Missing an appointment with an IBM Selectric Typewriter most likely changed the whole trajectory of my life. It’s truly mind-boggling to realize that such a small thing made such a huge difference.
I was in high school, and my teacher had signed up me and several other students for a typing contest in a town a couple of hours away. Thanks to the vintage Royal typewriter at my grandparent’s house growing up, followed by my very own typewriter when I was about 8 years old, I came into the class already proficient on the classic QWERTY keyboard.
Quickly I became one of the fastest typists in the school – and accuracy counted in those days. We did not have a “back” button on the typewriter, nor were we allowed to use Liquid Paper. My teacher was quite sure that I would have won the typing contest that day – I was really good.
On the morning of the contest, I slept through the alarm clock. For the first time ever in my life. My mom came rushing into my room about the time the bus was due to leave the parking lot of the school 20 minutes away, prepared to whisk me out of bed and to doors of what might have been the gateway to heaven--or hell. (From today’s vantage point, I pretty sure it would have been hell.)
We had no cell phones at the time and I decided to miss the bus, rather than go into the OMG-we-gotta-get-out-of-here rush. It seemed like an unmitigated disaster at the time. My parents were so upset with me for being irresponsible, and I was puzzled myself. It wasn’t like me to sleep through the clock – in fact, I have always been a pretty early riser.
Yet I am quite sure that my life would have gone in a much WORSE direction had I made it to the school bus that morning.
See, my serious typing skills had me looking for careers that needed fast, accurate typists. In the mid-70’s, guidance counselors were still offering young women traditional women’s roles. We called them “pink collar” jobs back then.
All roads were pointing towards “legal assistant”, something I embraced because – I don’t remember why. It just sounded good because I was a screaming fast typist. Of course I would want to leverage that skill.
Then on the day of the contest, I slept through the clock and did not make the bus. It was an event soon forgotten as just one of those tiny disappointments in a normal life. Until I had a reason to remember it 30 years later.
Someone asked me why I started my career in accounting. I had all these reasons, like being good with numbers, understanding basic bookkeeping and so forth. But then I remembered my screaming fast fingers. The 10-key adding machine was the gateway. I was as fast at adding a column of numbers as I was typing a document.
When I didn’t go win the typing contest, I started winning in adding up numbers. My career choices started leaning towards accounting because my flying fingers were also good at the adding machine. What a way to choose a career, right?
A seemingly innocuous disappointment pivoted my career from a “pink collar” job in a typing pool to a “white collar” role in the backbone of business. Who knows where I would be today had I gone down the other path. While I have long been a recovering accountant, that career laid a strong foundation for the leadership work I do today.
Disappointment can be like that. And it’s so much deeper than “one door closes, another opens”. The paths we don’t take, for whatever reason, shape us as much as the ones we do. I am always trying to sort the difference between a test and a signal. Sometimes, disappointments test our resolve. Sometimes disappointments signal our lack of commitment. They show us that the path we think we want will actually leave us flat.
Knowing the difference between a test and a signal is priceless.
In my typing story, I made two choices, mostly unconscious, that revealed typing to be the flat road. I decided not to try to make it to the bus that morning when my alarm failed, and more importantly, I never pursued another chance at winning a typing contest. No commitment there. I heeded the signal and moved on.
It other situations, disappointment has led me to double down on my efforts. I spent the better part of year paralyzed with writer’s block a few years ago. The easy answer would have been to quit writing. Clearly in my paralyzed mind, I had nothing to say. If there was something in there worth saying, it would be coming out already.
Writer’s block tested my resolve. It made me realize that artistic expression was something worth fighting for. I had to dig deep to restore the flow and face the debilitating fears under the frozen fingers on the keyboard. It was painful, illuminating, ravaging and freeing all at the same time.
Disappointment paved the path, as it has for so many of the pivotal moments of my life.
As our community was building a charter school, I watched the people rally around the idea, only to be disappointed by a variety of setbacks and challenges. More than once, these setbacks could have been seen as a signal but instead were seen as a test of resolve. I called this resolve “Grit” in a post by the same name. Many, many children in our community are benefiting because the founders of the school saw tests instead of signals.
Where do your disappointments test your resolve? What signals are you getting that what you think you want will not give you what you really want? How do you know the difference?
Photo Credit: Copyright: <a href='https://www.123rf.com/profile_suljo'>suljo / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
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