The No. 1 regret people have when they die, from an ex-hospice worker—and how to get ahead of it

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People on their deathbed share a single most-common regret: "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."

That's according to Bronnie Ware, author of the 2011 book "The Top Five Regrets of the Dying." The native Australian spent eight years as a hospice worker, taking care of people with serious illness that often turned fatal.

After developing close relationships with many of her patients, she noticed that they often wished they'd made more decisions for themselves, instead of trying to please the people around them.

"When people realise [sic] that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled," Ware wrote in a blog post. "Most people had not honoured [sic] even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made."

Here's how you can get ahead of that regret earlier in life, according to Ware.

'Your life's work is to find your life's work'

The concept of "living authentically" might sound easy — but it's hard if you don't really know what you want in life, or you aren't fully comfortable in your own skin, Ware told the "Happy Place" podcast last year.

"There's a lot of pressure on having to find out what you want to do. But a quote from [the] Buddha that I have always loved is: Your life's work is to find your life's work," she said.

You can start by writing out your day-to-day activities and rating them on a scale of one to 10, based on importance and how much satisfaction they give you, advises Rainer Strack, senior partner emeritus at Boston Consulting Group.

The exercise gives you a better sense of what you're passionate about and what you spend the most time doing, Strack told CNBC Make It in January. You may find that you aren't spending enough time doing something you love, or you're dedicating a lot of time and energy to a career that's draining you.

"A great life has to be defined personally, you can't just take a framework and say, 'This is a great life,"' said Strack.

Give yourself permission to 'slow down'

It's easy to panic if you don't have your life figured out in your 20s, 30s or beyond. But discovering your passions is a marathon, not a sprint, Ware said.

"For some people it can take a lifetime to find out what you're really here to do," she said. "But I think it's about giving yourself permission to slow down enough to tune in to yourself and that takes a lot of courage."

Plenty of highly successful people have taken lengthy career paths. Debra Lee spent years as a lawyer, because her father wanted her to, before forcing her way into a career at TV network BET, she told LinkedIn's "The Path" video series in February. Lee eventually became the network's CEO, helping grow the then-upstart into a household name.

"Permission from yourself is needed just to say, 'I know I've got all these responsibilities, but this is really important to me. And if I can honor myself more, I'm going to show up better for everyone whose space I hold,'" Ware said.

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