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Below is an essay I wrote and submitted to a 2013 Ladies Home Journal contest, describing a defining time in my life and the choices I made. (I did not win the contest.) This essay is also in my Gifts of Hope work blog (scroll down to August, 2013). While I knew I would share my typewriter story at some point, I never expected that my opportunity would be part of an essay contest.

This is the same model Olympia typewriter which I used throughout
high school, college, and graduate school.

The Typewriter is on the Table
by Carolyn Mankell Sowinski

In 1984, after resigning from a professional position to marry and move to a new city, I found myself struggling to re-establish my professional career. Job opportunities in my field were limited in my new community. Not having a career in this new community negatively affected my self-esteem

I wanted to work so I went to a temporary staffing agency. Even though I had to swallow my professional pride to take a ‘temp’ job as a secretary, that choice ultimately led me on a journey I had not expected, which helped me rebuild my self-esteem and career. I grew professionally and personally in ways that I didn’t realize until months, even years, later. And yet, it took a portable typewriter to get me over a major obstacle during this journey. (This was before we had computers in our homes.)

One of my ‘temp’ jobs was as a secretary at a local manufacturing company. After a few weeks I saw a professional opportunity at this company just waiting for my attention. I knew that I had the skills to do the work. But I needed to convince upper management that the company had the problem and that I had the skills to create a solution which would work for them. Realizing that I would not be hired as an employee of the company I approached the Human Resources Manager to talk about the project and about me working as a consultant. The HR Manager said that he was interested in my idea but that I needed to submit a proposal to upper management. When I heard the word ‘proposal’ I became worried. I knew I could do the work, but I had never before written or submitted a proposal

So I set out to write the proposal; however I did not know how to begin. I let my inexperience paralyze me emotionally and professionally. While in my head I knew how I would approach the project, I didn’t know how that would translate into a proposal. Time whittled away while I did nothing. When too much unproductive time had gone by, I realized that I needed to talk to a friend about why. A great opportunity was available to me, yet I did nothing to move forward. She suggested that I may be overwhelmed by the enormity of the entire project and that I needed to divide the project into smaller, workable steps. So now I had a way out of the stasis I was feeling. But how would I break the large project into smaller steps? To move forward and create a proposal, I needed to start typing.

But what would I type in a proposal? What if management didn’t like it? What if I had typos or errors in my proposal? What if my fees were too high or too low? My mind raced again, feeding my feelings of being overwhelmed—worrying about the entire project before I had tackled the beginning. Again I listened to my friend’s advice and divided the prospect of typing into smaller steps. What is the first step in typing? Putting the typewriter on the table.

Thus, my singular goal for one day was to put my portable typewriter on the table. While this may sound silly or obvious to anyone else, in my emotional paralysis this was a large step for me to take. One day I asked God for a push, used my newly found courage, and put the typewriter on the table. Soon I was completing additional steps on the same day. I put paper in the carriage and I started typing. The ideas flowed out of my head onto the paper. In two or three days I had a presentable proposal.

I submitted my proposal to the HR Manager and after a few changes and clarifications, the company accepted my proposal. This 8-month project led to a job with another company and I was on my way to re-establishing my career.

When I began this 2-year journey almost 30 years ago, I thought I was job-hunting. In reality I was on a journey of self-discovery which had many lessons: power of pride, importance of networking, taking risks, asking for help, acceptance, and dividing overwhelming projects into manageable steps. I continue to apply these themes in my life. And I remember that I placed my typewriter on the table.

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Last updated: March 4, 2015