When Emotions Cloud Our Career Choices: Stories of Career Regret
We've all had moments that stick with us, for better or worse. Sometimes, an experience can be so powerful that it sets us on a path to make a difference. Maybe you saw inequality and decided, "I'm going to fight this." Or perhaps an event sparked a passion so strong, you knew you just had to dive in, headfirst, into a career that would let you tackle that issue.
But let's flip the script for a moment. Not all emotionally charged experiences propel us toward our goals. Sometimes, they push us away from them. The emotions are so intense, we just want to put as much distance as we can between ourselves and the situation. You've been there, right? A moment that makes you say, "No way, not for me," and you cross an entire career option off your list.
Why does this matter? Because it's all too easy to let one bad day, one cringey moment, or one stressful situation dictate the way we see an entire field or occupation. What happens then? We might spend years in jobs or educational paths that are just "meh," all the while missing out on careers that could have been a better match for our skills and dreams.
Think about this: Have you ever ruled out a career because of a negative experience? Was it something so impactful that you decided, "I can't ever do this for a living"? Now, ask yourself another question: Are you sure about that? Because let's be real, growing up means understanding that not every experience will be the same, and one bad day at the "office"—or school, or volunteer gig—doesn't predict a lifetime of dissatisfaction.
Stories of Career Regret
Here are some stories from people who has realised the how an early negative experience impacted their career decision making.
- Hospital Aversion: A friend spent a lot of time in the hospital when his grandfather was sick and eventually passed away. The experience made him really uncomfortable around hospitals, leading him to rule out a career in medicine. Fast forward to his late 20s, he realized that being a doctor was actually his calling. He went to medical school and became a physician, but not before spending a decade in jobs that didn't really interest him.
- The Debacle Debate: Another friend had a terrible experience in a high school debate. He wasn't prepared and froze up, making it easy for the other kids to tear into him. He walked away thinking he couldn't be a lawyer because he assumed the job was all about public speaking. What he didn't realize was that many lawyers do very little public speaking, and even if they do, it's a skill that can be learned. He could have prepared better for the debate instead of letting one bad experience make up his mind for him.
- Car Accident Consequences: A teenager was in a serious car accident and had to go through a long, painful rehabilitation process. This experience made her associate anything related to cars or engineering with trauma. She gave up on her dreams of becoming an automotive engineer. Years later, she discovered a love for sustainable transport solutions and realized she had let her emotional experience veer her off her true path.
- Teacher's Disapproval: A student who loved history got publicly criticized by his teacher for questioning the conventional narrative during a class discussion. Feeling humiliated and unsupported, he decided history and academia were not for him. Later in life, he realized that his questioning mind was actually an asset and could have led him to become a groundbreaking researcher.
- Toxic Team Environment: A teenager who was passionate about sports quit the school team after constant bullying from teammates made it an unbearable experience. She thought this meant she was not cut out for competitive environments and chose to study in a field she had less interest in. Years later, she found that in the right environment, she thrived on competition and regretted not pursuing a sports-related career.
- Sibling's Struggles: Watching an older sibling go through job loss and financial difficulties in the field of architecture made another teenager decide against pursuing his interest in design. He opted for a "safer" but less fulfilling career in accounting. When he later dabbled in graphic design as a hobby, he realized how much creative potential he had left unexplored.
- Animal Trauma: A young girl who always wanted to become a veterinarian had a traumatic experience when she couldn't save a wounded animal. She took it so hard that she completely gave up on the idea of veterinary science. Later, as an adult, she found herself volunteering at an animal shelter and realized she had both the skill and emotional strength for the work, regretting her earlier decision.
Reflect on Your Own Stories
Take some time to reflect on the below questions:
- What's One Career You've Ruled Out, and Why? Take a minute to think about a job or field you've decided isn't for you. What experience led to this conclusion? Was it something you saw, something that happened to you, or maybe a story someone else shared?
- How Did That Experience Make You Feel? Get in touch with the emotions that surged through you during that experience. Was it fear, humiliation, sadness, or maybe overwhelming stress? Pinpointing the emotion can often provide insight into why you turned away from that career path.
- Have You Had Any Positive Experiences in the Same Field? Now flip the coin. Can you recall any moments that made you feel good about that same field or career? Even a small positive experience can offer a different perspective. If the answer is no, would you be open to seeking one out?
- What Skills or Talents Are Going Unused Because You Ruled Out This Path? Think about your own strengths and superpowers. Are there skills or talents that you're not putting to use because you've turned your back on a particular career? Sometimes recognizing your untapped potential can make you reconsider.
Take your time to think through these questions. It might just open up avenues you never considered or thought were long closed.