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Guilt, Hope and Regret

Updated: Mar 9, 2022

Growing up in Dublin in the 1960's and 70's in an Irish Catholic family, we had very close relationships with both guilt and hope. I remember my mother telling us that 'God sees everything you do and knows everything you think and if you have bad thoughts he will punish you even if you don't act upon them'. Enough to frighten the life out of any five year old. So we grew up expecting to be punished for everything that was perceived as bad whilst praying and hoping to be forgiven for our sins so that we would get into heaven at some stage in the future. Everything 'bad' that happened, even falling off our bikes or getting a puncture, was a punishment from God for something which we could rarely even remember or identify. And every time that we prayed, and we prayed every single night, we handed ownership and responsibility for our futures and our dreams over to God in the hope that he would make our wishes come true and deliver our dreams. We handed control of our lives and our decisions to our parents, to God and to the catholic church. I was in my thirties before I managed to shake my mind free of the shackles of wasted guilt and to use hope as an inspiration rather than a bargaining chip in a game of moral poker with God.

In 2009, Australian Palliative Care Nurse, author and Ted Talker Bronnie Ware ( , posted about the Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Strangely, they didn't regret not having been wealthier or having been tremendously successful business people or even famous actors or musicians. Here is what they said:

  1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not a life others expected of me.

  2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.

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

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

  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

We often pursue goals in life that are at odds with our true values because that is the way we have been brought up or it is what we think is the right thing to do for our children. Sometimes it is very difficult to change course once you have set out in a particular direction. It can mean questioning your values, beliefs, commitments, decisions and investments and sometimes, there just isn't the time or the time just isn't right to do that. So we end up following a path and pursuing goals that no longer inspire or fulfill us.

In my teens I developed passions for cooking, cars, motorbikes and motor racing but was discouraged from following any of those as a career path by parents who considered Engineering to be a much safer and more reliable career choice. Whilst Engineering has been good to me and I have enjoyed my career, I still wonder what would have happened if I had had the courage to really follow my own dreams, to stand up to my parents and family and to become a chef or a race car driver. If you feel passionate about starting a business, creating a product or developing a brand, ask yourself if you have the courage to follow these dreams to the exclusion of all other options and whether, when you look back at your life, you will say that you lived a life that was true to yourself and not one that others expected of you.

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