Today we’re going to talk about regret.
Yesterday a friend told me and Heather the harrowing story of how she was repeatedly sexually harassed at her first job out of law school. Her story is bad and ugly; when she went to her law firm’s HR department for help, they essentially told her to keep quiet or risk tanking her career. And in the months following her conversation with HR, she was systematically removed from every big, high profile case on which she’d been staffed.
Stories like this turn my stomach. And I’m sorry to report that many, many of my female law school classmates have stories like this to relay by this point in our careers.
But! BUT! There is a bright side.
And that’s what I want to focus on today.
The most remarkable part of my friend’s story was that she finished it by saying the harassment was the final straw that led her to leave the practice of law and open her own (totally unrelated) business, something she’d been dreaming about for years. While she hates the circumstances that led to the decision, she’s never once regretted the decision itself.
She emphasized this repeatedly, saying, “I have no regrets!” through her tears as she talked. The lens through which she views the entire thing was revelatory to me.
To be very clear: I’m not saying victims of crimes should all move on with no regrets – that’s ridiculous and impossible. Sexual harassers should face serious consequences for their actions. Sexual assailants like Brock Turner should face looooong stints in prison with no “early release for good behavior.”
But I am saying that my friend’s ability to let go of regret about the trajectory of her career given her particular circumstances is impressive and inspiring.
If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you likely know that both Heather and I each have serious regret about our respective career paths. Three years ago I felt forced to quit a job I loved, and I still ruminate on that job with some regularity. Heather’s personal life took a turn that caused her to step away from her career for a few years, and she regrets the decision to off-ramp.
But my friend’s story has me seriously questioning the narrative I tell myself about my professional path, and Heather had the exact same reaction. Why do I look back on my old job with a feeling of loss and regret, rather than focusing on the opportunities that have arisen as a result of my choice to quit?
Heather and I love writing for this blog. We love writing for other publications. We are working on some writing projects that are even bigger and more ambitious. And this is on top of the fact that we’re both doing rewarding legal work serving clients we like and respect. None of this ever would have happened if I’d stayed in that old job, the one that I loved but was making me and my family so miserable, or if Heather had stayed on the treadmill of her old job and never off-ramped.
Samantha Ettus often says “Guilt is a predator.” To that I’d add, “Regret is a poison.”
I don’t want to drink that poison anymore.
So today I am inspired by my friend’s story and her deliberately chosen, hard-won positive attitude. I also choose to drop the regret, and focus on how immensely lucky I am to have the career and life that I have.