21st Century Gifts from the Universe

21st century gifts

When talking about financial choices and financial philosophies, narrative is key. Most people who are thinking consciously about money have a story that ties the different phases of their life together and helps them understand their financial journey thus far. I have a story like this. Perhaps you do too.

Stories—whether about finances or about anything else—are incredibly powerful. Without stories, our lives are a jumbled collection of tiny, colorful fragments of emotion and sensation ricocheting off each other like particles in Brownian motion. With stories, however, our past, present, and future take a clear shape: I did that one thing because of that other thing that happened to me. I used to be that way, but now I am this way. I am growing in that direction, not this one, and that other thing is what I’m striving towards. Stories are how we make sense of ourselves and our experiences. They are how we explain to ourselves and to others where we’ve been and where we’re going. They are how we create meaning.

It’s Thanksgiving this week (in the U.S., at least). There are a lot of things that I’m thankful for and could write about: my family and friends, my health, the existence of WordPress, the weirdly mild fall we are having in Boston this year… But here in this space today, I’d like to talk about something else that is a big part of my life, something that I want to thank the universe for, and share with you. And that something is:


Wait, stay with me!

Ok, first things first: if you by chance do not know what a podcast is, please take a moment to watch Ira Glass’s video explanation. And if you do already totally know what a podcast is, please still take a moment to watch Ira Glass’s video explanation, because it is ADORABLE. Be sure to watch till the end.

There are a lot of different types of podcasts, but I’m talking about the ones that are, essentially, audio stories—in most cases true stories about human lives, honestly and courageously shared by the people who have lived them, and produced by incredibly talented individuals who care about getting those stories to you. And as for podcasts that are intended to be informational rather than narrative-based, I notice that in those ones both the human factor and the storytelling factor still tend to be very high. Good podcasts are almost always, at their heart, about people: their voices and their stories.

So, why am I so thankful for stories?

I’m thankful for stories because they help me connect with other people whose lives, experiences, and values are totally different from my own. Stories let me know that I am not alone. They remind me that everyone goes through difficult experiences and learns from them, and that everyone is usually doing the best they can. Stories keep me company when I’m lonely, they comfort me when I’m sad, they remind me of the humanity of others, and they encourage me to try to be more empathetic and compassionate. They help me remember that everyone is fighting a great battle, and that I should therefore be kind.

And the best part is: the amazing stories delivered to our ears and hearts via podcast are all free. Listening, connecting, laughing, crying, empathizing – all for $0. What an incredible world we live in. Yes, you do need Internet access, and a smartphone or computer, but as long as you can locate a decent public library,  you can log onto a computer, borrow a pair of headphones, and stream the episodes online. Free podcasts for everyone! Truly, we are living in an amazing time.

So this year at Thanksgiving, in addition to everything else I’m thankful for, I’m thankful for stories—for the people who are courageous enough to share them, and the people who record and edit and produce them and bring them into our lives. The list below is my attempt to give all of you a gift at Thanksgiving. Want to hear a story about a Hasidic Jewish man who accidentally discovered the Internet and in doing so changed the course of his life? It’s on the list (Reply-All, “Exit & Return”). Want to hear a story about two babies who were switched at birth and raised in the same town, and didn’t find out until they were adults? Got it (This American Life, “Switched at Birth”). A story about a trip to a sketchy ATM in the far reaches of Brooklyn to pay the ransom on a kidnapped computer? Got that too (Radiolab, “Darkode”). Even if your iTunes queue is already full of podcasts, I bet you can find at least one awesome new episode here.

One last note: unlike reading books and watching movies, podcasts are particularly great to listen to while multitasking. So if you’re spending Wednesday and Thursday cooking, download some podcasts. If you have a long car trip this week and need something to listen to, download some podcasts. If you find yourself sitting around the house bored, or going for a walk to digest all that turkey, download some podcasts. If you’re Canadian and you’re like, um, Thanksgiving happened like a month and a half ago, download some podcasts and listen on the way to work.

End of Love Song.

*     *    *

Start of Awesome List of Podcast Recommendations, aka Free Gifts from the Universe.

So with perhaps 180,000 unique English-language podcasts out there, how can anyone know where to start? Never fear: it’s The Yachtless to the rescue! I’ve compiled an annotated list of some of my favorite storytelling podcasts and specific episodes below. There are so many that it was hard to choose—and I’m sure I left some great ones out accidentally—but this is what I’ve got right now. I’ve included web links, although personally I think it’s much easier to listen via a smartphone app. [Instructions for this: download the iTunes Podcast app, or Stitcher if you use Android, search for the podcast name, then scroll through the episodes to find the one you want, or subscribe to the podcast to get new episodes to download automatically].

