It can be surprising when you learn that something you thought you received was because of merit and it was something else entirely. During my childhood, I was always the tallest girl in my class. Because of swimming, I was long and lean to the point of having a very boyish figure and of course, swim cap hair. My hair was never the long flowing locks of the popular girls in school. They could swing it slowly from side to side like Denise Richards in “Friends” and have every boy in class drooling.
My hair was boy short often in a “duck tail”. Usually crushed flat from the amount of time spent stuffed in a cap. Oh, to be able to pull that cap off and shake the long locks out having them fall beautifully to my shoulders. Not happening!! In fact, my hair waved and curled even when short and yet not that pixie cuteness I had hoped for. So I wasn’t going to win any beauty contests like Pamela Anderson, but I was amazing at my chosen sport. However, my looks were a differentiator in getting a very key piece of my life—getting a job.
While in the Army, (Yes, my kids can honestly say their mother wore Army boots and that is a story for another blog.) I let my hair grow long. I think this was a rebellion from the precise hair style that was required. It needed to be neat and up above my collar. My hair would never in a million years look neat even with it as short as I usually wore it and I would have hat hair which never looked good. I wanted to always look like the model Army training officer – no wrinkles, perfectly starched, beautifully shined shoes and brass, and every hair in place. Because I knew my hair would never stand that test, I wore wigs and that is plural. I had ones that were brunette, frosted, and red hair. I always wanted to be a red head. I shocked folks on the weekend or at casual events when I wore “my own hair.”
So what does this have to do with getting the job?
I was interviewed along with 20 other top rated Lieutenants for a Protocol Officer job with the Commander (a 4-star general) of the Training and Doctrine command at Ft Monroe VA. We were the best and the brightest of the Lieutenants stationed at Ft McClellan AL. I was sure to be selected due to my merit. I was selected over all of them – the reason – not my education, not my military bearing, not my sense of humor, not my answers to the interview questions, not anything that would be acceptable criteria to human relations. The Chief of the General Staff told me (at a party) that the key differentiator was (are you ready for this?) my legs. This blew me away!! Was my worth based solely on the definition of my calf muscles? If I were male, would that criteria even be considered?
So, when have you ever thought your value was based on merit and were surprised by the real answer?