Back to the beginning.

I am not a digital native, darn it, but I’m close. I don’t remember a time when my family of origin didn’t have a home computer. When I was in grade school, we bought one I was actually allowed to use—and my brother and I spent the next five years fighting over who got to play Brickles.

For the past few years, I’ve been using a MacBook (my first). During back-to-school season, we bought an iMac to replace our aging family PC.

In short, I am surrounded by machines I don’t know how to use.

It took me a few years to realize my own ignorance, because I could do what I needed to do, for the most part. But as I accumulated ever-more data on my machine, problems began to emerge: problems even I could recognize.

My biggest problem with my computer was simple organization. Technically speaking, it’s what you call a “disaster.” Or perhaps the more precise term would be “absent.”

When we bought the iMac, I cried uncle. I coughed up the extra cash for the One to One sessions, so I could learn how to actually use the thing.

Last month (yep, four months later) I finally signed up for my first class: iMac basics. It was humbling to check the box for the beginners’ class, since I’ve now been using a Mac (two Macs!) for nearly three years. Until I signed up for it, I assumed those classes were offered for people like my grandmother: extremely intelligent people who are nevertheless clueless about technology. Nope, it turns out they’re for people like me.

I showed up with my laptop and told my über-patient instructor that I’d been using computers for nearly thirty years without knowing some very important basics. When my computer was new, I didn’t know I had a problem. But as I continued to save more and more work, finding anything in my unruly hard drive gave me a headache.

I explained all this in a very grown-up way, I never once said “stupid” or “idiot,” and I carefully avoided the word “remedial.” I did say that I needed to go back to the beginning and learn some best practices.

And that’s what I did.

back to the beginning

Don’t get me wrong: I still have a lot to learn. But after just a few classes—like, three hours total—my progress is evident every time I turn on my computer. My once-cluttered desktop is bare, the files now neatly sorted into folders. (Bonus: now my computer runs faster. Who knew?)

When I need to find something, I hit “command + space bar” (like a boss) and can find it in, literally, one second, because I indexed all my files.

I’m slowly working my way through my photos, splitting events and creating folders like a pro. Or at least like a non-novice. My old awkward workarounds—the ones I used because I didn’t know any better—have been replaced with speedy and mostly-sure workflows.

I was so embarrassed when I signed up for that class, and a little bit angry, to be honest. I have so many new things I want to learn and do and read and write and think; I didn’t want to waste my time going back to learn things I should have already known. I resented my lack of knowledge and the its subsequent demands on my time and energy.

Being dissatisfied with where I am doesn’t make anything better. But when I admitted that I needed to go back to the beginning, I began to learn all kinds of things that are making my life much easier.

I’m just talking about file organization here: this isn’t exactly life or death. And I’m not going to pretend that everyone is as technologically incompetent as me. But I would venture a guess that most of us feel like we’re missing something important—something we wish we’d known a long time ago—and we don’t want to admit it, not even to ourselves. Maybe it’s something small, like you can’t remember the name of that nice guy you talk to at church every week, or you don’t actually know how to do that thing at the gym. Maybe it’s something huge that’s foundational to your work or an important relationship.

Being dissatisfied with where you are isn’t going fix anything. But admitting that you have some gaps to fill in—that might get you somewhere.

Stop a second and think: what are YOU supposed to be competent at, but you should really go back and learn the fundamentals, again? I’m looking forward to hearing your answers.


Leave A Comment
  1. Stacey says:

    I am right there with you! We switched to a Mac three years ago and I did the same thing. That said, I think it might be time for another refresher. I am using many, many ‘work arounds’ right now that I know could be improved.

  2. Beth says:

    Mixed answer for me- Sewing. Before I dig myself in a hole I’d like to say that I am confident and competent in my sewing skills, I have a small Etsy shop as a hobby. While I’m very happy with the quality of the items I make, I am self taught, and I’m betting someone more seasoned in the art could teach me tips and tricks that would make the whole process simpler.

  3. Anne says:

    MLA citation style! I’m an academic, and thought I had this mastered, but someone pointed out to me that I was making a lot of mistakes in my writing. I feel like I’m back in high school, constantly checking the style guide, but this is important, so I need to re-learn it.

    • Kate Frishman says:

      The OWL Purdue website could save you a lot of time. They give examples of every possible citation. Just copy and paste the one you need and fill in each part with your own information. Much faster than typing from scratch. I recommend it to everyone who’s trying to edit on their own.

  4. Suzanne says:

    Swimming! I won’t drown but my skills are very poor. I need to find adult classes where I can learn technique without feeling foolish.

  5. Danae says:

    Basic household chores! I’ve always felt bogged down by things like emptying the dishwasher and mopping the floors, because they take up useful time and the satisfaction reward level is so low (there are always more dirty dishes). However, a friend inspired me to relearn how to clean correctly and build better habits to incorporate it into my daily routine. I’m taking it slowly, but it’s amazing how much stress is relieved by learning a more efficient method, using the right products, and thoughtfully incorporating a cleaning schedule that works with my existing life rhythms. Some of these practices have now developed into habits and no longer take up mental and emotional energy.

