Learn From the Mistakes (and Lessons) of These Top Creators & Entrepreneurs
Community is an essential part of living, especially for content creators and entrepreneurs. Oftentimes, collectively sharing our triumphs and challenges can lead to game-changing wisdom for our individual paths. Such was the case when we asked some of our VOTY 100 honorees to reflect on mistakes they made over the past year. From neglecting self-care to not asking for help to playing it small, there’s something here for the creator who needs to adjust their mindset and make some tactical, day-to-day changes.
Read on for their takeaways.
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“I talked so much and with such force that I literally, perhaps permanently, damaged my throat. It’s was a year where I wanted to go hide from the press but decided that if now was the time when people were ready to listen about the ocean and climate and justice issues I’ve been working on for decades, and for whatever reasons I seem to be a useful messenger, then I would just do it. But there are physical limits of all sorts. So I’m glad this is a written interview! And I’m looking forward to hibernating much more in the coming year.” –Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, Co-Founder of Urban Ocean Lab and The All We Can Save Project
“I loosened up a bit on my boundaries and took on too many coaching clients. After about 90 days in with this tight schedule, I began to feel the strain on my mind and body. I was exhausted and overwhelmed. I vowed to slow down and simplify my work. Money isn’t the end all be all. I don’t have to say “yes” to everyone who wants to hire me.” –Jenell B. Stewart, Brand Coach & Social Entrepreneur
“A mistake I made this past year was *obsessing* over a new home (I live in a Brooklyn apartment so the lockdown was a catalyst to wild levels of cabin fever) without taking the time to appreciate my current home. I learned that shitting on my present life won’t get me to my future life any faster.” –Tracy G., Wellness Artist, Podcaster & Radio Host
“We had a tough lesson in the first few weeks about the importance of checking the long-term weather forecasts as a virgin DTC (direct-to-consumer) brand. Demand was very high after launch, and we were so excited to fulfill immediately. The polar vortex swept the country, freezing bottles, destroying entire orders en route. Our shipping companies were in such a mess, we were unaware of the scale of the problem until people started reaching out. It was a real stress test for the fulfillment side of the business, but also for our customer service setup.
The importance of good customer service can’t be overestimated. Clear, quick, and open communication with the people who are putting their trust in you and your products – both unknown entities. Ultimately it offered us a unique opportunity to connect with the people placing orders, and every single person was exceptionally kind and understanding once they knew the deal. Tough lesson but uplifting in its own way and it definitely made us stronger.” –Lisa Farr Johnstone, Co-Founder of Optimist Drinks
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“Our cleanser Blank Slate was out of stock for a solid 3 months due to unforeseen supply chain issues caused partially by Covid and partially due to inexperience. Ultimately, a lot of these mistakes were made because Victoria and I had too much on our plates. We handled close to EVERYTHING ourselves, and it was inevitable that some things would fall through the cracks. Since then, we’ve definitely gotten much better at asking for help when needed.” –Gloria Lu and Victoria Fu, Co-Founders of Chemist Confessions
“I needed to get home to be with my parents due to some health issues they were going through, but I kept coming up with excuses for why I couldn’t be there — all attributable to my job and workload. Thankfully, I have a co-founder and COO who are truly supportive and reminded me that I *can* make time to be there for my family, because they would be there to cover my workload. It was a grounding reminder that, while our careers can feel like the most important thing in the world, in reality, they aren’t. The people in our lives are — both my family and the team at Unbound.” –Polly Rodriguez, CEO and Co-Founder of Unbound
“Not asking for help. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is not working on expanding your team. Almost burned myself out, during a pandemic no less.” –Karama Horne, Culture Journalist & Content Creator
“I made the mistake of thinking that because I am a wellness educator I didn’t need therapy. 2020 quickly taught me that even those who often the best of support to people need to be supported. I spent the last half of 2020 massaging my own soul so that I could give more of my authentic being to my friends. family, and community.” –Ty Alexander, Wellness Educator & DJ
“Not being direct with people from the beginning, when I could have. And this has happened too many times for me to say specifically just one instance, but one of my lessons this year is to be direct and say what I need, and they can say what they need and we can all move forward.” –Jessamyn Stanley, Author & Body Liberation Advocate
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“I made the mistake of sometimes trying to explain myself to people who were already set on misunderstanding me. I believe when you live and exist with intention and try your best to communicate how you feel clearly, you’re not always in charge of micromanaging how others feel about you, and that’s okay.” –Priscilla O. Agyeman, MPH, Public Health Professional, Mental Health Activist and Founder of Saddie Baddies
“I made the mistake of continuing to collaborate with someone after they showed me how they worked and that method didn’t work for me. I kept trying to adjust to fit how they moved, all the while negating my own standards. Trying to fit a round circle into a square hole requires way too much energy, just for it to not work out in the end. If something isn’t gelling, don’t continue down that same path. Make an effort to cut that tie and move on.” –Danielle Young, Journalist, Producer, Host & Content Queen
“One mistake I made was lacking structure and consistency. I may have been able to get away with “winging it” before I had a baby, but not anymore! Nothing will force you to get your act together so fast like becoming a mom. I had to figure out how to balance working from home full-time while caring for my infant full-time as well. So I aggressively worked on my time management skills and built out a schedule that would allow me to slay as an entrepreneur without losing any snuggle time with my sweet baby.” –Ashley Renne, Environmental Activist & Influencer
