When I logged on to LinkedIn earlier this week, an article caught my eye: “My best career mistake.” Yes, it says the "best" mistake, not the worst; mistakes can be career-boosting instead of career-busting. More than 50 business leaders shared how a mistake ended up changing their lives for the better, including Deepak Chopra, T. Boone Pickens and Rajat Taneja.

Deepak Chopra – Impulsive Rebellion

When I think of Deepak Chopra, two words that I wouldn’t use to describe him are impulsive and rebellious, but evidently this famous doctor has a spirited side. When Chopra was working on his residency in the 1970s, he tossed a pile of papers onto his supervisor’s head and stormed out of a meeting. His supervisor warned him that his career was ruined and in a sense, it was. Chopra no longer had a future in endocrinology. 

He explained that after that incident he, “started moonlighting in an emergency room where I started to observe not only the physical trauma of my patients, but their mental anguish. I started to write about their experiences, and that started my career in integrative medicine and also as a writer.” 

T. Boone Pickens – 10 Cents a Lawn

Before T. Boone Pickens became a major player in the energy industry, he mowed lawns. Pickens’ best career mistake actually dates all the way back to his first job, when he only charged 10 cents to mow a lawn.

“Misjudging that bid was a small mistake, one that only cost me a few dollars. Yet the sting of that minor miscalculation created such a long-lasting impression that it has stayed seared in my mind throughout my entire career.”

Rajat Taneja – Drawing a Blank with a Powerful Executive

One of my biggest fears is drawing a blank at a crucial moment; the fear begins to rise and as I speak, I stumble over my words or just sit there in silence. I never thought that this could be a good thing, but evidently it was a career-boosting mistake for Rajat Taneja, the executive vice president and chief technology officer of video game giant Electronic Arts.

“Back when I lived in Seattle, I went for dinner and drinks at Daniel’s Broiler in Bellevue — a popular local restaurant, and a regular spot for Microsoft employees. When it was time to head home, I stepped into the elevator to find myself sharing the ride down with a higher level executive. I said hello, he said hello back, but we had a quiet ride down the elevator. When we stepped out, we both picked up our cars from the valet, and went on our way.”

Looking back, Taneja regretted the missed opportunity, saying, "After that elevator ride, I promised myself to make more of an effort to connect with people with whom I don’t normally interact. In many cases these serendipitous conversations add a whole new dimension to one's thinking."

Have you ever made a great career mistake?  If so, leave a comment below, I’d love to hear how you turned a mistake into an opportunity.

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