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Top 10 Regrets in Professional Life - How To Avoid Them?

Updated on January 18th, 2024

March 16th 2021

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This text was fully written by humans.

SUMMARY / KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • We all have some regrets in professional life, although some of us prefer to interpret their mistakes as “lessons.”

  • In this article, we introduce 10 most common regrets reported by professionals and explain how to possibly prevent or avoid them before it’s too late.

Regrets in Professional Life.

We like to think that “there are no mistakes, just lessons.” Yet still, there are certain aspects of career development that people often wish they did differently when there was time for it, whether they openly admit it or not. 

And as a matter of fact, intelligent people often have more regrets than others. It is a simple consequence of the fact that they notice more options. Next to the natural course of events, they imagine alternative scenarios that might have happened if only they took different decisions in their lives.

We’ve put together the list of the most common and painful regrets that professionals develop once they retire. It is food for thought and an opportunity to prevent some of these regrets in your own professional life!

1. Not Thinking About Your Career Development Early Enough.

Many people regret that they didn’t use their talents when there was time for it. For example, those who had a shot at a career in dancing or acting but chose studies and corporate jobs instead.

Or, girls whom modeling agency scouts tried to recruit at 16, and who didn’t make up their mind to try modeling career until 25 or 30. And then it was too late.

Or, boys who were the stars of the university league in soccer but resigned from their career in sports on behalf of a “regular job,” and regretted that decision ever after.

Moreover, we live in a culture of “being yourself.” Namely, a culture in which “just be yourself,” “go for your passion,” and “do what you enjoy the most” are often the only pieces of career advice that young people receive in their education process. 

In the end, they often choose majors that secure them quality time during studies and give them a feeling that they study important and influential topics such as, for example, sustainability, diversity, philosophy, et cetera. Although it is important to train qualified experts in these areas, there are not enough jobs for graduates in these disciplines. 

For worse, these disciplines don’t provide training in building any practical solutions or infrastructure. Namely, solving mathematical problems, engineering, building software, designing, creating new research methods, building prototypes of new products, and creating intellectual property. 

As a result, at 25, many university graduates discover that their idealistic approach to studies and self-development led them to a corner in which they don’t have any good options in the job market for their professional development.

Good judgment is a product of experience. Experience is the product of bad judgment.

The Ugly Truth About Education in Life.

As harsh as it sounds, by the time you finish your undergraduate studies, roughly a third of your life is burnt. Of course, certain qualities come with age. When you become older, you learn from mistakes faster, and you become a better, more rational decision-maker regarding your career path. 

However, at the same time, you no longer have as much energy as at 20 or 25. Thus the number of challenges that you can take on your plate goes down. We are not told at school that life is short. In the eyes of our teachers, we have the whole life ahead. However, in many ways, it is quite short when thinking about it.

Tip: Whatever you study right now, or whichever career you are developing, make sure that you focus on developing skills rather than getting diplomas and certificates.

Aim to optimize over transferable skills rather than professional titles in your education process. To improve your chances in the job market, you don’t need to restructure your life.

Usually, it is enough to take a few additional courses online on the side, next to your studies to build your career path. 

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2. Hanging out with the Wrong People, or Networking in the Wrong Way.

It is not a secret that networking is the key component of any successful career. However, what people often regret is that they put a lot of effort into building their network. Yet, they didn’t network in the right way and didn’t achieve the expected results. Namely, there is more than just one way of building a personal network. 

In some working environments, such as academia, it works best if you build a safety net for yourself, namely, a close circle of 5-15 people whom you trust the most. You need this network of trusted people to work with and write grants together regularly.

This approach can be referred to as vertical networking. In other environments, such as business circles, building a flat, distributed network of casual contacts works much better for your professional development. This approach can be referred to as horizontal networking. 

Subsequently, many people regret surrounding themselves with the wrong people who can not help with their professional development.

In essence, appeasers who don’t provide any value to their lives, are not trustworthy, or even, are abusive. There are many common types of mental abuse, the most popular being gaslighting.

Building relations is a form of investment in which you invest the most precious thing you have: your time. Putting effort into building a bond only to discover ten years later that you split at the first disagreement is a huge personal loss.

Picking the right people, making sure that you can count on them, building real bonds instead of superficial contacts, and creating a quality network is so much harder and more complex than “just” networking!

