I fell into the interpretative world by accident. As an introvert who hated presentations throughout my academic career, standing in front of 100+ people leading programs seemed like the last job I would ever end up in. But thanks to some amazing mentors in my life, I ended up falling in love with interpretation.
However, even a lot of love can’t counteract some of the anxieties that still pop up on a daily basis. And apparently, those anxieties aren’t limited to interacting with people face to face – those ugly insecurities started to appear again when I was trying to think of a topic for this blog. So naturally, I decided the best course of action was to share some of those fears with you and a few ways I’m learning to adapt.
Anxiety #1: Not being the expert
Even though I work at an aquarium, my knowledge of fish is occasionally… well fishy. If people want to talk about marine mammals or shorebirds – Great! If guests want me to ID this random fish that they caught six months ago from a blurry picture – That’s not going to go as well.
I don’t know Jack
Luckily, I’m surrounded by a dynamic group of interpreters, each with our own specialties and interests to lean on. And, even though the Type A person in me is crying, I need to remember that it’s ok to admit I don’t know everything. Instead, I can reframe those moments into teachable opportunities for myself and the guests.
Anxiety #2: “Interpreter Blackout”
Ever spoken with someone and they ask a basic question – and you freeze? Or you’re doing a program you’ve done dozens of times and then can’t remember what on earth you said RIGHT AFTER it’s over? I’ve dubbed these instances “Interpreter blackouts” or “I promise I’m smart, just not right now” moments.
One of the ways I’ve found to help counteract these blackouts, is to try to remember to slow down and breathe during the day. As interpreters, we carry so much knowledge around in our heads, I think sometimes our brain revolts and we end up going through our day on autopilot – which is often what we’re out there telling people to not do! We need to remember to take a bit of our own advice, slow down, be in the moment, and appreciate what’s happening around us.
Anxiety #3: Animals Gone Wild
Nature is infinitely more awesome than I will ever be. But (you knew it was coming) sometimes combining guests and nature can create some tricky, impromptu interpretive conversations… like the one time a shark snapped at a fish during one of my dive programs. Nature does what it wants. Stingrays get frisky, birds don’t have the best table manners, and occasionally an animal just wants a little me time.
FYI: Breaking out into “The Circle of Life” is NOT an appropriate response
Interpreting the awkward moments forces me to rely on all my background knowledge and steer the narrative to the positive place. Does this always happen? Nope. But keeping a few puns in the back of my pocket and being open to interpret even when I’m uncomfortable usually ends up being some of the best interactions I have with people. Though sometimes it also brings me straight into the last anxiety…
Anxiety #4: Interesting Comments/Actions from Guests
Oh goodness. Which example to choose?
I could write about all the negative comments about snakes I hear. Or the number of people who jokingly ask me what something tastes like.
Not a turtley awesome moment for me
I could even mention the time I had a ten-minute conversation with a person who was VERY interested in barnacle reproduction, which, while fascinating, isn’t something you want to go into a ton of detail with fifteen young children around. (Sorry parents, all your kids just learned that barnacles have the largest penis in the animal kingdom relative to size. Whoops.)
Navigating conversations with people isn’t always going to go as planned. And quite frankly, this is something that I’ve only gotten better at with time and practice. Rocky situations are going to come up and sometimes all you can do is nod and roll with it to the best of your abilities. When I started in the field, I would go home and overanalyze my responses. Now, I still overanalyze, but I do it with chocolate, humor, and a better understanding of how the unexpected can be an opportunity for growth.
Any of these anxieties hit home for you? It’s so easy for us to feel like we’re the only ones who get nervous when we see how confident other interpreters appear. But you’re not alone. Falling on your face occasionally doesn’t make you a bad interpreter! I think many of us would argue that working through insecurities and messing up is a vital part of learning to interpret. Like Tilden says: “Interpretation is an art, which combines many arts, whether the materials presented are scientific, historical or architectural. Any art is in some degree teachable.” Let’s turn anxieties into teachers.
Photo credit: 1: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gfp-crevalle-jack.jpg 2: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/405112928959650849 3: https://disney-sheet-music.com/circle-life-lyrics/ 4: “Getting out of my shell”, taken by one of my coworkers