I have many regrets. Some are a bigger deal than others. I’m sure everyone can look back over their life and see things a little differently now than they did at the time. That’s the beauty of hindsight. But if you knew how things would turn out before even attempting them, wouldn’t life be pretty boring?
Living is about making mistakes. The expression, “fail fast and fail often” is overused, but it’s catchy. My children’s chess teacher used to say that in order to become a Grand Master, you had to lose 10,000 games. I don’t know how accurate that is, but again, the important point is that making mistakes is how we grow. It’s how we learn. If you are afraid to make mistakes, you won’t get very far.
How many times did Thomas Edison fail at making the lightbulb before actually finding success?
The important part about making mistakes is using what you learn to make progress. If you aren’t making mistakes, you haven’t set the bar high enough.
A Few of My Many Regrets
Failing to get my CPA when I was in school
I graduated with an electrical engineering degree. As an undergraduate, I didn’t take any business classes. And when I went back to earn my MBA, I concentrated in finance. I took a few accounting classes, but not enough to allow me to sit for the CPA exam. At the time, I had no interest in being a CPA. But now that I am 20 years older, I recently wrote about how having a CPA credential would be beneficial both in finding higher level jobs (a CFO position) as well as in generating freelance work.
Leaving my first job too soon
My first job after graduate school was working for a Big Four public accounting firm as a financial consultant. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that job was a highly sought-after opportunity that fell into my lap. During graduate school, I was organizing mock interviews for the students. One of the interviewers was from the firm. When the student didn’t show up, rather than have an open slot, I jumped in and did the interview myself. It went so well, that I was invited back to formally interview for a position. And the rest is history.
Maybe because I landed the job so easily, or maybe because of immaturity, I never really appreciated it. I didn’t care for the structure of having a senior consultant with less experience overseeing my work. I listened to the disgruntled employees always complaining. And the last straw was when I received a 4 out 5 on my annual review and asked why I didn’t get a perfect score, I was told no one gets a 5 on their first review. I didn’t care for that response and when an outside opportunity came up paying more money, I took it.
In hindsight, that was a short-sighted decision. One of the benefits of working in the Big Four is the network of both former employees as well as clients. But I only worked there for less than 2 years. As such, I really never benefited from either of those. I didn’t stay long enough to make an informed decision.
Leaving a company to take less money
After leaving the Big Four, I went to work for a private equity-backed healthcare company and stayed there for nearly a decade. I ran mergers and acquisitions, financial planning and analysis, and corporate finance. I moved up the corporate ladder. But towards the end of my time there, I got impatient. I wanted to try something different.
I started looking for new opportunities and found a role in my home town. It was in a new industry and paid less, but it was a change and that’s what I was looking for.
But the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. When I started working in a new industry, I realized how much I knew in healthcare and how little I knew in the new industry. I had taken so much for granted and now I barely spoke the same language. The only common element was finance, but it was an industry dominated by hard assets rather than people. The environment quickly reminded me of the Big Four. People had been working there longer than I had been alive and their only motivation was to get laid off and get a severance. I again reported to someone my own age and I was miserable.
Leaving a paying job to start a new company
After only a short period of time with that company, I again started looking for something new. Unfortunately, I had left a good employment market and moved to a small market with very few quality employment opportunities.
Rather than move the family again, I decided to start a new company. And even though I started the business in a new industry, at least it was in a healthcare-related field. But this was the beginning of the great recession. Times were difficult especially when you were trying to get companies to try something new. The business was slow going.
And before it became self-sustaining, I received an offer to return to the corporate world. It came with a regular salary and benefits. I had an entire business unit reporting to me. It was an industry I knew. And even though it required me to travel almost weekly, I couldn’t resist the security it offered.
Don’t Compound Your Regrets by Dwelling on Them
Why do I share these regrets? One reason is so that maybe you can learn from my mistakes and not make the same ones.
Another reason to share is that despite all these regrets, I have been able to put together a pretty good career, make a significant amount of money, and save enough to be well positioned for an early retirement.
The key to success isn’t being perfect. We will all make mistakes. The key to success is learning from your mistakes and not allowing them to derail you.
So how do you keep moving forward in spite of making mistake-after-mistake?
Here are a few of the strategies I use to keep going after a set-back:
- Focus on your accomplishments instead of your mistakes. Have you read the book StrengthsFinder? It’s a quick and easy read about emphasizing your strengths rather than looking to improve your weaknesses.
- Always reflect on what you learned and how you have grown from any experience. Whether you learn what you don’t like or you learn a new skill, try to come out of every experience stronger than when you started.
- Realize that things take time. One of my biggest regrets is being impatient. You need to go into new situations knowing that there will be setbacks. You need to be prepared by having options, multiple income streams, and a support network.
- Stay positive, but don’t let your emotions take control of your behavior. I remember when I started my company, if people responded favorably to what I was saying, I felt elated and invincible. I just knew I was on the right path. But when people reacted unfavorably – even in just the smallest way – I felt defeated. I would sometimes even restart and completely change gears.
It would be easy to dwell on my regrets, looking back and thinking about why I did what I did and wish I had acted differently. But that thinking isn’t valuable. It doesn’t matter what you could have done in the past. It really doesn’t matter what you did do in the past. What matters is what you are doing right now. I look back and realize that each misstep I made got me one step closer to what I really wanted to be doing – running my own business. And now that I’m doing that, I’m going to make the best of it.
Readers, tell me about your regrets. How have you overcome your past mistakes? Did you learn anything valuable from them?