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If you’ve spent years (or maybe even decades) working in the office to secure a certain role or salary, just to get everything you wanted and regret it, you may be surprised to learn that you’re not alone. . . Sometimes we set goals before we have the experience to understand what we want from our careers, and it’s only when we get them that we finally start to question whether we really wanted these things after all. Most professionals encounter some kind of repentance, and no executive or senior manager is exempt from this.
The real question is: how can you deal with this professional repentance and maybe even turn it into a life-changing transformation? Let’s take a look:
Related: Are you looking for a career change?
Do not bury your head in the sand
They say acceptance is the first step toward change, and that applies to your career as well as anything else. When you have reached a high position in your job and are enjoying the status and money you get, it is tempting to ignore that voice in the back of your head saying you wish you had taken a different path.
Denial can work for a while, and maybe some people are ready to go on with their whole life that way. But it won’t completely get rid of these remorse, and it can even lead you to fall asleep in a destructive way.
Instead, face what you feel in front of you by taking note of your regrets. And take comfort in knowing that you are not alone: one study found that up to 78% of people would like to take more professional risks. Simply articulating them this way can sometimes give you the clarity you need, but if not, we have many more ideas on how to proceed.
Related: The 5 main lamentations of mid-career professionals
Take a break
It’s easy to say that you should “reconsider your career path” or “find out your true purpose,” but the reality is that it can be hard to get the kind of deep reflection you need while you’re still working 9-5 (no matter all other commitments you may have).
If possible, pause your work to give yourself room to think. Even a few days may be enough to allow you to turn it off. Then you can ask yourself what specific grievances you face, why they may affect you, and how you can act.
However, you don’t have to think about your job all the time – going out into nature, trying something new, moving your body, or spending time with your loved ones. You may find that an epiphany suddenly surrounds you and you get clarity about what the “next step” in your career should be.
Related: 8 employers reveal how they discern the reflection of lament
Seek advice from a third party
Ultimately, you’re the only person who can know what’s right for you, so it’s often best to gather your thoughts independently before seeking advice from a third party. But sometimes we can think it all out to the point that our thoughts get mixed up and we lose clarity about what we want. This is where it can help involve a neutral third party.
If you don’t like the idea of burdening your loved ones with your confusion, or you want advice from someone who is an expert at tackling the types of problems you have, consider going to a professional coach. The International Coaching Federation (ICF) – which focuses on vocational training – has grown from 8,000 members in 2005 to almost 50,000 in 2022. Services are popular for a reason. Coaches can be especially helpful for top-level professionals, as the average person is unaware of the options available to executives and other business leaders.
Don’t be afraid to consider a career change
A repentance should not remain a lament. Why not rephrase it as a “call” that made you change things for the better? No matter how old you are, there is always time to make the change you are dreaming of.
Many people assume that if they have spent a decade or more accumulating experience and skills in a field, they will leave everything if they change direction. Actually, all this experience will be put to good use when you follow a different line of work, even if there is no obvious link between the two paths.
Successful entrepreneurs tend to be innovative and highly motivated business leaders, while former suite professionals have a good chance of impressing investors and customers if they want to launch their own business. And these are just two examples of many: at the end of the day, if you’ve gotten great results and created great skills, most organizations will consider you an asset.
But equally, your career repentance is not necessarily related to the fact that you want to make a career transformation as dramatic as moving from corporate finance to teaching. Maybe you want to stay in a similar role but for a different industry, or you just need a change of scenery and want to move to a different company. It may sound like a daunting task, but why not take small steps looking for someone on your network who has the kind of paper you would like?
Don’t let your regrets define you. Career regrets are a mild and annoying feeling for some, while they can be completely debilitating for others. Whatever you do, don’t let yourself be absorbed by the feeling that it’s already too late; this is almost never true.
Give yourself time, reflect, ask for help, and don’t be afraid to make a big change. You may be surprised at what you can achieve.