Back in early 2001, I was given the opportunity to go from being a web producer at Oxygen Media to being a television producer there. My executive producer had hand-picked me for the former role and when she saw cuts to the web staff coming down from on high, she wanted to secure my position in the company.
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This meant learning a whole new job – and I was thrilled at the challenge – but it had little resemblance to the one I was holding as a writer and editor. I had worked with words most of my career, something that was organic and that I spent careful time polishing. Mastering TV producing required a visual component I had no experience in and, as I discovered, wasn’t particularly adept at cultivating.
This all came back to me as I watched the movie “Game Change” on HBO last weekend. The film is based on the book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin and it chronicles the 2008 presidential campaign, specifically the choice of Sarah Palin as the vice presidential candidate and all that ensued within the campaign once she came on board.
I have little if any common ground with Palin politically, but as I sat rapt watching this movie, I saw her humanity in a way I had never seen before. Because, honestly, if you remove your political perspective from most situations and see people as people, the world has a way of opening up and there is more commonality or at least empathy than you might think.
Leaving room for the fact that this was an account based on the authors’ perspectives, but taking it for what it was on its face, I found this film a study in what can sometimes happen when we get in over our heads.
As a life coach, I am mostly in a position to cheerlead, to encourage the ambitious vision, to help the client see that anything is possible. But is it? This is less about putting doubts in people’s minds about what they can do and more about giving ourselves credit for taking the chance on something very big. That, especially if it becomes clear it isn’t a good fit, can eventually be what steers us to the right thing.
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Back in 2001 when I was given my amazing opportunity by a boss who really valued and believed in me, I was well aware that I was a TV producer whose associate producers and production assistants had more schooling in the field than I did. I would sit in the editing room knowing I was supposed to be directing the editors but they were often teaching me.
Perhaps if our whole staff hadn’t eventually been laid off months later I would still be producing television, but I knew at my core it wasn’t supposed to be. Not because I didn’t try or want to succeed, but because I was trying to force something that wasn’t me. It wasn’t the best use of my gifts, by any means.
As I watched Palin – Julianne Moore’s version – squirm and get defensive about learning foreign policy, I felt an enormous sense of empathy for another human being who went into an opportunity for the right reasons before realizing she was not nearly qualified to be a heartbeat away from being the commander-in-chief of the United States military. Imagine being a patriot and being asked by a war hero to run for the second highest office in the land. Heady stuff. Easy to mistake a call for a calling.
And, frankly, easy for our politically-obsessed citizens to either glorify or vilify Palin based on their own beliefs and projections. We pile on because that is the tone now. Or we trot out blind loyalty like that’s a good thing. Lazy options, both. All the building up and tearing down is tedious and it certainly isn’t humane.
Sarah Palin is a natural at interacting with people, of being relatable. There is a moment in the movie where it is poignantly brought home that she was dealing with a pregnant teen daughter, a special needs baby and a son serving in the military. All stressful taken separately, but together a dauntingly full plate. That’s before adding in the whole image revamping, speech making, and hitting the ground running on history and geography lessons.
I’m not here to question her decision making or to judge her level of intelligence, just to voice how fascinating it was to watch this process. Our respective journeys, if we’re paying attention, are bound to include some moments where we realize we have much more work to do if this is ultimately what we want.
I live just a 10-minute train ride from New York, so if I’d wanted to develop my TV producing skills, there were countless classes I could have taken or sources I could have tapped. That crossroads comes and we have to make the call.
Seeing Palin struggle brought me back to that in my own life and helped me put some perspective around my coaching practice and how I shepherd others in their quest to live full lives. Regardless of what goes down, it can strengthen our resolve to come back to it better prepared or it can help propel us to that next thing.
For me, “Game Change” sparked a welcome perspective shift from surface and knee-jerk to deep-seated and thoughtful. A few hours well spent.
Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to FOXGamePlan@gmail.com.