Learning from Regret

My personal list of regrets seems endless. I regret not eating an apple, instead of three (or maybe it was six) Oreos yesterday. I regret not walking the extra mile I intended to walk. I regret not writing a blog post yesterday, instead of trying to fit it in today. Then there are the big regrets. The years of being overweight, numbing out with alcohol and the two marriages and subsequent divorces. It is so easy to wallow in regret. Whether it be the humdrum, everyday food selections, or the life-altering regret of not backpacking Europe right after graduation. I bet you and I could each write a thousand regrets over a cup of coffee.


Hindsight is 20/20 as they say. Wasn’t it obvious the Eagles would win the Super Bowl? Of course, your restaurant would fail after just 8 short months – don’t most of them? Wait until the car, jeans or coffee maker go on sale before you buy it, and then, they go out of stock forever. Duh. There is always clarity in looking back. You know you should have bought Apple or IBM or Google stock way back when it was cheap, so I could be sitting pretty for retirement. Regrets actually have lessons for us beside rumination and beating ourselves up.

Here are the learnings from regret:

Regret means that you took risks.

As Maura Hughes wrote for Elite Daily, “If you are confident in every decision you make, are you really living? Life is about pushing boundaries and trying new things, and in order to do that, you must take risks.” I think about my ill-fated restaurant ‘Coyotes’ some 20 years ago. It was an experience in being an entrepreneur and living out a lifelong dream. I took an enormous risk. It failed. But it means that I have shown up and rolled the dice. I will never own another restaurant. Ever. Don’t bother even asking. I have an everlasting appreciation for all those who have succeeded in the restaurant business. I still have a shirt with my logo on it. I have taken risks that have paid off as well like moving back to the East Coast and going for my Master’s degree after my restaurant failed. You win some and lose some, but you have to show up and engage in the game.

Regret means that you made a choice.

As Dr. Susan Perry wrote for Psychology Today, “Life demands that we put our stake in the ground, make our choice, and do our best to meet whatever actually happens. Of course, we would like a particular outcome, but we don’t need to chastise ourselves when things don’t go our way.” I have vacillated on a million choices in my life. Indecision is frustrating and makes you less decisive. For good or bad, make the decision. The choice. Often, waiting for more data is just putting off the inevitable. There is regret, regardless of the choice. Put a stake in the ground.

Regret ignites innovation.

Regrets help you think outside your comfort zone. I can remember when I closed my restaurant. I knew I had to figure out how to hold onto my house, mostly for my children; but also for the investment. Everyone told me to sell the house and get out from under it. The more folks advised me, the more I wanted to hold on. I rented out rooms. I cut my expenses. I took a second job. It ended up paying off in the long run when I sold the house to move to the East Coast. Necessity IS the mother of invention.

Regrets are the best teachers.

As Hughes writes, “When you’re challenged, feel like you failed and regret the choices you made, you are forced to return to the drawing board and figure out what went wrong. You are forced to work harder than you want and ultimately, the success is that much sweeter.” I reflect on surviving the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, I can see the lesson in rebuilding and fixing my house. I have a new appreciation of those who have suffered a loss whether it is from fire or flood or financial ruin. I also look out the window with renewed appreciation for the view outside my house. It’s taught me to take stock in what I have and to savor the moment. You never know how long you will have it.

Regrets point you in the right direction.

As Hughes writes, “If we were 100 percent sure of everything we wanted out of life, it would be much easier to live. But, it would not be nearly as much fun. Part of growing up means realizing what you want, whom you want and how you want to get things done. There are no set guidelines, so you must figure it out as you go. Every now and then, you might think you want something only to find out that you were wrong.” I have had countless regrets over consuming alcohol, whether it was saying something I regretted, spending way too much money on it, or feeling hungover. Realizing that I wanted a new direction has been priceless. I couldn’t have gotten here unless I had regrets. Regrets inform you. But it’s imperative to listen.

I think there is strength in knowing that we all have regrets. It’s a human experience that moves us forward, so long as we don’t get caught up in mulling over it. What is a regret that you have learned from?

Learnings from the Escape Room

I was not familiar with an escape room experience but having just survived one, I figured I’d enlighten my readers so that you can be forearmed in case someone convinces you to take part. When someone on my employee activities committee suggested we go to an escape room, I was hesitant. It didn’t sound very appealing. Why be locked up in a room with some co-workers to try and solve puzzles for an hour while hoping to outsmart the puzzles? Perhaps I overthought it. It turns out it was fun. And in the process, some hidden talents of my co-workers were uncovered.

