Mar 16, 2021 | Top 10 Regrets in Professional Life - How to Avoid Them?

regrets in professional life

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. We’ve put together this list – it is helpful to look at it once to prevent regrets in 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. E.g., those who had a shot at a career in dancing or acting but chose for studies and corporate jobs instead. Or, girls who 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 basically too late. Or, boys who were the stars of the university league in soccer but resigned from the 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, e.g., sustainability, diversity, philosophy, etc. Although it is important to train qualified experts in these areas, there are not enough jobs for the 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, design, creating new research methods, building prototypes of new products, 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.

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. 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 you think 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.

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

It is not a secret that networking is the key component to 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 on a regular basis. In other environments, such as business circles, building a flat, distributed network of casual contacts work much better.

Subsequently, many people regret surrounding themselves with the wrong people. I.e., with appeasers who don’t provide any value to their lives, and/or are not trustworthy. 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 are 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 corporation to business, is not being kind to someone else. Arrogance is never forgotten. It is like a time bomb that can expand 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 the leader in your field.

Tip: Treat it like a game. Every time you show emotions in a frustrating situations, 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. And that despite 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 really want. The sad thing is, the sense of guilt often makes them resign from their dreams despite the supportive people around. They have a belief that they owe to others and that choosing for passion over safe options is selfish. While in fact, no one expects them to resign from their dreams.

Tip: Have you ever resigned from an opportunity and regretted 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.

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 the times when they had enough energy to launch their own businesses. This is not true by the way. In fact, 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.

Tip: Indeed, we often oversleep the careless times when we have the most energy to jump into deep water. 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 actually 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 building 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 the 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

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 on other people’s individual approval?” If there is a clear bottleneck on the way – e.g. 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 own 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, 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 practicing 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 really 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.

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, e.g., once per year. Questioning yourself on a regular basis 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 equally good!

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.

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. I.e., 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.

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 career in one direction for way too long. And of course: always listen to your intuition.

Best of luck!

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Please cite as: Bielczyk, N. (2021). Top 10 Regrets in Professional Life – How to Avoid Them? Retrieved from

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