Skip to main content

What's your biggest professional regret?

By Kaitlin Madden, CareerBuilder
Experts strongly suggest not getting involved with coworkers.
Experts strongly suggest not getting involved with coworkers.
  • Six workers talk about their biggest professional regret, and how it shaped their career
  • Experts advise against taking jobs just to pay the bills and overstaying the corporate world
  • Other advice? Don't allow your job to take over your life

(CareerBuilder) -- Most of us can pinpoint something we regret in our professional lives. Whether it's that terrible outfit worn to a post-college interview, or that cocktail-fueled karaoke solo at the company holiday party, we all make mistakes in our professional lives that make us flinch when we think about them.

Though many professional regrets aren't life altering, sometimes a wrong decision -- or indecision -- can leave us wondering "what if?" for the rest of our careers.

Below, six workers talk about their biggest professional regret, and how it shaped their career.

Just trying to pay the bills

"My biggest professional regret was accepting jobs that were not in my chosen field simply to get the bills paid. In the long run it hurt me because that was time that I was not using to sharpen my skills. Plus I was then distracted and did not work to progress my chosen profession."
-- Sharonda Ellis, owner, Events Above The Rest

Getting involved with a co-worker

"My biggest regret by far was getting involved with another employee at my workplace. Our relationship eventually led to an engagement which I later ended when I discovered that he was having an affair with ... guess who? Another co-worker.

This temporary setback not only made me stronger but it made me wiser when I started my own business. I learned that professional and business relationships really aren't a good or viable mix and its best to separate the two."
-- Crystal Tatum, president, Crystal Clear Communications Is getting a job really about who you know?

Spending too much on grad school

"Going to an expensive, private law school. The student loan debt is killing me, and I'm making the equivalent of someone with a bachelor's degree. Plus, practicing law is way more stressful than comparable jobs."
-- Shane Fischer, attorney at law

Overstaying the corporate world

"Not becoming an entrepreneur sooner. I always wanted to and knew I would become one, but needed a big push. I was a senior vice president for a local bank in wealth management and trust services and now have my own company.

I have also started an educational initiative called the Retirement Project and just finished a new book called "Naked Retirement," which talks about life in retirement instead of planning up to it.

After all 100 percent of retirement planning is all financial based, but 99.5 percent of life in retirement has little to nothing to do with your money and investments."
-- Robert Laura, president, SYNERGOS Financial Group

Not taking risks

"As a professional woman, I see that men have an easier time in getting ahead based on a number of factors -- the relationships they form, communication styles, ease in working on teams, etc. [That said], two pieces of advice I will share with my daughters:

One regret is not having taken up golf. So much is done on the golf course. It should not be underestimated. Take lessons today. Become good at it and have the confidence to go out and play. The bonding at the club house later is also great fun.

Also, find a mentor. I would recommend to women that they seek out a mentor in whatever organization they work with. Without this, you could be working a good deal harder than you need to and the results will go unnoticed.

The real regret I often think of now is having passed up an opportunity to run a new consulting/staffing firm when several successful business owners were willing to start one and asked me to lead it. At the time, I was too young and was frankly, very intimidated by the offer. I did not feel I would be successful. They did!

Looking at this now, I understand why I felt the way I did but also believe it would have been a tremendous professional development exercise. Take risks when you can."
-- Carolyn Dougherty, CPC, IntelliSource, Inc. How to relax at work

Letting my job take over my life

"The biggest mistake I've ever made on any job (including drinking too much at the holiday party, crying, having tantrums, dating co-workers, etc.) was letting a job take over my life. I blamed the job, but I should have blamed myself. I was so wrapped up in my job that everything else -- friends, family, social life -- fell by the wayside.

When I finally woke up and realized that the job was all I had left, I also realized that the job wasn't all that great to begin with. And that was the beginning of the worst emotional period in my life, to date. It took me many months to rebuild the support and connections in my personal life.

When I began channeling less energy into the job and more into my private life, what surprised me is that my work didn't suffer. The office didn't fall apart without me, I was still doing quite well and handling everything I did before, plus I was happier because the job no longer consumed every aspect of my life.

When it got rough at work, I had something else going on to distract me. I had people I could call, friends I could see and wine I could drink at happy hour with non-work-related associates. It took a lot of effort to turn it around, but it made me realize that no job is worth sacrificing my mental health.

If I can be just as good at 40-hours-a-week as I was at 60-hours-a-week, what kind of idiot would I be if I persisted at putting in the extra time? A friendless one, that's what kind. Even if you have to make a little sign to hang above your computer screen: 'It's just your day job,' or something else that reminds you not to get too entangled in the thing that you do to pay your bills, do it.

Be open with your friends and ask them to tell you when you're blowing them off too often for work. It's easier for me now, but even years later, I still need the reminders and reality checks."
-- Kelly Love Johnson, author of "Skirt Rules for the Workplace: An Irreverent Guide to Advancing Your Career" What your cubicle says about you?

© 2011. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority.