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Missed Opportunity – Regrets (counterfactual thinking)

As we have written about, many people have only one great opportunity in their life to “escape the cycle” they are in, do something special, meet their dreams, make a difference, etc. Maybe it is that job opportunity, investment, chance to travel, relationship, business opportunity, family, first impression, or whatever experience. But if they do not take that chance, or if they do try and blow their opportunity as they did not prepare for it, studies show it can be very difficult to get over that missed opportunity and lead to regret. It is known as counterfactual thinking, which is the capacity to imagine what might have been.

This weeks Sunday NY Times had some commentary on several individuals who had regret with the way their careers and many aspects of their life turned out. It was featured in an article talking about employment and job opportunities. That article made me think it may be a good topic for this blog. What the theories and studies show about regret, including from Roese & Summerville as well as others, is that feelings of regret come from missed opportunities. People regret outcomes that could have been changed in the past if they did something differently, (or acted at all), but that can no longer be change. So they imagine what could have been.

A study from Neal Roese of the Kellogg School of Management also showed that regret can have damaging effects on both the mind and body. The AARP (of all publications!) also ran a study that shows that regret can cause chronic stress. I guess the AARP would in fact be a good source of this data as they can survey/poll/study the impact of regret on seniors and the older generation, including those who are entering the “tail” end of their life. As who better to talk about that one missed opportunity than a senior citizen, who reflects back on their life and the counterfactual thinking of what their life could have been like.

Why do we blog about this? As we previously wrote about, survey data shows that (right or wrong) the though is that most people only get one opportunity for life changing events. We also get occasional emails in which people ask us for advice, or maybe an email from a struggling person saying they wish they want to school, took that job, etc. I also see this in the business world from some of my volunteering at SCORE. Some people who are now trying to start a business, or a career change, expressed regret for not trying a long time ago. Therefore we are writing about this topic to remind our readers to act on the opportunity when your chance comes up, and do so in a smart way.

Opportunities come up, and one which may be life changing. It can be the chance to go to school, to enroll into job training, start a business, a personal matter, or an opportunity really to take that chance at anything in life…whether business or personal. The majority of people are held back by Fear of Failure. Or they pass up the chance as they feel entitled and do not want to work for it. Or maybe they do work for their opportunity (and take that chance) however they did not prepare at all (or properly) and end up falling flat on their face and/or being self-destructive, which can also lead to regret.

Since regret and missed opportunities are so difficult to deal with as human nature tends to skew us towards thinking what could have been, we are writing to tell the thousands of readers of this blog to take that chance when it comes up. Read the NY Times or other publications that talk about the impact of not trying. But it is not only that…you also need to prepare as well. Whether it is a job interview, a new position at work, going to school, personal matters, or whatever, be committed to being the best. As when you do not take a chance, do not prepare, do something self-destructive to destroy your chances, etc. the regret from that missed opportunity will come up. And as studies show, it is extremely difficult to deal with.


Jon McNamara is the CEO of needhelppayingbills.com, a company that he started in 2008 and that specializes in helping low income families as well as those who are in a financial hardship. He also found NHPB LLC, a company committed to helping the less fortunate. Jon and his team also provide free financial advice to help people learn about as well as manage their money. Every piece of content on this website has been reviewed by him before publishing and many of the articles he has personally written. Jon is the leading author for needhelppayingbils.

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