Have you ever felt defeated in your career? If so, I’d like to tell you a brief story from my life that can help you.
From the time I was 19, I wanted to join IBM, who then dominated the computer industry. For a year and a half, I went to their Los Angeles Regional Office every 2-3 weeks, where each time the people in their personnel department said there was no job for me.
One time, a man even said, “Look, we told you last time and every time, there’s no job for you!” I told him I’d be back again. Then one morning when I arrived, a personnel man called out to me, “Kid, this is your lucky day.”
They hired me with the agreement I’d go to college and get a degree. To honor that commitment, I worked for them full-time and went to school full-time, all year long, no days off.
It took another year and a half but I got my degree. IBM placed me in an intense, high profile 10 week technical training course, joining about 40 other students. I was honored to be chosen and thankful for the opportunity.
I had no way of knowing my career would soon take an ugly turn.
Many of those students had strong technical skills, which I did not, and in comparison with them, my performance was just fair. But as the course ended I’d turn in my last software project and feel good knowing I’d successfully complete the course and get ahead at IBM.
When I finished my project, a group of students were still on the computer and they offered to turn my work in along with theirs. It was late at night and I thanked them, gave them my work and left.
But when I arrived the next day, all Hell had broken loose. I was summoned to a meeting before a group of IBM managers and teachers and on the way there people avoided looking at or speaking to me.
At that meeting, they accused me of cheating on that project and said everyone else involved had admitted they cheated. I was stunned and hurt by the accusation and vehemently denied it.
I said, “Why would I do such a thing? Even if I flunked that project, I’d still successfully complete the course. There was nothing to gain.”
But they persisted and finally I was called before my boss’s boss, a well over six feet tall, husky, serious man in his 40’s with a short military haircut. With his size and intensity, he intimated many people. But I liked and respected him and viewed him as a fair man.
When he stated the accusation, I again vehemently denied it. But he said he’d been told others had implicated me. Then he said he thought I was guilty.
Suddenly, from the anger and hurt, a burst of emotion hit me. I fought back the tears that began to well up in my eyes and sat silently for what seemed like a very long time.
As I got control of my emotions, I said if he and the others didn’t believe in my integrity, I would not work there anymore. I resigned and he accepted my resignation.
I was 22 years old with a wife and a six month old baby to support. I quietly packed my things and left IBM’s offices. Because I had seen my career as being “an IBMer,” I didn’t know what to do.
My wife Anne and I had little savings and I desperately needed a job. I called many big firms and sent my resume to many others, and got few interviews and no job offer.
But following a lead I got from my Uncle Gene, I made a series of contacts that led to interviews with a start-up computer disk manufacturer in San Jose, CA. Within a month, by convincing them to open a datacenter that I’d oversee, they hired me.
Anne and I quickly packed and moved to a place where we knew no-one. We had no way of knowing it but something magical had just happened. I was about to become an entrepreneur and a whole new world of opportunities would open.
As an entrepreneur, for example, I later started what became one of the largest computer leasing companies in the United States. It never would have happened without this ugly IBM incident.
As for IBM, after I joined that start-up firm, I called the man who had accepted my resignation and requested my class diploma. He said my resignation was seen as a confirmation of guilt.
I explained again the case I originally made to him, explained how IBM should have conducted an open hearing and allowed me to confront my accusers and the specific accusations against me.
I told him about my wife and baby and asked what he as a man of honor would have done if he faced similar accusations. This time I heard the emotion in his voice. My diploma arrived a short time later.
Success Tip of the Week: Often a defeat in your career is the best thing that can happen to you. It will shake you out of your comfort zone and force you to rethink your goals and even who you are today, versus whom you were when you placed yourself on that earlier career path.
In the next KazanToday, Have others ever unfairly tried to stop you from becoming successful? This is the story of a black man who overcame overt bigotry to become a famous architect.