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Why mistakes can be so useful to your career

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6 min read
AUTHOR: Jess Bradley
Illustration of confused man dressed in red

Mistakes, we all make them. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t. At the time they can be deeply affecting to anyone who makes them, especially when at work, but sometimes they can be not just useful, but essential to someone’s career.

In the Career Conversations podcast series, we spoke to some of our guests about the most useful mistakes they’ve made in their careers. Read on to find out some of their best advice.

Paul A Young, Chocolatier

“I shunned social media for a long time, I was very resistant. And I kept saying no to Instagram, and Twitter for a long time until Kate, my PR at the time, said you have to do it. This is going to be the world. And then I fell in love with Instagram. And because it was about creativity, it was about pictures, it’s about sharing. You could see food from all over the world and now it’s so beneficial and that’s what I’m doing today.

Ella Jonas, Junior Brand Manager, Mondelez International

“There was a time when my brain absolutely blanked when I was onstage. A full 20 seconds of silence and everyone felt really sorry for me, but actually in the long run, it was super useful. Because now I always know to prepare before presenting and to not let those mistakes affect you, and to bounce back.”

Wendy Wilson-Bett, Co-founder, Peter’s Yard

“I have two people, Stuart and Fiona, to thank for correcting my mistake. So I was a brand new boss and I thought I was doing a great job, by motivating them and training them. And they said, could they have a word because they weren’t very happy. And I hadn’t allowed them to do something, which was basically a really tedious process of managing the budget which was one of the things I hated doing. And so I just hadn’t given it to them. And they thought that was because I didn’t trust them. Which was definitely not the case. So they gave me the feedback that they wanted to do it. It was the best thing for me because I hated it and they got to do it. And so I made the mistake of assuming that to be a good boss, you needed to be liked, but actually to be a good boss, you need to delegate and trust people. But what was great was they felt they could tell me so we put it right pretty quickly. But it was a lesson I’ve never forgotten.”

Taïeb Mestiri, Scientific and Regulatory Affairs Manager, the Coca-Cola Company

“So the first thing that I would like to highlight is that I do not believe in mistakes. And I don’t want to sound philosophical, but I believe in learnings. So, I had to switch from engineering to doing something completely different. So doing a Bachelor degree and then a master degree, back then it was a little bit of failure for me. But then I realised that, hey, I can use this as a tool in my toolbox, you know, to highlight the fact that I have done engineering. I still have the knowledge I have accumulated during engineering school, so I can highlight it on my CV. So really, I believe in learnings and in shaping these learnings into assets.”

Hari Ghotra, Food and Beverage Development (Global Lead), Virgin Atlantic

“I’ve made quite a few mistakes. But if you don’t make mistakes, you don’t grow and you don’t learn. So I’ve done a lot of demos at food festivals and foodie events. And I was doing one I think it was probably in front of about 150 people. And I was making Bengali or Indian fritters, the little bhajis and it was in a wok and I set fire to a kitchen roll that was next to me and the whole thing went up and alarms went off and everyone had to evacuate. And it was from there I thought I was probably better off doing something digitally where I can control the environment a little bit more. And that was just before we started to sort of create the Hari Gotra website. So as much as I love live cooking it has its issues and its flaws. But hey, you can’t beat yourself up about it and I look back and I laugh. No one was injured in the making of those bhajis but it was quite funny.”

Dominique Woolf, cookbook writer and entrepreneur

“Maybe it’s failing at music, because I learned so many lessons. And actually, I came away probably thinking I was a failure. And thinking do I want to put myself out there to fail again? But actually, I realised that that was as business as much as being an entrepreneur is. So it’s that resilience, it’s really taught me definitely.”

Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones MBE, AKA, The Black Farmer

“The most important thing in life is mistakes. Now, most people think that the thing to do is not to make mistakes, but the only way to measure whether you are living your life to the maximum is to look back every three months at where I made a mistake. Because if you could look back and see you’ve made mistakes, that means you’re living, you’re living your life to the maximum. But if you’re living in the logic that I can’t mess up, I can’t get this wrong, you’re slumming it, you might as well just exist. In my company, the philosophy is pretty simple. Never ask for permission, just ask for forgiveness. Don’t wait. We’re worried about getting it wrong. It’s expected to go wrong, because the price of going forward at pace is getting things wrong. Learning from that and to keep going. But if you’re in an environment where you can’t get it wrong, it’s not a very nice environment to live in. I celebrate the mistakes. And I’m making them all the time, all the time, all the time. But that tells me I’m alive.”

Event Series: Inspiring careers in food

November 2022 | London and Birmingham
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