This may be the most important test you’ll ever take. It’s one question, and failing it will effect you for the rest of your life. It’s a test I’ve been giving to friends and workmates for the last 15 years. Unlike most tests, you can fail it today, and still pass the test in time. For the sake of yourself, do whatever it takes to pass the test. Please.

Share your answer in the comments and then share the test with those you care about.

The Scenario

You are old. Too old to do much more than sit on a front porch and rock in a rocking chair. Though you do get up throughout the day and do your best to “stay active”, the majority of the time is spent staring your own mortality in the face, and looking back on life. You have lots of time to think.

The Question

As you rehash your life over and over in your head, what will you regret not doing more of?

Follow Up

You might be quick to say, “Sky diving” or “Alligator wrestling” or “be a rock star”, whatever challenges you once upon a time listed on your bucket list, or whatever you once dreamed of becoming. Give it deeper thought. This isn’t the time to be cliche, or quickly move on to whatever you were doing before you clicked on this post. This is serious.

One thing I will bet you is that you won’t be wishing you had worked more hours. You won’t be wishing you had worked harder and sacrificed more so your rocking chair could be made of more expensive materials and be in a nicer location with a better view. That’s not how you’ll be thinking at this time; not in this situation.

Most likely, you’ll be wishing you had spent more time with your spouse, your children, your family, and your friends. Consider at your current age how you feel when you lose someone you care for? Imagine being of the age where you’ve already lost most of your friends, your parents, and your older family. Your younger family members aren’t with you regularly but are off living their own lives.

Whatever great things you accomplished “on the job” they just won’t matter anymore and in most cases won’t even exist anymore. Sure maybe if your thing was curing cancer it will have been worth the personal sacrifice, though you’ll still regret not spending more time with the people you cared about. But most of us aren’t curing cancer. Is making the cover of Wired magazine, or being written about in TechCrunch really going to matter then? While you are sitting there all alone, knowing you have no time left to see the things you wanted to see, proclaim the love you felt inside, help others you knew needed help, will you be happy that at least you got that VC investment to help build that million dollar startup…what’s it’s name? Oh yeah, the one using that now ancient technology to provide a service no one uses now, that all of today’s 20 year olds would roll their eyes at the mention of…if they even recognized the name.

You might love your job, have a career that is on fire, have a burning passion for a venture or idea, or be on the verge of landing a huge investment, but sacrificing time with people you care about is not worth it in the end.

Take Action

Unless you are in that rocking chair already while reading this, it’s not too late.

Go spend time with someone you love, and then another, and then another. Call someone you’ve lost touch with (no, don’t Facebook them, it’s not the same). Tell someone how much you care for them, admire them, enjoy spending time with them. Apologize to someone you are feeling guilty over the way you last spoke with them. Buy someone a coffee, take someone to lunch. Share your skills, experience and knowledge with someone who could use it, without charging them for it. Spend time with your spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend; really get to know them and spend every moment with them as if its your last…because it may be, for either of you.

If you have kids, keep in mind, they grow up and out so fast. Time to spend with them will be gone before you know it, and you can’t get that time back. You should be their greatest influence, not friends, or their school. Are you sure they really deep down inside know and feel that you love them more than what you do for a living? Do you show them that daily? Telling them isn’t enough, just as telling your boss you enjoy your job every day wouldn’t get you out of having to work it.

Assess how you spend your time during the week, even if you have to log it all for a few weeks and make a pie chart to see where it all goes. Is there anything you can cut? I’d bet most of what you do each week won’t matter when you reach that rocking chair.

Finally, read through the resources below for further help in passing the Rocking Chair Scenario.

Make a change. Save a life…yours.

Further Reading

I’ve been sharing this scenario for most of my professional life, so it was great to see this recent article from someone working with those in this very situation: Regrets of the Dying.

To learn how to reduce your number of work hours and be more productive with your time, which leads to more free time, read The Four Hour Work Week. If you’ve never read it because you think it’s a hoax, please realize its not about how to work only 4 hours a week. The author never intended that. That’s just a title, but the book itself is worth your time. Please read it.

To learn to make your work more about people, and how you can serve them, than punching a clock and making money, read The Fred Factor: How Passion in Your Work and Life Can Turn the Ordinary into the Extraordinary. This is the kind of book you should read once a year.