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The Highly Valued Leader Podcast - Clarifying Vision

Episode 7 – My 3 Biggest Career Mistakes

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Episode 7 - My 3 Biggest Career Mistakes
Summary

In this week’s podcast episode, I’m talking about something that’s not easy to talk about–My mistakes.

I want to share the big mistakes I made in my career.  But honestly, the idea of sharing my big career mistakes is not something I’m looking forward to.

But it’s important.  It’s important to share career mistakes because that’s a big part of how we learn. We learn from the experiences of others. And now that I’m allegedly on the other side of a lot of these career mistakes (and ready to make new ones), my goal is to help you avoid them… AND to remind you it’s normal to make them.

If you’re looking for a specific freebie or tool mentioned in this podcast, you can visit https://melsavage.com/free to access additional free training tools designed to help you become a highly valued leader.

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Disclaimer: Some of the content and information mentioned in this episode might no longer be applicable. This includes references to specific links, courses, or programs. As a result, all the links mentioned will now redirect you to our current website. There, you’ll find up-to-date information, resources, and exciting new content to support your journey. We appreciate your understanding and unwavering support.

Hello there and welcome back to the Career Reset podcast.

Today, I am talking about something that is really freaking me out. I want to share with you today my three biggest career mistakes and the idea of sharing them with you in this podcast is freaking me out and making me nervous. 

I actually didn’t even write out a script for this. I’m just going with some bullet points here because it’s a bit about me. It’s a bit about my background. It’s me being vulnerable, which I think is really important in today’s day and age, is to share. If you really want to help people, you need to share what’s going on with you. You need to share your mistakes. But when you share your mistakes with people, you relive those things, you have to go back there. 

For me, if I’m being honest, it’s a mix of pride, meaning I’m proud of the fact that I went through that and it came out the other end. So there’s a lot of good feelings there. But there’s still a lot of ‘why I did that’ type of feeling there. While I think it’s really important to make sure that I’m sharing with you some of these big mistakes, because I really don’t, I really would love for you to avoid these mistakes if you can. It’s tough. It’s a tough thing to do, but I’m going to power through it today. 

Where I would start before I get into the mistakes is just to share with you that it wasn’t all bad. What I’m going to share with you today makes it sound all bad, but it wasn’t all bad. I’d say it was 80% great. I’m a smart person. I’m proud of that. I had a very successful career. I worked hard. I had the ability to be a good leader. I learned so much from every place that I worked. I met so many great people and I had so many great opportunities. I was so lucky to be able to do the things that I did. 

I worked in London for a year, working on the Olympics there, with my company. They sent me there. I have met amazing people, really smart people from around the world, working, doing what I was doing in marketing at McDonald’s. I won awards. There were amazing things. Despite all of the tough times that I had in my career, I’m really proud of what I was able to achieve. And I achieved it with integrity, which was important to me. I was always honest. 

I always tried to do what I believed to be the right thing versus what I believed would help my career the most, which you can argue was a smart thing to do or not a smart thing to do depending on which way you come at it. I don’t want to get too dramatic. I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me as I go through all of this. It’s not like that, the challenges. Even though I had this amazing career, people still came up to me whom I used to work with and said that I was always so impressive and that they really loved working with me. But I never felt that way. 

It doesn’t really matter what other people think of you. What really matters is what’s going on in your head. And what was going on in my head made me act out in so many ways. I get that you’re dealing with all this stuff going on in your head. Even though they are small little thoughts, the impact of what’s going on in your head has small repercussions. They’re all like tiny little paper cuts along the way. 

You’re dealing and dealing with all this stuff in your head until one day, you think, ‘Oh my God, how did I get here? How did I get to where I am right now? How did this happen? How did I get myself into this position? I’m a smart girl. How did I end up here?’ I would say looking back on my career so far, today’s podcast is the story of the things that I would do differently. 

The mistakes that I made that I feel like if I hadn’t made those mistakes if I knew what I know now, things would’ve gone differently in my career. I’m on the fence even when I say that because what I went through made me who I am today. What I went through made me love myself today. What I went through made me a stronger leader today. But I honestly think my learning curve was a little steeper than it needed to be. I’ll just say it that way.

