When I began working at the place that so far has been the job of my professional life, a coworker told me that ” if you don’t know what to do, just ask me. This job is a lot of repetition. The more you ask, the more you will know, and the more you do it, the better you will get. It takes about a month to get it, and then three months to feel like you can really do something.” That coworker has since gone on to run that office, and I went on to become a master at that job, earning six merit increases and a promotion.
I wish everything was like that.
When last I saw her, my therapist posed this question: “how can you find out what you need to know?” She asked this in response to my assertion that if you teach me how to do something (unless it’s physical, like playing a sport well), I will learn it, and soon become an expert. If you allow me to ask you questions, as my coworker did, I will retain that info after maybe three times asking, and then again, master that material. If I have a book listing directions, I will follow them perfectly and learn that process well. But left to my own devices, expected to “figure out” an existing process (not true of computer applications – I can usually figure those out), and I will struggle. I just can’t learn if I am not taught.
Now if you give me the freedom to to invent a process, I thrive. Anything that requires creativity without consequence is my domain. I am at my best here. Conforming to another’s rules, however, I simply cannot do if they are not written down or taught to me. I just don’t learn that way.
This is the definition of being “book smart,” I think – if it’s in a book, and someone can teach it, I can learn it. Otherwise, my fear of failure kicks in. Identifying a pattern or completing a task with no penalty for failure eliminates that fear and leaves me at my best. But conforming to standards I haven’t been taught eludes me. And I think this is actually contributes to my fear. I need a guidebook, but as my sister told me, there is no guidebook for life.
So I have to create my own.
Here are the two salient facts: 1) I tend to remember things I write down. That’s why I excelled in college, and that’s why I take such copious notes, transcribing whole lectures as much as I possibly can. The act of writing them down puts them in my long-term memory, for the most part, and gives me a guide – a “manual,” if you will, to study from. And this has made me a superior student. The other salient fact 2) is that if there is one thing I am truly good at, it is writing. Writing has gotten me everywhere – it is literally how I am surviving as I write this, living off a $3000 essay-writing scholarship I won from school. My job pays next to nothing, it just gives me free room and board. The scholarship is what I am living on, in hopes of finding a regular, full-time job so I can move forward with my life. But I am realizing that to grow and to thrive, I really have to use these positive traits and start writing “manuals” for everything I do. Step-by-step notes for complex tasks represent a “person to ask” so that I know how to do something without bothering an actual person. That is really why I created all of these blogs and what I should be getting from them. “Simple” or “common sense” things escape me, because they have societal expectation attached to them – rules that a person must followed but never taught, it is just assumed that every individual will figure them out as s/he goes. And the penalty for not doing them is dire – you lose esteem in the world, or are viewed as abnormal in some way, which I know I should be working on not caring about, but I am just not at that point yet. Since I cannot, I have to go with what I can do – write – and create a guide for myself. If the world has no manual, I have to write one. Having such a guide will hopefully limit my fear and allow me to, at long last, accomplish the goals that have eluded me up until now…