Today I had the opportunity to talk to an amazing group of middle school girls in Island Pond, Vt. (If you’re unfamiliar with Vermont geography, let’s just say that Island Pond is about as close as you can get to Canada without wearing a maple leaf.) I was talking to them as part of a really cool project that Vermont Public Television is doing with middle schoolers called Above the Fold.
I was there to talk to them about working at a newspaper – specifically about how to do a good interview. But what I saw in their eyes when I walked in the room was something much deeper – a need to know that it’s okay to be who they are.
Here’s how I see it – when I do an interview for the newspaper, there are some interview techniques that begin long before the conversation starts. The most important is that I need to believe that I have a right to be there, asking those questions.
That may sound silly, but it’s actually something that I have to talk with myself about on a fairly regular basis. Because I still struggle with a desire for perfection, the dysfunctional part of me thinks that I should already know all the answers before I walk into an interview. When I was writing articles about the economy earlier this fall, I had to rigorously talk myself OUT of the belief that I had to be an economist and understand economic markets and trends and (goodness knows what else) before I could conduct a reasonable interview.
Each time I talked with a new expert, I had to remind myself that it was okay if I didn’t already know every term and acronym they spouted. I had to remind myself that it was okay to ask them to slow down, spell things I’d never heard of before, and explain things again in different language. I had to remind myself that if I didn’t understand what they were saying, it wasn’t a fatal flaw in me – they were talking in expert language and it was my job to translate it to lay people language so other people could understand it too.
For me, doing an interview starts with believing that I’m worthy of doing the interview.
And that’s what I responded so strongly to in those girls’ eyes today – the desire to know and believe that they are worthy of walking into a room and being there. The middle school years are not easy – so many pressures to figure out who you are as an individual and to conform all at the same time. In the midst of that, it can be easy to get lost. I did – I was terribly lost in middle school and it was only thanks to a few friends (sending you love Josh and Jen!) that I made it through with any sense of self-esteem intact.
Even though I was there to talk about newspapering, I saw their eyes light up when I started talking about this stuff – believing they are worthy.
They are an incredible bunch – engaged, enthusiastic and really bright. I could see it in their eyes.
To Allison, Abigail, Kylie, Kaylee, Leah, Chloe, Carllee and Ms. Vera – today you are my miracle. I can hardly wait to see the next newspaper you produce!! Thanks for a great afternoon.