I’m Bad at Spreadsheets (and Other Secrets)

The title says it all. I’m in the educational technology field and, all day long, I help teachers and staff integrate technology into their classrooms and workflows. But I have a secret. I am bad at spreadsheets. It’s a fact I try to keep to myself, but every now and then a teacher or principal will tell me they’d like my help manipulating data this way or that (“You know, just a simple pivot table!”). I go into “deer in the headlights” mode and immediately freeze up, reluctantly referring them to one of my preternatually spreadsheet-proficient colleagues. I’ll occasionally master some basic function (I can freeze rows! I can expand columns!), and even learn about a more intermediate function (I recently attended a Google Bootcamp that covered pivot tables and other advanced spreadsheet features), but my proficiency always seems to eventually settle back down to a mediocre level. This fact was thrown into sharp relief just last week, when one of my technology colleagues BLEW MY MIND with something called “vlookup.” All of those hours I’ve spent manually comparing spreadsheets? Vlookup. “What magic is this?”, I wondered, “and when will I ever know what I don’t know?”

Is there something native to your profession, or hobby, or sport that seems to be just beyond your grasp, and maybe makes you feel a little self-conscious? I’ll bet there is– how do you feel when you roll it around in your mind for a while? Inadequate, frustrated, ashamed (“How can I be unable to create a simple chart with labels and a key?”)? Or maybe it motivates and challenges you to keep learning, keep working. I won’t lie, I don’t find my lack of spreadsheet proficiency particularly motivating, but at the same time I really want to continue learning about and practicing them, and have been promised by my spreadsheet-goddess colleagues that they will help me as I learn. 

“Toleration is the prerogative of humanity; we are all full of weaknesses and mistakes; let us reciprocally forgive ourselves. It is the first law of nature.”

― Voltaire, A Treatise on Toleration and Other Essays

Admitting this type of deficiency can be difficult, especially if it’s something you feel would normally be expected of your position (or hobby, interest, etc.). but being honest about it and asking for help can actually be the type of vulnerability that can build trust in a relationship. In my post Trust: Oprah, SuperSoul Sessions, and B.R.A.V.I.N.G., I describe how the “N” in Brené Brown’s B.R.A.V.I.N.G. acronym stands for “Non-Judgment.” Showing vulnerability by admitting an “area of growth” (to use a little edspeak), asking for the help of others, and then allowing them to help you, is a powerful connector. Imagine: you’re a principal, or central office administrator, or coach, or teacher, and you ask a teacher, or proficient staff member, or even a student, for help. It’s a win for everyone, because you learn, and they get to help you, all of which builds up the trusting relationship.

My other work-related secret is a tougher one to admit. I recently had the opportunity to substitute in a second grade class for the morning. My secret is that I was scared! I have worked in education for almost twenty years, but mostly with high school students. As a librarian I taught many classes of research, but face 30 seven year olds? Never. I have children of my own, but have I been in charge of a whole classroom of them? Not once. I felt silly and frustrated by my own intimidation, knowing that every day our teachers walk into their classrooms, confident in their knowledge and ability to teach young children. I wanted to help out, however, and knew that it would probably end up being one of my favorite days so far this year, but still, the fear was there. I’ve also never subbed before, so that was an added layer of uncertainty. Luckily, I work with an AMAZING HR professional (check out her blog), who gave me a much-needed pep talk and calmed my nerves by reminding me that I AM a teacher! This helped and allowed me to march into that second grade classroom with confidence and excitement. Unfortunately for this story (but fortunately for the class), a last-minute substitute was found and I ended up only being their sub for about a half hour, but still– it’s another area of growth that shall be mastered another day.

In the meantime– onward and upward. It’s time to hit the (spread)sheets!



“Grandkid” Suits Me Just Fine

“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts…” 
― William Shakespeare, As You Like It

We all have roles to play on the stages of our lives. This Thanksgiving found me pondering the roles we play in our families, and also those we play in our work lives. This is once again a post shared with my Blogging Buddies Jeff Brusso (“Of Gratitude”) and Dr. Lynn Glickman (“Take a Moment”). Our mutual assignment was to write about something connected to our experiences of Thanksgiving. Being the semi-contrarian that I am, I refuse to write about gratitude, even though it makes perfect sense and is the ideal time to write about all for which I’m grateful. But no, I will write about gratitude another time– maybe February, or March, when the winter snow has turned to graying slush, and the deep bone chill of winter in Chicago has frozen me to the quick. Now that will be a gratitude challenge! 

