Daniel Gulati, founder of FashionStake and Harvard Business School graduate, asked 30 professionals between ages 28 and 58 what they regretted most about their careers.
Most frequently mentioned “do-over” wishes were:
1. Avoiding the temptation to accept a job for the money, confirming Frederick Herzberg assertion that “hygiene” factors, like salary, do not result in motivation or “engagement” in work.
In contrast, most people search for meaningful work in addition to an equitable wage.
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2. Leaving a bad job situation sooner. Gulati asserted that large corporations provide a “variable reinforcement schedule” in which the timing, frequency, and size of rewards is unpredictable, leading people to stay in roles they may not like on the hope of maximizing gains.
As a result, many people feel bound to large organizations by “golden handcuffs,” despite findings by Deloitte’s Shift Index survey the 80% of those surveyed are dissatisfied with their jobs.
In addition, people may tend toward risk-averseness in the workplace because most are more bothered by threat of losses than they are pleased by gains, according to findings by MIT’s Lara Buchak.
This risk-averseness may lead to “premature optimization,” rather than innovative and exploratory risks to uncover strengths, career options, and technical solutions to work challenges.
3. Not starting a business, compounded by the same risk-averseness, variable schedules of reinforcement, premature optimization, and perceived golden handcuffs dynamics.
4. Not using time in school settings more productively, meaningfully, insightfully, mentioned by survey participants in Gulati’s collaboration with fellow Harvard Business School grads, John Coleman
1. Not doing something “useful”, also mentioned by Daniel Pink and Martin Seligman, who found that Purpose, Mastery, and Control are top motivators.
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2. Not living in the moment, due to over-scheduling and lack of training or discipline to focus mindfully on the present moment
3. “Wasting time” earlier in life, such as not taking full advantage of school years
4. Not travelling more, again limited by risk-averseness, premature optimization leading to financial commitments and family responsibilities
5. Not developing physically fitness, partly attributed to “after-work drinks” instead of exercise.
Northwestern’s Neal Roese, Mike Morrison of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Kai Epstude of University of Groningen asked 370 adults in the United States to describe one memorable regret.
Influenced by gender, age and education level, most-frequently cited regrets were:
- Missed romantic connection (~20%), with women more than twice as likely (44%) to men (19%). Those not in a relationship were the most likely to cite a romantic regret.
- Family issues (arguments, unkindness-16%)
- Education (13 percent)
- Career (12 percent)
- Money (10 percent)
- Parenting mistakes (9 percent)
- Health regrets (6 percent)
Participants expressed equal regret for things they had done as those who felt regret for something they had not done, but these missed-opportunity regrets were more likely to persist over time.
Jane McGonigal considered the other end of the age spectrum when she reported on “do-over” wishes of hospice patients:
• Work less hard
• Stay in touch with friends
• Let myself be happier
• Have the courage to express my true self
• Live a life true to my dreams
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Isabelle Bauer, then at Concordia University, explored the impact of regrets on emotional and physical well-being, and found that people cope with regret by:
- Undoing regrets, often through rationalization
- Changing internal appraisals of regret
These findings of Lessons Learned in the School of Experience suggest the importance of:
- Finding meaningful and worthwhile work
- Taking considered risks to connect with others, explore interests and the world
- Balancing work and interpersonal priorities
- Investing time in high priority endeavors
- Finding ways to reprioritize activities based on Lessons Learned from perceived regrets.
-*What are your Lessons Learned as you plan your New Year?
-*How do you manage your “Do-Over” thoughts?