Thursday, February 16, 2012

Finding My Voice

There are people in our lives who loom so large that we lose sight of the fact that they are still mere mortals. They may be trainwreck celebrities or historical figures or parents. We admire them, loathe them, or simply find ourselves with our jaws open as they shave their own heads in front of the paparazzi.

Diane Rehm is one such person for me. Diane hosts a two-hour live call-in show on National Public Radio each weekday. Her shows are consistently topical and in-depth, with guests who are leaders in their field. The Diane Rehm Show has won a multitude of prestigious awards, including a 2010 George Foster Peabody Award. Over the ten years that I have been listening to the show, I am constantly impressed by the quality of guests, topic selection, and questions. I have discovered several of my favorite books as a result of listening to Diane's show.

I started listening to the Diane Rehm Show when I was an undergraduate student and I immediately responded to her direct interview style, the respect with which she treats her guests and callers, and the way she handles people who become too loquacious. As someone who is constantly striving to learn new things and explore that which is unfamiliar, Diane is a bit of a personal hero to me.

So imagine my intense enthusiasm when I stumbled across her book on iTunes. I immediately uploaded it and started reading (this was obviously before the advent of my 100 Days of Not Purchasing Books- of which I am on Day 11).

One of the things that draws me to biographies and memoirs is the revelation of raw humanity. Everyone wants to feel connected and I love nothing more than realizing, startled, that I can empathize with how Mary Todd Lincoln felt in that situation or that David Sedaris and I have both pretended to do a crossword puzzle while secretly seething at a stranger in a public area.

What I learned of Diane Rehm was nothing short of amazing to me. First of all, Diane started her career in radio in her thirties as a volunteer. I loved to learn this because I also discovered a volunteer position that altered the trajectory of my life. 2 years after college graduation I was frustrated and unchallenged, working at a bookstore and feeling discouraged about my professional opportunities. My mom strongly encouraged me to volunteer in order to explore potential areas of interest. A few months later, I started working with a book club for St. Louis ARC, an organization for people with developmental disabilities. I fell in love with the world that opened up to me. Now I am finishing my master's in Educational Psychology and hoping to write and work with young children with developmental disabilities. I feel a particular kinship for anyone who wanders for a little while and then discovers her life purpose.

Another element of Diane's story that makes me feel an affinity toward her is the honesty with which she addresses her struggles with anxiety. It never would have occurred to me that someone who is so poised, respected and impactful would have undergone the intense and sometimes devastating journey of managing anxiety and depression. Her ability to pursue that which she ultimately loves to do despite emotional and physiological roadblocks has a profound effect on me.

Diane Rehm is someone I have looked up to for so long that I took it for granted that she has always been confident and assertive and professionally successful. I was grateful to learn about her humanity as well.


Jonathan Wilhoit said...

You're right, it is often times very interesting finding out how celebrities and successful people made it to where they are. I guess it's important to remember that no one became a success overnight (and that they often struggled to get there). That old "one leg at a time" kind of thing, I suppose.

And it's awesome you could find something you were passionate about. Your mom is a smart lady.

BTW, if you don't mind me asking, what was your undergrad degree? Was your graduate track a big departure from your undergrad?

Bibliomania said...

My mom *is* a smart lady!

My B.A. is in Communications and my graduate degree will be in Educational Psychology. I don't think it's an obvious choice from one to the other, but Communications is one of those degrees that is helpful in everything (except being qualified for an actual job).

Are you in school as well?

Jonathan Wilhoit said...

Naw, I'm not in school anymore. I'm a working stiff. If I do go back to college it will probably be for an MBA or something like that.

My undergrad was actually in English (very similar to Communications in that it's not known for making for high employments rate), so it's a huge fluke that I ended up in IT Audit after everything was said and done. Though, my mom is a pretty smart lady, too, and she advised me to get a Business Administration minor, which was a little boost in getting into the business world.

Aren't our mom's awesome?