Last night I performed at my first open mic. I've played several hundred gigs in my lifetime, but this was different. These were my songs and I was playing them solo. I couldn't hide behind another songwriter or performer and blame them if things went wrong.
Thankfully, the room I chose was full of fellow artists who were supportive, encouraging and focused on the music. Yet it was still terrifying. I'm not going to lie, I made some mistakes. I missed transitions between verses and choruses, I cracked my high falsetto and my tempo was all over the place. My lyric writing is still a work in progress. But now it's public progress.
Reflecting on my performance, I've come to realize that making my work public is the best strategy I know for getting better. I can't get feedback until I publish. And that means that since I'm not perfect, I'm going to suck a lot, in public, until I get better.
Want to be a better athlete? Race and put your time out there. Better writer, photographer, artist? Put it out there. Anything worth doing, is worth doing in public.
The Internet makes this so much easier than it has ever been. It doesn't mean live tweeting every phrase. But for any finished product, be it an essay, novel, song, or otherwise, making it public keeps you accountable, creates deadlines, and it opens you up to feedback.
I hate feedback, because it reminds me I'm not perfect. But I also realize that I can't get better without it. I spend so much time in my own head that I forget to include others in the process of creating something. I forget that the best work I do is not alone. It still takes a village to raise the village idiot.
There are fields where going public doesn't generally apply. Engineering must be done right on the first try. But inside any good organization, engineering will be subject to this feedback loop. Product development has iterations where features don't work perfectly out of the box. But being willing to make mistakes and try new things is the only path to innovation. Even the biggest companies have public flops, and they shouldn't be ashamed of them.
That's why I must make my work public, even when I don't feel like it's perfect. Like this essay. After all, the credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.