Fi Intern

Making Mistakes at Work: What We Would Tell Our 21-Year-Old Selves

Published by
18th August 2023

For those who might not be familiar, something wonderful happened on Twitter this year (a sentence not heard all that often). After an ordeal where an HBO Max intern accidently sent out a test email to thousands of the streaming service’s subscribers, the company took to Twitter to explain the mistake and highlighted how they were supporting their intern through the mishap.

This subsequently sparked the #DearIntern trend to circulate, which saw thousands of users taking to the social media app and sharing their accounts of silly mistakes they had made in their careers. This show of unification brought a certain warmth to the world of Twitter, and highlights an important fact for HR: mistakes are always going to be made, especially when you’re just starting out, but it’s how we respond to them that truly matters.

In light of this, I asked my fellow OrgShakers some reflective advice that they would give their younger selves as they just started out in their careers, and here are their responses:

David Fairhurst: I’ve learned that done is better than perfect – find the balance of knowing when some things are just good enough and move on.

Anya Clitheroe: Don’t be afraid to ask questions! When you first start work, and someone sets you a task, it’s okay not to know how to do it. Ask, “What does good look like? Where will I find the information I need to do this? Who is the best person for me to turn to when I have a question or need support?”. We grow up thinking that we need to prove that we are the best and we are not used to allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. No one knows how to ride a bicycle without being shown, why would a work task be any different?

Ken Merritt: I would tell 21-year-old Ken: “Build your network and value that network as much as you value any other professional asset.”

Brittany Burton: Attend as many University career fairs and networking events as you can. At 21, I had no idea a career like Human Resources existed. I had a very black-and-white view of my career path and when I tried it and didn’t like it, I was lost at what other career paths were in the world. Luckily, I landed in this profession which aligns perfectly with my skillset and how I want to serve, but it wasn’t without a lot of time, energy, and effort exploring what was beyond my original career path when I decided it wasn’t a fit.

Victoria Sprenger: I received this advice in my early 20s from a mentor – Grow Where You’re Planted. Use your early career opportunities to learn and grow, even if the opportunity is not exactly what you set out to do.

Marty Belle: After graduating from university, the words of my Mom and Grandmother were reverberating in my ears, “Get a job, work hard, and you will make something out of yourself”. Those words shaped the path that I pursued, which involved joining one corporate organization after another and constantly trying to adapt my style to open the doors to success that I saw in front of me. Today, I would stress to my 21-year-old self, “be comfortable with who you have been created to be and pursue the dreams that may require you to make a new door.”

Stephanie Rodriguez: Hmm…some advice I’d give my former self would be to not hold on too tight to whatever plan you think you have career wise and enjoy the journey. Yes, having a plan and goals is great, but keeping an open mind and staying flexible can lead to some amazing opportunities you’d never have imagined. The journey might not play out the way you thought it would, and that’s perfectly okay!

Sayid Hussein: I would emphasize the importance of continuous learning and staying adaptable in the ever-evolving world of technology. Embrace challenges and take calculated risks to grow both personally and professionally. Don’t shy away from seeking mentors or collaborating with others to expand your knowledge and skills. Also, remember to strike a healthy work-life balance to prevent burnout and maintain overall well-being. Finally, trust your instincts, stay true to your values, and always be open to new opportunities that align with your passion and goals.

Lauren Kincaid: “Show up to improve yourself, not prove yourself” – as someone who was very often the youngest person in the room, I felt the need to prove I deserved to be there. I wish I had had the confidence to spend less time fearing failure and overpreparing and more time saying, “I don’t know” and asking others, “what do you think?”.  

Michael Lawson: “Forget the mistake, remember the lesson it taught you” – When I was first starting out at my first company, I oversaw all of the HR Employee Files on the network. One day, I accidentally hit the “delete” key on my keyboard which deleted a whole folder’s worth of data (several files). I went into panic mode trying to get them back before going to my boss. Little did I know that I could call I.T. and with one click of a button, it could be restored. My boss looked at me and said, “everyone makes mistakes, and most can be corrected, the lesson here is being precise within your work to get things done correctly.” To this day, I can still hear those words.

Amanda Holland: As the only shy introvert in a family of extroverts, from a young age I struggled to meet the social expectations of my parents and siblings. This carried over to my first “real” job at the age of 14. It was so much easier to focus on technical excellence and book learning than to face the uncomfortable world of people. One time, I came home after a full day of school and work, irritated and unhappy because even though I’d done all my tasks correctly at work, my boss had told me I needed to lighten up. My mom listened to my frustration and then shared this pearl of wisdom, “It doesn’t matter how smart or talented you are at a job if you can’t get along with people.” From that moment on, I have spent as much energy on learning how to communicate and interact effectively with people as I have on mastering the tools of my trade. Connecting with others can be a reward beyond measure.

Andy Parsley: “Don’t trust your memory!” At the start of every new job you will be at the receiving end of a tsunami of information, meetings, tasks, and deadlines. Equip yourself with a good, old-fashioned notebook and take notes in every meeting (including when it took place and who was there). Use the back of the same notebook to create a to-do list (what you need to do, and when it needs to be done by). There’s nothing worse than waking up in the middle of the night worrying that you’ve forgotten to do something – or failing to remember what was agreed at last week’s important meeting. By committing everything to paper, you’ll know just where to find everything you need to remember when you need to.

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