Be forewarned that while many podcasts are appropriate for kids, some are not, due to content or language or both. In 80% of these cases the host will give a warning at the beginning, but just be aware.

Ok, here’s the list!

  1. The Moth: True stories told by regular people.
  • Life on a Möbius Strip (An astrophysicist, a coffee shop, and a story that brings her life full circle.)
  • Modern Family (A very funny story about making the best of a difficult interpersonal and interspecies situation.)
  • Flight (A seriously crazy story about someone who was in the EXACT right place at the right time.)
  • My First Story (a writer tells the story of how he became a writer. I absolutely love this story. But please note that it includes some difficult and upsetting themes.)

2. Radiolab: It’s hard to define the theme of this podcast. It’s sort of about science, sort of about history, sort of about culture, and definitely about storytelling.

  • A Very Lucky Wind (One of my favorite episodes of any podcast, ever. Don’t miss it!)
  • Brown Box (Fascinating. They don’t specifically say that this is about Amazon…but it’s probably about Amazon.)
  • Darkode (A seriously awesome Russian lady tells a spooky and unbelievable story about the Internet.)
  • Birthstory (An incredibly moving story about parenting and surrogacy that just came out two days ago.)
  • The Living Room (Really, really excellent storytelling, but the topic is difficult and sad, so be forewarned.)

3. Reply-All: Awesome stories that all have something to do with the Internet.

4. Serial: An investigation into a murder case that happened in 1999. Can be upsetting at times, and definitely not for children. The story arc extends across the entire season, so be sure to start with Episode 1. Also, make sure you have some time blocked out to keep listening once you’ve started, because most people are hopelessly addicted by Episode 2.

5. The Sporkful: I’ve only ever heard one episode of this podcast, but it was awesome.

6. StartUp: Like Serial, StartUp has a story arc that extends across an entire season, so start with Episode 1 of whichever season you’re interested in.

  • Season 1 (The newly hatched company StartUp makes a reality-show style podcast about themselves as they struggle to survive as a new business. Love it. Lots of drama, lots of financial stuff.)
  • Season 2 (The story of a new company run by two women in their early 20s. Really great commentary on gender issues, in addition to being a great story.)

7. Mystery Show: Love love love this. Starlee Kine solves mysteries that can’t be solved on the Internet. Hard to explain. Just listen.

  • Britney (A mystery about Britney Spears. Starlee goes straight to the source.)
  • Belt Buckle (This search for the owner of a belt buckle is one of the most random stories I’ve heard, and also one of the coolest.)
  • Vanity Plate (Starlee investigates what’s going on with a very unusual license plate.)

8. This American Life: Started as an NPR radio show 20 years ago; now it’s the quintessential storytelling podcast. I mentioned This American Life to a roomful of 19-year-old college students last week and none of them had ever heard of it, which frightened me. As I told them: LISTEN TO IT. Even if you are not American. It’s SO GOOD. (Note: You have to listen to archived episodes via their website – only the newest episode is available through iTunes.)

  • Switched at Birth (I heard this several years ago and haven’t been able to get it out of my head since.)
  • Abdi and the Golden Ticket (an amazing story about a man trying desperately to get out of Kenya and start a new life in the U.S.)
  • Three Miles (a really important collection of stories about education and inequality.)
  • Harper High School, Part 1 and Part 2 (really excellent in-depth investigative reporting about an inner city Chicago high school impacted by gang violence.)

9. Budgets & Cents: Ok, I haven’t actually heard this podcast, because it’s not going to be out till January, and I actually don’t know too much about the format or storytelling factor, but I will recommend it here anyway because it’s being created by Cait Flanders and Carrie Smith, which means it will definitely be awesome! You can follow it on Twitter to get updates: @budgetsandcents

Heard any of these podcasts and want to share your thoughts?
Want to recommend more podcasts and/or episodes?
Want to share your thoughts about the Adnan/Jay question?
That’s what the comments section is for!


38 Comments on “21st Century Gifts from the Universe

  1. Aww podcasts! One of the greatest discoveries I have made! I use them to fill my commute and times of mindless work. Audio interviews are such a great way to convey information that just doesn’t easily translate to writing.

    I have listened to a few on your list but I tend to move a bit more towards financial and entrepreneurial podcasts. If I finally catch up on my current backlog of episodes, I will have to check out some from your list! Have a great Thanksgiving Sarah!

