Pick up a typical self-help book and it probably won’t be long before the author tells you to Follow your dreams. As a dreamer, I love this advice. But if you were to ask my friend about hers, she’d struggle to tell you.
Because she’s not a dreamer, and that’s OK. To my mind then, the real question for dreamer and non-dreamer alike is What matters most in life and how we can follow after that.
But how can we unearth what really matters in life? In the busyness of the everyday, how can we discern what we should focus on? Here’s a question that can help.
In The Making of Us I recount a time on our eight-day pilgrimage when I asked my friend DJ a question: What would you regret not doing, or at least attempting, before you die? As we discovered, when given some time, this question can became like a diver searching the sea floor, unearthing all sorts of treasures.
DJ’s first response to my question was reticence. ‘All I can think of are cliches,’ he said. I suggested that he give me the cliches so the rest might follow. ‘OK,’ he said, ‘I would regret not completing my PhD, or doing more research, or not seeing my daughters grow up healthy and happy…’
And then he paused. The diver was leaving the shallows to go deep.
DJ’s next words were slow and thoughtful.
‘I would regret not helping my daughters find God for themselves, discover their vocations, and doing what I could to help them meet life’s challenges.’ As one of DJ’s daughters has cerebral palsy, this was no small statement. The diver had unearthed its first treasure.
A little while later, DJ asked me what I would regret not doing by the end of my life. Like him, I started with the obvious things—books I wanted to write, film projects I wanted to do. But in time my words too became hushed.
‘I would regret not developing some life-long friendships,’ I said, ‘and I would regret not being there for others at life’s biggest turning points.’
It’s one thing to dream about tomorrow, but another to imagine looking back on our lives at the end, surveying all we’ve become and achieved. So go on, ask yourself:
What would I regret not doing before I die?
Give it some time. Let the diver go deep. What treasures is it unearthing? Write it all down. Then ask yourself what integrity, bravery or sacrifice are needed today to follow after them.