Sirilogue #2: Failure and Lies

I’ll start this sirilogue by saying that it took me a certain amount of courage to go share this story. I’m preemptively giving you, the reader, a little look into my psyche (or my psychoses – yes, plural).  I ask one thing of you: please judge me. And let me know what you think. I eagerly await your response(s)…

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During my entrepreneurship class last week I was asked the question “What’s your biggest failure?” I paused for a second to think about that. Then I recounted the story of when I had just graduated from college and I was looking for my first “real” job. I opened up those things called the Yellow Pages (that now exist as YellowPages.com, I guess) and I proceeded to call every single listing that was in the “multimedia” category (I called myself a multimedia artist back in the day). Out of the 42 cold calls I made, I ended up with 20 interviews. As I started to go to these interviews, I realized a few things, one of which was that I did not have experience with the one application almost all of them required: Macromedia Director. For the most part in all of those interviews I was perfectly honest about what I knew what I didn’t know, until the last couple of interviews. I was asked that same question, “do you have experience with a program called director”. Until that point I had always replied that question with the answer “no”. This time I replied, “well, I’ve used it with some other people in a collaborative sort of way and worked on some projects together”. This exaggeration got me a job. My first job out of college.

Now, I told my students that what I viewed as a failure was the fact that I had lied during these last couple of interviews. Now that I think of it again, I think the failure might actually have been telling the whole truth… Because that one time that I uttered those fateful words, (and got the job) I had to take action. I left the interview, went to Barnes & Nobles (yes, this was before eBooks and Amazon), bought a book, read it overnight and started playing with it right away. Nothing like a deadline to put me in gear! I went in to my new job the next day having some basic understanding of the application and a desire to learn more. I guess I was given the impetus to take action by having told that lie. But if I had actually just listened to what all the other interviewers were telling me which was “go and learn director and then I’ll hire you” I probably would’ve been better off. Maybe. It took me going to the lengths of telling a lie to actually be able to put my 18 year old self into action. I mean, now I had a job that I had to show up to with an understanding of a program that I had never had used. Well, I’d actually seen people using it (that counts, right?), and I knew the very basic functionality – but that was it. So this brings us back to the topic at hand, failure. I don’t want to advocate the use of lying. I want to tell people not to lie about what you abilities and experiences. The I show young people how to write a resume and all of that goes out the window… I give suggestions for embellishments, exaggerations, rewordings, unwordings and the use of attention grabbing words. Basically, I tell people to lie. Seeing resumes that have come across my path from people that I personally have not coached, I realize that most people do take liberties. Where does that leave us? I don’t know…

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Part of the failure that I see in this story is the fact that I wasn’t able to take action. It took me to a place of being extremely uncomfortable with what I chose to do that led me to actually take the action I should have in the very first place. Namely, of getting off my butt and learning something that I should’ve learned, to be able to get me the jobs that I wanted to be doing at that time. Also, looking at the fact that I made 42 cold calls, went to 20 interviews, and then that 19th of the 20th interview was the one that landed me a job I realize that a lot of it is just about practice and not giving up. The more you do things the better you get at them. The more cold calls I made, the more interviews I got. The more interviews I went on, the more I realized that I needed to really sell myself. Rather than acquiring the skills I needed to sell myself more, I lied about a skill that I did not possess and had to recoup from that mistake by learning it overnight. One of the other things at this taught me, is that anything is possible. Even learning a software program in one night.

Ok, back to the lying. How do I go about telling this story without it sounding like I am telling them to go forth and lie? This is something that I need help with. This is where you come in. Please, take action and chime in. Give me some suggestions…

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Please help me let me know what you think about this and how I can move forward from here. Maybe I should just admit to them that I did lie and that for that reason that was okay. Or not. I think about what effect that would have on them. Will they respect me more? Will they respect me less? Will I be enabling them to lie? Will I be giving them free reign to lie? Am I going to be creating monsters? Or am I putting way too much stock in what I my words mean to these students? Maybe that won’t even matter. Maybe it’ll just be one of those things “hey, everybody lies”. Maybe that’s just what it’s all about. Letting them know that I’m human too. And maybe just letting them know that will give them a little bit more trust in me. Who am I to judge what they know, what they think and how they think. This is just part of the process.

I would very much appreciate your comments on this topic! 

Adnan Iftekhar

4 Comments

  1. Time is a funny thing. For most of us it allows us to shift our perspectives on life by applying little lessons we learn along the way toward our whole world picture. The result often is that we know everything at the age of 20 and by the time we reach 50 we’re pretty sure we know very little.

    I bring this up because I was the guy that Adnan ‘lied’ to almost 20 years ago to get that job. In truth, I never felt lied to and Adnan and we actually discussed years ago that his job interview with me was largely an ‘embellishment’. But I didn’t see it that way at the time and still don’t know.

    When you are the hiring manager for any company you’re going to come across candidates who are just trying to stick a dart in the board. They don’t have the skills needed to do the job and during the interview process everybody in the room is aware of that. The simple reality, especially when interviewing recent graduates, is that they never have enough experience. Most student projects are learning experiences and generally not something that students are proud to show off. The basic reality is that most recent graduates don’t have much experience to share because they don’t have much experience.

    When I met with Adnan I wasn’t looking for a seasoned veteran. I was looking for somebody with potential. I needed to hire somebody who could learn what needed to be learned in a VERY new marketplace and somebody I could rely upon.

    When I hired Adnan I never had any regrets. Years later I would tell stories about how I could sit down with Adnan for a few minutes in between meeting and mumble some vague and possibly incoherent instructions about a project we were working on and when I would get back it would be done exactly the way I wanted it to be done. Seriously. That’s money in the bank if you can find it.

    By comparison, at the time I also had an office manager who would stop by my office to tell me that we were getting low on postage stamps and ask me if she should by more. In most cases when you hire people you want people who make less work for you and make decisions that make sense without you needing to micromanage things.

    The reality that Adnan and are still friends 20 years later is also pretty telling. While I will let his writing in this blog tell his story, he’s a competent and caring guy and I was blessed to hire him (and have him push himself way outside of his own comfort zone!) and to work with him.

    Should you lie to get a job? No. But if you can sell yourself and then deliver the goods then that’s not lying at all. That’s just gearing up to face a new challenge. If you’re lucky, nobody will ever know that you don’t already know everything.

  2. Teresa

    Great read and food for thought. I just had a riveting discussion with my 7th & 8th grade class about “truth,” “untruth,” and posed the question “Is it ever okay to lie?” I am eager to share your blog and story with them.

  3. Katie Hutchinson

    I say fake it until you make it. I always say yes when asked if I can do something. Just because I don’t know doesn’t mean I won’t learn. I can learn anything. And for me, it takes deadlines sometimes. Ok, all the time.