Our Favorite Advice of 2020

Listen to this episode

S1: Test, test, test, test, Frank Rich, hello, how’s it going, Rosie? How’s it going? How’s everyone’s voices this morning? La la, la la la la. I get to produce you guys.

S2: OK, so, Charles, just kind of give us a little spiel to, like, kick this off.

S3: Sure. I’m Charles Duhigg and you were listening to the year end wrap up of how to and we thought we’d do something different this week, which is that we got all of our staff who works on the show and makes the show happen together, because we were going to talk about our favorite episodes and what we learned personally from making how to over the last 12 months in what must be one of the worst possible years on Earth. So with that in mind, let’s start by having everyone who works on the show introduce himself.

Advertisement

S2: My name is Derek John, the executive producer here in Chicago. And unlike Charles, I love dogs.

S1: OK, so I should interrupt here to explain what Derek is referring to is our recent episode How to Get Your Dog to Stop Eating Your Daughter’s Underwear with Jenny Slate, in which I admit to not being much of a dog person. I actually didn’t even think we should do that episode because that sounded ridiculous to me, but it ended up being one of my favorite ones of the year.

S4: Hello, my name is Rachel Allen. I helped produce the show and I’m in Boston and I also love Dog. Hi, I’m Rosie Bellison. I also help produce the show. I’m currently in Wisconsin and I don’t have a dog, but we have a river in the backyard. So any animals that come on through, I’ve always been told there are pets and they have to say outside, okay, there you go.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S5: So you guys do pets, right?

S3: On today’s show, we’re going to pull back the curtain and share more behind the scenes stories, as well as our favorite advice from 20/20 and how we applied it to our own lives. And we’ve got some surprising updates from folks we had on the show. Stay with us. So we’ve done forty eight episodes this year, which is a lot of advice and a lot of guidance and a lot of different colors and a lot of expertise and a lot of problems. And we all went through trying to figure out which was our favorite episode. And so let’s start with you, Rachel.

Advertisement

S6: So my favorite episode was one that actually aired back in June. It was called How to Stand Up for Your Kid, What Society Want. And it was this mom named Karen who lived in Pennsylvania and her child had just come out to her as non binary.

S7: Let’s listen to a clip from the episode. Do you feel guilty that you’re struggling with this?

S8: Yes. Yes, I feel like mother should just be unconditional love.

S9: And I do really, really love my child. And I really, really want to have a good relationship with my child. But I’m being called that. I have to accept this. But I’m just you know, it’s been hasn’t been quite two years yet, but I wish I could just flip a switch and just be completely on board with this, but I still struggle.

Advertisement
Advertisement

S6: She was very nervous about using her name on the show. We sometimes use different names if that makes people more comfortable. But it turns out when she actually did come on the show, she used her real name. She had this conversation with a woman named Lisa L’Ecole, who runs this support group for parents of transgender kids and for Karen. Lisa was really the first parent she was able to speak with who had a similar experience as her and Lisa. It really helped her like role play. Like, what can Karen say when people in town ask about her kids during the interview? You could really, like, kind of feel caring, open up. And then by the end of it, she had said and like her email back to us, that she’s just been having great conversations more with people in town. She’s much more comfortable using the right pronouns for her child. Finally, we heard I think this was like a month ago or so, she actually went on a national TV show, the Tamron Hall Show, with her child. And so that was just really a great moment to see her go from really wanting to keep herself so secret to then talking about it so publicly and really trying to help other parents to.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: One of the things that struck me about that episode was that Karen just so clearly like was was desperate for help. And so just to have someone else tell her how how to think about it and that it’s OK and that she can navigate through it, she just felt so relieved at the end of the episode.

S6: Yes. She came in feeling so guilty, too, because she had said the episode that really made her even right into the show in the first place was another one called How to Get Your Mom to Accept You, which Karen kind of saw herself in that.

S2: That’s definitely one of my favorite aspects of making the show, I think is when we kind of create those connections with, like the people who come on the show and then our listeners. Yeah.

Advertisement

S6: So Lisa, who was our expert for that, actually wrote in and said in this support group, she runs for parents. One of the parents in their introduction brought up the fact that they had listened to this podcast about a mom who had a non binary child. And it turns out it was our podcast that Lisa was on and they didn’t know it was Lisa. They had just listened to it and brought it up.

S2: That’s great. So a little plug for, if you like, one of her episodes.

S5: Tell a friend it works.

S1: OK, so, Rosie, what about you? What do you what was one of your favorite episodes from the past year?

