From quitting cushy jobs to failed start-ups, these business owners tell us how they turned career “mistakes” into opportunities for growth.
Ever made a mistake at work? We’ve all been there, done that – whether it’s missing deadlines, arriving unprepared for an important meeting or pushing ourselves too hard that we experience burnout. Fret not, it’s totally possible to recover from career mistakes, even major ones. Sometimes, you may find things working out for the better as you’re pushed in a different direction. These entrepreneurs in Singapore know all about making mistakes, recovering from them, and bouncing back stronger than ever. Here are their stories…
1. Lynda Williams, 41
Entrepreneur, PR expert at Vim & Vigour and Hack Your Own PR, and life & executive coach
My biggest mistake was not looking after my health. As the saying goes, “Dreams only work if you do”. It was towards the end of year two of my PR agency and I was in start-up mode. I worked all hours: doing HIIT at 6.30am, going straight into the office after and working till 8pm, hoovering up lunch and dinner at my desk if I wasn’t entertaining clients or journalists, and hosting full-on events in the evening.
For the first two years, I worked every Saturday. I kept pushing myself without thinking I might actually break at some point. Then I did… I couldn’t get out of bed, I was grey and I had zero energy. I had a full set of tests done and found out I had everything from a gut infection and high cortisol and adrenaline levels to being low on zinc and B12 because the stress had torn through reserves. My body was screaming at me to take care of it! So I had to rebuild my health from scratch.
This was seven years ago. Now, wellness is part of everything I do — from the right exercise and nutrition to prioritising my sleep and knowing when to say no (hello, boundaries!). If your cup isn’t full, how can you possibly show up for others? I started my wellness blog, The Soothe, to help people in Singapore take a proactive approach to their health.
I also coach and mentor other entrepreneurs with my Hack Your Own PR programme. I’m really passionate about anything that helps start-ups in their journey and eases the load — because, as you can see, I’ve been there.
2. Geraldine Pang, 33
Digital marketing specialist and founder of Creative For More
My biggest mistake was thinking that the more projects I take on, the greater my wins. I’m passionate about many things (too many, as a matter of fact!) and I have tons of ideas I’d like to put into action. When we were in Covid lockdown, I was consumed with bringing all my ideas to fruition.
This, unfortunately, led me to burn out multiple times over the years. I used to take pride in being an “expert juggler”. But, over time, I realised that’s not something to be proud of because I am human and I have limitations.
My takeaway from trying to do too many things at once? I lose focus and productivity on the tasks that matter to my goals of growing and scaling my core business. Saying “NO” is a work in progress but I’ve gotten better over time.
Before making any commitments, I intentionally ask myself whether something aligns with my core values and serves my career or life goal. This gives me more clarity. It helps me decide whether I should embark on a new project or let an existing project go. I’ve also learned how to pace my work by taking breaks when I need to, delegating work, and letting projects evolve at their own pace instead of rushing through them.
3. Ananya Pandit, 32
Food stylist, photographer and videographer at Eat Crave Grub
As entrepreneurs, we deal with all sorts of mental blocks. Not reaching out for help was one of my biggest career mistakes. I’d just left a cushy corporate job and had this notion of doing it all by myself. With a formal degree in business and finance, and a pinch of creativity, I was determined to learn all the skills required to run a food photography company on my own.
The very idea of asking for help seemed counterintuitive – I was my own boss, after all. I was supposed to know everything! It took a pandemic and a baby for me to realise this was detrimental to my professional and personal growth. The lack of help often meant my plate was overwhelmingly full ALL the time, leaving me frustrated. I was also depriving myself of meaningful connections and friendships I could’ve made along the way.
Joining communities such as Launchpad enabled me to think differently. I’ve learnt that you can’t be the best at everything. Two heads are better than one! Now, I partner with other experts to improve my range of offerings. I’ve also invested in a mentor who allows me to look at my own business with a fresh perspective.
Changing this outlook has provided me with an odd sense of relief – like I’m not alone in my struggle and not all my peers are competitors. Fruitful collaborations are just around the corner if we look closely.
4. Henna Thadani, 32
Designer and owner of Del Rio Jewels
From the inception of Del Rio Jewels, the biggest mistake I made was not fully believing in my capabilities. I spent way too much money, time and energy with big advertising firms and social media influencers only to realise that a) I don’t have the budget for that, b) they’re not speaking my brand language so people can’t relate to my products, and c) they weren’t really helping!
Now, I’ve sharpened my own skills in the areas of management, social media and telling my story. I get personal with clients instead of letting a firm get in touch with them. I understand what they want and help them create a bespoke piece with everything they can treasure. I’ve also spent time and money to learn more about the industry and equip myself with skills that will make my business indestructible.
It’s worked out in the end – people now know it’s me behind the screen. When they speak to someone regarding an order, they know it’s their friend who won’t let them down. Should they have a problem with something, they know they won’t be left in the lurch.
5. Jeevita Pillai, 30
Founder of Afrowithjeevi, African dance fitness instructor and sport psychologist
I’ve never been a big fan of statistics. Honestly, the word makes my heart skip a beat. However, there were two words my statistics lecturer said in 2018 that stuck with me: “make mistakes”. Believe it or not, that changed everything for me. That was the beginning of my “unlearning”.
