Why a Single Decision in Sixth Grade Impacted My Entire Life
I had a very turbulent childhood so I really didn’t feel like I was smart, pretty, or any of those things. I did okay in school but wasn’t the smartest kid. I was held back in Kindergarten and while most would think this wasn’t a big deal it was horrific for me. It was my first experience with failure.
My mom would argue that I was held back for “other” reasons — my dad left when I was almost 3 years old. I am sure that had something to do with it, but I remember the teacher saying that I wasn’t able to read at the level required to move on. I knew my mom was just trying to make me feel better about it.
The feeling of inadequacy loomed as I started first and second grade. All the kids I had been friends with were a year ahead of me. I hated sitting in front of them at assemblies — every smile or snicker I imagined them laughing at my idiocy. To add to this, it didn’t help that I was sent to speech therapy when I was in 2nd grade to correct my pronunciation of “r.”
All in all, I was an insecure, sensitive mess.
Fast forward to today. I’m a former executive for a High Technology company in the Silicon Valley, have 20+ years of experience at some of the greatest tech giants — NetApp, EMC, Cisco, and SGI.
How did I go from being an insecure, sensitive child full of self-doubt to a successful leader?
It started when I was in sixth grade when we had to take a placement test for seventh grade History and English Core class. This was a huge milestone in moving into junior high so lots of attention was put on it. I was sitting next to one of my smart friends for the test. In a moment of weakness, I cheated.
I felt horrible afterwards. This wasn’t my style. I was being dishonest not to mention I just proved to myself that I didn’t know any of the answers. The feeling was awful. I did it because I didn’t believe in myself. I didn’t believe that I was going to be able to get the results I desired, or be able to handle the disappointment of the score I imagined I would get.
I went home with my head hung low, hoping no one would find me out and scream, “Imposter!”
Several weeks later when the looming feeling of guilt was almost all gone, we got our placement results. I was in the highest class. My eyes bugged out as I gulped and thought to myself “Oh, crap!” Now I have to deliver.
When school started the next Fall I convinced myself I could fool my way through the class, much like I did on the test. But that isn’t what happened.
It was hard. Really hard. Studying for hours every night hard.
About a month in I was getting a C and struggling for every ounce of it. Until something happened. I realized that failure wasn’t an option and I had to learn how my brain worked so I could do well in this class.
Through this experiment I learned that I am a visual person. I wrote notes every night and rewrote the critical points. I again reviewed them every morning before our daily quiz.
I got my first B-plus, and then an A-minus. It was working.
By the end of the year I had an A in the class and I was among the top students. This experience taught me three things about life.
- Leadership is taken, not given
- Everyone has the ability, some require more nurturing
- People rise to the occasion when put under pressure
And lastly, cheating is not a good thing to do nor a good quality. However, it did put me in a situation where I was able to prove myself. Sometimes I wonder if the teachers knew I cheated and let it fly because they believed in me more than I believed in myself.
Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. What life lesson greatly impacted your life?
Kendra Dahlstrom is an author, keynote speaker and organizational leadership expert who shares winning strategies with your clients to help them transform from ordinary to extraordinary by unearthing their natural-born leadership so they can live to their full potential in life and at work. Her book “Leading from Your Power: Boldly Influence Others by Being Your Authentic Self” is set for release in January 2018.