Ever had a moment of clarity that you really didn't want to face? Mine was last week, when one of my biggest professional achievements was married to one of the biggest hits to my ego.
In my line of work, I interact quite a bit with a national group that does a lot of research and public policy issue analysis. They frequently release reports with state or local level data, and last week was no different. They released a report, and I initiated the process of having a press release sent from our agency regarding the local/state impacts noted in the report. It wasn't pretty, and it needed to be shared. The press release got immediate coverage from local radio stations and even local news stations, which chose to interview families impacted by the issue covered.
And then, there was a request from our local PBS station for someone to appear on their evening 'interest' program where current issues, politics, economy, etc. are discussed with a host. We got the email inviting us and my heart sank into my stomach. I can write 100 press releases and talk to radio interviewers, but ask me to be on TV and I am instantly 13 all over again.
I worry about how I will look in general. I wish I'd had more warning so I could do my hair and wear my most flattering outfit. I cross my fingers that someone will do our make-up before we go live. I want to run far, far away. I am afraid of saying the wrong thing, sure. But more than that I am afraid I will look horrible and my voice will sound horrible.
It shames me to write that paragraph, by the way. To admit that instead of feeling proud of this moment I was vainly worried about how I would look. But there was no time for my 13 year old self to get out of going on TV, so within a few hours my boss and I were taping the segment to air that night. We taped at 5:45 and it aired on our local PBS affiliate at 7 p.m. In a way, I was relieved that it happened so quickly because it meant less time to worry and obsess and stress.
I got home just as the show was starting. Knowing we were the final segment, I set my DVR and turned off the TV to have dinner with my husband and play with my kids. An hour later we decided we couldn't wait to watch it any longer, so we hit play and sat back.
"Oh no. OH no no no!" <--- my reaction to the first screen shot of me on TV. I couldn't hear a word I was saying because all I could think about was how my cheeks looked huge and my hair looked awful and my shoulders could easily get me a spot on the high school football team my husband helps coach. The world went into slow motion as I wondered how many people I know had seen it and whether they thought I looked as horrible as I thought I looked. And then I started to cry.
Meanwhile, my husband didn't know what to say to me. Luca had already lost interest and gone in the other room. And just as Darrick tried to convince me that I didn't look as bad as I thought I looked because really I didn't look like that in person anyhow (no, really...he was trying to make me feel better...) Rohan turned to the TV. Smiling, he ran up and put his hands on the screen and said, "That's my mama!".
And I cried some more.
The next day I went to work and couldn't remember anything I'd said on the show the night before. Within an hour of getting to work, I had over a dozen emails from people with whom I work, applauding the show and our success in covering such an important topic. And while I should have been basking in the glory of all the accolades, I just kept thinking of how all these people had seen me on TV looking like THAT. I cringed when I realized the link had been sent to our entire Board of Directors and posted on Facebook.
I made self-depriciating jokes. Because it's better to be the one to make the first crack than to be blindsided by others, I made fun of myself. My favorite joke below the link on Facebook when my sister posted it:
"Do not be alarmed, friends! It only LOOKS like I am planning on eating Ted. No hosts were consumed or otherwise harmed during filming."
My sister deleted the link. Apologized for not asking me if it was ok to share first. And it finally hit me: Shut. The fuck. Up.
My boss has been in her position for over 8 years, and this was her first appearance on this show. And she was there because of my press release inspiration and my knowledge. The host? He interviews everyone from politicians to leaders in business to non-profit executives. And he didn't once doubt that I belonged there, right beside them. And when I dared listen to the audio without watching the video I had to confess: I kicked some major ass. I was knowledgeable. Fast on my feet. On message and on point and a pretty awesome advocate for people who normally don't have a voice. Hell, I didn't even sound OR look nervous.
And then a text from a good friend sealed the deal. She knew about my insecurity and she said just the right thing to remind me of what's important. And most of all, this friend who I admire and look up to so much said she was proud of me.
So why couldn't I just be proud of myself????
It took me a few days to move past that visceral reaction to seeing myself on camera. Honestly? The me on TV must have 30 pounds on the me I see when I look in the mirror. It was a wake-up call, but at first I didn't take it as such. At first? I was defeated. I've lost nearly 20 pounds. I eat well. I work out 4 days a week. I see THAT girl in the mirror. On TV, I saw the girl 20 pounds and years of couch-potato-ness past. So I gave up a little. I couldn't seem to get off the couch or step away from unhealthy snacks. I let myself wallow for a few days.
Then I thought of my daughter. My son. Myself. I thought of what it said to them that I couldn't stop focusing on how I looked for long enough to celebrate this professional victory. I thought of what it said to ME that I was letting my perceived shortcomings overshadow what was not ONLY a professional but also a personal victory. So I didn't look thin and gorgeous! I sat my butt in front of a camera with my boss and held my own on TV. I knew my shit and I knew it well.
I had to make a decision, and though it was a struggle I decided to use this experience as inspiration, rather than letting it derail me entirely. I got back on track and back on the wagon with my healthy eating and exercise. I promised myself there WILL be a 'next time' I'm on that show, and that I'll be proud of how I look AND what I have to say that time. I even shared the link with a few people and tried not to do the self-depriciating jokes and cringing.
I'm a work in progress. If I've learned one thing through the years, it's to try to be as kind to myself as I would be to a friend. And that's often the hardest lesson. Patience isn't always my forte and neither is kindness to myself.