I’ve always been stubborn. It’s something I’m working on and have for most of my adult-life once I realized being stubborn is not the most attractive quality. But with all that said, stubbornness has greatly fueled a lot of my successes. For some reason, when I’m told I can’t do something or won’t succeed in doing whatever the task at hand is, I immediately have to prove that person wrong. And whether or not I’m a salty person in the process is beside the point.
One of my earliest memories where I was told I wasn’t going to do well with something would probably make for a great origin story for a villain because of how cruel the circumstance actually was. It’s forever burned into my memory and something I’ll never forget. I was in first grade, and the task at hand was to sit and draw or practice writing during quiet time. There was a substitute teacher that day and while I was doodling little masterpieces, she came up to me and corrected the way I positioned my pencil in my hand. I always held pencils, pens, silverware, whatever between my pointer and middle fingers rather than resting the utensil in the area between the thumb and pointer finger.
Without explanation, she walked over, took the pencil from my hand, and put it back in my hand to where she considered it a “correct” place, smiled at me, then walked away. It was quiet time after all, so I guess she also wasn’t participating in saying things, much less provide an explanation for her action. This was confusing because when I went back to drawing, it felt awkward to hold my pencil that way because no one ever had me change it before. So naturally, I gave up on that pretty quickly and switched back to what felt comfortable. Almost immediately, she came back over, snatched the pencil from my hand and what she said next has literally never left my brain. “If you continue to hold your pencil the wrong way like this, you will never be good at anything in life.” As vivid of a memory as that moment was, I cannot tell you what happened immediately after, but I do know that when I shared this with my parents later that day, both of them more or less comforted me by telling me there is no right and wrong way to hold a damn pencil. So that’s where my distrust in substitute teachers probably started and also the person I think of when I do something good in my life.
My next major spiteful-leads-to-success moment came in middle school. I was in band and played the clarinet. Music was another creative outlet for me and while it for the most part came naturally, I was not someone who cared to practice more than the bare minimum. And when I was in 8th grade, I was first chair and thought I was hot stuff because I was the top and didn’t practice. Not really sure what that says about 8th grade me’s sense of accomplishment, but I was sitting pretty, until it came time to audition for bigger honors at District and All-State.
As far as Georgia’s public school music programs go, being in the top spot in your instrument is all well and good, but the real glory comes if you can make it past an annual audition for your district’s and state’s bands. If you qualify with a high enough audition score for District, you get invited to audition for the All-State band…the best of the best, the creme de la creme, the highest skilled musicians across the whole state. So I auditioned and got past the first round and was invited to audition later on for All-State. We had pre-determined music we had to play, of course I didn’t really practice, and when I did a mock audition for my band director, he flat out said, “you are not prepared for this audition and with how little time is left to prepare, I don’t believe you’re going to make it even if you took all the time to practice at this point.”
So what did I do? I went and actually practiced and when audition results came, I was ranked 5th in the state for clarinet. I’ll give him credit because he knew I had potential and probably realized I was the kind of person who was stubborn enough to listen to what he said in order to prove him wrong. So for that, thank you Mr. Kilgore.
There were plenty of events that happened throughout high school and college where I know my spite put me on the better side of some outcomes, so I’ll spare you from all of those. But one of the more notable moments I’ve had where spitefulness has led me down a better route was when my last official boss told me I was entitled and a terrible marketer, graphic designer and writer.
In the grand scheme of things, I can recognize now that the above definitely was not the case and those hurtful words stemmed from his own job insecurities, but during that time I was peak #spitefulsarah and it fueled the biggest turning point of my career.
The day I quit my job, a conversation had that morning between my former boss and me set into motion a chain of events ultimately leading me to where I am now. I worked on a team of three which turned into a team of two when my coworker found a new marketing opportunity elsewhere. The Monday morning after she left the company the past week, it was the first day with just me and my boss and we already had a pretty strained working relationship. We had our weekly check-in and planning call—he worked remotely—and there came a moment in our conversation where I realized I had nothing left in me to handle working with him. In an effort to pull me down further, he asked me, “are you even capable of handling [coworker’s name]’s tasks now that she’s not here?” I said “YEP!” with as much enthusiasm as I could muster, but I shut down immediately. As soon as that “yep” left my mouth, my brain went to the highest spiteful mode I was capable of because I decided I was quitting that day and it was now on him to see if he could handle BOTH my and my former coworker’s jobs.
I may not have had any idea on what my next steps were, but I was positive I was not working for this person any longer. There were no other job opportunities lined up and the thought at the time of potentially working for another boss like him motivated the hell out of me to be my own boss. I said out loud I was quitting after I got off that call, and there was no way I was backing down.
So I quit. I of course told HR and the president of the company, but I did not tell my boss. Sure, in hindsight it probably burnt some bridges with people who didn’t know the whole situation and only saw things on the surface-level where I was the woman who walked out of the company one day. But in the long run, the fear-motivated response to “what if I have another boss just like him?” was enough to get me to file for an LLC the next day.
Now it’s been about four years, and that decision easily became one of the best ones I could have made for myself. All because spite played a role in it, of course. But in all seriousness, what actually fuels a lot of my successes is being told I can’t do something or I’m not capable and acknowledging that what’s being said is actually wrong. I can do it and I am capable. It’s about knowing myself better than those around me and creating a situation where I can prove I do have what it takes to be successful in any given moment if I’m committed to doing my best and showing up.