Tip: Don’t take anything for granted – the working culture can vary door to door. Thus, it’s good to observe successful people in your environment and take an example from them. What is their networking style? How do they build new contacts? How do they reach out to new people? Do they have a close net of contacts, or rather, a broad and distributed network?

3. Not Cutting the Tongue When Necessary.

One regret often brought up by people coming from various working environments, from corporations to businesses, is not being kind to someone else.

Arrogance is never forgotten. It is like a time bomb that can expand at any time, even after many years. And then, all of a sudden you find out about someone else’s resentment when it comes to promotion, international internship, or some other professional opportunity.

Showing negative emotions at work might jeopardize your long-term career prospects and bury your chances to become a leader in your field.

Tip: Treat it like a game. Every time you show emotions in a frustrating situation, you lose one point. Every time you manage to keep a kind face despite the circumstances, you score one point. It is that simple.

4. Not Taking Risks.

What people often regret the most, is not taking a shot at a job or a career that might be less paid for now, but more enjoyable and with more perspectives long-term.

For instance, they resign from a yearly internship in a legendary company on behalf of a better-paid full-term position – only to discover one year later that this time has passed anyway.

While they have a few extra bucks on their account, they also have a dead-end project and a conservative, inflexible team that they are unhappy with. While the opportunity is gone.

People also often regret pleasing others instead of going for what they want. The sad thing is, the sense of guilt often makes them resign from their dreams of successful career paths despite the supportive people around them. They have a belief that they owe to others and that choosing passion over safe options is selfish. While in fact, no one expects them to resign from their dreams.

And as a matter of fact, most professionals misunderstand what passion is. “Follow your passion!” — this cliche is a nightmare of every career advisor. In fact, passion is not something you find in the sky or pick up from the street. 

Passion is a great REWARD that waits for those who sweat for it over the years and win it via: STEP 1: curiosity, STEP 2: resilience, STEP 3: diligence & integrity. And you will need to take the risk and get through the dip to achieve the eventual, life-long passion for your work.

Tip: Have you ever resigned from an opportunity and regretted it later on? For what reasons did you resign? Most of our worries never come to life, so there is a good chance that your fears were not justified.

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5. Not Starting a Company When There Was Time and Energy For It.

Many people regret spending their youth partying and dreaming about being independent instead of just trying to become independent.

They feel that they are not educated enough just yet. And so they focus on studies and “youth” first. Then comes the corporate job, then the family…

And one day they wake up at fifty and feel that they overslept at the times when they had enough energy to launch their businesses. This is not true by the way. You can launch a company at any age. It’s a matter of the right motivation, finding the right problem you want to solve, and the right people to work with.

Also, starting a company doesn’t necessarily require big moves such as forming huge teams, looking for private investors, or taking bank loans. You can start small, for instance by monetizing your knowledge as a freelance consultant on the side.

Tip: Indeed, we often oversleep the careless times when we have the most energy to jump into deep water and build a successful career path. However, it’s never too late. You can start a business at any age!

According to research, older founders have a much higher success rate with pulling off businesses than younger founders. As research at MIT has revealed, the average age of a successful startup founder is 45.

6. Too Much Faith Put into Studying, Too Little Exposure to Practical Problems.

This is a well-known mistake, yet still, so many people fall into this trap… Despite knowing about it! This mistake is often caused by social approval. Namely, if everyone studies these days, there must be something good in it, right? 

Trusting too much in the study program, without searching for independent projects and internship opportunities, can backfire later on when it comes to demonstrating practical skills at work.

It often comes as a disappointment to A-grade students that no one asks them about their grades, but rather, about the completed projects. Many students who thrive at exams fail when it comes to finding creative and practical applications for their knowledge. 

On the contrary, many C-grade students blossom only after they are given practical problems to solve. And recruiters remember about it! Therefore, they will put a strong focus on your portfolio of projects rather than your completed courses.

Tip: After your get your diploma, no one will ever ask about your grades. Yet, many will ask about your projects and possibly, ask your superiors and project leaders for recommendation letters. Therefore, sometimes it is better to let go of A-grades on behalf of projects and build good collaboration with project leaders.

