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Self-doubt: A luxury our profession can’t afford

Like most professions, court reporting is a world unto itself. We are a tight-knit community of freelancers, officials, captioners, and the like, all bound together by the common language of shorthand. And like any other profession, this community lauds a handful of individuals who consistently perform at the top of their game. They are the people who inspire us, encourage us, and continue to set the standard for all achievements stenographic.

I am not one of those people.

So understandably, when I found my­self face-to-face with a handful of these paragons at November’s NCRA board meeting, I couldn’t help but reflect upon my presence there that day. I am a fairly ordinary reporter with a fairly ordinary set of skills, and my credentials struck me as woefully inadequate when faced with the collective genius of the body before me. Still, I sat down amongst the board with my head held high, acting as though I had rightfully earned my place at the table.

After the requisite niceties were ex­changed and formalities dispensed with, the meeting commenced. I was instantly struck by the rhythmic discourse amongst the many participants. Ideas and opinions flew back and forth seamlessly; conclu­sions and determinations were reached with natural precision. Lulled into the comfortable ebb and flow of a well-run think tank, I was caught unawares when all eyes unexpectedly landed on me.

“How did you fall into court report­ing, Cheryl?”

In my capacity as a representative of the Deposition Reporters Asso­ciation of California, I had arrived at the meeting that morning prepared to rattle off a verifiable laundry list of topics – Cali­fornia legislative updates, the ins and outs of our current membership promotion, the upcoming annual convention – but the opportunity to share a story about myself was a scenario I had not envisioned. However, the moment of truth was upon me, so I offered them a small slice of what I affectionately refer to as my steno journey.

The story is probably like many oth­ers you’ve heard: Suburban Canadian girl, hoping to escape the ravages of the snow, treks cross-country to sunny California the summer of her 18th birthday. Girl meets boy; girl makes a series of bad choices; girl ends up a divorced single mom a few short years later. Throw in a string of frustrat­ing, menial jobs coupled with a desire for a more promising future, and voilà! A court reporting student is born.

Being a single mom with no immedi­ate family nearby, babysitters were a scarce commodity. The fact that my son had to be dropped off at and picked up from school each day meant that traditional schooling was not an option. After toying with the idea of night school, I finally settled on a fairly new concept at the time: online class­es. The prospect was daunting. Time and self-discipline were in short supply at my household, but I knew I would have to rack up copious amounts of each if I wanted to see this venture through to the other side. The ensuing years would be difficult at best, but compared to a lifetime of finan­cial hardship and job dissatisfaction, the choice was very clear. I grabbed the oppor­tunity by the reins and dove headfirst into a routine of sleepless nights, interminable homework, and tired fingers.

After three long and arduous years of juggling online court reporting school, a full-time job, and the demands of a young child, I found myself reading the most beau­tiful letter I have ever laid eyes on: written confirmation that I had passed all three legs of the California CSR. However, the cel­ebration was short-lived. It was now time to plunge into the demands of the working world to pay off the mountain of student loan debt that had accumulated during my tenure in school. Luckily, the work-from-home ethic that I had adopted during my online stu­dent ca­reer provided a natural segue into the late nights spent editing transcripts in front of my computer, and I found myself settling very comfortably into my newfound role as a deposition reporter.

My first year reporting resulted in a handful of noteworthy events, the most significant being the opportunity to serve on the Deposition Reporters Association’s board of directors. DRA, for those who are unfamiliar, is the nation’s largest trade association dedicated exclusively to the freelance reporter. As freelancers make up a large contingent of the reporting popu­lation here in California, this organiza­tion proved invaluable in my networking efforts as a high-speed student and a new reporter. It was especially important for me to involve myself with a California-based institu­tion, in addition to NCRA, to keep myself abreast of the ever-changing rules and regulations to which California reporters hold themselves accountable. My passion for the work of this association, as well as the desire to continually promote ethical reporting practices, made board service a foregone conclusion. And not only did my position on the board allow me to interface with some of the best and brightest depo­sition reporters that California has to offer, but it was the very reason that I was lucky enough to be sitting at NCRA’s table that day, breaking bread with some of my court reporting heroes.

As I recounted my personal anecdote to the attendees, I reflected on my story as if I was hearing it for the first time. It be­came more and more clear to me that, de­spite my insecurities, I had truly earned my right to sit amongst equals. An acknowl­edgment of how hard I had worked and how far I have come was especially poign­ant when shared with other reporters who appreciated the tribulations of the journey. My story was met with warmth, praise, and true appreciation for the dedication I had displayed for this unique craft that forged our common bond. Every board member went out of their way that day to make me feel welcome, and I left that evening having made a handful of great new friends and colleagues.

I walked away from the meeting that day free from my lamentations of inade­quacy. Instead, I was charged with a better understanding of this fantastic institution and a renewed faith in myself and the fu­ture of our profession. Knowing the vast challenges that we court reporters face in this technological age, it is more urgent than ever that we pursue relevancy and ed­ucation in partnership with our state and national associations. However, if I had but one pearl of wisdom to share with you from my experience at November’s meet­ing, it would be this: NCRA is not success­ful be­cause its leaders are vastly superior to the average reporter. NCRA is successful because the individuals who run it continue to reflect the competency, values, and determina­tion that are at the heart of every working reporter across our great country. I am proud to say that I am one of those report­ers.

I would like to extend a special thank you to Nancy Varallo and the entire team at NCRA for their warmth and hospital­ity this past November. I have every con­fidence that 2014 has great things in store for the reporting profession with NCRA at the helm. See you in San Francisco!

Cheryl Haab, RPR, is a freelance reporter in Van Nuys, Calif. She can be reached at