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No regrets. Really?

No regrets are an illusion. If you intend to live life without regrets, you won’t be experimenting, be curious, and stepping out of your comfort zone.

It’s good to have regrets. Regrets are part of life. The ambition to live without any mistakes and corresponding regrets is close to the definition of insanity. 

Therefore, I doubt people who walk around with tattoos, stating ‘no regrets.’

We all have regrets, moments when we wish to turn back time a little. Regrets matter in life. They help us learn and make better decisions the next time, but only when we decide to do the work and reflect.

In his book The Power of Regret, Daniel Pink discusses the ‘no regret’ people. The biggest requests for tattoo removal are to remove the name of a (former) loved one or the ‘no regret’ tattoo. And it’s not just the tattoo people regret. 

It’s about the fact that regrets have emerged, even with the tattooed intention to live without regrets.

Daniel Pink argues that regrets are good. They lead to reflection, lessons learned, and growth.

If you intend to live life without regrets, you won’t be experimenting, curious, and stepping out of your comfort zone.

You won’t learn and grow without regrets. 

So, let’s make it personal. I have two personal regrets I’d like to discuss in this insight.

One regret I have is the way I started my student time. Far away (from a Dutch distance perspective) from home and parents, I quickly discovered the side effects of student life. I lost focus when I was a student and partied a little too much.

I completed my first year of economics in two and a half years and got really close to being kicked out. I wasn’t a bad student. When I truly focused, I completed every subject. Being focused and responsible was the problem.

But I enjoyed life — a lot.

Once I received the notification that I would be kicked out soon, I realized why I was there. I didn’t want to go into the army (I was later rejected because of a collarbone complication), so I started to be accountable for my growth. 

My last three years, I managed nicely in a little over three years. But I had to work hard. Friends of mine who were more clever had time to party and travel during summer. I didn’t. I had had my fare share already. Starting to be serious sooner would have prevented a lot of stress.

My second regret is related to my eighteen years of corporate life. Corporate life can be all-consuming. Especially when you have an international job and have to travel a lot. It sucks the energy literally out of you.

Aiming for work-life balance is the biggest nonsense goal I know. It doesn’t exist anymore. Work and life are integrated. And you have to manage it yourself; otherwise, you will be managed.

My regret is not the corporate job. It is the fact that I stopped learning outside of work. I love reading and growing myself, but I didn’t make the time for it. Only after I stopped did I realize how much I had missed it.

The problem is that you don’t always notice what’s happening when immersed in your work. It’s not easy to stop, think, reflect, and then move on.

“The last thing fish notice is the water.”

Unknown

I stopped investing in myself and my learning. Learning is one of my big passions in life. There’s so much to learn, and it’s so rewarding. I realized this when my corporate career ended. Suddenly, I could invest the time I sat in meetings (sometimes close to 40 hours per week) in learning and growth. 

I started reading books again. I discovered the world of podcasts, webinars, audiobooks, and AI. I slowly returned to life, enjoying the things I was learning.

I enjoy the process of learning. Pushing yourself to learn something new provides great fulfillment when done well. It’s intentional. It satisfies my curiosity. It makes me feel alive. My body generates energy from it. Energy is a state you can create for yourself. 

Don’t get me wrong. Work is also a learning process. When done well and when time is invested in personal growth. 

But it’s often a lower priority and primarily focused on work. The questions at work are mainly focused on results rather than on learning.

How were sales last week? How was our margin the previous week? How were our labor costs? Why? What can we learn? That last question is often missing.

Budgets for personal development and training are cut first, and only some leaders invest real time in developing the people on their teams.

But how can they?

How can they invest in others when they choose not to invest in themselves? How many leaders have a view on how they would like to grow themselves, and they have to learn to teach and teach to learn? 

Proud Learner. Humble Teacher.

That’s the mantra we used for many of our programs during my corporate career in food retail. And it’s a perfect tagline for the leadership intention I believe in.

“First, invest in yourself (learn), then make time to invest in others (teach). Do it with pride and humility.”

Erikjan Lantink

When you can develop yourself as such a leader, we can be optimistic about the future of leadership, business, and the world.

The world is in crisis and may worsen before it gets better.

But there will be a time when old-school leadership (read management) will lose out against modern human leadership. The word human should not be needed, but we must keep stressing it until we have, in fact, human leadership.

We need leaders who embrace diversity and are inclusive.

We need leaders who are human beings first and human doers second. 

We need leaders who know how to lead people because they know how to lead themselves (first).

To conclude, I don’t regret leaving corporate. I can impact more leaders today than when I was part of a corporate system, and I’m having more fun and fulfillment doing it. I have the freedom to make my own choices, including wins, failures, and lessons — always lessons.

Your turn: No regrets? Really?

Schedule a free growth conversation here if you need support on your journey.

Erikjan

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Erikjan Lantink
Business & Leadership Coach

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