The Briefcase

a podcast by Benjamin Welch

Recognizing the Arrows

This is the best thing I’ve read in a long time. I pretty much obsess about two things everyday:

The first is along these lines. What am I supposed to do? What is my calling? Where is this going? Am I working on the right stuff? Should I be a writer? Maybe I should take up songwriting again?

This is me, trying to find a sense of direction I’m satisfied with. So far, it’s a marathon, not a race.

The second goes something like this: Well, I don’t know what I want to do so I’ll just do something. I think I’ll start a podcast. Okay, what should it be? What will make it different? How can I make something as good as WTF or This American Life? Should I be serious? Should I be funny? Blah, blah, blah. Making podcasts is hard and I’m not sure I love it, I guess I’ll try scoring movies… And on we go.

Both of these problems come from the same stupid idea: If I think long and hard enough, if I plan hard enough, if I have a whiteboard big enough, I’ll know what comes next and feel good about it.

It just doesn’t work like that. At least not for me.

Here, Abumrad tells us the origin of the intro to Radiolab.

For example, one night, in 2003, Ellen Horne and I stayed up till dawn, playing around with the sound of radio static. By morning we’d made twenty of these little 30 second program ID’s…

I cannot tell you WHY that collection of noises was important. But it was the first thing I’d heard that I was like…hey, that’s not bad. I think I might hear myself in there somewhere.

It was like being lost in the dark and then an arrow appears. A pointing arrow; placed there by your future self, that says, “Follow me.”

The intro to Radiolab is one of the most iconic parts of the show. It’s brilliant and gives you a sense of what the show is. The first time I heard Radiolab I was immediately struck by it. And it came out of one night of fiddling with static. Not from some genius with a note book, working out the best way to intro a great radio show with a mindmap. There are so many great points and I encourage you to stop what you’re doing and read the whole thing.

From now on, I’ll try to recognize the arrows. And try not to map them or plan them or predict what they’ll be or where they’ll come from. Just recognize them when they come. It’s not my job to make great stuff. It’s my job to keep working on something until the big, flashing arrow shows up. And when it does, it’s my job to see it through.