Here is the Wikipedia definition of an escape room: “An escape room is a physical adventure game in which players solve a series of puzzles and riddles using clues, hints and strategy to complete the objectives at hand. Players are given a set time limit to unveil the secret plot which is hidden within the rooms. Games are set in a variety of fictional locations, such as prison cells, dungeons and space stations, and usually the various puzzles and riddles themselves follow the theme of the room. Escape rooms are great activities for families, friends, students, and even businesses because they rely on team building exercises.”


Apparently, these escape rooms are cropping up all over the country. I mean, if they have one in lil’ ole Goldsboro, North Carolina, they must have them everywhere. So, before you turn up your nose at the experience, let me share some of my learning.

  • Think outside the box. When the six of us were given the instructions before entering our room, “The Heist” escape room, our guide told us to think outside the box when we were trying to puzzle our way out. This was really important advice. While pursuing our escape, we had a bunch of pieces to what seemed to be a picture frame. My immediate impulse was to make a rectangle (er…a box). It turns out that if we followed some color-coding, we actually extrapolated some numbers instead of the form of a box. I had a really hard time not just making a rectangle in my head, instead of seeing the numbers. This prompted a reconsideration on my part. Are we all just assuming that what we see is accurate or that following the status quo is the only correct path? It might stretch you and be uncomfortable, but think outside the box.


  • Pay attention to details.  We were in a room full of art pieces and paintings. We were instructed to count up all the rowboats as part of our escape solutions. I remember one or two of my coworkers kept wanting to count every boat, which included sailboats and canoes. The important detail was that there were only a few actual rowboats with oars. We could not move ahead in the puzzle until we counted the rowboats instead of every boat (and no, we could not use our cell phones). It’s important to know the difference, and if you don’t, then maybe you need to figure out someone in the group who does. There were several times when we burned minutes by ignoring the details and not really looking for the answer. Make sure you look at the details.


  • Take risks. One of my co-workers is a huge risk taker. She has always taken matters into her own hands and tested things out. I mention this only because it was a huge advantage for us as a team in our escape from our escape room. There were two puzzles that I can think of that she single-handedly figured out. She didn’t ask for affirmation from us for solving the puzzle. She just charged ahead. Here’s a perfect example: at one point we had a blow dryer and, well, wow. I saw no reason for a blow dryer; and honestly, I didn’t see the light going on for anyone else. I figured it was a joke of some sort. The blow dryer solution ended up catapulting us forward because she took a risk with the interpretation. This taught me to remain open to the reality that those around us are looking for solutions and finding them; I need to remain open and risk. Are you taking any risks, remaining open to interpretations, or playing it safe?


  • Sometimes you don’t need everything. If someone gives you a puzzle challenge and you are given ten puzzle pieces, you would want to use them all, right? There were several times during the hour-long escape that we didn’t need all of the objects placed in front of us. Sometimes just eight pieces, or six, or even two would work. Just because you are given something, doesn’t mean you will even use it. Getting wrapped up in using everything in front of you can bog down the process. Remind yourself of this.


  • Take the clues as you go. We had the option of getting three clues during the hour-long game. I had it in my head that we should get one every 15 minutes or so, and it ended up being one of the best ideas. So, we would try to figure out a few puzzles and locks and then request a clue. We would go for fifteen more minutes and then request another clue. The puzzles sort of build on each other, so if you had all the clues at the start, it wouldn’t be as helpful. By taking them over time, they were of the most benefit. So, don’t wait for the last minute for help and don’t ask for all the help up front. Assess and use it over time.


We did not escape in the time allotted. Our guide told us we were about 75% complete. That’s really good since it was the first escape room experience for all six of us. I think the biggest takeaway is that I now know my team’s strongest attributes. I got to witness a process that they each go through. So, whether a risk taker, willing to get down on the ground or someone patiently trying a padlock for 10 minutes; we could never have done it alone. Together we had terrific progress and learned wonderful things about each other.

Breaking the Impostor Syndrome.

