I don't have impostor syndrome about programming, advanced
mathematics, or public speaking. I cheerfully stand up in rooms
full of professional programmers and authoritatively tell them
what I think they should do.
However, when I put up shelves in the bathroom back in May, I
was a psychological mess. For every little thing that went
wrong—and there were quite a lot—I got all stressed out and
wondered why I dared to perform this task. The outcome was
good, but I had a lot of stress getting there.
I put in one plexiglass shelf, for which I had bought heavy-duty
wall anchors in case the kids leaned on it, and two metal
shelves higher up, which came with their own screws and anchors.
Here's a partial list of things that worried me:
- The two upper shelves came with a paper template that I held up to
the wall to mark where the holes should be drilled. What if the
two shelves were slightly different and their templates were
different and I needed to use both templates on the wall instead of
using the same template twice?
- When I putting the heavy-duty wall anchors into the drywall, big
divots of plaster fell out of the wall around the anchors.
- Then I filled in the holes with filler, and got filler in the screw holes
in the wall anchors, and stressed about this. What if the filler in
the sockets somehow prevented the screws from going into the
anchors or caused some other unforeseeable problem?
- The filler looked sloppy and I worried that it would look absurdly
ugly to everyone who came into the bathroom. (The shelf would have hidden the ugly screw job from a normal view,
except that it was made of
plexiglass, so the filled holes were visible through it.)
- I didn't know how big to drill the holes for the smaller wall
anchors and stressed about it, examining the wall anchor packaging
for some hint. There was none.
- I wanted to insert the wall anchors into the holes with my rubber
mallet. Where the hell is it? Then I stressed about using a
claw hammer instead and maybe squishing the anchors, and spent a
while looking for a piece of wood or something to soften the hammer
blows. Eventually I gave up looking, wondering if I was dooming the
- I guessed how big to make the hole for the anchor, and was wrong;
my hole was too small. I didn't realize this until I had the first
anchor halfway in. Then I stressed that I might ruin it when I
pulled it back out of the wall.
- Then I stressed about the size of the holes again when I drilled
larger holes. What if I make the hole too big, and then have to
fill all the holes and re-measure and re-drill the whole thing?
- The anchors didn't go into two of the holes. I needed to yank them
back out, then redrill the holes, with the outer end a little
messy, or the anchors wouldn't go all the way into the holes.
Again I worried about spoiling the anchors.
- When I drilled the holes, sometimes the drill suddenly went all the
way into the wall and the rotating chuck left a circular scar on
- Also, two of the holes didn't drill easily; I had to lean on the
drill really hard to get it to go through. For a while I was
concerned that there was some undrillable metal thing in the wall
just where I wanted my hole, and I would have to fill in all the
holes and remeasure and redrill the whole thing.
- Even though I had marked the wall for the lower shelf by holding
the shelf against the wall and then poking a pencil through the
actual holes, when time came to put the bolts in place, I found
that the two holes were slightly too far apart. Somehow this
worked itself out.
On review, I see that several of these worries could have been
completely avoided if I had had a supply of extra wall anchors.
Stuff that could have worried me but (rightly or wrongly) didn't:
I knew enough to go to the store to buy wall anchors and
screws for the bottom shelf, which did not come with its own
hardware. There are a lot of different kinds of anchors, and
I did not worry too much that I was getting the wrong thing.
I was concerned (although not worried) that the screws
holding the bottom shelf to the wall might stress the plastic
too much and cause it to crack, either immediately or over
time. Obvious solution: insert washers between the screw
heads and the shelf. I went to the hardware store to get
nylon washers; they didn't have any. So I got thin metal
washers instead. I did not worry about this; I was sure
(perhaps wrongly) that metal washers would do the job.
When I asked the hardware people for plastic washers, they looked
totally blank. “Plastic... washers?” they asked, as if this were a
heretofore unimaginable combination. I could have felt like an
idiot, but instead I felt, correctly I think, that they were
For some reason, I was not even slightly worried about properly
leveling the marks for the holes. I used a spirit level, which I
consider pretty fancy.
I was careful not to over-tighten the screws holding the
plexiglass shelf in place, so as to avoid cracking them, but
I was at no time afraid that I would somehow crack them
[Added in July: I have reread this article for the first time. I can
report that all the worries I had about whether the shelves would look
good have come to nothing; they all look just fine and I had forgotten
all the things I was afraid would look bad. But I really do need to
buy a couple of boxes of plastic wall anchors so I can stop worrying
about spoiling the four I have.]
[The shelves look crooked in the picture, but that is because I am
holding the camera crooked; in real life they look great.]
[ A later
visit to a better hardware store confirmed that plastic washers do
exist, and I did not hallucinate them. The rubber mallet still has not come to light.]
[Other articles in category /brain]