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When it comes to your career, regret can trap you in the past and paralyze you from moving forward.

One survey found that two of the top five most common life regrets were tied to careers—from not pursuing one's passion to working too hard. Another recent poll found that 23 percent of workers regretted switching jobs. While some regrets are linked to significant career decisions, others revolve around smaller moments, like not speaking up in a meeting or not challenging a superior. But when it comes down to it, there are two kinds of regrets: one is based on our actions, and the other on our inaction. And it's the latter that really drags us down.

"Research shows that we regret more in the face of opportunity," writes Forbes' Caroline Beaton, who notes that millennials are particularly prone to career regrets. "Regrets of inaction are more prevalent, last longer and feel worse than action regrets in part because we associate them with greater (missed) opportunity. While regretting a specific action means just one alternative — not doing it — inaction signifies infinite possibility ("I could have done this, or this, or this")."

Here's where things get really sticky: the more we regret, the more likely we are to resort to inaction. It's that fear of regret that "makes us stick with the status quo even if our reasoning or intuition says we shouldn't," writes Eyal Winter, Professor of Behavioral/Industrial Economics at Lancaster University, on The Conversation. "That makes people who are more prone to feel regret less likely to take risks."

That means the fewer risks we take when it comes to our career choices—from using our vacation days to pursuing our dream jobs—the more regrets we're likely accrue. So how do we stop this crazy-making cycle and move forward? The answers involve a little self-examination and some expert advice.

Rationalize Your Mistakes

Everyone make mistakes, it's how we choose to see them that determines whether they'll hold us back or propel us forward in the right direction. "Although it can be tough to hear it in the moment, more times than not, our career 'mistakes' end up being the best things for us," career coach Kristen Zavo tells FlexJobs. "They show us what we want—and don't want. They allow us to learn lessons, encounter challenges, and work with people that we might not have otherwise."

But how do you look at your own mistakes without kicking yourself? The best approach to examining past mistakes is through kindness and understanding. Beaton suggests rationalizing why you made the choice you did at the time—taking into account that you didn't have the hindsight you have now. Maybe you took a job you regret because you needed the money, or perhaps you felt stuck in other aspects of your life and needed a change. "Rationalization doesn't mean shirking responsibility or refusing to learn from your mistakes," explains Beaton. "It means closure." Once you forgive yourself, you can start seeing what influenced you in the past that you may want to avoid in the future. Moreover, you can be grateful that those old mistakes are now guiding you in a new direction.

Ask Yourself Two Key Questions

Another way to diminish your career regrets is through a simple system of self-examination. After researching the science behind regret, Eric Barker of The Week came upon two questions that can make all the difference: "What can I learn from this?" and "How could things have been worse?" The first question doesn't just allow you learn from your mistake, it gives you a sense of control so that the next time you're faced with a similar decision, you'll know how best to handle it. The second question reframes the thing you regret. Maybe you actually dodged a bullet or maybe what you thought was a mistake was actually a defensive move that deserve some credit.

Define Your Goals

Just because you've made peace with your past, that doesn't guarantee satisfaction with your current job situation. If you've been harping on career regrets, chances are it's because you're unhappy with where you're at and don't know how to change it. It's time to stop looking back and instead start examining the present and the future.

"To be more satisfied in their careers now, I encourage clients to focus on both (a) the short-term: what can they do now both at, and outside of, work to be happier and (b) long-term: getting clear on their career vision, building a plan, and taking steps each day, each week, to make it a reality," Zavo tells Flexjobs.

One way to sharpen your focus for your future is to define it in real terms—whether that means writing down your goals, identifying a person whose career you admire, or creating a mood board of what your dream career looks like.

"You can't revisit the past, but you can turn your attention to something you want," writes Psychology Today's Beverly Flaxington. "So this career isn't the best one; how do you paint a picture of something you do want? Paint a picture in as much detail as you can about where you'd like to head. This will start turning your attention away from the rear-view mirror and to the windshield looking forward."

It's time to stop beating yourself up over your past. We all make mistakes. The less we dwell on them and the more we learn from them, the better our future careers will be.