When it comes to extended family, I’m extremely lucky. I’m a Gen-Xer, yet I’m still in the “grandkid” layer when it comes to family gatherings. My grandma and step-grandpa, both in their mid-’90s, are firmly ensconced in their roles at the top of the family tree, followed by a solid layer of parents, aunts and uncles. My brother, cousins and I are the next layer, and beneath us is the layer of our own children. What’s beautiful about this thriving family tree is that is has enabled all of us to remain in our roles, practically unchanged, for the past forty years. My parents have hosted the exact same people, around the exact same table, since approximately Thanksgiving 1975. We have been blessed with no deaths except my grandpa in the early 1980s, and only two divorces, also both over ten years ago. My cousins, brother and I have married and had children of our own, and we hover at around 23 people at the table when everyone is present and accounted for (you’ll see in the photo below that we were slightly smaller this year due to illness). 

The phenomena I’ve identified since I’ve been thinking about “roles” in preparation for this post is that this unchanged family dynamic has enabled me to play the part of “grandkid”, as opposed to “grownup” (which is a term reserved for my parents, aunts and uncles), for pretty much my whole life. My cousins and I do bring a dish to pass (although let’s be honest, since I’m staying at my parents’ house, my mom actually buys the ingredients for my contribution and this year even made it before we’d arrived– thanks Mom!), we make some attempts to manage our children (which is way easier now that they’re in middle and high school), and we normally help clear the table. But for the most part, my cousins and I sit and laugh nonstop, remembering events of the past, talking about our lives now, or being entertained by the idiosyncrasies of the “adults” in our family. We aren’t even commandeered to take drink orders before dinner, serve the coffee afterwards, or any of the other youth-appropriate tasks, as those we can now pass off to our own children. My cousins and I have stayed in the role of carefree “grandkids”, which suits us just fine. 

I recognize how lucky we are– to be able to enjoy so many generations together, and to be part of so much shared history. Okay, so maybe this IS somewhat of a gratitude post, or maybe at least a gratitude sentence– for I am grateful for my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, children, nieces and nephews, and the fact that we’ve been at my parents’ Thanksgiving table for well over a generation. I know it won’t last forever, so I’m trying to cherish it while I can. The same group will be together again in just a few weeks for Christmas, and although most of my holiday memories take place at my grandparents’ farm, for the past several years my cousin has hosted Christmas Day. The stage has changed, but never the players.  

So how does this connect to our work lives? The world of work is also a stage; all of us, also players. If we take a moment and think about the roles we play in our departments, teams, schools and districts, it’s often possible to identify themes of our behavior. There are many different “team/personality identity frameworks”, including this one from Actioned, this one from CliftonStrengths, and this one from One Minute Millionaire (!). I’d be remiss to leave out this somewhat controversial classic from the Cult of Pedagogy blog. Do any of these resonate with you, or can you identify your teammates in them? 

  • The Creative Spark
  • The Productive Dynamo
  • The Team Driver
  • The Intellectual Powerhouse
  • The Maven Influencer
  • Strategic Thinking (Analytical, Context, Futuristic, Ideation, Input, Intellection, Learner, Strategic)
  • Executing (Achiever, Arranger, Belief, Consistency, Deliberative, Discipline, Focus, Responsibility, Restorative)
  • Influencing (Activator, Command, Communication, Competition, Maximizer, Self-Assurance, Significance, Woo)
  • Relationship Building (Adaptability, Connectedness, Developer, Empathy, Harmony, Includer, Individualization, Positivity, Relator)
  • Hare
  • Owl
  • Turtle
  • Squirrel
  • Walnut Tree
  • Marigold

Chances are, the roles you most identify with have been yours for a long time. Maybe as long as you’ve been working. I think the thing to consider is whether these roles still serve you well. Many of the roles on this list are positive, since teams are well-served by being composed of members with diverse strengths. But maybe there are some roles that you’ve grown to resent– or maybe some roles that you’d like to take on. When I read through these lists, I know exactly which roles resonate most with me. For the most part, I am proud of these roles. I wonder, however, whether I might be wise to focus on supporting my colleagues in other ways. Sometimes what is most comfortable isn’t always enough.

Although, just maybe it is. I am comfortable in my natural “grandkid” family role, because that’s what works right now. In the future, however, I’ll probably need to evolve and expand that role, just as at work I may need to evolve and grow based on team makeup and what roles are required. Maybe it’s okay to embrace our natural roles at work– as long as they “work.” I may need, at some point, to find my inner Turtle and Squirrel in order to help my team in these areas, but for now, I’ll let my more natural Hare and Owl shine!

Finally, evaluating our personal and career roles is a worthwhile exercise. What role do we serve, and is it a functional part of the whole? See if a trusted colleague would even be willing to describe how they see you and your role on a team– you might be surprised, or perhaps your self-assessment would be confirmed. Your personal and career roles might differ greatly, as do mine, but I find that to be one of life’s greatest gifts: as Shakespeare says, “And one man in his time plays many parts….”