I’ve been reading Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In”. It’s a good book and I recommend it. One passage recently caught my attention. Writing about her first day at a new job: “‘I can’t believe you’ve gotten this far, or even how you can understand basic economics, without knowing how to use Lotus.’ I went home convinced that I was going to get fired.” (p62)

A number of years ago my college roommate and I both had summer internships and we were discussing them. One thing we both noted, while looking at who some of our coworkers would be, was that all of them went to better schools than we did. RPI is not, by any means, a bad school, but our coworkers had gone to Stanford, MIT, Harvard, Berkeley, etc., the best of the best. In light of this, he commented that he was concerned that he might not be qualified.

In retrospect, that’s the completely obvious reaction that nearly everyone would have to that situation. It wasn’t the one I had. My reaction to seeing that every single coworker went to a better school was: they must have thought I was qualified based on something else, since my school didn’t count as evidence in my favor.

Instead of being unnerved by the situation, I was positively reassured. Were I in Sandberg’s position, my first thought would probably have been, “Gee, I probably got this far in economics because I kick ass at something other than Lotus Notes”.

The lesson I take from this is, whenever humanly possible, try to take a positive, actionable lesson away from a situation or criticism. When that fails, the person you’re talking to probably doesn’t want to help you, they just want to make you feel bad. And don’t ever let anyone make you feel bad about not knowing Lotus.