A Dying Wish To Spend More Time at Work?

I’ve heard the quote, “No one ever wished they spent more time at work on their deathbed” one too many times. I have a beef with it. I understand the intention of the quote and I agree with the sentiment, but it’s dangerous to claim absolutes. A single exception disproves the whole thing. Plus there’s the whole idea of following your passion. If someone is doing what they love, why wouldn’t they wish to have spent more time on it when they’re about to kick the proverbial can?

No one?

I found it hard to believe that no one in their dying words had ever expressed a desire to have done more work. Surely achievers like Edison, Einstein, Madam Curie and Mozart would have expressed some small measure of regret for not having been able to accomplish more. I searched several collections of last words and found two examples.

Leondardo da Vinci’s last words were, “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.”

Osamu Tezuka said, “I’m begging you, let me work!” as a nurse took his drawing board from his hospital bed and encouraged him to get some sleep (he died shortly thereafter).

A less clear example is found in Huey Long’s dying words, “Don’t let me die, I have got so much to do.”

H.L. Mencken wrote, “Looking back over a life of hard work…my only regret is that I didn’t work even harder.”

That shows once and for all that some people do wish they’d spent more time working, even on their deathbed.

So what?

What can we take away from this little exercise? I don’t know. My only conclusion is to avoid making absolute statements unless you’re absolutely sure there aren’t any counterexamples.


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  1. Or … never say never? ;)

    Yeah, but I’m with you on absolutes, and try to be pretty circumspect in them. Something I think politicians and journalists (among many others I’m sure — advertisers, athletes, obituary writers, etc.) could do a lot better.

    Comment by Dave Hersam on February 9, 2009 @ 7:13 pm
  2. I know someone who certainly thinks that, and he is nowhere near dying yet. His wish is that he had treated work more seriously, then he would have progressed further and his life outside work would have been easier. It is very stressful on a low income.

    Another one is that people never wish they had spent more time on the housework. Well, I don’t know. I know someone who lives in the midst of messiness all the time and my guess is that she would like to live more comfortably. Still, where there is life, there is some hope. Maybe.

    Comment by as below, but for useage please call me Tiarna Lee on July 3, 2010 @ 3:00 am
  3. There’s a difference between spending more time at work and pursuing your avocation. Wishing that you had accomplished more is not wishing that you put in more time on the clock.

    Comment by J2hess on March 11, 2013 @ 4:58 pm
  4. @J2hess Arguing the semantics of the definition of “at work” isn’t much of a case. Work is not equal to a job, e.g. one’s life work. Clearly, there are individuals who loved their work and wished they could have spent more time at it.

    Comment by Dan on March 11, 2013 @ 6:12 pm
  5. Sir Henry Royce reportedly said these exact words on his deathbed.

    I also highly doubt no one else has uttered those last words simply for their own amusement.

    Comment by John on March 12, 2013 @ 11:12 am
  6. @John Thanks for yet another example to add to the list. The thing with absolute statements is a single exception disproves them. It is rarely true to say no one has ever done something.

    Comment by Dan on March 12, 2013 @ 1:45 pm

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