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The other day at work, a mean customer and I had a conversation that went something like this:

“I want to return this. I had a terrible time, and you all don’t deserve my money.”

“I’m sorry you had such a poor experience, ma’am.” –Begins processing return.

“Do you even need a high school diploma to work here?”

“Well, I have a Masters…”

“A Masters, huh?” ::Snorts:: “How’s that working out for you?”

In my head, I thought, “Clearly terribly, because I’m standing here dealing with you.” Out of my head, I just apologized again for her poor experience, my trembling hands the only indicator she had gotten to me.

I had a totally different experience the other week at a friend’s holiday party. The group was largely people who had gone to high school together, and through a series of random events, our history teacher showed up. Many of you may be thinking how awkward that would be, but it was, in fact, totally encouraging.

Teachers, I think, naturally look into each student’s potential, so to see those students ten years later is to see the realization of that potential. As he mingled with the group, our former teacher seemed genuinely excited for each of the steps each of us had taken, smiling broadly at hearing the things he had seen potential for come to pass.

When it came my turn, I told him I had gotten my Masters and was doing some freelancing while figuring out my next steps to make writing the focus of my career. Most people respond with bland positivity at that statement, and I don’t blame them at all. It’s not as if I’m actually doing anything of note yet. Not this teacher, though. He told me he thought I had been a great writer in high school and wasn’t surprised at all that I had pursued it, and he said he was confident that I’d make it far and that he couldn’t wait to someday read something important that I’d written. He also said that times like this (read: times in retail purgatory) will be what will provide strength and inspiration when I’m holding my pen, struggling over my words.

It was such a relief to have someone hear where I am right now and still think that’s great. I’m used to thinking that someday there could be something great, while berating myself for failing to have achieved it yet. I guess the point is to look at what I can still do instead of what I haven’t yet done.

That, and listen to people who know me rather than mean strangers.