    1. Hey Thias, you should check out StartUp if you haven’t already (see my list). It’s a super addictive podcast about starting a business. I learned a TON from it, and I don’t even have a business or a business idea. You might enjoy it! 🙂

  2. What a cool thing to be thankful for!

    It’s something that many people this day and age take advantage of – the ability to connect with, network with and support one another online but as you say, stories really are important. I will have to check out some of these podcasts too as I’m just starting to teach myself a bit about personal finance and it all sounds rather relevant and useful.

    Glad to have found your blog.

    1. Hi Jenna, thanks so much for stopping by and for commenting. 🙂 It’s really hard to express how much a lot of these podcasts have meant to me over the past few years. I just can’t believe how many amazing podcasts and stories are out there. If you try any of these (or others) and like them, let me know! 🙂

  3. That’s a strong and thoughtful list Sarah. Fortunately, the word is getting out slowly about the treasure trove in there! The apps like Stitcher and are good for discovery too…. Happy trails Yachtless.

    1. Glad you like the list, Minter! It’s amazing how much cool stuff is out there in the audiosphere these days, isn’t it? We’re living in a golden age of radio. 🙂

  4. Podcasts make me so thankful for my 15/20 minute commute! If you’re going to listen to Serial, you have to follow it up with Undisclosed (and Truth and Justice – but I’d jump in around episode 10 of that). So much Serial missed! And if Sarah Koenig doesn’t come back soon, I might cry.

    I love Invisibila, Criminal, Limetown, Lore…oh my! Planet Money and Tim Ferris have some real gems too. Such a good list!

    1. Yay, Serial!!! I am extremely proud of getting my whole lab addicted to Serial. We basically got nothing done on Fridays during that whole time period because we were arguing about theories. Is Undisclosed the one that Rabia did? And I know, seriously, where is Sarah Koenig? I thought they were supposed to be putting out another season this fall.

      I would definitely recommend checking out that Sporkful episode that I put in the list — it’s a Serial parody, but also a really good mystery story in and of itself. Oh, my housemate also recommended Limetown — that’s next on my list, thanks! 🙂

  5. Man do I ever love podcasts. I’m probably subscribed to 30 of them. I’ve been listening since 2006, almost the birth of podcasting, when almost every podcast was DIY and amateurish.

    You mentioned some of my favorites. I’ve been with the Sporkful since their beginning. I even tested recipes for his book, Eat More Better, and so my name is in the Thank You section. (Not saying which name!) Also Mystery Show is my favorite podcast going, and the Jake Gyllenhall / David Rees episode is probably my favorite episode of any podcast ever.

    A few more I like:
    The Best Show – Three hour comedy show. An acquired taste, but I’m obsessed with it.
    Mike and Tom Eat Snacks – My other favorite comedy podcast, comes out sporadically.
    Slate Podcasts – Mostly for the Political Gabfest, and then I pick and choose segments to listen to from all the other shows.
    The Naked Scientists – British science show. I’ve been listening for almost ten years.
    The Truth – “Movies for your ears.” Radio drama naturally lends itself to podcasting, but not many people do it. The Truth does it well.

    1. Thanks for these recommendations, Norm! They all sound fantastic. And that’s pretty cool that you’ve been involved with Sporkful. I would love to have the chance to be involved with a podcast in some way. I should definitely look up some more Sporkful episodes too, since that fridge theft one was so good.

      It’s incredible what a new thing podcasting is — hard for me to believe that podcasts were not really around 10 years ago. Although of course we had public radio before that, which is almost the same thing except you have to remember to turn on the radio at the right time of day!

      Oh — did you know that Starlee Kine actually ended up measuring Jake Gyllenhaal in front of an audience on a late-night talk show? (I think it was Conan.) Pretty funny. 🙂

  6. I love podcasts, but really have no time to listen and watch… So reading is my jam. With three kids constantly with me, I can’t just listen to anything without vetting it first. During naptime, not being quiet would just be dumb (and if I wear headphones, I probably wouldn’t hear them) I’m jealous of Mr. T who can listen to podcasts all day at work. Radiolab is his favorite.

    1. Ah, yes, I totally understand why podcasts are maybe not as ideal when hanging out with kids. There are definitely episodes where I’m thinking, yipes, I hope no kids are listening to this!
      I think it’s definitely key to have a specific time in your day/week when you typically listen — if not, it can be hard to find the time or the opportunity. I usually listen through headphones while walking to work and home again, plus I listen to them a lot at night when I can’t sleep. Maybe at some point your routine will change in some way and you’ll be able to find some podcast time!

  7. I’ve been listening to more podcasts this year than ever before, but I haven’t listened to most of the ones on your list–very excited to give a go. Relative to PF and investing, I’ve been listening to Bigger Pockets and the Investors Podcast. Thanks for sharing your list!

