(Blogger’s Note: In the hiking community, a side trail, or spur, is a footpath that wanders off the main trail and simply leads to another scenic vista or practical destination. It’s the metaphorical equivalent of journalism’s sidebar. Closing in on the manuscript draft of my book, #PilgrimStrong, I’m incorporating a “side trail” (a different, but related) short story at the end of each primary chapter. I think it kind of breaks the story up and adds some variety. Hopefully, it works. Here’s a “side trail” preview excerpt I wrote today.)
At 33, I left a potentially promising career in the frenzied political world for one more structured, predictable and family friendly. It was that structure that soon got me in trouble and ultimately bestowed a great lesson.
As state communications director for a member of congress I enjoyed the freedom to do just about whatever needed doing to make things work. Most rules, wherever they existed, were completely gray, and I knew how to work them. They were much more black and white in my new state-regulated job as a higher education fundraiser. Rules abounded.
When we needed some giveaway promotional t-shirts for an internal fund drive I called up a buddy I trusted and knew would give me a quality product on time. He said, “What do you need?” I told him. He said no problem. I said, “Done.” We committed to the deal and I sent him a check for $15,000. There wasn’t as much as a handshake.
Just a few days later a trusted secretary brought attention to my grievous error. The structured, predictable and friendly government rules required all requisitions above $1,000 go out for at least three competitive bids. It meant the money I’d committed would have to come from our private foundation, rather than our state-supported budget. In short, it was a $15,000 screw up. Yes, my bad.
There was no hiding. I’d completely exposed my inexperience and had to tell the boss. He was newer to his job than I was to mine. We didn’t know one another well yet, and he scared me a bit. I walked in his office to take a beating that would’ve been well deserved and told him exactly what happened. I said it was my fault. I said I was sorry, and didn’t really know what to do.
He leaned back in his chair, clasped his hands and was silent for one of the most intensely painful moments of my life. And then he said this:
“Well, you won’t make that mistake again, will you?”
“No sir,” I said, waiting for the other shoe to drop. But it never did.
“I’ll take care of it. Get back to work,” he said. And so he forgave my debt.
It was the most unexpected, underserved grace I’ve received in a lifetime of mistakes. And it’s a lesson that’s served me well.