During your career, you’ll surely make some mistakes. Although some of them will make you cringe with embarrassment, you always learn and grow from the experience.
Some mistakes are even necessary for your future success. They open your eyes and make you more resilient.
If J.K. Rowling had never hit rock bottom, for example, she might have never pushed hard enough to finish the outrageously successful Harry Potter series. And if Steve Jobs had never been fired from his own company, he may never have gone through the “midlife crisis” that eventually led to inventions like the iPod, iPhone, and iPad.
Below are some necessary mistakes you need to make to rise to the top.
1. Not delivering the elevator pitch
You have about 30 seconds to impress someone when you first meet them, which is why perfecting your elevator pitch is so important. When he worked at Microsoft earlier in his career, Rajat Taneja, now an executive at Visa, found himself in an elevator with an important executive and couldn’t say anything more than “hello.” He had his chance, and he let it slip through his fingertips.
That elevator ride made a huge impact in his career. He writes on LinkedIn: “This experience taught me that in business, you have to make the most of the moments you have and to not let a level of intimidation get in the way of making a good, and lasting, impression.”
2. Not mapping out your five-year career plan
When you’re starting your career, people will ask what you want to do in the long run. In fact, inquiring about your five-year career plan is a common question in job interviews. But some people have no clue what they want to do and still turn out OK. Take Vivian Schiller, head of news at Twitter and the former CEO of NPR, for example. She says she never had a long-term plan.
When Schiller started in the media industry, she was told that she should choose either the creative or business route, but she was interested in both, so she never chose. “Having no set roadmap gave me a view in every direction. And I truly believe that success doesn’t come with a set plan. It comes with patience, a little luck, and trusting yourself to choose the opportunities that are right — for you.”
3. Failing to do adequate research
If you skimp on research, you may end up losing a job opportunity or end up on the bad end of a deal. For T. Boone Pickens, this happened in his first job as a child when he entered into a lawn-mowing deal with his grandmother, who owned six small rental houses at the time. Pickens failed to do any research on his business strategy. He writes on LinkedIn:
“It would rain two days, then we would have sun for five days. I could see the grass growing — and growing. I hadn’t looked at the job very closely. I didn’t realise the lawns were as big as they were, or what a rainy summer would do to me.
“‘This was a very bad summer, and you made a bad deal,’ my grandmother told me. I couldn’t help but agree. Grandmother was right. Misjudging that bid was a small mistake, one that only cost me a few dollars. Yet the sting of that minor miscalculation created such a long-lasting impression that it has stayed seared in my mind throughout my entire career.”
4. Not pushing hard enough for your project
Asana’s Justin Rosenstein could have launched Google Drive in 2006, but didn’t push hard enough for his project. At 22 years old, Rosenstein was working at the company and had the idea for “Gdrive,” which was developed to sync files across your computers, but the idea was turned down by Larry Page.
Rosenstein was so intimidated, he didn’t have the confidence to fight back. He writes:
“I didn’t have enough confidence I was right. I also didn’t have the organizational capital to influence the Google Docs team, and so when [I was asked to join Facebook in 2007], I left Google without completing the project. Google eventually launched an integrated Gdrive five years later.”
Rosenstein learned that if you’re “living and breathing” a project, you need to “understand and articulate the marketing positioning and strategy that’s unique to your project.” Then, you need to fight your hardest for it.
5. Losing your patience
No matter how stressed, you need to keep your cool in a professional setting. Craigslist’s Craig Newmark lost his cool one day in front of customers and “created an instant perception of not playing well with others.”
“Doesn’t matter that I was right, and that the project failed,” Newmark says. “That started in the early eighties, and I didn’t quite understand and modify my behaviour until the early nineties. Probably what really got me going right was starting to do serious customer service, and it’s been 18 years of that.”
6. Needing to be right
NewsCred CEO Shafqat Islam says you need to be wrong in order to learn and grow. “Multiple people have told me this, and I don’t know if I can credit it to a single person, but one thing that I think about is if you’re not getting told ‘no’ enough times a day, you’re probably not doing it right or you’re probably not pushing yourself hard enough,” he tells Business Insider.
In his wildly-popular TED Talk in 2012,
Sir Ken Robinson talks about how our current education system chastises those who break out of the mould because when you do that, you’re risking the chance of being wrong. Robinson says:
“What we do know is if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original. By the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity … And we run companies like this … And now we’re running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make. And the result is we’re educating people out of their creative capacity.”
7. Getting fired
When Steve Jobs was in his 30s, the very company he created fired him. “I was out — and very publicly out,” Jobs says in a 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University. “What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.”
Jobs spent the summer of 1985 in a “midlife crisis,” but during his time away from Apple, Jobs co-founded computer company NeXT, which was later acquired by Apple, and launched Pixar Animation Studios. When Jobs returned to Apple nearly a decade later, he brought the innovation of the iPod, iPhone, and iPad.
Famed Vogue editor Anna Wintour was also fired from Harper’s Bazaar after nine months for being too edgy. Shortly after leaving Harper’s, she became a fashion editor at Viva. “I recommend that you all get fired,” Wintour tells fashion students.
8. Hitting rock bottom
Before the wildly successful Harry Potter series came to life, J.K. Rowling was a single mum on welfare. She dreamed of being a writer while working as a secretary for the London office of Amnesty International, and when she got fired, Rowling admits to hitting rock bottom. She was in her 30s, had no job, no money, and a child to raise on her own.
In a 2008 commencement speech at Harvard University, Rowling discussed how hitting rock bottom forced her to finish the first Harry Potter book. She says:
“I’ve often met people who are terrified — you know, in a straitjacket of their own making — because they’d rather do anything than fail. They don’t want to try for fear of failing,” she says. “[Hitting] rock bottom wasn’t fun at all — I’m not romanticizing rock bottom — but it was liberating. What did I have to lose?”
9. Risking everything
Risking everything for an uncertain career might seem like a huge mistake to most people, but Bryan Cranston knew he loved acting that much.
“The riskiest career decision is to go into this career,” Cranston tells Business Insider at last year’s Time 100 gala. “You have to be a risk-taker of some degree to be able to say, ‘Alright, I’m throwing it all out there. Whatever happens, happens. I want to be an actor,’ … if that means sleeping on someone’s couch for the rest of my life, then that’s what that is.”
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