    1. Cool, thanks for those suggestions! I should check those two out. I hope you like whichever ones on my list that you end up listening to. I tried to pick the very best ones I could think of, so hopefully they will be good! 🙂

  8. What a fantastic curated list of Podcasts! I am always looking for new ones to delve into – and you’ve just made it incredibly easy. 🙂 It’s fantastic that you are sharing the episodes that have resonated with you, that in itself is a gift. A couple more to check out (so many amazing ones out there!): TED Radio Hour, So Money, Eventual Millionaire, Unsettle. I wish I had more hours in the day to listen to more Podcasts because I can completely relate to connecting to those who have stories. I’m really captivated by This American Life – I think that’s the next series I will need to check out!

    1. Hey Alyssa,
      These are awesome ideas! I do actually love So Money; not sure why I didn’t include it in the list. I should check out these others as well.
      I really cannot recommend This American Life highly enough. I tried to contain myself for the purpose of not making a list ten miles long, but they just have so many great episodes. I’ve been listening to TAL for a long time, since high school at least, since it started out as a weekend NPR radio show. It’s truly amazing.

  9. I changed jobs this year and now drive to work, and my favorite part is listening to podcasts in the car everyday! In addition to many of the those listed here, I’d like to give a shout out to Terry Gross who delivers really awesome interviews on Fresh Air. Also, my husband got me into the Grantland podcasts which are now on Bill Simon’s Channel 33. I ignore all the sports stuff and just listen for the pop culture discussion/reviews, like Andy Greenwald and Chris Ryan talking about Leftovers and GOT 🙂

    1. Hey Kelsey 🙂 That’s awesome that you get to listen to podcasts in the car — I’m jealous! I don’t have a car anymore since I live in a city now and it’s too much trouble, and for the most part I like not having one, but the one thing I do miss is listening to podcasts and the radio in the car. These days I usually listen while I’m walking to work, but I constantly have to rewind whenever a loud truck goes by!
      Terry Gross — what a good point! She is awesome, I agree. I’ll look out for Grantland as well. Thanks for your comment! 🙂

  10. Um, Thanksgiving happened like a month and a half ago.

    Hahaha I had to be your token Canadian in the comments, I just had to. Honestly, this came at an absolutely perfect time, because I’m (somewhat shamefully) almost done rewatching all of Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix while I do my food prep on Sunday afternoons! So this will be a perfect list to go through, and as a bonus, I won’t have to worry about placing my laptop so I can see the screen – it’s been precarious in some cases.

    And if anyone is doubting that you really need to block of time for listening to all of Serial: you do. It is the podcast gateway drug we deserve, and you won’t be able to put it down. My boyfriend and I listened to the entire thing back to back on a roadtrip and it was perfect.

    1. Oh gosh, I kind of wish I had waiting to listen to Serial all at once. But I was one of those people who was going through withdrawal on a weekly basis waiting for the next episode.

      To me, cooking is the best time to listen to podcasts — I like to listen when I’m walking, but the traffic is so loud that I’m constantly having to rewind and listen to parts again (haha, rewind, there must be a modern term for that, and why yes I did own cassette tapes when I was a child/teenager). But anyway, cooking is perfect because a) it’s a pretty quiet activity, and b) you need your brain a little bit to cook, but not a lot, so most of your brain can listen to the podcast.

      Let me know if you hear any you like! 🙂

  11. I love what you’re thankful for this year 🙂 I totally agree about the telling of stories. It’s so incredibly powerful and one of the best tools we have to connect with one another and feel less alone. Beautifully said. You listed SO many great podcasts—some of which I haven’t even heard of yet, so thank you for the recs! I’m excited to try them out. I also LOVE that you’re a fan of Gimlet Media. SO good. (especially the Britney episode and the one about Jake Gyllenhaal. I couldn’t breathe I was laughing so hard!)

    So here’s my rec for you: Death, Sex and Money. Kind of like Radio Lab but even better in my opinion! Let me know what you think if you try it out 🙂

    1. I’m glad you also like Mystery Show, Taylor! Isn’t Starlee Kine awesome? My theory about that show is that even though there’s this gimmick of trying to solve mysteries, her real goal is to just talk to people and find out about their lives and connect with them. Like there are so many weird long tangents where she’s just asking some random person about their life. It’s fantastic. 🙂 Have you heard the other Gimlet podcasts? (Reply All, StartUp, and Surprisingly Awesome)

      Thanks for the recommendation! I will check out Death, Sex, and Money for sure.

