October 6, 2015

Why Women Should Ignore the “Deathbed Regrets” List.

Miss Del Castillo on Her Deathbed, Mariano Fortuny, 1871

We are rapidly approaching inspiration overload. If an inspiring college student’s spoken-word piece “brought hardened stockbrokers to tears,” we’ve shared it. If a mother duck in a Bronx alley had three must-watch lessons on tough-love, we’ve learned them.

Paradoxically, my inspiration overload is overruled by my inspiration FOMO. What if I really do have something to learn from that terminally-ill goat with its own blog? Recently I was sucked in once again, when I came across an Upworthy piece about a palliative care nurse who was peddling the “top five regrets of the dying.”

But scanning the list—”I wish I’d followed my dream/ worked less/ nurtured my relationships and shared my feelings”—I started to get angry. Very angry.

I’m not one to quibble with the dying (sitting at my father’s deathbed twice, only to have him resurrect like James Brown doing his cape routine certainly squashed my quibble-with-the-dying impulse). But we’re living at a time when women are sold this non-stop manifesting BS about “doing what we love, slowing down and smelling the roses,” while a generation of women are about to retire into poverty.

These lists may be helpful reminders to emotionally-stunted, workaholic men who outsource their social and emotional life to their women-folk, but most women I know have been socially-conditioned to already do these things on a daily basis, to our detriment.

If we followed the wish list of the dying, our own deathbeds are likely to be pee-soaked in the public system while those who were socially rewarded for prioritizing things like “saving for retirement” get to die in private splendor.

Let’s scan it together, shall we?

1. I wish I had been true to myself

At face value, it’s hard to argue that this isn’t a direct route to happiness. However, I’ve seen countless messages from women who’ve drank the “quit your job, do what you love and the money will follow!” Kool-Aid and now can’t understand why the money hasn’t followed on the expected schedule and suddenly “doing what you love” isn’t as fun as you thought it would be when you still had your scuzzy job.

In her new book, “Big Magic,” Elizabeth Gilbert talks about how every job—even the fantasy ones—come with a shit sandwich. And the question is are we prepared to eat our job’s particular shit sandwich? What those lists telling us to “live our dreams!” fail to mention is that it can take 10 years of eating shit sandwiches for the dream to be like we dreamt it.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard

Cruel irony that, for most of us, “being true to ourselves” often means at least a decade of hard work with little financial return. And yet women who actually prefer to work a lot (or, you know, need to work a lot) are routinely shamed for their selfishness, while men in similar positions are rewarded.

So let’s revise this list, shall we? Things we might regret more:

“I regret not spending as much time as possible getting myself financially secure while I could.”

“I wish I’d put in the 10,000 hours to master my craft rather than listening to YOLO nincompoops with Jell-O shots.”

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings

The generation of women raised on Oprah and Dr Phil know that repressing our feelings leads to skin rashes, constipation and being told to smile by random strangers. Sure, we’re routinely patronized by people telling us we’re ruled by our hormones, but we know that failure to emote marks us out as cold, aloof and distant.

We have no problem expressing our feelings, as long as those feelings are nurturing feelings. I for one will regret the hours of unpaid emotional labor I’ve done for the men in my life when I could have been nurturing my share portfolio.

Let’s revise:

“I wish I’d had the courage to express my Helen Mirren, ‘fuck off’ feelings.”

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with all my friends

Women are already socially conditioned to prioritize the needs of the community before their own, and we already do the lion’s share of unpaid child-rearing and caring for elderly relatives. Add to this the fact that once partnered it’s often expected that we’ll take on organizing the social calendar and remembering not only our own friends’ and relatives’ birthdays, but those of our partners as well.

So let’s tweak this one to read instead:

“I wish I hadn’t been so scared of being labelled a ‘bad-friend’ and skipped that ’50 Shades’-themed hens’ weekend, and every 2-year-old birthday party ever.”

5. I wish that I had allowed myself to be happier

Amen. But let’s get clear on what actually makes us happy, and ditch performing happiness for social media.



Author: Alice Williams

Editor: Evan Yerburgh

Image: Flickr

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