Launching and running a business, as well as navigating your career, can sometimes be scary or uncertain. But it’s important to remember that you are not alone. There’s always someone else out there who has faced the same obstacles, and some of the most successful people are the ones who didn’t let fear of failure stand in the way of making bold choices and taking risks. They simply take the risk, and if they fall on their face, they get up with a smile, brush themselves off and, most importantly, they take an invaluable nugget of wisdom from the experience as they continue on their journey.

We’ve asked some of Louisville’s most successful business owners and leaders to share an early career mistake and offer insight into how these mistakes ultimately contributed to their success. Their responses remind us that everyone makes mistakes, but it’s the lessons learned from those mistakes that are oftentimes the most valuable.

Dr. Kim Carpenter, Chiropractor at Awaken to Wellness Center

Mistake: Believing I had to go it alone
Takeaway: Team work makes the dream work

“Early in my career, I believed I had to do everything myself. I have always wanted to help people live well. However, I didn’t always allow people to help me achieve this mission. Over the past 13 years in practice, I have learned to identify the goal, combine that with passion, then to trust the right people, to empower the right people and to lean on the right people in order to create a place to truly help people eat well, move well, think well and heal well.”

Dr. Kim Carpenter, Chiropracter at Awaken to Wellness Center

Dr. Kim Carpenter, Chiropractor at Awaken to Wellness Center

Lee Robinson, President & CEO of  The Lee W. Robinson Company 

Mistake: Suppressing my passion and talents to conform to expectations
Takeaway: Know your worth

“My biggest mistake was suppressing my true passion for as long as I did. I did this trying to conform to the limited career choices that were present at the time. My family and friends were all in ‘traditional’ business ventures, and I let this influence my decision. I later realized that, though it was great experience, my initial career choice was not catering to my creativity. I’ve always been a nonconformist, and I should have been the best me, using my God-given talents from the beginning. We are all different for a reason.”

Lee Robinson, President & CEO of The Lee W. Robinson Company

Lee Robinson, President & CEO of The Lee W. Robinson Company

Anna May, Owner of Anna May Photography

Mistake: Not spending enough time networking
Takeaway: Connecting with others inside and outside your field is important

“I wish I’d spent more time networking right out of the gate in 2013 when I started my business. It wasn’t until year two that I began to understand the power of connecting with others in my industry and also other business owners in unrelated fields. Once I grasped the importance, I started networking like a boss.”

Mistake: Not having set business hours
Takeaway: Value your time and energy

“Looking back, I regret not having business hours set in place. In the fall of 2015 I felt completely burned out, which led to strict business hours and really digging into finding the balance between family and work life. I gave myself days off and learned to value and manage my time and energy.”

Mike Stigler, Director of Blue & Co., LLC

Mistake: Being quick to hire and slow to fire
Takeaway: Be patient and hire the right people

“In a service business, your asset is the relationship you have with your client and the intellectual capital of your people. Your employees have to understand the importance of the client relationship and the need to look for opportunities to help the client with their goals. My early career mistake was hiring people that were available rather than hiring the traits I needed to serve our clients. I was quick to hire and slow to fire. This resulted in me having to perform service recovery with some clients when my people did not perform. The saying, ‘hire the traits, teach the skills,’ is never more true than in a service business environment.”

Mistake: Not understanding your human capacity and over-committing yourself
Takeaway: Find your accountability coach

“When you are building a business, you look at all projects as potential opportunities. There is a fear that if you pass on an opportunity, you might miss the ‘next big thing’ that could help you grow your business. This attitude can quickly result in workweeks becoming 70 to 80+ hours. Working these types of hours can result in issues with health, relationships and ability to focus on the important matters. To get back to a 50- to 55-hour week, I found that I needed an accountability coach whom I could vet opportunities with. I am fortunate that I have several great business partners that I can call on to help me sort the home runs from the singles and doubles.”

Mike Stigler, Director of Blue & Co., LLC

Mike Stigler, Director of Blue & Co., LLC

Meredith Gregory, Interior Designer at Carriage House Interiors

Mistake: Getting in over my head
Takeaway: Figuring out the best practices for your business will help you gain confidence 

“When I first started working as an interior designer right out of college, I thought I could take on anything and everything, which got me in over my head. I was so excited to start my career, but I didn’t take the time to figure out how I wanted to work and what my best practices were. Going from a college student to a working professional is a challenging transition, but once I established some ground rules for myself, developed a business plan and learned from my mistakes, it all fell into place. Now I have complete confidence in running my design business and that translates through to my clients.”