If I had learned some of these lessons earlier, I really think I could have been even more successful than I was in my career. I don’t regret anything that’s happened, but I do hope that sharing the mistakes that I made is going to help you make your learning curve a little less steep. 

So I’m going to share three things today. Honestly, it was hard to pick three. I really had to bucket them so they’re really deep buckets. Three mistakes that I’ve made in my career. 

The first one I really want to share with you is the fact that I just didn’t believe in myself. That was one of my big mistakes and it really stemmed from the fact that I didn’t finish university. When I started university, my family was in that income bracket where I wasn’t eligible for grants. But we didn’t really have enough money to send me to university if you know what I mean. So I ended up working my way through it. It was too much and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. 

I was making all these excuses so I didn’t finish university. I went and got myself a full-time job. And that always stuck with me. The fact that I didn’t finish my degree. I felt like I was already starting on my back foot as I was getting into the world of business. But I’ll tell you what, I was really lucky. I went to a job placement agency at the time and they ended up putting me in as a mail room person at a really big advertising agency. 

I think my title was, believe it or not, I don’t even know if they have this title anymore. I certainly hope not. It was ‘Girl Friday.’ And I’m not that old, I’ll tell you that right now. But I was Girl Friday. So I delivered the mail, I set up meetings, milk, and cookies or whatever people were having during meetings at the time. This was in the early nineties. Not everyone had computers on their desks, only the secretaries did. 

I did overflow typing. I was young enough and I was one of the only people who knew how to work one of those desktop Macintoshes. Those old ones that were in one piece with a tiny little black-and-white screen. Those had just come out. I knew how to work that. I would do it for flow typing and that sort of thing. I made myself useful to people and my career grew from there. 

I ended up building a career in advertising and working my way up from the mail room to being a secretary to taking on accounts, and so on and so on to where I ended my career, my corporate career as the senior director of marketing for McDonald’s Canada, which was an amazing job in marketing and Canada because not many companies spent a lot of money on marketing in terms of advertising and marketing events. They would just pick up things from the U.S. or other places in the world and Canada. 

Not only were we able to financially fund marketing, but we did a lot of our own bespoke work here. It was an amazing job to have if you are a marketer, to work at McDonald’s, one of the biggest, most respected marketing companies in the world, despite how you might feel about their food from a marketer’s perspective. It was an amazing job to have so I felt really lucky. In fact, I felt really, really lucky. 

I felt this massive imposter syndrome. It’s easy to feel like an imposter when I was still carrying around this ‘I’m lucky to be here’ type of attitude in terms of I didn’t finish my degree and everyone around me has a degree or even a master’s degree, and there I was, worked myself up from the mailroom. So, it’s really easy when you see all these successful people around you. I was more focused on how great they were versus how great I was. 

And I was great. People around me thought I was great, but I wasn’t focused on that. I was focusing on what they did well. I wasn’t focusing on what I did well. I focused on what was missing versus really capitalizing and leveraging my own strengths and what I already love doing or what I was really good at. 

Because I was dealing with this massive imposter syndrome and so focused on myself, my ego, and my growth, it held me back from supporting and elevating other people. I wasn’t as open to helping. I wasn’t as open to putting other people on a pedestal above myself because I still felt like I always had something to prove. I felt like I could have nurtured and supported my peers more than I had done in my career. 

It’s also this imposter syndrome, this idea of not being good enough that made me open to conforming to the way the company wanted me to behave. That wasn’t such a big deal when I was younger because when I started my career in advertising, I’d say for the first 10-plus years, I was dealing with clients. I worked in Toronto and I moved to Vancouver. I worked there and then I came back to Toronto. I had really big clients. 

I worked with General Motors, I worked with Ford, I worked with Kraft General Foods. It was called Kraft General Foods at the time, and I had some really great clients and really great experiences. I worked with McDonald’s from the agency side. And at that point, being in an advertising agency, you’re uniqueness was celebrated. Advertising agencies in general realize that they only have people for a certain amount of time and so they really tried to capitalize on the strengths of the people that they had. 

