Archive for September 2013

The Right Moment

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I was never big on taking risks.

As a child, I tried to follow all of my parent’s rules, and rarely got in trouble for disobeying. As a teenager, I hid in the back of the group when my friends and I were out causing trouble. I was always worried about getting caught, having my parents find out, and losing my rep as the “good guy”. I turned down hundreds of opportunities to have fun because I was too scared to take risks.

As you can guess, I was never really the life of the party. I did my best to fake a carefree attitude, but I was ultimately unable to let go of my stresses and fully enjoy the moment.

Nowadays, I’m not afraid to remove tags from mattresses, play loud music on weekends, and trespass on private property if something looks interesting.  Nothing too crazy, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, some of my old habits still linger in my professional life. I spent the last six years as a barista, and it was about as low-risk as you can get. Flexible schedules, forgiving managers, easy work, and steady pay. Super safe. And, to be  honest, I really enjoyed having the security.

But you know what I enjoyed even more? Putting in my notice without having another job lined up. After years of telling myself that I would follow my passions as soon as the time was right, I finally decided that the right moment would never come. So I took a risk.

And it paid off. As soon as I opened myself up to the idea of working somewhere else, all sorts of opportunities started to reveal themselves. When I told my friends that I was quitting, they were excited for me, and many of them had ideas or connections that I could use to find a new job. It turns out that I had missed hundreds of “right moments” because I was only looking for them in a tiny area of my life.

So that’s my advice. Stop waiting for the right moment. Things will never line up quite how you want them to, and that’s okay. Taking a risk is scary, but staying in a place that doesn’t inspire you should be even scarier. So get out there. Take some risks, make some mistakes, and then come back and share your stories with me. I look forward to hearing them.

Hats

Hats

At what point can a student call themselves a practitioner? I’ve been studying counseling for a year now, even have clients I see regularly, but it still seems conceited to call myself a counselor.

Maybe this points to some undue doubt in me; I should call myself a counselor, but my own struggles pollute my view. Or maybe I’m right to be humble, and have yet to earn my figurative stripes?

Several of my teachers have told me this- a counselor has to wear many hats in their work, but they should never be anyone but themselves. We (they?) may have to be a supporter to some, a healer to others, and a social worker for even more.

Right now, not all of those hats fit me yet. That’s a little scary, though at the core of it is a thought that many people share.

“What if I can’t do it?”

What if I’ve come so far and now, here at the end, I fail? These are human thoughts, and you owe it to yourself to own them.

Though, as I think about it, it seems to me that I am exactly where I should be. Counseling is the profession of change, and I must demand that of myself just as much, if not more, than what I ask of my clients.

To be human is to doubt, then to learn. Life is filled with doubt, but the reward for the risk is meaning.

-Austin

The Voice in Your Head

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On Saturday, I am flying to Illinois to start a new contract at a theatre I have never worked at before. I’m headed off to a new job, in a new theater, with no one I have worked with before, and I just can’t help but think, can I do this?

This thought pops into my head from time to time. These days, I tell that voice to shut up. Doubt is a cornerstone of the human condition. But, in my line of work, doubting your talents or your appearance will wreck your chances and kill your dreams.

The last time I was really doubting myself was when I went to my first national audition. It was February 2012, and I was on a flight to Memphis for The Unified Professional Theatre Audition, one of the largest in the country. I auditioned alongside 1500 other performers for jobs with just 100 companies. Tough odds for a first timer.

So, here I was flying to a huge audition, and the voice of doubt comes at me like a train. “You can’t sing your song worth a lick.” “You can’t dance worth a damn.” “You’re too fat.” And these were the nice thoughts.

I arrived at my hotel room, and I had just walked through a lobby full of very good looking people who were all here for the same reason. I couldn’t really look at myself in the mirror and I was afraid to sing loud enough for anyone to hear me. I was feeling very defeated before I even got on the stage.

After a sleepless night, I went to the theater, got my number, and got in line with everyone else. As I waited for my turn, I began to think about why I was even here. And it dawned on me, that I really like to perform. I really liked it. I liked it enough that I wanted it to be my job.

The audition went well. Very well. I got a job. I just finished doing that same job again this summer. My contacts from this job lead to me getting this job in Illinois that I am flying off to on Saturday. But, I still keep coming back to that audition and the lesson it taught.

This career is not about being the best one who shows up. It’s about being the one who always shows up.

Give it a Name

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As a journalist, the only way to get better at writing stories is to write a whole bunch of them. This involves making a lot of phone calls, asking a lot of stupid questions, and meeting hundreds of strangers.

For my first two years of school, I introduced myself to interviewees as a journalism student, and apologized in advance for any hiccups in the interview process. I explained that I was working on an assignment for a class and needed their voice to get a solid story. For some reason, my interviews never seemed to go well, and I left most of my sessions feeling discouraged.

One day, I was making calls from my apartment, giving my usual explanations and apologies. When I hung up, my roommate put his clothes iron down and looked at me sternly.

“Why do you tell everyone that?” he said.

I asked what he meant, and he expanded his thought.

“You keep apologizing to everyone, and you always introduce yourself as a student. You’re doing journalism, right? Why not call yourself a journalist? Sure, you’re in the learning process, but you can still use the title.”

I mulled on his advice for a while, and decided to give it a try.

It changed everything. As soon as I started introducing myself as a journalist, people started paying attention to my requests. Calls were returned faster, interviews went smoothly, and information started to flow. People saw me as a vessel to share their story instead of a student using them to get a good grade. My confidence was boosted, and I stopped prefacing every interview with an apology. By my final semester, I was winning awards and building a portfolio.

Some people would call this “faking it ’til you make it”, but really it was just giving a name to an action. I embraced the fact that “Journalist” doesn’t have to mean “Professional Writer With Decades of Experience”. With that decision, I gained an identity, and started to take myself and my craft more seriously.

And so, dear reader, I’m passing my old roommate’s advice on to you. If you are working toward becoming something, maybe you need to start giving yourself a little credit. Do you paint or draw detailed sketches? You’re an artist. Do you write short stories and publish them on a blog? You’re a writer. As soon as you stop apologizing for your lack of expertise and start giving your actions a name, you’ll find they start carrying more meaning.

I was given another chance to follow this advice while designing my business cards earlier this year. I could have easily put “Journalist”, because it matches my schooling and looks professional. However , I took a long look at what I was really passionate about, took a deep breath, and put two small, terrifying words under my name.

Clark Hodges

Artist and Designer