What Podcasts Taught Me About Life

Here’s the thing about podcasts: they’re like your funny, smart friends whispering stories in your ear anytime you like…

You can pause them if they’re talking too much. You can make them speak at double speed just for kicks. You don’t even have to talk back — though often you do anyway! For me, these audio episodes make me laugh, keep me company, and they teach me things I’ll never forget. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned:

The joy of waking up early. Every morning, I shoot out of bed to hear the sweetest sentences in the English language: “From the New York Times, I’m Michael Barbaro. This is The Daily.” As the sun illuminates my apartment, and the viola-filled theme song thunders through my phone, I feel alive. For the next twenty minutes, Barbaro makes sense of the day’s news while I make my scrambled eggs. From his perch on my countertop, he’ll say nice things like, “Thanks for letting me call you so late,” to a reporter breaking a story, or ponder a guest’s answers with empathic mmms. He even asks the kind of questions most would be too afraid to pose like, “Why do we pay income taxes?” or “What kind of sandwich?” The podcast connects me to the world before I’ve even had my coffee.

My Netflix habits have always had merit. For centuries, pop culture has transformed society, and yet, for centuries, it has also been dismissed. But podcasts like Call Your Girlfriend, Keep It and Still Processing break down how music, TV and movies — and the reactions they provoke — inform everything from social norms to politics. Like, how a heated argument within the cast of Arrested Development can stand as an example of the subtle ways that society is taught to minimize the experiences of women. Or what the theatrical release of Crazy Rich Asians means for Asian representation. These media events inform our national landscape — and that matters to everyone.

Podcasts save lives. I grew up four blocks away from an unsolved murder. It rocked my hometown for decades, and kicked off my lifelong fascination with true crime stories. The genre has always felt horrifying, intriguing and personal, as so many of the stories involve female victims. (I’m not alone in my interest, as a vast majority of true crime consumers are women.) My Favorite Murder, a comedy true crime podcast, provides tools for survival with catchphrases, like “f*ck politeness,” which tells listeners to follow their intuition when faced with risky situations. If I ever have an uneasy feeling, I no longer stick around for fear that leaving would come off as rude. There have actually been documented cases of fans who claim the show saved their lives. While the world still has a way to go, the power is beginning to shift.

Commuting is not *that* bad. It’s not often you’re on the R train wishing you had one more stop, but that’s exactly what happens when I listen to Who? Weekly, Reply All and Lovett or Leave It. I’ve realized the key to a riveting ride is a podcast that will make you laugh out loud while enduring inevitable delays. The premise alone for Who? Weekly makes me chuckle, donning the tagline, “Everything you need to know about celebrities you don’t.” Reply All, a podcast about the internet, without fail, takes you on a hilarious journey you never saw coming. (Exhibit A, Exhibit B, Exhibit C.) In Lovett or Leave It, host Jon Lovett is joined by a live audience to play games about current politics (was a quote said by a politician or a villain from X-Men?). Maybe, just maybe, a little bit of stalling is what we all need.

It’s okay to speak up. Thanks to podcasts like Jen Gotch Is Okay Sometimes, Forever35 and Dear Sugars, I’m having more casual conversations with family and friends about subjects we formerly hid behind closed doors — like mental illness, addiction and grief. In Jen Gotch Is Okay Sometimes, Gotch, founder of the brand ban.do, talks candidly about her bipolar diagnosis and how medication changed her life. In Forever35, a beauty podcast about how women practice self care, guests end up opening up about everything from recovering from job rejections to mourning a pregnancy loss. In Dear Sugars, the hosts share empathic advice, often citing their own personal experiences on topics like living with grief and overcoming infidelity. As it turns out, when we bring our secrets into the light, we learn that we are not alone.

We’re all in it together. If it isn’t already clear, one of the easiest ways I find connection — in my hopes, sorrows or specific celebrity interests — is to browse my podcast app. There, I found an engrossing investigation of Jake Gyllenhaal’s height. Proof that “pitching yourself” is horrifying for everyone. A story that confirms snacks are, indeed, the highlight of babysitting. Relief that my idols sometimes feel lost. Validation that getting older is really weird. Evidence that Phil Collins has all the answers. And, that even when the bottom drops out from under you, time slouches on, and we’ll all figure it.

Have you been listening to any great podcasts lately? Or any all-time favorites? Please share below…

P.S. A podcast for every mood, and an ode to alone time.

(Illustration by Abbey Lossing for Cup of Jo.)