Like a Dog Playing Monopoly (Tarot of Michelle)

Having a sense of humor about what I don’t know is curing my imposter syndrome.

The story of “Dog Playing Monopoly” begins in the early 1990s, in one of my first technical jobs. As a brand new hire, I thought I’d found a bug, and I proudly shared this with my manager.

“Yes, it’s kind of a bug,” he said, “but the rest of us have learned to work around it.” This made me feel like crap. Clearly there was a huge iceberg of insider knowledge floating below the surface, and I would be bonking into the tip of the iceberg for the foreseeable future. I didn’t last long in that position, by mutual agreement; I knew my technical skills just weren’t there yet. 

Fortunately, I found a gentler on-ramp into the computer industry as seasonal technical support, and got technical training from the ground up. Then I moved into employee communications roles, which played to my strengths, and I had a long and productive career before switching to technical writing. I was upfront about what I did and didn’t know, what I’d done and what I hadn’t. Most important was what I could learn: anything.

Image by the author

My complete lack of coding experience didn’t matter much to the firmware developers in my new lab. In fact, developers LOVED to demonstrate their expertise and experience. I learned a lot, mastered new software, and started sharing what I’d learned. 

I needed that confidence to apply for a new technical writing opportunity. It sounded perfect, but I had zero exposure to some important technologies. I felt uncertain, but I believed I now had the ability to navigate around that iceberg…and do some good in the process.

“Don’t be scared,” said the hiring manager, laughing, when I accepted the job. What a big difference from that long ago early tech position! Here, my complete beginner status was an asset, not a liability: my first assignment was to learn about a service from scratch. And that first investigation returned more business value than any of us expected. Beginner mind, curiosity, and questions have fostered relationships, projects, and insights in ways I never anticipated.

The dog in the original meme looks a little uncertain, don’t you think? And yeah, I bonk into the iceberg frequently, unable to proceed until I understand something new. Sometimes I’m overwhelmed, or can’t seem to wrap my brain around a completely unfamiliar, abstract concept. I discover something else I need to learn every ten minutes. Sometimes I’m embarrassed by the silly, obvious beginner questions I have to ask. 

Then I think of the dog playing Monopoly, and I laugh at myself instead of staying frustrated. And I know that I will eventually grasp the concept, and I can do it.

“Dog Playing Monopoly” helps me see my limitations as something other than a liability. Like the dog, I don’t know the rules. I don’t understand everything people are saying. I don’t even have opposable thumbs to move pieces or dish out cash. But I am IN THE GAME. I’m being a good sport. And I’m having fun. In fact, I think we’re all having fun. So it’s all good. And that’s what’s important.

A story behind one of the cards in The Tarot of Michelle. Follow the developmental art as a Patron on Patreon.

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