By now I am accustomed to the pattern, but it doesn’t make it any easier. I get an assignment and my knee jerk reaction is: But I’m not qualified! Fear grips my heart even as I immediately respond to my editor with my best “act as if” enthusiasm, all the while knowing that this time, surely, my incompetence will shine through. Four years of duping her into believing that I am up to the task is going to finally catch up with me. This time, everyone will know that I am a total fraud.
It might happen after I turn in the article, or, even more humiliating, while interviewing a subject. He or she will confront me head on: You are no yogi, and you have no idea how to convey my message to your readers!
Why do I feel this way? (It even has a name: impostor syndrome). Maybe it is because I am a self-taught writer, with no college degree or experience studying English literature or journalism. To add insult to injury, I have no consistent routine doing yoga or meditating. I don’t know Sanskrit. I don’t like to chant.
Even with this sketchy resume, I’ve written over thirty articles on topics that vary from how to make the perfect cup of green tea to reviewing major museum exhibits on Tibetan medical paintings, and interviewed some of the most passionate, intelligent people I’ve ever encountered. I often need to do extensive background research, formulating questions that will engage the reader as well as tap into what the person I am interviewing wants to share. I am still “acting as if,” but taking action.
It certainly is not a given that I can differentiate between Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, yet interviewing Robin Gaynes-Bachman allowed me to do just that, as I absorbed her contagious passion for painting the deities. Covering the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Lost Kingdoms” exhibit provided me with another opportunity, a perfect “in the moment” learning experience as I wandered the nearly empty exhibit one late afternoon.
I can only “act as if” to a point--and perhaps this is my point. When I admit to myself (and at times, my interviewees) that I don’t know, but I want to learn, I become an open vessel for their message, their wisdom, and their humanity. In that moment (okay, this actually takes hours, as I immerse myself into the act of listening, viewing, transcribing, and writing) the fear is dissolved. I am simply being present.
If I have just outed myself as a fraud, I am okay with that. Now my editor knows. She might even approve--she just gave me this assignment!
--Sharon Watts. For more of Sharon's writing, click here.