Friday, February 18, 2011

All Too Human

It was his first State of the Union Address.  George Stephanopoulos was a youngster, in his early twenties, working in the White House, and he'd been slaving for weeks with POTUS on his speech.  Later lore would have Bill Clinton rewriting drafts in the car on the way to the Capitol, but on this occasion he had simply overwhelmed his aides with multiple drafts and left them to send it to the Teleprompter. 

Not long into the speech, young George has a horrifying realization: an earlier draft was scrolling before the eyes of the leader of the free world.  In front of the nation, the President of the United States was reading the wrong speech. And it was George's fault.

"This," he stammered, "is the worst thing that's happened, ever."

His older, freakishly calm colleague looked over at him and said, "Well, the Holocaust was pretty bad."

Point taken, but not until afterwards as Clinton walked by George and gave him a pat on the shoulder. He may have noticed or maybe he didn't, but the speech had gone well and he didn't care. In his 1999 memoir, All too Human,  Stephanopoulos breathes the rarified air of the Oval Office and spends the entire time feeling inadequate. 

We all want to do a good job and be indispensable.  Today I had a George moment. I got in over my head and a colleague, younger yet more seasoned in this field--ouch--helped me pull off a project.  I hope at some point it all comes out in the wash, but it was a reminder that no matter how well I might do generally, it's what I produce on a given day that matters, at least to the people I work for.  It doesn't matter to them if I am a good mother or a wise friend or can put a great meal on the table.  They don't even care if I write a good blog post, for crying out loud.

I want to be all those things--writing a post my readers enjoy is one of the most satisfying activities in my life--and yet also be exceptional at my day job.  Those who I know who are exceptional in their careers do it pretty much single-mindedly, though, and they don't bother with gardening or volunteer work or puttering around with language. They don't make a lot of mistakes, at least to my eyes, but my bet is that their particular, minor gaffes seem huge in their own eyes.  It's not a big deal, until it happens to you. At those times, I remember the words of the colleague, and think, Sue, get over yourself.

As I get older all I learn from my blunders is that I make mistakes, and I always will. I make them, sometimes, for the wrong reasons--because I am tired or distracted, because I sometimes don't believe something matters enough to give it all I've got. But often I fall a bit short because I take on new challenges and am less afraid than others to fail, whatever that means, and am fairly frequently out of my depth.

But I take care not to screw up because I believe rules are for others but don't apply to me. Those seem to be the ones people have a harder time bouncing back from. 


  1. Mistakes, ok, but do NOT f$#% up a webinar.

    Love - and relate - to this post. Hope everything ended up fine!

  2. Can so relate to this post ... on a weekly basis! There was the time I was presenting to a large group in San Antonio, and the power strip wasn't switched on. Computer died mid-presentation and it too a few minuted to revive... At the time I thought it was the absolute worst thing ever. It wasn't. We're challenged all the time as working professionals and parents, and what I learned is to just NOT freak out ... In the words of the Queen: Keep calm and carry on.