A long-time friend called me last week, upset that she had been passed over for a new role at her small company. She had put in extra time at the office, made a number of improvements, but felt she had been cheated out of the opportunity.
I could tell she was disappointed and I felt bad for her. I offered a few words of advice and tried to pick-up her spirits. We agreed to get together for lunch the next time she’s in the area.
Driving home later in the day, I thought about some of my own disappointments over the years both large and small. I’m not sure where it came from, but I thought right away about the time I had been “robbed” of winning an elementary school spelling bee.
I had made it a goal of mine to win the contest. I paid extra special attention in class and practiced hours on end until the big day. I wanted to do especially well because earlier in the year I felt my teacher had been tough on me in pointing out a word I had misspelled. She had used me as an example to the rest of the class and I wanted to show her that I really was a good speller.
When the big day came, I watched as other students in my class got their words. Many answered correctly, a few got eliminated right away with a misspelling here or there. Finally it was my turn. The teacher asked me to spell: “repeated.”
I panicked at first, took a deep breath, and then realized that I knew exactly how to spell it. I spelled the word correctly and moved onto the second round. I let out a deep breath and mopped my brow.
I felt more confident and aced and the next two rounds. I was gaining confidence with each new question. Before I knew it, I had made it four more rounds. I was doing well. I made it into the final group of three. Another couple rounds and it was down to me and another girl. My nerves seemed to have disappeared. I started to believe that I was going to win the competition.
The only thing that bothered me was that I couldn’t hear the teacher. A fan in one corner of the room created a low buzz that made it difficult to hear. Despite the annoyance, I felt good about my chances.
My teacher asked if we were ready for the final round and announced my word: “bureaucratic.” I jumped for joy. I knew this word. I started to spell the word back to the teacher, but she stopped me mid-sentence.
Instead of b-u-r-e-a-u-c-r-a-t-i-c with one ‘e,’ she thought she heard me say two. I tried to protest. I suggested that she might have misheard over the buzz of the fan, but the teacher gave me one of those looks that said I wasn’t going to get too far with my plea.
She told me that I should be glad that I got as far as I had and be a good sport. I appealed to the other teacher in the room, but she had been correcting an unruly student who been kicked out in one of the earlier rounds and could offer no help. Several other students stood up for me too, stating that they heard only one ‘e,’ but my teacher stated that the contest was over and we had a winner.
I fought to keep my composure.
If I had gotten the word wrong, I would have freely admitted it. I didn’t want to win dishonestly, but it felt wrong to lose simply because my teacher couldn’t hear what I had said and wanted to get the contest over so that we could move onto the next subject.
I felt horrible over losing for months after the competition. I had wanted to prove to the teacher that I was a good student. When the time came, I felt like she had cheated me out of the opportunity. I didn’t start to get over the spelling bee until I finally realized that I didn’t have to prove anything to her.
I had already proved everything to myself.
The loss of a school spelling bee is trivial compared to the loss of a promotion, especially one that feels well-deserved. However, as I pulled up to my driveway, it hit me that my friend needed to be reminded of the same message I learned losing the spelling bee.
She needed reminded that her boss may control who gets promoted and even her role within the company … but no one, not the company president, her boss or even her coworkers, can take away everything that she has already accomplished and the strong belief that she has in herself.
Of course, I made a note to remind her to brush up on her spelling too. You never know when it will come in handy.