Henry David Thoreau is credited with writing his book Walden: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with songs left in them.”
Here’s the thing, he never actually said that.
Thoreau actually wrote, “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
While what he wrote does resonate, I find that what he is falsely credited with writing resonates more.
The idea of going to the grave with songs left in you —unsung songs of desire and ambition that create an unshakeable feeling of incompleteness — hits you like a gut punch.
About a decade ago, The Guardian published an article titled “Top five regrets of the dying” that featured the most common regrets of dying patients, according to a nurse.
Here were the top 5:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
If you’re not intentional about it, there’s no reason to believe that you won’t end up with some combination of these regrets.
It doesn’t help that sometimes the easiest, most frictionless thing to do in the moment is to just keep listening to others, to just keep working, to just keep your feelings to yourself, to just postpone contacting a friend, to just withhold your happiness.
As you go about your life, try keeping one foot in the present and another in the distant future.
Ask yourself in any given moment: “of all the things I could do, what is that my future self will be grateful for?”
Resolve to do those things even when it’s hard, uncomfortable, or seemingly out of character.
A sliver of temporary discomfort is a very small price to pay for being able to bravely live your life on your terms — to sing your songs.