Two weeks earlier, we assigned two interns to lead a dying pilot project, developing educational material to teach history and art through computer programming.
We also assign a handful of, other interns, to help them. Probably not our smartest move, but it was a low-risk situation. And that project was just one among many others. Like, so so so many others.
I pressed my lips together behind the Zoom call and held my objections. You can only speak up and disagree with overzealous plans so many times before you start to come off as an employee who doesn’t jive with the company’s ethos.
Our boss had a bad habit of spreading the team too thin. His ideas were all good and our team was fully capable of bringing light to those visions. But not if the goal was to do them all simultaneously.
Anyways, interns are always a toss-up. The eager ones tend to be good though. They still believe they can make big ripples in the pond. And Taylor and Hannah were eager. Very eager.
After a week, they gave an update at a meeting. To be honest, I was shaking. They knocked it out of the park. The plans were thorough and detailed. The lesson slides were filled with easy-to-read text and great graphics. It was novel — not tacky. It was really, really good.
This time, I pressed my lips together and nodded in approval as I swallowed my doubts from a week earlier. Then, our boss unmuted his mic.
“This is great. Really awesome. Good work, Taylor, and Hannah.”
He paused.
“I think you two got a really good experience out of this.”
Wait, what?
I thought he was going to shower them in compliments. I thought he was going to make it rain praise and thanks. I thought he was going to get down on his knees and bow to them. Probably not the last thing.
See, our team doesn’t have a good track record. We run on flights of fancy and take stabs in the dark. Mostly, it doesn’t end in wild success. It’s more like wadding around in lukewarm water. Not that exciting.
Our boss has always been a proponent of innovation. He likes to venture into the unknown and push the limits to see what he can find. And that comes with a lot of risk and uncertainty.
But he always encourages us to run with light-bulb moments. He picks up the loose strings to give projects the best chance of success. Sometimes, that means he spends his time writing grant after grant after grant to find funding to support it.
That’s self-reliance. Doing the things that need to be done in order to stick to your values and dreams. It’s admirable.
But what’s even better is how he handled himself after the interns showed promising signs. He responded just like he always had. He was confident, encouraging, and positive. Failure had never swayed him, and success wasn’t going to either.
Not once during the meeting did he ever say thank you to the two interns. And he didn’t need to. They were hired and paid to do a job. And just because our team had a history of fruitless projects didn’t mean they weren’t expected to try to do good work.
Being bold and daring like my boss isn’t easy. You have to expect some level of failure. And you can’t let the disappointment and uncertainty chew away at you. But, you also need to envision potential success. And when it comes, you have to own it. Because that’s true self-respect.