Category - identity

The teachable moment in the viral BBC interview video

bbc-interview-video-interruption
By now, I’m going to assume you’ve seen the viral video of a political expert being interviewed via Skype by the BBC, and the comedy that ensues when his two daughters boldly and innocently enter into his home office before being corralled and yanked out of there by their completely embarrassed mom. I saw the video early on Friday morning, and immediately showed Rachel (who loved it because that could happen to us one day!). Then, I retweeted it and tagged Justin because we both do a lot of phone and video interviews with the media and I knew he would be able to relate.

What I wanted to now discuss was some of the thoughts I had after reading a breakdown of the video by Ben Thompson. You should read it too, because it’s a splendid and tremendously entertaining writeup, and also because some of his insights cut me to the quick (and perhaps will do the same to you).

While commenting on why Robert Kelly (the protagonist) tried to do all he could to maintain decorum during the interview even after the host pointed out that his daughter had entered the room, the author states:

What you may not know about these TV spots is that you don’t get paid a dime. Why, then, does the BBC, or CNN, or MSNBC, or all of the other channels have an endless array of experts who are willing to not just call-in from their home office but will also go to the trouble of putting on a suit-and-tie and arrange books just so? BECAUSE YOU’RE ON TV!

Here’s the deal: the male ego is both remarkably fragile and remarkably easy to satiate. Tell said ego he will be featured as an expert in front of a national or global audience and he will do whatever it takes — including 12 years of academia and wearing a suit at home—to ensure it is so.

While I have never put on a full suit to field a Skype call from my home office, I have absolutely put on a dress shirt and tie (while wearing athletic shorts from the waist down) and sat at my desk to video chat with an interviewer. When the requests come in (primarily via email), I am definitely guilty of running around and inconveniencing myself and my family to take the call. Justin is pretty much the same way. We both agree that it will help to get our research and best practices out to those who need it. We also feel that we only have a limited amount of time to build our careers, and this is one of the ways which require some sacrifice – especially if it is a big-name media outlet.

I have always wanted to be someone who isn’t a hustler, always angling and scheming and posturing for success, but rather someone who remains humble and trusts that God will exalt me in due season (if He thinks I can handle it).

What the author’s commentary pointed out to me was that I am largely doing it to feed my ego. I’ve done media interviews on weekend mornings, during the evenings when I should have put my laptop to bed, and sometimes even on vacation (though, thankfully, rarely). And I justify it over and over again – because it will be relatively simple to knock it out (just shave and put on a button-down!), because I know the answers to the questions they are going to ask, and because others will meaningfully benefit from the information I share. But if I’m honest, those are all secondary reasons to the primary motivation: others will see it and hear my name, and I’ll maintain relevance as a sought-after “expert” in the field. And my ego will have been fed.

Ugh. Just typing that out loud feels gross. Slimy. Yucky.

I don’t want that. I have always wanted to be someone who isn’t a hustler, always angling and scheming and posturing for success, but rather someone who remains humble and trusts that God will exalt me in due season (if He thinks I can handle it). I do believe everything good and perfect comes from the Lord, and that I don’t need to exhaust myself in human effort to “make things happen.”  But it is clear that belief has not yet permeated all aspects of my life, as much as I want it to.

And if I am objective about it, the primary reason why I am so keen on doing these interviews (again, to the detriment of my own schedule, peace of mind, and family prioritization) is because of the fear of becoming irrelevant. And it’s weird because I really don’t want fame or notoriety – I just want to be able to provide for myself and my family.

But if I’m irrelevant professionally, I feel like all opportunities (and provision) will completely dry up.

And no one will care.

And life will fall apart.

That is ridiculous. That clearly demonstrates a lack of faith in the Lord as my source and my provider.

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Matthew 6:28

To me, it doesn’t matter whether the political expert was working during normal business hours, or inconveniencing himself and his family by fielding the interview just because of his ego. What matters is that I personally found a teachable moment in the video, and see its application to how I am currently living. And how I want to live as a man with childlike faith.

Whether we realize it or not, God is always talking to us, always showing us things, always urging and ushering us towards a better place.

Whether we realize it or not, God is always talking to us, always showing us things, always urging and ushering us towards a better place. We just need to pay attention, and then apply those insights to our lives. If I am caught up in busyness, and just keep going through the motions without heeding what He is trying to teach me through my everyday observations and experiences, it will be such a shame.