“Any advocacy work requires constant self-reflection and course correction, in the past, I have used incorrect terminology for the nonspeaking within the disability community, but luckily, autistic self-advocates were gracious enough to correct and educate me. What that taught me is to always move in humility and listen to your community. It is important I get it right and work in such a way that lessens harm to those around me, not perpetuate stereotypes.” –Imani Barbarin, Digital Disability Advocate & Communications Director
“I really neglected myself. I took on too much, overextended myself, and didn’t take the time to focus on my mental or physical health. It really caught up with me after the election. I know that I cannot be of service to others if I am not taking care of myself.” –Mandana Dayani, Creator & Co-Founder of I am a voter
“A mistake I made in the past year was trying to take on too much by myself without communicating my needs to my team. I learned to accept help and embrace everyone’s superpowers to be utilized as a way to elevate the brand and achieve better work. Because I wear so many hats and am used to taking on the majority of the workload, I was internalizing a mounting To-Do list without asking for help. I learned that I cannot expect everyone to know what I’m thinking or what I want without communicating it early enough to let them help me actualize my creative vision.” –Aurea Sanabria Molaei, Founder & Creative Director at Flower Bodega
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“A mistake I made this past year was playing small when I first launched my coaching program. At first, I was more casual about it. I didn’t set any boundaries or requirements as to how to get started or who was the right fit for the program. That caused a lot of challenges on my end as the leader. It put all the responsibility on me, the coach, instead of the student who is wanting to change their lives. Thankfully, I was able to pivot this about 9 months in by getting really specific on what type of woman I was the right fit for the mastermind – and that is a woman who is ready to launch or scale her own product or service and is looking for strategy in getting that off the ground, as well as looking to be surrounded by like-minded women. I also added more to the program like one-on-one coaching, monthly trainings, and two coaching calls with me a month to make sure the women are supported in the areas that will really move the needle for them. Creating those parameters was a game changer!” –Julie Solomon, Business Coach, Founder of The Influencer Podcast & Pitch It Perfect
“Not saying NO, enough. It taught me that a)- people really have a hard time with a woman saying no and b)- that no is a complete sentence. If you don’t take a firm stance, you will surely overextend yourself, end up in situations that could have been avoided and/or give people more of your time than they need/deserve. A lot of my work is being an advocate for others and in this past year, I’ve learned saying NO is pivotal in advocating for myself – if I don’t draw boundaries and back myself, it’s impossible to do it for anyone else.” –Kathryn Finney, Founder & CEO of Genius Guild
“I made the mistake of not speaking up for myself sooner. It taught me that the longer you wait, the worse it is going to get. I try to avoid confrontation, but I learned that if you are going to get the confrontation whether it’s a year from now or 33 months from now. Take the confrontation now so that you can avoid a bigger mess later.” –Tiffany Aliche, The Budgetnista
“I made the mistake of not hiring an assistant because I didn’t think my company was large enough to warrant the expense. In retrospect, the dollars weren’t crazy and the time it would have saved me would have been worth it. Between writing blog posts, coordinating podcasts, shooting content, and developing classes, I was exhausted and could have used the support. Lesson learned. Time really is money.” –LA Dunn, Founder of Black Girls Eat
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“If I knew how much folks don’t respect non-profit founders, charity employees, or folks in social work. I would’ve cared a bit less and not tried as hard to please others. I would’ve given less f*cks, possibly worked harder to make the world better for those around me who were in need of unconditional giving.” –Chelsea VonChaz, Founder of Happy Period
“I jumped into a project too quickly without properly vetting this new partner, and ultimately ended up finding a better, more aligned partner on the heels of confirming with the first pick. It caused some trouble. I tend toward action, and every time I have a new creative idea I go all in and do it pretty urgently. I also tend to see the best in everyone – I always have! – and sometimes it causes me to ignore red flags or feelings of anxiety or hesitation. This situation taught me to be more patient, and to feel effective and productive in times of planning and prep. I often feel like I need to be doing and moving and shaking to feel “productive” and move something forward, but this situation taught me that pausing, cultivating patience and planning is just as productive. And sometimes, jumping into something too quickly is ultimately unproductive.” –Ali Kriegsman, Author and COO/Co-Founder of Bulletin
“At the start of the pandemic, I was trying to do it all, despite everything shifting around us. The humanitarian crisis for the women who make our clothes was deepening as brands canceled orders. So I was trying to work around the clock. Meanwhile, my young children’s school was closed and I was also trying to juggle making meals, help them cope with online school work, and their own growing anxiety around the pandemic.
I ended up falling on a hike, and badly tearing a ligament in my ankle. It was my body’s way of telling me to slow down. As I lay in bed recovering and catching my breath, I realized I was going to be of no use to my family or garment makers, if I did not take care of myself. At Remake I often tell our activist community that self-care and compassion is a radical act. I had to teach myself this lesson. It was only when I slowed down, that I was really able to focus on what matters. Leading me to launch the most successful labor campaign of my lifetime while also being as present as possible for my children in a year like no other.” –Ayesha Barenblat, CEO & Founder of Remake
“My biggest recent mistakes have all been around hiring. Although, I don’t usually call them mistakes but rather necessary stepping stones to acquiring knowledge and moving forward. Specifically, I have been too timid with hiring, essentially, not willing to make “mistakes” that would have been hard at the time but that would have otherwise catapulted me and the business forward.” –Gesche Haas, Founder & CEO of Dreamers and Doers
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