Anyone who has tried to create knows something about the trials and tribulations involved in that process. Jad Abumrad, host of the NPR podcast Radiolab, knows the struggle better than most. His lecture at Liberty Hall during this year’s Free State Festival provided valuable insight into the cycle of failure, shame, stress, and reward that are integral to the creative process. Jad’s friendly, curious tone is so distinctive that anyone who has listened to a Radiolab podcast would instantly recognize it. But, according to Jad, his ubiquitous voice that is such a fundamental part of his podcast did not come so naturally.
When he first began hosting in 2002, Jad struggled to find his voice. He had good taste, ambition, and grand ideas as to what he wanted to sound like, but could not quite achieve the voice he aspired to have. This ambition to be great, this aspiration to measure up to your role models, and the shame associated with the failure to do so, is the first step in successfully creating something. He explained how the creative person must know what is good, (the examples he gave where Walter Cronkite’s all-knowing, authoritative voice and Ira Glass’ authentic, normal-guy delivery) and realize that you are not that good, you might even suck, and synthesize that shame and stress into something productive; learn from your failures. This phase in the creative process, the period between making goals and achieving them, he called The Gap, a term he got from fellow NPR host Ira Glass. According to Jad, most people give up during this stage. But Jad persevered, he traversed that period of self-doubt and failure and finally achieved the voice he was looking for after seven years of struggle. You will continue to fail even after you traverse The Gap, Jad explained, in fact, by his estimate, creative endeavors fail about 75% of the time, but the failure will feel more familiar, and you will have the confidence to overcome it more easily. He ended with perhaps the most profound statement of the lecture: all of this gut churning stress and failure is a hell of a lot easier to navigate when you have someone to share the burden with.