I don’t want to fear missing out on ego-building opportunities. I want to fear missing out on faith-building opportunities. Because as my faith grows, so does my relationship with Him – from which flows the fullness of life I want and need above all else.

Image source: http://bit.ly/2lQL374

The Imposter Syndrome

I have been thinking recently about the Imposter Syndrome. You know, the fear I sometimes feel that I will be found out. That it will be revealed that I don’t have what it takes. That people will discover that I’m a fraud. A poser. A complete phony.

“All I can see is everything I’m doing wrong that is a sham and a fraud.” ~ Don Cheadle

Research shows that many people struggle with these feelings of self-doubt. Hopefully, we shrug them off and not let them actually paralyze us – and most of the time we are able to press through to do what we need to do. But every time – at least for me – they creep in and rear their ugly head and make their presence known…to the point where I have to intentionally fight them off. In my head I am like, “what the heck, get off of me, that’s a lie and I refuse to believe it and this is a totally normal feeling and I am not an idiot and I do know what I am doing and I just need to remember the truth about myself.” But it’s super hard sometimes.

What is interesting is that I don’t ever think that I am an imposter when it comes to my faith, or my fitness, or the relationships I have with others. I’m acutely aware of the gap between where I am and where I want to be in those areas of life, but for the most part I don’t feel like I’m ever faking it. I falter and flounder and fail sometimes, but I’m not faking it. I’m doing them as well as I can, and I’m good with that.

“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.” ~ Maya Angelou

Like the quotes I’ve pasted throughout this blog entry, for me it is mostly tied into my profession. I’m trying to figure out why. Maybe it’s because when it comes to my occupation, others are depending on me. It’s like, they need me to come through for them and be amazing for them, because they only view me through the lens what I do for work, what I do for a living.

To them, I am what I do.

That’s it. They don’t know my heart, they don’t know my foibles, they don’t know the ups and downs of my life. They just know that I am a:

teacher

researcher

speaker

writer

advisor

mentor

role model

And they expect me to dominate in all of those areas. They expect me to be on point, like a boss, and kill it every single time. And I don’t think these expectations are only in my head. I mean, my students sit in my class, and anticipate that I am going to blow their mind with a vintage “Sameer” brand of knowledge delivery every time we meet. And this is heightened by the fact that they’ve read reviews online, and talked to other students who have previously taken my classes. And part of me is like, “man, I am exhausted, I wish I could just suck for once, and for it to be okay.”

“There are an awful lot of people out there who think I’m an expert. How do these people believe all this about me? I’m so much aware of all the things I don’t know.” ~ Dr. Margaret Chan, Chief of the World Health Organization

It’s the same with when I have had a job interview in the past. I can make myself seem so extraordinary in my resume and in my cover letter, and discuss all these proficiencies which I have (or have had? or think I have? or should have by now?). And yes, they are factually true; I’m not lying in my application materials. But it still feels like I will be found out. It still feels like the tendency is always there for someone to ask me a question and for me to blow it. For my lack of a correct answer to “out” me as someone who isn’t all that he makes himself out to be or, rather, all that they thought and hoped I was.

When that happens, it definitely hurts. Like a sucker punch to the gut.

Actually, it feels catastrophic. Like the world is going to end. Like I just want the earth to split behind me, and for its mantle to rise up like a tidal wave of broken rock and mud and debris and just swallow me whole, from head to toe.

Like a geological atomic wedgie.

Because the humiliation just seems too much to bear.

The bottom line is, I simply cannot remember everything that I’ve learned in the past. And I can’t recall it from the recesses of my brain as fast as it’s sometimes expected. And I sometimes just don’t say the right thing, or even know what the right thing is to say. And I just don’t want to have to feel all the time that everything in life is a test, set up to constantly make me prove myself or my education or training or intellect or abilities.

“Sometimes I wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and I think, I can’t do this. I’m a fraud.” ~ Kate Winslet

At job interviews and when I’m teaching or presenting on a topic, my mentor professor Christina once taught me that it’s totally okay to say “I don’t know” or “I’ll find out for you and get back to you on that.” The worst thing to do is for me to make up an answer, because I might dig myself into a deeper hole and will probably be found out in time. So I’ve been trying to do that.