 

7. Setting Career Goals That Don’t Fully Depend On You.

Setting career goals that require external approval or external judgment often comes to a bitter end. Many people regret relying on contests and awards when it comes to career development.

For instance, unlike in sports, where the victory is (usually!) evident and objective, in arts success often depends on the taste and subjective judgment of another person. Even in science and business, awards are mostly subjective.

After all, how can you decide if one project is more important or influential than others? How can you decide if one person deserves, say, “Forbes 30 Under 30” award or a Young Investigator Award, and not someone else? You can only speculate.

This is why you shouldn’t ever put all your eggs is one basket. In reality, you will bump back from many doors and only occasionally reach your original plans. 

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Tip: As a rule of thumb, it is always good to ask yourself, “Is the career path I am planning for, fully dependent on me? How to make myself maximally independent of other people’s approval?” If there is a clear bottleneck on the way – for example one award that can make or break your career. Perhaps it is better to look for alternative paths straight away.

8. Listening to Other People’s Advice Despite Your Intuition Tells You Otherwise.

This one is classic. Intuition is a complex form of intelligence, and it is usually correct. Have you ever met anyone who said that they did what intuition told them to do for their professional development, and had regrets because of that?

Yet, we often ignore our intuition on behalf of what others tell us, especially our family and close friends. Or, we follow the crowd, which is known in psychology as the bandwagon effect

Tip: Make sure that you are rested enough in daily life to connect well with your intuitive mind – and that you develop trust in your intuition. To many people, finding inner peace through meditation greatly helps in hearing that voice of intuition.

9. Obsession With One Career Path and Ignoring Other Opportunities.

Many people have a talent discovered at an early age by their teachers or parents. They follow the advice and encouragement and focus their whole youth on developing this talent before they even have a chance to learn about their full potential.

It often concerns kids who are good at sports or one particular subject at school. They are encouraged by medals and admiration from their school peers, pushed forward and and “whipped” every day by their ambitious teachers and parents.

And so they spend countless hours away from their peers and keep on trying without even questioning this choice… Only to discover at 30 or 35 that they don’t even enjoy what they do in the first place.

It is also often the case that people develop a narrow way of thinking about what lifestyle and/or career is expected of them. They don’t travel enough at a young age to learn that there are millions of ways to become happy and that we, as humans, don’t need all that much.

In the end, they often discover that they might have chosen a different life only when they travel the world as a retirement adventure. It is too late for successful career paths.

And in general, it is better to manage your time and energy and only investing yourself in one area of life (such as career development!) is highly suboptimal. In fact, everything is connected. 

Instead of cherry picking (career) goals, it’s much better to invest in harmonious development. Various areas of life support each other, so if you let go of excellence in one of them, all of them will deteriorate. And vice versa: if you work on one of the pillars of your life, all of them will strengthen.

For instance, taking care of your health gives more energy and enthusiasm to build other pillars properly (well, that’s the obvious one). Taking care of your spirituality makes you more sensitive and attracts other passionate people to your life, so your social and professional lives will thrive. Satisfaction with your career leads to more happiness, less stress, and in turn, longer and healthier life. Et cetera.

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Tip: When and why did you choose your career path? It’s good to reconsider the rationale of what you do once in a while, for example, once per year. Questioning yourself regularly is a good move! It’s either that you will notice other, potentially better options, or, you will fall in love with what you do again. Both are equally good!

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10. Not Learning About your Strengths Early Enough.

Lastly, many people regret that they didn’t put enough attention into learning about their strengths early on. After all, your talents and natural strengths are the cards in your hand, which you need to play with building your successful career path.

Moreover, people often do know about their strengths, but don’t see the money-making potential in those strengths. They have a misconception that work means effort, therefore, lack of effort. In essence, pleasure and fun, automatically must imply a hobby.

Or, they have competencies that are typically not to be found on resumes, such as, say, the ability to gain other people’s trust, the ability to find a way in a chaotic environment, or the ability to listen to others well.

Tip: Self-discovery and self-awareness are the keys to career development. If you feel that you still have doubts about your core competencies, you might consider a career orientation course or a coaching program. You might also consider classic aptitude tests such as the Gallup StrengthFinder, or our new aptitude test.

Please also check out our article “How Do We Build Value in the Job Market? Alfred Adler’s Theory and How You Can Profit From It.” In this article we introduce the Ontology of Value® model and explain in what ways you can create value in the job market as a professional in order to avoid any regrets in the future. 

