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Regret Nothing: Five Lessons from Life's End, Part 1

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When you’re on your deathbed, will you regret having spent so much time at the office? Probably not, say healthcare workers who counsel patients in their final days. In fact, one such worker, Bronnie Ware, an Australian palliative care nurse, collected her patients’ disappointments on her blog, eventually publishing a book on the topic called “”The Top Five Regrets of the Dying; A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing.”   recently published a discussion of her work here.

According to Ware, the top five regrets in ascending strength are:

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

These are powerful insights—and a learning opportunity for the rest of us. So much so that we’d like to pose a related question: “What are the top five regrets of (you guessed it) unethical financial advisors?”

This question flows from our hope that even rogue operators have consciences and might look back with sadness on their dubious business practices. Furthermore, ethical individuals who understand and learn from those regrets will be better able to resist temptation—and errors-and-omissions problems—as their own careers play out.

So without further adieu, here’s our take on the top five regrets unethical professionals feel when they leave their industry:

1. “I wish I had spent more time getting to know my clients’ needs, rather than selling products that served my needs.” This is an issue because salespeople who pursue their own agendas rather than their clients’ lose sight of the noble purpose of their industry: to help people achieve their cherished dreams. Advisors who tap into that purpose go to work every day truly energized. Those who don’t are instead motivated by greed, a shallow emotion that makes them small.

2. “I wish I hadn’t misrepresented my products in order to close sales.” Those who lie about product features and benefits will make sales, but come to regret their predatory “techniques.”  At the end of their careers, they will feel sadness because they’ll never know if they could have succeeded by applying legitmate knowledge and skills rather than by lying.

3. “I wish I’d been more transparent about my track record and business practices.” Unethical professionals often tout sham expertise and dubious credentials, while making promises in the sales process they have no intention of keeping. Looking back, these individuals will regret their clients never knew the “real” human being behind their scammer’s mask.

4. “I wished I hadn’t replaced and/or churned so much business.” These individuals will eventually realize they never added sustainable value to their industry and worse, made their clients poorer and less able to enjoy a safe and secure retirement.

5. “I wished I’d done more due diligence on my business partners. Here, people often fall prey to deceptive partners hawking fraudulent schemes. In hindsight, they’ll wish they’d been more skeptical of those bearing too-good-to-be-true offers.

In short, the best way to avoid end-of-career regrets —and errors-and-omissions claims, for that matter—is to simply do business the old-fashioned way—with a commitment to quality and adherence to compliant business practices and ethical values. Here are some steps to take:

  • Develop a written code of ethics.

  • Promote an ethical office culture.

  • Hire honest employees.

  • Do business tranparently.

For specific guidance on these points, watch for Part 2 in this series.

For information on ethical sales practices, please visit the National Ethics Association’s Ethics Center. For more information on affordable errors and omissions insurance for low-risk financial advisors, visit E&


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