And sometimes I mess up on grading an assignment, or have the wrong answer choices for a test question that annoys my entire class, or forget to get back to someone in a timely manner, or accidentally miss a conference call or meeting. I just flat-out screw up. And it feels like everyone is like, “what the pez is wrong with this guy!!!” and “dang, can’t he do anything right???” and “wow, I wonder how many times he’s blown it before….” But I just want and need everyone to know that I am doing my best. I would totally wear that t-shirt: “I’m doing my best.” And then people would know. But maybe it should go without saying, for you, and for me. Just because I don’t do everything perfectly doesn’t mean that I am an imposter.

Plus, I am way harder on myself than anyone else could possibly be. Really.

And I bet that’s the case for you as well. Maybe you feel this way often. I think it’s so natural, and some of it gets easier as we get older (because our perspective changes as to whose opinions matter) and some of it gets harder (because we think that by now we wouldn’t screw up as much!). And I think that honestly, we all just need more space and more grace to be human in these fallible ways. That’s really it. I mean, that’s all I am asking for.

How can we fight off this feeling that we’re an imposter? Here’s what I’ve been thinking. And no, I don’t do these things all the time, but I really do want to. Because in my head, I know it will help a ton. I just need to make it a lifestyle….

First off, don’t give other people (whose feelings vacillate and whose moods are temperamental) the power to invalidate you. I think it starts here. For me, it helps to remind myself that my worth and value does not come from the opinion of others, no matter what. For me, it comes from the opinion of a never-changing and forever-loving God. It’s easy to forget that, but that is one truth I have built my life on, and it has mattered so much. Remember the truth about yourself, and who you are deep down.

Second, be gracious to yourself. We’re all human, and we all make mistakes. Sure, some of those mistakes occur on bigger platforms and in higher-visibility situations than others, but they happen to all of us. And you don’t want to hang out with, or work for, or give your best to, individuals who expect impossibly high standards from you. Then you’ll just be walking on eggshells whenever you’re around them, and that’s an awful way to live. Seek out friends and colleagues who understand and live out compassion, and give your best to them instead.

Third, be gracious to others. To be honest, I’m way better at this than the first two, probably because I desperately want others to do the same for me. With my words, and body language, and laid-back attitude, and constant reassurances and warmth, I always try to counter the pressures that others feel to be perfect, to act perfect, to seem perfect. I try to provide them with a safe place – not to be “on” and not to “perform,” but just to be. They don’t deserve it because they’ve earned it, they deserve it because life is hard for all of us. And then at least I am doing my part to contribute to a more kindhearted humanity. My hope is that they will be changed forever, and that they will continue to pay it forward. And I bet most do.

Hopefully, I’ll keep doing my part, and they’ll keep doing their part, and we’ll get better at going easier on ourselves. And this should lead to so much more freedom in our lives, and more freedom will increase the likelihood that we can be at our best. Whenever I’ve felt free from the pointed and weighty expectations of others, that’s when I am able to completely rock whatever it is I was supposed to do. In those moments, the imposter syndrome has no bearing on me at all – it feels irrelevant. I just want that to be the case all the time, for all of us.

Please let me know in the comments if you’ve ever struggled with the Imposter Syndrome, in what ways it affects you, and how you face it.  I would honestly like to hear from others on this topic!

(Image source: http://www.bbb.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Man-with-Mask.jpg)

Punk Rock and My Identity

I have been thinking a lot about identity this week, probably I went to a concert this Tuesday. I finally got to see New Found Glory live, one of my all-time favorite bands and one that I’ve listened to for the last 16 years. They are a pop punk band out of Coral Springs, Florida, and I absolutely love their music because of the lyrics, the energy, the guitar licks and base lines in their songs, and because they basically play the soundtrack of my youth. They pretty much sing about girls and falling in and out of love (as I guess most artists do), but they do so in such an awesome, fun, and compelling way. If you named any one of their eight studio albums since 1999, I could tell you who I had a crush on during that season of my life. This is because I would listen to their songs all of the time and, of course, have a certain girl in the back of my mind that I was pining for. Oh, Sameer. This sounds so desperate, but whatever, this was my life! I thought about girls a lot while growing up…what can I say?

