The Biggest Regret

For those of you familiar with my Forbes Woman column, you know I’m a big fan of the question: “If you could go back and give one piece of career advice to your 20-year-old self, what would it be?”

I asked that same question on a survey  recently and 532 women executives took the time to answer it. Here’s just a few of their responses:


“Don’t wait another three years to get over being shy. Start networking NOW.”

“Don’t panic…just breathe. It will be tough – it will push your limits, but you’ll survive.”

“Finish your education and never stop learning.”

“Keep a ‘brag book’ of accomplishments, no matter how small.” 

“Work to earn a living – do not live to work!”

“The career path you take in your 20s won’t be the path in your 50s.”

“Don’t be so idealistic – you’ll be disappointed.”

“Don’t let others define you.”

“Laugh more and never let anyone tell you can’t do something.”

“Sell confidence, but be prepared with knowledge.”

While combing through all of the responses was fascinating, what was most fascinating is that there was one in particular that appeared in almost a full one-third(!) of the total comments.

Go for it.

Looking back, the biggest regret among these women – by far – was that many times, they didn’t. They let life, fear, family, other people’s expectations, and a host of other things get in the way. They let what they thought they should be define their lives – even if it wasn’t exactly what they wanted. Over time, this became a hole in their heart as they mourned the woman they “could have” become.

How sad! If only they realized they already have all they need. As I’ve said before, goals are great to keep us productive and pointed in the right direction, but when your entire sense of fulfillment is based on whether or not they are achieved – that’s a recipe for discontent.

So work towards your someday, but find joy in your every day. This is the only thing that will prevent you from looking back on your own life and wonder “what if” rather than knowing “I am.”

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