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A Glorious Inconvenience

A hush of silence fell over the audience as an unlikely figure joined the orchestra on stage. The maestro, hands raised, paused and looked in restrained amusement as a tall slender man walked across the front of the stage. The man held a vintage typewriter in one hand. The audience held their breath. Each wondered, “what on earth is happening?”. Seemingly oblivious to their presence the man strolled over to a small table, located center stage, just slightly left of the conductor. With a sweep and flourish of the hands he placed the typewriter on the desk. After stroking the sides of the equipment, he turned and nodded his readiness to the orchestra conductor. The audience nervously chuckled. Moments later the clicks, whirl and bang of the typewriter could be heard above the refrain of the music. Gales of laughter erupted from the audience with each bang of the typewriter keys and whirl of the cylinder. Each crescendo of the music was adroitly matched by the sound of the typewriter. At the final note the audience left to their feet. A thunderous applause filled the room as everyone applauded the typist and orchestra.  

Talk about an unusual combination. Who would have thought that a vintage typewriter could be a musical instrument? As I watched this hilarious performance, I couldn’t help but reflect on the influence this seemingly insignificant equipment on my life.

If every I idolized anyone it was my older brother Evrol. I wanted to be just like him. When he left Jamaica to pursue studies in Mechanical Engineering at the university in Trinidad and Tobago I knew that was my career path. Well that was until a few years later in high school. At grade 9 we had to chart our career path by selecting from one of three streams of studies-humanities, science or business and accounting. The Principal advised me to pursue humanities. She thought I should become a teacher. Not me. I wanted something that paid more. Science was the obvious path. I loved it but I realized I loved it just because my brother had pursued it. For the first time I decided to follow my own career path. Business and accounting seemed like the best choice.

I love business and accounting. It was very easy for me. I practised for hours every day. That effort yielded excellent grades. Well except for one particular one subject. I cared little for it. Can you guess what subject it was? You guessed correctly. Typewriting skills. I was not planning to be a secretary. I saw no need for it. Yet I was forced to take the subject. The teachers and principal didn’t listen to my requests to not do the subject. So internally I rebelled. No effort was put into learning it. I was failing badly in this subject and just didn’t care. Whenever I typed 90 percent of my words were incorrect. On the last day of final exams of high school I was overjoyed to finally put that horrible experience behind me. My grade was one of the lowest among my peers. As head of the student body the pressure was on for me to excel at everything I did. The teacher was very disappointed. No me I was just relieved that the ordeal was over.

Two weeks before high school ended I began working with an audit and accounting partnership. This was July 1991. The company owned two of the latest computers. Each computer was operated by a very large disc. There were no pictures. Only text against a green screen. On many occasions you also had the Microsoft screen of death. I was excited by this modern marvel. Typing on it was fun. Everything that from my ‘hated typing class’ proved useful. In no time I became the go to person for typing the clients final reports for my team. They were very good at doing the manual work. When it came to using the typewriter they labored at it. Not me. What took them days to type took only a few mere hours for me. Typing the financial reports for the various companies exposed me to the full process of conducting audits and maintaining accounting records. In just a few months the boss began sending me out to conduct audits on my own. I was not studying to be a chartered accountant like my colleagues. At age 19 I was just learning about the world of work. 

IBM PC 5150 with keyboard and green monochrome monitor (5151), running MS-DOS 5.0 from Wikimedia Commons

For the next 17 years of my work life the skill I most despised initially proved to be very beneficial. I purchased a computer and practised daily to improve my typing speed. This and other soft skills allowed me to excel while working at a mortgage bank. I worked hard and smart. Promotions were frequent. My most memorable accomplishment was streamlining the work for the last position I undertook. Before I worked at the desk, six people did the job. Even then they struggled to keep up. They were handling all the insurance policies for the mortgagor of all 14 branches throughout Jamaica. I began suggesting changes to my supervisor, who thankfully, gave me free reign to make all the necessary changes that was needed to streamline the work. In a few months everything could be done by one person. This was significant because there was a huge backlog of work at the desk before the changes. Being able to type I put in the necessary hours and quickly cleared it. Then mastered the computer programs. That also allowed me to work with the Information Technology department. I became the point person in the department. I wasn’t being paid but s eager to do whatever they asked me to do. The love for accounting waned. I fell in love with the complexity of programming the computer. It satisfied my eagerness to constantly learn.

A few years after working as a Systems Administrator, I had the pleasure of being reacquainted with my typewriting teacher. I was overjoyed that I finally had the opportunity to thank her for insisting that I do the subject. What I hated initially became my greatest joy.

Better is the end of a thing than the beginning of it, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.

Ecclesiastes 7:8 Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC)

If you are learning something you think is impractical, may I encourage you to give it your very best effort. In the process you may develop soft skills that will be of tremendous benefit in the future. Discipline and perseverance are just some of those benefits. Who knows what may happen? You may just find yourself typing a keyboard to thunderous applause.

Credit: Photo by Suzy Hazelwood from Pexels

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