With hackles standing erect along its spine, ears pointed at attention, and legs aggressively stiff, I stared at the mighty beast ready to charge. By the look in her inflamed eyes, I’d have to be a moron not to know I was in big doo-doo.
“Jackie, get in my office – now!” Bobbie, our manager, barked.
In 1976, my first job out of college was as a bookkeeper for Century 21 Real Estate’s regional office in San Francisco. I’d just graduated with an elementary teaching credential, but with no job on the immediate horizon, and a pile of bills to pay, I felt inclined to take the first opportunity that came my way. Thirty days later, it was apparent I might be pounding the pavement once again.
“We have a problem,” Bobbie growled, slamming the door to her private domain, fixated on the printout in her hand. “What the hell were you doing? None of these columns add up?”
Searching for the perfect excuse to save my sorry rear-ends, I knew this was a moment where the best defense was not a good offense but the plain old truth.
“Well,” I began, fear choking my thoughts, “when you hired me, you didn’t ask if I could add, only if I wanted the job.”
Sitting back, her demeanor softened; then she let out a giggle. “Well, it’s a good thing we like you because I either have to fire you or promote you.”
Luckily for me, there was a much better position for which I was well-suited: receptionist. Talking on the phone was my life, but I didn’t take the title with pride. Shuffling to my new desk, embarrassment raged as the feeling “I didn’t cut it” hovered overhead.
Back in my youth, I viewed such discussions over any inability to perform as failure, and I allowed my fragile, slowly evolving ego to wallow in self-pity.
There was the time when I was 8 and told not to return to ballet class. Apparently, excessive wiggling and chattering were frowned upon by the headmistress. Free spirits need not apply.
Flunking my driving test because I didn’t want to share the crosswalk with an elderly woman left me to wonder if I’d spend the rest of my life on a bike.
As a senior at Mercy High School, I was bumped from a required chemistry class due to my lack of scientific prowess and one too many Bunsen burners shattering on the floor. Along with math, science and I were never friends. And then, there were those countless relationships where I was dumped or nudged aside to make room for a prettier model.
Fortunately, maturity and the wisdom that comes with the aging process has helped me to see that with each mistake, every sack, dismissal, termination or feeling of abandonment life tossed my way has been perfectly preordained by the Universe, for there were lessons to be learned. One of the most important: get out of my way in order to see the pending possibilities.
Recently, I was discussing my life’s challenges with my wonderful neighbor, Jan Prahm. Smiling kindly, he quoted Thomas Edison regarding his many botched experiments; “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” My interpretation, life is lived best when we remain optimistic and persevere.
So, here’s to all the feelings of incompetence that await me down the road. When I’m hit with a brick wall, I’ll no longer cry for I know there’ll be at least 10,000 new discoveries on my way to getting it right. Failure only happens when we lay on the couch and stop trying.