Lessons from Ira Glass

This American Life might be one of my favorite podcasts/radio journalism formats of all time. I am dating myself, but I remember listening to NPR and timing drives so I could catch the show when it aired. It’s a weekly public radio program and podcast; each week they choose a theme and put together different kinds of stories around it. Ira Glass is the show’s creator and narrator and is a master of the storytelling format. I recently listened to an interview with him and he’s produced over 600 (!) episodes of This American Life and he also is behind the ever popular Serial podcast, which as of September 2018, had been downloaded 340 million times.

We talk a lot about grit, growth mindset and perseverance with our students, and the interview with Glass struck me in many ways. He talked about how he came to the the show’s format of narrative and discussed how bad he was in the beginning. Like, really bad.  In his own words,  “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

I’ve always thought of Ira Glass as an extremely talented radio journalist, but it turns out he had to work at it like anything else, it wasn’t just talent. Like everything, practice, mastery, hard work and grit are key here. You have to just do the work to get good at it. Put those deadlines in your planner, and finish one thing. Who knows where that may lead you.

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