Black Belt Leader as Beginner: Part Seven

“Every time you go up a notch in your career, you start at zero all over again.”

  Charles Barkley, 1993 NBA MVP

Black Belt Leaders understand that we’re always beginners at whatever level we’re at in our professional development. It took me awhile to grasp this concept. One of my first lessons in this was when I enrolled, as a freshman at the University of California at Berkeley, in a political science class taught by Professor Waterman. The first week we were assigned to write a short paper on One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. I said to myself: “This is great! I get to read my favorite book and write a paper on it. College is more fun than I thought!” So the night before the assignment was due I sat down and cranked out the paper. No sweat. I had always done well in English and Social Studies classes in high school, so when I turned in the assignment I wasn’t the least bit worried. In fact, I felt that it was one of the best papers I had ever written. Boy, I was in for a surprise! When the paper was returned to me there was a C+ at the top of the page. I was outraged! I held my cool throughout the class and then when class was over and all the other students had left I got on my “high horse” and approached Professor Waterman’s desk. 

     “I would like to talk to you about my paper.”

     “What about it?”

     “You gave me a C+.”

     “That’s right. At this university a C is the grade we give average work. You wrote a slightly better than average paper. That’s why you got a C+. If you’re not satisfied with your grade, you’re welcome to rewrite it.”

     “Rewrite it?” 

     “Yes,” he replied. “You can rewrite it. Give it another try.”

     So that’s what I did.

     I rewrote it and excitedly turned it back in. I thought for sure that I would now be given a more appropriate grade. When I got the paper back, I saw that at the top of the page Professor Waterman had written a B-. As before, I approached him after class this time on a much smaller high horse and he said, predictably, that if I didn’t like the grade I had been given I could rewrite the paper once more. In that class, we had to write a short paper every week. I believe I rewrote each paper three or four times. At the end of the term, I received a somewhat better grade than a B-. I also received from Professor Waterman an invaluable lesson in humility.