5 New Year’s Resolutions Every Entrepreneur Should Make

Bronnie Ware was a nurse who cared for dying patients.

Her job was to look after people during the last few weeks of their lives, and she learned a lot about what they regretted before they passed away.

Earlier this year, she published a post on her blog about the common regrets of the dying, which went viral and was highlighted by major news outlets and blogs.

As a result of her post’s popularity, she ended up writing and publishing a book based on it entitled The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying. I haven’t read her book, but I highly recommend you read her original article.

Here’s a summary of the regrets that she highlights in her post.

Top 5 Regrets of the Dying

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

This is a pretty powerful list of regrets.

The interesting thing about them is that they’re not just limited to dying patients.

I’ve heard most of them being mentioned by successful entrepreneurs and CEOs of billion-dollar corporations. Even well-known motivational speakers, life coaches and religious figures constantly touch on those topics.

There is, however, one particular story that those 5 regrets constantly remind me of.

The Harvard MBA and the Mexican Fisherman

I first read about The Harvard MBA and the Mexican Fisherman story in The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, but it’s a well-known story with multiple variations that has been told all around the world. I’ve copied Tim’s version of the story here:

An American businessman took a vacation to a small coastal Mexican village on doctor’s orders.

Unable to sleep after an urgent phone call from the office the first morning, he walked out to the pier to clear his head.

A small boat with just one fisherman had docked, and inside the boat were several large yellowfin tuna.

The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish. “How long did it take you to catch them?” the American asked.

“Only a little while,” the Mexican replied in surprisingly good English.

“Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” the American then asked.

“I have enough to support my family and give a few to friends,” the Mexican said as he unloaded them into a basket.

“But… What do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican looked up and smiled. “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Julia, and stroll into the village each evening, where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, señor.”

The American laughed and stood tall. “Sir, I’m a Harvard M.B.A. and can help you. You should spend more time fishing, and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. In no time, you could buy several boats with the increased haul. Eventually, you would have a fleet of fishing boats.”

He continued, “Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you would sell directly to the consumers, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village, of course, and move to Mexico City, then to Los Angeles, and eventually New York City, where you could run your expanding enterprise with proper management.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, señor, how long will all this take?”

To which the American replied, “15–20 years. 25 tops.”

“But what then, señor?”

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions.”

“Millions, señor? Then what?”

“Then you would retire and move to a small coastal fishing village, where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, and stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos …”

This story epitomizes those 5 regrets in such a powerful way.

If you think about it, the Mexican fisherman was 1) already living his own life (not what the Harvard MBA/ society expects of him) 2) not working too hard 3) honest about what he wants 4) enjoying spending time with family and friends, and most importantly, 5) happy with his life.

He was already living the life that most people would want to live when they retire. If he died on that day, he would’ve died happy.

So Why Don’t You do the Same?

If dying patients, CEOs, and entrepreneurs look back on their lives and regret doing those 5 things, then why wait until you know you’re going to die or become successful before actually doing them?

That’s what I asked myself, and given that 2013 is right around the corner, I thought those would be the only New Year’s resolutions that I’ll be focusing on. I simply took out the “I wish…” statements from Bronnie’s 5 regrets and turned them into action-based resolutions. Here they are.

5 New Year’s Resolutions Every Entrepreneur Should Make

  1. Live your own life (not one that others expect of you)
  2. Don’t work so hard (family comes first)
  3. Say what you feel (honesty makes you happier)
  4. Stay in touch with friends (it’s all about good relationships)
  5. Be happy (it’s a choice, not a consequence)

I’m Sticking This Over my Desk

I wanted this list of resolutions to be part of my daily reminder, so I printed it out and posted it right next to my screen in my home office. This way, it will always be in my field of vision to help keep me in check about what’s really important.

If this has inspired you as well, I’ve included a PDF copy of the list for you to download.

Feel free to print it, share it, and use it as you wish. This is not technically mine – I just changed some words around from Bronnie’s great blog post. Click here to download the PDF.

Do you have any intriguing New Year resolutions? Let me know in the comments below! Happy New Year!


  1. Hassan,

    Thanks! (great reminder)

  2. I want to make more money so that I can experience the joy of ‘giving’ all year long and just not at Christmas time.

  3. Hassan, great post – thanks! The list has intuitive appeal. The challenge may be to use it as a ‘moral compass,’ to constantly guide everyday actions and conflicting choices we make every day.

    • Hassan Osman says:

      Thanks Tim! Yes, that’s exactly how I’m planning on using the list: as a guide to help guide me through the 10,000 decisions I have to make every day :) Glad you enjoyed the post.

  4. I first heard the fisherman story on our annual meeting when the CEO read it out load. I thought it was powerful but I don’t agree. Call me workaholic but I can’t see myself retiring ever :) I do agree with your resolutions though!

    • Hassan Osman says:

      Thanks Agata! Though I think the point of the story is not that you should retire or stop working, it’s that you should enjoy mini-retirements while you’re still working (and not work too hard). The Mexican fisherman was still fishing, but only enough to feed his family and a few friends :)

  5. Yes Hassan,
    I liked the contents, but i believe that adopting the five resolutions is a challenge by itself .For example, saying what we feel is not always easy for some people but yes it leads to happiness. “Not working so hard “can we say that working hard leads to success whereas working so hard can consume the time that we suppose to spend with our family?

    • Hassan Osman says:

      Hi Ezzat – thanks for your comment! I agree that those resolutions are a bit nebulous, but at the end of the day, they’re more of general guidelines as opposed to specific action items. “Not working so hard” means avoiding 80 hour weeks (and working over weekends and holidays) to spend more time with loved ones. So it’s not about avoiding working hard completely :)

  6. Great List Hassan. I did not follow these and when my son left home he didn’t speak to us for months because I gave all my time to my career. Thankfully my midlife crisis caused me to reassess my goals and now I have an amazing relationship with him. Truthfully I am still working on the “be happy” one. But here goes, Happy New Year!

    • Hassan Osman says:

      Thanks for sharing Michael (and I’m glad both you and your son have reconnected and now have a great relationship). Happy New Year to you & yours!

  7. Just found your site Hassan! We’re in the same mindset, building a side income from our full-time.

    Great resolutions, definitely breakout from what society expects. Everyone can’t live the same life or innovation/creativity would never happen and where would every country be?…that’s why I started my site. Looking forward to more. Cheers!