Riffing on the concept of ‘real’

In a podcasting workshop I took, the half-joke was that you’re not a real podcaster until you forget to hit record.

I half-joke with my guests that I hope never to be a real podcaster.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been trail running for the first time. (Typically, I’ve saved running for smoother surfaces and stick to moving more slowly over rocks and such.) On Tuesday, I fell. Hit the ground before I even knew I was off balance, though I know my right toe caught a rock. 

Knee bruised and bloody but probably looks worse than it is, I asked, “Am I a real trail runner now?”

(Of course, I move too slowly to be a real runner at all.)

These things take two paths in my brain.

Path 1:

First, as it applies more broadly, I’m struck by the labeling.

Things I’ve heard people say:

“_______ isn’t a real job.” (The fill depends on the speaker’s level of condescension.) 

“Do you have a real podcast?” (Um…)

“You’re not a real adult until _____.” (The fill depends on the speaker’s life experience and probably their parents’ expectations.)

“If you ______, you’re not a real man.” (Seriously? We’re still so narrow in our definitions that there’s something that could adequately fill in that blank?)

“Real women want _____.” (Again, I can’t think of something to fill in that blank that is specific to  both all women and no one else.)

None of it is useful. It’s full of shaming and shame doesn’t elicit behavior change.

For example, what’s your goal in telling someone they don’t have a real job? To make them feel bad about the work they’re doing? (To make yourself feel better about the work you’re doing?) 

If you’re hoping they’ll find a different job, regardless your potentially-legitimate rationale, there are other conversations to have that are healthier and more likely to be productive. People don’t tend to level up when they feel bad about themselves.

If you’re trying to get someone else to change and your argument includes them being a “real” anything, rethinking your argument might yield better results.

This all requires us to buy into the concept of realness in the first place.

“I’m not a real runner.”

“I’m not a real artist.”

“I’m not a real [person who has a specific skill]” is self-protective or self-demeaning or both.

If there’s a thing that you do and it requires some sort of skill (read: nearly everything), you can say that you are a do-er of the thing. Being a Thing Do-er doesn’t automatically make you great or competitive or paid or anything like that, but if you’re spending your time doing it, why not own it?

Where’s the line between just starting to learn and being a Thing Do-er? I don’t know, but I also don’t think it’s nearly as important as we think it is, unless you’re intentionally deceitful. In that case, stop being a jerk.

If the thing you do is potentially confusing, maybe add context. “I’m a teacher but not in a school” for example, since people would reasonably assume that you’re working in a school of some sort if you’re a teacher.

Path 2:

Back to the two initial examples: I have not yet forgotten to hit record and thus am not a real podcaster but I have eaten dirt, so to speak, and thus am a real trail runner.

At some point when I was considering these two things side by side, I had a flash of gratitude for earning the Trail Running Badge of Realness and not the podcasting one.

Wait, what?

Honestly, I surprised even myself with that one.

Because my injured parts will heal. And because no one witnessed my tumble (though a biker came by very shortly after, so there was help if I needed it). 

But if I didn’t record an interview? I’d have to talk to my guest about it. And I would feel incredibly stupid. And I imagine rerecording the interview—if a second take was available—would not be … comfortable.

I guess my body still heals better than my ego. I’m sure I’m not alone in this, I’m sure some readers think I’m nuts in this, and I’m sure at some point my body’s capacity to heal will decrease enough that this will be a tighter race.

Until (and after!) then, I continue to try not to inflict injuries on either.

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