We asked readers to tell us about the most embarrassing moment of their professional careers, and we printed many of the responses in WM Winter 2018. But we only have so much space in print, and some of the most interesting and thoughtful responses are published here for the first time.
“NOT ABOUT ME”
Midway through my 12 years as a trial judge in Dallas I heard a case brought by two pro se parties trying to shut down a bond sale by the local school district. They brought the case as a Section 1983 civil rights case. When I ruled against them, the two were so angry they placed hundreds of yard signs all over Dallas. One read, “State Judge Jay Patterson has never read the First Amendment,” and the other, “State Judge Jay Patterson corrupts American Values.”
I went through an emotional ride something like the stages of grief: “Oh, no!” “Why me?”
“I made a correct decision.” “What can I do about this?”
I carried one of the signs to my media consultant and asked him, “What should I do about this?” His advice: “Nothing.” So I did nothing.
Pretty soon I began getting calls from supporters saying things like, “This isn’t right!” “You’re a good judge!” “Isn’t there something we can do about this?” I don’t know for sure what happened next but the two pro se parties had apparently placed all the signs illegally in public right-of-way. Very rapidly they disappeared. I suspect my friends had removed them.
Then my emotional ride went to a new stage. I thought to myself, “Well, I’m happy I live in a country with the First Amendment so unhappy people can let off steam and say what they want and not in a country where my wife, Jan, would be reading in the paper, “State Judge Jay Patterson found dead in execution style slaying.”
Over time three or four courts, state and federal, ruled the same way I did on the issue. I was encouraged that I had ruled correctly.
The experience reinforced my resolve to remain neutral as a judge and not worry about what happened to me as a result of my rulings. They were not about me. The experience helped make me become a better judge.
—Jay Patterson ‘65
RFI’d AT 62
The most embarrassing event in my career was being RFI’d at the age of 62. The realization of being cast off after many years of service was unique—your sense of value quickly dissipates. This is followed by the struggles with trying to find a job, any job including jobs that are well below your education and skill set.
Unfortunately, this is a story that has been all too common.
The good news? After 2 and one half years, most of us are finding the opportunity to consult with the same companies that formerly put us on the street. just shows you that life is unpredictable and hard but never-the-less, life after the fact will exist.
Sorry for the nature of this note, it I believed it should be shared for those brothers out there who are having similar experiences but have not yet made it to the other side. I believe my time at Wabash in some small way prepared me for being able to endure hardships such as this. We are stronger than most because of our common bonds.
—Glen Porter ’75
TYPO LEADS TO TRANSFER
In 1943, I was writing copy about rugs and linoleum for the Montgomery Ward catalog. In my haste to leave the office before the Thanksgiving holiday, I failed to check the captions on a strip of photographs and misidentified a piece of hardware for binding the edges of linoleum. Consequently, hundreds of customers ordered the wrong item and it caused a great deal of trouble in Ward’s order-filling department.
I wasn’t fired, but was transferred to another office.
—Jean Williams ’53
My most embarrassing moment at work came very early in my career. I was just a few months into my first professional job. Our company had recently begun introducing casual Fridays. It was, at that point, happening sporadically across departments and was certainly not yet common practice. It was, however, something my department had embraced.
I was part of a management training program and one element of the program was to give its participants exposure to executives in the company. One particular Friday, I came to work dressed casually not remembering that we had lunch scheduled that day with the owner/chairman of the company. I realized the magnitude of my mistake when I arrived outside our cafeteria and saw my fellow program participants standing there in their best suits and dresses. I was mortified, and became even more so when the leader of the program, a gentleman with about 30 years of company experience, looked at me in amazement and said, “Are you kidding? You look like a clown!”
As an aside, in my opinion, my heavyweight turtle neck, while maybe not the height of fashion, certainly didn’t qualify as clown garb!! Regardless, I was in full panic mode.
We grabbed our food and went into a private lunch room for our meet and greet. The chairman asked that we go around the table and introduce ourselves and say what our job was. When it came to me, I gave him my name and said “I am a marketing planner.” To which he replied, “What does a marketing planner do? Plan how to not wear a suit to work??” Ouch!!
Needless to say, it was a long time before I lived that one down and before I could ever look our chairman in the face.
—John George ’85
I had recently started a new job in a new industry and was given the opportunity to work with some of the smartest people in the agency, including one of the top creative teams in the industry. I was totally stoked to have such a great opportunity so early in my career. I was informally introduced to the creative team that morning and later that afternoon rode down the elevator with one of the two creative directors to whom I expressed being extremely excited to work on the project and work with him, calling him by his name. However, it turned out there were two creative directors in the agency who both had shaved heads and I mistook my elevator companion for the real team member. Turns out that both the creative director and my elevator companion were good friends as well, and it was a mix-up I’ve never lived down.
Still a running joke whenever I see the elevator companion!
—Nick Prihoda ’99