I just finished this summary of research that made me very, very sad. Psychologist Tom Gilovich and former Cornell graduate student Shai Davidai published their conclusions “The Ideal Road Not Taken” in the journal Emotion.
What they found is that people regret not living up to what they perceive as their ideal self far more than they regret not living up to obligations.
They base this on the idea of three components of a person’s sense of self: the actual, ideal and the ought selves. The actual self is who a person believes they are. The ideal self is who they would like to be. The ought self is who they feel they should be.
When the men asked hundreds of people in six surveys to list and categorize their regrets, they found people have an easier time defining what they ought to do than in what they would do to be their best self. People wait for inspiration that may never come or they worry about what others will think of them. The researchers conclude that Nike has been right. The best course of action is “Just do it.”
These ideas resonate with me. I’ve always been the conscientious one, the one who follows rules. I let fear of failure and of the unknown stop me from making job choices that may well have led to a happier life. The regrets are real.
As a result of the soul-searching I finally did, I wrote Career Finder Workbook for Teens in the hopes of helping young people make more intelligent decisions than I did. I wrote it for middle school age students, but if you are an adult who is wondering what to be when you grow up you might find it helpful.
Are your “shoulds” holding you back?