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7 Regrets to Avoid Before You Retire

Don't do what everyone says you should do, and other wisdom from those who learned the hard way.
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Over the years we’ve interviewed thousands of people about their work, including many recent retirees. One of our favorite questions for the recently departed (from work) is about their regrets.

While isn't uncommon for business professionals to wish they had done things differently, their ideas on what to avoid should inspire you to be more thoughtful in your own career. Here are some things they warned us about--heed their advice before it's too late: 

1. Staying in a bad job.

Your work life is pretty short, but it can feel like forever if you stick with a job that isn't interesting, rewarding, or lucrative enough. Now, by no means are we advocating anyone jump without a safety net, but if you aren’t happy in your work, then you aren’t doing anyone any favors by not improving the situation. 

2. Not sticking up for yourself.

It seemed most retirees we spoke with encountered at least one bully along the way, including an overbearing boss or co-worker. In some cases, they admitted this person made them do something they later regretted--like the man who was asked to lie for his boss, and did. Our research has shown people are much happier when they show integrity. That means having a set of clear values, drawing a line in the sand, and not crossing that line to gain money, power, or popularity. 

3. Not taking risks.

Lucille Ball once said she'd “rather regret the things I've done than regret the things I haven't done.” Sound advice from a woman who once had to stuff chocolates down her shirt! We didn’t leave the corporate world and form our own business until the latter stages of our careers, but you know what? It’s been terrific. Indeed, you need to take a few gambles in your life. Whether they work out or not, they will be the memories you'll look back on most fondly.

4. Getting caught up in politics.

As one retiree admitted, “I don’t know how many hours, days, weeks, months I spent listening to gossip and complaints about the company. It didn’t make me happier, in fact it was depressing.” Getting hooked on gossip and complaints is like watching a soap opera with people you know. The happiest people break the cycle and devote the time they would have spent on negative interactions to more productive pursuits.

5. Caring too much what people think.

Many have this worry--from constantly checking our “likes” on social media to seeking the approval of others--but retires often said that when they tried to please everyone, it made them feel worse, and more stressed. Said one woman, “Eventually I learned to feel good about what makes me different.” Stop criticizing yourself and remember, the person who notices your flaws most is you.

6. Not finishing what you started.

Some retirees didn’t finish big tasks because they procrastinated, while others said it was because they were perfectionists who never felt good enough. Whatever the excuse, it’s time for all of us to commit to finishing what we started, be it going back to school, learning a skill, or writing that book.

7. Not spending enough time with family. 

Many people over 65 said they spent way too much time and energy on work and felt guilty about not giving enough of themselves to their loved ones. Too many memories were missed and too much time was spent being distracted at home. If there’s a lesson to learn from this, it’s the need to find balance and resist the urge to check emails in the evenings and on weekends.

Last updated: Jan 24, 2014

CHESTER ELTON AND ADRIAN GOSTICK

Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick are the founders of The Culture Works, a global training and consulting company focused on creating great places to work. They are also the New York Times best-selling authors of All In, The Carrot Principle, and What Motivates Me.




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