Life Lessons Learned

I loved high school and in my senior year I maintained a 3.8 GPA while serving as Student Council President, lead in the play, and majorette with the marching band.  In college I worked my way into leadership roles in my sorority and received the coveted Greek Woman of the Year award before graduating cum laude with a Journalism degree.

It was 1978, Michigan was in a full-blown recession, but I thought I had the world by the tail.  So, I loaded up my Camaro with everything I owned, bid farewell to my parents, and moved to Houston, Texas to make my mark.

I landed a job within days at Allied Bank & Trust and while I wasn’t “Vice President of Anything” yet, I knew I would be soon.  I mean, I had a stellar track record and was the only one in my department that had a college degree!  Of course, the job requirements of typing signature cards and other admin duties were far beneath my skill level, but all I needed was a chance to be discovered and I’d be well on my way to an executive suite.

My chance finally came a month later when the President of the bank invited us to a breakfast meeting asking, “How can I help make your department better?”  Everyone smiled politely, but I jumped in and let him know exactly what was needed. “Typing is such a waste of my talents.  Why can’t the secretary type ALL the forms leaving me to do the more important work?”  After all, I reminded him, “I have a college degree.”

I don’t know what happened next because I was oblivious to everyone and everything around me.  All I felt was pride at making a good impression.  So, when the meeting wrapped up and my boss asked to see me immediately, I gladly agreed.

“Who do you think you are?” were the first words out of her mouth.  “You made the entire department look like we don’t work as a team and you completely upset Andrea (the secretary) by making it sound like she wasn’t carrying a full load! How could you behave like that in front of the President?”

I remember the adrenaline rush, the sick feeling in my stomach, the dry mouth, shock, anger, then gripping fear as I realized I could easily be fired on the spot.  “Please don’t fire me.  I just moved here,” I sobbed.  “I can’t go back to Michigan. I would be so embarrassed!”

And, just like that, my boss showed mercy.  I was saved.  And, while it took me months to gain perspective, I’ll forever be in her debt for teaching me a few important life lessons that day.

First – Being smart absolutely, positively, does NOT make you wise.  Yes, I’d been successful in school, but with so few real-life working experiences, I was like a spoiled child who believes the world revolves around them.  I had so much more to learn.

My second lesson was a “smack you in the face” wake up call – Listening was actually more important than talking.  In my student years, I was always out front, loud and proud competing for attention.  And, I truly believed that’s what would get me ahead.  But I was so wrong, and I now realize that the loudest person in the room is rarely the one with the best answers.

As an official 60-something, reflecting on this Thanksgiving season, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to learn lessons that, over time, made me a better coworker, business owner, wife, mother, and friend.  And, I hope over the next few weeks, you’ll have the chance to consider all the lessons you’ve learned along the way, both easy and difficult, and allow yourself to grow richer from the memories.