Kumbayah and being honest

(This post re-blogged from Spring ’13 Advanced Reporting.)

On Wednesday, our advanced reporting class had a discussion about maintaining our professional health, which included a foray into what it looks like to keep our mental health in check.

Thursday, I talked to Tom about discussing my stress-management techniques in a blog post, and I told him it was going to sound a lot like “let’s all sing kumbayah and hold hands.”

He told me that was fine, and thus do I present my solution to newsroom stress.

The answer, in a word, is honesty.

Let me start out by practicing what I preach. I  tend to feel overwhelmed, get nervous, wrestle with self-doubt, put myself down and let worry run my life. I had a hard time with all of these during 4450, and they’re still present now. (Disclaimer: The fact that I experienced these things wasn’t necessarily 4450′s fault. I was dealing with a lot last year, more than I was willing to admit at the time, and it made reporting hard for me. See? Honesty.)

Now that I’ve admitted this, anyone who has similar difficulties coping with stress is free to say, “Me too. I guess I’m not the only one.”

Of everything I’ve tried to manage my stress since 4450, conversations like the one we had Wednesday have done more to help me stay motivated, focused and balanced than any calendar or walk or  motivational conversation with myself ever did.

I stressed or beat myself up when I  compare myself with other people or with standards I don’t feel like I can reach. Most of the time, I do this because I’m somewhat convinced that I’m the only person who feels stuck.

But when I’m honest, I realize I’m not the only one feeling overwhelmed or who has trouble with a source or a story. It reminds me that I’m here to learn because I don’t magically know what I’m doing, and it helps me build camaraderie with the other reporters because I realize that we’re all in this together, figuring out what it means to learn journalism.

And you know what happens when I realize those things?

I start to enjoy what I’m doing.

This semester has been hard, but that’s what I signed up for when I decided to take advanced reporting. But even though I’ve felt stressed and burnt out, I have liked journalism more this semester than I have in, well, a long time. I see it when I go into interviews with a little more confidence, when I find a story that I know I want to write, when I pitch an idea instead of wanting to hide under the table.

I still get overwhelmed sometimes (OK, maybe a lot of times), but when I got honest enough with myself to realize that I’m here to learn and that I’m not in this adventure by myself, I started accepting the hard parts and facing them instead of letting them get to me. And that has made the difference in how I handle stress.

OK, so maybe this is a little heavy on the kumbayah, but I figured that given my theme, I might as well be honest.

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