What I'm Learning By Having An Identity Crisis

I quit directing films. Or I thought I did. Seriously. Then I landed a dream job that in no time took me from strictly editing videos to directing and editing a docuseries and other documentary-driven content I'm super excited about. Even a year after taking the job I'm actually more excited about it all the time. It's not without its considerable challenges, but one thing I am able to draw on is years of experience conducting on-camera interviews and cutting together documentary-style content. Am I an expert at my job? Pfffff, please! The word "expert" is so loaded and often overused. But I do have unique experiences that have set me up to hopefully excel in this new role (not least of which is the fact that I'm enjoying what I do).

I could list all kinds of things I've done in the past, from shooting and editing documentary-style work to the in-depth story development I've done for narrative films, but I want to focus on two things that I suspect are currently helping me the most: knowing I'm not an expert and going through an identity crisis.

Knowing I'm Not an Expert

I'm a firm believer in continuous improvement. Valuing such a thing means believing that evolution of self and skills is possible. In other words, there's always more to learn. That's why I'm starting to think the whole idea of "expert" is a little hard to pin down. My value of continuous improvement means I'm always game for doing things like reading books or taking courses, or listening to anyway who might have valuable insights to offer me. To that end, I've been digging into some books of documentary filmmaking and watching Ken Burns' Master Class.

I'm also part of an amazing team that is actively examining our processes to discover waste and rework and create new, more intuitive ways to create great content. This process alone is really humbling and amazing. It requires me to set aside years of assumptions and to really examine things with fresh eyes. The process of creating documents that spell out our standard work for our on-going shooting and editing exposes so many assumptions and bad habits that get picked up second hand or directly handed down to guys like us because "it's just the way filmmaking has always been done."

Embracing Uncertainty (or, "Shut up, Imposter Syndrome")

The awesome thing about taking this approach is that it keeps me humble (I'm quite openly acknowledging I don't know everything), it keeps me excited because I'm constantly learning new things and trying new approaches, and it helps me quiet that voice inside my head that tries to tell me I don't know what I'm doing (you know, imposter syndrome). That last point might seem counterintuitive. After all, if I'm acknowledging I don't know everything, doesn't that make me an imposter if I think I can show up and direct a whole docu-series? Nope! You can only be an impostor if you're keeping a secret. I'm not keeping a secret. I'm saying, I know some things, I have some ideas. But I also know right up front that this is going to be a growth and learning journey and if I'm going to do my best then it's going to be by being willing to take feedback, learn from others, and assume I don't have all the answers.

Ah, uncertainty. It's a beautiful thing when you finally start learning to embrace it.

Oh, but I should also point out that I'm not an expert at embracing uncertainty. I'm really insecure and prone to crave certainty and comfortable familiarity as much as anyone. But embracing uncertainty is another one of those awesome life skills I've been trying to develop for quite a while. Assuming you don't know everything and have lots to learn is a great way to also embrace uncertainty.

So I march forward with the support of a great team and the goal of being a bit better today than we were yesterday. In the process, the work may not always be super exciting at every moment of every day (but what work is?), yet we do get to tell some really impactful and meaningful stories and, hear from people who might not otherwise be given a platform to speak out, and dream up whole new ways of being a collaborative team doing work we love.


© 2020 by Mikel J. Wisler.

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