Are You Hung Up on That Career Path You Didn’t Choose?

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Every career is made up of choices. But sometimes, even when we know we made the right decision, we find ourselves longing for a forgone role or career path. How does this sort of dwelling on the road not taken affect us in the workplace? And what can employees, managers, and organizations do to help workers who may be experiencing some internal conflict with respect to their chosen careers?

To explore these questions, my colleagues Jason Colquitt, Erin Long, and I surveyed more than 300 U.S.-based workers and their coworkers across a wide range of professions and seniority levels. We asked the workers how satisfied they were with their current jobs, how often they thought about other paths they could have taken, and the extent to which they felt able to determine the trajectories of their lives and shape their work. We then asked their coworkers how often these employees engaged in helpful, collaborative behaviors, and how often they exhibited behaviors that suggested a withdrawal from work, such as showing up late or distracting others.

Through these surveys, we found that many workers spend a significant amount of time dwelling on alternative professional paths they could have taken — even years after the decision is made. In fact, just 6% of the participants in our study reported never or almost never thinking about other paths they could have taken, and 21% reported thinking about these questions often or even almost always.


https://hbr.org/resources/images/article_assets/2023/03/Mar23_24_200136056-003.jpgMartin Barraud/Getty Images



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