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Perseverance, manners, and having tea with the Queen.

I’m writing this post today not because I’m particularly good at perseverance, but because I have lots of failure under my belt, and hope someone can learn from me falling flat on my face time and time again. So I’m gonna tell you a story —a cautionary tale, really, about giving up too soon. Make some popcorn, and round up your chairs. This is a good one.

When I was growing up, my mom was really keen on teaching me manners. She wanted me to be successful, and have opportunities that she didn’t have growing up as a poor farmer’s daughter. She always said, “If the Queen of England ever wants you over for tea, I want you to know what to do.”

You know, stuff like, wait your turn, say please and thank you, and, don’t pick a wedgie in front of royalty. Actually, don’t pick a wedgie, ever. (Ok, so my mom never said anything about wedgies, but you get the drift. Mom taught me all about manners.)

Fast forward a bunch of years, when I became a young advertising art director working in the city, looking for my next great opportunity. Unsatisfied at my current job, I started working my network. A friend connected me to a young creative director who was looking for her next right hand woman. Me! Me! Me! Me! I thought. I will make your ads! I will bring you coffee! I WILL HERD ALL YOUR CATS.

So, I faxed her my resume, and followed up with a polite phone call.

Nothing.

A week later, I followed up with another polite phone call.

Again, no call-backs.

Another week later, I called again.

Zip.

I started to feel like I was being annoying, even though every phone call I’d made was polite. I started wavering. I let a few more weeks go by. My phone sat untouched. The lonely sound of silence rolled through my brain like tumbleweed through the desert. I decided then and there that “manners” were going to win over perseverance (we’ll talk about this more later) and I didn’t call again for a few more weeks. I didn’t want to be remembered as That Annoying Chick.

Then, after enough time went by, I called one last time, just to make dead sure I wasn’t missing out. Shockingly, the person I’d been seeking actually picked up the phone. She would love to see me and talk about my work.

WHAT?

On the appointed day, I dressed all fancy like the sharp young advertising babe that I was, and hauled my portfolio into her office. She was a woman of few words. We opened my portfolio, she looked over my stuff, uh-huh, uh-huh, then dropped a bomb on me: “I would have hired you over that other woman sitting in the cubicle outside if you had called me a few weeks ago.”

Whaaaaaa?

At this point, I acknowledged that I had called a few times and was afraid I’d bothered her with too many calls. She said, “Nope.”

And that was it. A missed opportunity because I had confused manners with something else entirely.

I learned a big lesson that day. Oddly, it was not about chasing people with phone calls (in some industries, like publishing, phone calls are REALLY inappropriate)—it was about letting go too soon. Where, in your life, did you let go too soon? Are you in danger of doing it now?

Don’t worry. Manners are still important, and while you work on perseverance, and asking for what you want, you should always be nice. Like Mom said, you never know when you might need to have tea with the Queen.