Advertisement

S10: Oh, my favorite episode was How to Survive a Public Shaming with Katie Hill. So former Representative Katie Hill sort of came on the podcast. She wasn’t a traditional listener in the way that she was asking for advice, but she was more sharing and reflecting on what had happened to her while in Congress.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S7: Let’s listen to a clip. Do you remember when that kind of hit you where all of a sudden you just felt shame?

S4: Oh, the moment is completely unforgettable. It’s when my staff walked into my office with just completely ashen faces and turned her phone towards me. And it was it was one of the naked photos.

S10: So we paired her with Jon Ronson, who had sort of studied public shaming and how to survive them. And it really led to this fascinating conversation on like when a public figure is going through a scandal, when is an apology necessary? Because there’s this ongoing conversation that we’ve been having on a national scale about like when our apology is necessary, who deserves a second chance? And it also led to this really interesting aspect of the role gender plays in surviving public scandals, because, as Jon Ronson argued, men are in a much better position to survive public scandals than women.

Advertisement

S1: Well, one of the things that struck me is that, you know, hearing her perspective, I think that sometimes. We all have this bias that when someone is like in the news that way, you think to yourself, like, oh, they must be prepared for this or that, or they must have a team around them that helps them manage this emotionally and logistically. And but no, you realize like, oh, no, these are just normal people whose lives just get destroyed in a moment.

S2: You know, she is such a complicated figure, which I think made it made it really fascinating. And I think Rosie’s right. Like hopefully this is something that not a lot of folks in our audience can can relate to. But at the same time, there’s a really nice insight, I thought, that came out of that that episode at the end, which is that we all in some ways are culpable when we share this stuff on social media. And like that was actually a lesson that I think I sort of took away from it. Think twice before you, you know, pile on someone on Twitter.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: I think that’s a really good point. OK, so and Derek, that actually brings us to you. What was your favorite episode from the past year?

S2: Well, I am still very smitten with the Ben Folds episode. We ended up calling it How to Write the Perfect Breakup Song with Ben Folds. So I have to confess, I am a huge Ben Folds fan going way back to college. And it’s kind of wild to think about how this one actually came together, because I think we had gotten this letter from Lorenzo in Canada. He was a dental student, also an aspiring musician and songwriter, and he wrote in, just sang like, I really just I can’t write a good song. Like, I, you know, I go to these open mic nights and I just kind of fall flat and I just need some help, like, how do I actually write a song? And I think it took like six months to arrange this interview with Ben, but then we were actually able to do it in person. This is like just before the pandemic, we actually had been at the piano breaking down his songwriting process.

Advertisement

S5: So that sounds so much better.

S1: This is a rock, iconic three chords, and you’re not trying to embellish them in a way that that runs away from it. Own that.

S2: And then by the end of the episode, I was sort of amazed they actually crafted a song. It was a song that Lorenzo had already been working on. But it just actually you could hear it over the course of the episode, just get better and better.

S1: Watching a professional musician who has spent his whole life in music, talk about and break down songs was just kind of amazing because it was clear that the the piano was kind of a part an extension of his brain, which actually, Rachel brings us to the piece of advice that that we feel like we’ve learned the most from. And you actually chose an episode for that. That similarly is is one person going through a problem, talking to someone else who’s already been through that problem?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S6: Yes. So I would say my favorite piece of advice. So this was actually an episode from last year and it was called How to Decide Whether or Not to Have a Baby. But we heard an update about it this year. So I thought the piece of advice could count for this year. But that one was with Cheryl Strayed and this woman named Megan and the piece of advice that really stuck with me and that stuck with me again was the idea of like when you have a really big decision to make, Cheryl said, like, imagine you’re standing on a shore deciding between two ships and you’re going to carry regret with you basically whichever ship you board. And you just kind of have to learn to be OK with that and to know that there’s always going to be this like, quote unquote, ghost ship that’s going to leave without you. But even just acknowledging that she was going to be giving up something kind of was freeing for her and for her husband.

S11: Through the process of the podcast, we sort of ultimately decided, yes, we would go forward and, you know, now I’m sitting here talking to you with a sleeping baby on my lap. You know, it seems like a weird thing to say, but a little podcast and the wisdom that was shared by that, partly as a result of that, there’s a new person in the world and that’s pretty cool.

S6: And so I think I stress a lot about making decisions, but kind of having that freedom of, OK, either way you’re going to regret something and lose something. But that’s OK. But I hope I keep carrying that with me too, when it’s like bigger decisions.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: I think it is right that, like, no decision is perfect, that you’re still going to make decisions that have costs. Like even if you maximize for the best you can for your happiness, you’re still going to actually have some things where you end up saying, like, gosh, I wish I looked a little bit harder, that that sense of regret is actually part of making decisions. And that doesn’t mean that you’ve made the wrong decision. It just means that you’re human.

