In her blog post “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying,” Australian nurse Bronnie Ware recorded the answers her patients gave regarding their greatest regret. At the top of the list was: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” While they also wished they had worked less and spent more time with friends, not pursuing their dreams was the most common regret.
Kripalu presenter Martha Beck, an author and life coach, says that when you pursue your unique path, your parents, children, or even spouse might be uncomfortable with your choices, “but you will realize that the cost of approval is the loss of your purpose in life.”
In her decades of coaching, Martha has learned that the number-one reason people don’t pursue what they really want is their personal “story” around the accumulation of money. “The only way to live a fulfilled life is to let go of the stories that imprison us,” Martha explains. “I ask students never to use the words ‘I can’t’ or “I have to.’ That’s not true. Instead, I ask them to use terms such as “I choose to keep the job I hate.’” She says staying on a path that makes us unhappy is just as much a choice as deciding to go toward what we most desire.
For Kripalu presenter and author Dani Shapiro, pursuing her dream as a writer was a process of trial and error. “I understood at an early stage that it was up to me, not anyone else, to carve out the time and environment to write,” Dani says. “I’d say that’s true for life, too.”
Dani had to let go of how her life was “supposed to” look in order to make room for what actually worked. In part, that meant being willing to leave New York City for a life in the country that offered her the space and time to write.
“At some point, I stopped following the script that had been laid out for me [by my parents]—that I should be living on 81st and Central Park West, I should be married to an investment banker, I should have three children, I should dress in a certain way,” Dani says. It was when she began tuning in to what felt right, rather than to what her ego told her she wanted, that she was able to find her most productive and fulfilled self.
Ultimately, taking the leap of creating a life you love means being willing to deal with the risks and bumps along the way. “There have been plenty of times I wish I had a teaching position with a 401K, so I want to be clear [that this life] is not without risk and anxiety,” Dani says. In those times, she can turn to the practices of meditation and yoga, which she says are completely intertwined with her writing life. One of the reasons she works at home is so that she can unroll her mat at any moment. “It’s a way of coming home to myself.”
What if you know you’re not living your dream, but you’re not sure what comes next? Martha’s advice: Listen to your body, not your mind, when making tough life choices, and pay attention to the signals your body gives. “You will notice that whenever you turn away from your heart’s desire, your body will experience physical tension in some form. And whenever you turn toward it, even if your mind thinks it’s wrong, your body will relax.” The body doesn’t lie—and if you listen, you’ll have no regrets.
Jennifer Mattson is a journalist, writer, yogini, and kirtan junkie. A former volunteer resident at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, she’s a former broadcast news producer for CNN and National Public Radio. Her reporting and writing have appeared in TheAtlantic.com, The Boston Globe, USA Today and the Women’s Review of Books.