The only Viola on the playground

I was asked to share a story of failure with a group of young teenagers interested in starting their own businesses.

Though I’ve certainly had my moments in the professional world, I’ve been fortunate to work with smart and strong colleagues who pull me back from the brink of colossal failure before I fall.

This was NOT the case in fifth grade when I was a newly elected Student Council President.

Elementary student councils have a handful of important jobs, but none carry quite the weight of planning school-wide dress-up days.  You may be familiar with the classics like pajama and mis-match day.  Holidays provide the low-hanging fruit for schools everywhere: red on Valentine’s Day, green on St. Patrick’s Day.  Perhaps the biggest question is do you opt for black-and-orange on Halloween or allow costumes.

As a newly elected politician, I was eager to make my mark.  Winning with a fair margin of votes, I had what might be considered a mandate in today’s political landscape.  Not wanting to appear lazy, I quickly announced my first big move. Rio Vista Elementary School would hold its first ever “Dress Like Your Favorite Shakespearean Character” day.

You may see where this is going.  When the glorious day arrived, I was the ONLY person dressed like a Renaissance Viola from The Twelfth Night. (She remains my favorite of the Bard’s ladies.)  In fact, I was the ONLY person in the ENTIRE school dressed like anything resembling a character from any play other than Florida in the 1980’s. 

Looking back, I see so many “teachable moments” from this experience.  Survey your constituents.  Listen to “water cooler chatter” or the total lack-thereof from your community on an issue.   Use data to help understand your intended audience.  Stick with pajama day.

But it took me YEARS to see all of these lessons hidden in this massive presidential misstep. In fact, on “Viola Day” as it became known, I was mostly sad that my friends didn’t have a favorite Shakespearean character.  I loved the costume my mom made for me and couldn’t understand why other Rio Vista Eagles didn’t see this as a second Halloween/Renaissance Festival rolled into one, wonderful, cape-filled day.

Trust me; my work from that moment on was far less avant-garde.  If I recall, we had a successful winter festival, hosted a better-than-average science fair, and helped make the spring production of Alice in Wonderland memorable.  Students responded more favorably to a Dr. Seuss Day that did not include costumes.  I started learning the basics of management and leadership before I had the vocabulary to call it that.

With time now on my side, I now see so much of my adult self in this Great Failure.  Sure, I’m likely to have a change of clothes in my car in case of emergency; jumping the hurdles in gym class in a cape taught me that.  But Adult Randi still doesn’t want to be the only Viola on the playground.  I simply want to live in a world where everyone has a favorite Shakespearean character.