Career Regrets People Have But You Can Avoid [Exclusive Statistics]
Decisions are a natural part of life. Everything you do in life involves some kind of decision – choosing what to eat for breakfast, what to wear, where to study, what career to pursue, who to marry, basically just about everything.
Regardless of how good your decision making process is, it is inevitable that you will make some bad decisions at one point or the other. In most cases, these wrong decisions do not have a huge impact.
For instance, choosing to use your car to commute to work instead of the train might turn out to be a bad decision when you get to work late because there was lots of traffic, but you will probably have forgotten about it a few hours later.
Sometimes, however, some wrong decisions can have a huge impact on your life and usually lead to a feeling I believe each one of us knows all too well – regret.
Regret is a negative feeling that sits heavily on the pit of your stomach and makes you wish you could go back in time and undo the wrong decision you made.
Sometimes, regret can even lead to the unhealthy habit of rumination.
Regret can be brought about by bad decisions in various aspects of our lives, but one of the most common sources of regret is our work/career.
Considering that almost one third of a person’s life is spent at work, it is not surprising that a lot of the regrets most people experience have something to do with their careers.
From not taking risks, not asking for a pay raise, sticking with a job they did not love, choosing the wrong careers, and working too hard while putting their personal life on the backburner, there is no shortage of work related regrets.
In this article, we are going to take a look at some of the most common career regrets that people have but can be avoided.
NOT TAKING INITIATIVE
Have you ever wanted a promotion or a pay raise but was afraid to talk to your boss about it because you felt that they would say no?
Ever had a great idea but kept it to yourself because you weren’t sure how your colleagues or boss would receive it?
Ever come across a job that sounded like everything you have always dreamt about, but then you did not apply for it because you felt that you would not get it?
When you don’t ask for something, the answer is always no, and you miss 100% of all the shots you don’t make, and as such, it is not a surprise that this is one of the top career regrets for people.
According to a survey carried out by career site Zety, 78% of those polled claimed that their greatest regret is that they wished they had taken more risks in their career.
The regret comes from the “what ifs” as you try to imagine how things would have turned out if you had taken initiative and asked for that promotion, shared that idea, applied for that job.
Maybe you would be working in your dream job, if only you had sent that application.
The survey by Zety also found that there were differences when it came to regrets related to not taking risks in people’s careers. 28% of those polled reported that their greatest regret was not taking the risk to pursue their careers.
26% also reported that they regretted playing it too safe rather than negotiating for a more competitive salary, while 24% claimed that their regret came from not taking the initiative to negotiate for a pay raise.
The survey also discovered that there are some differences in the approach to career risks between men and women.
Among those polled, there was a higher number of women (40% more women than men) who regretted not taking the risk to negotiate for a raise compared to men.
On the other hand, there was a higher number of men (42% more men than women) who regretted not taking the risk to join a startup compared to women.
STAYING FOR THE MONEY
The paycheck is an important part of any job, and it is crucial to make sure that you are getting appropriate compensation for the work you are doing.
However, when deciding whether to take a job or stay at a job, money should not be your only consideration.
There are other things that you also need to put into consideration, such as growth opportunities, company culture, work that you love, and so on.
Actually, business magnate Michael Bloomberg states that the most important thing one should look for when considering a job is the potential for growth and opportunities to learn new things.
Later on in life, a lot of people come to regret staying at a job just because of the money.
Even if the money is good, if you don’t love the job, if the job doesn’t challenge you, if there is no room for growth, if the work environment is toxic, or if it leaves you no time to spend with your family, you won’t enjoy any job satisfaction.
You will be unhappy and disappointed with the job. In some cases, the job even ends up becoming a source of stress, despite the good pay.
The money versus happiness debate is not something new, and it can actually be quite difficult to go for happiness over money, especially for younger guys. However, happiness is more important in the long run.
According to the survey by Zety, 70% of those polled reported that they would prefer a satisfying job even if it did not come with a generous paycheck.
The remaining 30% reported that they would prefer a generous paycheck to job satisfaction.
NOT MAINTAINING YOUR NETWORK
How often do you keep in touch with people you used to work with after you find another job? Your previous boss? The quiet lady who was in the office down the hall from yours?
Once we move from one job to another, we make the mistake of assuming that the people behind will always remain there.
