The 5 Career Mistakes That Made Me More Successful

By Bianca Bass…

I’ve interned at Vogue, been featured as a marketing expert on Forbes, built global audiences, and delivered talks at Google.

I’ve also made a lot of mistakes. All of them have made me more successful. Here, I’m sharing a few of my favourites as a reminder to always, always think longer-term. Bigger picture. You’ve got this.

MISTAKE ONE: DIMMING MY LIGHT TO FIT IN

I’m 11 years old, have just won a place at a state grammar school and… I’m different. The other girls don’t look like me. Their families aren’t like mine. And, worst of all, they know it.

Within months, I go from being a shy young girl who loves to write, to the disruptive class clown. My logic was simple: if I couldn’t be “like” them, I could at least be “liked” by them. After all, conforming felt better than hearing that my nose was weird and my family were from the Amazon, right? I spent five years getting in trouble, seeking approval and never, once, looking inwards.

Everything ended when I was politely asked to study my A Levels elsewhere. That single moment was the greatest motivator of my life because it gave me a major realisation: start being inspired by your differences, or spend your life failing to conform. 

Career lesson: If you’re reading this, I have no doubt you know that the things that make you different are your greatest strengths. Don’t stop there. Whenever you’re making a decision, consult your childhood self. Nowadays, the young girl I once was is my single greatest guide.

MISTAKE TWO: launching (and failing at running) my first business 

I’m 18 and I want to be Sophia Amoruso. So, I do as any early 00s teenager does and set up an eBay store. The strategy? Buy vintage (read: old) clothes from thrift stores, customise them and sell them for a pretty penny. I’m an entrepreneur! A Brazilian clothing magnate, bitches! I can see myself on the cover of Fortune Magazine now!

Much to everyone’s surprise, it goes well. It’s my first lesson in the power of marketing and I’m flying. My first “collection” sells out and, before long, I have my own brand, website and can even afford my own small office space. Fortune Magazine feels so close I can taste it.

Then the hard work becomes harder. Orders come in faster. And I can’t keep up with the demand. Nobody told me boring logistics would be a part of the business. Nor did they tell me that running a successful business would leave me with no time to talk about my successful business (ha!). The moment I decided to stop was at 2am on my office floor, surrounded by overdue deliveries, and days away from being kicked out of university.

Career lesson: Seek to do the things that make you genuinely excited. Not your ego, and definitely not the things that sound exciting to other people. Never stop consciously separating the two.   

MISTAKE THREE: (ALMOST) RUINING MY REPUTATION BEFORE IT BEGUN 

I’m 19 and I’ve fulfilled my dream of interning at Vogue. These opportunities, typically, don’t go to people like me. Working class. Brazilian descent. First family member at university. Me. And yet, here I am, at Vogue. VOGUE. 

As I walk through the revolving doors, I can’t quite believe it. I especially can’t believe it when the Fashion Director asks me to accompany her on a cover shoot with a major recording artist. “This shoot is going to be more intimate than our usual, Bianca. We’ve asked the subject to include her most personal possessions and family photographs,” she explains.

All day, I’m doing my best to keep it under control. I’m in control when I meet the major (MAJOR) recording artist I’ve been listening to for years. I’m in control throughout every outfit change. I’m even in control when the shoot ends and I’m asked to pack away everything alone.

Then we get back to the office. “Thanks for today,” the Fashion Director says while staring at her Blackberry. “Can you leave her family jewellery box in my office? They’re in the grey tote bag.” 

Except there’s no grey tote bag. Anywhere. I quickly offer to get her a coffee so I can get some “fresh air”. The moment I’m outside, I call the hotel and, thankfully, they’ve found the bag. I run the whole way. Panic averted. Just. 

Career lesson: Being organised may not be glamorous, but, my god, it’s essential. Chances are, if you’re more creatively minded, you’ll need to work even harder to be organised. There’s no succeeding without it. 

MISTAKE four: being overly ‘grateful’ and not negotiating

When I was 21, I was paid a salary of £20,000 for a terrible job. The commute was hella long, 10-hour days were the norm, and I hated every. single. second. If you know, you know. 

Instead of doing the logical thing and looking for a new job immediately, I stayed for well over a year, believing the lie we’re told that leaving a job before a year “looks bad”. No. What was bad was the impact on my mental health at a time when I could (and should!) have taken risks.

You’d think the experience would teach me to always negotiate, but I navigated my next few jobs feeling ‘grateful’ for the opportunity, rather than knowing that it works both ways. My biggest learning curve was believing my own worth. I’m getting a little better every day.

Career lesson: Sometimes quitting really is the greatest strategy for success. Oh, and negotiate. Please! You’re never more powerful than before you’ve begun a job. Every time you don’t negotiate, you keep salaries down for other people like you. A rising tide lifts all ships. Let’s go get it.  

mistake five: being the only woman at the table*

Ok, not technically a ‘mistake’, but hear me out. I’ve spent most of my career being the only woman at the table. Despite the progress we’ve made – and continue to make – I still know so many smart, talented women whose contributions still aren’t being heard.

While representation is important, what matters even more is not stopping there. When I was starting out, I spent a lot of time apologising for my presence and my opinion. It was energy that I now know could have been better spent speaking up. For myself and for those around me.

Career lesson: Once you’ve taken your seat at the table, it’s your job to pull out a chair for others, too. Look for the “others”, acknowledge them, and create a platform for them. In practical terms, that means sending the congratulatory email, sharing success, and elevating achievements without competition.

THIS LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO BE SILENT. WE NEED YOUR VOICE IN THE ROOM.

Black Unicorn is in the business of building genuine inclusivity through progressive hiring and culture transformation. If you’re ready to reinvent your company’s approach to talent, get in touch. We’d love to talk.