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Patricia Barbato, an author and a senior executive at Revera Inc., says she regrets not taking more risks in her career. (Michelle Sieu For The Globe and Mail/Michelle Sieu For The Globe and Mail)
Patricia Barbato, an author and a senior executive at Revera Inc., says she regrets not taking more risks in her career. (Michelle Sieu For The Globe and Mail/Michelle Sieu For The Globe and Mail)

Women at Work

Recognize career regrets before it's too late Add to ...

I’ve felt it, and I know I’m not alone. It’s the Sunday-night syndrome – that feeling of dread at the end of a weekend where you stare at your calendar for the coming week and anticipate the avalanche of appointments, phone calls and meetings with disagreeable co-workers.

It's a phenomenon that can repeat week after week, but at some point you need to ask: Is this it?

Admitting to a career misstep can be challenging. Unlike other major decisions you make, it can be a stretch to blame your career mistakes on others in your life.

As well, your professional choices and personal identity often intertwine and can be difficult to separate. Many people, when asked to describe themselves, start off by talking about their job. So when career dissatisfaction rears its ugly head, it’s difficult not feel a sense of personal failure.

At the risk of generalizing, women specifically may avoid confronting their career regrets because tackling them requires introspection, and that takes time, an ever-elusive commodity. But imagine the results if you keep ignoring those regrets.

“People tend to have signs. Their instincts will tell them they are not happy, that they are not aligned to what they should be doing,” said Patricia Barbato, author of Inspire Your Career: Strategies for Success in Your First Years at Work.

“When you feel that, you need to act on it. You can’t just sit around and let another three years go by,” she warned.

Ms. Barbato boasts an impressive career track. As senior vice-president of the home health division and business development at Mississauga-based Revera Inc., which provides senior care and accommodations, she oversees 40 sites across Canada and 5,500 employees. Yet she regrets not taking more risks in her career, which she attributes to an early lack of confidence and self-awareness.

To combat this, she suggests conducting your own research and asking co-workers where they think your strengths lie. The results can be surprising, she said: “We often see ourselves differently than others do and often, especially with women, we undervalue what we have.”

It’s important to talk about your frustrations and regrets. And given the prevalence of career coaches, it appears many women and men feel some level of dissatisfaction about their career choice or need guidance on how to achieve their goals.

“There are things [in career development literature]about career plateauing and career burnout. But what about people who persist through the burnout and still stay?” said Juanita Hennessey, who explored the issue of career regret for her master’s thesis in education at Memorial University in Newfoundland.

Ms. Hennessey interviewed retirees who reflected on their careers. She found that those who stuck to the grind suffered a mental and physical toll that had an impact on both their personality and personal relationships.

And although every participant in her study regretted their career choice, they didn't necessarily change jobs or fix their mistakes to lessen their regrets. (One participant who spent 26 years at the same job likened it to a prison sentence.)

Regret might sound like an ominous word. But for the women I spoke with, early missteps didn’t derail their otherwise successful career. Their candid observations can help others play their cards better.

Julie Barker-Merz, vice-president and chief operating officer at BMO Insurance, is happy with her career but said that if she could do it over, she would be in less of a rush to climb the corporate ladder and instead focus on lateral opportunities to build her skill set.

“I moved up fairly quickly and hit a ceiling where my lack of exposure in certain areas of the company put me at a disadvantage against my peers,” Ms. Barker-Merz said. “We're always in such a rush to move up and we forget that we have more career ahead of us than behind us. So why panic?” she added.

For some, a misstep can happen even before launching their career. Characterizing herself as being “overeducated but underqualified for many roles,” Jacqueline Chernys, a Toronto lawyer with a doctorate in genetics, laments attending graduate school without taking the time to reflect on whether her personality matched the field she was entering.

“Don’t try to fit into a box because it will give you a good career,” she advised. “Find your personality and then find the career that matches your personality.”

Leah Eichler is co-founder of Femme-o-Nomics, a networking and content portal for professional women.

E-mail: leah.eichler@rogers.com

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