In my first job out of college, I worked for a non-profit organization in Richmond, Virginia – and I was responsible for planning their annual fundraising walk.
They put their largest fundraiser in my 22-year-old-not-a-drop-of-experience-will-work-for-practically-nothing hands.
Luckily, the person before me was very organized and had created a 5-inch-thick “Walk Binder.” This was before everything was stored electronically, so this binder was my bible. It was full of timelines and spreadsheets, checklists and instructions. I couldn’t go wrong with all of her details and instructions.
Until I accidentally threw it away.
The details of how it ended up in the trash are not all that important. (Okay – I rested it on the trashcan before leaving work one day and the cleaning people assumed it was trash.) What’s important is how I got it back…
First I cried.
Then I went and told my boss what I had done. (Let’s call her Melinda.) Melinda handled it much better than I did. In fact, she took action immediately.
She grabbed her umbrella, and we took a walk out to the dumpster together in the pouring rain. She instructed me to climb in and get the binder.
Being 22-years-old-with-not-a-drop-of-experience-who-will-work-for-practically-nothing (and afraid of losing my job), I climbed right in.
But the dumpster was empty.
Melinda didn’t even flinch. She turned around and walked back inside. I jumped down from the dumpster and dragged my (sopping wet) feet back inside. Preparing to be fired.
By the time I made it back to her office, she had the entire staff (all five women) gathered in her office.
Great – a public firing.
And she proceeded to tell us all that she had contacted the trash service, and the garbage truck that had picked up our trash that morning was now on its way to the city dump. It would be dumping its entire load in a separate part of the dump.
And we would all (except for Melinda) be spending our day at the dump digging through the contents of the garbage truck until we found the notebook.
AND – she explained that the garbage truck was holding 13 tons of compacted trash.
I started to cry again. The other five women hated me (clearly).
We all went home to change our clothes and pick up shovels, pitchforks and any other tools we thought might be helpful.
A man met us at the entrance to the dump with full-body Tyvek suits, disposable gloves and face masks. And he explained that since it had been raining for so many days the mud was very deep and to try not to fall down.
Then he loaded us into his big truck to drive us into the belly of the dump.
The driveway was level with the road, but the dump was a giant hole in the ground that was gradually being filled with trash. The “road” wound around the hole until we reached the center core.
He drove us directly to a massive pile of trash that was set aside just for us.
“Your notebook is somewhere in that pile,” he said. And he gave us a few tips…
Don’t stand still for too long – you must keep moving or else the birds will land on you. (I’d never seen so many birds in my life.)
Don’t worry if you see a mouse or rat – they’re not here for you. (Did I mention that my co-workers hated me?)
Try not to fall down in the sludge.
If you have to puke – be sure you take your mask off first! And then be sure to put it right back on when you’re done. (Did I mention the smell?)
And the best piece of advice he gave us? Search by address. Open bags one at a time and try to find something inside with an address on it. When you find addresses that are near yours, you know where to focus your search-finding efforts.
We found the notebook within two long (yet short) hours, and it only had a little Chinese food on it.
And I went on to rock that fundraising walk and raise more money than they had ever raised before. (But my coworkers still hated me).
From then on, I was offered every job I interviewed for. Because I always had the perfect answer for the question:
“Tell us about a mistake you made at work, and what you did to fix it.”
My answer? I threw away an extremely important binder at my last job. And I went to the dump and sorted through 13 tons of compacted trash to get it back.
Boom – I’m hired every time.
What was your worst day at work?