However, that lady from down the hall or your previous boss might also have found another job after you left.
Maybe they now hold a prominent position in the company you have always wanted to work for, and they would have been the perfect person to help you get your foot through the door.
Unfortunately, you cut them off after leaving your old job, and are therefore in no position to ask them to recommend you.
Your network is one of the most important things in your career.
While a lot of people know this, only a handful of people seem to put this knowledge into practice.
When we leave our old jobs, a lot of us focus on our new job and our new colleagues and apply an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to our old colleagues.
However, the people we leave behind at our previous workplaces could well be the key to one of our career steps in future – but only if we keep them within our network.
A lot of people miss out on great career opportunities because they did not bother keeping in touch with their former colleagues and mentors, and it is no surprise that this is one of the most common career regrets.
NEGLECTING YOUR WORK-LIFE BALANCE
When starting out their careers, a lot of people have these great dreams about all they plan to achieve in their careers.
They dedicate all their lives to their work in a bid to achieve these lofty dreams, leaving the office after dark, spending their weekends working on work related projects, traveling across the country or world, and so on. While they focus on their work, they completely forget that they had lives outside work.
While working hard is a virtue to be extolled, you shouldn’t work too hard to the extent that you forget about yourself and your personal life.
If you listen to most retirees reflecting on their careers, you will hardly ever hear anyone of them wishing they had spent more hours at the office or worked over the weekends.
Instead, you are more likely to hear regrets about not spending more time with their children and spouses, on their passions, and so on.
In addition to missing out on your personal life, working too hard can lead to stress and burnout, while focusing on things other than work can provide you with the balance you need to be productive and highly engaged at work.
To avoid reaching the end of your career and regretting about working too hard and letting your career get in the way of things such as dating, marrying, raising a happy family, following your passions, traveling, and so on, you first need to realize that your career is not the be all and end all.
Spend some time focusing on things that are not related to your career.
Go out and meet new people, go on dates, take part in your children’s lives, pursue a hobby, take vacation time, travel, cross items off your bucket list, and so on.
Not only will this ensure that you have less regrets at the end of your life, but it will also make you happier and more satisfied with your work.
NOT CONTINUING YOUR EDUCATION
By the time they leave college, a lot of people have plans to pursue further education at some point in future.
You get your first job, move into your own apartment, buy a car, and maybe even get married. And then the pressures and realities of life hit you hard.
Between rent, car payments, college loans, family, and other expenses, you realize that there is so little left of your salary, and you decide to push back your plans for further education, at least until you start earning a better salary.
Before you realize it, you have completely given up on your plans for further education.
This is something that happens to a lot of people, and unfortunately, the missed opportunities as a result of not continuing their education leads to lots of regrets later in life.
According to the survey by Zety, 21% of those polled regret not going back to school after they started working.
Continuing your education has a number of benefits.
Among these is that furthering your education increases your earning potential and opens up new positions that might not have been available to your before.
Furthering your education might also help you uncover your dream career.
While you might love your current job, there is a chance it is not your dream career.
As you further your education and get exposed to new fields of study and new people, you might learn of new career options and end up falling in love with them.
Fortunately, it is now easier to continue your education that ever before.
With the internet, it is possible to attend classes for your post grad or your continuing professional education (CPE) from the comfort of your home or office.
You should take advantage of this to further your education and put yourself in a position to grab opportunities that would have otherwise passed you by.
NEVER WORKING FOR YOURSELF
While employment is safer than working for yourself, it robs you of one thing – control over your life. You don’t have a lot of say over your life.
Someone else ultimately holds the decisions over different aspects of your life, such as how much you can earn, when you can take time off work, the kind of lifestyle you can live, and your work life balance.
As you grow older, you will want more control over your life, and the only way to get this control is to work for yourself.
According to the OECD (Entrepreneurship at a Glance, 2015), 69% of men and 58% of women in the United States said they would rather start a business and work for themselves than work for someone else.
While more than half of the workforce in employment would prefer working for themselves, only a handful actually follow through with this. The majority remain to be wantpreneurs.
This is because making the decision to quit your job and start your own business is an emotionally charged decision that could end up both ways – it could become one of the best decisions of your career or the worst.
Because of this, most people avoid taking the risk to start their own business. Later in life, regret sets in as they try to imagine how their lives would have turned out had they taken the plunge.
