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How To Avoid Career Regret:
Lessons Learned From A Successful Failure

By May 22, 2018 No Comments

11 national titles. 2 Olympic gold medals. Over 1,000 career wins.

Those are just a few of the accomplishments of Geno Auriemma, head coach of the UCONN women’s basketball team.

(Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

His achievements over the past 30+ years also include two World Championships and a spot in both the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Simply put, Auriemma is one of the best basketball coaches in the world. Ever.

And yet, he might also be considered an extremely successful, failure.

You see, despite his many achievements, Auriemma describes himself as “unfulfilled.”

As he shared in an interview:

“I never set out to be a women’s basketball coach. I never set out to do any of this. I had all these other things that I wanted to do when I was growing up. This wasn’t one of them. Every once in a while I wonder how I would have been if I had done [something else]?”

The Risk Of Career Regret

It’s been said that success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure.

While no one would consider Auriemma’s career a “failure,” he clearly has some regret.

And he’s not the only one.

According to a meta-analysis of regret research compiled by the University of Illinois, one’s “career” is the second highest source of regret, behind only “education.”

Every day countless men and women head off to work wondering, like Auriemma, “what if…?”

Auriemma’s regrets go back to his childhood.

As he shared in an interview with ESPN The Magazine, he wishes he’d “gone to better schools or studied harder” in the schools he did attend.

He wonders what would have been if he had “aimed higher” and speculates that if he had been a men’s basketball coach, his coaching success might have allowed him to become a senator.

Auriemma is refreshingly candid and transparent about the pressure he is under, joking that he’s has a “bag of pills in [his] briefcase” to help him deal with his “issues.”

His situation reminds me of a passage from Thomas Merton’s The Seven Story Mountain:

“So many men and women climb the ladder of success, only to discover, once he reaches the top, that the ladder was leaning against the wrong wall.”

How do we avoid such a fate? How do we avoid this type of career regret?

Simple: we must be intentional.

We must lead our life, not simply live it.

Living A “Regret-Free” Life

The first step in creating a “regret-free” life is to develop your own personal definition of “success.”

It’s not enough to say “a good job” or “provide for my family.” You must be more clear, more precise, as you describe the outcomes you are after – both personally and professionally.

Second, once you’ve developed your list of success “criteria” you must prioritize them, as well.

What’s more important…

  • A beautiful home with two Teslas in the garage, or total control over your time?
  • A life spent working to eradicate hunger and homelessness in the world, or a life spent ensuring that your children will graduate college without any student loan debt?
  • The title of “Fortune 500 CEO,” or being home for dinner with your family every night?

Obviously, these are simple “Straw man” arguments. Never in life are the trade-offs as binary as these examples.

The point, however, is this: our decisions are our destiny.

Life is trade-offs.

The Secret To Making Great Trade-Offs

The only way to avoid the fate of a Geno Auriemma – a life of “success,” but not fulfillment – is to be ever-mindful of those trade-offs and make them intentionally.

In order to make great trade-offs, you must know one critical piece of information: your personal core values.

Values are principles that guide your decision-making and behavior; they also influence how you judge the behavior of others.

Your core values are the principles that you personally prioritize.

Critically, personal core values are not arbitrary. You have come to prioritize these values based upon your life to-date. You’ve developed this specific set of values through experience, education and critical life events (e.g. the birth of a child or a natural disaster).

The good news is that when it comes to making career decisions, your values are the key that can help you differentiate between a great choice, and all the rest.

Don’t Just Live Your Life, Lead It

In Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, the clever Chesire Cat tells a lost and wandering Alice: “if you don’t know where you’re going, then any road will take you there.”

The same holds true in our “wonderland,” too.

If you don’t clearly define where you want to go, personally or professionally, then it’s highly unlikely that you’ll get where you want to go.

And, like Auriemma, regardless of how “successful” others may deem you to be, you may find yourself wondering “what could have been?”

Don’t let that happen.

Don’t allow yourself to operate on auto-pilot; blindly following the advice of your manager, your friends and/or your family.

They may love you, but they aren’t you. They don’t value the same exact things, in the same exact way, that you do.

Their “advice,” is just a guess at best.

In the end, I can’t guarantee that taking complete ownership over your life will lead you to make as much money as Auriemma, or achieve as much notoriety. But I can guarantee that the regret that haunts him, won’t haunt you.

And that, in my opinion, is true success.

Ben Sands

Author Ben Sands

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