"What is something you know now that you wish you had known [then]?"
This was recently posed to our boomerish FB group, all of whom had once worked at the same precocious magazine/advertising company in the (roughly) 1980's. For most of us, it was our first Real Job, what millennials now call adulting. And whether we'd been in art, editorial, or admin, the response was tremendous, and so uniform that I thought it warranted a blog post. So this is my return to blogging after a very long hiatus.
What we all said was some variation of "worry less, play more." Many of us phrased it as: "I wish I'd been less insecure about my skills and talents" or "I wish I'd known everyone else was as insecure as I was about work."
For me, I wish I had been more in the moment in general, and specifically the time I had the phone jack plugged into the EAR outlet, not the MIC outlet, so none of a VERY important interview was recorded. Nada. Zip. I honestly believe it was my nervousness, that gnawing awareness of my lacking that I thought was mine and mine alone, that made me self-sabotage that first major interview. I had an intimidating subject: Dr. Carl Jensen, Professor of Journalism, and I may have been the only one on the editorial staff who did NOT have a journalism degree, or even an English degree. Can you spell I-N-S-E-C-U-R-E?! More intimidating still, Dr. Jensen was the founder of Project Censored, which exposed the then-nascent journalistic bias for and against certain news stories. This guy was in the business of judging journalists!
While I was intimidated, I had prepared. Very well. And afterward, to my great and utter relief and delight, Dr. Jensen told me that it was the most interesting, best-conducted interview he'd ever done, and he'd done all the biggies: TIME, Newsweek, NY Times, etc. Relief as much as pride propelled me to do a bit of crowing to my friends in nearby cubicles, until I returned to my own to get my major cosmic comeuppance about crowing. I began typing as quickly as I could to get as much as I could from memory, knowing full well I'd have to call Dr. Jensen back to confirm details, and confess! He was lovely and gracious about it. Virtually all of the bullets I sweated over that interview, before, during and after, were for naught. Well, on second thought, maybe not for naught. THAT was a pivotal moment when I started to learn that people generally were really not out there to catch us faking our way through our lives, because ALL of us felt we were faking it. Right up until the shocking moment we suddenly realized we weren't anymore. Two life lessons for the price of one: When you're scared, know that you aren't as lacking as you think you are. And when you're cocky, know that you're probably not as good as you think you are, either!
The other standout time I wish I'd been more in the moment was when I wrote a piece for a regular feature we had called "Catch A Rising Star". I was interviewing a then-unknown comic named Garry Shandling, who, after our highly enjoyable two-hour conversation, invited me to come to Nashville to be his guest at his show that night. I explained to him that, being in Knoxville myself, and Tennessee being a long skinny state, it was like going from San Francisco to LA, only on the horizontal, not the vertical. He thought that was hysterically funny, and then offered to pay for me to fly there. It was maybe a little bit flirting, but he had no knowledge of me other than the great conversation we'd just had, and I came shortly to realize he was probably just tired of being on the road in no-name venues, night after night, trying so hard to make a name for himself, and just wanted a friendly face in the crowd. But back then, I worried. Too much. I didn't know what accepting his offer would mean (it didn't occur to me that I could define that!); I worried it might blur professional boundaries (it might have, but in the most benign way); and I kept hearing my anxiety-ridden mother's voice in my head shrieking, "Danger! Danger!" How I wish I'd had the skills then that I do now, to first breathe, step back literally or metaphorically, be aware of the moment, define the moment, then take charge of that moment. I would have booked my own hotel room at my cost, and accepted his offer of a flight, and gone to his show. I would have laughed, a lot. And grown my wings that much more. Woulda, coulda, shoulda...
So millennials, I think I speak for most of us boomers urging you to hone your skill at always being aware (look around, use your five senses, question authority, and put down your goddamn phone...) and give serious practice (meditation, prayer, yoga, swimming, hiking...) to being as present as possible in each moment. And know that nothing, nothing exhibits strength and presence in the moment better than simply being kind. Including to yourselves.