      • Danae says:

        There are numerous websites that I’ve found to be helpful resources, but in the end I am researching and choosing what works best for me and my household needs. In general, I’ve found it easiest to assign weekly tasks to specific days of the week and time myself to keep it efficient. For example, I learned how to deep clean all three bathrooms in under ten minutes. The right product for your purpose also makes a difference: I finally got a steam mop and now it doesn’t take me an hour on hands and knees to get my linoleum clean enough.

        Once you have a method that gets it clean in the time frame you want, it’s time to make it a habit through practice. I actually set reminders in my phone calendar until steam-mopping the kitchen became a natural part of my Wednesday evening ritual.

        I found it daunting to try and relearn ALL cleaning tasks at once. The best advice I read was to start with the thing you keep putting off – it will have the greatest payoff in stress relief. Along the way, try to change your tidiness habits so clutter doesn’t accumulate and make the big tasks harder. I hope this helps – it’s such a large topic!

  6. Kayris says:

    Suzanne, do you have a Y near you? They offer adult classes and also private lessons. My husband took a few private lessons to tweak his technique. Turns out his technique wasn’t really all that bad, he was just over estimating how much/how fast he’d be able to swim. That said, I see adults trying to swim laps that don’t know how to rotary breathe.

    To answer the question: both my kids have kindles. I’ve been a dedicated iPad user for several years, but I don’t know how to work the kindles and it makes me feel like a dummy.

  7. Sara K. says:

    I’m discovering a lot of things in my life right now that I don’t understand as well as I thought I did. It’s making me wish I could go back to college and try again 🙁

    I think I could benefit from some classes in different subjects: computers (like you, I’m amazed that after decades of computer use there are so many things I don’t know how to do!), specific software like Excel and Photoshop (both of which I can use but my knowledge is so limited), math, even cooking! These are all things I’ve been doing for years, but I’m starting to realize how very limited my knowledge actually is!

  8. Kellie says:

    I have been meaning to get back into art. I haven’t done anything in so long that I feel like my straight lines are crooked. I have a Figure Drawing for Beginners class waiting for me on Craftsy, but after so many years of not drawing or painting, I’m so nervous! I’m my own worse critic.

  9. Delphine says:

    I feel like I could have written this myself! I should sign up for one of those classes. Self-defense is another thing I feel like I need, but I don’t want to spend time on because I’d rather be working on happier things.

    • Dana says:

      I totally get what you’re saying, but as a former self defense instructor, who began as a reluctant student, I’d urge you to find a good class! They can be so life changing and empowering, and yes they can be messy emotionally but often for the better. I taught Impact style and only quit after becoming pregnant. Good luck no matter what you choose to do!

  10. SoCalLynn says:

    I am taking geometry with my homeschooled 15 year old daughter this year. I just wanted to prove to myself that I could learn it, after almost failing the class in high school.

  11. Jillian Kay says:

    We paid for those classes when my husband got a Mac and he swears by them.

    I need to re-learn networking, interviewing, interpersonal skills for work. I feel like while I was busy actually working a lot of my less qualified co-workers left me behind in this area! 🙂

  12. Bethany says:

    Housekeeping. That’s my remedial thing. Never mind that I’m 27 and have been living away from my parents since boarding school when I was 14. Never mind that I’ve had my own space to organize and care for since I was 18 and that I’ve owned my own home for 2 years. Keeping an organized, well-kept home is beyond me. Living without piles of junk in the floor and piles of dishes in the sink is foreign to me. My mom taught me how to clean. I can cook and wash dishes and do all the things. But the discipline to make it work as a lifestyle…not there. And not going to hit me in the head suddenly one day unless I do some real work to make it happen and learn the basics about how it’s “supposed to be done” 🙂

  13. Alison Pike says:

    Not quite the same thing, but about 10 years ago I spent half of a week-long vacation organising my computer files. I didn’t have children then. It was SO satisfying. And that system works to this day. It was so worth the time investment!

    Currently I’m working through an Evernote book and starting to be able to do things with it that are very exciting indeed! Reading manuals is oh-so-boring, but more useful than I care to admit.

  14. Kaitlin says:

    Math. Like BASIC math. As much as I don’t enjoy it, I have been trying to use Lumosity more because it has several “mental math/speed math” games on it. Without calculators. But seriously, I need to be able to do at least some math in my head…right?

  15. Heather M says:

    I can relate to you waaaay too much! I think I need to take one of those classes too. And I have had a Mac for more years than I can count! Thanks for being real. Makes me realize I’m not alone.

  16. Karisa says:

    I need to relearn grammar and spelling. It used to come naturally from all my reading, but then I majored in Creative Writing and reading became a chore. It was a checklist instead of really getting into the books and my grammar suffered. I gave my poor professor such headaches with my awkward sentences. Postmodern literature didn’t help either.

  17. Alyssa says:

    I really need to clean up and organize files and learn more on my computer too. With a husband in the IT field, and teenagers who can do everything, I usually just pass my problems off to someone else. I am also really bad at typing which is embarrassing.

