Its part of the human experience to tell ourselves a story about the kind of person we are and why we choose to do what we do. This innate storytelling tendency extends to the professional personas we build as sign language interpreters. Have you ever paused to question if you actually resemble the sign language interpreter that you narrate you are in your head?
While it’s not a stretch to believe that most of the stories washing over us are being told in support of a particular point of view, it is far more challenging to consider the presence of a slant in the very story we tell ourselves. Particularly, when it may result in a mental throwdown over what we believe the caliber and impact of our work is and what it may actually be. Aaron Brace’s article, The Duality of the Sign Language Interpreter, explores this epic internal struggle.
With that said, I think most would acknowledge that a slant, likely more than one, exists in the story we narrate to ourselves as sign language interpreters. I’m not suggesting that we deliberately weave untrue stories about our work to our consumers and ourselves. Rather, that presence of the slant drives us to only narrate the highlights, even the flattering, and leave the rest in the “not news worthy” pile.
Clearly, with the discretion and autonomy, as highlighted by Anna Witter-Merithew in her article, Sign Language Interpreters: Stepping Out of the Shadow of Invisibility, we have as sign language interpreters, to believe we are the sum our highlight reel is problematic.
In my mind, the most problematic aspect of the presence of a slant in our professional narrative is its ability to impair self-awareness. As any seasoned interpreter can attest, an appropriate level of self-awareness is critical to finding success in the sign language interpreting profession. If we operate while suffering from an impaired awareness of self, we risk exposing our consumers and colleagues to deficits in our ability to:
1) Appropriately acknowledge our weaknesses and limitations.
You’ve seen it. Damage done. Enough said.
2) Remain conscious of our biases.
It is easy, when lacking an appropriate level of self-awareness, to allow our preconceptions to infiltrate our interpretation and skew the meaning and intent of an intended communication.
3) Earn social currency.
Operating without an appropriate level of self-awareness challenges even the best of us to authentically connect with consumers and meeting participants. This prevents us from efficiently navigating unfamiliar environments in order to effectively to our work.
If as sign language interpreters we are operating with these deficits, we position ourselves to make mistakes in our work and ultimately erode the trust needed to successfully deliver an experience worthy of our consumer’s confidence.
Embrace the Slant to Succeed
It occurs to me that in order for us to successfully overcome the slant, we need to embrace it. By embracing it, I am suggesting that we use what we know about it to our advantage.
What do we know? We know the slant enjoys opining on accomplishment. We know if mistakes must be mentioned, it likes them minimized. We know the slant views vulnerability as a public relation nightmare. How do we harness its incessant narcissism to our advantage?
Reframe. Reframe. Reframe.
We need to reframe our failures, shortcomings, and moments of vulnerability so they are “news worthy.” We can do this by viewing:
1) Daily failures as learning opportunities.
After all, the hero in every story learns important lessons along the way. Let’s recognize the value of these lessons, be honest about needing them, and acknowledge they are to our betterment.
2) Vulnerability as strength training.
By using moments of vulnerability as an opportunity to genuinely engage our consumers and colleagues to draw on their experience and expertise, we will find sage advice and a connection to something much greater than ourselves—the forward progress of the profession.
3) Revision as an opportunity.
As the narrator, each of us has the ability and opportunity to rewrite the narrative in our heads—in whole or in part. We should always remind ourselves that we may not have the ability to control the outcome, but we can control how we respond to it.
By choosing to reframe our failures, shortcomings and vulnerabilities we expand the series of “news worthy” events used to define who we are and why we do what we do. In a profession that requires a high level of self-awareness, this is definitely to our advantage.
BTW, the slant finds all of this “news worthy.”
In the end, the type of story we narrate to ourselves as sign language interpreters has a significant impact on the work that we do. While it is not likely that we will ever resemble the sign language interpreter we narrate we are in our heads, we should aspire to resemble an interpreter that is not the measure of their highlight reel, but one who can authentically connect with their consumers and colleagues and deliver an experience worthy of their confidence.
Suggestions on how to keep the slant in check?