Regretting some career choices? It’s time to forgive yourself

Do you wish you had done a different degree subject? Or maybe you blame yourself (or someone else) for the degree classification you got? Perhaps you still feel frustrated as you have no idea what you want? Maybe you’re staying in a job you hate because you feel you have not choice? Whatever career choices you have made until now, if you regret any of them – I have news for you – it’s time to forgive yourself and move on. Let me explain using some common regrets I hear:

Doing a job in a different field to your degree

The only time your degree *really* matters is when you have just graduated and do you know what, if it got you a job at the time, well, then it did its job. Why doesn’t it matter? Because 50% of graduates don’t work in their degree field almost immediately after graduation. Imagine what that number looks like 10 – 20 years after graduation?! I don’t know a single person within my closest tribe who works in the sector for which they studied, including myself and my partner.

The thing is that the subject matter isn’t the important thing, it’s the transferable skills you gain. So let me give you my own example. I did medicinal and pharmaceutical chemistry at university and worked in pharma for 4 years or so until I moved into careers advice. From this, I brought logical and critical thinking, teamwork, project management, an understanding of what it is like to work (which you can get anywhere) and lots of other skills I had gained through my life. I added more technical knowledge as I needed it, doing 2 postgraduate certificates in careers guidance and coaching along the way.

I didn’t ‘waste my degree’ (a common fear) – I did it because I loved chemistry and to be honest, I was good at it. The skills I gained have served me well in the (almost) fifteen years since I graduated. The same is true whether you did a degree, left school at 14, went into one sector and are now looking at another. It is never too late to change. In fact, people have 3 career changes on average – not jobs, whole careers.

Did you get a Damien, Trevor, Desmond or a Thora?

A what? The above are British rhyming slang for degree classifications and unless you know, you don’t know. Similarly, your degree classification can have an impact at the time of graduation and perhaps for a couple of jobs afterwards but it doesn’t matter to employers forever. If it even matters in the first place. In fact, one of my classmates got a 2:2 and applied for a job which they specifically said a 2:1 in a completely different area of chemistry and smashed it. She then went on to get a PhD.

I have another friend who is convinced that the 3rd class honours they got is still holding them back 15 years later. If you feel similarly then let me assure you, it isn’t. What is holding you back is that limiting belief that you have that it’s holding you back. This friend has been continuously employed since graduation, going from strength to strength – I can see it but they can’t. That makes me sad and a little frustrated if I am honest. This is where we really get down to the forgiveness element of this blog and the thing that triggered my writing it.

Forgive yourself: You are not the person you once were

When we are in our late teens, early twenties we make decisions that as adults we wonder what we were thinking. That’s the benefit of hindsight. If you made some dodgy decisions, scratch it up to youthful exuberance – you are not that person any more. Specifically with regard to degree classifications, in my experience, the people I have coached who do have a 3rd class honours or lower have a valid reason for it. It wasn’t down to working hard enough. We have all had difficult situations to deal with which may affect our professional life but as long as you can explain it then an employer will usually hear it. If they don’t, then they aren’t the right employer for you.

“I don’t know what I want to do now”

The other barrier I mentioned at the start of this was ‘I don’t know what I want to do’. So another huge area to forgive yourself for. This is because, again, when we are choosing our path we are so young. In fact, how often do we ask a 5-year-old what they want to be? As Michelle Obama says in her book ‘Becoming’ – it’s like we expect a child to choose one thing and never deviate from it. We carry that message as we go through life. But coming back to our 16-18-year-old selves  – we choose our path based on advice from well-meaning folks, some who we know well and others we meet once. Almost everyone has a horror story about their school careers adviser! We might have made decisions on what others thought and then felt that it was too late to change. See my comment above about it feeling like a waste to have spent x years in one field when our heart is calling us to something else. It feels hard and risky to change direction. This is also true if you feel trapped in a job and feel you can’t change your career now.

Forgive yourself: you made the best choice with the information you had at the time

Again the forgiveness comes in through accepting and acknowledging that your x-year-old self made decisions based on the information they had at the time. Today, whether you are currently 16 years old or 96 years old (or anything in between!) you have more information available to you. The past is in the past, you cannot change it but you can learn from it.

Number one way to forgive yourself

I like to give you something practical to go away with from reading my blogs and so here is my number one tip to forgive yourself for any past career decisions you made:

The number one reason people feel ashamed or guilty about their past decisions is that, for whatever reason, those decisions and choices were not in line with their values at the time or those they hold now. It’s the reason that people feel unhappy but can’t put their finger on it. So my advice would be to get really clear on what your values are and use your past to help you identify the emotions you’re feeling.

If you need help then I have a free workbook that you can use to identify your values which you can download:

find out what's important to you using this workbook coaching your time to grow









From then you can start acting in accordance with your current values, replacing negative behaviours with something more congruent with your beliefs now. This will help you reaffirm that are you are capable of handling situations in the way you want to and builds resilience and self-esteem.

6 thoughts on “Regretting some career choices? It’s time to forgive yourself”

  1. I don’t think I’ve ever read any advice about this until today, yet that nagging feeling that you aren’t making the best use of your career/qualifications/experience is really common. Thanks for addressing it.

    By the way I did my degree so long ago that a Damien wasn’t a thing because he wasn’t even famous yet! Not that it really matters because I didn’t get one anyway, ha ha!

    • Ah, that’s really interesting feedback Helen as my inspiration for it came out of nowhere and I wasn’t sure if it would be a ‘good’ topic so I am glad it’s provoked some conversation!

      Yes, I think all the rhyming slang came in not long before my time, it was still all quite new.

  2. I need help, I constantly regret that I left very good job where I was working 7 years. Now I struggle with employment, I can’t find anything as good. My regrets are to this point that I don’t live normally, I live in the fear what next. I make scenarios in my head how great my life would have been if I didn’t leave that job – it was great, good salary, good work colleagues, management. I try to return to that job few months ago, they selected me for the interview and I messed it up. My regrets are even higher. I can’t live normal life because of it

    • Hello Maria,
      You sound just like me but I am 61 years old.
      I left a job after nearly 4 years without a job lined up and have regrets nearly every day.
      I now suffer from depression which comes and goes every day thought out the day.
      Looking back my wife thinks I was depressed well before leaving which was caused by many things at the time.
      I have also made some very strange decisions when my depression was at it’s worst.
      I keep thinking that the right job will change everything or at least make it less painful, time will tell.


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