that we need to keep searching for whatever will make us happy. Many times we focus on that, and various other outcome(s), rather than navigating the wholeness of the journey. Other voices remind us that thinking of ourselves at all is selfish. And, on top of all of this confusion, we are always changing. It is hard!

So, how do we have the courage to set goals that are true to ourselves, not the one expected of us? (Nor ones that are self-obsessed either?)

  • Take time to pause, and honestly reflect on whether or not you are living authentically. It is so easy in our glorified hustle culture to rush through life, ignoring the cues of what you current state of growth requires. Slow down! 
  • Identify your core values— do this often with trusted friends and mentors, or start with an online assessment.
  • Craft your personal “why” statement. What do you think your overall purpose in life is? (Think about this, but please do not allow for shame if you don’t ‘nail it.’ This is not an easy or simple question!) Try to do this a little more clearly on a micro level for your specific goals, and then consider how they honor your best-guess, big picture why. When the process toward actualizing your goal presents challenges, return to these smaller, goal-focused whys, as well as your overarching one. And, when they are weak and unfulfilling, allow yourself to pivot. 
  • Seek to understand the voices of influence that surround us. Consider the information you digest daily. Challenge cultural norms and messages that tell you what you need. Make informed decisions!  
  • Gather people and a community that validates and challenges you. Find those that hold you accountable, rather than enable you. 
  • Give back through service, and also through your own creative process. I have found, and many will argue, that fulfillment comes from showing up in the world as your most authentic self to be available to connect with, and serve, others. It is not from isolation— even if enlightened.
  • Establish an unwavering foundation on something outside of yourself for accountability, humility, and guidance. I personally do this through my faith in God. 

It is easy in a world full of so much information to let your eyes glaze over when you read this list. But, when you get ready to set goals, return to it. Use it with intentionality, but please not in a controlling and/or scarce mindset. Enjoy the exploration in a way that allows it to unfold in the best way for you— when you are ready. Start slow with curiosity.

If you find that you are compelled to make changes, goal-setting is not only a great place to apply the above, but the process provides amazing opportunities to learn more about ourselves. A win-win 🙂 

I am grateful for another day to reflect on whether or not my goal setting, and life, reflect the first of Ware’s regrets. And I hope you are too.