Regrets, I’ve Had A Few

Today, in dumb Yahoo articles…

While perusing through the links on Yahoo the other day, I came across this article about the three biggest mistakes people make in their 30s. Having read similar articles about people in their 20s, I figured I already knew what it would say, and that it would be dumb. And I was right.

What sort of “fascinating and revealing” information did this article tell us? Here are the three biggest regrets, according to a thread in Quora:

  • Focusing too much on work, not enough on “people”
  • Not finding the right balance between passion and money
  • Thinking you have to follow some script

Wow. Those are some incredible insights. So I shouldn’t focus too much on work in my 30s, I should find the right balance between my passion and “money” and I shouldn’t follow a script. Let’s break these down, one at a time.

Neglecting People In Favor of Work.
Your 20s are usually spent in a sort of wavering state, as you bounce around trying to find your place in life. What makes you happy, who are you, what do you want your life to be about, who do you want to be with…those are all the sorts of questions that people attempt to answer in the first several years out of college. Your 30s is usually a period of settling down and refining your goals. One of your goals may be to attain a certain level of professional development, which would require a great deal of work. Maybe your goal is to become a partner in a law firm; what would require working long hours for several years. It’s not something easily accomplished and requires sacrifices. Would it be worth it to you if, in order to become partner, you had to forgo trips with your buddies or family? It’s hard to say now, in your 30s when you are making that decision.

For some people, it’s easy: they know that they want to maintain a certain work-life balance and are willing to sacrifice professional development for that. Others know that they don’t care about people, or see their job as the most important thing they will do. I personally enjoy a work-life balance, despite my propensity to being an introvert. Could I advance further in my career by ignoring social invitations and focusing more on work? Absolutely. So could everyone I assume. But for me, personally, I’ve found that I can only work so much before it starts to kill my soul. Whether or not you will regret focusing more on work instead of people is a silly argument, because you won’t know until later in life. Make a decision you can live with now.

Not finding the right balance between passion and money.
This right here seems to be the dumbest of the three. The article states that in the research, 50% of the people wished they had focused more on their passions and less on just earning any paycheck. The other 50% wished they had focused more on earning a living and less on chasing down their dreams. So what advice can you take from this? Which should you be focusing on? All that this stat tells me is that 100% of the people answering this survey did not achieve their dreams. They either worked too long at a job they hated, or they spent too many nights playing guitar in empty clubs and not enough time getting a “real” job. To me, I only see regret in the former, none in the latter.

Chasing your dreams is important, and something everyone should continue to do no matter what stage in life you are in. I don’t care if you are 18 or 80, if you have a dream, go for it. Just understand the sacrifices that may be necessary to achieve it. Leaving Harvard to start up a computer software company is a huge risk; having that company become Microsoft and changing the world is a pretty big reward. You need to evaluate what it will take to achieve your dreams, but if you’re ok with that tradeoff, then go for it! Regret comes from NOT EVEN TRYING. It comes from working a job that may pay well, but does not bring you closer to what you want to do in life. That sort of existence can lead to regret very, very quickly. You shouldn’t regret trying, only not trying.

Thinking you have to follow some sort of script.
This point stresses that traditional measures of success may not make you happy. Well, no shit! You don’t have to get a corporate job with a decent 401k, health benefits, a house in the suburbs and two kids in private school in order to be successful and happy. Happiness is an internal metric, not an outward show of emotion. Being happy is whatever it means to you. For some people, it may mean financial freedom. Or a job that allows them to do whatever they want to do. I have a friend who owns a bar, and I have never seen a happier guy in my life. He sees it as something he truly enjoys doing and he never has to “work” a day in his life. He probably wouldn’t be thought of as a traditional guy at all. I think it can be boiled down to one sentence: if you have to buy it, it won’t bring you happiness. If others are forcing it on you or telling you it’s the key to happiness, it’s probably not.

Three statements about regret. The first is nearly impossible to tell until much later in life, the second is only partially correct, and the third is so blindingly obvious that it’s amazing it even needs to be pointed out. True regret comes from not trying something that you can’t try again. And virtually nothing that happens in your 30s can’t also happen in some other decade of your life.

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