Meredith Gregory, interior designer at Carriage House Interiors

Meredith Gregory, Interior Designer at Carriage House Interiors

Dustin Couts, Vice President of Global Operations Support and Training at Papa John’s

Mistake: Believing my way was the only “right” way
Takeaway: Listen and stay open to new ideas

“If I had to pick one early miscue it would be around understanding of differences of opinion or thought. When I was first promoted into multi-unit management, I was a high-performing single-unit leader with sustainable results and a thirst for more. The danger with this formula is that as a young, naive, overconfident leader you have a tendency to believe that your way of doing things is the ‘right way’ or the only way to do things. I came in like a bull in a china closet, trying to get all leaders to think, act and run their stores like I did. I tried to muscle through running seven locations using my ideas as the only way. You can see the mistake in this logic and imagine the early damage it caused among my team. They felt like they had lost all control and that I didn’t value their perspective on management. So I killed team morale and even lost a few good leaders in the process. I had a few strong leaders that pushed back and challenged me to let them do things their way. In a short period of time, as they showed success, I learned two lessons. The first is: Everybody you meet knows something you don’t. So you need to listen to every voice within your organization as they all have great ideas on how things can and should be. The second was a phrase I use often now with my teams as I challenge them that ‘There are many ways to six.’ Six really refers to success. You can get there with 4+2 or 7-1 or 3+3 and many other options. Just as with other problems or situations in life and work, there are many solutions to get us to success. Too often we get bogged down in the thought that our way is the only way or even worse, there are no solutions left.”

Dustin Couts, Vice President of Global Operations Support and Training at Papa Johns

Dustin Couts, Vice President of Global Operations Support and Training at Papa John’s

Travis Ragsdale, Reporter at WDRB

Mistake: Thinking I already knew everything
Takeaway: There is always room for growth

“I made plenty of mistakes. Journalism is an industry where you’re thrown into the fire very early in your career. Perhaps my biggest mistake was thinking I already knew everything. That false sense of expertise can get you in trouble very quickly, regardless of what industry you might be in. In a world where everyone is desperate for immediate results and action, this can’t be stressed enough. The moment I realized I had much to learn about life was a seminal moment for me to become a better journalist. Now I realize we never stop growing and learning and that keeps me motivated to do my best work every day.”

Travis Ragsdale, reporter at WDRB

Travis Ragsdale, Reporter at WDRB

Mo McKnight Howe, Owner and Artist of Revelry Boutique Gallery

Mistake: Following the influences of others
Takeaway: Trust your gut

“I was so young when I started Revelry. I was easily influenced by others who told me ‘what I should do,’ instead of trusting my own instincts and ideas. Most of the time, I stuck with what I thought. But too often I listened to others and actually believed I was naive and should do what other retail stores were doing. I even purchased some mass-produced inventory once in hopes that would help my sales. It did not, and I soon realized I was not being true to myself and the mission I had set out on — to sell only locally handmade items that were truly unique. Once I got back to my roots, developed more confidence and learned to delegate, Revelry flourished. I am lucky I had a few supporters who believed in me, which made me believe in myself.”
Mistake: Not feeling confident in abilities
Takeaway: Live your passion
Forecastle is a different story completely, as that was my brother’s venture. We all thought he was crazy when he said he wanted to start a music festival, but he was my brother so I jumped in and helped because that is what my family does. I wish I would’ve taken on the creative design and art initiatives sooner than I did. I was 16 when we started the festival, and for years I was the sole Forecastle photographer. It wasn’t until I was out of college that I began helping with the visual design on the festival, which has now led to art installations such as “pARTy Cove,” which fulfills my passion to showcase local artists, both musical and visual. Again, with age came confidence that I could pull something like this off. Passion is what drove me to execute.”
Mo McKnight Howe, owner and artist at Revelry Boutique Gallery

Mo McKnight Howe, Owner and Artist of Revelry Boutique Gallery

Teddy Abrams, Music Director of the Louisville Orchestra

Mistake: Focusing only on the technical aspects
Takeaway: Technique isn’t everything 

“When I was around 11 years old, I decided that I wanted to completely master the technical aspects of playing the clarinet. I was obsessed — practicing six to eight hours a day, sometimes more. As a hermetic personal sacrifice, I decided to stop playing actual pieces of music and focus solely on technical studies and etudes until I had achieved some vague idea of complete technical control. I’ll never forget how I proudly told my mentor, the great conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, about my monk-like plan for clarinet dominance. Rather than encourage me on this path, as I naively expected, he looked off into the distance and simply said, ‘Music must always feed one’s soul.’ The power of those words, both for my 11-year-old self and metaphorically now as an adult, has stayed with me and continued to guide the decisions I make about what kind of artist I wish to be.”

Teddy Abrams, Music Director of the Louisville Orchestra

Teddy Abrams, Music Director of the Louisville Orchestra

There you have it. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s how you learn from and grow through those mistakes that matter.

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