Someone else’s “oops” helped me grow

I once applied for a job that I wasn’t ready for. I’ve always dreamed big, and I’ve never truly understood holding back or not going for it, 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. I was honestly 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 – of course – had to report back to her about the interview and his impressions of me, and she – of course – got to comment on me.

Here’s the funny part of the story: I was accidentally copied on these e-mails.

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The person I interviewed with seemed to love me; he wrote to her quoting the examples I gave him in the interview about programming, plans, curriculum, goals, and he made a noticeable effort to point out my “passion.” That person’s boss, however, tore me to pieces: too young, too inexperienced, no Masters degree, no “reputable company associated,” “reaching too high,” and the list went on and on. She meant to send that only to her employee (whose name conveniently also started with the letters “S-h,” so in her rush she accidentally selected only my name and sent her assassination 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 things 6 years later, but we’ll get to that).

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 here holding a lot of stress. My heart was beating really fast. I had no words. My spine hadn’t relaxed since I started reading the e-mail.

I wasn’t sure what to do. She had obviously spent a lot time constructing that e-mail (complete with an Internet search of who I am, links for examples and so on). I felt the person for whom the e-mail 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 e-mail from her (this time talking to me instead of about me). She apologized for her oversight of who she sent the e-mail to and then proceeded to give me advice. I read her advice but I never wrote her back.

Six years later, I’m sure that woman is still in a director position making decisions on who is worthy and who is not (unfortunately, that must happen in life and someone has to make those tough decisions). But I want to thank her, not for her second e-mail on life advice, but for her first e-mail deconstructing who I was appearing to be to the outside world. She was simply going off what she was perceiving – without ever having spoken to me – and we rarely get a 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!”

But I got that. And I’m thankful.

Since then, I have finished my Masters degree. I have since become associated with many reputable companies. I have hundreds of teaching hours under my belt. I’ve worked on major research projects and national initiatives.

So here is what I learned from this: 

You have to give life time so that you can develop who you are. My 23-year-old self is very different than my 29-year-old self. My 45-year-old self will be very different than my 29-year-old self (and I’m uber-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 even super important directors make mistakes.

2. I saw how directors look at candidates (what they look for, what they dissect, what they analyze a little too much, what they jump to conclusions on, what they find important and interesting).

3. I saw how innocent and naieve 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.

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 unsolicited advice she gave me.

But, by chance, if she ever does wonder and, by chance, if she Googles me (the way she’s previously done), I hope she knows that I’m appreciative for the uncensored honesty she spoke. 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 also 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.

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