As a follow-up to last week’s Geek to Geek about our smartest career moves, this week we ask what was your worst career mistake and what did you learn from it?
Tamara: My worst mistake was waiting too long for permission I didn’t need. As someone trying to make movies and TV shows, I found myself in several dysfunctional colabs with leaders who weren’t so great at leading. Eventually, I broke away from that, but I wasted a lot of time because I was scared to go against their authority. The lesson here is that if your so-called “leader” keeps breaking their promises and making excuses (or, in one case, threats), then they’re not worth following. Either go it alone or work with someone you know you can trust. If you have doubts, don’t wait. Your attempts at creating something are just as good as anyone else’s. Don’t wait for someone else to validate your ideas.
Ewen: My worst career mistake, repeated a few times over, was to be complacent about holding a steady but mediocre job. I still do it sometimes, but I learned that in your career you need to look out for yourself and be ambitious. Even if there are people in your life who would like to help you with that, you still have to get out there and start climbing.
Scott: Worst mistake was not getting myself diagnosed with depression sooner. Would have saved a lot of pain in 1999. I still need to learn the lesson to listen to what my body is saying, that some issues are far more serious than simple exhaustion or long hours. Stress needs to be handled, especially when long hours are involved.
Serdar: The single worst career mistake I ever made involved a spec project I was involved with. A great many people, myself included, drew deeply mistaken conclusions about how much opportunity the project in question would be able to give us. I wound up shirking other, paying work in favor of this project, and ended up in a major financial hole because of it. The money situation was not the most humiliating part of it, but rather the way I put too much trust in the wrong things, and developed unrealistic expectations about what was likely to happen because of it. Now, I know better than to give too much of myself to something until I have a better idea of where it might go.
Lauren: At first, I thought my worst career mistake was my greatest career success. In March, I thought I had landed the ultimate scoop. A person claiming to be a Pinterest spammer emailed me and said he was willing to submit to an interview. I did get proof from him—a screenshot indicating his Amazon affiliate name and verification about spammer tactics that I thought only spammers and researchers like me would know. His answers were so amazing I published the story as a Q&A. The results were amazing—everyone from the Atlantic Monthly to Time Magazine picked up my story. It was a truly fantastic success.
Bonnie: The biggest mistake I ever made was one of not doing rather than doing – being timid about past career moves and staying with jobs much longer than I should have because they were stable. Lesson learned – you have to roll the dice to win.
Jason: I’m much like Bonnie. The biggest mistake I’ve made in my career has been to let the fear of change block me from taking on new jobs and new challenges. I need to kick myself sometimes to force myself to roll with the punches and allow the negative things that happen to me turn into positives. I know it’s a cliché to say that you need lemons to make lemonade, but every single time I’ve had a work situation turn badly against me – being laid off or being pushed out of a job or simply been forced to work extra hard for little gain – that situation has ended up working out for me. The next job was better than the previous, I’ve had better stories to tell at interviews, and more failures to build on in order to help me succeed.
Your mileage may definitely vary. :-)