Integral Life Coaching

We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know

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(872 words – less than 5 min read)

I started feeling good about my English skills a couple of years ago. I felt I had a good vocabulary and I have always tried to communicate clearly. Since I did not hear a lot of “what did you mean?” from others, I felt I have been developing good English skills. I knew I had a long way to go and A LOT more to learn, but one thing I didn’t know I didn’t know was the correct structure of complex sentences. I did not know in a sentence, I was not using the independent clause and dependent clause in the order that a native English speaker would expect. It was not Farsi either. It was Shabnamified I guess??!!

I have signed up for a memoir writing conference in October. Since I registered as an early bird, I get to send 20 pages of my memoir for the panel review . I made a decision to send the first 20 pages of my memoir for their review. I asked my daughter and my husband to help with a thorough review/editing of the first 20 pages of my story, so I can send it for the expert review. I want to have as much editing as I can so I get a higher level feedback on my writing from them.

My daughter has developed very good English skills during her college years. When she started reviewing it, she noticed in a complex sentence, I use the independent and dependent clauses in the reverse order compared to what is expected in quality English writing.  Even realizing what part is dependent and what part is independent requires a deeper understanding of the language than I have.

When my husband Mike started his edits, I was shocked to see how he was restructuring the sentences. We needed to discuss each sentence before he restructured it to make sure the sentence still delivered my exact message. Since I am still learning English, I expected a lot of editing but this restructure was something in the dark zone of my brain; I had no idea about it. I felt confused. I did not even know how to express my confusion and what to say about it.

Me: Mike, do you think we need to restructure the sentences like this? I understand we are making sure it still conveys my message but was it wrong the way I had it?

Mike: Yes, a sentence should be in the correct order. I am thinking what message your reader would get by reading a sentence and making sure they understand what you really meant to say.

Me: But this way I don’t feel I am the author anymore. It feels like we both are the authors of this book. I want to be the author with my own voice.

Mike: No, you are still the author. I am only an editor. These are your thoughts and this is your story. you wrote it. But we need to make sure people understand it when they read it.

Me: But I don’t understand how you do it. I thought I always communicate clearly and people understood me. Maybe because English is not my native language, I would never understand it. Therefore I would never become a good writer.

Mike: Yes, you will. This is just a new concept. You just need time to understand it and practice it…..

Needless to say I was scared of this new unknown skill that I did not know about. I did not understand what he meant. I was just watching him coming up with a way better way of saying what I had written. I liked the way he changed it but I was pretty hopeless as to how I am going to learn this  unknown concept.

Well, I reminded myself this is only another challenge. I will get through it.

I am not supposed to know everything. While I am learning, I come across things that I don’t know I don’t know. I remind myself that my goal is to develop high quality writing skills. I just need to learn how to do it.

I started searching and learning about sentence structure and order. A new world opened up to me. I was surprised by how much information I got with a simple search in Google. Wow! There was another ocean of knowledge that I did not know exists. I felt hopeful again. I started making sense of that unknown concept. It started becoming tangible and learn-able. I have begun to pay attention to the structure of the sentences when I am reading books. I know it is a fundamental concept and will take time to learn since I learned a very different language growing up, but I know I can learn it!

I also made the decision to turn my weekly progress into weekly short stories instead of providing a report structure for my progress. I decided my progress each week can be a story. Everything I learn is related to one goal; writing my story. So from now on, my weekly progress updates will be presented in the format of a short story. This gives me an opportunity to practice creating a plot every week, too!

Celebrate life!


Editing Credit: M. Curtis

Photo Credit:

Author: Shabnam

Shabnam Curtis was born and raised in Tehran, experiencing the Iranian Revolution of 1979 firsthand. In 2004 she immigrated to the United States, where she now works as a passionate life coach and a writer. Shabnam is a certified Integral Coach with New Ventures West and International Coaching Federation. She offers one-on-one coaching sessions as well as workshops for groups. Since September of 2021, she also has been the life coach in residence for Dimension Science Bridges Non-profit organization.

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