Tip #677: Getting Over Excel Phobia

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.”  Eleanor Roosevelt

When I was in high school, I took a statistics class that, to this day, has left me in abject terror whenever I am faced with anything related to statistics.

Our teacher decided that since we were an “honors” class, the best way for us to learn statistics was to find the errors in a statistics book. It didn’t work, for obvious reasons. If you don’t know what you are supposed to be looking at, how can you tell if it’s wrong?

That teacher left the school before the end of the semester to go play piano in a southern state (my high school was on Long Island, in New York, and not known for temperate winters).

Because of that statistics nightmare, I never learned statistics and I believed that I could never learn it. Simply seeing a statistical symbol on a page short-circuited my brain.

I tell this story to explain how my phobia about statistics led to a phobia about Excel- because Excel uses statistical symbols and formulas.

Every time a client has suggested that an Excel worksheet would be the easiest way to manage the data in question, I’ve found some other more laborious workaround.

A former colleague once showed me that I could use an Excel spreadsheet to alphabetize names and prioritize data. In fact, she set up the worksheet, showed me how to do it, and in showing me, did it for me- bless her heart.

Even though I now knew it could be helpful in certain situations, I never learned to use Excel on my own.

I managed quite nicely without any need for Excel until last week. A Government Services Administration (GSA) auditor asked me to provide Excel spreadsheets that listed my company’s total annual sales and annual sales under our GSA contract for the past year.

In an absolute panic, I turned to the internet. I read articles and watched YouTube tutorials. They gave me the confidence to start a worksheet, title the columns and put text or numbers into them. I even managed to get a subtotal indicator. However, when I pushed the Auto Sum button, nothing happened.

I sent my spreadsheet out to various friends and colleagues, but no one was able to work with it. One colleague (who has worked with me for over 15 years) suggested that it might be easier if I simply added up the numbers rather than trying to get a total with Excel.

When I voiced my frustration to my daughter, her first question was why hadn’t I asked her to begin with? I knew that she had taken many computer-related classes on her job. It just hadn’t occurred to me that any of those classes concerned Excel.

My daughter told me that she worked with Excel, she kept her budget in Excel, and she would be able to help me. So, I sent her the worksheet -and she couldn’t do anything with it either.

However, she understood WHY the worksheet wasn’t responsive. It had not been set up properly.

Over 1.5 hours, she patiently walked me through how to really set up each column, what I else I could do with the columns, and how to get the totals. I can’t tell you how appreciative and relieved I was! Her matter of fact approach to teaching me how to use Excel soothed any remaining fear I had.

I used Excel with confidence the very next day to alphabetize terms for a glossary. Boy did that make my task easier!

Will I remember everything she showed me? Probably not, because I’m not likely to be using Excel very much in the near future.

The audit situation motivated me to face my phobia, so I can’t claim to have chosen to “look my fear in the face,” as Mrs. Roosevelt suggests.

Nonetheless, I now know that I no longer need to be frightened of Excel and that it can and will be a helpful tool.

May your learning be sweet.


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