Monday, October 26, 2015

Backing In - Part I

In high school, I didn’t get bad grades but I also wasn’t going to be mistaken for class Valedictorian. 

You need to apply yourself is common feedback for teenage students.  However, this maxim didn’t fully encompass my academic shortcomings.  What held me back wasn’t a lack of effort but actually a lack of desire.

I still remember day-dreaming in Biology when I heard my teacher remark, “this will be on the test tomorrow”.  I felt the tension in the air rise as most of my fellow students were frantically writing every word that was coming out of my teacher’s mouth. 

What, me worry?  I knew I wasn’t going to get a 100 on the test but I also knew I’d do fine without much effort.  Unfortunately, these poor study habits (or, more specifically, lack of study habits) followed me to college at Virginia Tech, where I was introduced to something called reality.

Entering my senior year, I knew that as an Accounting major with an unimpressive GPA I had little to no chance of any firm giving me an opportunity. 

Although it was the dark ages of the late 90s, Virginia Tech had a pretty advanced electronic application system and it was then, in the Fall of my final year, that I was quickly (and routinely) rejected by the Deloitte’s and E&Y’s of the world.  My finger was still clicking “send” as I was getting their “Thanks, but no thanks” replies.

As luck would have it, fate intervened, in the form of a small – but growing – financial company named Capital One.  This was well before the Viking commercials, “What’s in Your Wallet?” catchphrases or celebrity spokesmen.

Given my mediocre marks, I was stunned when Capital One invited me to an on-campus
“pre-screening” that consisted primarily of standardized tests. 

Now, the disinterest I had for school was far outweighed by the passion I had for work; whether it was as a pre-teen delivering The Washington Post, or the jobs I had in high school at the local cleaners, a Chinese restaurant and the neighborhood video store.  In each instance, I thrived, even starring in a commercial for the Chinese restaurant.

So, instead of feeling dread, as I did before most of my college exams, I felt re-born as I diligently worked my way through Capital One’s large packet of questions.    

I remained in further disbelief when, as part of their college interview process, they invited me to stay overnight at an Embassy Suites in Richmond, Virginia (a city over 200 miles away from Virginia Tech).  After they bought a large group of us dinner, I headed back to my room to get a good night’s sleep.  The next morning, at 9 a.m. there was a knock on my door that started an all-day marathon of in-room interviews.

For some, this process might sound frightening, but I reveled in it.  I had nothing to hide.  Yes, my grades were terrible but they weren’t a reflection of who I was and what I could bring to their company and I knew I could prove it.

I was in my element during the interview process, providing financial solutions to their questions and speaking from my heart.  Thankfully, Capital One looked past my poor grades to see my potential and rewarded me with a job offer…they even intentionally timed the mailing so their letter would arrive on my 21st birthday.

Throughout my career, however, I always felt like I was trying to out-run my college GPA.  As each year ticked by, the farther away I was from being a college graduate.  A small bit of internal redemption came when I completed by MBA with honors (only one B preventing perfect scores).  In the process, I discovered the satisfaction that comes with truly applying oneself in school. 

But comparing graduate school to undergraduate work or even high school is similar to comparing apples to oranges.  So my true salvation came when I was working at USAA, and an executive remarked after a presentation of mine that I must have been one of those folks that got straight A’s in college because he couldn’t see me settling for anything less.  

I had created a new brand - Mike Wentink 2.0 – and I was finally free from my mediocre academic past.

What I didn’t see coming was the evolution to Mike Wentink 3.0.  Ironically, it would have never happened if I wasn’t diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

To be continued……



1 comment:

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, Michael! I look forward to Part 2.

    ReplyDelete


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