career

"Feeling like it was petty to ask for a pay rise": 32 women share their biggest career regret.

If you haven't felt overwhelmed, daunted or unsure at some point in your career, we'd like to know your secret.

The reality is that sometimes, despite our best intentions, our emotions (and our own twisted logic) can get the best of us at work. This can cause us to second guess our ability to succeed in our given role, shy away from asking important questions, and even miss out on opportunities that might never come up again.

And that inevitably leads to regret.

Cake queen Katherine Sabbath on her last minute career change. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia

These 32 women have a career regret. One moment or decision that they wish, just maybe, they had done differently. 

For some, it was sticking it out in the wrong job for too long, while for others it was letting their dream role slip away. And more than likely, some of their stories will resonate with you.

1. "Continually underestimating my worth and my value, and feeling like it was silly or petty to ask for a pay rise or a promotion or recognition. As a woman, assume you're instinctively underestimating your worth. And the men around are overestimating theirs. You don't get anything you don't ask for."

2. “Accepting a job in an adjacent (and better paying) industry because of the salary. It was a huge pay hike and I thought that would make up for my lack of genuine interest in the role. It’s the first and definitely the last time I’ve been motivated by money in my career - I lasted just a few months.” 

3. "My biggest career regret is changing careers and moving cities at the same time. I felt like I totally lost my identity and absolutely hated it. I went from loving my job at my home city's newspaper and having so much pride for what I did, to moving to a PR agency in Sydney that 1. had a horrible bullying, micromanaging culture and 2. was just the total opposite to what I wanted for a career. I thought at the time it would be a good idea, because PR offered more money and there was far more opportunity but I would cry almost every day for those nine months. The negativity seeped into every other aspect of my life and I thought I hated Sydney, but I really just hated the situation I was in. Eventually I got a new job back in the industry I was in beforehand, and it was like... instant relief."

ADVERTISEMENT

4. "I regret not backing myself! There's been so many times that I've kept quiet in fear and I don't even know why. I'm now consciously making an effort to speak up even if it makes me uncomfortable because I DO have good ideas and people want to hear them."

5. "Not. Taking. Sick. Days. My mental health has suffered so much and I’ve worked myself into multiple actual mental breakdowns because of it. It’s not worth it."

6. "I think this is changing due to COVID-19 and everyone being forced to be more cautious, but I always felt like unless I literally couldn't get out of bed I should never call in sick. Sick days shouldn't just be for physical health!"

7. "Wanting to be a housewife in my twenties and not worry about myself or my career. I'm 30 now and studying at uni to be a paramedic. I never want to rely on a man ever again for financial stability. My regret is not bothering about a career until now."

8. "Not having enough confidence to apply for managerial positions."

9. "Changing jobs from a public service to a hospitality managerial role only to find out four months later I was pregnant and they do not pay maternity leave (I was put back to casual when they found out I was pregnant). If I stayed at the public service job I would have had all the entitlements and job security."

10. "I had a restraint of trade clause in my employment agreement which basically said it was the employer's choice to enforce it or not (I had been told at the time of signing they had never enforced a restraint of trade - which I have since learnt is untrue). They gave me a choice, pack your things now and the restraint of trade will be enforced and you won’t be able to start the new job for three months OR keep working for us for three months and you will be able to start with your new employer immediately after you leave here. Being 22 and worried about it financially I chose the latter, and they effectively didn’t allocate me any work for the next three months while I twiddled my thumbs. My regret is that I didn’t accept the ROT terms, and have a holiday, and I instead gave into the threats."

11. "My 'career' regret is not finishing high school. I’ve done study since, however career options are limitless with study."

ADVERTISEMENT

12. "Staying in hospitality too long."

13. "Choosing to study fashion and then work in the fashion industry. So much drama and bitchiness with a low salary compared to other industries. I don’t have the time or money to study again so I feel stuck!"

14. "I always wanted to teach deaf children from when I was in high school. But we moved country, I cracked the teenage sh*ts, got an admin job and dropped my dream. It was mainly due to my lack of confidence."

15. "My biggest career regret was taking a 'promotion' (no increase in money) that meant I was no longer working for someone who wanted to teach me to be the best, to then working for a narcissist who undermined me every step of the way. I went from someone who was motivated, enthusiastic and the youngest and second female ever in the company's 90-year history to get to my level - to then have my performance questioned, have meetings with HR and have no confidence in my abilities. I was 27 at the time and I left the company and moved away for a family reason. Now at 37 with two kids, I’m still scared in my abilities and haven’t applied for jobs in my field because of this. So I stay working a part-time job (which I do love) so that I’m there for my kids. But as they get older, I’m getting more and more concerned that I will never be able to go back to my career."

16. "My biggest regret was leaving hospitality to go back to working in an office."

