June 2, 2016
Fear. It comes in many shapes and sizes, and it can be unique to each individual. Some people are afraid of heights; for others it’s spiders and snakes or rats and bats; and for some, moths. The list goes on and on. I can pick up any snake, spider, rat, bat, or other critter, but I run screaming from any room upon the appearance of even the tiniest, vicious moth. Yes, those moths are erratically terrifying. Trust me. It takes concentration and effort to overcome fear. Ambrose Redmoon wrote, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than one’s fear.”
Besides those vicious moths, I am terrified of writing anything someone else might read, like a President’s Message, for example. It is my Achilles’ heel. I did not attend college because of my fear of writing. I regret that mistake to this day. While I am not afraid to stand up in front of a roomful of people and speak, for me writing is a whole different ballgame. Just give me a topic. I can speak on it for hours, but I totally brain freeze if I have to write about it. I sincerely wish I had judged that a college education was more important than my fear of writing. Of all the daunting aspects of being elected as the president of USCRA, writing this President’s Message is the most daunting, and I have that task four times a year. Four!
Yes, even we court reporters sometimes allow ourselves to be hemmed in by our fears. Some court reporters resist or refuse to write realtime to their judges or the attorneys in their courtrooms. Writing realtime for the first time feels like you are standing in front of the whole world naked and they are critiquing the size of your thighs. Every imperfection or error you make is there for all to see.
Well, at least that is how I felt the first time I hooked up my realtime to an attorney. I had to overcome that fear to become a better reporter for my judge, the participants in my courtroom, and myself. I have moved on from that experience so that it no longer bothers me. I had to consciously make the decision that my professional competence and performance as a court reporter was more important than my fear.
Some of our fears are personal, and some of them are professional. Some of my friends who are also USCRA members are deathly afraid of flying. One of my colleagues makes his way to confession before he will get on a plane no matter what town he is in. This is his way of coping with his fear of a plane crash. Nevertheless, he gets on a plane despite his personal fear and makes his way to join us at every USCRA conference. He judges his participation to be more important than his fear, and, thankfully, his plane has never crashed.
Sometimes our professional fear inhibits our ability to control our courtroom or protect the record. On a rare occasion, or nowadays not so rare, an attorney will jeopardize your record by talking so fast he is unreportable or he talks over other participants. Fear can prevent you from asserting yourself and speaking up in court to let a misbehaving attorney know that he is out of line. Learning how to tactfully let a lawyer know that you cannot make a record is often frightening to a reporter. As guardians of the record, we must make the judgment that protecting the record is more important than our fear of speaking up.
Sometimes our professional fear inhibits our ability to protect our health. On a rare occasion, your judge may get caught up in a matter and keep you writing for hours without any break or, in my case, lunch. Our health and longevity require that we have appropriate breaks and nourishment. We cannot be afraid to speak up to our judge and let him or her know we are human and need a break. We should be ready and able to judge that our health is more important than our fear of speaking up.
Passing the question and answer portion of the RMR test keeps creeping into my thoughts, sometimes on a daily basis. I am not a good test taker. Some of you can certainly relate to that feeling. As court reporters, we sit in court day after day, reporting some of the hardest testimony from expert witnesses. Some talk too fast, some have a Southern drawl, and some have foreign accents. In spite of the difficult things we accomplish every day in our courtrooms, we may freeze up when we have to write testimony that is considerably easier simply because it is part of a test. I am afraid of failing the RMR again. Nobody wants to fail, but failing is a part of life. Learning from your failures is the key to making sure you do not make the same mistakes again. I have vowed to overcome my fear, and to judge that passing the Q&A portion of the RMR is more important than my fear of test-taking, and to take the test again this fall. The worst that can happen is that I am still in the same boat and no worse off.
Writing realtime or becoming a CRR or FCRR is something a federal official either has had to think about or something one might think about frequently. When you have to keep taking a test over and over, you often become disheartened and feel you will never pass. There are many court reporters out there who can tell you that this is not true. You can pass. You can become certified. What you cannot do is give up simply because of your fear of failure. If you do that, you have a 100 percent chance of never passing. You cannot pass a test you do not take. Try deep breathing and relaxation techniques, hypnosis or anything that can aid you while taking a test. Remember, you simply have to decide that your success is more important than your fear.
What we all need to do is face our fears head on. We need to judge that our fears are not as important as our possible accomplishments. Take that skills test. Write that message to your fellow court reporters. Go to NCRA Boot Camp and learn to speak in front of others. Speak up when you need to speak up for yourself, whether it is to an attorney who is talking over others or whether it is to your judge when you need a break. Sign up for that marathon. Just make sure you run the mile you are in, taking one step at a time. Eventually, you will cross the finish line.
USCRA President 2015-2016
March 1, 2016
I have been a court reporter for 38 years, 22 years as a freelancer and 16 years as a federal official. I love my job. I enjoy the challenge and the probability of learning something new every day. In spite of the fact that I love my job, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come without its repercussions. Court reporting entails much stress. The stress comes from many different aspects of the work: Deadlines, expert testimony, fast talkers, long days in court and sometimes simply from the nature of the case.
