Having Regrets About Your Job? Put Them To Work For You

Having Regrets About Your Job? Put Them To Work For You

Shoulda coulda, woulda. This phrase, which became a meme after Hillary Rodham Clinton uttered it in the mid 1990s, is also the running refrain for many people when it comes to thinking about career choices.

“I shoulda looked for a better job six months ago, when employers were scrambling for people and paying more.”

“I coulda managed the hours of that position. Now, I’m stuck in this lower-level role.”

“I woulda done well if only I’d been given the chance.”

As we’ve all seen, ruminating about what could have been doesn’t allow us to redo the past. But it sure can make us feel bad about the present, and fail to notice and appreciate all that is working well. Wallowing in regret saps energy and decreases stamina, which we need to stay focused and excited, and pursue opportunities we want.

Another problem with regret is that it’s often based on false assumptions. As a 2022 study published in Psychological Science shows, people tend to overestimate the wonderfulness of the path not taken, and over-focus on the downsides of their current reality. As the researchers found, without actual details about a route we rejected, we fill in the blanks with all of our favorite things.

In other words, since we don’t really know what a job at that other firm would have been like unless we have good information—say from a colleague working there in the exact role we could have had—we assume the work would have been rewarding, the colleagues great, the promotions quick, and the office space filled with Foosball tables and gourmet snacks. In fact, none of that may be true.

On the other hand, some second-guessing is natural, and we do want to take stock of current choices to help guide future ones. And feelings of regret can provide information we need. As author Daniel Pink puts it in his recent book, The Power of Regret, “It is healthy and universal, an integral part of being human. Regret is also valuable. It clarifies. It instructs. Done right, it needn’t drag us down; it can lift us up.”

So how, exactly, do you avoid endless, negative obsessing over your choices, yet put the power of regret to work for you? Try these three steps:

1.Remember That the Path Is Long

One problem with a habit of regret is that it assumes that any one choice closes down all others. In fact, our careers are very long. While some professions, such as being a professional ballet dancer, must be started while young, in most careers, you can pivot throughout your life, bringing your experience with you. For the first 10 or 15 years, at least, any experience you get is helpful. And with today’s ever-longer working lives, people are retraining and re-creating well into midlife and beyond. All of this is to say, if you regret where your choices have landed you, it is likely not too late to take stock and reroute.

Rather than regretting past actions and seeing them as linked to current disappointments, take the frustration you feel and use it to help you focus on what you can do now to get where you want to go. Don’t forget to acknowledge your strengths and successes when trying to plan a path forward. Positive emotions help you stay creative and energized, traits you’ll need to craft a good plan.

Also, opportunities often come back around. A great job you didn’t get last year may well be perfect for you now that you’ve built up more experience. A position you sought this year and didn’t get may be yours in the future.

2. Take Action to Beget More Action

Another good reason to focus forward is that action begets action. Making a choice and going for it generates energy and helps you see new opportunities when they arise. Endlessly second-guessing, or sitting on the couch in a torpor of regret and binge-watching Netflix, generally begets only the need for salty snacks and maybe ice cream.

Endless questioning gives every choice too much power, suggesting that you can only thrive if every single aspect of your life falls into place (which it rarely does). Generally, many different paths can be rewarding and fulfilling; there isn’t one perfect route. Also, you really can’t suss out the future through unlimited contemplation; it’s far better to make a choice and commit to it than to experience “analysis paralysis”. Commitment builds energy, which helps you do your job well and succeed. In the tech industry, the product imperative is “test and iterate.” This approach can apply to jobs, too. Make a choice. Throw yourself into it. Then tweak as needed.

3. Do Some Job Dating

Still not convinced that something better doesn’t exist? Go out there and see. While people in unhappy marriages generally don’t date around in search of a better spouse, if you’re frustrated in your job, you definitely should go on some “job dates”—as in, meetings with people in other firms. Job dating is a great way to address regret because it gives you a reality check about opportunities—and your attractiveness to other firms.

How can you set up job “dates?” You can respond to recruiters, search on LinkedIn and career sites for opportunities, check your university’s alumni association, attend networking events, review job listings at companies that interest you, and reach out to people you know. Also talk to satisfied friends about their jobs. Who feels valued at work and well-paid? Could you move into that field or find a job with that company?

The process of job dating forces you to update your LinkedIn profile and CV, which can help ease regrets by reminding you of all you have done. This might raise your morale enough to improve your view of your current position. Or, it could reaffirm your commitment to moving on. If you decide it’s time for a career revamp, crank up Beyonce’s new anthem to the Great Resignation, “Break My Soul,” and get to work finding a new opportunity you love.

#Regrets #Job #Put #Work

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