the lesson of 2

It was a new era for me. I was starting college. I would finally be able to make my own decisions and live my own life. I was thrilled. When I got my welcome packet, it contained a pile of information, including my college email address on a little, laminated card. “Go ahead and log in now,” the accompanying paper said. “Familiarize yourself with our system.”

So I waited a few weeks.

Ha! If you believe that, you probably don’t know me. Of course I logged in right away. Or tried to. I entered my email address. I entered my default password (which was something incredible secure like my birthday or SSN). It didn’t work. It gave me an error.

I reviewed the instructions. I checked my spelling. I tried again. It still didn’t work. Maybe I’m not in the system yet, I thought. Or maybe the system’s down right now.

I tried again a few days later. Still no luck. What was I doing wrong? And if I couldn’t even figure out how to log in to my email, what the heck was I doing in college? I wouldn’t be able to get tech support until I started classes.

I tried it off and on for a couple months until I finally moved onto campus, my list of classes in my hand. One of the first requirements was to attend a one-time computer training class. I didn’t want to go. I’m not a techno wizard, but I usually get along well with computers. I make it clear from the start that I’d like to pretend I’m in control, being the human and all, and they tend to oblige. From that point on, we get along well.

But my email still wasn’t working. And the class was required. So I went. And of course the first thing we did was log in to our accounts. I tried again, hoping it would magically work this time. Everyone else logged in quite easily. I did not. I was forced to ask for help.

I, the daughter of a man who makes his living dealing with cantankerous computers. I, the girl who had an email address while most of my friends were still figuring out what email was. I had to ask for help with my email.

I felt like an idiot.

The person leading the class realized the problem. Are you ready for this?

A typo.

No, not mine. A typo in my email address. Someone had left off a number. A 2, to be exact.

I had no way of knowing my email address was supposed to have five digits instead of four. The laminated card with my email address was wrong. I had never even questioned the little card. I had felt like an inadequate, technologically-deficient idiot because of someone else’s typo.

The person who made that typo probably had no idea. Maybe they were having a rough day. Maybe it was a college kid on work study making minimum wage. (Been there. It’s not fun.) I don’t know who made the mistake or why. On their side of the card, leaving off a 2 probably seemed inconsequential. I mean, one typo out of thousands isn’t bad. But on my end, one typo was a big deal. It left me with a problem I couldn’t fix for months. It left me doubting my skills.

For want of a 2, my self-confidence was tested. For want of a 2, my self-doubt doubled.

I’ve had a plethora of random jobs over the years. I’ve dealt with a multitude of seemingly minor details. But I’ve never forgotten my 2. What seems inconsequential to one person makes a world of difference to another. That lesson has stayed with me.

Check the details, folks. Don’t forget the 2.

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