For example, I am finally at the point of proofreading the closing remarks in a child pornography trial. Part of the evidence was pictures containing very disturbing images of young boys. Such images stay imprinted on my brain. I have learned my lesson the hard way. I do not even turn on my monitor in the courtroom during a trial when I know the pictures will affect me. I leave the monitor off for the whole trial and stare at the floor. It is my way of protecting myself from having to relive the images of these children who have had to endure the horrors of such child abuse. I will be happy to have this case behind me and am looking forward to preparing the less stressful transcript from a trial concerning a multi-million dollar illegal marijuana grow operation.
We all have cases we cannot stop thinking about, and along with the stress of our job, this can often keep us awake at night. I once took a deposition of an expert who testified about the most stressful jobs in the United States. He testified that air traffic controllers were number one, and court reporters were number two.
Our district has in the past made funds available for a juror to seek professional counseling after a particularly unnerving trial. Court reporters have to deal repeatedly with cases involving disturbing content in the regular course of their duties. Court reporters have the same needs to help cope with our own very human reactions to such types of proceedings. There is no money made readily available to send court reporters to professional counseling (although maybe there should be), so we are left to our own devices to cope with the cumulative, negative effect of the content of some trials and the stress which comes along with it.
What can you do to deal with the everyday stress of being a federal official court reporter? Coping with stress includes numerous areas, from enhancing your own psychological or spiritual health to being active and physically fit to staying connected to your social support system. It can be as simple as partaking in your favorite hobbies or some form of entertainment.
What you do internally has a direct impact on your overall well-being. There are many things you can do to enhance your inner sense of calm. For some, spiritual peace aligns with religion. One can always become more active in a church, mosque or synagogue. For others, spiritual peace is entirely personal. Some people find peace in simple meditation, which is all the rage according to my 30-year-old daughter. There are classes on meditating and programs to teach you how to meditate. My nephew bought my daughter an adult coloring book for meditation. Who knew? She loved it. She also received a “meditation pillow.” What will they think of next?
Some people find external processing and intervention help them become more centered. Individual counseling worked for the juror in my trial, and it could be a great choice for a court reporter. If the stress becomes too great, don’t be afraid to seek counseling. Counseling doesn’t mean you are crazy or weak; it means you are healthy because you are taking care of yourself. Inner peace may be enhanced by a relaxing hobby like sewing, knitting, crocheting or quilting. Find time to read every day. There are a million options. As for me, I find peace and stress-relief at my cabin (with my puppy, Dante) in Northern Minnesota. It is where I feel truly “at home.”
Staying active and physically fit also stabilizes one’s overall well-being. Not everyone loves exercise or sports, but there are many ways to stay active. We have access to an exercise facility in our building. I choose to lift weights and work out to keep myself sane so my body can endure the physical rigors of the job. I have a partner who is in the office next to me who works out with me and motivates me when I try to avoid the exercise. I do the same for her. It is amazing what you can learn from one another about court reporting while doing jumping jacks or bench presses.
That being said, strenuous exercise is not necessarily required. Other reporters simply walk together every day. The buddy system at its best. In Minnesota it is above zero today, and a walk isn’t necessarily out of the question for a change! If you are lucky enough to live where the temperature is warm, go to the beach. Go swimming, surfing or water skiing, or just float in the water (sharks notwithstanding). If nothing else, just go outside and breathe in the fresh air. Sometimes that is all it takes.
Do not be afraid to be a beginner at anything. Our bodies need to be taken care of so they don’t break down. We all want to be able to enjoy retirement, so we should make sure we are in the best shape possible. To both relieve stress and stay healthy, start a routine of massages or chiropractic adjustments. It’s stress relieving just to treat yourself to a manicure or pedicure.
Finally, having a good support system of friends and family will relieve tons of stress. We are a tight-knit group of court reporters here in Minnesota. I consider each of my coworkers a friend and confidante. It helps relieve stress to develop relationships with your co-workers. You will then have someone to process with and lean on who understands both the sources and solutions for your stress.
Include your special people in your activities. For example, take a yoga class with your spouse or a friend. I have heard men say they can’t do yoga. That isn’t necessarily true. My husband will do yoga. He may not be flexible, but he is determined, and he looks so cute in his yoga outfit! I have found yoga to be a good way to center myself, even though I am not the best at doing the crane.
Spend time with your loved ones, friends and family. Appreciate all your relationships. Pay attention to whom you are with and where you are when you are out having fun or on vacation. Stop and smell the roses, literally. We live our lives in such a frenzy that we might need to be reminded to pay attention to the small moments. My “family” includes my Airedale, Dante. He gives me unconditional love, and he definitely reduces my stress. Perhaps you should just buy a gerbil or, as in my friend Shirley’s case, a lamb.
Last but not least, come to an USCRA conference. We will be in Des Moines in April and New Orleans in October. You will make instant friendships and come home with a wealth of knowledge after having the time of your life!
USCRA President 2015-2016