The other day I wrote an email to one of the alumni of the Creative Focus Workshop and got perhaps the coolest auto reply I’ve ever received.
“Thanks for your message. I am away on an expedition to Antarctica to record material for the second season of my podcast This is Our Time, with the second Homeward Bound expedition, as podcaster-in-residence. I am back in civilization toward the end of March.”
A trip to Antarctica is a significant journey. But it’s really the—if you’ll forgive me—tip of the iceberg (ahem).
Samantha Hodder took the Creative Focus Workshop in fall 2016. A year later, Samantha released This is Our Time season one, an 8-episode arc chronicling 76 women scientists’ journey to Antarctica on a mission to create a global network of women working to prevent climate change.
When she joined the CFW, she had been slowly working on a different podcast, about innovations and the human stories behind them, for three or four years. But in 2016, she hit a big roadblock.
I created that podcast with someone else. And then right around the time where I was trying to figure out what to do with this next and where to take it, she moved with her family to the UK, and it became untenable to work together.
That made me stop and say, what am I doing and why am I doing it?
Samantha had three major projects to choose from. Her old podcast, a completely unrelated coloring book, and, maybe, a new podcast…?
The Creative Focus Workshop just hit me at the right time. I was really struggling with what my creative focus was.
I decided that I was tired of working on a bunch of small projects, I was just going to choose one and really go for it.
Right toward the end of the workshop, I started to pursue a story idea that came into my field of vision.
I had the confidence to look at the spectrum in front of me and decide, okay, no, this is its own thing and this should go off on it’s own without trying to hem it into something that it’s not a part of.
I realized it’s okay to do something different or new.
And then it just kinda clicked and I ran with it. I actually have never done the last exercise in the CFW.
I found that to be a good sign, that the CFW got me going in a direction and I have these good tools under my belt.
I just got busy doing it. It really empowered me to find my focus.
I think just the act of signing up for a workshop that had accountability and had assignments and made you go back, and do those required things over and over again, it ingrained a work ethic to get me somewhere else, other than just spinning.
Samantha used her One Goal as rocket fuel to develop, produce, Kickstart and release a full season of her podcast This is Our Time, about an Antarctic expedition by 76 women scientists…which in turn got her invited along on the second annual expedition.
And you know what, I still have my post-it on the wall here that says, “One Goal: I am going to make season one awesome, engaging, continuous, and really organized.”
It’s still sitting there.
I think these guiding tools were helpful in finding a focus that was realistic and enduring, something that could withstand the test of time.
A focus statement, why are you doing this?
All of these things are crucial.
I went back to them today: I’m filling a grant application out, and I went back to those tools again. It reminds me that when you have that kind of bedrock for what it is you’re doing, why you’re doing it, it can take you far.
This is Our Time examines a whole host of issues, including the very real struggle to make creative (and in this case scientific) work in the context of a messy life full of real obligations, for example, to caring for children. Samantha is able to draw on her own experience to give depth to that question.
I really, really connected to the CFW approach, and how you talk about life in very real terms: If you only have 15 minutes to do this in a day, don’t worry. Just make the 15 minutes count. And then build on that 15 minutes.
If you’re focused with what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter if you only get 15 minutes a day for 2 months. It will add up at some point. I appreciated that, that really spoke to me.
I found that to be totally encouraging, because when I started podcasting, my kids were still young. Only now, after 10 years, am I starting to get real chunks of time to work.
I didn’t have full focus to deliver to this.
I’ve done some of books and workshoppy things in the past, but I always found them to be too unrealistic. They had this utopic notion that you had as much time as you wanted. And that you didn’t have a life, and you weren’t a mother, and you didn’t have a job that you had to do in order to pay to do these things.
It’s gratifying, in hindsight, to think, yeah, I managed to have some ideas and a vision even though I really didn’t have full focus. I did have a creative focus, even though it felt like I had no focus in my life at all.
So how does one go from a slow-burn collaborative podcast to putting out a full, cohesive season of a narrative podcast in one year?
With a whole lot of extremely focused action.
Here’s Samantha (and I’ll skip the pull quote style, as I want this to be fully readable).
…Which was a series of stories about innovation and putting a story and a face to them. I called it “TED Talks meets This American Life.”
I found out about this all-women expedition to Antarctica and I thought, well, that’s innovative. Yes, it’s scientists going to Antarctica. But it’s actually a women’s leadership development initiative.
I knew somebody who went on the first expedition last year. We talked about it quite a bit. And then I said to myself, if I’m going do a story about this, I want to start at the beginning. So I did a long phone interview with the founder of the program, Fabian Dattner.
At the end of that call, she said, Now, honey, did you get what you were looking for?
And I said, This is really interesting, but you gave me the big picture, I’m looking for tiny stories. I’m looking for individuals.
And she said, Oh, I get it, you want to speak to beep, beep, beep, beep, and beep.
By the end of the day, I had written an email to these five other woman and by the next day some had responded.
It really flowed.
The big vision of this project is founder Fabian Dattner’s “I want to change the world, I have a dream,” concept. The goal is to create a global network of women scientists who are working on similar things and connected. And every year for 10 years, somewhere between 80 and 100 women scientists will go on an expedition together.
It’s women who continue to work together and separately to create a larger network of people who have like minds and are working on similar goals, which basically is addressing climate change.
This is all happening post-Hillary. When the women’s march happened, I saw that this really was a discussion happening in this world.
I woke up in February last year and realized this not a 20-minute story. This is it’s own thing, it has its own name…and then the title jumped out and landed on my desk from tape of an interview with Fabian, and I went on from there.
I tried to bring Antarctica a little bit closer to everybody, because almost nobody gets to go there. What can every one of us do to bring Antarctica a little bit closer to us? I’m here to help you understand how to do that.
It’s a long and winding road from then until now. We did a Kickstarter last summer to raise profile, and audience, and awareness.
I did a soft launch in September and then I launched the full series just two weeks ago [In January 2018].
The story is continuing.
Samantha’s passion for story and podcasting was already in place, but it seemed that life had stacked the deck against her. Once she took hold of a clear mission, though, The Creative Focus Workshop was accelerant for her transformation from sometime-podcaster to host, creator, and visionary.
After a working as an editor and writer, in 2000, Samantha Hodder finished the New Media Design Program at the Canadian Film Centre and founded her first company, Tightrope Entertainment. From there she went to Documentary Organization of Canada as Executive Director. Her first podcast series launched in January 2015. And now, this. This Is Our Time is Samantha’s brainchild—a story that intrigued her, a story that she wanted to share with the world.