When I was 16 years old, I made a big mistake. I wrote a story for a classmate. She offered me $10 to write it—which was a lot of money to turn down in those days—so she could go out with her boyfriend instead of doing her assignment for our Creative Writing class.
Monday morning she handed in my story to our teacher, Mr. Groniga. Monday afternoon he called me into his office. I was terrified. I never got into trouble in school. I was a good student. I was even in the Literary Club! Mr. Groniga said he immediately knew I had written the story because he recognized my writing style. And then he did something extraordinary. He critiqued the story and gave me suggestions for how I could make it better.
I felt terrible for disappointing him, a teacher I respected so much. And I felt even worse for failing my own standards, which as you can see, were a bit wobbly at that point in my life.At that moment, all I cared about was that Mr. Groniga didn’t report me for cheating and that my parents wouldn’t find out about my “breach of student conduct.” I couldn’t see beyond my shame and embarrassment to recognize what a huge gift my teacher had given me.
Mr. Groniga was the first person in my life to tell me I had a distinct writing style. He was also the person I dedicated this story to in 2000, when I spoke to students at my former high school, upon being named Alumnus of the Decade.
My epic mistake—or so it seemed at the time—taught me that it’s OK to make mistakes and that I didn’t have to be a shining example of model behavior for people to believe in and support me. It also taught me that sometimes our mistakes give us greater gifts than our successes. In my case, the reprimand from Mr. Groniga gave me a glimpse of my potential as a writer, for which I will be forever grateful.
The story I just shared combined two common themes in storytelling: a time you failed and what you learned from it. I chose to launch my more detailed articles with this story to help you get to know me. I also wanted to demonstrate from the very first sentence that my articles are devoted to storytelling.