I once applied for a job for which I wasn’t qualified. I’ve always dreamed big, and I’ve never truly bought into holding back, so I applied. I had an inkling that perhaps I wasn’t established enough, but I also believe in my ability to learn, grow and produce, so I applied.
I also got an interview.
I went in, shook hands, discussed possibilities, toured the facilities, and everything ended on a positive note filled with potential. I walked back to my parked car happy that I had received any kind of response (seeing as I was 23 years old, hadn’t pursued my Masters degree yet, and was still relatively “new” at everything in life).
But the person I interviewed with had a boss. He reported back to her about the interview and his impressions of me. But something unexpected happened: His boss’ opinions of me was sent — on accident — directly to me.
The nice and short version being: “too young, too inexperienced, no Masters degree, no ‘reputable company associated.’” She said that I was “reaching too high” and this was “never going to happen for me.”
She meant to send that email only to her employee whose name started with the same first two letters as my name. In her rush, she accidentally selected my name and sent her review of me directly to me.
I read every single word with squinty eyes in total shock. It cut deep (which ended up being a terrific thing, years later).
When I got to the end of a very long e-mail full of detailed reasons, examples and arguments of why I’m not great, I felt acutely aware of everything: I could feel I hadn’t blinked in awhile. My hands were squeezed into balled fists. My heart was beating really fast but I couldn't remember the last time I inhaled.
I wasn’t sure what to do. She had obviously spent a lot time constructing that email (complete with an Internet search of who I am and who I am not.) I felt the person for whom the email was intended needed to see her opinions. So I forwarded it to him (copied her) and simply said, “I believe she intended this for you.”
In no time, I received an email from her. She apologized for her oversight of whom she sent the email to and then proceeded to give me advice.
Six years later, I’m sure that woman is still in a director position making decisions on who is worthy and who is not (that must happen in life and someone has to make those tough decisions.) But I want to thank her, not for her second email on life advice, but for her first email deconstructing who I was appearing to be to the outside world. She was going off what she was perceiving and we rarely get an uncensored glimpse of what strangers think of us. We can’t just go up to a stranger on the subway and ask, “Hey, what do you think of me? First impressions, say anything, go!”
I got that. And I’m thankful.
Since then, I have finished graduate school. I have worked with many reputable companies. I have thousands of teaching hours under my belt. I’ve worked on major research projects and national initiatives. I now have the job that I was once applied for that prompted this entire experience. But I'll never forget this learning experience.
I learned you have to give life time so that you can develop who you are. My 23-year-old self is very different than my 30-year-old self. My 45-year-old self will be very different than my 30-year-old self (and I’m incredibly excited to meet that person!) But you can’t let someone’s words stop you from your goals, your efforts and your passions.
This experience sticks with me for many reasons:
1. I realized directors make mistakes.
2. I saw how directors look at candidates (what they look for; what they dissect; what they analyze; what they jump to conclusions on; what they find important and interesting).
3. I saw how innocent and naive I was at 23, but also how fearless I was (proud of myself for that).
4. I see how far I’ve come. Out of her checklist of everything I wasn’t, I now am. From my own doing, on my own time and terms.
5. I learned to not let words change my life plans or path, but to let them guide me.
I often wonder if she ever sits around a table with her friends with a glass of wine and tells the story of how on her first week at the new job, she sent an e-mail trashing someone TO that someone. And I often wonder if she ever wonders about that someone and if I listened to the advice she gave me.
But, by chance, if she ever does wonder and if she ever Googles me again, I hope she knows how much I appreciated her uncensored honesty. I learned to sit down, wait my turn, let life happen, work hard and keep going. I’ve also learned to “say yes” to responsibilities that seem scary, to collect moments, to learn new skills, to be brave on all fronts and I’m thankful for those lessons.
I’m thankful to the random people and events (like her and her mistake) which have helped inspire me, teach me and guide me. Those are the stories that count.