When I was 11 years old, I told a lie that haunted me for 9 years.
It happened on Valentine’s Day.
I’m sitting in class listening to my 5th-grade teacher, Mrs. Davis, speak about vocabulary or multiplication tables or something equally dull. When out of nowhere she announces that two people in the class are celebrating a birthday on this famous American holiday—Valentine’s Day. Everyone comes to immediate attention. I mean, who could possibly have a birthday on Valentine’s Day? The most beloved and cherished day of the whole year (save Christmas).
Stay with me, because it gets better.
She then announces one of the birthday beholders is, in fact, HER!
Now, the room cannot be contained. To have a birthday on Valentine’s Day and share it with your 5th-grade teacher? Could it get any better? I don’t think so.
The next few moments are all a blur to me.
You see, the sweetest teacher of all time, Mrs. Davis (with the actual Valentine’s birthday) announces in a dramatic, drum roll manner that I was the other Valentine’s baby. The entire classroom explodes in applause. All eyes are looking over at me like I’m a celebrity who just won the academy award for best actress.
But, as you may have guessed, it wasn’t true. I was born on February 15th. The day after Valentine’s Day.
Between the high fives and big smiles of my classmates, I didn’t speak. I just rode the wave of pre-adolescent totally fabricated fame. Guilt followed me around the whole day, but I paid little attention to its call for redemption. Once the dust settled, I had no idea how to admit my crime.
The Beginning of My Reputation Management Journey
For the next 9 or so years, I carried on that lie to my near detriment. Dragging my parents into it, panicking every time I thought I was going to be found out, becoming sickly relieved when my birthday was over, and the issue wouldn’t surface again for another 364 days, AND sadly, only coming clean after moving away from that town, making new friends and realizing no one really cared.
I didn’t know it then but that was the beginning of my career in reputation management.
Today I’m all about telling the truth, no matter how hard it may seem. But it’s because of that experience, that I have so much empathy for my clients caught in a business crisis. I can authentically say I know what it’s like to make a misstep (not that this was my only one) or need to right a wrong. I learned, long ago, how to block and bridge, and create the power phrases I teach leaders today.
So, happy Valentine’s Day to everyone and Happy Birthday to me — TOMORROW!
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