Top 5 Career Regrets

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What do professionals—from a Fortune 500 CEO to a self-employed photographer—say they regret the most about their careers?
In a survey of 30 professionals, here are the top 5 career regrets:

1. I wish I’d quit to pursue my passion sooner

Around one-third of employees are dissatisfied with their jobs (here are 10 keys to job satisfaction). Not everyone wants to quit the day job, but amongst those people who have quit to follow their passion, almost all wish they had done it earlier.

Most people stick to the safe job in the hope of relatively small increases in their pay and conditions and are put off change by fears about insecurity.

2. I wish I’d worked harder at college
Most people value a higher education and those that benefited from it wished they’d appreciated it more at the time. People thought they’d been in too much of a hurry to get through college and did not fully understand how good the experience was at the time.

They also regretted not using their education more in their chosen careers.

3. I wish I hadn’t focused so much on the money

People who decided on high-paying but dissatisfying careers regretted their decision. Money doesn’t really motivate, especially if you can earn enough in a variety of different lines of work.

Many people wanted to leave their high-paying jobs but had built up too many financial commitments and were unsure if they’d be suited to other jobs.

4. I wish I’d followed my hunches

Looking back on their careers, people perceived vital opportunities they didn’t take. Sometimes these opportunities looked risky but it turned out that they would have created big leaps forward in their careers.

These turning points were amongst the things that people regretted the most.

5. I wish I’d started my own business

People wanted more control over their lives and were fed up with being beholden to their managers. Naturally, then, they wanted to start their own business.

While many people think about starting their own business, only a fraction (perhaps 15%) think they have what it takes. People regretted not having the guts to do it.

Regrets shape the future

It’s clear that people’s regrets shaped how they thought about their careers in the past. But regret can also shape how we think about the future.

We actually anticipate regretting certain decisions, and this anticipated regret can paralyse decision-making. But research has shown that the regret we will actually experience isn’t as bad as we anticipate:

“Anticipated regret is such a powerful emotion that it can cause us to avoid risk, lower our expectations, steer us towards the familiar and away from new, interesting experiences. We anticipate more regret when we go against the grain, when we make positive decisions ourselves, rather than letting the chips fall as they may. And all for what? So that we can avoid something that won’t be that bad anyway and might not happen at all?” (from: The Power of Regret to Shape Our Future)

About the author

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.

He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks. 

Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.