I was late to the podcast game, discovering off-broadcast radio only out of a begrudging curiosity to see what the Serial hype was all about. There’s no denying that audio storytelling is back in style—Edison Research estimates half of Americans listen to online radio, the total percentage having grown 163 percent between 2006 and 2012. Longtime culture critic James Wolcott credits the podcast’s surge in appeal with audio’s ability to compel through conversation, often inducing an “immersive, time-suspended float.”
Caught up with the rest of the world, I started listening to This American Life on my bus commute, and started soliciting recommendations from friends and co-workers.
“What’s your latest podcast?” is a hot question at the proverbial water cooler in my office, with answers running the topical gamut, from Here’s the Thing (where Alec Baldwin chats with pop culture icons, from Michael Pollan to Julie Andrews) to Hello from the Magic Tavern (in which the host has fallen through a portal behind a Chicago Burger King and broadcasts from a mystical realm). Clearly there’s a podcast for every niche.
But recently I’ve noticed friends and co-workers referencing podcasts that skew more toward enrichment, from financial planning to maintaining healthy relationships. Instead of skulking around the self-help aisle of the local bookstore, listeners are curating their own personal development audio regimens tailored to topics they’d like to learn more about, or areas in which they’d like to grow.
I decided to give personal development via podcast a shot, immersing myself in one new podcast per week for a month in four different categories: relationships, career, finance and one wildcard podcast of my choosing.
Week One: Relationships
Podcast: Modern Love: The Podcast
Length: 15 to 60 minutes per episode
I’ve been a longtime fan of the New York Times column exploring stories of “love, loss, and redemption,” though recently I haven’t had much time to read it. The essays delve into what love means in every sense of the word, spanning all definitions and relationship types. In the podcast version—hosted by Modern Love editor Daniel Jones and Meghna Chakrabarti of WBUR—notable personalities like Tituss Burgess and Cheryl Strayed read submitted essays, and there will often be an update from the essayist on their story.
I’d start an episode on the bus to work and finish on the way home, sometimes sitting outside my building to finish the last few minutes before going inside (Wolcott wasn’t wrong about that time-suspended float thing). I listened to a journey of falling in love via psychological experiment, one woman’s deep bond with her doorman and the curveballs thrown at a new parent, to name a few. Each story holds its own insight into the intricacies of human relationships, and I found myself connecting to every episode, perhaps even more than I did when reading the essays in print.
Week Two: Career
Podcast: SUCCESS Insider
Length: 30 minutes
The beauty here is the variety. The podcast covers topics from “Managing Your Energy” to “Why It’s OK to Procrastinate,” with guests well versed on the subject at hand adding to the conversation. Themes rotate around the latest in personal empowerment and career development, and I found that even the episodes not directly focused on career could easily translate.
Several episodes piqued my interest, and I started Monday out with a big-picture idea: “Fail Often and Fast,” which delved into the often inevitable role failure plays in major goal-setting. Another favorite of the week was a more practical episode on “Marketing Yourself,” which answered a question I’ve been grappling with lately about authentic self-promotion. Whether the topic is how to handle stress or define your personal version of success, this podcast makes it easy to connect personal growth with career development.
Related: SUCCESS Talks Podcast
Week Three: Finance
Podcast: Planet Money
Length: 15 to 30 minutes
When I began browsing for this category, I’d hoped to find a personal finance podcast but wasn’t all that interested in anything I saw, especially those geared toward millennials and their budgets. So I decided to shift gears when I came across NPR’s Planet Money, a twice-weekly podcast that covers economic issues in terms someone like me—who’d stayed as far away from Econ 101 as possible—could understand and even enjoy.
Otherwise dry topics are explained in an engaging narrative (Brexit told in terms of a breakup, or the economics of deep-sea fishing through the lens of Deadliest Catch), with many episodes covering timely topics, such as the basic economic jargon used during the presidential debates. I even missed my bus stop one day, distracted by part 3 of a 5-piece segment on oil. There’s also the occasional episode that directly applies to the average listener, such as “DIY Finance” and “The Secret of Line 24,” the scintillating backstory behind our most basic tax form. I’ll admit it, I’m hooked, and plan to listen at least once a week from here on out.
Week Four: Wildcard: Aspirational/Inspirational
Podcast: The Dirtbag Diaries
Length: 30 minutes
I left myself a wildcard option on a subject I’d been interested in learning more about—which counts as personal development in my book. I considered a myriad of topics, from the history of photography to a podcast dedicated entirely to dessert. Then I remembered a friend mentioning The Dirtbag Diaries and quickly decided my wildcard pick would be inspirational rather than educational.
Self-described as a “grassroots podcast” (though with backing from big names like Patagonia and REI Co-Op), episodes are campfire stories for the digital age, stories of the outdoors from backpacking to winter sports, and epic road trips. During the week I found myself welcoming the daily nudge to get out of the office and back outside. By the time Friday rolled around, I’d picked a destination, packed my gear and was ready to hit the road, Seattle traffic be damned.
Although I still listen to plenty of podcasts strictly for fun (Gilmore Guys, anyone?), I now keep an ear out at the water cooler for new finds to add to my personal development rotation. Next up: Revisionist History with Malcolm Gladwell, “Because sometimes the past deserves a second chance.”