When I first started studying journalism, it was nothing like I expected it to be. I love writing and storytelling — I always have. But I didn’t like the idea of my sentences having to be short. Or concise. I struggled so much with being brief — and still do. I prefer long sentences charged with emotion. I also grew weary of fact checking. Of calling the people I interviewed again and again to make sure I had everything right. So.... why was I still studying journalism if it seemed like everything but what I wanted to do with my life?
The more I learned about the importance of accuracy and of focusing on the event rather than the emotions, (two aspects that had never been priorities in my life), the more I realized why I needed them.
Focus on the story, not the storyteller
In journalism, we must focus on the story, and not on the storyteller. And I believe something similar happens when it comes to processing our emotions. When I experience a difficult situation, I always tend to drown in my emotions. And yet, there is power in stepping back and having some distance. In understanding the event rather than the story we’re telling ourselves around the event. It’s easier said than done. But I will share something that has worked for me.
First, we must allow ourselves to feel. Allow ourselves to cry. To surrender. It’s important to feel these difficult emotions, as we can’t dismiss something we haven’t felt. But after we’ve felt, what do we do with the leftover residue? How do we process our emotions?
There is a beautiful meditation called RAIN, by Tara Brach. This is one of the tools I use to cultivate self-compassion after experiencing challenging emotions. Meditation, for instance, allows me to observe the problem rather than drown in it. It allows me to understand and embrace. To step aside and understand emotions through empathy, not through conditioning from the past.
I am focusing on the present. In the story. The facts. And then, as the storyteller, I can decide what stories I tell myself around that event. Because in the end, we can’t decide what challenges life brings to us. But we can decide what stories we tell ourselves around those challenges.
Fact-checking is your best friend
When it comes to dealing with life, getting the facts straight is so important. We all have some beliefs and stories we're telling ourselves that are not true. For instance, the typical “I am not ____ enough.” I am not smart, good-looking, funny, creative or strong enough. It’s so common for us to feel like we’re not good enough to be pursuing a certain career or to love a specific person. How common is the phrase “I am not smart enough to study at Northwestern”? Or “I am not talented enough to join that club?” Well, let me tell you something. You are good enough. But whenever we feel like we aren’t, we must fact check.
We must go back to the main source — ourselves — and ask why we believe something in the first place. Have we been conditioned into this belief or is it something we truly believe? Are we basing our success on the accomplishments of others or on our personal growth? We tend to be so self-critical. We admire the abilities of others yet tend to take our own for granted. But, how can we fact-check with ourselves?
I once got this beautiful advice: talk to yourself, look at yourself and have empathy with yourself the way you would to a friend or someone you love.
If you’re at Northwestern, it’s because you’re smart enough. If you have a beautiful friendship, it’s because you’re kind enough. If you have a certain passion, do it, because you are talented enough.
We must go back and revisit our beliefs and tweak them — again and again — to make sure that they align with who we are.
There is so much power in storytelling. And not only regarding the stories we write about others, but also the stories we write about ourselves. We must face life as it is in the moment and not let ourselves be shadowed by the past. We must question our dysfunctional beliefs and the stories we tell ourselves. You have the power to write your own story. And although focusing on the story (rather than the storyteller) and fact-checking are the concepts I’ve struggled with the most, these core aspects of journalism have taught me huge lessons I wasn’t expecting at all.