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Quiet Quitting is the latest trend among Gen-Z TikTok that encourages setting boundaries at work

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Toni Morrison has an anecdote about her first ever job, which was cleaning some neighborhood woman’s house. The young Toni arrived home after work one day and expressed her troubles to her father. But he didn’t provide the sympathy she expected. Instead, he gave her something better — his advice:

“Listen. You don’t live there. You live here. With your people. Go to work. Get your money. And come on home.”

Years later, she wrote about this remarkable experience for the New Yorker and said, in hindsight, this is what she learned:

1. Whatever the work is, do it well—not for the boss but for yourself

2. You make the job; it doesn’t make you

3. Your real life is with us, your family

4. You are not the work you do; you are the person you are

What Morrison so eloquently articulated was setting boundaries. I revisited this piece during the pandemic when working from home ramped up in earnest. Back when work was one of the few things that anchored my day.

Without a physical office, the pandemic shattered the work/life balance for many people. There was no more of that physical separation that Morrison talked about. There is no coming home from work physically. There is no real life to come back to — just a manufactured commute to your laptop in your makeshift home office.

But, par for the course, Gen Z are navigating this boundaryless era using TikTok. While internet gurus promote hustle culture and constant online availability since you’re not getting face time with your managers, there’s a trend in town — “quiet quitting.”


@zaidleppelin On quiet quitting #workreform ♬ original sound - ruby


The trend arose from the depths of the pandemic. Layoffs, salary cuts, and furloughs proved that their employers did not care about their hard-working employees.

The Washington Post dubs quiet quitting as a fresh trem for an old phenomenon: employee disengagement. In many cases, it’s a response to burnout. For much of Gen Z, it’s a way of establishing healthy boundaries in the office and resisting the pressure of the rat race. After all, why work yourself to the bone for a company that just proved it’s ready and willing to let you go?

Despite the term’s negative connotations, Quiet Quitting can provide an empowering shift in thinking for employees.

For far too long, employees have been indoctrinated with a slew of toxic workplace advice. Faced with these old misconceptions and lacking job security or clear paths for advancement, Gen Z is untethering their identities from work.

Quiet quitting — therefore — might be a bit of a misnomer. These employers aren’t completely disengaged. They’re certainly not launching Flight Club-esque sabotage attempts on their employers. NO. Contrary to media panic, Gen Z understands the value of a job — the fickle market they entered ensured that. But they also understand the value of life.

They’re doing what they’re being paid for. Nothing more, nothing less.

According to Chief, a private membership network focused on connecting and supporting women executive leaders, older generations should learn from this approach.

“Gen Z has already endured the largest seismic shifts to the career landscape than any previous generation, having started their careers in the middle of a pandemic that changed office culture forever and a gig economy that makes piecing together work more viable. They’re taking both those realities and therefore demanding more autonomy and flexibility than any other generation.”

Gen Z are less attached to job titles and statuses. They’re more concerned about their lives. Sure, this can lead to problematic outlooks on money and experiences — see the “I can earn my money back” TikTok trend. But it’s better than hustling for no reward. Besides, as some Gen Z-ers put it on TikTok, the office isn’t even a vibe.

“With the ability to work from anywhere and for more than just one place, Gen Z-ers are forging their own paths that don’t rely on old patterns set by previous generations and are redefining what “career success” looks like. Gen Z can take note, as more and more leaders are similarly pursuing multiple income streams of their own through the form of a portfolio career. The way in which work looks like and where it happens is evolving.”

With less single-minded focus on one job, some TikTok business gurus advocate shutting your laptops precisely at 5 pm. And then jump onto your side hustle. Do nails or lashes on the weekend. Become social media managers for your phone. Sell soap on Etsy (again … perhaps not in the Fight Club way).

But this valorization of side hustles is not about hustle culture, either. They say job security isn’t guaranteed. Learning new skills and develop an alternate income stream/s to keep you afloat. Just make sure you’re not left in the lurch. BTW inflation is here. So every little bit helps.

But where do you start? Watching TikToks can only get you so far. Try a course on LinkedIn Learning to sharpen up your skills and learn new ones that you can turn into a verifiable side hustle — or leverage in your job search if quiet quitting leads to … real quitting.

Learn on your own time with bite-sized videos or in-depth courses. Watch them after work, before you clock in, or on your lunch break. Then, after your courses are complete, you’ll have certificates prominently displayed on your profile that prove your skills.