The key to preventing this regret is to start a side business without quitting your job. This way, you can wet your feet with entrepreneurship while still maintaining the safety net of your corporate job.
If your side hustle shows enough growth, you can then quit and focus all your energy on working for yourself. If things don’t pan out as you expected, you still have your job and haven’t lost much.
And you will be more content in knowing that you tried, rather than killing yourself with “what ifs?” as you try to imagine how things would have panned out had you given entrepreneurship a try.
Very often, opportunities that might lead to a career breakthrough do not come accompanied with a definite outcome.
They usually involve some risk of failure. The story of billionaire Elon Musk greatly illustrates this.
After making $180 million following the sale of PayPal to eBay, Elon put all the money into his three new companies – Tesla, Spacex and Solar City.
This was a huge risk.
If the companies failed, he would be left with nothing.
There was no assurance that the companies would become successful either. At some point, he became so broke that he was surviving on debt.
Eventually, however, things turned around, his companies became successful, and in the process, Elon became a billionaire. However, he would not have achieved any of this if he was afraid of failure.
Very often, we are afraid to grab opportunities in their career because these opportunities come with a risk of failure. We decide to play it safe in order to avoid the possibility of failure.
Eventually, someone else takes advantage of the opportunity and it turns out to be their breakthrough, and we are left in regret for not taking the opportunity.
If you want to avoid such regrets, you must be willing to embrace failure.
Actually, if you ask some of the most successful people, they will tell you that their journey to success was paved with failure after failure.
Before creating Disney World, Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper because he had “no good ideas or imagination.”
Before inventing the light bulb, famed inventor Thomas Edison had tried to create a working bulb and failed 10,000 times.
Before the first Harry Porter book got published, J. K. Rowling had been turned down by numerous publishers.
Oprah Winfrey, who is famous for her talk show “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” was fired from a TV network because she was “not good enough for TV.”
The above examples show that failure is a part of success.
If you don’t want regrets later in life, you should not be afraid of failure. Instead, you should embrace it.
Sure, taking chances might make you uncomfortable, but this is the only way to grow.
Of course, I’m not saying that you should do things without thinking them through or preparing just because failure is something you should embrace.
For instance, if you wanted to learn how to skate, you would probably wear knee and elbow guards and a helmet to protect yourself against the inevitable failure (falls) that will be part of learning.
Similarly, before taking any career risk, you should try as much as possible to protect yourself in case of failure.
After making the adequate preparations, you should then take the plunge with the understanding that things could go either way, and a readiness to accept the outcome.
NOT QUITTING EARLY ENOUGH TO PURSUE YOUR PASSION
A lot of employees are unsatisfied with their jobs and wish they could quit to do something that is somehow related to their passions.
According to the survey by Zety, 28% of those polled reported that their greatest regret was not pursuing their passions.
Another survey by Philips also found that about 41% of employees whose jobs were not related to their passions regretted their career choices.
Still, not everyone has the courage to quit their job, despite not being satisfied.
Most stick with jobs they are not happy with because of job security, since following your passions almost always involves a degree of uncertainty.
There are those, however, who drum up the courage to quit their jobs so that they can pursue their passions.
Among those who do, their greatest regret is that they did not quit their jobs early enough so that they could focus on their passions.
Time is an unlimited resource that you can never get back once it is spent, and the more time you spend in a job you are not happy with daydreaming about what you would love to do, the less time you have to spend on your passions.
This is why those who eventually follow their passions wish they had done it earlier.
What’s more, among those who quit their jobs to follow their passions, 88% reported that they were glad they did. 74% of those who pursued their passions also reported that they loved their job.
Therefore, if you feel that you would rather be doing something you love rather than what you are doing at the moment, your best decision might to quit and follow your passions (with some planning of course).
Your future self will thank you for it.
Careers are usually a long and winding journey, and each person’s journey is unique to them.
However, there is one thing that is common among most people’s career journeys.
Majority of people have some regrets about their career.
Moments they wish they could go back in time and change.
Sadly, we all know that it is impossible to turn back the hands of time.
On the bright side, we have done the next best thing. We have highlighted for you some of the most common career regrets.
By making you aware of them, we hope that we have given you a chance to avoid the mistakes that lead to these regrets in future, which is even better than making mistakes then traveling back in time to correct them.
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