Taking on tough (non-running) things
Planning and starting this podcast has by far been the most terrifying personal project I’ve taken on. I’ve been comparing it to my first long distance ultra. With the West Highland Way Race, I had a support crew there for the hard times and the reassurance. Yes, I still had to put one foot in front of the other and summon a decent dose of mental strength to get me to Fort William but there was simplicity in the struggle, not so many difficulties to deliberate over, not a lot of decision fatigue involved. It wasn’t easy but it was straightforward; run from A to B and just keep going.
I’d been wondering for a while if pushing myself in long running races was enough. I still love this type of challenge to some extent – every race is different – but they are all encompassing and tend to remove any time or energy left outside of work to stretch myself in other ways. I know I can respond and endure in these challenges, although of course the experience is less than pleasant at times and, in the case of mountain 100-milers, a whole world of category two fun. I want to continue to do new things that feel rewarding creatively, worthwhile for others and truly terrifying. I heard someone in an interview say recently that if you want to remember what you are passionate about, think about what you were into as a child or teenager. For me it was creative arts; life drawing, fashion design, writing – interests I have largely ignored for years now.
The most uncomfortable part is getting to the start line.
This is true of many things in my life; training runs, work presentations, writing complicated funding bids for my charity, ultra marathons, a difficult conversation with someone.
Ultimately I decided I had to follow this through or else I’d be disappointed with myself for not being brave enough. A regular affliction, which at times leads to me being over-busy and over-tired. I guess I’d rather it that way than get to the end of my life and realise I didn’t live fully (Roz Savage’s obituary test on my mind). Although on the other hand there is the data from the Blue Zones book I just finished, which finds low stress to be a common factor in the longest lived communities in the world, the ‘Blue Zones’. I decided to go with all the clichés: that if it doesn’t challenge me, it won’t change me; and I won’t regret doing this, but I’ll regret not being brave enough to do it. So I started down the road by taking one new step; buying a domain name.
A catalogue of concerns
Starting out I had a long list of fears, which I guess I should have looked at as growth opportunities. They included:
1. Audio: The tech. Man, the tech. I battled with which equipment to buy in the first place (yes there’s much quality advice online but it’s overwhelming and often conflicting so I suffered a bad case of decision fatigue and struggled to get going with any option), and then with the differing specifics of editing two types of audio – studio and portable recording device. Looking back, I should have taken advice from a sound engineer before doing anything else.
2. Curated conversations and public speaking (well, kind of. That’s how it feels when I start recording): Who’s a fan? I’d love to be one of those people who feels at home in front of a large audience but there’s zero danger of that. Together with the tech, this was an equal terror for me; can an introvert be any good at podcasting? I realised that to do it well I need to plan and curate conversations but in the most natural way possible. I’m responsible for making each guest feel comfortable to be open and guiding each interview to cover diverse topics that I may not know a lot about myself. This form of communication is new to me and a big challenge. I also don’t want to be the interviewer who constantly brings their own experience into the conversation, the spotlight should firmly be on the guest.
3. Asking: Making that first ask to someone I think is pretty awesome is also a scary thing. But the first time I was turned down just made me laugh; they responded to my messenger ask with just a thumbs down. The vast majority of people I’ve asked have been incredibly friendly, open and given their time generously. The fear of rejection is still there, but fainter. I know if it happens it’s momentary at worst and you just have to accept and move on. There are countless individuals out there with stories of meeting challenges in life who we can learn from, and I have no doubts about the value of this type of content.
4. Negative feedback: I am placing myself and my creative work in a public place, in the path of potential judgement. Negative comments will come my way, sooner or later.
5. Good old time and money: Do I really have the time and the funds to dedicate to this project to do it properly, not half-heartedly? One circular fear connected to this was starting the podcast and not seeing it through, giving up because I’m strung out or not able to find the funds to optimise the quality enough for the episodes to be audible in all contexts.
And for the reality…
Let’s be real about it, some of these things have come true. In some episodes the audio has been poor, even when I thought I’d fixed it. With my complete lack of knowledge in sound engineering I hadn’t realised how files change and compress when you upload them through multiple platforms, i.e. from Audacity and then to my host site Soundcloud. So when they are released through Soundcloud often an audio glitch sounds far worse than it did when listening through Audacity. Essentially I have only discovered these issues when the episodes are released and people download or listen in cars, therefore it’s too late to make a change.
A few people have been in touch to tell me these episodes in questions are not audible through their car speakers or out in Scottish conditions on the hills. I worried a lot about it but it also galvanised action, compelling me to take advice from a few people who know more. Often in life, relationships and work we only focus on the negative, on what has gone wrong, on what we need to take ourselves into the ring for. We should recognise the gradual learning just as much as the struggle. It’s through going through the uncomfortable experience that I’ve learnt my most memorable lessons. It’s not through everything going smoothly that things stay with me.
More than this, I’ve also had some positive feedback that has brought a tear to my eye and made all of the above worthwhile. One thing I have no doubts about is the concept and content. I have been proud and privileged to share each and every one of my guests’ stories and feel passionately that these stories are worth sharing and there are valuable seeds of wisdom germinating out of each episode. The process of speaking to each person has been hugely fulfilling to me personally and I’ve learnt from their mindset and approaches; powerful reminders of the practices I want to cultivate in my own life, and pass on to others.
I am becoming more confident with public speaking. Surprisingly, I’ve started looking forward to recording rather than counting down to studio time with anxiety. This project has been far more helpful for this than any number of presentation skills courses I have done through work. I don’t even hate my voice as much anymore.
If you’ve loved the content but been frustrated by the audio, stick with me as I’m continuing to learn and improve, little by little. And if there’s something you want to do and you think you can’t…the likelihood is you’re thinking about the whole intimidating mountain and not the first step. Focus on that one step.
Thanks to Dave House at the Noisefloor for his super slick little studio and help with my self-editing strategy, and to Barry for giving me more idea for the gear.
Happy, peaceful holidays from Of Mountains & Minds!