Living In Fear

Is this who you want to be?


Most of us spend our lives in fear.

Fear of failure. Fear of the unknown. Fear of loss, fear of death. Fear that we won’t measure up when tested.

Fear that if people know us as we really are, they won’t like us. Even those we are supposed to be closest to might recoil in disgust if they saw the parts we hide, the parts we’ve hidden most of our lives.

It starts in childhood; the judgment, the teasing designed to wound that leads to this sense of otherness.

We stare at the defects and flaws of Survivors and Bachelorettes and celebrities like blood-thirsty gawkers at head-on accidents. “Reality television” is not part of every network’s arsenal just because it’s cheap.

We watch because it’s somehow reassuring to be reminded that we’re not all that bad, comparatively — despite what those kids in fifth grade said. We watch because the stories feel real. It’s not acting. At least, it doesn’t feel scripted.

So, what does this mean for you, and your show?

First, there are literally millions of wounded people living in your midst. How you respond to them depends upon whether you see yourself as Jerry Springer or Oprah.

Are you there to point and laugh, or to hug and heal? Both approaches attract listeners. And Oprah was just as likely to make us laugh, or smile, as cry.

I know which one I would choose, which one I hope you choose, but only you can decide what feels most authentic to you. Trying to be someone you aren’t rarely works long-term.

The second lesson today is that IF you aren’t letting listeners share their stories on your show you are wasting content that could make you the most-listened-to air talent in your town.

PPM loves great story-tellers! Every ratings method loves great story-tellers, because we all love human stories.

I know why some of you hesitate. There’s a reservoir of emotion inside you, filled up over decades, and you fear that one crack will burst the dam and become an uncontrollable flood.

All I will say to that is that your vulnerability will humanize you as nothing else can. Shared emotion is powerful stuff. Even 10 years in, 9/11 brings tears and anxiety, doesn’t it?

Some of you fear the messiness of connecting on a deeper level. Intimacy, true intimacy, terrifies a lot of us. We don’t have it in our deepest personal relationships, so how could we handle intimacy with strangers?

And truthfully, some of you are just lazy; you fear work. Finding, and sharing, great stories is hard work, and you’ve grown pretty comfortable doing your little benchmark games, filling in the content slots on your prep sheet with quick, easy one-liner bits.

But even you know you’re coasting. You know that no one gives a rat’s ass about what you’re saying and as long as you don’t command attention your PD won’t complain, and you won’t be hassled into actually working at connecting on a deeper level than what you get from the guy who sells you a burger at McDonald’s.

Is that who you want to be?

10 years ago, I would’ve let you tell me your format, or your PD, or your VP of Programming won’t let you do this kind of “radio.” I would’ve given you a pass because you’re on middays, or nights, or in a really small market.

Not any more.

You’ve got a station web site, don’t you?

Do the work. Find the stories your listeners need to share. They don’t have to bring tears, merely recognition, empathy, and perhaps a smile. Don’t think that’s possible? Check out StoryCorps. Millions of Public Radio listeners hear their new stories every week on Morning Edition. I am among them.

Even if you can only share them on your web site, share them. You will only become more valuable to your station and to your company by doing so.

Or perhaps, deep inside, hidden from view, you have a fear of success?


ps. Tomorrow, I’ll share an act of courage. We don’t get to see that often enough and it’s inspiring…