Anyway, back to identity. My musical tastes have varied over the years, and while I have largely moved on from 80s music, rap, and country, I have never stopped loving emo/punk/indie/hardcore music. I think this phase started in around 2000, and it’s held strong. And one of the largest acts in the genre of pop punk is New Found Glory, and I guess their songs stand out in my mind as best representing this longstanding season of my life. But as important as the music was to me, so was the scene. So much so that I began to attach myself to it and constantly desire to be associated with it. I was looking to belong to something that came across “cool” and “edgy,” and also resonated with my adolescent and young adult state of mind (e.g., moody, rebellious, confused, impulsive, sensitive, reckless). It just worked for me. And I embraced it.

I was looking to belong to something that came across “cool” and “edgy,” and also resonated with my adolescent and young adult state of mind.

I would discover and listen to all of all of the coolest bands that hadn’t yet gone mainstream and “sold out.” I would buy band stickers at shows and plaster them all over my door and above my computer desk. I would drive all over Florida and Michigan (where I went to school) – even by myself – to see the groups I loved. I got unique piercings (no tattoos, though!). I wore choker necklaces, and loved the way they looked on others in the scene. I would wear skate shoes or black workboots, as most others did. I would brave the mosh pit, and pinball around with other rowdy, sweaty guys and girls while the music roared in front of us. I would reach out for the setlists that were taped to the stage, and I would plead for a pick from one of the guitarists, or a drumstick from the drummer. I would wait patiently for the band at the merch table after the show to get an autograph and a photo. And I would always hope that one day at a show, I’d talk to a super cute punk rock girl, someone who wore blue nail polish and sparkly makeup on her eyes and face, and a hoodie representing a band I listened to, and then we would be lifted up onto the pulsating mass of the concert-goers around us, and crowd-surf together…into the sunset. That never happened, but I always thought it might.

So, fast forward again to this past Tuesday. I was out in Denver for a conference, and it just so happened that New Found Glory was playing. My friend Dan lives out there, and loves them as much as I do, and we grew up going to shows together, and it had been years since we’ve done it, and so we were like…dude, this is a God thing, let’s make it happen!!! And so we did. And all day Tuesday I was honestly so pumped. I haven’t been as excited about something in months, and so I just was listening to their music, and rocking out in my room, and reminiscing on all of the good and bad memories that flooded back into my mind. It didn’t make me depressed at all, though. It just made me happy inside, because it felt like I had stepped into a portal of my past, and I was somehow able to deeply feel the deep feelings I felt all these years ago. You remember adolescence and young adulthood – it’s absolutely laden with emotion and passion and intense sensations of all types. That’s how I felt again. So much nostalgia. But none of the sad stuff. Just the good stuff. And even walking eight blocks to the concert venue underneath the downtown city lights, I was just buzzing with excitement and floating on a cloud. And I was like, man I should do this more often, I totally miss this feeling!

You remember adolescence and young adulthood – it’s absolutely laden with emotion and passion and intense sensations of all types. That’s how I felt again. So much nostalgia.

The show was ridiculous. It was absolutely bananas. And I had such a fantastic time. Really. I loved singing at the top of my lungs all of these lyrics which meant so much to me while growing up. They were the tangible representation of my emotional state of mind, and painted these vivid word pictures that crystallized the angst and pressure and fear and strangeness of every new experience I faced in life by simply reminding me that I wasn’t alone. And that others felt them too. I loved being up near the front of the stage, smooshed together with a thousand other people, with the lead singer periodically shoving the microphone in my face so I could sing along and feel even more a part of the delightful madness that surrounded me. It was one of the best nights ever. But…it got me thinking. And, like even the most amazing things we ever do in life, it left something to be desired.

I don’t want to point to the fact that I am now firmly ensconced in adulthood as the reason why I am not completely fulfilled by even the most awesome experiences in this world. But the fact is that as you get older, you gain perspective, and you realize that even mountaintop experiences still don’t fully satisfy. And what was profoundly obvious to me after the show was that everyone there wanted to be connected to the band. To the lyrics. To the music. To the punk rock scene. To what it represented – something cool, something edgy, something underground and DIY and decidedly outside of pop culture. I also wanted that connection – both that night and while growing up. I longed for it. I was actively seeking to be swept up in something bigger than myself. And to feel something transcendent – something above and beyond my own complicated but often mundane existence.

I was actively seeking to be swept up in something bigger than myself. And to feel something transcendentsomething above and beyond my own complicated but often mundane existence.