When I moved from the agency side to the client side to the corporate side, McDonald’s was a very corporate company. They really appreciated my uniqueness and energy at the outset, but as time went on, that uniqueness, it’s almost like when you get married to someone or when you’re dating someone. The things that you love about them or that draw you to them at the beginning of the relationship are quite often the things that irritate you about them later. I don’t know. 

It’s not always that way, but it’s often that way. And that is what happened with me and McDonald’s. And it happens with a lot of corporations. They hire you for your uniqueness, your innovative thinking, and what you can bring to the organization. And then they slowly start to try to mold you into their world. So if I had more belief in myself, I would’ve said, ‘Hey, no, wait a minute. That’s not me. This is who I am over here.’ And that’s not good enough that I need to maybe find someplace where I fit. But I didn’t do that. I just kept trying to say, ‘Oh, okay, well I don’t do this. Well, I’ll try to do that.’

I’m not saying don’t try to improve yourself and grow and become a stronger leader and deal with certain behaviors that are getting in your way. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I started to let go of some of the things that made me uniquely me. It wasn’t just about learning how to communicate more effectively, it was letting go of the things that made me uniquely me. 

I was okay to do that because I felt like it was what I needed to do to be accepted there. And being accepted was important at the time when really it wasn’t. There were other places out there that would have accepted and appreciated me for who I was versus trying to make me in their image.

So essentially for me, as part of this not believing in myself, the other thing I did was that I stayed too long at the party. I stayed at McDonald’s for 12 years when after five years, that probably should have been enough. I put up with stuff that wasn’t aligned with who I was. The culture changed when I was there. When I first joined there, it was very much more a family-oriented place that cared about people. And slowly over time, it became way more the stereotype of a corporate culture. Very fear-based, very competitive, kind of backstabby. 

So that was something that didn’t really play with me, but I tried to maneuver in that situation and I maneuvered badly. And the other thing that happens when you stay somewhere for too long, and this is something that happens to everyone, is what I call old tape. You get labeled with this old tape. We all make mistakes. It’s part of how we grow. It’s part of how we learn. 

But the longer you stay somewhere, the more unlikely it’s going to be that people form an opinion of what you can and can’t do. They put limits on you. They tell you what you’re able to achieve. Never mind the limits that you put on yourself. All of a sudden, the people around you set limits on what you can and can’t achieve. And that holds back your ability to grow and become a stronger person, get certain experiences, get certain achievements under your belt, and maybe change certain behaviors because you’re not getting the opportunities anymore.

So it’s really hard to break out of that old tape once people have labeled you. I recommend everybody to move around as some people have great situations, and if that’s working for you, stay there. But for a lot of people in corporate jobs, moving around is important for your growth. I guess the last thing I would say about the impact of not believing in myself is what I just mentioned, limits. I set limits on myself, and what I could achieve. 

I always said to myself that I’m a strong number two. I would’ve been an amazing number one. I could have been an amazing number one had I believed that that was achievable. But every time I got a promotion, every time I worked my way up, I was in a new type of number-one position. You can be number two to anyone. Even the CEO of McDonald’s Canada was a number two to somebody. I had this number two mentality going on in my head when really, I had everything going for me to be number one all the time. And I still do. 

So my takeaway from that is from now on, I’m always number one. I’m not number two to anyone. That is a mindset that I would encourage everyone to take hold of. You are always number one, you are nobody’s number two. So not believing in myself was the biggest and deepest mistake that I made that I don’t make anymore and it had so many tentacles of repercussions on my career. So again, would I do it differently? Yes. But going through those experiences really taught me to be who I am today.

Honestly, I could go on and on. It impacted my relationships with people. It impacted how strong of a leader I was. It impacted how often I complained at work. There’s a lot that goes on, a lot that falls out of not believing in yourself. So I recommend that if there’s one thing that you want to work on, it’s that mindset of believing that you’re supposed to be there. You are not an imposter. You have every right to be there. You are number one. 

I could talk about this one forever, but I’m going to move on to my number two mistake, which is the fact that I did not have a career plan. I never thought that I needed one. I worked hard and I was in firmly what I call the Fingers Crossed group. I thought that if I worked hard, it’s all going to work out. My boss is going to take care of me. The people I work with are going to see that I’m awesome and I’m going to get promotions. I was getting promotions and moved from the mail room to a very senior position, one of the most senior positions in McDonald’s Canada. 

