I’M IN the midst of recording my first show in Malay – 13 episodes of Do-it-Yourself (DIY) projects.
Why is it such a big deal for me?
Well for starters, although I write and speak Bahasa Malaysia (BM), I have always anchored shows in English – the language I’m more comfortable conversing with. I’ve appeared as a guest on a few Malay programmes and have done two award shows and movies in Malay, but this is my first time using our national language as the main medium for a full season.
Plus, even though I make a lot of DIY projects at home, I’m no Martha Stewart and I’d rather “boast” about these projects over social media. Definitely not on national TV!
That is why, when I was approached by a TV station to do a show based on DIY and to speak in BM, I was initially, not too keen.
They persuaded me and said I’d be okay, as they had seen me speak Malay. Besides, I would have my own “DIY squad” to assist me. After much thought, I decided to give it a try.
On the first day of recording, I introduced myself to the crew and went about telling them, “Sabar ye? Daphne tak pandai sangat cakap Bahasa Melayu. Daphne tak confident. Projek DIY kat rumah pun, sekadar main-main jer” (Please be patient with me, ok? I’m not fluent or confident to speak in Malay and my DIY projects are just for fun).
When the cameraman hit the record button, I froze. I finally managed to deliver my lines but with such wooden awkwardness, that I panicked!
My manager came over and whispered, “Just say the lines like how you would normally talk to friends and family. You are Daphne Iking. They want you for YOU!”
I then remembered an article by Martha Beck who has worked for decades guiding adults who suffer from negative labels other people have attached to them such as “homely”, “weak”, “boring”, “slutty” and “stupid”. Some are trapped by labels that describe not their qualities, but their roles. For instance: screw-up, trophy wife, brainiac and black sheep.
Beck says the most painful issues are that her client’s lives tend to come not from actual circumstances, but from the way they define themselves as a result of those circumstances.
She adds that defining oneself with labels is a universal human behaviour because of something called the “social self”. Every day, we go forth with our social selves in tow, navigating dozens of complex interactions in which we pick up on others’ social selves and act accordingly.
So for instance, you know how to talk to your client because underneath every conversation is the understanding that you are a service or product provider; or you know how to speak to your frugal husband because you’ve decided who, and how, he is, relative to who you are.
I know someone who becomes obsessed when planning parties and gatherings. One day, I told her it was okay to have a few “glitches”, no one was going to notice that one of her flowers on the table was shorter than the rest. Her answer?
“Everyone says I’m a perfectionist, and I know I like things in order. But when expectations are high, I have to perform well.”
It got me thinking hard.
I guess when you are known as the joker in the family, you don’t carry yourself so seriously and you are constantly making punchlines expected from you. Or if you are considered the sexy one among your friends, you won’t be geared up in “nerdier” attire.
These examples are harmless – it is clearly the negative self-definitions that are more painful to swallow.
Beck explains that we tend to attach self-definitions to ourselves because we might have been burdened by a past experience that has been magnified over the years.
Perhaps someone had compared you unfavourably with somebody else, or you felt nervous at a choral speaking event and decided you were “terrible” at public speaking, or you’ve chosen to believe, based on scant evidence, that something else about you is true.
I recall the time I returned to Malaysia after living abroad since I was 3 and I did not speak a word of Malay. Eventually I learnt the language and was communicating quite comfortably in it.
But it was an incident in school that made me self-conscious speaking the language from then onwards. You see, a substitute teacher said I spoke Malay like an alien, she ripped my book in half when I could not understand the concept of imbuhan and told me to go back to my “real country” as I was not Malaysian enough. That incident scarred me for life. (On hindsight, I should have reported that incident to the headmistress).
There’s a saying, “whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”
Had my manager not given me that little pep talk, I think I would have allowed myself to attach my identity of that of an “un-confident Malay speaking TV anchor” during the course of the shoot and the results would have been disastrous.
I am glad I managed to shake that negative mind barrier away as filming went on much smoother (and fun) after I snapped out of it.
Beck concludes that if you are holding negative definitions of yourself, question them – she assures us that they are mostly lies. So the more you learn this, the less you will suffer the hell of self-loathing.
All the best... You can do it!