That’s how it is with everything we do. We are sometimes (frequently?) unsure of our identity – of who we are and where our value comes from – both as adolescents and as adults, and this makes us feel unstable. And so we gravitate towards something else that seems much more solid and stable. It could be your job, career, or the school you go to or went to. It could be CrossFit or yoga or favorite athletic activity. It could be your girlfriend or wife or kids. It could be your favorite sports team. I’ve done all of these things, and I still have a tendency to do it. But I’m trying to faithfully and fervently remind myself that I simply cannot get my identity from any of these external, temporal sources, and must take a gigantic step backward when I catch myself headed in that direction.

It’s not easy, though. Self-correcting your course back towards God feels pretty boring even though you know it’s the right thing to do. Basing your identity and worth after what God says about you is simply not as tangible nor as immediate as everything else. Yes, I can read His Word and meditate on how He feels about me – but it doesn’t usually translate to what my real life looks like at that moment. My real life looks like a mess sometimes – and sometimes feels like it. And God doesn’t deal in emotions as much as all of those other things we use to give us our identity instead. He’s not about making sure that we are, for example, bursting with anticipation and joy when we finish doing our devotional, or when we finish church, or after we listen to praise and worship music. You’ll recall I was so pumped on my way to the show on Tuesday night, but I don’t typically feel that way during my daily discipline of pursuing Him. Yes, it does happen on occasion, but I feel like He definitely does not want us equating Him to emotional highs because then we will equate Him to emotional lows. And while I know He cares deeply about our emotions, He doesn’t want our actions and choices in life tied to such a mercurial thing. He wants them based on our faith and trust in Him.

I feel like He definitely does not want us equating Him to emotional highs because then we will equate Him to emotional lows. And while I know He cares deeply about our emotions, He doesn’t want our actions and choices in life tied to such a mercurial thing.

I’m okay with that. I’ve lived long enough to know that He does always come through (although perhaps not in the way I want, but the way that is definitely best for me), and that sourcing my identity in anything else other than Him leaves me feeling unsettled, incomplete, and searching for more. Searching for better. Searching for the next thing. And still coming up short.

But when I base my identity in what He has said, and I get it inside of me, deep in the core of my being, I don’t feel like something is missing, and I don’t need to search anymore. He has clearly told me that before I was even born he set me apart. I’ve been dwelling on that sentiment for the last twenty years, and you’ve probably heard me say it in a meaningful conversation with you, if we’ve ever hung out one-on-one. And its truth is reflected in all of my attitudes and actions. I believe 100% that I am set apart – because He said so. Seriously, 100%, like, with zero doubt. And it is one of the most life-affirming, confidence-bestowing things ever.

He also says that I am chosen – which to me means that no one settled for me, but that I was wanted, and am wanted, because of my heart and my potential to do great things for Him and for others. This helps me to remember that no matter what anyone else says, and no matter how I feel on my crappiest days, He saw something in me way back in the day that prompted Him to chase after me and love me and never give up on me. And so I’m not going to give up on Him. He also says that I am created in His own image. I mean, nothing is more beautiful and spectacular and more rock-star than God. I value Him for being freaking awesome all the time, and so I am going to value myself regardless of how I’m feeling or even the mistakes I’ve made and the regrets I have because He made me like Him, and my heart’s desire is to always get better over time. And I believe that’s all He is asking of us.

No matter what anyone else says, and no matter how I feel on my crappiest days, He saw something in me way back in the day that prompted Him to chase after me and love me and never give up on me.

The concert was so rad, and I was really thankful that I went. Even now. But I have no desire to try to replicate the high I felt before the show or during the show. Even while I was rocking out with everyone else there in front of the stage, I could step outside myself and know the truth: that I was having an absolute blast, but it would end soon and take all of these warm feelings and nostalgia and belongingness and connectedness away when the stagehands were packing up the instruments and speakers and mic stands. But what wouldn’t end was the reality of the Lord in my life, and how much He loves me and values me. And the close, personal relationship I can forever enjoy with Him.

We have so many things here in this life to delight in and experience. But they’re just things, even though we sometimes make them to be so much more than that just to fulfill the longings we have and combat the insecurities we feel. I’m thankful that I am increasingly aware of my inclination to do this. I want to appreciate all He’s put in my life and all that He allows me to do, but I don’t want to get caught up in them and make them fulfill me, define me, and show me that I finally belong to something bigger and better than just myself. I just want to be caught up in Him. Because He’s already done all of that, in the best and most lasting way possible.