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Coping With Career Regret

Hallie Crawford

"I wish I hadn't taken the job for the money." "I wish I had quit earlier." "I wish I had taken advantage of that opportunity." "I wish I had taken more initiative." Have you ever said any of those things to yourself? The fact is that most professionals have, or at least something similar. Every professional has some sort of regret over the lifetime of their career. This is understandable, since studies show that the average person will spend one-third of their life at work.

As you can imagine, it's not healthy to remain in a state of regret. Here's how to get out of it and not just take charge of your career going forward but minimize those regrets as well.

[See: 8 Careers for Creative People.]

Reflect. First, know that reflecting on your career regrets can be advantageous if you focus on identifying why you feel regret over a certain choice or lack of action. Schedule some time to jot down some of your regrets from the past year or a past regret before then that really stands out in your mind. What caused you to make your decision? Was it fear, a sense of duty or something else?

Look for help. Finding support if you are currently in a career situation you regret is essential. Talk to someone you trust about how you feel, such as your spouse, parent or mentor. You may be surprised to find they have been in similar situations and have practical tips to help you. And they can help you with the next steps below as you work to make better choices moving forward. A career coach can also provide support and systematic ideas to help you move forward successfully.

[See: 20 Work-Life Balance Tips and Secrets From CEOs.]

Don't stay stuck. There are three basic steps that can help you remedy your current situation and help you make better choices moving forward:

1. Align your career goals with what's fulfilling to you. Now, this doesn't mean throwing caution to the wind and taking a job that won't pay your bills. But, if you try to make career moves that will be truly fulfilling to you, you will have better results.

When considering fulfillment, there are two main components: your heart and your head. Your heart means identifying what is important to you, how you define success. Your head involves identifying important priorities such as compensation, life balance and other things you need to take care of yourself in a practical way.

Work with someone you trust to identify five of your values over the next week. You can use what you discovered from journaling about your feelings above to contrast how you would like to feel in your career to discover your values. Then develop or revise your list of goals based on your values. Consider how your current career (or your next one) can honor those values and goals more fully.

2. Balance passion with practicality. Once you have identified important factors about your heart and what would fulfill you, it's important to balance that with practicality. For example, are your career goals realistic based on your experience, strengths and education? Is there a way you could practically gain any experience or education you need, such as taking an online or local college course?

Think about the priorities you identified above to take care of yourself and your family. Are you saving money to buy a house? Determine how your career needs to support that, such as asking for a promotion or a raise.

[SEE: The 25 Best Jobs of 2019]

3. Prepare for the risk. Once you have identified what fulfills you and balance that with what is practical, it's time to take action. However, it's important to understand how to implement changes and any possible risks involved. When you prepare for any possible risks, you may be able to minimize them, therefore making any changes seem less scary.

Review your career goals and determine what action steps are required. Conducting informational interviews is a great way to discover what action steps you might need to take. When determining action steps, ask yourself if each action will move you toward your final goal. You can work through these goals and action steps with someone you trust. Determine which goals would require the most risk, then evaluate if the risk is really worth it for your current situation. Can you minimize the risk by implementing smaller steps over time?

Analyzing your future decisions in this way will help minimize career regret, and over time it will be easier for you to make career choices that truly fulfill you.

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