Do you ever find yourself listening to someone talk, and it’s painfully obvious that they are choosing their words so carefully that they start feeling inauthentic? Have you ever caught yourself being that person?
I have a listener named “Red” that has an uncanny ability to hear right through my voice when I’m on the radio. He’s incredibly tactless and does not hesitate to call in and call me out on my bullshit, live on the air. This can be a challenging experience, sometimes downright humiliating. Several months ago, I was going through some substantial personal challenges. I was feeling really insecure about the quality of my work. Red could hear it in my voice. He called in, I took his call live on the air:
“You’re really struggling, aren’t you?”
His indictment continued…
“You are holding back. Why don’t you tell us what you really think? You aren’t giving us the whole story Paul. You are measuring your words, and it’s boring.”
His criticism was devastatingly accurate, sending me into a downward spiral of cancerous self-awareness. I had this nagging knowing that I was not fully utilizing my mind and voice in the air. When you are a broadcaster, there are a number of people you have to keep happy: The FCC, the station owner, and the listeners. You HAVE to color inside certain lines, so watching one’s words is a necessity. You can’t curse on the air, for instance. I regularly pushed the envelope of what I could and could not talk about, which means that you have to be very aware of that line in the sand between kosher and unacceptable. This becomes a slippery slope of self-censorship. One minute I’m trying to avoid saying “shit” on the air, the next moment I find myself failing to say what I really think about Bernie Sanders.
One of my main objectives for Burning Man was to let go of the self imposed barriers to communicating with my full voice. In the past two years, I’ve come a LONG way in finding my voice, but I knew that some weird kind of glass ceiling still needed to be broken through.
The art at Burning Man has a particular quality to it. There is a purity to the ideas and execution of those ideas that is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The ideas are bigger, more extreme, more absurd, and have passed through zero filters.
Wednesday morning I was en route to the porta potties for my morning ritual. I overheard two girls talking. Though they were obviously virgin burners, they had been on the playa long enough to see and experience a few things. They were discussing the art; one girl said:
“You know what it is… No idea is too silly. Nothing is off the table out here.”
Her words have been bouncing around in my soul ever since. She nailed it.
No idea too silly.
Every idea is fair game.
That’s it. That’s the glass ceiling.
Burning Man 2015 was a grand epiphany that freed me from feeling compelled to send every idea, word, impulse, though an exhaustive committee in my head, before letting it come out of my head. I learned to trust that I am a good person. I’m not a dangerous person – and therefore, I can just let it flow. Sure some of it may be weird, and that’s okay. In fact, that’s AWESOME. Let’s get weird. That’s where the gold is. The pasteurization of weird ideas causes artist’s block. Every idea is a worthy seed. Not all of them must be acted on – one must carefully choose how to spend time and resources, and that’s okay too. It feels amazing to be able to sit at the drawing board of my mind and just let the ideas flow, as silly as they may be.
Accept that you have a filter.
Make peace with yourself. Understand you are inherently good.
Fire the censorship committee in your head.
Watch your creative life bloom.