8 South African boss women share career mistakes they made in their early 20s

Tumelo Mabuza

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Your early 20s are a time to explore career options and yes, sometimes you will make huge mistakes. But like the 8 boss women below who have shared their mistakes with us, we hope you can learn from  yours as well as their experiences and lessons learned. Farah Fortune, Owner, African Star Communications I trusted […]

Your early 20s are a time to explore career options and yes, sometimes you will make huge mistakes. But like the 8 boss women below who have shared their mistakes with us, we hope you can learn from  yours as well as their experiences and lessons learned.

Farah Fortune, Owner, African Star Communications

I trusted too many people, too early in my career. I had to really learn about mistrust and backstabbing the hard way. I believed everyone wanted to help or wanted the best for me. Unfortunately humans aren’t that easy and happy for everyone achieving success.

 What lessons did it teach you?

I relied on myself a lot more. I’m not saying everyone is not trust worthy, but keeping my circle small, ensured I was able to rely on my support circle more securely. Self-reliance was also a great trait to acquire. It taught me phenomenal lessons, having to rely on myself. It showed me my capabilities and because I wanted to do so much for myself, I learned so much about myself and my strength.

Nzinga Qunta, businesswoman and former news anchor

Not focusing enough on what I actually wanted to do. I worked since I was 14 as a model then as a TV presenter. Both industries require you to be a vehicle to transmit other people’s ideas, so in my early twenties I just did what I was asked to by my employers or clients opposed to what I think I’m good at and what I wanted to do.

 What lessons did it teach you?

I have learned to say no to things that aren’t part of my big plan, even when they sound tempting or exciting. Working on my businesses or on projects that have to do with where I want to end up is more important to me now, even if I do not get instant gratification from there.

Masasa Lindiwe Mbangeni, actress

 Masasa Mbangeni 1

My biggest mistake I made in my early twenties was being anxious. I started as a featured extra at Scandal, meaning I’d get one or two lines but mostly I wiped shots or took the camera where the action was. This frustrated me because I’d spent 4years at drama school for this!!! Little did I know that I was getting an education during those times. I’d watch the seasoned actors. How they played, the choices they made etc. and when my opportunity came I was ready!  

 What lessons did it teach you?

I wish I knew then what I know now. I learned to trust the process and use every opportunity to learn and grow. Trust that what is meant for me will never pass me. As cliché as it may sound this advice has become my mainstay when doubt and anxiety threaten to overwhelm me. I remember where I come from and where I am headed to.

Sarah Langa, model

Sarah langa 1The biggest career mistake I made in my very early twenties was not completing my BSC degree at WITS. I was given a bursary to study my BSC at the institution and sadly dropped out and didn’t complete the course in order to focus on my career and work opportunities. Although work is needed and my career has given me a great start in life, I believe that looking back I could have dedicated my time to excel in both work and my studies. 

 What lessons did it teach you?

The lesson I took away from this mistake was that education must come first. We should all take advantage of the opportunity of education when you are given it. So many people in our country are not granted the opportunity to study at a tertiary level, I took it for granted in the sense that I didn’t appreciate the educational privilege I was given. I have started my studies again recently and I continue to work and advance my career, I realise now the importance education holds in any business dynamic.

Masechaba Ndlovu, broadcaster

Masechaba NdlovuThere are no fundamental career mistakes I made in my early twenties because my early twenties were about discovering my place in the world. I stayed humble and I pursued my goals aggressively. Looking back, I was paying my dues, ploughing into my trade to establish my feet. It all lead me to this point. Every job I’ve ever been underpaid for, every time I was exploited because I was young and didn’t know my worth. All those experiences came together for my personal and professional growth. There is nothing I would have done differently. Your early twenties are about finding your voice. Just ensure that you always remain true to yourself and never ever compromise your values. I can sleep at night because I’m enjoying the fruits of my labour. I didn’t sleep my way to the top.

 What lessons did it teach you?

Be careful what you agree to from the beginning. He who drafts the contract will always be the one whose interests are protected. Know what you are getting yourself into. Don’t negotiate fearfully or out of desperation.
“Everything aren’t for everyone”. When you are purpose driven, your journey will be vastly different from anyone else’s. Stay in your lane and value every milestone.


Vangi Gantsho, poet

Vangi GantshoI’ve made so many! I don’t think you can go through a decade of chasing dreams without making mistakes. The biggest ones, I think, came from acting out of intense emotions or desperation. Things get rough sometimes. And rent is due and people haven’t paid etc. It’s never a good idea to take that energy and use it in approaching work. Desperation leaves a repulsive stench, so it’s counterproductive.

The same goes for responding when you’re angry. I’ve alienated a lot of would-be clients because they pissed me off and I was hot-headed. 
What lesson did you take away after you made these mistakes?

 What lessons did it teach you?

I have learned that it’s best to let someone else handle my invoicing – but I always stay in the loop. I’ve learned to be firm about outstanding payments, but not to burn bridges. And I have learned that people respond more to reason than emotion, in business. The emotion is for the paper and the stage.

Artists should create. Perform. Be artists. Some people make better administrators than others. And the two cannot exist in the same space at the same time. If you’re thinking rands and cents… You compromise your art. But if you don’t… You may end up homeless. So set aside admin days (if you can’t get help). File your paperwork. DO YOUR TAXES!! So that on those days: You’re chasing payments, sending invoices, getting new work.

Shashi Naidoo, entrepreneur, MC and actress

image1Choosing the wrong business partner. I started my business with someone who was very dishonest and had rather questionable ethics which I didn’t know at the time, as a result I came very close close to losing everything.

What lessons did it teach you?

Going to business with someone is a huge decision and not to be taken lightly; the goal of any entrepreneur is to grow their business into an empire and you will not be able to do that with the wrong team. Do your research, get references by speaking to people who have worked above or with the person you would like to start this venture with.




Refilwe Modiselle, model

I never made any conscious career mistakes because I was aware of where I was going and what I wanted to achieve. But I think I got too comfortable & by the time I was retrenched at age 23 when I was a TV Production Manager, I felt like a failure.