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!