Guest Article by Linda Sivertsen
You’ve heard it a million times. “On your deathbed, you’ll never regret the hours you didn’t spend at the office.”
Let me tell you a very personal story that explains why I completely disagree with that.
When I was 33, I watched my mother die far too young from pancreas/liver cancer. Between the morning she was diagnosed and the afternoon she died, my sister, father, and I had six weeks to say our goodbyes.
Mom lived a full life, with a beautiful marriage, and a smart, cultured, devoted group of friends. She and Dad entertained often; live jazz and/or classical music played throughout the house during long brunches. On weekends, my little sister and I would fall asleep to the happy sounds of laughter as our parents and their best friends gathered for gourmet feasts. Sundays were all about strolling under the redwoods, walking Carmel beach, tootling throughout art galleries, watching the ballet. All in all, pretty soulful stuff.
For as long as I can remember, my mother would look at her husband and daughters and say, “How did I ever get so lucky?”
We were the lucky ones. Mom was an extraordinary woman. But, on her deathbed she admitted that her greatest regret—the thing that haunted her—was that she’d never followed her true calling for her career. As a girl, she’d dreamed of being a librarian, a writer, a journalist—or some combination of the three. Only trouble was; she didn’t know she could.
You see, Mom’s mother died when she was nine from tuberculosis, and her life was pretty chaotic after that. Grandpa didn’t have money to send my mother to college, and she and her heartbroken father didn’t realize there were scholarships and support to apply for. Instead, Mom went straight from high school to working full time at Sunset magazine as a secretary.
I grew up with this brilliant mind that ended up assisting a scientist at Stanford University. Mom’s boss was a world famous professor of cell biology, who’d written the bible of his field. My mother edited every sentence of his 1,000+ page textbook over and over. She was self-taught.
She was grateful she’d been able to use her talent and curiosity to help the career of a very good man. But towards the end, she finally realized the only one holding her back from using those skills for her own creative goals, was herself.
When you lose both of your parents in your thirties – as I did – you learn a lot about the importance of not wasting time. You discover the value of really checking in and finding out what it is you’re aching to do. You start to ask, “What are my skillsets, and how have I always wanted to contribute to others with them?”
Mom was never without a book in her hand. She started a book club at Stanford University that still exists these many decades later. Naturally, she suspected early on that she was wired for writing and editing. Moreover, she was an insatiable reader and researcher. Her passion in all things words-related was obvious.
Yet, even though she was aware of all this about herself, my mama didn’t trust that she could be a writer. She didn’t trust it because she didn’t have that college degree. And, for some reason (partly the times, I imagine) she thought that because she had become a secretary, she had to remain a secretary.
So when people claim, “You’ll never regret the hours you didn’t spend at the office on your deathbed,” my response is, “I’m not so sure.”
If you long to write, I’m not saying writing has to be how you earn a living. I’m just saying that what you devote most of your life’s energy to will matter to you later.
So, one way or another, isn’t it time to find a way to be a writer?
Linda Sivertsen is a New York Times bestselling co-author, book whisperer and agent connector. She is a seasoned midwife of bestselling books and 6- & 7-figure book deals, and creator of The Boyfriend Log app. Learn more about Linda at http://bookmama.com/