How to admit defeat.

[ music | The Cardigans – Been It ]

Sometimes there are things you just can’t do, no matter how hard you try. This is the story of one of those things. It’s a long one, so if you want to read the whole thing, you’ll need to click the [Read More] link.

I’m an extremely individualistic person. No one who knows me would classify me as a follower. Strong-willed is another term used to describe me, which is a nice way of saying stubborn as a mule. I’m also a very fast learner. The American school system generally doesn’t value individualism much. It’s very much a machine that works best with cogs of a regularized design. Oddly shaped pieces tend to meet with great friction inside the machine, and they’re either ground down to size or they get stuck and ejected messily, sometimes prematurely.

When I was in school, I rarely studied. I didn’t have to, just being in class, listening to the lectures, reading the textbooks, the in-class assignments, that was more than enough to allow me to get excellent test scores. This made homework rather redundant, and to me, a waste of time. As I got older, it became harder and harder to do the homework because I had less and less tolerance for mind-numbing redundancy. And of course as you move through school they give you more homework for the harder courses to help reinforce the lessons, but in my case this usually just meant more useless, agonizing repetition. Every year I’d start with the best of intentions. “This year I’ll really buckle down and just grind through that damn homework.” And every year after a month or three I couldn’t keep it up. I’d wind up doing the minimum necessary to get by whenever possible, just to maintain my sanity.

In high school I was lucky enough to have a Biology teacher who noticed that I still managed to ace the tests sans homework and study. After explaining the why, she was gracious enough to offer a deal: I have to score at least a 92% on every test and lab (the lowest possible A), and she wouldn’t count the homework against me. I finished Bio that year with over 100% (extra credit questions on tests and labs, etc). She put in a good word for me the following year with my Chemistry teacher. Same results. Those were exceptions. I wasn’t so lucky in other classes.

A great deal of professions are similar, they require a great deal of conformity and adherence to specific patterns. Professional editing is one of those professions. I was given a chance to be a technical editor for a web-programming book recently. The pay was minimal, but it was a good chance to get a foot in the door. Technical editors check the technical validity of the code and instructions. This means following them exactly as written, step by step no matter how minute, and verifying the end result. The procedure for reporting mistakes or inaccuracies is very strict and somewhat primitive given the version tracking features of today’s software. I wasn’t able to just fix it, I had to separately document the corrections, etc.

For two months I tried to do it. But it was so much like the grind of homework, it was tedious, inefficient, mind breaking work. Last night I had to withdraw from the project. I’m just not cut out for that kind of work. It would have been great to finish, and have a TechEd credit in a book, and the potential it could bring. But this isn’t a price I can pay. It’s not that I’m not willing, it’s that the grind is so difficult that the quality of my work suffers greatly.

This is a technical editor position. That means this isn’t just doing homework, I’m the teacher who checks the homework. When I’m done, it has to be 100% right. And last night, as I sat there listening to the gears of my brain strip themselves bare, I realized that I can’t hand these chapters in for the next four months and guarantee they’re perfect. I would be doing the publisher, the author, and eventually the readers a disservice if I continued, in addition to a great personal toll. I wasn’t willing to give them my word it’d be perfect knowing full well it wouldn’t be. So today I called the editor above me, and let them know.

It’s not easy to admit defeat, but sometimes it’s the right thing to do.


  1. Doctour had this to say,

    September 15, 2005 @ 4:20 pm

    I emailed you but have not gotten anything back. The email is either:

    If you are feeling really bold:

  2. Tristor had this to say,

    September 16, 2005 @ 4:02 am

    I am much the same way with monotonous labor like that, so I have a feeling I’d be a horrible Technical Editor as well. Not to mention that I don’t know all that much yet, although I’m working on it.