Thursday, September 25, 2014

You Know More than You Think You Do

As you may or may not already know, I'm a freelance writer, editor, and web coder. I even do some document formatting and HTML conversion over on Fiverr. I actually enjoy being handed a PDF and making a website that matches, insofar as matching is possible.

Although I can build things from scratch—my website is a case in point, and this blog is likely going to get an at-its-roots overhaul, itself, one of the next times I'm sick—I'm generally a fixer. A tweaker.

You hand me this thing that doesn't work quite how you wanted—some writing, a website, a document. I hand you back something that's working as close as possible to what you wanted.

Tweaking's how I learn.

For instance, I recently had reason to want to take all hyperlinks in a document and convert the URLs to footnotes. I found a macro that converted them to endnotes. I took the macro, copied it, and changed the "Endnote" in the script code to "Footnote". Worked like a charm. Then I found another macro to deactivate all live hyperlinks. (These two steps are useful for converting an e-book ready file into a p-book ready one.) Considering how long my macro lists are getting, I'm likely going to end up combining the two into a single macro…which could eventually grow into automatically setting page size and margins and such, too, but I'm out of practice with that side of VBA.

Programming = code that does stuff. Coding = HTML and CSS, which describe stuff. I'm good at coding. But I'm not an expert writer of macros or user of any other programming.

I've had some people assume I'm better with programming than I am, because I have a solid foundation in the Find & Replace functions for 2 different programs (MS Word and TextWrangler) + how those functions work with 3 different automation languages/programs (VBA, AppleScript, Automator). I'll even use some simple Terminal codes (namely ones that convert file types and sizes).

Analogy for you readers who don't know what I'm talking about: I essentially have people who think I'm a FANTASTIC baker because I can make chocolate chip cookies. But don't ask me to make cake.*

*Actually, seriously: don't ask me to make cake. Egg yolks make me unwell, so I'd have to use an egg replacer, which makes the texture difficult to get right. I also don't particularly like cake, so I'm disinclined to figure out what to do instead. (Though I have been craving the traditionally dense and rich pound cake. Is it worth the two-day ache? Hmm.)

I tend to think of myself as so far from expert that it's not funny, but…

I know more than I think I do.

I've been pounded over the head with proof of this, lately. (It can take me a while to accept a hint.)

For example, I know far more than the average person about MS Word alone. I didn't fully realize that when I set up my Fiverr gig to help with formatting cleanup. I was expecting to get more folks who had some idea of what they were doing but didn't want to be bothered with the details, or maybe who had an idea but who had a few details that they didn't know yet.

I have gotten a few clients of the type I expected. At least once, someone has asked me, "Can you fix this?" and my answer was, "Right-click on it and select X." Which made them not need me at all, but I'd rather garner goodwill than money now + annoyance later once they learn how simple it is. At least once, I've delivered screenshot instructions of how I fixed something.

But far more often?

I'm getting "Is this possible?" queries about things that I thought were basic.

When I respond to such queries, I try to use enough of a description of how it's done so the person can look it up and do it themselves, if they're so inclined. I'm not sure anyone has, so far.

That's not to say that those people are stupid. They aren't. They must know plenty of things that I don't.

It's just been awkward and blindsiding to realize just how little many people know about those things I can function with. I'm no expert in macro code, but I can comprehend the logic of how to piece one together and even adjust one that's comparable to what I want. It's like being able to understand someone's Spanish and answer them, while your ability to monologue on a topic of your own choosing is limited to specific things.

There are several things I think of myself as able to "get by" in or with—with "get by" sometimes meaning that I can do X, Y, and maybe Z—but don't ask me to do more. Things like macros. PHP. Unix shell codes. Cover design. Cooking. Understanding Spanish. Knitting.

Am I actually an expert in those things? No.

But there's a huge spectrum of ability between "inability" and "expert". There are "beginner" and "passable" and "adequate" and "moderate" and…

When we think about skills, we so often consider ourselves no more than "average" at best, until or unless we hit "expert" level. But here's the thing.

Moderate ≠ average.

In fact, the average person? Doesn't have your skill at all.

So sit down and consider what skills you have. Not the ones where you think yourself an expert (if there are any of those). But the ones where you're middling or passable, somewhere between beginner and expert. What can you do with them?

I've intentionally started working more with macros, myself. It's helping all sorts of things. And after I recently was able to untangle some PHP and comprehend what I was looking at (more or less), I might intentionally work on that, too, but I think studying Spanish is gonna take precedence, there. (I have plans in place that mean I'll need the language—and I want to get stable in it and study something else.)

Your skills might not be as easily applicable as mine.

Or maybe they'll be even easier to implement.

Or maybe you're just too busy, right now, to want to do that or even care.

That's all okay.

But next time someone asks you what you're good at? Don't insist you aren't good at anything (which I know some of you reading this do).

Remember that "good" doesn't mean "expert", and those things you're middling at or with count, too.

What skills do you have that you're "adequate" or "passable" or "moderate" in?


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