Rish and I recently went to see the excellent Jad Abumrad, co-host of Radiolab give a talk at Stanford campus.

(I’ve always loved Radiolab’s story telling technique; I’m a big fan of podcasts in general but I don’t think I’ve come across many others that can weave a story so powerful, so full of heart, using just sounds and words as consistently as them.)

The talk was part of The Stanford Storytelling project, and drew mostly from Jad’s experience as he set about becoming a radio host and eventually the host of Radiolab, a lot of what he talked about really resonated with both of us. The stuff that really hit a nerve (in my mind) really touched on more fundamental things - like the nature of work, and everyone’s relationship to their work/passion/whatever - to the extent that I felt like sharing some thoughts.

The first thing that I totally related to was his thought after reflecting on his early career on the radio. Trying to bring authenticity - your own form - is always uncomfortable, be it when you’re trying to fill a void, or as part of a giant organism. I think this is true not just in creative endeavors (which is why this blog is rarely updated) but also as part of a semi-regular routine at work where I frequently find myself asking the question of whether the work I’m doing is truly significant, whether it is the best I could be doing. I suspect that for some people, impostor syndrome doesn’t really ever go away; it just becomes more seasonal. And who knows, at the start of my career, I probably wasn’t “being all that I could be”.

But like Jad pointed out with this fantastic quote by Ira Glass, for creative pursuits the only reliable solution to this kind of problem is to keep at it, to keep cranking and just putting yourself to work till you build a volume of work to bridge that gap from where you start and where your taste wants you to end up. (Hence me coming back intermittently to write something.)

I think the same can be said about the impostor syndrome in all of us while pursuing any passion - the only reliable way to reduce it’s efficacy is to keep at is, to doggedly pursue what we set out to, and to keep getting better at what we love doing.

Rish’s favorite part of talk came towards the end: Imagine working on something and being on a deadline. I can very easily see impostor syndrome in me bringing out fears that may not actually exist - like the fear of disappointing authority figures, or your peers, or the fear of being flat out wrong, in the very core of your thought process. It’s like being in a spooky German forest. There’s no creatures really in sight, but you can viscerally feel the presence of something that scares the ever-loving daylights out of you.

But usually.. you get out of that forest. You do what you set out to, and you come out on the other side not too much worse for the wear. The thing is though, you don’t ever really stop visiting your German forest. Jad mentioned that after 13 years of doing what he’s been doing, he still finds himself in it from time to time. The real thing to keep in mind, is that you were there once, and that you got out - and you can do the same thing again. You probably get trained to brace yourself for a fight sooner the more often you visit the forest.

The other thing from that talk that stayed with me was the story of Scott Carrier, and the story of pursuit of the antelope. In any pursuit - creative, and probably otherwise - you have to allow your self to allow it to pervade every sense and nerve you have. You need to ‘become the question’ you’re trying to answer. Personally, I love the idea of having that amount of energy, passion, and commitment. I don’t think it’s possible, given the sheer number of pipe dreams anyone has at any given point in time - but I do think it’s a great thing to aspire to. I’ve found that that way, it’s possible to devote just a few hours a week more on projects/reading/things that I would have otherwise spent numbing my brain through TV.