5 Creatives Share Their Biggest Career Mistakes – and the Lessons Learned

Whether it was committing a careless error or taking the wrong job altogether, every creative professional has made a career mistake. Here, five creatives share their biggest blunders and what they learned from them.

Sloppy screw-ups. Misguided job choices. Using bad judgment. Everyone has made a career mistake or two. And while a boneheaded decision may cause you to hang your head in shame ­– or beat it against the proverbial wall ­– the real crime would be failing to learn from the error.

Here, five creative professionals share their worst career mistakes and the lessons they gleaned from their experiences. Let their stories serve as cautionary tales – or consolation that you're not the only one who's made a job-related blunder.

Steve Wilson, principal and designer, CINQ Partners

Career mistake: I left a decent job at a university doing web, print and video design to take a "web designer" job for local government. A significant increase in pay was the deciding factor. What should have raised a red flag was that the web designer job was in the IT department. I did the job and did it well. However, it was all about how I "fit in" with the department ­– I was surrounded by programmers and tech people. While I had enough tech knowledge to carry on conversations, I was a creative and not "one of them." In meetings, while fellow staffers were talking about wiring diagrams, networks, C++ and Java, I would bring up the new website grid design, color scheme or rebranding project. They all looked at me with blank stares. I ended up resigning after a year to start my own design business.

Lesson learned: Workplace dynamics and environment mean a whole lot more than pay when talking about creative jobs. The environment, while very friendly, was the opposite of creative. It was quiet, overly structured and cold.

Devon Spec, art director

Career mistake: I got too comfortable online. I wrote the wrong thing and it was seen by the wrong person. That individual found out who my boss was, and sent him an online forum link in which I was asking for help with a work issue. My boss didn't like what he saw, even though no proper names were mentioned, and I got let go.

Lesson learned: It was actually a good thing in the long run and a learning experience about discretion that comes with living in this digital day and age ­– and a testament to growing up.

Nikita Prokhorov, graphic designer

Career mistake: In graduate school, I was interning for an international company that produced a wide range of products. There was a potential job at the end of the tunnel that I was hoping to land after my internship. One of the projects I worked on was an annual pocket guide of all their equipment. My job was making minor copy edits and ensuring all the changes for 2005 were accurate. The project was approved, it went to print and we ended up with about 50,000 copies. However, my one mistake was forgetting to change the year from 2004 to 2005 on the thin spine of the pocket guide. I changed it on the front, forgot about the spine, and it went to print after it was approved. They ended up having to print them over, and that one mistake was probably a big reason for my not getting the job. 

Lesson learned: A few people I've told this story to have said my boss or the person responsible for final approval should have caught the error. Nonetheless, the moral of the story for me was this: Regardless of who is responsible for the proofs after you hand off a project, that doesn't mean you should stop paying attention and rely on someone else to catch your mistakes.

Ed McNamara, director of communications and marketing, SHI International Corp.

Career mistake: While preparing to bring a new product to market, I was tasked with researching and hiring a public relations firm that would help change the perception of our company from "partner" to "provider" ­– a very distinct difference in the IT industry. This would be a new kind of relationship for an organization that advertised little and had never utilized a third party for any aspect of content creation. So I did what I always do when I need information: I googled it and started populating a spreadsheet with what I found. And then I lost a full workweek during this critical time paging through the mostly unhelpful results. After arranging a disastrous meeting with a firm that promised they could get our relatively unknown private company on the cover of Forbes within two months, our CEO made a phone call to a former classmate who immediately recommended the perfect company for us at half the price. 

Lesson learned: No matter how much easier Google makes our lives, it will never be a substitute for the security and efficiency of a referral obtained directly through a knowledgeable and reliable source ­– especially a colleague of your CEO. Luckily, this did not cost me my job, but I did need to do some damage control with the people I manage who had to scramble to make up for that lost week. Had I gone to my boss on that first day and admitted I knew nothing about hiring a PR firm, I would have saved time, manpower, credibility with my team and a big shot to my ego.

Kelly Parke, principal, Parke Creative

Career mistake: After 10 years in my design career, with almost five years of that time working as a print designer at a global manufacturer, I got projectitis after managing the launch of our new web portal ­– testing, training and marketing as well as creating all print collateral. I became all-consumed with this undertaking ­– which I thought was a good thing – and for the first time ever, I missed a proposal deadline on another project. Even though I was doing a kick-ass job on this one project, I failed to communicate with my superiors and my team about my other priorities. This affected my credibility, and I eventually got laid off.

Lesson learned: Poor communication skills can affect many aspects of a visual career. Through classes I learned how to communicate more precisely and effectively, and got more involved with groups, mentoring, sharing and making great friends along the way. After landing corporate tech positions managing successful multimedia projects, I learned to stay focused on all of my job responsibilities and keep everyone in the loop. 

There's no shortage of career mistakes one can make. What was your biggest blunder? What did you learn?

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