The expression “What if?” can become toxic for our professional life when we think it or say it looking backward.


--What if I had earned a different degree?

--What if I had accepted that other job offer?

--What if I had held my temper in that heated dispute with the CEO?

--What if I had followed the suggestions of that coach I hired?

--What if I had learned another language?

--What if I had not gossiped?

--What if I had not been rude to that customer?

--What if had found my ideal niche earlier?

Here’s the problem with those "what ifs." They all relate to the past. Possibly we could have taken different directions then, but we didn’t. Now those previous decisions and actions are irreversible.

So every one of these regretful thoughts merely waste time and energy we could be devoting to constructive thoughts and behavior. They become crippling, even toxic.

Moving away from the destructive use of "what if" to the terrific use, consider these “supposes’:

--What if I enroll in night school and earn my MBA two years from now?

--What if I become active in my city’s most prominent civic club?

--What if I adjust to those I consider “different and quirky”?

--What if I learn to produce my own videos?

--What if I start writing a blog about my area of expertise?

--What if I launch a weekly podcast?

--What if I strengthen my speaking skills?

--What if I improve my “elevator speech”?

--What if I sign up for a LinkedIn training class?

--What if I read a quality book every week?

--What if I offer a probono presentation to the Chamber of Commerce?

--What if I become an entrepreneur?

--What if I stop scheduling unnecessary meetings?

--What if I sharpen my time management and organizational skills?

Clearly and convincingly, these "what ifs"--and similar ones--look ahead, not backward. They stimulate our imagination. They prod us to concentrate on possibilities. They foster initiative, change, growth, skill development, and sometimes new careers. . .the ones we are most suited for.

So let’s engage in "what if" only when we are facing the future. That’s the best way to win in our professional life.

In fact, that’s the best way to win in our entire life.

Author's Bio: 

Bill Lampton, Ph.D.—the “Biz Communication Guy”--taught communication at the University of Georgia. Then he spent twenty-two years in management positions at the vice presidential level. Since 1997, he has been a valued business communication consultant, keynote speaker, and Speech Coach. His clients--including Gillette, Duracell, Procter and Gamble, Sage, and Ritz-Carlton Cancun—strengthen their management, teamwork, sales, customer service, presentations, and profits. His new book: 25 Ways to Control Your Stage Fright—and Become a Highly Confident Speaker! Call him: 678-316-4300 Web site: