Learn from your Regrets


Learn from your Regrets
© vchalup

Best Practices

I came across Daniel Pink’s most recent book, “The Power of Regret: How Looking Backward Moves Us Forward.”  You may recall that he is also the author of “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” which I have recommended in a previous article. Pink’s most recent book draws on research he has done on the topic of regret, and he identifies four core categories of human regret:  foundation regrets, boldness regrets, moral regrets and connection regrets. 

Let’s take a look at what he means by each of these and how you might use this insight in your work life.

Foundation regrets have to do with not putting in the work necessary to learn something, thus laying the foundation in your life on which to build more difficult or higher-level pursuits. An example would be if you say to yourself, “I should have gone for an MBA after college; it would have given me a better understanding of business and prepared me more deeply for management jobs.” Another example could be if you have moved quickly from job to job in your career without learning sufficiently from those experiences and then finding later that you could have plumbed these experiences more fully.

Boldness regrets are related to not having taken chances on opportunities that could have opened the door to more success or fulfillment. Later, you wonder, “What if I had taken that overseas job? What if I had started that new business? What if I had put my name in the ring for that project leadership job?”

Moral regrets are decisions in which one has taken the low road rather than the high road. Business examples might be taking more credit than was due for some business success, allowing personal bias to influence a personnel decision, or presenting data in a one-sided way in order to secure funding for a project you support. 

Connection regrets are situations in which one has ignored or subjugated personal relationships. Work examples may be situations where you have failed to create positive team dynamics through inattention, where you have relied heavily on email and avoided calls or one-on-one meetings due to limited time, or where you have avoided the attempts of others to reach out to you to strengthen your relationship. 

What is the point of thinking about these different types of regrets? The key point is to think more carefully when you are faced with a significant decision in order to avoid those feelings of regret later. It is also useful to look back at those decisions you made some time ago that have resulted in regrets. What can you learn from those decisions? How can those learnings inform future decisions?

In my experience at work, I felt that I saw a lot of examples of people making decisions that might later result in boldness regrets. We had a job posting system in some of the places that I worked, and I was often frustrated to see openings get posted for which no one applied. I would sometimes go to certain colleagues and encourage them to post, as I thought the opening would be a good career move for them. Often I would get explanations such as, “I don’t have all the experience or skills that the posting is requesting,” or “I am afraid I wouldn’t get the job.” I once encouraged an employee to post for a supervisory job, and she told me she had a poor opinion of management in general and didn’t want to become that type of person. I encourage readers of this article to evaluate opportunities with a more open mind and think more positively about what the opportunity could offer, as opposed to negative thinking about the barriers and deficiencies.

With regard to moral regrets, I think you will agree that these are the type most likely to haunt you and are never worth it. The key here is simply doing the right thing. Of course, there may be situations where “the right thing” is not entirely clear. In such cases, I suggest you seek advice, perhaps from your human resources department or from a trusted colleague or friend.

I feel like I have some connection regrets; I perhaps could have worked harder over my career to create more trusting and durable connections at work, especially with colleagues in other departments. Company culture does play a part in the way it encourages or discourages collegial connections; however, I believe people can stand above negative aspects of company culture. Not only does it feel good to establish strong and positive work connections, it can be helpful in your career as well. Participation in mentoring programs is also a good way to establish positive and fulfilling work connections, as is getting to know people outside of work through social activities.

Foundation regrets are hard to see from the outside, but perhaps you feel a foundation regret related to the college you chose to attend, the course of study you followed, or your choice of job or career path. In some cases, it may be too late to correct; however, I suggest that you may be overstating the impact of this perceived deficiency. In my experience, performance on the job was always counted more heavily than where you went to school or the particular degree you may have gotten or didn’t get. 

If, however, there is a real deficiency in your resume (such as you didn’t finish your college degree, or your degree wasn’t sufficiently technical, etc.) it may be prudent to consider your options. Could you take a career break and fill in the gap? Or could you talk to some people in your company to understand realistically what career paths are open to you with the credentials you have? Perhaps the key point with respect to a foundation regret is to deal with it early, rather than many years later when your ability to change course is very limited or non-existent.

It doesn’t seem possible to get through life or work without some regrets; however, with reflection on the nature of regrets, perhaps you can make decisions that will result in fewer regrets or ones with lower impact.  

Sara Lefcourt of Lefcourt Consulting LLC specializes in helping companies to improve profits, reduce risk and step up their operations. Her experience includes many years in marketing, sales and procurement, first for Exxon and then at Infineum, where she was vice president, supply. Contact her at or (908) 400-5210.

Related Topics

Best Practices    Business    Latest Headlines    Market Topics