About 38 years ago I began my quest into court reporting school not exactly knowing what I was getting myself into. I had originally thought I would go into the medical field in some fashion, but came in contact with a college guidance counselor who thought my skills in typing and my hobbies of playing piano and flute better suited me to the path of the steno machine and launched me into a career I had never conceived of previously.
I vividly remember my full class consisting of mostly recent high school graduates and a few of us who had worked for a few years before deciding to make a change. I remember the discussion that of the 40 or so of us in the class, only a few of us actually would complete the program and become working reporters. But the bad news kept coming when we were told that even after working for a year or two, many chose to leave the profession. I’m happy to say, quitting never crossed my mind – even when I got stuck at 160 for over eight months.
Theory came naturally to me and I breezed through those first two semesters, even jumping to speed building before most. My fingers seemed to know exactly what to do. Maybe it was those eight years of flute lessons and many years of playing piano, but my fingers were very familiar with the idea of depressing more than one key at a time to make something happen.
Before I knew it, I was at 100 wpm with dictation and beyond ecstatic when I would take a test and pass so quickly. I knew there would come a point when that might change, but in those early speeds it was all so easy and natural. A few months later I had reached 160 Q&A, and that’s when the wheels came off the bus! Suddenly, I couldn’t pass a test to save my life. I’d miss by 3 or 4 one day, and then 20 or 30 another day. And this pattern continued for months. I would crank up the dictation speed to see if I could hurdle myself over the obstacle and then go back to 150 for controlled writing. Then, the next day, test at 160 and – nope, not that day!
As the weeks turned to months, I would get discouraged, but the idea of quitting completely was not on my radar. Something inside me knew this was my career path, I just had to convince my fingers. Turns out, it wasn’t my fingers that were the issue. The issue was my mind didn’t trust my ears to hear the test material, and then my fingers to work their magic on the machine. I discovered during my months of frustration that I was trying to repeat every word being dictated, visualizing the outline(s) for each word or phrase, and then letting my fingers make the strokes on the machine. This was a completely unconscious process on my part – I had no idea I was doing this.
And then one morning before a test, I closed my eyes, took several deep breaths, and focused on a completely blank chalkboard (yes, they still had those in classrooms all those moons ago!) as the test began. I didn’t allow my mind to do anything but look at that blank chalkboard – I don’t even remember breathing, though I clearly did because I finished the take. But when the dictation ended, I had a complete sense of calm and confidence because, for the first time, I trusted my ears, mind and fingers to work together as a team: My ears already knew what they needed to hear; my mind already knew how to process the information; and my fingers already knew the strokes. But until that day I had not trusted my instincts to let those three processes work independently first, and then as the team they are designed to be. Once I was able to get out of my own way, the task was easy. Does that mean I went from 160 to graduating 225 in a week? No. I still had speed building to do to ensure those processes continued to work harmoniously and keep me from creating havoc as they did their jobs.
No matter where you are in your court reporting journey, there will be obstacles thrown at you. Many times things beyond your control – sometimes just life in general. But remember to always trust your instincts. Your fingers know what they’re supposed to do, but maybe you’re creating obstacles for them to perform at their optimum capacity. So if you’re stuck somewhere in your journey, take a step back, evaluate each step of your performance – take some deep breaths and focus on that blank chalkboard. Hidden somewhere along that path is your obstacle – kick it to the curb and carry on!