All the friends you didn’t know you had

There’s been a lot of really great content on the YNPN-TC blog recently; insightful, powerful, personal writing about the pressing needs of our times and the practical challenges faced in nonprofit career development. Coupled with the fact that March 20 is World Storytelling Day, I want to take a slightly different tack and talk a little bit about self-care and continued inspiration. Specifically, through podcasts.

Take a deep breath.

Imagine putting on your headphones.

And whatever you have to do, whether powering through a grant report, or logistics for a donor event, or even just your daily commute, let that melt away as you drop into a story or conversation. Experience some other perspective, get inspired, figure out how something works – that’s fuel for moving forward.

There are lots of political podcasts, news podcasts, and sports podcasts out there, and those are great, but I want to highlight some podcasts that I go to in order to get inspired and refreshed, augmented by suggestions from some friends and colleagues to share.

Get Smart

There are so many great podcasts out there that will make you smarter about the world around us. For business, Gimlet Media’s StartUp is literally a podcast about how they started up a podcast business, hosted by CEO Alex Blumberg. With its seventh season on the horizon, and with Gimlet Media now a premiere podcasting company with 18 titles on its roster and a staff of almost 100, Blumberg continues to offer honest assessments of the challenges, pitfalls, successes and processes of building a business. In that same vein, NPR’s How I Built This features Guy Raz interviewing CEOs from all sorts of businesses and social enterprises and is eminently listenable in that well-produced NPR kind of way. Less well produced, but no less interesting, Joan Garry’s Nonprofits Are Messy brings in voices from all areas of the nonprofit sector to talk fundraising, community building, and storytelling.

Now the only reason we are able to listen to podcasts is the internet, and the internet is a weird, sometimes wonderful, sometimes terrifying place. Reply All’s PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman do an amazing, often hilarious job of breaking down what’s happening on the internet and the cultural currents that move the World Wide Web. Their episode on Pizzagate is some of the deepest and weirdest reporting on that terrifyingly dark corner of the internet – “What fresh horror,” is an accurate and telling quote. But it’s not all darkness, it’s a Gimlet show, and a highlight is the recurring feature Yes Yes No, where they bring in their CEO Blumberg to baffle him as they break down the weirdest memes of the day.

Finally, if you wonder why you do things you do, NPR’s Hidden Brain might offer you some insight. Host Shankar Vedantam gets into behavioral economics, psychology, unconscious bias, technology, and how humans are motivated, thwarted and connected. And if you still use Uber, you’ll want to delete your account after you listen to the episode with Uber's Head of Economic Research Keith Chen.

New Perspectives

One of the joys podcasts is that there is an enormous world of podcasts out there. The barrier to entry is low, which means that there is a world of new perspectives and voices at your fingertips.

What better way to get some new perspective than from standup comedy? 2 Dope Queens is a live comedy series (and now HBO special) hosted by Jessica Williams and Phoebe Robinson for WNYC. Robinson is a comedian who’s been on Broad City, and Williams is an actress who got her break as a senior correspondent on The Daily Show, so they know their stuff. It’s funny, direct, political and sexual – if you listen to it in the car and have the windows down, you too might roll up to your daycare right in the middle of a joke about vagina dentata.

Robinson also hosts the interview show Sooo Many White Guys for WNYC, which, along with What’s Good with Stretch and Bobbito and Sam Sanders’ It’s Been a Minute for NPR, do interviews with pop culture and political guests in an exceptional, curious, conversational and fluid way. The format and intimacy of radio and podcast allow these shows to get deeper and more personal than more formal interview shows. Sanders especially has a great time with It’s Been a Minute. He has two shows a week, one a shorter interview show that drops on Tuesdays, and a Weekly Wrap which comes out Friday. He plays around with recurring segments like his Aunt Betty doing the intros, calling a listener to talk about their life, and the listener call-in montage of “The best thing that happened to me this week,” which is guaranteed to make you tear up.

There are also great series that address the big “P” Political as well as the personal and little “p” political. From NPR, Code Switch and Latino USA address social and cultural issues, and organizer DeRay McKesson talks politics and activism on Pod Save the People. (Many of these hosts are also on Twitter and worth following for the conversation there, Code Switch’s Gene Demby especially.) Locally, producer Levi Weinhagen puts out Not About You, a series of conversations where he, a white guy, has conversations with people who have different lived experiences to talk about social injustice. We can’t know or understand all things, but we can no longer say that we don’t have the resources to try.

Creative Process

I once heard choreographer and visionary Liz Lerman give a keynote talk where she said, “I love risk because I love process.” To me, that’s the strength of being an artist, and it is what artists bring to other sectors – the ability to develop processes that allow for failure, for happenstance, and for magic.

One of the best podcasts for that magic is Hrisihikesh Hirway’s Song Exploder, a brilliant series where musicians deconstruct a single track, from philosophical reasons to specific technical practices, to get into how a song is made. From pop superstars, to TV & movie themes, to underground artists, you’ll find something surprising and a sense of that magic – if you’re not in awe and tears at the end of John Roderick’s explanation of “The Commander Thinks Aloud,” I don’t know what to do for you. (Hirway also co-hosts The West Wing Weekly with actor Joshua Malina, which is an essential if you’re a fan of the Aaron Sorkin drama, and if you’re not a fan, well, become a fan already.) Mirroring that, but for words and etymology, is The Allusionist, where Helen Zaltzman deconstructs the history of words, phrases, and how language shapes our lives. Zaltzman is self-deprecating, compassionate, slightly jaded and whip-smart, so it’s like hanging out with your witty, esoteric friend.

Both The Allusionist and Song Exploder are part of the Radiotopia network, which is a home for an array of smart and arty podcasts, including one of the best deconstructionist podcasts, 99% Invisible. Roman Mars and his team look at design – graphic, industrial, architectural, city planning – and its strange history, and how the things we take for granted now have come to be, and how they affect our lives. For a taste, check out the episodes on “The Arsenal of Exclusion,” or maybe “Vexillonaire,” about the design of flags that has sparked a wave of redesigns around the country.

There is also Poetry Foundation’s Vs., hosted by two of the most interesting and vital young poets out there, Danez Smith and Franny Choi. Smith and Choi are bubbly, humane and pushing the boundaries of poetry, making it relevant through both their work and explanation. And Smith is a Saint Paul native, so listen with Twin Cities pride!

The best and worst thing about podcasts is that there is always more of them. Like the golden age of television that we’re living in, the rate of production of content has far outstripped our ability to consume it. Want more? Here are 8 African podcasts to listen to, 10 podcasts to make you smarter about money, and 20 arts podcasts. Radio stations are now making content for podcasts, from every public radio affiliate to the BBC. But unlike television, which demands a sedentary pose, podcasts let you get up and do more as you listen. And the intimacy of conversation, or a single act of storytelling in your ears, is something that I hope we can do more in our own mission-driven work – what can we do that is human, intimate, personal, smart, change-making, and at scale?

Other recommendations from the community


Poetry off the Shelf

The NY Times Book Review 

Magic Lessons 

Badass Creatives


Nice Games Club

You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes

Note to Self 

How To Be A Girl 

Smart Passive Income

I Was There Too

Imaginary Worlds

The Writers Panel

Making Oprah and Making Obama

How to Survive the End of the World

Wrong About Everything

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