How do you face your fears?
As I prepared to register for classes this semester, I realized I only had two classes available for my major. I wanted to take a couple of English classes that would help my fiction. The VA program that was paying my tuition wouldn’t allow me to take something outside of my major though. Plus, with only two classes, I’d drop to half time, with a resulting drop in my monthly stipend for school. So without a whole lot of thought, I signed up for JRMC 2513, also known as Honors TCC Connection.
The Connection is the TCC student newspaper. I thought taking a course like that for credit while getting some writing clips under my belt couldn’t be a bad thing at all. I’m still not certain what I’m going to do when I’m through with school, but any writing credits are good at this point.
Class time doubles as a staff meeting. Story topics get discussed and assignments passed around. Because I wasn’t actually a staff member (those are paid position, interestingly enough), I didn’t get any assigned stories. Jerry Goodwin, the newspaper’s advisor, did open the floor for story ideas though, and I made a suggestion without really thinking it through. That’s becoming a pattern, sadly.
What did I want to write about for my first-ever story? I picked something simple and non-controversial. Something easy to cover.
Yeah, I didn’t think that one through at all.
It’s timely and local – Texas just instituted campus carry. But it’s also controversial. Faculty members tend solidly and vocally against the idea, at least in public. My research suggests though that there is a non-negligible amount of political pressure on faculty and staff to toe the public line, or at least not disagree in public.
Mr. Goodwin greenlit the story. I didn’t expect him to say anything against it, but I wasn’t sure he would just turn me loose either. I halfway expected a suggestion that I work with one of the more experienced reporters. But he’s given me free reign to cover it, and all the support I could expect.
I knew that I’d need to do several interviews on the subject, including talking to Students for Concealed Carry as well as the Campaign to Keep Guns Off Campus. It would be good to talk to the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education as well as TCC President Leigh Goodson.
I started making my phone calls and sending emails to arrange the interviews, and it took several of each to make contact with each person and organization.
I didn’t start getting nervous until I had two interviews set up. The first was a phone interview with Casey Wehrenberg of SFCC. Wehrenberg became involved with SFCC as a student, and now that he’s graduated, serves as the group’s Oklahoma legislative director. We traded emails over several days and missed connections on the first call. Once we actually connected though, it was a great interview.
I think it helped that the first interview was with someone for the cause instead of against it. It’s no secret that I carry a firearm, and I’m in favor of campus carry. Casey didn’t know that though, and even though I told him I had a license, that didn’t necessarily make me one of the good guys. I was still a reporter, after all. We still ended up having a great conversation though.
Dr. Goodson was the second interview, four days after talking with Casey. That one also took several emails and phone calls, as well as coordinating multiple schedules, since a Connection staff photographer, Cecil Sunny-Phillip would be joining me.
I was a little intimidated here. This was the big leagues.
OK, the Connection isn’t exactly the New York Times, but it’s a real newspaper. I was not only representing myself but also the Connection.
Dr. Goodson runs a college of 30,000 students and 2,700 faculties and staff, stretched across half a dozen campuses. It’s the largest community college in the state. She’s had a long career in education, leaving a VP position at Oklahoma State to lead TCC.
I’m not new to the collegiate world. Dad taught for 18 years at a “small, private Midwestern college,” and was the chair of the music department for several of those years. I had occasion to meet President Sherill Cleland several times as a kid, and recall him as a very kind gentleman. When I later worked for Marietta College as a security officer, then a campus police officer, I met President McDonough more than once around campus. I recall being a little more daunted by McDonough than Cleland, although I’m not exactly sure why that was. Maybe because McDonough figuratively signed my paycheck, and Cleland was just the nice old guy in the bow tie that Dad worked with. At any rate, college presidents weren’t something new to me.
But I was a little nervous.
This was my first “real” in-person interview for a news article.
Was this where everyone figured out I was a fraud who had no business pretending to be a reporter? Was this where some of my deepest fears came true?
I had taken some classes in news writing and passed them all with flying colors. But who did I think I was, putting on airs and acting like I knew what I was doing?
I didn’t sleep exceptionally well the night before. My subconscious kept coming up with all sorts of things that could go wrong. My digital recorder would fail. I’d forget all of my pens and pencils. I’d forget the paper I wrote my questions on. None of my business casual clothes would fit, making me attend the interview in a t-shirt and jeans.
Getting It Over With
Cecil and I met at the TCC Conference Center about 15 minutes early, giving me plenty of time to get myself even more worked up. Nicole Burgin, the Media Relations Specialist who had been helping me set the interview up, escorted us to Dr. Goodson’s office. Sean Weins, Vice President for Administration, joined us there since the story would involve campus police and safety, and the TCC PD reported to him. I didn’t know he was going to be there, so I became a little more nervous, but it ended up helpful to have him there.
Naturally, despite all my fear, the interview went well. We talked about the issue for almost the full half-hour we had, and Dr. Goodson even slipped into her old advisor mode. They couldn’t have been more gracious and helpful. As we were wrapping up, Weins complimented me on my preparations, saying it was obviously not my first rodeo. We all chuckled when I confessed to him that it actually was my first interview.
A few days later, I came up with a couple of follow-up questions. We handled those via a conference call, and again, Weins and Dr. Goodson were great to work with, despite it being a traumatic and difficult week for them.
I’m something of an introvert, and I’ve always been shy. It would have been easy for me to bail out of this story when I realized I was going to have to do face-to-face interviews with people. But I’m going to have to do that no matter where I end up writing, so I may as well start getting over it. I’ll admit I enjoyed the drive home by myself. It gave me a chance to go back over the interview in my head and figure out what I might have done better. But it also gave me the chance to recharge.
What’s the takeaway from this for my readers?
Learn to face your fears. Deal with them realistically, and in a healthy way. Don’t let your fears define you or overwhelm you. The big help for me was doing a couple of email interviews, then a phone interview. That let me ramp up the interaction, and learn that I wasn’t going to be a gibbering idiot when the time came.
How do you handle your first-time fears? Share your favorite techniques in the comments.
Originally published on Bob Mueller
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