For many years, I’ve mostly stuck to doing things I already knew how to do. That was safer. I had been writing for the public since I was in high school. I had taken photos and done graphic design — for newspapers, magazines and advertising — since I was a teen.
My work wasn’t perfect, but I was competent enough to feel like an expert. I could put my work in front of the public — expose myself in a very real way — without fear of looking too foolish.
Lately, I’ve been trying something at which I’m a beginner. I’m a rank amateur. And I am terrified.
For years, I have considered producing a podcast. Others first pushed me to explore radio more than 25 years ago. The idea intrigued me, but I mostly stuck to print. Who was I to think I had the talent to become one of those golden-tongued professionals I heard on radio? Then podcasting came along and others constantly pointed out that I could now learn the equivalent of radio with no cost or commitment.
After several false starts — always killed by fear — I finally made the commitment to produce 13 episodes of a podcast. It’s not a long-term commitment. It’s just a commitment to make 13 shows on one specific topic. Then I can re-evaluate where I want to go — whether to continue or start something new or just kill the entire thing.
And as I have stood behind a beautiful microphone, that old terror has me paralyzed again. I have three choices with this.
First, I can run away from it again. Seriously. I’m very good at that. I can find a dozen excuses between now and the end of the week about why I can’t — or shouldn’t — do this. It’s time-consuming. It’s hard to find a way to make money from it. Maybe I should just stick to what I already know how to do.
Second, I can copy what others do on radio or podcasts. I can figure out some way to mimic someone from public radio or a popular podcast or the mainstream media. I can listen to enough of someone’s performances to figure out how to emulate him — how to copy his style in some acceptable way.
Third, I can stand behind that microphone until I find my own authentic and unique voice.
Trying to copy others is mostly a path to mediocrity but it often leads to moderate success. This is a pretty safe path. If the public has shown that there’s an audience for someone who sounds like Paul Harvey or Rush Limbaugh or Howard Stern, why not do whatever they do that makes people listen? There’s always a market for cut-rate imitations. It’s just not a very lucrative market — and it’s also not authentic to copy someone else.
Finding your own authentic voice is far more challenging but far more personally rewarding.
Every now and then, it can even lead to monumental success, but that’s rare. It’s far riskier and it’s far more prone to complete failure.
When I think about the artists who I love, they’re all authentic. Every one of them is creating what comes from inside himself or herself — whether it’s what the market seems to be asking for or not. Some of them end up reasonably successful. Others who I love struggle to make money from their art.
The path you take — about whether to copy someone or find your own voice — is determined by how much risk you can tolerate and how much authenticity you require of yourself. There’s no right answer for everyone, so I wouldn’t criticize those who feel compelled to copy.
I just know that if I’m going to go through the terrifying process of learning something — of exposing myself to the fear of being criticized for being lousy at something — I need to find my authentic voice.
You can listen to the first rough demo of my promo for this podcast below. It’s not very good yet. The recording isn’t perfect. The equalizer settings aren’t yet quite right. The mix isn’t good yet.
But as I stand in front of the microphone — truly scared of sounding foolish — I know I have a voice with something to say. I somehow have to find a way to get past the fear and let that unique voice out.
I don’t know when you’ll finally hear a finished product. I just know that I can’t try to be someone else. I have to be who I am. I have no idea whether anybody will want to hear my voice. I just know I have a lot to say, so I hope you’ll be patient with me as I figure out how to say it.