1. Career Advice
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  3. 7 Tips to help deal with career regret
7 Tips to help deal with career regret

7 Tips to help deal with career regret

  • How to determine if a career is not right for you
  • 1. You hate your job
  • 2. Your team excludes you from new projects
  • 3. You took the job because it was ‘good on paper’
  • Why do people choose the wrong career?
  • 7 ways to deal with regret in your career
  • Key takeaways

Author and motivational speaker Iyanla Vanzant said, “If you are afraid to take a chance, take one anyway. What you don't do can create the same regrets as the mistakes you make.” If you’re living with career regret, you can deal with it and move forward.

Maybe you've spent a considerable chunk of your adult life pursuing a career that you thought you wanted—the high salary, the corner office, the company car—and then discovered it wasn't all it was cracked up to be. You may think you’re the only one, but many people find themselves in the throes of career regret at some point. Is it normal to regret your career choice? How do you deal with it? 

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • How do I know if a career is not right for me?

  • What causes people to choose the wrong career?

  • 7 ways to deal with regret in your career

How to determine if a career is not right for you

In an ideal situation, you find your work meaningful and personally fulfilling. The problem is that what worked for you at the beginning of your career might not work in midlife. You might be tempted to just keep your head down and keep plodding forward (knowing no one's happy all the time), but how do you know if a career simply is the wrong fit for you? 

Here are a three signs to look for:

1. You hate your job

You dread getting out of bed and going to work every day. Plain and simple. You're not finding any satisfaction in anything you do there. You're irritable, short-tempered, and constantly aggravated. While everyone has a bad day at work from time to time, if you're constantly aggrieved and unpleasant to those around you and you can't wait for Friday, you might regret your career.

2. Your team excludes you from new projects

If you've never put on new projects or have just been used as a support, the position might not be a good fit. You may lack confidence in yourself or your supervisor is unsure you’re up to the tasks. Regardless, if you lack the skills (and don’t have the desire to develop them), it might be time to rethink.

3. You took the job because it was ‘good on paper’

You thought to yourself, “I should take it.  It’s what I thought I wanted. I might not find a better one.” Ask yourself: what are you getting out of this job? If your answer is based on external forces such as salary or status, that’s valid if that’s the most important thing to you. However, if you find you need more out of your career, your job might not be right for you.

Statistical Insight

If you face career regret, you’re not alone. In fact, according to a survey of 1,000 Millennials ages 33-40 by The Harris Poll, 47 percent "wish they had chosen a different career path when they started out." But for many of them, it's turned out for the best with 68 percent saying they are satisfied with their current career.

Why do people choose the wrong career?

Sometimes, when you're choosing a career, you don't know it's wrong for you. Maybe you always wanted to be a firefighter, but then found you’re afraid of heights. Or you were encouraged to go into the family business, although your interests pointed elsewhere. Think about it: during the first year in college, students are expected to already know what they want to do and pick a major. People change, as do their interests. 

The career landscape constantly changes, and careers exist today that weren’t an option even 10 years ago. We may also choose careers to emulate another person, to please others, or we simply don't have clear goals.  Most people don't luck into the perfect career at the beginning; it may take a little trial and error to get there. And that's okay.

Expert Tip

Can one bad job ruin your career?

No. You’re in charge of your personal brand, and one bad job choice won’t ruin you forever. If you decide to leave, and an interviewer asks about it, you can simply say, “I realized my values didn’t align with the company’s” (or something similar) and frame it as a learning experience. The trick is to stay positive and don't bad mouth anyone. These things happen. It can only hurt your career if you let it by losing confidence in yourself.

7 ways to deal with regret in your career

Most people have had a career regret at some point. The trick is not to wallow in your unhappiness and make a change that works for you. So how can you do that? 

Here are seven ways you can constructively deal with regret in your career:

  1. Write it down. It may be helpful to jot your regrets down on paper and take time to really reflect on why you made those decisions. You might notice a pattern to help you make better choices going forward.

  2. Get career assistance. A Career.io career coach might be just the thing you need to figure out your goals and devise an action plan to get there. 

  3. Align your career goals. Figure out what’s important to you, and then align your goals accordingly. Once you’ve determined your passions and what you need from your career, decide how to balance that with finding a job that will also support you financially.

  4. Take an inventory of your skills, education, training, and interests. If you’re going to make a career change, bolster your professional network. Bridge any skill gaps you might have. Also determine if you can afford to start from the bottom, which may happen if you’re completely changing fields.

  5. Avoid negative self-talk or wallowing in regret. It’s okay to take some time to process your feelings; just don’t get stuck there. Seek the help of a professional if you can’t get past feelings of self-doubt or debilitating regret. You don’t have to go it alone. (And if you’re in extreme crisis, you can reach out to the NIMH’s Lifeline by dialing 988.)

  6. Decide what actions can improve your situation. Assess both short and long term actions and build a plan. It may be a matter of seeking new challenges at your current job, taking classes, or achieving a better work-life balance.

  7. Turn regret into a life lesson. Instead of regretting a choice, think, “Now what? How can I learn from this situation?” and find the positive. It may all work out for the best.

Looking for a way to improve your career situation? Try Career.io’s Career Pathways tool to explore potential career options and devise an action plan.

Key takeaways

  1. Clues that your career might not be right for you include unhappiness with your job, feelings of sadness, or feeling that you chose it out of obligation.

  2. People may choose the wrong career due to a lack of knowledge or the expectations of others.

  3. Things you can do to deal with career regret include working with a career coach, processing your feelings, taking actionable steps to improve your career, and reframing your thinking.

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