Your road to self-empowerment

What If You Were 80 Tomorrow? – Finding Your Core Values and Preventing Regret

January 31, 2021.Merijn Duchatteau


What if you were 80 tomorrow? Would you be satisfied with how you lived your life so far? Would you be proud of yourself? Of your actions, your thoughts, the people you’ve kept in touch with? What would you want to look back on?

Bronnie Ware was a nurse that worked in palliative care for several years. In her job, she worked with people that had very little time left to live. Be it due to cancer, old age, or any other sickness – these were people that were guaranteed to lose consciousness forever within a few months or less.

In her work as a palliative nurse, Bronnie heard many beautiful stories and insights from her patients. After a while, she noticed a pattern in what people wished they would’ve done differently in their lives. She decided to write a book about these topics just so you and I could learn from it. The main things her patients mentioned were:

  1. I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I let myself be happier.

If you want more details on these topics, I highly recommend checking out Bronnie’s book. However, today I want to focus on an overarching theme that will prevent much of the regret you were on route to face on your deathbed: your core values. “Core values” may sound a bit lame, but they’ll help us find out who we want to be.

Core values

A roadmap for life

Our lives are packed with choices. Let’s say you’re standing under the shower but notice you have no shampoo. You put on a bathrobe, go to the store and quickly walk to the shampoo aisle to get some. You get a few weird looks on the way but you don’t give a shit. Just in and out.

Now it’s time to choose. Shampoo for thick hair, shampoo for thin hair, shampoo for curly hair, shampoo for straight hair. Everyday shampoo, shampoo for weekly use, the shampoo you can use every 1,5 days, volumizing shampoo, purifying shampoo, moisturizing shampoo….

What the hell?

Alright, different setting. Let’s say you just bought a new house and want to paint the walls. Cool, congrats! I personally like the color blue, but do you want midnight blue, cyan, or sapphire? Picotee blue? Maybe neon blue? What about teal?

Ah. You get the point. Choices can be hard. But this isn’t about your shampoo or the colors of your walls. It’s about all of the choices you make in your lifetime. The choice to live a life for you or live a life for others, the choice to work 60-hour weeks or to work part-time, the choice to express yourself no matter what, or choosing to shut up so you can keep the peace. It’s about the choices you make that determine the regrets you’ll have when you’re 80 and dying.

To live our life to its fullest we must look ahead. We must reflect on who we are, who we want to be (beyond social expectations), and what we want our roadmap for life to be. We must know what drives us in our deepest core. What excites us in life beyond simple passion and who we want to be as people if we had the chance to shape ourselves like Michelangelo shaped his sculptures.

As logical as it sounds to just take some time to figure out who you want to be and what you want your life to look like, very few people take the time to do this in practice. Just as no author would ever just start writing a book before identifying the core points of that book, no person should be living their life without thinking about what their ideal life should look like. Makes sense right?

Core values

Today we’ll formulate this roadmap in the form of your core values. These are values that summarize your most pure essence as a person. For instance, think of:

  • Authenticity
  • Empathy
  • Humor
  • Friendship
  • Justice
  • Freedom
  • Honesty
  • Connection
  • Positivity
  • Respect
  • Inspiration
  • Kindness
  • Love
  • ….

All of these values sound great. No one is against kindness or love (well, almost no one), but everyone has different priorities. Your core values are your top 3 values that trump all others. Identifying these values allows you to start living your life the way you want to, which will cause you to look back at 80 and say: “You know what? I f*cking nailed it”.

A core value is not something that makes you feel good for a minute after which you never think of it again. These should be values that rock you to your core. Values that you strive to uphold and that you will protect at all costs and under any circumstance. Values that you can turn to when you’re unsure of what to do or how to feel and values that align with the essence of you as a person.

Defining your core values

The answers to these questions will give you a rough idea of what’s actually important in your life. Now I know you tend to be a bit lazy and prefer to scroll past the following questions and not really think about them, but I still strongly urge you to take one minute to reflect. I promise it’ll help.

  • How would you describe yourself to another person? To which values does this relate?
  • Which perceptions or actions of other people piss you off? To which values does this relate?
  • What is essential to you in a perfect friendship and/or relationship? To which values does this relate?
  • If/when you raise your next kid, what is the one thing you’ll teach them? To which values does this relate?
  • Why do you live? What motivates you? To which values does this relate?
  • What have been determining moments in your life for your character? How have these moments influenced you? To which values does this relate?

Based on the questions above, try and pick three core values for you. You can pick them from the list shown earlier or make up your own if you came up with additional values.

Now that you have a rough idea of your personal core values, it’s time to reflect on the extent to which you’re actually applying them. We have to make sure you’re actually following these values in your day-to-day life, thoughts, and actions as well as your future goals and dreams. After all, if it’s a core value of yours, it should be central to you as a person and your life.

For example, if one of your core values is inspiration, it’s time, to be honest with yourself. What are you currently doing to inspire yourself and others? Are you making an active effort to do so? What could you change about yourself or about your life in order to better live up to his value? Is your work inspiring to you or others? Are your friends? Your hobbies? Your thoughts? When I asked myself these questions, it resulted in starting this blog. While discussing self-development with others has always given me massive amounts of energy, I wasn’t really acting on it.

These questions should light you up with passion and energy as it is an opportunity to better express your personal essence. They should light a fire under your ass to start doing something different. To unleash more of your potential. If you don’t get excited, go back to the drawing board and reflect on whether this is really a core value of yours. Remember the #1 regret of the dying? Not living like your true self. Be honest.

In various areas of your life, what can you do to better live in line with your core values? Think about friends, family, hobbies, daily activities, the way you express yourself, your thoughts, etc.


What is you were 80 tomorrow? Would you change anything based on the story above?

Defining your core values gives you something to fall back on in times of doubt. Not everything in life is black and white and certain decisions can be hard to make. In these times, your core values can act as a roadmap that lead you to a life void of regret, hence making sure you’ll be smiling back contently when your time is here.