Truth and a Twelve Year Old

In 6th grade, I had a fantastic teacher who gave us an inspired writing assignment.  We were to choose a famous “good guy” from history and write a research paper that showcased them as a villain.  I chose William Shakespeare.


We had to cite our sources (this was well before the days of Wikipedia, so my sources were all books) and ensure that the paper was well researched.  Countless hours in the library ensued.

By the end of the assignment, I had a paper that showed that Shakespeare was a fraud, a terrible husband and father, uneducated, and all around not someone I’d want to know.  And I hadn’t technically made anything up.  I used well respected sources including the Encyclopedia Britannica and cited all books and quotes.  It was just that many, if not all, of the quotes in my paper were taken completely out of context.  A source which originally read “Although no attendance records for the period survive, most biographers agree that Shakespeare was probably educated at a school in Stratford” would appear in my paper as “There are no records that Shakespeare ever attended school.”  Not a lie and not wrong, but certainly not the whole truth.

I wish I still had a copy of that paper.  I still remember it decades later, which is not something I can say of much of my middle school education.  It was an incredible assignment to give to a twelve year old.  I wonder if any teachers give similar assignments today.  What stuck with me, and this was probably my teacher’s intent, was how easy it can be to twist information to suit whatever message you are aiming for.  It reinforced the importance of context and of knowing the whole story, rather than taking information at face value.  In the face of today’s information onslaught and accusations of “fake news,”  I sincerely hope someone is still teaching twelve year olds to dig a bit deeper.

I think about that old assignment a lot in my job.  I work in communications and marketing for a nonprofit organization.  The messages I work with are a pretty easy sell – we feed the hungry, help the homeless, empower families toward self-sufficiency, and fight to end poverty.  All objectively good things.  Even so, there are times I find myself spinning information so that it appears in the best possible light.  I don’t ever lie, there is no need to.  But it tends to sound better to say in a newsletter that “a promising new initiative impacted thirty families in its first year” than to say that a program failed to reach its original goal of helping fifty families. This is a part of my job that requires a type of creative wordsmithing that I truly enjoy.  It is fun to find new ways to say things, better ways to communicate a message or a goal.  But that old assignment from 6th grade has served as a reminder of the fine line between spinning and misleading.  The lesson has stayed with me for twenty years.

Honesty is not something to be tossed aside in the name of sales, ratings, propaganda, or some so-called “greater good.”  It is one thing to present something in the best possible light, but another to disregard truth in favor of popularity.  If that is something a twelve year old can learn from a single research paper, I imagine adults are capable of grasping it as well.  If not, I expect a five page paper on my desk by Friday.  Class dismissed.

Oh honey…

I recently had my first experience in having my own intern, which was educational for (I hope) both of us.  This was a young woman who had been interested in volunteering with my organization, but since she was in school, we agreed to call it an internship.  I was thrilled to have help!  Running all marketing and communications for an organization on your own can be a lot some days.  Most days.  So I was excited.

My intern was very quiet but enthusiastic.  As she was planning to be around for a while, I created a curriculum and outcomes that we would be working toward, which would encompass a wide range of communications skills and duties.

About a month into the internship, I asked her to help me with making follow-up calls to businesses and community partners from whom we were seeking donations.  This did not turn out to be her strong suit.  The day after her first attempt (during which I was on hand to help,) I received an email from her stating that making phone calls was not the kind of experience she was looking for. She continued by saying that she plans to go into event/advertising and felt that doing the social media posts was a better use of her time.  We weren’t paying her or anything, so that was fine.  I was happy to let her work on what she wanted.

I had also asked her to outline some of her career goals so that I could make sure the experience she was receiving lined up.  She plans to become a business owner, doing events and advertising for herself and her business.

Another month or two into the internship she decided she didn’t have enough time and resigned.

So that was that saga.  The point of this post however, is this: Oh honey.  It’s cute you think your life is going to go as planned.


My senior year of high school, I knew I was going to be a French teacher.  I went to college for Political Science.  I knew was going to be a lobbyist and live in DC.

Baker 3
Yeah, didn’t use that degree either.

I graduated and went to grad school for Religious Studies.  I knew I was going to be a professor.  So I went and got a Master’s with the intention to get a PhD.  Due to academic burnout and a lack of funding, that didn’t happen either.  Then I got an MBA in Human Resources and knew that was going to be my career.  It’s been three years now and I have zero intention of going into Human Resources.  This may sound a bit haphazard, but it really came down to taking the opportunities that presented themselves.  I love where I ended up, but I didn’t specifically plan or prepare for it.

Dressing up as Professor Trelawney does not help you predict the future

I was able to take the opportunities that came along because I said yes to a variety of experiences and opportunities before that.  My haphazard education allowed me to develop an ease in writing and an ability to speak competently and confidently to a wide variety of people.  My varied job experiences (camp counselor, ice cream scooper, dance teacher, preschool teacher, child care worker, hotel front desk worker, volunteer coordinator, cafeteria worker, bank teller, admin assistant) each taught me something different, and I’m grateful for all of it. Even working as a bank teller for Wells Fargo, which wasn’t stellar, taught me that I truly hate sales.  But it also taught me how to be salesperson, a skill that has come in handy in other (more ethical) ways.

So, dear intern, I would encourage you to reconsider next time you turn down the opportunity for experience, even (especially) one that takes you out of your comfort zone.  Do you imagine you will never need to call a stranger and ask them for something?  I can tell you right now that running events and advertising involve a lot of cold contacts.  Experience is experience.  You never know when you will need it. You’d be surprised what kinds of skills might come in handy.   Life will most likely not go according to your plan, not exactly.  I hope that life goes so much better than you could have ever planned for, and that you have been open to all the things that will prepare you for it, despite never knowing  precisely where you’re heading.