It’s often when things don’t go to plan that we learn the most about ourselves and our needs. So, rather than looking at mistakes as failures, it’s time to turn them into the valuable lessons they are. Here, columnist Michelle Elman reveals the greatest lessons she’s learned about her career, all of which stemmed from an initial error…

Whether it’s in your love life or in your career, I truly believe the ones who succeed aren’t the ones who make the least mistakes. They are the people who are able to reflect, learn from their ‘failures’, and evaluate how to do things differently.

Within my career, I wear many hats. Whenever I hand out my bio, it sounds like someone who can’t make a decision. “Hi, I’m Michelle Elman and I’m an author, life coach, public speaker, and influencer,” but I like it that way. I love that I can wake up in the morning and be doing something completely different to what I did yesterday, and while those are the good things, of course, being eight years in, there are many things I had to learn the hard way.

1. You won’t know you are undercharging if you don’t ask around.

The first lesson came about three years into being an influencer, when brands became interested in working with us. My first brand deal came in and, having no idea what number to say and really wanting the job, I said £100. They said yes, instantly. What I now know is that is a red flag; if a brand says yes immediately without any negotiation, you are charging too little.

Over the years, I slowly increased my rate, but the actual lesson only came when one day I got asked to do a public speaking talk. These consume a lot of energy, and I was already quite busy, so I didn’t want to do it. Instead of saying no though, I asked for triple what I would normally. And they said yes! It was a wake-up call for me, emphasised again when the following month, an influencer on the same campaign as me, with half the following I had, mentioned their rate. It was double mine. This is when the lesson truly cemented itself. The only way to know you are charging at the right rate is to be transparent with your colleagues. Now, if anyone asks about my fees, whether I know them well or not, I tell them, because it benefits us all to know how much to charge and ensure we get paid what we’re worth.

2.‘Following up’ is not nagging.

When I started out I was 21, and the moment I would feel most nervous in the work day was when someone hadn’t replied to me. I was worried that if I sent a follow up email I would be considered nagging and, worse, ‘difficult to work with’. But the switch flipped when I realised that ‘nagging’ is such a gendered word. Have you ever heard of a man accused of ‘nagging’? Once I learned boundaries, I realised that their perception of me is none of my business. If they think I’m a nag, let them, but I’m still going to follow up if I need an answer. Most of the time it isn’t personal if you haven’t received a reply.

3.You don’t need to be friends with your colleagues.

I’m naturally quite a sociable person, so anytime I found myself at a work event, I would view the room as full of potential new friends. As a result, I did make some wonderful friends, but there were a few harsh realisations along the way, when it occurred to me that people I was viewing as friends, and confiding in as such, only viewed me as a colleague. I hadn’t yet learned the boundaries, to understand you can be civil, and even friendly, while maintaining a level of distance, in order to be professional.

4. You need to be in the driver’s seat of your own career.

Four years into being an influencer, I landed an agent. As a result, all those nerves I used to get around emails were resolved. I could hand over the admin, the negotiation, the conversations with brands, and focus on the creative side of things. The problem was I took such a hands off approach that I actually didn’t know much of my own business. I let things slip, I wouldn’t follow up, thinking all was in hand at my agency, and all the energy I used to put into getting jobs and maintaining relationships disappeared. What I realised is no one is going to care about your career as much as you. So, yes, get a team to support you, but you need to be in the driver’s seat still. You need to know what direction you are going, and you are the one who needs to drive forward!

5. Take a moment to celebrate!

One of the lessons I am still learning to this day, is to take time to celebrate the small wins. I learned the term ‘destination addiction’ a few years ago, and that’s exactly what I do. I have an ‘on to the next one’ mentality, but the danger of this is that there will always be a ‘next one’, and you will never feel like it’s enough. To combat that, this year I have chosen three words I want to focus on, one of them being ‘contentment’. Being particularly ambitious, I am always aiming and striving for more, but this year, I actually just want to take time to be content with what I have. And you should, too!

Love, Michelle x

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Photography | Brett Cove