Friday, April 11, 2008

Serenity Tip: Be Honest

I often write about sharing your concerns with safe people--other people in your field with whom you feel comfortable and from whom you experience no ridicule, etc.

But let's be honest: When you're at your reunion, honesty is not the forefront of your mind. I would like to suggest, however, that being honest with your colleagues there can also be wonderful.

This year marks 11 since I graduated from The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. I know, fancy. To be honest, I've always been a little embarrassed about it. We all joked at the time that we were waiting for the admissions department to drop the bomb: "Oh I'm sorry, we meant to admit Heather Boemer, not Heather Boerner. This nice security guard will escort you out." And when you tell other writers that you went there, they tend to look at you like you're hopelessly pretentious.

So when I went to my 10-year reunion last year, I went with my insecurity in-hand. As a relatively new freelancer, I was taking whatever work I could get. That meant that I snuck into the computer lab there as the students were finishing up their investigative journalism master's projects as I pounded out a 10-page advertorial on... flooring.

Not my most shining moment. And I was pretty ashamed, to be honest. It's not what I thought I'd be doing.

So I was very guarded with my colleagues. I was prepared to tell them just the highlights--"I got my first article with Yoga Journal! I wrote for my first national magazine last year! I write for the San Francisco Chronicle!"--and not the reality.

Something has shifted. I've been emailing with a colleague who writes regularly for the New York Times Science Times about the paper. The shift happened last week when, after I sent that a query to that frightening publication, I asked her, "Were you intimidated? Because I'm scared!"

I know it sounds small, but it changed me, almost molecularly. To be honest with someone I admire, who has the career I want, was scary. When I didn't hear from her for a few days, I was convinced she was sitting in her New York apartment laughing at me.

Then, this week, I got an email relieving me of that delusion. She'd been sick. She told me the story of her first piece for them and how she kept writing for them.

I gave her a chance to be human--and, more importantly, I gave myself a chance to be human. It brought me more peace. It increased my serenity. It brought me relief from my own nagging doubt that I can include myself in her ranks. It's great to not have to pretend.

So for this weekend and for today, I ask you to let someone in to your process, to give up the brave front and be a little more human.

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