What Paul McCartney Taught Me About Exposing Myself

I had creative PTSD.

After years of working as a copywriter in an advertising agency – writing TV commercials, print advertisements, radio spots and internet fodder – I became completely gun shy.

It wasn’t the assignments or the challenge of coming up with something interesting and relevant or even the blank page that freaked me out. It was what came after.

I became nearly unwilling to show my work to my partner, my bosses and, ultimately, my clients.

Advertising is a funny business. It mostly consists of people who have entrusted you with a project – almost always promoting their brand or product – and then systematically and regularly cut down every idea you have until the time comes where they have to produce something (anything!) in order to make a deadline. This usually ends in a hodgepodge of lukewarm messaging that leaves no one involved satisfied. Not the client, not the creative team and not the viewer.

Watch any 10 random advertisements on TV and you’ll see exactly what I mean. I’ll bet that at least 9 of them illicit no real reaction at all. No chuckle to be had. No emotional nerve struck. And no true desire to purchase the product.

Whenever anyone outside the agency asked me about the work I turned to the same stock answer.

“I love writing. It’s great. Until I have to show it to somebody.”

This feeling became so ingrained that it permeated the rest of my life. I didn’t want to show my wife what I wrote in my Mother’s birthday card. I didn’t want to show my accountant my credit card bills. And when I changed careers and became a trainer I was hesitant to show anyone my programs.

Things blissfully continued this way until I started feeling the sharpness of the double-edged sword. Sure, I could remain in isolation and eschew any criticism but I’ve always been a team guy and I missed collaborating. But while the idea of bouncing ideas back and forth seemed appealing I found myself mostly staying turtled up in my shell. Apparently the wounds ran deep.

Luckily, my reluctance was corroborated in a book I was reading by author/blogger/millennial-influencer Seth Godin. In that book Godin repeats “you gotta ship” which was his way of prodding the audience into not mulling and stalling when exposing their work. Don’t overthink. Don’t get too many opinions. Don’t wait. Get your ideas out.

Clearly if a published author was telling me to shorten the pipeline and not get outside input then I was justifiably on the right path of never previewing my work to anyone. God, I love when I’m proven right by know-it-all insiders. I was feeling good about my process.

That was until I saw an interview with Paul McCartney.

Sir Paul was discussing one of the Beatles classics that he wrote called “Hey Jude”. Now if you don’t know who Paul McCartney is, have never listened to “Hey Jude” and think, maybe, at some point, someone may have heard of these “Beatles” that everyone keeps talking about, please put down your sippy cup and step away from the screen. You probably don’t have your parents permission to use a computer.

OK, back to McCartney. In the interview he discusses the roots of “Hey Jude”. How he wrote it for John Lennon’s son, Julian, at a time when his parents, Lennon and his then-wife Cynthia were going through a divorce. The original title was “Hey Jules” but given that Julian was a small boy at the time he didn’t want to so directly use his name and bring him possibly unwanted attention.

So Paul has this song sketched out and, as seemed to be their working process, he plays it for Lennon. I can’t imagine this was easy for McCartney. He’s about to play a song written about how his friend’s son should handle his parents divorce. But he sits down at the piano and runs through the melody and chord progression and then starts singing the lyrics. He gets to a line about three-fourths of the way through the song and and stops playing.

The lyric was “the movement you need is on your shoulder”.

Paul turns to John and says, “don’t worry, I’m going to change that part” and finishes playing the song.

McCartney finishes and turns to Lennon to get some feedback. Apparently John really liked the song but had a really important note for Paul.

“That ‘the movement you need is on your shoulder’ bit. It’s my favorite line in the whole song. Please keep it.”

Now, I don’t know if it’s because of that story or what, but that line has become my favorite part of the song as well. I don’t even know what the fuck “the movement you need is on your shoulder” means, but I love it. And that got me thinking and questioning my own approach.

If Paul Fucking McCartney, a legitimate musical genius and one of the best songwriters ever is willing to share his work and accept feedback and the result is that I get to enjoy a favorite line in an incredible song, well, that’s good enough for me.

And while I can’t say that running a blog post idea past Kyle or sharing a program with a colleague is by any means easy, I’ve tried to become more willing to do so.

I think it’s at best a terrible idea and, at worst, dangerous to get stuck in an echo-chamber of your own beliefs. And no one will convince you that what you think is absolutely correct as much as you will yourself. Though there are some groups on Facebook that come pretty close.

Not getting any feedback on your ideas is the quickest way to never have a new idea. And while I’m a big fan of the tried-and-true approach, we all need to keep growing as coaches, as trainees and as people. It’s how your technique gets better or your program improves.

Honestly, it’s what this facility is all about. A sharing of ideas and feedback so everyone can improve.

So maybe that’s what “the movement you need is on your shoulder” is actually all about. That the answers you need are already upon you and you need to set them free and share them with the world.

Or maybe it was just a placeholder that spoke to an old friend and got to remain in a classic song.

Either way, I’m grateful that the line got to stay and that I get to share this with you.