10 people reveal the work mistakes that led to better opportunities for them

We’re always looking for ways to improve at our jobs and achieve the career goals that we set for ourselves, but sometimes this can backfire.

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We’re always looking for ways to improve at our jobs and achieve the career goals that we set for ourselves — but sometimes, the most valuable lessons come from the times we don’t reach those goals. Research shows that when we constantly chase perfection, we miss out on the opportunities that stem from our imperfect moments, like when an error teaches us a lesson in resilience or drives us toward our true passion.


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The prospect of letting ourselves fail can be scary, but it helps to mentally reframe mistakes as learning opportunities. Oftentimes, what we initially perceive to be a failure could actually have some amazing unintended consequences. We asked our Thrive community to share the work “mistakes” that led to something greater.

“I took a job I hated for love, but ended up meeting a mentor.”

“I once took a sales job I didn’t know much about in order to move to be close to my now wife when we were dating. I hated it but kept going. In trying to do as well as possible at this job I hated, I met my now boss while trying to sell to him, and he ended up hiring me for a job I love. If I hadn’t made that mistake, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

—Austin Fabel, media, Nashville, TN

“I took on too much responsibility too young, but learned to lead in the process.”

“Early in my career, I was given a lot of responsibility at a young age. I made a lot of mistakes out of inexperience and naivete, but those mistakes shaped my skills, knowledge and experience. At 24 years old, I built an intern program from scratch and managed people who were only a couple years younger than I was. had no idea what I was getting myself into and made management mistakes that were painful, but helped me grow. If it weren’t for that bumpy time, I would not have the management confidence I have today. In those 10 years, I have led intern programs at three out of my four jobs and managed more than 200 interns throughout my career. I have my first job and my mistakes to thank for that.”

—Lindsay Patton, content manager, Philadelphia

“I quit rather than having a candid conversation with a boss, but it led me to more purpose.”

“At a previous job, I neglected to have a candid conversation with my boss about taking an extended maternity leave after I had given birth. So, I quit instead. Since then, I have tortured myself daily over this mistake. To help move forward, I recently made a list of everything I’m grateful for that’s happened since I quit. Today, I’m a mother, small business owner, homeowner, public speaker, marathoner, avid adventurer, world traveler and fundraiser. In retrospect, my mistake ended up leading me in a more purposeful and well-balanced direction.”

—Carolyn Montrose, brand strategist and speaker, Haworth, NJ

“I got fired for refusing to bend, but discovered who I truly wanted to surround myself with.”

“My best work mistake was thinking that since I was different from others on the leadership team, I was meant to be a ‘fresh voice.’ In reality, my boss wanted to show everyone he could bend me to his will. When I did not ‘get it’ and continued to lead in my style, he got rid of me. After much reflection, I realized that I did not need to change who I was, I needed to work with the right people. It is important to surround yourself with people who share the same values and respect you for who you are.”

—Margaret Meloni, Ph.D., author, Long Beach, CA

“I spent Christmas away from my family to please my boss, but realized what was actually important.”

“On Christmas Eve of 2003, I was in Michigan, working for a Fortune 100 company, implementing a client’s project. I was heading home to Dallas to see my family when my boss called with a nasty surprise. ‘You can’t go home,’ he said. I spent Christmas in Michigan and New Year’s in California due to his bad planning. I missed my family but I did what he asked. Later, he complained that I’d ‘only’ made $18 million in sales. He didn’t understand my job: He failed to appreciate how often I’d saved his reputation. Or that I was not actually a salesperson! I vowed then that I’d build a business and be a very different kind of leader. It’s frightening, leaving a $150k job. At the time, leaving felt like a mistake. The real mistake was not following my own path sooner.”

—Qamar Zaman, PR professional and business owner, Dallas, TX

“I gave a presentation unprepared, which drove me to master the art of presenting.”

“When I started my career way back in 2007, I was asked to present on an HR-related topic to the employees. As much as I wanted it to go well, I was unprepared, and felt I made a fool of myself that day. That mistake kept telling me for a long time that I am not a good presenter. Little did I know, it would be the reason I would drive myself to master the art of presenting. Today, my profession is all about speaking in front of a large unknown audience. Looking back, identifying a skill I had to work on ended up leading me to where I am today.”

—Aakriti Agarwal, coach, facilitator, image consultant, Hyderabad, India

“I burned out and quit my job, but wrote an award-winning book as part of healing.”

“I quit my job while I was experiencing signs of burnout. The stress it had on me eventually caused me to lose my voice. During the recovery, I asked myself ‘What would I do the rest of my life if I can’t speak anymore?’ The answer came with the next thought: ‘Write a book!’ Never wrote one before, but the thought had so much energy that I trusted it. Ten months later, I self-published Introverts: Leverage Your Strengths for an Effective Job Search, which became a best-seller in nine countries and won an award.”

—Gabriela Casineanu, coach and author, Toronto, Canada

“I chose a job that paid more rather than the one that inspired me — but I course corrected.”

“I had two job offers, and chose one that paid more. While I was sitting in the lobby waiting to join the training session, I opened a magazine to an ad for the job I turned down, immediately had an overwhelming feeling I had chosen the wrong one. I felt like a fool, but I went back to the contact for the job I declined, and told them I had made a mistake. They forgave me, hired me, and the position catapulted me onto an international path I loved.”

—Kristin Shaw, writer, Austin, TX

“I regretted quitting a job of 16 years, but found more waiting for me.”

“I was at a job for 16 years, and I always felt that there was more waiting for me. After some major soul searching, I made the decision to leave. In the early days following my exit, I questioned my decision and often felt that I made a big mistake. This ‘mistake’ turned out to be the best decision I had ever made. I was able to focus on my career and family, and not only have found my dream job, but have also found my passion for supporting women in leadership roles. It was my best mistake.”

—Carrie McEachran, executive director, Mooretown, CA

“I mistakenly signed up for a course that changed my life forever.”

“In my sophomore year of high school, I walked into an elective class prepared to spend three hours in a planetarium studying the planets, stars, and cosmos. I had mistakenly thought the class was Cosmology, but it was correctly named Cosmetology. I was greeted by a wall of floating mannequin heads, mirrors, and blow dryers. I had to participate in the elective throughout the semester, and I ended up graduating with a cosmetology license, opening my own salon at age 25. This initial mistake propelled my entrepreneurial spirit to pursue and support my own ventures.”

—Krista Nerestant, business owner, Cedar Grove, NJ

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This article first appeared on Thrive

 


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