For my sons Jack and Cooper ~

Okay kids, it’s Father’s Day weekend, so it’s time for another story from the Old Man. Whenever you find yourself feeling embarrassed, whenever you feel as if you couldn’t possibly be any dumber, read this story & realize you came by it honestly ~ your Pop passed it along to you.:)

The year is 1999, the location is the “campus” headquarters of my employer (1996-2006) Alcon Laboratories in Ft. Worth, TX. At the time, I was still managing a large chunk of the internal recruiting suite, so each and every day was similar in one respect – it was a 12-hour fire drill.

So, as was wont to happen (who am I kidding, it still happens,) I was completely oblivious to my next scheduled meeting until a reminder “pinged” me on my computer screen. I quickly glanced at the reminder, and, with roughly five minutes to spare, I had to get to the other side of campus to be on time for somebody’s idea of a necessary Staffing Update meeting.

Hurriedly “jalking” (that’s when you’re kinda jogging, kinda walking, failing to look cool at either), I managed to sneak in the door just as it closed and plant myself in the closest (and only) seat available. It took me a few seconds of fake note-taking to finally look up and engage in the meeting. It was then I noticed something strange:

  • I was in the wrong meeting (“Oh turds.”)
  • Everyone was in suit & tie, I was in khakis and a golf shirt (“Oh double turds”.)
  • Everyone in the meeting was SVP or above (I was a Recruiting Manager, (“Oh sh—————–t…”)

    Nothing says "I belong" quite like khakis...

    Nothing says “I belong” quite like khakis…

Yup – In a room set-up that featured four tables making a square, each with four seats filled with four people facing the four people sitting opposite them sat I – the jackass Recruiting Manager in Duckheads. I recognized one or two friendly faces, although the expressions I saw could be accurately described as “horrifyingly sympathetic” as in, “Poor kid, today’s the day his career died.”   Luckily for me, one of those familiar faces was the CIO, and he was sitting right next to me…he scribbled a note, “what are you DOING here?” 

I scribbled a note in response, Not sure, but I’ll give you $100 to pull the fire alarm.” He muffled a laugh with a cleverly disguised cough, and went back to the matter at hand.

After I managed to avoid eye contact for a sufficient amount of time, the meeting actually continued as if nothing was out of the ordinary. I nodded at appropriate times, made obvious notes when something profound was mentioned and basically blended into the group of 16 Brooks Brothers.

When the meeting adjourned, I can assure you a blue flame could be seen in my wake as I quickly jalked the hell out of there. Amazingly enough, it was only referenced again by the CIO, and that was in a few of our 1:1 meetings over the following weeks. He thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen and we both belly-laughed at the ridiculousness of the whole incident; but, even more importantly, this confirmed three life lessons that I will impart upon you both.

  1. Act like you own the place.
  2. Keep your sense of humor.
  3. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Should be obvious how those would be relevant in the above scenario, but you’ll be amazed at how effective these simple reminders can be in any setting, be they personal or professional.

Love, Dad

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); more importantly, he’s the Dad of two awesome kiddos. 

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