S5: Wow, you’re good, Charles, you should host the podcast. It’s only because after this, this gets edited, I’m going to sound a lot. But, you know, I’ve never been on the other end of it. I feel so, Harriet.

S3: OK, so enough philosophising, let’s take a quick break, and when we come back, we’ll hear about what’s happened to some of our listeners, like the guy who owns a family business and wanted to fire his daughter.

S1: Welcome back. We’re rounding up our favorite advice from 20/20 and how we used it in our own lives. And one of our producers, Rosie, found something really meaningful in an episode titled How to Say the Right Thing.

S10: At the worst time, the listener, Ann, had just experienced a loss in her family, and she was really struggling how to come to grips with the loss herself, but also help her family members that were also struggling with it. So she was talking with Megan, who gave this really interesting piece of advice that even if you’ve gone through something similar, it can be very easy to be like, oh, I know exactly what you’re talking about. Like here is how I’ve dealt with this. But you don’t necessarily want to, like, jump right to that. You can extend an invitation to that person and say, I have this experience. If you want to talk about this, I’d be more than happy to.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S4: But also, like, leave it there and just listen to what they have to say.

S1: Here’s a clip of our expert, the grief therapist, Megan Devine, who lost her husband.

S12: Suddenly, I realized that what we say to people when they’re in pain isn’t necessarily helpful. When people would say you’re so strong and you’re so smart, you’re going to find a way to get through this. The way that felt for me was don’t feel the way that you feel. Stop letting this upset you. I actually overheard people in coffee shops say she must not have been a very good therapist if something like this upsets her.

S2: Rosie, I’m so glad you you picked that one because there were so many good nuggets of wisdom in that episode. I thought just things that I had never occurred to me. And, you know, thank God I haven’t really had to put them into to practice this year yet. But if and when I need to sort of figure out how to say the right thing at the worst time, I’m going to go back to this advice.

S13: So my favorite piece of advice from the past year, it comes from our episode with a with Taffy Britisher Agner, who is an author and a reporter at the New York Times magazine, and she’s written a book called Fleshman is in Trouble, which is like a book that I love.

S1: And we had her on to answer the question, how to write a bestseller. And our caller was this woman who has been journaling every single day of her life for years and years and years. And she has this idea for a great book. And and she just couldn’t figure out how to start. And so Tammy’s biggest piece of advice was stop journaling like like instead you should just start writing your book. And like, as someone who is a writer myself, I’ve always wanted to keep diaries. I always feel guilty about not keeping diaries, not writing every single morning. That was really, really nice to hear.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S3: What do you think about writer’s block? Like, is that something you’ve ever experienced?

S14: I’m so glad you ask that. It’s my favorite question. I don’t believe in writer’s block. I wrote half of my book in the in the Nordstrom ladies room where there’s a couch and the other half with children sitting next to them watching TV with them so that they would have the illusion that I was spending time with them. Like I never asked my my sister, who’s a veterinarian, I never say to her like, oh, you’re not blocked today, are you, because you have had surgery to do.

S3: OK, so two more questions. Which advice have you guys actually applied to your own lives?

S1: Like, you can’t you can’t work on an advice show and remain immune from actually trying to to take some of those tips and trying to apply them to your own day to day life.

S15: The first piece of advice came from a really recent show. It was about how to get out of debt faster than you think. And as someone who is fresh out of college and has student loans, it really does feel like this giant weight over my head. I recently bought a car like I was debating whether I had enough money to buy it outright, but I didn’t know if I should put that money directly towards my student loans and take out a smaller loan to buy the car, because that would be a lower interest rate. But I took the advice to have as little debt as you you can have all over your head. So it’s like a really basic piece of advice. But I just bought the car outright, so I had to have one last loan.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: That’s great. Rachel, what about you? Like, what piece of advice did you end up adopting into your life?

S16: So this one has actually come up a lot. And Charles, I’ve heard you say this a lot, too, but basically reward yourself for trying to build new habits. And this came up in two episodes in particular that stood out in my mind. One of them was called How to Stop Procrastinating. And later in another episode called How to Actually Lose Weight and Keep It Off. In that episode, our expert Katie Milkman said somewhat of a similar thing of when you’re trying to make yourself exercise, like only watch a TV show then that you don’t allow yourself to watch any other time or only listen to a podcast then as you’re doing this difficult thing. So I kind of adopted that in terms of I like to run, but I’ve been trying to run longer distances. And so I’ve started doing kind of what Katie said of only listening to a certain podcast when I go on these long runs and then afterwards only eating the certain type of peanut butter granola bar. That’s really good that I don’t let myself eat any other time other than after those long runs.

