The Ugly Newbie Trap

Sometimes the motivational books get it all wrong. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for enthusiasm, total immersion and all that stuff. But occasionally, these things can get pretty ugly – especially in the hands of a newbie.

Some three decades ago I was a gung-ho first-year law student convinced that he was destined to become the next big thing after Perry Mason. Of course, all the other 379,461 first-year law students at the time felt exactly the same way, too. But this didn’t really matter much to any of us. As far as we were concerned, we (and we alone) were the real deal; the others were just there make the numbers.

Though it felt pretty cool then – now some thirty odd years later – I feel like poking myself in the eye with a red-hot iron bar every time I think about it. Have you ever noticed how first-year law students (sometimes even second- and third-year students, too) seem to desperately want to sound like a hot-shot lawyer every time they open their mouths? Even the most mundane conversations (like maybe buying a packet of cigarettes, for instance) will be peppered with citations of case-law, statutes and Latin maxims. Yeah, I’m sure the shop-keeper (milkman, unsuspecting friend or just plain old mum and dad) is dying to know the legal principles involved and will be rushing off to the nearest law library to research the authorities cited. To this day I can still tell the newbie law student – even on Facebook: his comments and status updates will spew the same case-law, statutes and Latin maxims I used to spew from thirty years ago! *where’s my red-hot iron bar?*

The funny thing is that – no matter how many classes I teach at ILKAP – I always find that the more seasoned judges, state legal advisors and public prosecutors never seem to have the need highlight their legal expertise. The more established (more emotionally secure?) professionals seem to eschew the use of jargon and shun obtuse language in favour of simple, understandable sentences. Now that’s cool!

This affliction isn’t peculiar to just to law students either. Budding MBAs, for example, are equally guilty, too. On a visit to my nephew’s flat (who is an MBA-candidate) I discovered that the boy (and his friends) really needed to get the laundry done. When I broached the subject, one of them actually quipped, “No, Uncle. We’re not lazy. We’re just waiting for the right economies of scale.” Yeah, sure!

Law-students and MBA-candidates aren’t the only ones snared by the ugly newbie trap. Budding engineers and doctors are often equally guilty. Have you ever noticed white gleaming hard-hats meticulously positioned and prominently displayed through the rear windscreen of cars? Yup, chances are they belong to an engineer (or maybe technician) not two years out of engineering school. What about the guy in a sarong and T-shirt enjoying a roti banjir and teh tarik at the local warung… yes, the one with the stethoscope around his neck and a white doctor’s coat. Yup, you guessed that one right.

Being an avid photographer, I had hoped that photographers were somehow exempt from the dreaded ugly newbie trap. Alas, they aren’t. These days I can always tell the newbie who has just quite recently bought his first DSLR, read a few magazines and started his fledgling Flickr account. His conversation will incorporate the word ‘megapixel’ at every opportunity, underscore why he never edits his photos and that he will soon be upgrading to a full-frame camera. And when he is out there shooting, he will invariably be wearing a pained look of intense concentration on his face, move around the location as if oblivious to others in the vicinity and lug around approximately thirty kilos worth of equipment.

Funnily enough the real pros I know never seem to carry themselves in this way. They are seldom impressed by pixel count, will readily edit a photo when the need arises and are equally at home with their compact point-and-shoot as they are with their state-of-the-art DSLR. And when they leave a location, they will only take with them photographs and leave behind footprints. There is no need in their minds to have anyone at the location go, ‘Wow! Was that a pro photographer?’

The antics of the ugly newbie is a constant source of consternation for me. But when I stop to think about it, my consternation will always quickly give way to amusement. After all is said and done, at some point in time, I, too, was much like them.

But more importantly – as a newbie in many new areas – I realise that I, too, am the ugly newbie in many things.

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10 thoughts on “The Ugly Newbie Trap

  1. Guilty as charged, with regards to the photography front. Recently, I decided to plonk some serious dosh on a telephoto lens, a kick-assed camera stand with rotating ballhead, a 58mm wide lens and an underwater housing. Never mind if I dun dive or snorkel. I use it to take pics of longkang life.

    Oh yes, and we mustn’t forget the three stylish lady camera bags in red, brown and grey to match my shoes for the day. *laughs*

    • No ugly newbie here for sure, Cara. Newbies can’t afford the stuff you bought 🙂 And no newbie would have the fashion sense (or the dosh) to match their camera bags with their shoes…

  2. Ah, your red-hot iron bar goes straight to my heart, twist itself to the left and right, leaving me bleeding with guilt. I once made up the statistic of 379,461 law student, how foolish. Now, I am a newbie in writing. Someone needs to slap me awake, no way anybody can write another Salina in this country. Now I go die. This is your fault, Yan.

    p/s: if i die, you can have my books.

    • No need to die, dear. At any point in time we’re all newbies at something. BTW, you’re already an old hand at writing. You already got yourself published, which is more than I can ever say for myself.

      In any case, the possibility of inheriting your books did get me going for a while there… for just a nano-second, OK! 🙂

    • Good to hear from you again ma’am. As I said, at any point in time, we’re all newbies at something. I’d be worried if I wasn’t a newbie at anything… that’ll be proof that I no longer want to learn. That’s bad news.

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