Now what?

Whom am I kidding? (Not English teachers.) Here I sit, full of ambition and excitement, all ready to launch my new career. What career is that? Well, it doesn’t matter, and it changes at least three times a week. Today, for example, I’m evaluating law schools and studying for the LSAT; a few days ago I took a typing test and almost applied for a job as a medical scribe; in between I’ve dreamed of being a lab technician, a singer-songwriter, a barn mucker-outer, a beer brewer. The point is that I’m rarin’ to go. Heck, I’m only 62. I have my whole life ahead of me.

But then I picture myself in the thick of the job, or the classroom, or the barn, or performing before an audience, or interviewing to do any of these things, and I realize that it ain’t gonna happen. Aside from crippling indecision as to which of these things to do, there’s really only one thing holding me back: an inability to take myself seriously as a competent, functioning human being.

In fact, the depths of my self-deprecation are matched only by the heights of my hubris. When I think I’m right about something, I don’t question it at all, and at least 40 percent of the time it turns out I was wrong. Yes, my lack of self-esteem is well supported by the evidence, which has included some rather embarrassing comeuppances.

For instance, there was the day circa 1985 when I was typesetting a brochure about jury selection and came across a clearly made-up word: “peremptory.” The first time I saw it, I figured it was a typo and instinctively changed it to “preemptory,” not realizing that my substituted word was in fact the imposter. When I saw this error about a dozen more times, I did not think, as any thoughtful human being would, “Hmm, maybe I was wrong about that. Better look it up.” Instead I thought, “Whoever wrote this brochure copy is just plain ignorant. I’ll do them a favor and correct the error.” In my defense: looking stuff up was a lot harder back then. You actually had to have a dictionary (which I’m sure we did, but maybe it didn’t include legal jargon).

The “corrected” copy made it all the way back to the client, because I convinced my boss or another employee that I, a law school dropout, knew more about jury selection than the attorney who wrote the brochure. Why I was not fired for this egregious display of arrogance cum ignorance remains a mystery.

I quit that job one day when my boss wouldn’t let me add an apostrophe to “rock ’n roll” in a client’s ad copy. (Of course I was absolutely correct in that case, right? Wasn’t I? Of course I was.) Then I returned to the job a few months later. I can’t remember if our punctuation tiff occurred before or after the brochure debacle, but the boss’s intsistence on apostrophizing only one of the missing letters suggests that he had learned not to trust my tinkering.

This was only one in a lifelong series of embarrassing gaffes, faux pas, and other missteps of French origin (some of them actually in French). Maybe I’ll start using the blog as a place to test the theory that if you share the shameful details of your life, they lose their shaming power. Extra points for transforming the shame into humor, a skill I definitely need to work on. Maybe if I work hard enough at it, humorous oversharing could be my new calling, for a few days anyway.

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