In Bronnie Ware’s excellent book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying (published by Hay House), she says that the regret that topped the list of those nearing the end of their life is ‘I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.‘
How many of us stick at doing something we don’t enjoy because we can’t imagine being able to afford not to, or because we’ve become so demoralised in our current job that we don’t have the confidence to look elsewhere, or because we’re waiting to pay off the mortgage/be made redundant/retire? Rather than follow our heart, we play safe.
Life is short and time is precious. When you have a potentially life-limiting illness you are only too aware of that. As Ware, a former nurse in palliative care, points out ‘Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.‘ ‘But health isn’t the only factor; redundancy, bereavement, divorce and other circumstances can also shake the foundations of our very existence, force us to reassess our lives and bring about major changes. But why wait for a crisis to reappraise your life?
Last weekend I met up with Fiona McIntosh, a friend and former colleague of mine from my days at HarperCollins Publishers, whom I haven’t seen for several years. In that time circumstances have led to dramatic changes in both our lives: Fiona, a former Publicity Director, has retrained as a Pilates practitioner and now runs the Santosha Studio in Chippenham, while I have swapped book marketing for dance teaching, writing and performing. Change has not always been easy, but we are both a million times happier now than in our former lives because we are doing something that we love, motivated by a desire to use our experiences and skills to help others.
Fiona had invited me to teach a Dance Yourself Happy workshop at the studio and it was great fun. We danced, we laughed, we sang – what could be better? I took an excellent class with Fiona too and spent a great evening catching up with her and her bloke, Andrew. Fiona and I discovered that we have even more in common now than we did back in our HarperCollins days. Roll on our next get-together!
Talking of reunions, on the Sunday I taught a belly dance workshop to the Sahara Sisters, a super-friendly and committed group of local dancers, whom I used to teach quite regularly when I lived in Stroud. I haven’t been back since I moved to London. So it was lovely to stay and catch up with the group’s leader, Rachel Terry, who now runs The Citadel Hall, the Sisters’ impressive new home (as well as a successful venue for many other activities and events). During the class we worked hard on a Mahmoud Reda inspired choreography but still had plenty of time for a laugh and a chinwag too. It was lovely to be back.
Continuing my sojourn in the South West, I then went to visit my very good friends, Jo Wise and John Gosler, who have recently relocated to Bristol. It was my first visit and I’ve really missed them. The move has been a huge adjustment after a lifetime spent in London, and not without its challenges, but it also brings with it a lovely house, a new city to explore and exciting new opportunities.
According to Bronnie Ware, another Top Five regret is ‘I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.’ Talking about the people she had looked after in their final days, she says that ‘many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved.’
I certainly don’t intend to make that mistake! This weekend I’m off to Leicester for Gothla UK, Europe’s premier festival of Gothic Belly Dance, to teach, perform, take classes – and reconnect with some more old friends. No one knows the value of friends more than I do; my belly dance buddies have kept me sane (well, almost) through the darkest and most difficult of times. And I hope that they would say the same of me. As the old saying goes ‘To have a friend and to be a friend is what makes life worthwhile.’