In My Opinion

Dita De Boni is a Herald business columnist

Dita de Boni: Grim reaper trumps work ethic

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In their final days, many begin to regret working too hard and neglecting friends and family. Cartoon / Anna Crichton
In their final days, many begin to regret working too hard and neglecting friends and family. Cartoon / Anna Crichton

You would think that with lives as (relatively) comfortable and convenient as those many of us lead, our list of deathbed regrets might be truly audacious: wish I'd owned a Maserati, for example, or shtupped Angelina Jolie - that kind of thing.

But in fact, the most common regrets a dying person tends to have are prosaic, if not profound, according to a palliative care nurse who made a study of such things. Australian Bronnie Ware spent many years nursing the dying and came up with a list of the things that bedevilled people the most as they shuffled off this mortal coil. Sex, fast cars and movie stars were not among the headliners.

Recycled recently for the Guardian Online audience - having already done the rounds of chain mail, inspirational websites and motivational placemats - four of the five top reported regrets were as follows: I wish I had been true to myself; I wish I had had the courage to express my feelings; I wish I had stayed in touch with friends; I wish I had let myself be happier.

The final regret, apparently voiced by men in particular, was: "I wish I hadn't worked so hard".

Admittedly, these men were largely of a generation whose work took them away from home and hearth. They got on the treadmill at a young age, and where unemployment or other misfortune didn't strike, they stayed there until being shunted off at retirement age.

These days men - and women - have more options. Laptops have meant less time in the office; the workspace comes home in a nifty little briefcase. This hasn't resulted in most people achieving better work/life balance - but does allow one to perfect the art of studying email while balancing a child on one hip, coffee in hand, spatula in the other and cellphone at the ear.

If, like many of us, you have no choice but to work like a donkey, deathbed regrets have to be tempered with the knowledge you did what you could to get by. But for highly successful people, dying presents an obvious conundrum. Unlike most of us, they've realised that cracking into life at an early age is the key. They're the types who set about selling hamster hammocks from their kitchen tables as soon as they can sew two pieces of material together, or populating young entrepreneurs' clubs, their shiny, pubescent faces glowing with barely realised financial possibilities, while the rest of us expend our energies on pop stars and pashing with braces.

Economically speaking, God bless the entrepreneur. But their relationships can suffer. They frequently give their families props, but one often learns later that the sons are absolute turds, the wives are chronically depressed and the whole family has been bankrupted several times. Many are incredibly lost and lecherous as a result of too much getting what they want if enough effort is expended, and not enough sleeping in the marital bed.

To be sure, not all young turks will regret working too hard. Some need the affirmation of the workplace, and others have little interest in the inanities of domestic life. But working 70-hour weeks and neglecting your friends and family will, if the testimony of the dying is anything to go by, leave you with regrets that cannot be undone. And that's something that all the Maseratis and Angelina Jolies in the world cannot compensate for.

ditadeboni@xtra.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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