I am a harsh critic. And I have no poker face, so you can clearly tell, either by sight or by sound, when I'm being critical. If I don't like a podcast someone has recommended to me, I'm probably not going to hold back my opinion. If I don't agree with someone’s advice about podcasting processes or procedures, I’m likely to tell them.
At least I used to be that way. I’m trying to be better.
Specifically, I'm trying to be less critical more often. I’m trying to internalize that phrase and make it my default behavior, which is quite a challenge for me.
Being less critical more often doesn’t mean never being critical. Nor does it mean emulating a unicorn that poops rainbows of positivity all over the world. The two parts of that phrase - the less and the more - have to work hand in hand. Approaching it backward might help, so here’s another way to think about it:
Most of the time, don’t be a nitpicking jerk.
I’m very good at triage, and that’s oftentimes a problem. With practically unlimited choices of content to consume, being able to quickly discern Things Worth My Time from Things Not Worth My Time is a handy skill. But it makes me kind of a nitpicking jerk.
Rediscovering The Joy Of Listening To Podcasts
I'm envious of people who can just listen to a new podcast for the first time with a smile and an open mind. Me? I hit play for the first time with a wince on my face, only relaxing if I’m pleasantly surprised.
A lot of that comes from the 16 years I’ve been making and listening to podcasts. Sturgeon’s Law applies to podcasting and all things, so my behavior is somewhat justified. More comes from the fact that this -- making podcasts -- is my profession. But if I’m being honest, most is due to my personality, which you’ll see in the passages below.
As I embrace the new concept of being less critical more often, I’m changing how I listen to podcasts. Specifically, I’m changing what I'm listening to when I’m not listening to client-based content. In short, I'm only listening to podcasts that I enjoy. I’m no longer trying to keep up with the things I should be listening to (because should is a bad word). Surprisingly, that’s left me with ample time to discover new podcasts, not less. Go figure!
Social Media Isn’t Helping
If you’ve been following me on social media for any length of time, you’ve likely noticed my social media activities have been severely curtailed. I’ve all but abandoned most platforms, and even my Tweet volume has decreased precipitously.
Again, plenty of external factors, from a raging pandemic to depressing politics, are in play. But my inclination to be snarky all the time a likely culprit. That, and I’m really good at fighting on the internet.
I wish I could tell you that I’ve found a good solution to be less critical on social media more often, but I haven’t. So for now, it means less social media for me.
Rediscovering My Joy Of Reading
I cut my teeth in both the podcasting world and the publishing world at the same time, so I’m as braced for disappointment with books as I am with podcasts. Friends of mine who are also authors have learned I’m a terrible beta reader, and to never send me an unpolished manuscript. As a reader, I have zero patience for content that doesn’t hook me immediately. And if parts of the writing fail to engage me, I quickly tune out.
In an effort to being less critical more often about the materials I choose to read, I’m making better choices. Specifically, I'm re-reading content I previously enjoyed, often finding new takeaways from when I first read them decades ago. I'm still leaving time to discover new written content, but with a focus on new content from writers I’ve previously enjoyed. As with podcasting, there are just too many books to read, so I’m staying close to some known-quantities.
The Challenge Of Not Being An Critical Asshat To Clients
I’m a more than capable podcast consultant. That’s lead me to have multi-year relationships with a variety of clients over the year and earned an excellent reputation for my agency.
But the areas where I excel and have been able to productize have made me quite rigid. And while that dedication to a proven process is usually seen as helpful to clients - clients who are often overwhelmed by the tyranny of choice in podcasting- it’s not for everyone. I've ended relationships with clients who refuse to follow established processes.
That's not great for business. But worse than that, it's not great for fostering creativity. Creativity for the client as well as creativity for myself. I need to grow too.
Recognizing that, I’ve done several things. One is working with a new partner (hi, Sam!) and finding ways to complement each other without frustrating the hell out of each other. The other is backing off of my hardline approach to my own processes and procedure. Where applicable, I’m working to fit within the client’s own internal processes to move the project along.
And I have a new overriding goal and/or mission: I don't let my clients unknowingly publish mistakes. If we’ve a difference of opinion, I still voice that opinion. But unless their decision is objectively wrong, I leave the final decision to them. No one is going to bleed out over this stuff.
How Improv Helps Me Be Less Critical More Often
Even if you know little of improv, you’ve probably heard of the concept of “Yes, and…”, as it’s a central tenet of the comedic style. It’s also a very good philosophy to adopt in all aspects of your life, a notion I constantly remind myself of.
Whatever I get, either from clients or a new podcast recommendation, I treat it as a gift. Some gifts, like those given by clients, I have to find a way to work with. There’s creativity in that. Other gifts, perhaps those given by strangers who don’t know my tastes and preferences, I don’t have to love. Or even keep. I just don’t have to be an asshole about it.
It’s No Surprise To Me I Am My Own Worst Enemy
I didn’t think the Lit song was written for me, but a lot of those lyrics ring true. Imagine my surprise when I realized that most reasonable people are also their own worst critics. I’m just thankful I’ve spent the last 31 years with Sheila Dee, who often intervenes when I’m beating myself up way too much over something way too trivial. Thanks, Lover.
I’m getting better, but I’m a long ways to go. I’m learning to listen to her more. Having that outside opinion from someone who cares only about me and not the ramifications of the mistake is invaluable. I ignored self-care for the vast majority of existence, and I can only implore you to find someone - perhaps a professional - to help you stop the self-pummeling, either physical or mental.
There’s No One Right Way To Make A Podcast
There's no one right way to do anything creative, right? Sure, there are plenty of frustratingly convoluted paths through the creative journey. But sometimes those paths need to be traversed to let the creativity happen.
There’s no single arbiter of subjective quality of creative content. People can - and do! - enjoy content that I find pointless. Likewise, plenty of people would look at my listening list and wonder what the hell I was thinking.
Here’s the crux: Podcasting is supposed to be fun. Making content, even business-focused podcast content, should be fun. And yes, even if parts of it might get a little boring. Making a podcast is a creative process. Everybody involved in this industry, at least to some degree, is providing their own creativity. We forget that at our own peril.
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I shall be back on Monday with yet another Podcast Pontifications.