Lori Widmer’ recent post at Words on the Page, Worthwhile Tip: Stop Apologizing , encourages writers to stop doubting themselves.
It reminded me of something totally unrelated to writing, but an event that may well have given me the self-confidence to try anything. I left a comment on Lori’s post but decided to share the story here as well.
I was the first person in my family to go to college, and I was in a work-study program to help pay for my education. I was assigned to the library, and when I showed up to find out what my job would be, the librarian took me into a tiny office. “Your application said you took typing,” she said. “You’ll type the catalog cards for us.”
There was a problem, however—and I’m really dating myself now! The small high school I attended owned only one electric typewriter. We each got to type on it once during the year; the rest of the time, we used the old manual typewriters. We didn’t even get to turn on the electric—the teacher turned it on for us and just let us type a few paragraphs.
As you’ve probably figured out, the typewriter in the library was an electric. I immediately panicked. I saw myself being kicked out of school because I couldn’t do the job, humiliating myself and dashing my family’s dreams of having a member with a college education.
I took a deep breath and asked, “Do you have a manual for this machine? I’m not familiar with this model, and I’d like to read up on it to save time when I start.”
The librarian handed me the book that held the secrets to this challenging piece of equipment. I took it back to my dorm room and read it, re-read it, and studied it. The next day, I reported to work and turned on that typewriter just as if I’d done a hundred times before.
I don’t know if the librarian ever realized I didn’t know what I was doing. She never gave any indication she did, and in a few months, she started giving me the most complicated jobs in the library. She was also the faculty secretary and even had me type the minutes and correspondence for the faculty.
After that, I realized I could do a lot more than I gave myself credit for. To this day, when someone asks if I can do something, I say, “Of course.” Then I go figure out how to do it.