But that doesn’t mean that it all worked out exactly the way it was supposed to. If I had a career plan, maybe I would have achieved more. Maybe I would have had different experiences. Maybe I would have been promoted faster. Maybe I would have been able to have more impact on my industry and more people or decided to build my own business earlier. There are lots of things that could have happened had I had my career plan and certainly, I would have left McDonald’s earlier than 12 years. I would’ve left after five years if I had my career plan. 

But often in my career, I didn’t even do a lot of interviewing at the beginning. I would do my job and then some would come and ‘save me.’ Someone I previously worked with would call me up and say, ‘Hey, do you want to come work here? Do you want to come work there?’ I just did that. I would just work in a job until someone called me for another job, which is not a career plan. It’s a very passive way to manage your career and you’re missing a ton of opportunities in the meantime.

When I got the job at McDonald’s, which again someone called me and basically gave it to me, they had a career planning process baked into their performance development program where every year you’d have two reviews and you’d have a career plan that you’d have to build, not only for that coming year but also overall for your career and just going through that process. 

There was a lot of training associated with that process and just going through that process is the foundation for the work that I do with my clients now. But the one difference is, it’s a pretty big difference when I was doing the career planning at McDonald’s. It was all about McDonald’s. Your career plan is about what you want to do at McDonald’s in the future. It wasn’t what you wanted to do in your career. It wasn’t all about me. It was about where I could serve McDonald’s. 

In some years you’re a superstar, in some years you’re less of a superstar, and someone else is a superstar in the organization. Your ability to be able to activate your career plan and get the growth opportunities that you really want through the company depends on how your performance is going on that year. So only the top people get the training and investment dollars in training. Only the top people get the big opportunities. Only the top people get chosen for task forces and all the other, unique opportunities for growth that would be in the organization. 

So if you weren’t a top person in a given year, you weren’t getting those opportunities. When you have a career plan at an organization, it’s a wonderful retention strategy for the company. This was McDonald’s retention strategy. Demonstrating that they were helping you build your career when really, you had no control over it. It wasn’t about you building your career in general, it was you building your career at McDonald’s. So I just bought into that at the time and I went with it. 

However, not having a plan that took me outside of McDonald’s helped me look at other companies, build relationships outside of the organization, do speaking engagements for myself, not so much for McDonald’s, but for myself, and join industry organizations or boards or volunteering in the industry. Those are all the things that I could have done had I thought about it and sat down and put my career first versus throwing all of my time into McDonald’s, and building a plan that was just McDonald’s. 

So I would say that you would absolutely want to go out and make sure that you have a career plan that’s for you. Your current job can be part of that plan. If you’re in a company like I was with McDonald’s where they are, I’d say encouraging, but really it’s mandatory, encouraging you to build your career plan within the organization, then you can bring that plan into your overall plan if you want to. But that doesn’t have to be where it ends. You should have your own plan to make things happen. I really encourage you to do that. 

If you want a framework for how to set up that plan, you can go back to the podcast. It’s called planning for your career success. And I will put a link to it in the show notes.

The third mistake I made was I didn’t prioritize myself. Everything was about the job, whatever job it was. I’m not talking about family. I prioritize my husband and my family needed me. I was there, but I was pretty much a work-first kind of gal. So, I would put my job before my own career planning.

Like I said, I didn’t think career planning was a thing. I didn’t think it was necessary until I was too late, meaning until I was in a situation in my career, whether it was before McDonald’s or not, different times in my career where I stayed too long at the party or I stayed longer than was right for me as a person. 

If I had a career plan, it would’ve been much easier for me to exit because I would have had opportunities and connections and I would have felt more comfortable going up for interviews, etc. I prioritized work before my own health, above my social life. Work was everything. And even as I’m talking about it with you right now, the reason I prioritized work was because I didn’t believe in myself. 

