• Gustavo Serbia

That Time I Ate Some Humble Pie


A few years back, I applied for a position for which I believed I was qualified. I had an internal contact with the company. This colleague knew well enough my work, and I was hoping he would serve as an advocate of my qualifications. All excited, I decided to give him a call.

The call

After the initial pleasantries, we discussed the position, my interest, the needs of the company, and my background. After a few minutes, my colleague said it was very likely I would not be considered for the position. He stated I was not ready, that they were looking for someone with more experience. Although I had held a similar role at a smaller company, the scope of this role was much larger, and my lack of experience handling such size gave them pause.

The call ended shortly after that, but I still felt he was wrong. “Ready, what does that even mean” – I said to myself. I WAS ready! I just needed to demonstrate my qualifications with more clarity.

The not so legendary email

With my ego slightly hurt, but my persistence unscathed, I proceeded to document all the reasons why I was ready for the role. I contacted a few other people who knew me to discuss the role. I was looking for ideas and some perspective. I decided to give it one more try and opted to send my colleague an email detailing all my relevant qualifications.

It took me two days to draft, what I thought was, the most amazing email ever written. This email was to become legendary. Like the famous memo in the Secret of My Success that lead Michael J. Fox to the executive offices, this was my memo, my ticket to land the job. The precision of the words I used, the evidence of previous achievements, and the alignment of needs with the role and company with what I brought to the table flooded the content of the email. I felt the email conveyed a real feeling of this is our guy, we must hire this Gustavo. You could even hear the inspirational music playing in the background (pick your favorite), while quick camera changes alternated between close-ups of my face intently focused, my fingers typing with an uninterrupted flow, and the monitor showing the wave of letters and words creating a masterpiece. With confidence, I pressed send. Now, just wait for the call.

The call never came

I was not considered for the job. I was not even given an interview. I was TBNT'd (thanks, but no thanks).

So, what’s next?

Disappointed, but needing to move forward, I continued my job search. I was unemployed at the time, so I felt I could not be too selective when it came to which job I could accept. I was married with two kids, and pretty scared of not finding a job. It was also the middle of the great recession, which made finding a job even more challenging. A complicated scenario, but I remained optimistic.

Within a couple of weeks, I received an offer. The job was not what I wanted. I felt I was already beyond the role, you know, a been there, done that type thinking. Even though I did not want the job, I accepted it, and a couple of days later it was my first day on the job.

Humble pie served

A few weeks into the new position, I began facing challenges I had not faced before. Some of the problems were the result of my relationship with my new boss, who was very demanding and much different from the ones I had before. The other challenges were because I lacked prior hands-on experience in some of the HR areas I was given responsibility for.

I struggled. I do not think many at work realized at the time how much I was struggling, at least I like to believe that. You know, an ego thing. For the first time in my HR career, I felt I was not capable. I questioned by abilities. My confidence was being rocked, and the humble pie started to cook.

While dealing with the new challenges, I remembered the job I had applied for a few weeks back. I recalled my colleague telling me I did not have enough experience for that job. Now, I was also questioning if I had enough experience for the position I accepted, even though I thought it was beneath me. I asked myself - "If I am having challenges in this job, a smaller role with lesser responsibilities, could you imagine what I would have faced if given that other opportunity?" As I thought about that other job and the one I was dealing with, I concluded that the best thing that happened to me at that time was for my colleague to not consider me. I was not ready. The role I accepted was the right position for me at that point. I just did not know it at the time. So, I ended eating the whole pie.

Time to focus

Within a couple of days, I regrouped. I decided I was not going to let circumstances outside my control get in the way. I also told myself that I needed to overcome the challenges I was facing because I could be facing similar problems in a future role and could not just run away. Just because one thinks that the grass is greener somewhere else, it does not mean it is.

My boss and I had a bit of a fall-out. It was tough for a short while between us, but I refocused on what the expectations were. I pushed through a very challenging situation by paying better attention, spending time listening to what I was being asked to do, and by clarifying when disagreements came up. I ended up overcoming the challenges and even received a promotion to a new role. My boss was very supportive of the move. She realized she was tough with me, but we patch things up. She recognized my potential but had to push me to expand beyond my capabilities, skills, and knowledge.

I like to remind myself of that time

After all these years, I still think about those two experiences I faced; being told no for a job I believed I was ready for while thinking I was better than the job I had. Without asking for it or even knowing, both came at the right moment. I learned quite a bit about self-awareness, being careful with biting more than one can chew, and more importantly, overcome adversity.

So what about you? Are currently in a job you do not like? If yes, what are you going to do about it? If you are considering a job you think is beneath you, are you truly beyond the job? What if you are not? Regardless of what you are thinking, I suggest you figure out a way to make your mark. In the end, you will not be able to find success if you are not motivated to do an excellent job and overcome adversity, even if you believe the job is beneath you. And if you are not given a job you believe you are ready for, I say move on and refocus. Otherwise, you may end up eating some humble pie too.

Your journey, your career. Own it.

If you want your question answered, email me at gus@stretchthestring.com

"The most important instrument to your career development, growth, and success is you. Therefore, you must work to stretch beyond your comfort zone, fine tune what you have to offer, and must do so continuously." -

Gustavo Serbia

I work in human resources. I also started Stretch the String, a website dedicated to career coaching, job search, and workplace advice. For more on my content follow me on

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at stretchthestring.com.

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