Digital agency veterans dish on their biggest career mistakes

Around 80 of the advertising world’s brightest young minds are gathered in Vail, Colo., this week for the Digiday Agency Innovation Camp.

These digital natives have been paired with industry veterans to mentor them through three days of challenges, hacks and games. So we took the opportunity to tap these mentors to ask them one not-so-simple question: “What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made in your career?”

What they told us should help guide their young charges to excel this week — and hopefully on into their careers:

Julie Vessel, group account director, mono
My biggest career mistake growing up was getting too attached to what I thought the good opportunities were. It has to be a Super Bowl spot; it has to have $20 million. There were moments in my career where I really didn’t make the most of what I had in front of me because I had my vision set on other things that were better. Now I know nothing’s perfect. I also know some of the things you get you make into the most amazing opportunities if you look at it that way. But if you look at it saying, “It’s not going to be a good assignment — it’s not a good opportunity; the budget’s too small; the client’s too narrow-minded,” then you never do anything good. Now I can see everything for what it is.

Sophie Kleber, executive experience director, Huge
It’s very easy to make a fabulous career based on what people want you to do. You’re gonna do fantastic. You’re gonna do fine. But at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, “Is this what I really wanted?” When I think back at my past 10, 15 years, I wish I had started that earlier: to say, “It’s great that you want this, but here’s what I really want. Here’s what I’m going to be better than you can imagine at because I want it.” It’s hard to know what you want sometimes. It’s very flattering when people say, “You’re so good at this. Do this.” My old boss used to say life begins at the edge of the comfort zone.

Max Lenderman, CEO, School
My biggest career mistake is probably chasing the money too soon too fast. And not having the ability to stay in one place and get everything done the way I wanted it to be done. I was lured away with some glitz and titles and bonuses and I regret that. I think the best thing you can do as a creative director or a creative person is to never leave a job halfway done because someone will take it over and it will be completely different from what you expected it to be. We think that our career is about progression. But a lot of times our career is doing the craft and doing the work. And being proud of that craft and that work. And that’s as much of a progression as the money and the titles.

Simon Jefferson, managing director, AKQA
I guess my biggest learning was to always have a Plan B, because sometimes hope and working on all-nighters isn’t enough to actually launch something. With one client, we created a running application, basically the first of its kind, that allows people to log their runs. It was a pretty complicated Flash-based application. We had a hard deadline linked to a campaign launch. Even though we did three all-nighters, it wasn’t quite perfect so the client didn’t want to launch it and we didn’t have a Plan B. Within the architecture of the site, we had to put some holding content, which didn’t look good. So the next project we got we had to pitch it.

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