When I was 18, I worked in a factory that printed plastic labels for laundry detergent bottles, juice containers, shampoo bottles, and various other consumer products. My job (I couldn't make this up if I tried) was to wipe the dust off of giant sheets of labels with a rag-wrapped block of wood. Eight hours a day, five days a week you could find me doing the Mr. Daniel Larusso-esque wax on wax off technique in the corner of the production floor.
I was convinced that I had finally made it.
That is, until the day that I actually did make it. One day, the production manager asked if I could assist with the die-cutting machine. Albeit temporary, I saw this as the first "promotion" I had ever been offered. I jumped at the opportunity and committed myself to doing such a great job that the dusting table would forever be in my rearview mirror.
The die-cutting machine split large, rectangle-shaped stacks of labels into two stacks of labels along a contoured line. This was the second-to-last step in the label-making process, which culminated with a final pass through another die-cutting station, shrink wrapping, and boxing for delivery. My job was to grab the fast-moving stacks of labels off of the die-cutter and stack them in large wooden crates that could be wheeled over to finishing.
The job was easy in concept, but surprisingly demanding. The better I got that first night, the faster the operator made the machine go. The production manager walked past me after an hour or so and mentioned how impressed he was with how quick we were working. He was so impressed, that he wanted to see if I could go any faster. He took over as the operator and started pumping out labels as fast as the machine could go. I could barely keep up, but somehow got through the first crate load.
Just as the operator had pushed the power button to start the second crate, I noticed a cut on the tip of my right index finger. It didn't hurt, but it was a reasonably deep cut. There was no time to worry about it, though, because the labels had already started zooming out of the die-cutter. I grabbed them as fast as I could off of the machine, stacking them neatly as I could as we went. We finished that batch even faster than the last. The production manager patted me on the shoulder and said, "Wow, I haven't been able to run this machine that fast in years! Great job!"
I was beaming. He was pleased. I was sure that I would never have to wipe a label again in my life.
Then, his eyes caught a glimpse of the crate I had just filled. His jaw dropped. My head turned to see what he was looking at. There was a single droplet of blood on each of the 300 or so stacks of labels.
"Are you bleeding?" the Production Manager asked me.
"Yeah, I think I cut myself on the last batch." I said.
His face turned red, and I could tell he was livid.
"Do you have any idea how much that crate of labels is worth?" he asked.
"You just cost us about $4,000!" he exclaimed.
To this day, I'm still heart-broken by this moment. I can still remember the sweat dripping down my face and my sore shoulders from trying to keep up with the machine. I can remember how hard I was trying, how enthusiastic I was about doing a great job, and how devastated I was that I had failed nonetheless.
Luckily for me, the Production Manager gave me a second chance. I'm not sure he ever forgave me, but he didn't send me back to label dusting. For the next two months (until I left for college) I became his right hand man on the die-cutter. We ran at the machine's speed capacity every single time we worked together, and I became a valuable member of the production floor.
Young people mess up. Sometimes, they mess up in very big ways. But so did you. Somewhere along the way you screwed up (yes, even you). Somewhere along the way you got a second chance, too. Remember that?
When you finally come to the conclusion that the young, up-and-comer at your credit union is worth giving a chance to...please remember to give him/her a second chance, too.