    Other things i am kind of helpless about: jump starting a car, parallel parking, setting mousetraps, and doing anything more than auto on a camera and using power tools around the house. I should set some goals!!!

  18. Shauna says:

    I’m right there with you on the iMac. I’d also like to maximize the features of my Google-based smartphone, learn basic photography skills, and learn car and pool maintenance skills.

  19. Breanne says:

    Well, this was a breath of fresh air. Seriously. I’ve been telling J for months I want/need to take a computer class to learn the basics and better ways to do what I do on the computer.

  20. Dana says:

    I am right there with you on the Mac. I really need to take classes and I actually paid for them almost 2 years ago and never went ( life got too crazy for a while).

    I am also there in sewing. I kind of make up my own rules and procedures but there are things I need to be taught.

    Piano is another one. My fingering and tempo are all messed up but I pound away anyway.

    It ‘s hard and humbling to be a beginner at anything, especially we we think we should have learned it a long time ago. We just want to jump in and be good at
    whatever we attempt rather than admit our need for help. I kind of fake my way along but it usually catches up with me.

    • Anne says:

      ” I kind of fake my way along but it usually catches up with me.”

      I relate to this. I’m an improviser, which works great much of the time but tends to leave large gaps in my knowledge. Or chasms, sometimes. 🙂

  21. I can definitely relate! With computer stuff, I’m not even sure of what I don’t know (so I bet there’s a lot…) And I am not sure I slice tomatoes correctly and I definitely don’t feel comfortable parallel-parking…

  22. Ana says:

    Two things I’m looking into: swimming (I can “swim” but what I do wouldn’t be classified as a legitimate type of stroke, and I can’t figure out the breathing) and knife skills (again, I make do and cook frequently, but I know I’m not doing it right)

  23. Jeannie says:

    I had a “Boy is my face red” moment reading this, Anne. I need to learn how to reconfigure my wireless network. When I originally set it up (with help from my techie brother), it was linked to my desktop computer and then all our devices were linked to that. But our desktop is a dinosaur and we don’t even use it any more b/c Windows doesn’t provide upgrades for Windows XP. So it is essentially sitting on the desk performing the function of a giant adapter, and I’m afraid to unplug it in case I can’t get the wireless reconfigured on my own. So … I probably should do something about this. Thank you for the kick in the pants. 🙂

  24. Julie Bestry says:

    I’ve been using Macs since 1985 — 30 years! — and there’s rarely a day that goes by that I don’t learn something new, or learn (or, often, RELEARN) something that hasn’t been new for 5, 10, maybe 20 years. Life is about learning, so good for you for recognizing that sometimes, to move forward, you have to take a step back and get your footing.

  25. Carol says:

    I smiled at your post today because when my husband replaced our old Dell with an iMac as an early Christmas present for me 3 years ago, I cried. And not out of joy! I was completely overwhelmed with having to learn a new operating system. I took several of the classes and they were a great help, although I still feel like a novice. Take as many as you can! I love my computer now and would never go back to a PC.

  26. Vanessa says:

    I am supremely lazy about file organization. In particular, I need to go through my photos AS I upload them and delete any blurry/subpar/repeat images so I don’t hoard unnecessary files.

  27. Oh my goodness, Anne! I had to laugh at this, and you’ll laugh at me: I totally had to try the Command + space bar! 😉 I think you might have met your technologically-challenged match! I think I could benefit from that class! Also, I need to learn how to listen to audio books. Seriously, I need someone to walk me through it and hold my hand, step-by-step. I read your posts on it, but I need a visual. Do you think you can do a webcast or something? LOL I have notifications from my library that I have audio books that I’ve checked out, but I have no clue how to get them!

  28. Anne says:

    I can so relate to this! I could say the same about my MacBook, and I don’t know if I balance my checkbook the proper way. I mean, I do it, but do I do it the way a bank would? I dunno. Then, there’s, uh, cooking. 😉

  29. Hallie Doyle says:

    oh Anne…I think I’ve been hiding my breath for a season feeling a dread I’m not sure I could even out my finger on. Taking the step on learning more about how to use my iMac well and not the drawn out self-taught routes I take would be so freeing. The clutter of photos and documents (and knowing deep down inside that they clog the computer (& my creative flow) has resulting in avoidance of what really brings life–working on my photography and journaling to my boys with the little stories that can daily be forgotten. I feel so inspired by this and an article you posted about concerns about technology and what it does to our brains. I know they are so different, but I think these 2 topics are related. I think when I am taking steps to address an area that’s not been tended to, I have more freedom to keep technogy at a healthy balance. I’m grateful for your insights!

  30. Ashley says:

    I could definitely improve my file management skills, especially when it comes to pictures. I am terrible at organizing and deleting pictures, and I’m even worse about printing them. My biggest and most nagging task at the moment is trying to get a baby book put together for my daughter. I’ve been working on it for about 10 months, which is ridiculous. This isn’t really my “thing” but I’m not sure how else to go about doing it. Too many choices! Too many pictures! Agh!

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