Neon Sign: Warning, A Moron Goes Here

Writing prompt: Tell us about a time when you felt out of place.

All the freaking time? Is that an acceptable answer?

Once upon a time, I was 25 years old and had just moved to a whole new city with my sweet boyfriend to start a graduate program. A few days before the program officially started, I went to campus to do those kinds of “setting up” errands you have to do, one of which was obtaining my school ID card, and I dragged my sweet boyfriend with me.

After getting the card, we wandered around campus, exploring the buildings and getting our bearings. One of the things I noticed was a giant computer lab in the student union center. This was before the days of smart phones, iPads, and wi-fi across college campuses, so if I wanted to check my email during the day, I was going to have to hop into a computer lab like this one to do so. I thought, Gee, I really should figure out how to do that.

I told my sweet boyfriend to wait outside, since it was clear a person needed an ID card to access the computer lab and use a computer. Then I walked toward the doorway to the lab.

I was completely overcome by the sick sensation that every single person inside that computer lab was going to turn their head and stare at me. And it would be like I had a neon sign walking around above me, shouting out to the world that THIS ONE DOESN’T BELONG. SHE IS CLUELESS.

I ran back out of the computer lab. My sweet boyfriend was alarmed and wanted to know what disaster had struck. At first, I was speechless and embarrassed. Finally, with some coaxing from him, I admitted that I was just stuck. I felt too out of place, too much like a moron, to go into the computer lab and ask for help (since I had no idea how to go about logging on to a computer).

First he laughed at me. But then he looked into my eyes and saw the rabid fear there, gnawing at my self-confidence and optimism. Sweet boy that he is, he walked into the computer lab and up to the person at the front desk. They chatted for a bit, and then he came back out.

This is what you have to do. First, you pick a computer you want to use. Any free one is fine. Then…

He proceeded to tell me step-by-step how to use the computer lab without looking like I didn’t know how to do it. It was one of the sweetest things he’s ever done for me, and I’ve carried the memory around with me for 13 years, pulling it out as evidence for myself that even if I’m broken, at least I’ve found the perfect man to hold my pieces together.

But I didn’t come here to write about a partner who holds my pieces together. No, I’m writing about a big weakness in my life. And it’s this: I do NOT like looking like I don’t know what I’m doing. To the point where, if I have to do something new and other people might be there to watch me doing it, I will totally freeze, and often am not able to follow through. I’ll walk away, hide, anything to avoid that feeling of the neon sign above my head. Which is ridiculous, since in my logical brain, I know that everyone has to look like a moron once in a while. There’s always a first time doing things. No one expects me to know what I’m doing every time I do something. Etc etc. But my emotional brain says, no way, I do not believe you, and runs away to hide under the covers anyway.

As I get older, I don’t know that I’m getting any better about this one, so much as I’m just craftier about avoiding situations where it will be a problem. And I don’t like it one bit. Especially since I am constantly trying to teach my daughters to try new things and not worry about whether they’re any good at it, especially at first. How can I talk the talk if I’m not walking the walk?

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