Because I felt like if I prioritized something over and above my work, I was going to be found out. I needed to be working the hardest. I needed to be investing that much time. I needed it to be showing up at 120% all the time because God forbid, they shouldn’t find out that I’m not qualified to be doing the job that I’m doing. So this whole idea of work first actually backfires. 

There are a lot of people that I can point to that I’ve known in my career who didn’t put work first and are super successful. One, because they believed in themselves. Two, when you put work first like that, there are no other outlets for you to process your stress, build your energy, or learn things other than showing up for work, which is a very tunnel vision, a very narrow scope for not only having a full life but having a rich life. A rich life full of experiences and learning opportunities and opportunities to build your energy, and re-energize yourself for showing up for your life. 

Because I didn’t do any of that and I was working first, I would get burnt out every couple of years. I had to shake things up a little bit of my life so that I could re-energize and show up at my best. It really took its toll. You might say that you didn’t do these things. You didn’t believe in yourself and you didn’t have a career plan and you didn’t prioritize yourself, but still, Mel, you’re pretty successful. Like you had this big job, you made a lot of money, you made it even though you didn’t do these things. 

I will say to you that yes, from a lot of people’s vantage points, I had a ‘successful career,’ but it took a toll on my health and my life. It took a toll on my relationship with my husband, which we’ve been able to repair, but it took a toll. It took a toll on the fact that we didn’t end up having kids and not because we didn’t try, we tried all this stuff to have kids, but it was the stress, the stress my body was fighting back. 

There are times in my career when I got sick and I got depressed, and it was honestly a struggle, a bigger struggle than it needed to be because no career is happy sunshine all the time. I’d say life is 50-50 and the 50% of that is not so great all the time. It’s about learning to deal with that in an effective way. It’s still putting yourself first, still believing in yourself because how you deal with a problem when you believe in yourself versus when you don’t believe in yourself is very different. 

You know how you deal with a career challenge when you have a career plan and when you don’t have a career plan. Very different. There’s a certain sense of confidence and empowerment when you believe in yourself when you have a career plan and when you prioritize yourself. I wasn’t allowing myself to have that for a lot of my career and I would say things would have been very different had I been number one all the time. 

Like I said at the very beginning, would I do it all the same way again? It’s an impossible question to answer. I’d love to be able to say I would go back and do it differently, but what I even know what I know now had I not gone through all that stuff, I don’t know. 

But if you’re someone who is open to listening and trying things differently and not having to learn things the hard way, then my recommendation to you is to start with believing in yourself. And that is not something that you can just wake up tomorrow and do. Well, yes, you can, but it takes practice. You can wake up tomorrow and start practicing believing in yourself. And every day it gets easier and easier until you’re like, ‘Why did I ever not believe in myself? What a waste of time not believing in myself.’ 

I suggest that you start there. I suggest that you start thinking about building your own career plan outside of the job that you have now. I don’t believe in work-life balance, but I do believe in finding balance every day. And in that balance, it’s about putting yourself first and putting your career first before work. Work is going to be there. You’re still going to show up. You’re going to give your 100%. That’s fine. But you can do that after you do what you need to do for yourself. You can find the balance and it’s an ongoing struggle. Finding the balance. 

Don’t wait for it to work because that’s not going to serve you or anyone. That depends on you. That’s it. That’s all I have for you today. 

It wasn’t that bad. I didn’t feel that bad talking about it. Hopefully, it wasn’t too rambly because I did not have a script today and I’m quite proud of myself. I hope everyone has a great week. 

Next week is a big week because I have my very first podcast guest. I’m going to be starting to bring guests into the podcast. Next week I’m talking to Karen Yankovich, who is a LinkedIn expert, and she’s going to be talking about how to make your LinkedIn profile a big part of your career plan. So make sure you tune in for that. 

In the meantime, have a great week. Bye for now.

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HI, I'M MEL

I have 20+ years working as a leader in the corporate world. I know what you need to do. And I combine that with four years of training as a cognitive behavioral coach. I know how to help you naturally think like the leader you want to be.

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I have 20+ years working as a leader in the corporate world. I know what you need to do. And I combine that with four years of training as a cognitive behavioral coach. I know how to help you naturally think like the leader you want to be.
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