Ira Glass & My Fear of Growing Up

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Seeing Ira Glass’ face was a strange experience — kind of like seeing the real person behind the voice of Siri. The premise of the show was “7 Things I’ve Learned,” in which Glass explains seven things he’s learned in his four decades of radio experience. Let me get the review section out of the way first: the show was incredible. It blended casual conversation with more structured talk, all while Glass was mixing the show live. He had a little iPad from which he played interviews, animations, even the quirky background music listeners would recognize from the radio show. It was like watching an episode of the show come to life before you. So if anyone has the chance, I highly recommend seeing it.

I saw the show with my dad, who introduced me to "This American Life." We sat in the furthest back row possible. Sitting that far back, it almost felt like we had the room to ourselves, absorbing Glass’ lessons. Here’s the two that I really carried home with me:

1) How to Interview Kids. The first one is a bit of a misnomer, because it’s not just about how to interview kids. During this segment, Glass discusses interviewing 14-year old Joe Kendrick who swears he will never fall in love. 14-year old Joe doesn’t understand the hype around love and vows that it’ll never happen to him. Then we see an update of Joe ten years later who, lo and behold, has a girlfriend who he has fallen very much in love with. Adult Joe apologizes for letting his teenage self down but doesn’t regret his decision, knowing that his teenage self would realize it someday. Joe pauses to contemplate this fate. Despite knowing that he would eventually prove himself wrong, Joe reflects that there was nothing any adult could’ve said that would’ve convinced 14-year-old Joe otherwise. He simply had to wait and see for himself.

2) You Have to Be Bad Before You’re Good. Here, Glass pokes a bit of fun at himself. He plays clips from the first few years of his radio experience to point out how bad it is. And he’s right, it’s not great. Which is funny, because "This American Life" was a genre-changing show, it quite literally set the precedent for all entertainingly informative podcasts to come. Glass is a staple of his field, and yet listening to young Ira, his early work is undeniably bad. Here at Carnegie Mellon, we are no strangers to impostor syndrome. And while it’s nice to hear that “No, you are not as bad as you think, you just need some confidence”, there’s a different kind of comfort here. That yes, maybe you are a little bad at this, but that’s not a condemnation to failure. You have to be bad before you’re good. So if you’re bad now, just keep being bad, there’s hope for you yet.

I’m a third-year and graduation is just looming on the horizon. I’m terrified of it, and, weirdly enough, this show made me confront some of that fear. I’m terrified of making mistakes, I’m terrified of being bad. It’s why I’m an awful driver and a worse student. Try as you like, mistakes will happen and you will be bad at something. It’s like realizing that your childhood dog will someday die — hard to face, but it’s all part of the process. That shouldn’t discourage us, in fact it should inspire us to be unafraid of failure and pet our dogs more often. Despite knowing this, it’s still difficult to process that our life is beyond our control. After all, we are all just like Joe Kendrick: We will just have to find out for ourselves.