During a job interview many years ago, the interviewer told me, very candidly, that I was his preferred applicant because I was the least qualified for the job, and therefore, the least threat to him. Based on my lack of qualifications, I was offered the job at a salary above the amount I’d requested.
I started the graphic design position armed only with a meager amount of on-the-job training, lightning-fast typing skills and a mostly unused Spanish degree.
I never meant to be a threat, that’s not my M.O. Yet soon the veteran, old-school designer and I found ourselves at odds. He trained me on how to do things, and I had ideas on how to use technology and new processes to speed up and simplify the work.
My job description became eclectic as I was assigned tasks anyone else in the building turned down for one reason or another. The challenge was fun, but being the last-resort catchall had its pitfalls. I was paired with difficult clients on tedious projects. I was asked to feel my way through new computer programs. I was charged with writing instructions for processes that nobody knew anything about.
I recall sitting dumbfounded in front of my computer, wondering how on earth to write instructions with no information about the actual process and no resources to guide me. Deadline looming, I tackled the project and simply made it all up, imagining how the process might work. I turned the set of simple steps in to my supervisor, warning him that it was likely complete fiction.
Days later, after my “instruction” sheet had made way up through the ranks, I was called into the top dog’s office. He stared down at the paper I’d turned in.
He tapped the paper, appearing somewhat annoyed.
“Where did you come up with this part here?”
“I made it up,” I admitted, somewhat embarrassed. “I made all of it up. Nobody seemed to know anything about it.”
I recall feeling very small as he stared at me. Then he circled a paragraph.
“This part’s wrong,” he said. “The rest is fine.” I walked away, amazed that my “maybe it works like this” set of instructions was 80 percent accurate.
There’s a niche in this world for people who are willing to try, sometimes fail and try again. Careers can thrive with attitudes of “Maybe, maybe not,” and “What if we tried this” and “I’ll see if I can come up with something.”
Virtually any knowledge we seek is just a Google search away. There is a YouTube video for anything. My husband can fix anything — not because he knows how, but because someone else has already fixed it and made a video of themselves doing so, then put it on Youtube.
I can create any design I imagine — because there are tutorials and message boards galore telling me how to do it.
The only thing anyone really needs to know is how to learn new things — and come up with ideas of what to learn. How to look for information, try a new process, visualize a new solution. If we have limitations, it’s only because we set them for ourselves.
My 10-year-old daughter recently informed me that she was creating an avatar for her YouTube channel — an icon to represent herself on the computer. I offered my umpteen years of graphic design experience to help her, but she ran off with the laptop and informed me she’d do it all by herself.
She returned with an elaborate image that years ago might have taken me days to create. She’d watched some YouTube videos to figure out how to create what she had envisioned. Not only that, she then created her own YouTube how-to video to show others how to do the same.
Gone are the days where we can hoard information. We can no longer claim to be a specialist and not acknowledge that others — even 10-year-olds — have the ability to come up along beside us.
The question to ask ourselves now is: Are we threatened or do we just have more to learn?
Overland Park mom Emily Parnell writes alternate weeks. Reach her at email@example.com. On Twitter: @emilyjparnell