During a conversation the other day, my husband asked me if I had any regrets in my professional life. I didn’t have an answer at first, but I reflected on my experiences. Regret is a powerful emotion, and studies show that some of the most common are career regrets. While people look back on missed opportunities or things they wish they had done differently, I wasn’t sure if any of mine would qualify as regrets. However, many people do and also have advice on how to avoid them.
7 Common Career Regrets
1. Choosing a career or taking a job for the money.
Even if it isn’t the top priority, everyone wants to find a job that can provide a comfortable salary. On the other hand, one of the biggest regrets people have is choosing their career based on salary alone. I have heard many friends and colleagues express that they wish they had chosen a different career path over money.
Instead of choosing something they were passionate about, they opted for a high-paying position that led to a dissatisfying career. Unfortunately, when they realized the mistake, many felt stuck due to their financial obligations. One friend even described it as being shackled by golden handcuffs. So if you want to avoid this major regret, remind yourself that professional success shouldn’t come at the price of misery.
2. Wasting time in school.
Pursuing higher education can open many doors for you. Yet, not every degree leads to a successful or fulfilling career. After graduation, many adults have regrets about their student loans, chosen field, not studying hard enough, or not finishing their degree. If they could go back, many people would.
Although a 4-year degree can still be a worthwhile investment, it isn’t the only option. Trade schools and apprenticeships can get you in the field faster if you already know what you want to do. And if you don’t, maybe it’s worth taking the time to really think about what suits your talents and interests.
3. Sacrificing relationships for their career.
Family and friends give our lives meaning. So, it’s important to find a work-life balance that allows you to make time for them. However, putting work ahead of their loved ones is one of the greatest career regrets people have. When people look back on their lives, they rarely say they wish they had worked more. But, the truth is that many people sacrifice their free time and miss out on important life moments.
And this doesn’t only pertain to personal relationships either. You need to nurture your professional friendships as well. Maintaining these relationships and networking can present many opportunities. Therefore, you don’t want to burn any bridges that you may come across again down the line.
4. Not taking more risks.
Another common thing you will hear from people facing death is that they regret not taking more risks. This is a broad statement that can apply to many situations in life, from decisions they failed to make to moments they failed to act.
However, you can avoid this career regret by pushing yourself to seize opportunities when they present themselves. It can start with small things like speaking up or acting on hunches. But, it’s also ensuring that you aren’t afraid to take bigger risks with more impactful outcomes such as negotiating your salary or striking out on your own. Although the future is never certain, there is never any reward without risk.
5. Waiting to quit.
Even when people realize they are unhappy, they don’t always make the necessary changes to find a more fulfilling career. Instead, they stay in a job they hate, waiting to quit. One study revealed that nearly 80% who were dissatisfied with their jobs don’t quit even when they know they should.
Sometimes, they are held back by financial obligations. Other times, it’s the fear of the unknown or the mentality that it’s better to stick with the devil you know. For me, it was the fear of failure if I chose to branch out on my own. However, fear is not a good reason to stay in a career you hate. Rather than wasting valuable time, it’s better to focus your energy on building the life you want.
6. Thinking they are irreplaceable.
No matter who you are or how vital your role is within the company, it’s important to know that you are replaceable. This may seem harsh, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. When you think about it, the truth should remove some of the professional burdens from your shoulders.
Although you may be great at your job and an integral component, there is a high probability that the business will continue without you. The workload will always be there. But if you are constantly preoccupied with what is going on at the office, it doesn’t allow you to live in the moment or enjoy time with the ones you love. Knowing you are replaceable can help you shift focus away from your work responsibilities and not feel guilty about making more time for yourself.
7. Not starting their own business.
Many people dream of becoming their own boss, yet few have the confidence in their own abilities to make it happen. Until a few years ago, I was one of them. I yearned for more control over my time, but financial stability was a strong motivating factor to stay where I was.
However, I realized that if I never did anything more than talk about it, nothing would ever change. I had a solid business model and knew that I didn’t want to look back and wonder, “What if?” So, I took the leap and went into business for myself. And so far, it has been the best professional decision I have ever made.
Although many people find it uncomfortable, we shouldn’t avoid talking about our career regrets. We all have them, and talking about them leads to self-reflection. I also have found relief in articulating my disappointments, ways to cope, and how to avoid them.
When I look back, I can honestly say that I don’t have career regrets. Although there are things I could have done differently, these learning opportunities were a catalyst for change. We can’t undo the past, but we can learn, change, and grow from it.
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Jenny Smedra is an avid world traveler, ESL teacher, former archaeologist, and freelance writer. Choosing a life abroad had strengthened her commitment to finding ways to bring people together across language and cultural barriers. While most of her time is dedicated to either working with children, she also enjoys good friends, good food, and new adventures.