Aurora Donnelly is a solo practitioner always looking forward to the next exciting transition.
Yesterday I spent most of the day, while running an errand, unintentionally driving around an old neighborhood. I was struck with a deep nostalgia for the beautiful house I had owned in that neighborhood and for the life that I thought I was going to have living in that house.
As the day progressed, my nostalgia expanded into regret about some of the decisions I have made in my life. I struggled trying to remember what had led up to my leaving that house and went on to thinking that then and on some occasions after that, I made emotional, immature decisions. It blew up into a full-blown regret fest that lasted well into the evening.
For several years in the ’90s I worked for a prestigious company that usually ranks somewhere between 30 and 50 in the Fortune 500 listing. I performed a management job that combined analytical and some creative skills and by several measures could be considered an ideal job, in a place I wanted to live. After working for four years for a man who would have made a terrific career as the hero of those “working with difficult people” seminars, I gave up and quit. Five months later I found out that he had finally, but belatedly for me, been bounced out of the company himself.
How I berated myself when I found that out. Had I managed to hold on another five months I could have kept my career going at that great company. But how could I have known he would finally meet the fate he so much deserved just a few months after I gave notice? Well, the answer is, I had no way of knowing and at the time I quit, I did so because my sleeping was erratic, my nerves were raw and my family life was suffering. I simply could not work in that toxic atmosphere one more day.
I remember only some details of what torture that job had become. I cannot go back and recreate the whole picture of how things were and how I felt exactly, but I have faith in myself. I know I am a rational person, and one that measures options and works hard at considering all the angles when I have to decide something important. And five months later, and now over 10 years later, I believe I considered all the input to my decision to quit and made the right decision. Maybe not necessarily the right career or financial decision, but the right decision for me.
Rationality is a wonderful thing but it can be tricky. How you feel and what an outer situation is doing to your inner self is hard to rationalize or quantify, but how your inner self feels is, nevertheless, real. You can do major damage to your inner self staying in a terrible work situation for too long.
Regret fests are devastating, they can ruin your day, they ruin some people’s lives. Make sure, if you throw that kind of party for yourself, that you don’t let it go on too long. Trot out all the regrets if you have to, feel your way around them, reminisce, weep, yell, swear, talk to the right friend and move on. Believe that when you made the decision, you were right. What now may seem inane or insufficient reasons for your decision were not so at the time. Even if you cannot now justify your thinking then, it was valid then.
What if you conclude, as a result of your regret fest, that you truly made a monumental blunder that can no longer be undone and that you really did not think it through and you made a terrible decision. Follow the same process, analyze as best you can the source of your error, resolve not to do it again and cut the party short. There is zero benefit to dwelling on mistakes, implement a zero tolerance policy for dwelling on them.
And to set your mind at ease, in case you are worried about my personal regret fest yesterday, I feel fine today. I know that even if I don’t remember now all the data I had access to at the time I made certain decisions, I know my reasons were valid and in my own best interest.