Summary: How To Prevent Regrets in Professional Life?

Top 10 Regrets in Professional Life

  • Not Thinking About Your Career Development Early Enough.

    Many individuals regret not pursuing their talents earlier in life, choosing instead to prioritize studies and corporate jobs, which often leads to limited options and regrets later on, emphasizing the importance of focusing on skill development rather than degrees and certificates to enhance career prospects.

  • Hanging out with the Wrong People, or Networking in the Wrong Way.

    Networking is crucial for career success, but many people regret not networking effectively or surrounding themselves with the wrong individuals, emphasizing the importance of investing time in building genuine and valuable relationships rather than superficial contacts, and learning from successful people in their respective environments.

  • Not Cutting the Tongue When Necessary.

    A common regret among individuals in various working environments is not practicing kindness towards others, as arrogance and negative emotions can have long-lasting consequences on career prospects and leadership opportunities.

  • Not Taking Risks.

    One of the biggest regrets people often have is not pursuing a job or career that may have lower pay initially but would provide long-term enjoyment and greater prospects, as they realize that prioritizing higher pay can lead to dead-end projects and unhappiness with their conservative team, while missing out on valuable opportunities.

  • Not Starting a Company When There Was Time and Energy For It.

    Many people regret prioritizing partying and dreams of independence in their youth instead of actively striving for independence and pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors, only to wake up later in life realizing they missed opportunities, but it's important to note that it's never too late to start a business and older founders have a higher success rate in entrepreneurship.

  • Too Much Faith Put into Studying, Too Little Exposure to Practical Problems.

    Trusting too much in academic grades and neglecting independent projects and internships can lead to disappointment as practical skills and project experience become more valued by employers, emphasizing the importance of focusing on real-world applications and building strong relationships with project leaders rather than solely relying on high grades.

  • Setting Career Goals That Don’t Fully Depend On You.

    Relying on external approval or judgment, such as contests and awards, for career advancement often leads to regret, as success in fields like arts, science, and business is subjective, emphasizing the importance of seeking independence and alternative paths that are not solely dependent on external validation.

  • Listening to Other People’s Advice Despite Your Intuition Tells You Otherwise.

    Ignoring intuition and relying on others' opinions or following the crowd often leads to regrets in professional development, highlighting the importance of connecting with and trusting one's intuitive mind.

  • Obsession With One Career Path and Ignoring Other Opportunities.

    Focusing solely on early-discovered talents and neglecting exploration of other potential paths can lead to later realization of dissatisfaction, highlighting the importance of regularly questioning and reconsidering one's career choices.

  • Not Learning About your Strengths Early Enough.

    Regrets often arise from not recognizing and leveraging one's strengths early on, as people may overlook the money-making potential in their natural abilities, mistakenly considering them as mere hobbies or not valuable in the job market, emphasizing the importance of self-discovery and self-awareness for career development.

Conclusion: How to Avoid Regrets in Professional Life?

Well, one universal piece of advice one might give here is: look around, question yourself, and take nothing for granted. Most regrets come from oversleeping opportunities or pursuing a career in one direction for way too long. And of course: always listen to your intuition.

Also, always be open to asking for help and advice. Finding mentors in professional life and learning from other people’s mistakes is one of the major factors for success in the long run.

Would you like to receive further intensive training oriented toward discovering your identity as a professional and learning effective strategies for landing great jobs? You are most welcome to join us at our intensive online career development workshops! Please find all the information and registration links HERE.

Best of luck with your career!  

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Are you planning to upgrade your career to the next level or change your career path? Are you pondering your options? Don’t be alone in the process – join us at our live online Ontology of Value® Career Mastery Program!

At this intensive online training, you will focus on discovering your identity as a professional, and learn effective career development strategies for landing great jobs.

We will help you choose the right career path, assist you in landing your new job, and teach you self-navigation strategies that will guarantee your success in professional development, and serve you for a lifetime!

Please find all the information about our incoming, game-changing program here:

Please cite as:

Bielczyk, N. (2021, March 16th). Top 10 Regrets in Professional Life – How To Avoid Them? Retrieved from https://ontologyofvalue.com/regrets-in-professional-life/

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