  12. Sarah, what a great list of podcasts! I’ve been a bit partial to the entrepreneurial ones like Eventual Millionaire, Smart Passive Income, and This is Your Life (Michael Hyatt), but it think it’s about time to expand my horizons. I think I’ll start with Flight on The Moth. Thanks for putting this together. Happy Thanksgiving!!

    1. Hey Michael! I hope you like the Moth episode — it’s a great one, and The Moth in general is fantastic. You might also like StartUp if you haven’t ever heard it. It’s all about entrepreneurship, but in story form (like a reality show!). Happy Thanksgiving!

  13. I love your blog, and I love this post and its comments!

    I am also a big fan of Starlee’s weird long tangents in Mystery Show. My favorite is when she talked with that customer service rep about her ticket to see Britney.

    Also, I second another commenter’s recommendation of Invisibilia if you aren’t already listening. Specifically, the episode How to become batman.

    Another podcast I think you would appreciate is The Allusionist, which is about language and etymology. There was recently an episode called Baby Talk, which I particularly enjoyed.

    1. Hey Meghan 🙂 Happy Thanksgiving, and thanks for the recommendations! I really should listen to Invisibilia. I think I listened to part of one episode once, and the topic didn’t really resonate with me, but I should give it another go because people keep recommending it to me! I’ll start with the Batman episode. 🙂
      And I hadn’t heard of the Allusionist; I’ll have to check that out as well!

  14. I love me some podcasts! Thanks for the recommendations! My recommendation is to listen to them at 1.5x speed so you can get through them quicker. It’s a little jarring when I listen to it in the car w/ my wife however 🙂

    1. Hahahaha, Vic, thanks for that recommendation. 🙂 I have a feeling that I might also find 1.5x speed a little jarring, but I can definitely understand wanting to get through more of them!

  15. Podcasts are my favorite thing about road trips! Unfortunately Thanksgiving was a flying holiday this year, so no huge stretches of open time to fill with these wonderful stories. Oh well. (And, btw, when is Serial coming back?? Aren’t we supposed to be getting two new seasons, like, yesterday? Can’t wait!) Thank you for these wonderful recommendations! We’re regular TAL listeners, but will fill up our phones with the others! 🙂

    1. I know, right?? Sarah Koenig is holding out on us. I am pretty much 100% sure she said Fall 2015.
      Since you’re already into TAL, I’d suggest Reply-All in particular — the hosts are really great and I think of it as having a lot in common with TAL, just sometimes with more of a technology focus (but sometimes not). You might also enjoy the Sporkful’s Serial spoof. 🙂

  16. This is a fantastic post Sarah! I have about an hour commute to and from work each day. Listening to podcasts in instead of music has had a huge impact on my life. I don’t know if I would have started my website without doing so. Now I view my time commuting as education. I am learning for two additional hours per day, not wasting two hours.

    I have listened primarily to The Tim Ferriss Show, The James Altucher Show, and Freakonomics Radio. I actually listened to an episode yesterday interviewing Alex Blumberg, the creator of Startup. Yes, this was a podcast interviewing a guy who started a podcast on the process of starting a podcast. Mind blowing. I was intrigued listening, and I am definitely going to begin listening to Startup based on your recommendation.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Wow, Andrew, that’s so cool that podcasts inspired you to start your blog! That’s a pretty amazing testament to the power of podcasts. 🙂

      Alex Blumberg is amazing, and so is StartUp. I definitely got addicted pretty quickly. Even though my blog isn’t really a *business* per se, I find it pretty inspiring because basically they’re talking about starting a project, getting it off the ground, making connections, improving the project, etc. And all of that definitely applies to blogging.

      I should really take the time to check out Tim Ferriss. I’ve heard such good things but just haven’t ever really taken the time to read or listen to any of his stuff.

  17. You wouldn’t happen to do writing at Uni / College would you Sarah i.e. studying it as a degree? I must say you tell a captivating story, which is probably one of the big reasons you’re getting heaps of comments :)..

    A few podcasts that I’m into but have already been listed are Eventual Millionaire, Smart Passive Income, and This is Your Life (Michael Hyatt) along with Tim Feriss show too..

    One that I noticed hasn’t been mentioned is mixergy & the school of greatness, feel I need to get outside my box a bit and listening to different genre’s 🙂 haha, any suggestions on a comedy one?

    Also awesome that you’re grateful; although thanksgiving was a few months ago in the States & Canada I admit how you guys celebrate and was lucky enough to be a part of one in 2010!

    1. Thanks for the compliment, Jef — I don’t actually study writing, but I enjoy it as a hobby.
      A few people have recommended the Tim Feriss podcast to me; I should check it out!
      A good comedy one is “The Worst Idea of All Time” — it’s totally non-educational, but I find it hilarious!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.