How many times have you heard someone say something like, “I don’t have any regrets”? Or, “Looking back I wouldn’t do anything different”? Even better — and I know I have said this — “I don’t have any regrets because I wouldn’t be who I am today without that experience.”
The common expressions lose their luster when held up to closer examination. Can’t you think of words you would have said to someone differently? Would you have taken a greater risk in your life to pursue happiness, love or a career ambition that you didn’t take? When I really think about it, I have a lot of regrets. But as I get older and perhaps slightly wiser, I know that they can drive me and motivate you to pursue improvements.
I once worked with a client named Paul, whose company offered him an opportunity to move to Europe for one year. He thought it a worthwhile move, but he didn’t think his new spouse would be happy with it. He passed on it, and his last three years with the company meant no promotion and ultimately, after another career change, he lost his marriage. His lack of risk taking, his security mentality and his careful approach worked to his disadvantage. He even thought it led to his marriage decline.
When I asked him what he’d change or give up in order to reinvent his life, he told me, “I think I could make bolder decisions and take greater risks. I want to find a company that will kind of put me in that harm’s way.” He wanted to be challenged and taken out of his comfort zone.
So are you at a point where you feel that regret could come into motivational play? Do you want to change your circumstances in your career and life?
Here are three ways to let regret fuel your career comeback:
Spend emotional time recording your greatest regrets. Pushing aside disappointment, trying to forget it and living by setting it aside does not remove regret from your mind. Its staying power may stay with you to the grave — it may even propel you there a lot faster if you don’t confront some of your greatest regrets. So write them down. When did you choose fear instead of courage at work? When did you have a chance to stand out and you stood down? When did you have an opportunity to lead and you know you needed to but you followed? How did each of these hurt you or make you feel? If it led to a set back career wise, count it as joy that you recorded it now! Use these moments, these stories, to inspire career power and progress. Don’t seek to sweep them away. Like an athlete, let failure and loss fuel progress.
Take greater career risks now. The risks you don’t take to boldly market yourself at your job could hurt you. My work informs me that corporate America can beat people down and numb them. Some people take less risk because they don’t want to show someone up or get noticed for going too far. That’s simply no excuse. For example, you can lead volunteer programs, create content for your company website and pursue certifications and education not mandated by the company. You can update your resume and ask for industry mentors of high influence within and outside of your company. You can carefully lead new programs and teams. You can travel and take greater career risks. Start now.
Force change upon yourself. The lesson of Paul includes putting pressure on yourself to reinvent when you simply do not need to do it. The key time to pressure yourself to change is when you don’t feel the immediate pressure of job loss or career setback. Imposing change remains different than accepting change. Imposing change means you intentionally ask for more to do, take on a failing project and turn it around and do the uncomfortable. The bottom line? Be impatient with becoming a corporate bystander because that leads to career stagnation and makes you vulnerable to expendability. Expect change and set written goals to attack complacency even when you are busy doing what you consider your normal job or job description.
My client Paul overcame his regret by choosing to take on tougher projects, opening himself to travel opportunities and removing limits on the amount of pressure or new challenges he welcomed in his career. During this time he pushed himself to improve his emotional intelligence, his written and verbal communications in tangible ways inside and outside of work. He spoke at events. He led and wrote feature articles for a nonprofit and a company newsletter.
How will you overcome your lack of risk-taking and apply a thoughtful but bold approach to your career regrets? Will you doom yourself to repeating regret-filled memories, or will you use them to power new behaviors that demonstrate calculated risks? So many people get in a groove that becomes a career rut. Sometimes it puts you at career risk if you do it wildly. But calculated, focused and thoughtful career advancement and satisfaction can happen for you.
Don’t live in a career comfort zone. Engage, act and go beyond the base standard. At any level, any age or any career position, we can look regret square in the face, soak in its pain just enough and realize that something powerful and creative grows there. We can get up. We can take on more challenges. We can create our career future and own our career life.