Keeping the big picture in perspective

Keeping the big picture in perspective

A few weeks ago, members of the Woodstock Class of 1981 returned to campus for their 35th reunion. During their visit, the class had a discussion with our 12th Graders. The students’ questions (and the answers from the Class of ’81) ranged from the amusing to the profound. One question was, “what do you know now you wish you had known when you were a Senior?” That question prompted some thoughtful and challenging responses! A big theme was keeping life’s big picture in perspective and not losing sight of what’s important.

In a school which emphasises the holistic development of young people, we have a responsibility to keep that perspective well and truly in focus. I recently came across an article in the UK’s Guardian newspaper which brought this truth home to me in a powerful way. The article was on the work of a nurse, Bronnie Ware, who works with dying patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She carefully recorded many of their end-of-life regrets and shared some of them on a blog which gained a lot of attention. She noticed, especially, the clarity with which people were able to reflect on their lives as they neared the end and how they were able to see what was really important. She also noticed that time and again certain common themes kept on popping up. None of Nurse Ware’s patients regretted not making more money, not buying a bigger house or not spending more time in the office.

The top four regrets


I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself and not the life others expected of me. This was by far the most common regret of all. It is the regret that dreams were unfulfilled and hopes unrealised. A Woodstock education strives to allow young people to be authentic and to be true to themselves; to live with integrity and to follow their dreams even if that means going against the crowd.

I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. These words were uttered by almost every man Bronnie Ware cared for in the hospital! It was the regret of not spending more time with family and friends and of having concentrated too much on things that suddenly meant very little at life’s end. It is a potent warning that a Woodstock education must enable young people to find balance in their lives. This means learning to value the treasures of community, family and friendship and the ability to look beyond the material world to more permanent and meaningful satisfactions in life.

I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. It is easy to go through life bottling up bitterness or feelings we find hard to express. So much research has shown that this can lead to debilitating resentment and even illness. Our Desired Learning Outcomes talks about our students being able to persevere, with conviction and courage as sources of motivation. Having the courage to speak from the heart with sensitivity is a crucial capacity for our students to develop if they are to live lives free from the paralysing influence of regret.

I wish that I had let myself be happier. Bronnie Ware found this to be a very common theme. Many of her patients hadn’t realised that happiness is a choice – that happiness does not come to us it can only come from us. Some reflected that fear of taking risks and fear of change had frozen them into inactivity and a soft comfort-zone. One of the first things I noticed about Woodstock was the air of happy purposefulness here, the determination to succeed, to enjoy life, to enjoy each other’s company – and, most importantly, to discover that there is far more in each of us than we think! This is a happy place in which young people and adults alike come to see and appreciate the gift of being truly and intensely alive. These are the things that count and these are the values which a Woodstock education seeks to instil in young lives. And so, a Woodstock education is really two educations – one is how to make a living and the other how to make a life.

Dr Jonathan Long, Principal

1 Comment
  • Greg Hartman
    Posted at 21:05h, 11 November Reply

    I would just like to underscore the second regret: “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard”. I think that might be the secret to avoiding all 4 regrets. Not to work too hard has always been one of my top priorities.I like it more than the other 3 because it is so specific. It is usually quite clear if you are working too hard. You just have to pause & ask the question.

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