Not allowing myself to make mistakes caused me to get caught up in “paralysis by analysis”, where I took longer to make decisions and ended up missing opportunities. Not being okay with making mistakes also caused me to listen to others instead of my gut. It was about finding the balance between allowing myself to sit with something for a while to see if it aligns with my values, and paralysing myself while trying to make a move.
Though I’ve come a long way, I know I’m still a work in progress when it comes to being okay with making mistakes. One thing I always say now before I start my classes is, “make mistakes”. Often, people avoid dance classes because they’re afraid they won’t get it right and may end up depriving themselves of the benefits of the class. At Afrowithjeevi, it’s about creating a safe space that empowers people to make mistakes, which allows them to push their boundaries one step at a time.
6. Zen Lin, 39
Business development manager and founder of The Kint Co
I’m a mom of two boys, the founder of sustainable activewear brand The Kint Co, and I work full-time as a business development manager. Before this, I ran my own outsourced sales and marketing firm for 10 years.
In my last 15 years of work, my biggest mistake was getting too caught up in someone else’s game. Coming from a performance-based environment, it was always about pushing yourself to break your personal best and get recognition.
While it was great to be in the spotlight, I became too obsessed with results. As a leader, I was so strung up, which caused me to lose great people over the years. When I got married and had kids, the mental load just kept adding up. I found myself chasing so many things but winning at nothing because I was trying to become everything but zen.
The pandemic was a blessing in disguise because it forced me to slow down. I finally had the time to re-evaluate my life priorities and goals. What really matters at the end of the day? What do I really want? What makes me happy?
That’s when I started The Kint Co – to create an inclusive range of activewear that’s good for women and good for the earth. Through this, I’ve learnt that the only person you’re really competing with is yourself. If you have clarity on your purpose and definition of success, you’ll enjoy your journey and your growth. You’ll find your tribe.
7. Anjuli Gopalakrishna, 47
Founder of A G Tech
I decided to quit my job in 2008 while squeezing milk from my breasts inside a public toilet at Delhi’s international airport. Exhausted with the effort, I thought, “What am I doing with my life? Who’s going to thank me for this? Who am I doing this for?”
A decision of a lifetime taken in a moment of exhaustion, pain and weakness, it was impulsive. It was emotional. I didn’t discuss it with anyone.
Before that, I worked for the sourcing office of an American designer label and quickly scaled up the ladder with four promotions in six years. I had my daughters and worked till the last day of pregnancy each time. But the second time I returned to work, things changed. Our sourcing office was bought over with a new boss. I had to adjust to new dynamics and navigate the nuances of what it took to regain my place as a team leader.
It was tricky. My workload and responsibilities were increasing at work and at home. My husband’s career took off, and my in-laws were growing old. So, after travelling for a presentation in Delhi, I found myself in the airport toilet, questioning myself for the first time. When I returned, I asked for three months of sabbatical or I’d resign. The company wouldn’t change their policies – even for a tenured employee of eight years like me. So, my choice was clear.
That started the next phase of my career path, one I carved for myself on my own terms with plenty of twists and turns.
From being an independent consultant for the global fashion industry, to a DIY science educator for kids, to a digital marketing expert for SMEs, to a trainer and facilitator with SkillsFuture in digital marketing, to an e-learning instruction designer for a global MNC, to launching my first online course on Udemy, I’ve loved every moment of it. I’ve never regretted the decision I made that day.
8. Luda Zueva, 49
Product Director at Dot Blue Projects
Ideas and funding are critical but don’t start without a committed team. My first co-founded start-up failure happened 10 years ago, but the learnings are still valuable for me. The hustle was GlamExpress, an app to match manicure professionals with customers for nail services at home or at work. The launch city was Moscow. Everything was ready.
But, less than three months after the launch, the project ceased (despite promising downloads, customer satisfaction numbers and partnership prospects). The reason? Our team couldn’t talk to each other anymore.
Here’s what I learned. Don’t assume that if any team members don’t share your business vision, you can work it out later. A common vision is critical to driving success, even with junior team members. The openness to workstream synchronisation and teamwork isn’t granted either.
And don’t expect immediate success or fast recognition. With my co-founder, we made a call to launch the project over a glass of wine – we were very positive about its business potential. He made moves to set up the business for growth, and it was my mistake not to stop him or manage his expectations.
In three months, when we didn’t make any self-funding revenue or reach city-level awareness, my partner got discouraged. I was frustrated by the team dynamics but wasn’t ready to fund it solo. Over a cup of coffee, we made a call to stop the enterprise.
The hustle was worth trying and the business idea had a good market fit, but I couldn’t do it alone. Nowadays, I know that team engagement and commitment are 50% of long-term success.
9. Kriti Gupta, 34
Founder of Nimbu
As a fresh graduate, I had a few job offers in hand, one of which offered to pay me twice the industry norm. My parents were overjoyed that I was going to join a multinational investment bank. Boy, were they disappointed when I finally turned down the offer to go for something I felt deeply passionate about – sustainability!
It was a tough journey that didn’t pay as well and required a lot of convincing. Sustainability wasn’t a top priority for organisations and governments in the region back then. But that one decision has shaped the person I am today.
I’ve spent more than a decade in the sustainability space, worked with the smartest people, and led strategies that have shaped Singapore’s sustainable mobility journey. My latest venture, Nimbu, is rooted in sustainability. I couldn’t be more proud of my younger self for having the courage to follow my heart.
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