Entrepreneurs are commonly advised to regret nothing, as regretting is perceived to inhibit growth and entrepreneurialism. But regrets are completely natural and unavoidable. We cannot simply wish them away.
We cannot, for example, avoid regretting losing out on opportunities that were almost in our grasp. Recall gymnast McKayla Maroney’s crestfallen face at the London Olympics after winning a silver medal — an image that went so viral, it inspired President Obama to tweet a picture with her in the same “I am not impressed” pose. Why did Maroney feel so bad? Research shows that for silver medalists, it is a case of “too close, yet too far.” What is true for athletes is true for entrepreneurs — especially those who were locked in close finishes or were working on opportunities that became big. For them, regrets are not only unavoidable — they are expected.
In a study at Syracuse University that was recently published in Entrepreneurship Theory & Practice, my co-authors and I examined these issues at some length. Several entrepreneurs in our study reported regrets along the lines of: “I failed to launch an idea due to a personal setback. Now I get emotional when I see so many players in my space.” Can we really avoid regretting missed opportunities? And is it even necessary?
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