Knowing what’s good for you
When I was young I wanted to be a television presenter. I don’t know why. It was probably because television was my window on the world in the pretty-but-dull English village where I lived. Everything seemed to come to us through it: important news, the big sporting events I loved and all kinds of comedy and entertainment. And television presenters seemed to be at the heart of everything. They were everyone’s friend, living in a privileged world with special knowledge and access. It was a world where I wanted to be.
By last week, when I made my first ever appearance on live television, I already was well aware that, of course, my young self had fallen for an illusion. Behind the smiles and relaxation we see on screen, there are a lot of nerves and endless hard work. I’d been asked to appear on the (very) local television station in the city where I live. They were making a series of features on foreigners who’d come to live in Badalona and my name had come up. I agreed and a few weeks ago, a journalist came to my home to make a short film to be shown before my live interview. That went very well, although I was predictably upstaged by my utterly relaxed eight-year-old son, who seemed to be a complete natural on camera. I was pleased, though, that they wanted to show me at work and that I was able to explain a little about translation and why I don’t find it dull or monotonous.
Then, last week I went to the TV station, had my face made up and was ushered into the studio. It was impressive to see the presenter, who only a moment before had been nervously slipping out for a cigarette, suddenly appear confident, relaxed and smiling as soon as the camera was on her. I felt anything but laid back, especially after the deep discomfort of having to watch myself in the film report they’d made and which went out first, but I did my best to stay smiling. I don’t know what horrified me so much about seeing myself on television, but I was silently squirming the whole time it was on. Even in English it would have been bad enough, but, of course, I was speaking Catalan and seeing the report made me acutely aware of my accent and every mistake or hesitation. It wasn’t exactly the ideal preparation for being interviewed live.
When it actually came to it, I don’t think I did such a bad job, although all the time I was fighting to stop my mind going blank and to overcome fear of appearing ridiculous. But friends and my wife’s family here have all congratulated me, so I must have done something right. I haven’t been able to bear to watch it, of course, although anyone who’s interested can see the piece here, just after an hour into the programme.
It all made me think about how long it’s taken me to get to know myself properly. The idea I could ever have successfully become a TV presenter is so ridiculous to me now that I can’t believe I ever entertained it. But I still maintained hopes that it was something I might achieve until well into my journalistic career, in my twenties. It took me so many years to understand that what I was really cut out for was writing and that the kind of stress generated in a television studio was more likely to paralyse than inspire me. But even having become a translator and left the idea of television far behind, I hadn’t entirely learned my lesson and I made some unwise and unfortunate forays into the world of interpreting, a world for which I am entirely unsuited, as you can read here.
There is, of course, a fine line between knowing and acting on your limitations and being stuck in a permanent rut, but I believe that being aware of your character and choosing a career that suits it gives you the kind of mental peace and harmony you will never achieve if you’re striving for something that’s not really right for you. It’s certainly a lesson I wish I’d learned earlier in life but I’m very grateful I’ve now found a job that suits me as well as translation does. Being comfortable at work, however, doesn’t mean not stretching or pushing yourself from time to time if you have a particular aim in mind or if you simply happen to feel like it, as I did when I appeared on television this week. Just please don’t ask me to watch that recording…
This blog will now be taking a summer break. Normal service will be resumed in September.