Character Counts, But So Does Skill: A Lesson in Humbleness

I learned a hard, and embarrassing, lesson last week. I’ve been unemployed for over six months and I desperately need a job. I am now in the “ANY job is a good job” mode. I was happy when I got a letter from Comcast saying they wanted me to interview for an installer position I had applied for. Not the most glamorous job in the world, but the pay was better than unemployment, good benefits, and lots of opportunity for advancement. The only foreseeable issue was that there was a manual math test. I am not good at math. Maybe you didn’t catch the “under” in that understatement. I am NOT good at math. I decided to pursue it anyway. I thought that I could gloss over the lack of math skills and wow them with people skills, presentableness, and convince them despite that one shortcoming I was the best man they could put on their front lines.

The letter, and subsequent emails, I got before the interview were VERY clear about their minimum requirements regarding driving records, criminal background, and even the dress code for the interview, which they said was “professional”. I decided that I would go ahead and suit up, even though this was more of a “blue collar” position. I figured it would help with the image I was trying to give of being “a cut above”. When I got there, of the 10 other people in the room, only one had a tie (no jacket), others had golf shirts, a couple of dress shirts with no ties, and one person in jeans and a ball cap. I thought to myself, “I have SO got this!”.

As we moved through the process, everyone had to double-check their applications to make sure they were correct, and sign the normal barrage of paperwork about background checks, etc. Although there was no doubt about the background requirements, several people still thought they were the exception and asked things like, “My license has been suspended before. Does that count?”. (the letter, emails, and paperwork in front of us CLEARLY said NO suspended licenses. Ever.). I was starting to feel pretty good as the candidate pool dwindled right before my eyes on these character issues. I even told myself how LUCKY they would be to have someone like me on their staff.

Then came the math test. Like I said before, I assumed I could take the test, move on to the interview stage, and talk my way out of it. No chance. The test was computerized, and when I was finished they called me over and said I didn’t meet the minimum standards. I was summarily dismissed just like the others with background issues. I was lumped into the same category as “cap and jeans” guy (who had left earlier because of his background). I had sat in judgement of all these other people because they knew the minimum requirements before showing up but thought they were the exception, yet I had done the same thing! I knew math was a part of it. I knew I wouldn’t pass the test. Yet, in my arrogance, I went anyway wasting a lot of my, and their, time.

I took three things away from this experience:

First, never stop practicing—especially with the things you aren’t good at. Even if you struggle with something, the worst thing you can do is perform the bare minimum to get by, and then forget all you learn (like I did with math in school). I’ve done that with other things, too. I took classical guitar lessons for a few years in high school, played some in college and as a young adult, but haven’t played much since. I can still strum along, but can no longer make the beautiful music I did 20-25 years ago.

Second, never discount the value of a well-rounded education (whether it’s in school or in life). When kids say, “Why do I have to learn this! I’ll never use it in real life!”, feel free to share this story. You just never know when you might need it. Always be learning, and once you’ve learned it, go back to point number one.

Finally, pride goes before a fall. Man, was I arrogant. In hindsight, it isn’t the end of the world that I didn’t get this job, but what if it had been my dream job? I have a lot to offer any company. I know that. And part of the interview process is convincing them of that, but the moment I think I’m above anyone else, I’ve already lost! Balancing character, skill, and humbleness is an art-form that we all need to be reminded of from time to time.

I believe this quote from C.S. Lewis sums up my experience nicely:

Pride is essentially competitive—is competitive by its very nature—while the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

Social Networking/Social Media are HUGE buzzwords right now. Let me just say right up front – I am NOT a social media expert. I have social media knowledge, I have opinions on social media, and I use social media. That’s about it. There are plenty of social media experts out there, and they are MUCH better at it than I am. There are still many who resist social media like people resisted computers for the longest time. Regardless of where you are on the spectrum, social media is here to stay and if you have any kind of brand, product, or business (and you all do, wether you know it or not) you need to decide what you are going to do about it. Something happened to me today that made think about it all over again.


First, some background. I block my Twitter updates. I don’t like the spam, and I really don’t want complete strangers following me. That’s probably a good reason why I’m not a social media expert. I just prefer to interact with people I know, or have a solid connection with. That being said, I do follow people I don’t know personally, but I am connected to in some way. Thomas Nelson authors and (now former) co-workers for example. I’ve only met Shelia Walsh a couple of times in passing, and she wouldn’t have any idea who I was, but I enjoy following her because of the Thomas Nelson connection. Since my Twitter account is blocked, anyone that wants to follow me has to request it and I have to approve the request. Recently, I was sent follow requests from two people that ARE social media experts and are sort of Twitter celebrities here in the Franklin area. I’m still not sure how I got the privilege of getting follow requests from them, but I assume it was through my other Nelson connections (whom they are connected to). Needless to say I was flattered, but I’ll be honest – I don’t know these guys AT ALL. Because of their reputations, and the many mutual friends, I accepted the requests and started following them as well, but that was about it. Never looked at their blogs, read about them, or anything. Then…

This morning, I was catching up on Tweets and saw an exchange between a former Nelson co-worker and one of these new followers. They were talking about the Christian band Big Tent Revival. “Hey”, I thought to myself, “I know Steve Wiggins from BTR, I’ll let them know he’s on Twitter!”. (To be fair, I know Steve’s wife, Misti, better than I know Steve, but yes I know Steve in real life) So, I jumped right in and let both of them know. Minutes later, my new “friend” informed me that he was IN the band BTR. Talk about embarrassment! I quickly sent a message to him letting him know I felt like a dork for not knowing. To make it worse, just a cursory glance at his bio and it would have told me he’s a co-founder of BTR, and to say he knows Steve WAY better than I do wouldn’t even qualify as an understatement. Grrr! It solidified why I don’t follow strangers and don’t interact online with people I don’t know. But then I thought that there was a bigger lesson to be learned here, which brings me to the point of this long story (sorry)…

I’m out there! Yes, I was embarrassed. If I ever meet Spence Smith in person (to whom I will give another HUGE apology), I will be embarrassed all over again. But, regardless of that, I’m out there engaging and interacting. That’s what social media is all about – connecting and conversing. Spence, an influential and well-connected guy, now knows who I am (albeit I’m “that idiot”). It would never have happened if I hadn’t been out there experimenting and taken the risk to say something!

So, again, what are you doing about social media? What connections have you made? How have you expanded your network today? How have you promoted your brand (either your personal brand, or your companies’ brand)? You will never do any of those things online if you aren’t doing ANYthing…