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Obsessed Much? Don’t Live with Regret

After being promoted to my first academic deanship five years into my career and beginning to serve as a consultant with a higher education firm, my professional life seemed to be moving in the right direction. One problem…I wasn’t happy. I couldn’t shake the almost overwhelming sense of underachievement and failure that gnawed at me every day. It was exhausting. I began to have trouble keeping my emotions in check and my work life quickly started to seep into my personal life.

Thankfully, I had the opportunity to work with an executive coach. It quickly became apparent that I would not last long if I didn’t address the way I felt about my career. During the year I had with my coach, I began to realize that I was placing too much focus on choices from my past…choices that, in my mind, caused me to miss out on bigger and better opportunities.

If only I had gone to medical school instead of pursuing theological studies…

If only I had tried to do more publishing during my PhD…

If only I had held out for a faculty position rather than going into administration…

I ultimately came to the conclusion that my “if only’s” were little more than fiction…stories I was telling myself about how green the grass would have been on the other side. As I reframed my thinking, I began to see that while the grass may appear greener on the other side, it’s really just because the brown spots are less evident from a distance.

So, I find myself in the middle of my career having experienced some of the best that leadership has to offer and some of the worst. My career is what it is. Have some of the choices I’ve made impacted the course of my life? Of course. Choices have consequences. Yet, I’ve come to hold an enduring conviction about life: we are not defined by our missed experiences, but by our lived experiences and how well we learn from them.

This conviction has given me a new perspective on life. It is one that is deeply rooted in my Christian faith and my belief that God forms and shapes us into women and men of character through our experiences. Now, instead of focusing on what I’ve missed, I spend time reflecting on my lived experiences and trying to learn to be a better husband, father, and leader.

In the end, I may never have the career I thought I wanted, but I can have a full life. It will not be a life without ambition, but it will be one without the anxieties that come when we begin to feel less than grateful for the life that we’ve lived. Life will never be perfect…there will be difficulties, disappointments, and challenges. I simply believe that if we recognize that those difficulties, disappointments, and challenges form us into the people God desires us to be because we are not defined by our missed experiences, but by our loved experiences and how well we learn from them.

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