Beyond being the voice of one of my favourite characters, Dory, I don’t follow talk-show host Ellen. She doesn’t talk about or address race or intersectionality in her work, and from what I’ve seen of her show, it’s not political. But on October 19th, Ellen came to Vancouver for a moderated discussion at the Rogers Arena, and I won tickets to hear her speak. And so I went, curious about why people would spend so much to hear a moderated conversation, and curious about the content of the conversation itself. The show itself had much to critique about it – the speakers weren’t diverse and Ellen kept speaking about visiting Africa instead of describing what she actually did, which was visit Rwanda to see its gorillas. But I had expected all of that, and so instead of being an upsetting experience, I heard something in the show I wasn’t expecting. I heard a description of Ellen’s career and the career lessons she had learnt along the way.
In an interview, it is impossible to anticipate every possible question you will be asked. You can prepare by thinking of possible questions and practice ways to structure your answers, but even with the best preparation, you still need to be comfortable with uncertainty. Without that comfort, it can be difficult to access your creativity and thinking skills at a time when they matter a lot.
Investing in your skills is one way to practice. But when I speak with students in advising appointments or in workshops, learning to be confident in unfamiliar situations is a recurring theme in our conversations. And because of the frequency of these conversations, I’ve been curious recently about how to become more flexible and confident in interview situations. To learn more, I recently went to an improv class for people of colour hosted by the incredible and welcoming Blind Tiger Comedy.
I don’t like change, and to be at ease, I need to know exactly what is going to happen so that I can plan for it. In other words, uncertainty is my least favourite thing. Improv on the other hand, is all about working with the unexpected and creating something meaningful, so taking this class (something miles outside of my comfort zone) was the best way I could think of to simulate what an interview situation might feel like.
Here are some of the things I learned through the class:
I recently saw a fantastic interview between Cmdr Chris Hadfield and Jian Ghomeshi that I highly recommend watching in its entirety. In case this advice is helpful to others too, below are a few gems from their conversation.
Q: What is the most important lesson you think you’ve taken away from the space program?
C.H: If you look big picture, I think the important thing is to give yourself something in life that you really want to do. What is exciting? What is the thing in the distance that if things worked out, you just see yourself doing ten years from now. Or 20 years from now… And then figure out how you can just start nudging yourself along one decision at a time. And you can change directions. I’ve just changed direction. I’ve just retired after a long career. I’m picking those things now and trying to decide what skills I will need in order to head that direction with my life.
Important to remember two things:
1) Don’t have to go straight there.
2) Don’t make that thing be the measure of your self worth. Try and celebrate every little victory, every day. Come out of every day saying today was a good day. I got to do this and this and this. I liked all the stages in my career along the way. Don’t want to get my self worth wrapped up in things in the future that may never happen.
- I feel a compulsion to make the most of myself. It’s kind of like a way of dealing with life. I sort of look at these are the various skills I’ve been given, these are the things I can do, and if I am not trying to make the most of all the various talents and capabilities I have and opportunities I have, then I am wasting my own time and wasting other people’s time to some degree. It drives me to try and not let things slip away. I really feel an urge to do something useful, to make the most of what I have. So that drives me, that compels me, it makes me continue to work. It gives me reasons and I like it.
- I think the real key to social media is to be honest. To tell people what it is that you saw, and what it meant to you, and why. It’s social media, it’s not marketing media. It’s not “I’m trying to sell you dishsoap”. It’s I saw this incredible thing, or this incredible thing meant this to me and here is why. And this is what it looked like.
- I didn’t do this to become a rockstar. I did this because I found it fundamentally interesting and worthwhile and I thought everybody should be interested in it. So I pursued it doggedly for a long time. And most of the the work I’ve done has been completely uncelebrated like anyone’s work…Anyone who shines for a moment, it’s the result of all those unheralded things that it happens. It wasn’t like it was a springboard so that finally I could be famous. That wasn’t the intent. It was more the opposite. I’m not trying to sell people something, I’m trying to share the wonder of the experience with them and I’m delighted so many people share back.
- [story about replacing his cupboards when his house got flooded and really enjoying the experience] I feel exactly the same way about my career. It’s not like I go around now that I don’t live in that house anymore missing that set of cupboards. I did that. And it took a lot of work. And I’m really happy about how it made me feel and with the result that it left, but I don’t spend my life wishing that I was still building those cupboards. That’s not how I view life. There’s a lot more cupboards to build. You can take great delight in learning any new thing. I have 30 or 40 years I hope of cupboards to build,things to think about and new stuff to learn and stuff to try and accomplish.”