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13 Good Career Mistakes You Made In Your 20s

When Anna Wintour began her fashion career, she was fired from her junior fashion editor position at Harper’s Bazaar. But that setback didn’t stop her from pursuing a career in the fashion industry. Years later, as the long-time editor-in-chief at Vogue and global fashion icon, Wintour told aspiring fashionistas, “I recommend you all get fired; it’s a great learning experience.” While failure can seem devastating in the moment, it can be one of our greatest teachers.

Here are 15 career mistakes that you will inevitably make in your 20s, and will benefit you for years to come.

1. Solely working for money rather than growth
Early on, working for the weekend or for the paycheck might be the only thing that gets you out of bed for that 9 a.m. meeting. And that’s okay—for now. Working a high-paying job that doesn’t necessarily align with your interests can teach you the valuable dichotomy between earning money and gaining personal fulfillment. Also, if you decide to transition into the field you’re passionate about later, you will have the financial stability to back you up.

2. Getting demoted, or worse, fired
Being terminated from a job can seem like the ultimate career ender. But before you panic, you’d be surprised how many successful people were fired early on in their career. Oprah, for example, was fired from her job as a news reporter for Baltimore’s WJZ-TV after a producer told her that she was “unfit for television news.” Years later, she notably proved that producer very wrong. Getting fired is undeniably a setback, but it can also open up new opportunities that you never could have had access to otherwise.

[Related: Avoid These 5 Career Mistakes]

3. Saying yes to the first job offer
After a long and grueling job search process, jumping to take the first offer seems like the best way to end the uncertainty. You’re not alone. 3 out of 5 of American workers fail to negotiate their salaries. Nevertheless, this is a mistake you can recover from. If you jumped at the first offer but the job turned out to be an ill-fit, remember that every bad job experience teaches you about what you want and don’t want in your perfect job. Additionally, you can look for new jobs from the security of your new perch.

[Related: How to Negotiate Your Salary at Your First Job]

4. Not taking a break for yourself
At the beginning of your career, sometimes the only way it feels like you can get ahead is simply by working longer and harder than those around you. But working without taking proper vacations and time away from work can cause an early burnout. This is a mistake truly best made in your twenties, when you have more reserves of energy than later in life.

5. Watching your startup fail
It is undeniably devastating to watch the venture you’ve created or work for fall into failure. But behind any successful entrepreneur is most likely a checkered past of failed business ventures. In fact, the majority of startups do fail – most estimates put the success ratio of startups at nine failed companies for every one success. The key is to learn from past mistakes, keep persevering, and don’t let past failure serve as an indicator for what the future has to hold.

[Related: How I Quit My Job And Earned $20k Less, But Happiness is Priceless]

6. Spending time out of the work world
Taking time to sail around the world or climb mountains in the Himalayas instead of working in a job that will advance your career can seem reckless to outsiders, but, in fact, it is one of the best ways to build skills and expand horizons. Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, spent the greater part of his early years rock climbing, mountaineering, and venturing outdoors – all experiences which eventually informed his deep knowledge of the type of gear necessary for these pursuits, which he translated into Patagonia’s products.

7. Not setting up a retirement savings account
The good news is that you still have a few decades to sort out what the difference between a 401K, Roth IRA and traditional IRA. The bad news is that the earlier you start saving, the more money you make through the magic of compound interest, so if you don’t invest early, you’ll have to catch up by investing a greater portion of your paycheck later in life. It is never too early to start thinking about saving.

[Related: Adulting 101: How to Land Your First Job]

8. Coming into work after pulling an all-nighter
If you think no one will notice the dark bags under your eyes – think again. And there’s no question your “secret” nap at your desk was seen by the office manager. Don’t come into work if you’ve partied ’til 4 a.m. – or better yet, scale back on the all-nighters.

9. Not developing a personal brand
Developing a personal brand is critical for getting noticed in the professional world, especially when you don’t yet have a solid reputation to stand on. However, if you didn’t develop your own personal brand in the early years of your career, this can actually be a good thing. Using your past work and experiences, you can build a much more solid personal brand than trying to create one without the experience to back it up.

[Related: 5 Steps to Build Your Personal Brand]

10. Giving up a job opportunity for romance
When faced with the decision between the dream job or the dream partner, only you can make that decision. It’s impossible to guarantee which decision will be the most fulfilling. But just because you gave up a job to be with someone you ultimately broke up with, doesn’t mean it was a misstep.

11. Going into an industry that doesn’t suit you
Your 20s are about trial and error. It may take a while to set aside early dreams for the field that really suits you. But the best time to have these realizations is when you are flexible and have limited baggage. There’s always time to make a career switch. Vera Wang, for example, didn’t start designing clothes until she was 40 years old.

[Related: 17 Celebrities Reveal Their First Jobs]

12. Leaving a high school job on your resume
It’s not the end of the world, but also isn’t a move that resume experts would advise. The good news is that the more time you spend working, the more content you’ll have to adorn your resume with, so you’ll have a well-curated resume in no time.

13. Having a paltry wardrobe of work clothes
It can take a long time to build an adequate wardrobe of work clothes, especially on a starting salary budget. However, it also makes sense to invest early on, because work clothes rarely go out of fashion, and you can makes use of staples throughout your career.


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