I met Ashley Masters about a year ago while she was studying here in Cambridge, MA. She reached out again after reading my piece The Problem When You Aren't in Pain. I then invited her to share her journey over the past couple of years. I like what she has to say. I hope you do too.
The name precedes me. Not mine, the newscaster name with the matching short vowels and symmetrical s’s. Not that one. The name. Harvard.
I realize this as I walk a step behind the click clack of my interviewer’s heels, up the stairs and into the quiet buzz and hum of the designers’ workspace—I can hardly believe it, the way she talks to me, the way she introduces me. Like I’m a professional. Like I belong there. Catching on to the charade, I quicken my pace, straighten my back, and walk uprightly next to her. Eye contact, firm handshake, careful articulation: check, check, check.
It’s my first gig out of grad school. Before that, it was the hustle and bustle of covering everything from the big wigs of Capitol Hill to the big-haired celebrities of Hollywood as an intern with NBC News Channel in Washington D.C., then CNN Entertainment in Los Angeles. That dream’s luster faded sometime during the wee hours of the morning as I sat behind my desk pulling overnights as an associate producer for a local news station. In the dimly lit newsroom, I sat nervously sipping on free soda, pounding out story after story, sweating under the pressure of every deadline-soaked second that passed.
I would have stayed if the herculean effort I was expending meant something. If it helped someone, if it changed something. But it didn’t. Somewhere along the line, local news stopped doing that. As much as I sat and I thought and I mulled and I questioned, I couldn’t find the “why” of local news, or at least my involvement in it. For that reason, I left. A program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education offered an opportunity that would allow me to stay in media, but fill it with something more meaningful—educational content.
That’s why I’m here now, interviewing with a software company that designs digital activities, games, and videos aimed at teaching children English. It’s my first attempt at a “grown-up” job in the education industry, and I’m worried, frightened, anxious, and
An article I read recently quotes Maya Angelou as effectively saying that one day they would find her out, find out she couldn’t write, that she had somehow fooled them. She, the treasured author of books and works that changed the world—a self-proclaimed crook! Her words resonated with me. I related to the feeling of being a secret phony. I won’t pretend that Wikipedia’s “Imposter Syndrome” webpage and I aren’t dear friends.
Derivatives of self-doubt can be helpful. The feeling of needing to build credibility can propel growth, stretch limits, and elicit a strong work ethic, perhaps stronger than that which would be accomplished with 100 percent confidence. Others’ high expectations (whether perceived or real) for and of us can help us see potential we perhaps didn’t know we had. But negative self-questioning thoughts and feelings, unchecked, can devour ambition and prevent often-necessary risk taking. And living someone else’s dream gets old. Real old, real quick.
Now seated in a sunny corner office, I watch as one of my interviewer’s teams walks in. A quick glance around confirms I am the youngest in the room. Introductions are made, and then begin the questions. The surprise comes when I open my mouth. Answers come out, but they’re startlingly…well, good. References to my role in producing professional development videos for WGBH, helping work on early iterations of videos for a HarvardX MOOC, building a mockup of a website intended to help promote early literacy through video recordings of children’s books being read aloud. As I listen to myself, it dawns on me. I know my stuff.
That day, I entered the building with a borrowed image of confidence, talent, and professionalism. But when I left, I walked out realizing I wasn’t a borrower, I hadn’t simply made a down payment—I’d earned it. I walked out the door, an owner.
Ashley Masters is the smoothie you’d end up with if you put a curious journalist, passionate storyteller, and hopeful educator in a blender and turned it on liquefy. She believes in creating media that inspires, excites, delights, and educates. Ashley holds a BA in Communications from Brigham Young University and is a recent graduate of the Technology, Innovation, and Education cohort at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She currently works for a software company in Utah that develops educational games, activities, and videos for children. Playing the harp, swimming, traveling, and photography are what maintain her sanity.