We get one shot in life at navigating our career. After the long winding road, no one wants to look back with regrets. Why not improve the odds of making more good choices than bad by learning from those who’ve traveled ahead of you?
A new survey conducted by zety (a career help website) asked 1,000 executives what career risks they took, and the vast majority (mid 70’s to high 80 percentile) said they had no regrets after taking these risks. Here’s the top seven, with the percentage that follows indicating the amount that reported taking said risk, along with perspective on each.
1. “Quitting a job I didn’t like.” (56 percent)
I’ve encountered no bigger travesty in my working life than people who stay in a job they don’t like for too long. I’ve seen some do so for more than a decade, not wanting to try anything new, figuring it was easier to just get lost in the crevices of the company and be forgotten, while still collecting a paycheck.
If you’re a high-wattage employee but you stay in a job you don’t like, you eventually become a low-wattage employee, effectively quitting and staying. But you should just quit. Here’s where I must say it: life’s just too short.
2. “Changing fields or industries.” (41 percent)
You might think you’re playing it safe by staying in the field you’re in rather than making a change. But I think it’s riskier to stay in a place where you’ll always be wondering about what could have been.
The biggest advances in my career are tied to calculated risks I took and changes I made in the nature of my work; the biggest disappointments connected to playing it too safe. If you work a long career, you’ll find that the distance from risks gone wrong won’t move you anywhere near as far backward as risks gone right will vault you forward.
Looking at it this way emboldens you to take some career risks like changing industries. The biggest risk in my career has been leaving a high-paying, high potential corporate job to go out on my own as a speaker and author. Least safe and best move I ever made.
3. “Speaking up about a problem at work.” (39 percent)
A fear of conflict shouldn’t hold you back from happiness. Letting problems fester never leads to any good. It can be hard to muster up the courage to speak out about a workplace issue, so try this trick. Ask yourself two questions: “What’s the worst that can happen if I do speak up?” and “What’s the worst that can happen if I don’t?” You’ll find that not speaking up tends to have far greater consequences.
Even if the situation doesn’t change after speaking up, you’ll know you’ve said your peace. And if it doesn’t change, it may be the signal you need to take another risk and move on. But you won’t know until the foible’s been flagged.
4. “Negotiating for a raise.” (34 percent)
When it comes to negotiating for raises, if the worst you’d face is a “no” but the best is the time value of money (having a higher base salary working for you sooner) than this risk shouldn’t hold anyone back. Most often, people undervalue what they’re really worth. I see it all the time in coaching people new to monetizing their expertise.
5. “Going back to school.” (27 percent)
Certainly, money issues can come into play here as many figure they can’t afford to take the time off from steady income to go back to school. Setting that aside, people go back to school because of a desire to learn, grow skills, and become better versions of themselves. That’s always a worthy risk. I left a good job to get my MBA. Not only do I not regret it, it was one of the best stepping-stone decisions of my life.
6. “Moving for work.” (24 percent)
I’ve done this several times in my career, including moving overseas. If you’re following work you love, you quickly get past the hassles of moving and the leaving of conveniences and familiarity behind. Of course, if the move involves leaving family and friends that’s never easy, but I’ve found if people matter to you, you find ways to stay in touch and bridge the distance. Treating every move as a new adventure is helpful too.
7. “Pursuing a passion/starting my own business.” (22 percent)
These two blend together because often the passion people want to pursue is starting their own business in something they’re passionate about.
I’m surprised this one didn’t score higher–in terms of intensity of regret, I’d say it does. I coach people who want to leave corporate to start their own business and they’re already regretful about not doing so sooner, so I can only imagine how much they’d regret it if they never did it at all. The best career move I’ve ever made is becoming a speaker and writer. Here, you simply must ask yourself, “Will my life’s work feel incomplete if I don’t pursue this passion?” Sure, there’s more to it than this, but it’s a great place to start.