May 17, 2023


In school, I had a love/hate relationship with being Egyptian. It was an easy target for kids who wanted to poke fun. And since we moved so many times (nine schools to be exact) I got used to the usual tropes.

My mom taught me to ignore the voices. To be proud. And then, to outsmart anyone who thought I was lesser than them. What she didn’t know was that I was a slow reader, bad at math, and always felt behind compared to what other kids knew. Even though I got good grades, it took so much extra effort that I just felt stupid.

One day, I received an assignment back from a teacher who really wanted to prove a point. The paper seemed to have more red than black — arrows suggesting different sentence structures, tweaks for every punctuation, and corrections for every typo. She didn’t even give me a grade — it just said, “REDO” at the top of the page. And as far as I knew, I was the only one who had to redo the paper. Stupid doesn’t come close to describing how I felt.

Her notes wrecked me. I rewrote that paper slowly, and had a couple of friends check my work. I was able to turn it in again and earned a passing grade. But the experience stuck with me.

Ever since, I’ve hated typos. I didn’t want anyone to judge me or anyone around me because of those small mistakes. I became diligent about helping my mom or little brother with their work too. And I would often have my own work double-checked by one or two friends. Even to this day, these issues of Wednesday Words are reviewed by teammates or friends.

Then, this past Sunday, I sent an email to a group of remarkable alumni and students tied to the class I lead at Stanford. I try to be especially diligent with those emails. I mean, I founded an education company and teach at Stanford…I should know how to write. The next morning after I sent the email, I saw my mistake: a misspelled word in the middle of the subject line — the very first thing people see.

But this time, I felt the sting and then shrugged it off. It was a small mistake in a sea of good things.

And that’s how most mistakes work. They trigger us because of something in our past. With time and experience, we can choose to give them less energy. We can learn from them, and remember there is usually much more good than bad. It’s not a license for doing poorly; it’s a path to doing better.

And if someone judges you for it, it may have more to do with them than with you.

So here’s to making new mistakes.

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