Friday, September 26, 2014

Obsessively Hard Work Earned Me an A in Typing

When I told a friend that I made an A in every course I took in high school, he asked me, "Which course did you take as a senior that turned out to be the most important to you?"

Good question. I had never considered it, so I thought about the courses I took, many of which prepared me for my courses at West Point, which challenged me on another level.

Finally, I said, "Typing."

He laughed. But I wasn't joking.

Typing was a skill course, attended almost exclusively by girls. I remember thinking (in 1962), well yeah, if you're going to be a secretary you better know how to type.

I was the only male student, but my thought was that I'd have to write for many of my college courses. Back then, there were no word processors or electric typewriters - only mechanical ones. So students weren't expected to submit typewritten work. But I figured a typewritten paper would be looked upon favorably by my professors. As it turned out, this assumption was valid most of the time.

Also, as the only male student in the typing course, I wanted to show the teacher and all the girls that I could do as well as they could, or even better.

The classes consisted of drills, and at the end of every hour, we were given a timed 5-minute performance test. All uncorrected errors were penalized by subtracting 5 words from the total words typed. The net total was divided by 5 to get the words-per-minute (wpm) score. To pass, a student had to turn in at least five 45-wpm scores. For an A, five 60-wpm scores.

I took this course so seriously that I practiced at home, doing drills and 5-minute tests. I didn't know it, but all this repetitive typing activity was wiring my brain for typing skill. By the end of the course, I had fully ingrained my ability to type. I could do it at very high speed without thinking about what my fingers were doing. I submitted at least five scores above 90 wpm without errors and of course got my A. My teacher thought I was some kind of typing prodigy.

Truthfully, I just worked harder at it than any of my classmates.

Now, of course, I type on a modern keyboard and my brain wiring for typing is quite well insulated after decades of doing it. I'm sure that most of the time I type faster than 100 wpm.

And this skill, more than anything else I learned during my senior year, has helped me be successful.

I'm not sure my other teachers or my principal, who introduced me at my valedictory address, would have appreciated knowing this.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2014. Building Personal Strength .

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