Why Happiness at Work Isn’t About Passion, but About Minimizing Regrets


There are a lot of self-help coaches out there who advocate that there is some recipe to find your professional happiness. “Do what you love,” they say, but that is easier said than done. That’s because passion isn’t something you find. Passion is something you develop.

Passions are created through experiences, trying things out, and taking inventory of what sparks your interests. This can be a long process, especially when it comes to work. Sure, there are great tools to help you uncover and document what incites excitement in your life, but is that enough? Not usually. 

It is not always possible to do only what you love. Inevitably, you will be tasked with assignments that are difficult and unenjoyable. (Some might argue that is why they call it “work.”) Life situations or limitations also may keep you from doing what you enjoy. Lastly, you may never find what “it” is, that supreme sense of purpose preached as the missing secret sauce for joy in our lives.  

So what can you do to develop professional happiness? Focus on tasks and plans that will minimize your regrets. 

When your life comes to its final days, what do you think your regrets will be? Seriously, stop to think about it. Many anticipate regretting such things as not having enough time with family, not going after opportunities, or not living healthier lives with less stress. That’s a lot of “nots.” Knowing what you don’t want gives you guidance to how you want to shape your current situation. 

People often look back on their lives and feel disappointed that they dedicated most of their time to their careers, with money being the primary measurement of their success. As we listen to older adults transition, these are some common sentiments:

  • Money doesn’t buy you happiness. 
  • Don’t wait to travel or experience the world. I thought I would be able to do this when I retired, but now my ailments or financial situation keep me achieving these dreams. 
  • I don’t know how to not work. I have no purpose or social life beyond what I experienced at the office.

Consider your current professional situation. Can you anticipate some of these phrases coming out of your mouth? How can you change that? 


The first step to minimizing your regrets is being mindful of what you want to accomplish and how you can achieve these goals. These aspirations do not need to be grandiose. They can be simple. 

Regrets are either (1) bad decisions, actions we wish we hadn’t done, or (2) unfulfilled aspirations, things we wish we had done. Knowing this, ask yourself:

  • What bad decisions have I made at work that adversely affected my personal and professional happiness?
  • What bad career decisions have I seen others do that I want to avoid?
  • What are some potentially bad decisions within my future? 
  • What are some of the career decisions that I wish I pursued? 
  • What aspirations do I have for the current and next phase of my career?
  • Whose careers do I admire and how can I emulate their success?
  • What potential opportunities are available to me, which will boost my joy at work and/or life-long goals? 

Assess your existing and anticipated regrets. How can you shape your career to realize your professional or personal goals to live a happier life? Your answer arms you with the ability to make changes in the now, prepare for the future, and be honest with yourself about what you really want.

Get started! Create momentum for your goals. Develop realistic expectations based on your current circumstances, establish a plan, and seize opportunities when they arise. Your professional happiness is right around the corner. 


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