I had just placed my lunch order at a fast food drive-through Thursday when I heard one of the employees on the speaker say to another, “Hey, come here and listen to this guy!” I drove on up the window and the woman was smiling as she took my card.
“Are you a news anchor or a radio host?” she asked.
Another woman who was walking up behind her said, “I recognize your voice but I don’t know what station.”
After I assured them that I don’t do anything on radio or TV, they told me that’s what I ought to be doing. They were convinced they knew me.
I drove away feeling amused and perplexed. This has happened to me quite often over the years — and it makes no sense to me, because I don’t see or hear anything in myself which looks or sounds like television or radio folks.
But as I thought about it later in the day, a sobering thought hit me. What if other people are right about me — and I’m the one who’s wrong?
That was an odd thought. It made me uncomfortable. In fact, I don’t want to believe it — or even contemplate it — but something tells me that I really need to, for my own good.
You see, I wish these other people were right. I think it would be valuable for me to be able to communicate effectively on radio or television. (I tend to think of it is podcasting and YouTube these days more than broadcast, but you get the idea.) I have a feeling that it would help me connect with a far wider audience about ideas which I believe are important.
But when I listen to my voice — and when I look into a mirror — I hear and see the same person who has been with me since I was a child. And it’s hard to see or hear that person as one of those people on the other side of a video screen or behind a radio microphone.
But here’s the weird thing. I see and hear people today who are very successful at video and podcasting who I see and hear as very untalented.
I feel guilty saying that. Who am I to judge them? If I’m not better than they are, why would I have any place thinking they’re not very good?
As I drove home Thursday afternoon, I listened to a podcast which I’d never heard before, simply because I heard these two people have made a full-time career out of making their podcast and making appearances. I wanted to see what I could learn.
What I learned is that I thought they were terrible.
I thought they sounded like people who would have been second-rate for a local radio talk show 20 years ago. Even the B-teamers at the smaller talk radio stations in Birmingham were more talented than these couple of people.
But they were making a living at this. How could that be? And how could it be that I heard what they were doing and felt that there were so many ways to make it better — but I was just a guy driving home from work, not someone who was in a position to compete with them?
And it was then when the women from lunch flashed into my mind — and the woman a few weeks ago on the phone at a mortgage office who asked if I worked in radio or all the other dozens of people who have asked similar question — and I asked myself that most awful question.
What if I am wrong and all these people have been right?
I’ve told you before that I’m interested in doing more video and audio. I’ve even made a few for you. The earliest ones I did several years ago were awful. The more recent ones have been better, but they’re still not very good.
I still know that if I were the judgmental guy listening, I would think, “Who does this guy think he is? What makes him think he has enough talent that we would want to listen to him? What an egotistical jerk!”
And that’s enough to make me keep hesitating. It’s enough to cause me to look for another excuse not to make the next video. Not this week. Maybe next month. We’ll see.
I have always had the utmost confidence in the work I did. From my earliest days — in newspapers and then politics — some would have seen me as arrogant. I knew I was doing good work. I never questioned it.
But this is different. I’m tormented with doubt about it.
If a friend asked me for advice in a similar situation, I could successfully get him through it. I could coach him through the rational issues and through the emotional issues. I could show him how he had nothing to lose and everything to gain by facing his fears and stepping out of his comfort zone.
If I were coaching me — as another person — I could make me successful. That sounds nuts, but I believe it’s true. So why can’t I do the same for myself? It’s easier to keep making excuses. It’s easier to hide something which might be a valuable talent.
The easy thing for me to do right now is the sweep this under a rug. Again. It would be more comfortable to look into a mirror and remind myself that my face looks fat and listen to my voice and say that my voice sounds like some guy with nothing special to say.
But when I’m honest with myself, I have to ask — with a weird mixture of fear and hope — whether these other people have been right about me all this time.