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  • Writer's pictureSubha

Career Reflections: Mapping Milestones, Embracing Regrets

Updated: Apr 22

Do you need a map or a compass?

career reflections

As the year draws its curtain, the familiar ritual of self-reflection beckons. It's the time when we meticulously dissect our achievements, cross off goals, and occasionally wrestle with the shadow of regrets. But what if we approached this year-end introspection differently? What if, instead of fixating on the checkmarks, we dove deeper into the very essence of our choices?

A timely article in the HBR reminds me about curves. I may have escaped the annual corporate performance bell curve that every manager uses to throw a curve ball at a not-so-unsuspecting employee. I did not escape the inverted bell or U-shaped curve that defines career trajectories with a strong dip in the 40s, the decade of too many changes, too many things remaining the same and the itch to throw a bomb of excitement into the mix. The bomb may look like a torrid affair, a shiny, new and terribly expensive car, or the simple flicking of a switch from on to off and saying I quit. The family surely thanks me for choosing the last option.

An abundance of recent research confirms that middle age is, on average, the most difficult time of life. In 2008 the economists David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald found that self-reported life satisfaction takes the form of a gently curving U, beginning high in youth, bottoming out in our mid-40s, and then recovering as we get older. The pattern is robust around the world, affecting both men and women.

Understanding Achievements: A New Perspective

In the grand march of our careers, achievements often take centre stage. It’s the timely promotion, the international project, the company award. And yes, these deserve applause. However, let's not limit our evaluation to the professional scoreboard. How about celebrating the smaller victories, the personal growth, and the relationships nurtured amid the hustle?

Facing Regrets: The Unlikely Road Still Open

Regret, that unwelcome visitor, often sneaks in during our reflective moments. "Should I have taken that new role?" "Did I miss a shortcut to success?"

Instead of giving these thoughts the cold shoulder, think of them as those surprising teachable moments that turn up when you least expect it. Regrets, when you take a closer peek, spill the beans on our values and the interests we might have left unexplored.

We often stand at crossroads and have to choose to walk through Door 1 or Door 2. So perhaps I chose Door 1 that led me to a satisfying career in Finance. But every now and then there is the pang of regret that Door 2 leading to a life of theatre and the arts would have been so much more enjoyable. The thing is, no matter which door you choose, regret follows.

By paying attention to what you regret, the light shines on what you value or what still interests you. So Finance gave you money and leadership opportunities yet you regret the creativity of the arts. Or a life on the stage gave you creative freedom, the roar of the audience but you could have done well with a little more padding in the wallet. So every door will open to something and close something else. But who says you cant reach for it in other ways?

Let's borrow a page from the philosophers' playbook. Life is open to interpretation and our careers are an evolving narrative. Acknowledge that every phase, every choice, contributes to the magnum opus. Regrets? They're the plot twists that every good story needs.

Consider this: what if we measured success not just by milestones but by the profound satisfaction derived from our choices? Opportunities, more than mere stepping stones, can be avenues for meaningful, lasting, and downright satisfying experiences.

Think of it as the difference between a blockbuster movie and a timeless classic. Blockbusters entertain, and classics endure. Your career? It's a classic in the making.

Professional Life and The Ongoing Pursuits

In the professional storyline, we often find ourselves entangled in projects with clear endpoints. What if added more timelessness to it?

Consider a decision-making framework that extends beyond immediate gains. Think of the long-term harmony, the personal growth, and the contributions that align with your values.

Now, let's look at this in action:

Project with an End: Completing a high-stakes client presentation. The adrenaline rush, the applause—it's a momentary triumph. It also closes a major deal and brings in the Top Salesperson Award.

Ongoing Pursuit: Mentoring junior colleagues. It's not a task with a clear end, but the fulfillment derived from seeing them grow and succeed is perpetual. Hold quarterly sessions with young blood in the organisation. Show them the ropes - the ones you climbed and ones you slipped on.

Project with an End: Launching a product to market. The excitement is palpable, but once it's out, the project concludes. The cross-functional team disbands.

Ongoing Pursuit: Building a collaborative work environment or community outside work. Maybe a group of Women Founders in the space of beauty products addressing common painpoints or an AI/ML Learning Group given that there is something new to learn every day! It requires constant effort, but the positive impact on work and productivity is sustained.

Project with an End: Completing a certification or degree. The sense of accomplishment is significant, but it's a one-time event.

Ongoing Pursuit: Investing in continuous learning and skill development. Join Toastmasters or your local Rotary Club or volunteer at an NGO. It's a perpetual journey that enhances your adaptability and keeps you ahead in your field.

In each case, the projects with an end provide specific, often tangible, outcomes. On the other hand, ongoing pursuits contribute to the intangibles—relationships, culture, and personal growth—that form the backbone of a fulfilling professional life. It's not about dismissing the former but about recognizing the value and impact of the latter in creating a narrative of enduring success.

In weaving the ongoing into our professional lives, we create a richer tapestry. After all, a fulfilling career is not just about milestones; it's about the journey, the evolution, and the stories we tell along the way.

Looking Ahead

As we bid adieu to the year, let's not merely flip through the pages of achievements. Embrace regrets as guides and see where that takes you in the new year. The idea of navigating one's career path with a sense of direction rather than a rigid plan is a powerful one. One perhaps that stays clear of dramatic heartaches at the bottom of a U curve!

"When you don’t know where you are going, you don’t need a map; you need a compass."

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