I was coaching Suzy last week as she is trying to craft the message she wants to use with some impending consultations with a client.  Suzy wants to get clear on her message and figure out what will resonate with this potential client.  As with most coaching calls, we needed to clean out the road blocks before we can really get to  the work.  And then  she  dropped the I bomb; I feel like an Impostor “Hmmm, tell me more about that”, I respond.  So Suzy  started talking about  even though she works for a major (I mean top ten in the world major) university, she is only part time.  I chuckle.  “So part time at ______University makes you an impostor?”   She chuckles.  “OK.  Yes.  I’m not an impostor”.  So now we can move on.  The path is clear.  Now we can craft the message.  Now we can make some magic.  Glad we got that out of the way. impostor

The surprising thing is that 70% of folks feel like an  impostor at some point in their life.  Usually, it’s the first few months at a new job or the first semester in College.   I remember my first Human Resource job after completing my Master’s in Human Resource and Organization Development.  I.was.terrified that I’d be found out! Just because I had a piece of paper did not mean I knew all the nuances of Human Resources.   I was working for a food manufacturer and we were hiring madly for a season holiday product.  I hired some 40 new employees.  I didn’t realize that I had to lay off all 40 after 4 months.  Trial by fire; but at least I wasn’t an impostor anymore.

So how do we get past it?  How do we break the cycle?  Here are some tips:

1. Risk.  Assess whether you are more likely to be at risk.  Rule of thumb – If:

·        you are a minority,

·        you are a first generation professional (i.e. dad was a butcher and you are a doctor),

·        your parents were over achievers (i.e. your last name is Kennedy),

·        you’re  a ground breaker (i.e. male nurse or female stock broker),

·         you’re a solopreneur (you work alone all day), 

·        Or an artist (i.e. actor, painter, writer, etc.) and

·        any student whether grad school or community college. 

Or if you hear your parents’ voices in your head being hyper-critical; most people do.  Realize that you are at high risk for feeling like an impostor.

2. Imperfection.  Embrace imperfection.  Let go of 100% perfection.  You might even want to make sure there is an error or two. As Seth Godin says, “Ship it”.  Sitting around procrastinating or gnashing your teeth over every detail to make sure it is flawless is debilitating.  Maybe the logo is not exactly what you wanted, maybe the slides are too  cute, and maybe you aren’t sure about the font.  Let go and ship it; sign off on it  Embrace imperfection.

3. Hard work.  It’s going to take work.  There are no natural born consultants , artists or college students.  Everything takes hard work.  According to Malcolm Gladwell, it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert at something.  So spend some of those 10,000 hours on hard work.  Start the book, study for the test until 2 AM, practice your clarinet.  Stressing over it or beating yourself up does not count towards the 10,000 hours!  Doing the work does.  Get started.

4. I don’t know.  Admit when you don’t know something but don’t assume this means you know nothing.  I can remember being in grade school and the teacher asking me a question.  I looked up at the ceiling.  She said, “The answer isn’t on the ceiling”.  These are the types of situations where kids learn it’s not OK to be vulnerable.  We’ve all been embarrassed when we don’t know something.  Get over it.  We all can’t be Ken Jennings or Watson.  Don’t let not knowing something in your field diminish your self worth.  It’s OK to not know.

5. Yardstick.  Calibrate your yardstick.  As Dr. Valerie Young suggests in her article, “What is the Impostor Syndrome”, answer this question: If I were really smart, talented, qualified, competent, I would …  Most people who answer this figure out that what they view as competency is WAY beyond even Ken Jennings.  Quit trying to be an over achiever.  Or, as my friend Janine says, “Fake it till ya make it”.  Recalibrate your yardstick.

6. Teamwork.  Don’t go it alone.  I can remember starting this blog some 2 years ago.  I definitely struggled with, “Who do you think you are?” or “No one is going to want to read this” (yes, I suffer from being an impostor as well).  But I reached out to some old college roommates, my family and my favorite English major to put together “Cathy’s Brain Trust”.  I send every post past them to get feedback and for some much needed grammatical corrections.  It helps me feel supported and, more importantly, competent.  Put together a team.  Let your team hold you up as you start to fly.

7. Coaching.  Get a coach.  There is so much power in having someone open up the pathways in your head.  I had a recent client that spent over two months planning to clean out a closet.  She didn’t make any progress, she made great strides in her other action items but with the closet she was stuck. Finally after 10 weeks, she realized that all she had to do was take 15 minutes to work on it.  She didn’t need to get it done all in one day.  Chunking it into 15 minute pieces made all the difference.   She can now hang coats in that closet.  Whew…Get a coach!

I felt chills in my spine earlier today (which prompted me to write this post).  Suzy sent me an email.  Subject: your coaching made a big diff.  I used several things we crafted… and, they asked if I’d consider a partner position!… boy, no more impostor for me!!! No more impostor for me.