17. "I used to work in sports business for a professional team I adored my whole life. I worked my way through that company from volunteer to manager which was my absolute dream role. Not to brag but I was damn good at that job and it's probably the only area of my life I'd have the confidence to say that. Two years earlier I'd completed my Bachelor of Primary education and had been subtly pressured by my parents and partner to go use my degree. I knew I would eventually, but it felt like it was becoming more urgent to everyone else other than me. 

"Randomly, a school I had done a few sneaky casual days for asked if I'd like a two day a week contract, and when I said it wasn't enough for me to switch from a full-time income, they offered me a full-time 12-month contract. I felt I was never going to get that opportunity handed to me again without putting in some serious work and felt it was the time I had to make the jump. I knew after a month of teaching I'd made a horrible mistake... this is my second year in teaching and I don't think a day has passed where I feel I made the right decision. I also feel trapped because a teacher's salary is a significant increase to that of a professional sport administrator and don't think my partner could handle the backwards move in income."

ADVERTISEMENT

18. "I regret not backing myself early on in my career, and feeling uncomfortable talking about money. It's only now in a new job, when I asked for an amount of money that I thought was ridiculous, but my partner encouraged me, or strongly insisted I ask for, and I got it! I have been undervaluing my literal worth in terms of salary because I just never had those uncomfortable conversations. But by asking for 20k more than my last position, my new employer didn't even flinch."

19. "I originally trained in broadband communications/electronics and would deride the idea of working purely in the theoretical world rather than working with tangible objects. Then I became a website programmer with no tangible product. I think the regret is the fact that the world doesn't seem to reward, recognise and help train people towards those kinds of subjects as much as they do the purer programming stuff. I think it's because purer programming and website work is closer to marketing, and there's tonnes of money thrown around in marketing. Surprisingly little goes to the engineers."

20. "I studied law and was admitted to the bar. I then practiced for a minute. But then I was forced back into the family business by my very persuasive husband. When we eventually split, I was not able to go back to a career that would have enabled me to get my life in order. Biggest regret [of] my life."

21. "My regret is not asking/looking more/seeking help/ignoring people’s comments when it came to help with childcare. I ended up leaving a job that I was bloody good at and loved. In hindsight, I was suffering a bit of burnout with the job and juggling childcare, and I was in a financial position that allowed me to leave. But those children are older now and I struggled to get back into the workforce after time out."

22. "My biggest regret is having a good work ethic and taking pride in the work because sadly those positives don’t necessarily mean you’ll be rewarded, be it monetary or even being acknowledged."

23. "Not believing in myself."

24. "I chose a career that doesn’t pay well at all. I’ve enjoyed the job but now that I’m older, I want a career that pays better so I can eventually get into the housing market. However, I don’t have experience or qualifications in anything else so I’m struggling to get into a different field. I wish I looked into higher paying careers sooner."

25. "Giving up a job that I loved because I couldn’t find decent childcare for my daughter."

26. "I’ve worked in the horse racing/breeding industry my whole life and owned a commercial stud for nine years. Never been happier. I loved what I did, and it was a huge success. I loved my lifestyle despite the crazy hours seven days a week. Then I found [out] my business partner was a crook and incompetent and I lost everything. The business, the farm, millions of dollars, hundreds of horses, all gone. I regret not paying more attention to the financial aspects of running a business and trusting someone else to do it. It took a huge toll on me and I’ve never really recovered."

ADVERTISEMENT

27. "Not considering benefits like access to paid parental leave. If I’d thought about that when I was 22, I would probably have very good access to paid parental leave, but instead I got nothing!"

28. "Honestly, choosing to study my PhD has been my biggest career regret. Admittedly, I know I’m only 26 and I have a lot left in my career, but this has been the most challenging 3.5 years of my life, and not in a good way. I’ve been diagnosed with depression, I’m hating finishing my thesis, and I don’t even want to stay in the same field. I want to go on to study a Masters in teaching. I know there’s still heaps of time, and I know that no one can take my education away from me, it’s still going to be an achievement, but I regret my choice so much and I think about it every day. I feel like I jumped in without much information and a lot of cultural pressure within my career field, and didn’t really stop to think what I actually wanted to do with my life."

29. "I was offered the EA position for the Director of a NSW Government Department but declined after speaking with friends and colleagues about the long hours and how demanding the role would be. I put my family first and I'd never regret that, but I always wonder what that role could have lead me to."

30. "I took a wage cut to 'help' this very successful doctor I was working for because he told me turning 20 years old (me) put me into a higher age bracket. His kids then went to a private school and he moved to [expensive Sydney suburb] Vaucluse!"

31. "Thinking I had to be perfect to get ahead. In hindsight, the opportunities were there, but I wasn’t. I now know that mediocrity reigns and you don’t have to be perfect or even excellent to get ahead. You've just got to have a go and be better than average."

32. "Choosing between committing to my own business versus increasing hours at another company and doing what I truly loved. I chose my business and regret it to this day!"

What's your biggest career regret? Let us know in the comments.

Feature image: Getty.

00:00 / ???