MANY PEOPLE MY AGE, AFTER A cocktail or two, speak wistfully of career opportunities lost —
job offers they should have accepted,
investments they should have made, businesses they should have started.
Life would have turned out differently,
people confide, if one only had gone to
work for Exxon, or, if one had not gone
to work for Exxon but instead had taken
his father’s offers to go into the family
plumbing supply business. Or if one had
bought a block of Microsoft at its initial
public offering on March 13, 1989, when
it was urged on him by his brother-in-law,
the broker. Or if one had stayed in the
Army Reserve for another nine years and
qualified for early retirement. Or if one
had that piece of industrial property when
it was selling for $500 an acre. Or if … or
if … or if.
Sometimes it might be true, as
Shakespeare put it, that “there is a tide
in the affairs of men. Which taken at the
But if that opportunity is not seized,
that could lead to a life “bound in
shallows and in miseries.”
It strikes me as an exercise in self-
delusion for people to believe their lives
would have been gloriously better had
they made one decision 20, 30 or 40
A successful career does not turn on
a single event. A generation of ease and
happiness is not assured by an election
early on to go this way instead of that.
A person I know well, for example,
sometimes tells me things would have
turned out better for him if at 26 he had
agreed to the proposal of his old college
roommate to form a partnership and become stockbrokers. My friend declined
the offer; it appeared too uncertain at
the time. So the old roommate found
another partner, established a brokerage
firm and went ahead to become wealthy
before he was 50.
But the success of that partnership was
not assured by the single decision to get
it started. Rather, like the success of any
enterprise, it was controlled by hundreds
of difficult decisions made over a long
period, any one of which could have
turned out wrong.
Whatever it was in my friend’s mind
that made him reluctant to become a
stockbroker likely would have made him
unsuited for dealing with the subsequent
decisions in that business.
Looking back over events in one’s
career with regret is not merely pointless;
it generally is disheartening, too.
Don’t languish in those unhealthy
thoughts. Move on.
Should’ve Been a Cowboy
Robert N. Renkes
Executive Vice President
REPORT Thoughts and Observations From the Executive Vice President