S5: I love that you’re no good. And so it’s like everything’s gone. So it’s a candy bar for projects to be a good. Yeah, that’s a pretty good.

S13: Another episode that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately was how to save your marriage, where this marriage therapist named Julie Gottman explained how to do ice statements, which is something that I had always heard you’re supposed to do if you’re in an argument.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S1: But I never really knew how to do it. And Julie explained that there’s like a formula to my statements, I feel.

S8: About what and here’s my positive need, I feel upset that the kitchen is a mess. Now, the positive need means you’re not talking about what you don’t want. You’re talking about what you do want. And you have to be very specific about it, very concrete. I would love it if you could pay the bills by next Monday. That would take a load off my plate.

S7: OK.

S1: So the other thing that I wanted to ask you guys about is that there is a lot of feedback that we get from listeners who have both heard the show and people who have been on the show after the show airs. So, like, what have we heard from listeners?

S16: I mean, we’ve gotten so many I will say two of my favorites that have always stood out were in response to our episode, How to Find Your First Kiss at 38 and what it was about this woman named Sharon, who was 38 and had never been kissed. And we set her up with the matchmaker. It’s kind of talk about what she can do differently with dating, et cetera. And so we actually got two emails after that from two men in their 40s who said they also had never kissed anyone and that they really just empathized with Sharon and that they enjoyed hearing her story.

S13: And did you introduce either of them to Sharon? Like, is there any.

S16: No, I didn’t, but I thought about it. So we’ve become a matchmaking show, maybe.

S1: And so there’s one episode in particular that I keep on thinking about, which is how to fire your daughter, where Kyle had reached out to us because he really wanted to fire his daughter, like like his daughter was working for him in his insurance company. He thought she was doing a terrible job. He wanted to fire her, but he just couldn’t figure out whether he should or how to do it. Did we ever hear back from him?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: I mean, I think almost a year to the day later, we just got an email from him like a month ago saying he had actually finally done it. And actually, Rachel, you spoke with him?

S17: Yes, I did want Variety. She did not show up. And I texted her and finally just said, basically, you cannot work here anymore. She did come back, you know, and say, you’re right, I just can’t work there. And so she’s moving forward. She has posted her resume on a few job boards. Certainly I’m disappointed and frustrated, but I’m not mad. And they want to see her and I want to have a relationship. And, you know, I love her. She’s my daughter and I just wish the best for her.

S16: But, yeah, I guess to kind of end Kyle story, he’s hoping to kind of bring her back to the company maybe someday. So who knows? Another email that I thought was really moving was from our episode, How to Cook a Meth Habit. And our listener was this man, Jason, who had been struggling with a meth addiction for many years and was now recovering and was kind of figuring out how he could get custody over his kids and just kind of turn his life around. And so his 13 year old son actually wrote in to us after the episode and said, you know, I loved hearing how hard my dad is working to get back with us and I’m really proud of him. And Jason wrote us as well about how many people in his town kind of was like, oh, hey, I thought really differently of you after hearing this episode and realizing what you’re going through. And that seems pretty, pretty positive for him and his recovery.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

S2: That’s really nice. Yeah, when I was like 13 year old son wrote in to say how much this had kind of changed his life, it was really I mean, that that’s that’s that’s why you get up every day. You know, it’s just kind of like not to not to be too corny, but I feel like if our show can change even one life like that, that’s that’s pretty amazing.

S13: Thank you to everyone who’s written in with a problem this year, we’ve really, really appreciated getting all of them and hopefully helping some of you.

S3: And in 2021, as we embark on this new year, if you have a problem that needs solving. We would love to hear from you. You can always send us a note at how to its slate dotcom, or you can leave us a voicemail at six four six four nine five four zero zero one.

S13: So, Charles, we have one last thing before we go. It’s kind of a tribute to the singularity of Charles Duhigg. I mean, I’m terrified with this.

S18: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

S19: I found your your podcast and started listening and I thought that your AFACT is just amazing. I really appreciate it that. Yeah. That you do. I don’t know if they teach you that in journalism school. That’s very nice of you Charles. Can I get a. Yeah. Like that. Really soft. Yeah. Yeah.

S13: I want you to know my wife has never ever appreciated that, so I really appreciate it. So that was Donny, our listener from Kansas City, who was trying to find a new career. And yeah, I love that he recognized that that little verbal take years. And I have to say, all of those Yazz that you heard in that little montage, I think all of those came from that one.

S5: Are you serious? Totally serious. Yeah. Yeah, right. I know you can’t hear it.

S3: How TOS executive producer, as you heard in this episode, is Derek John, Rachel Allen and Rosemarie Bellson produced the show. And Merritt Jacob is our engineer. Our theme music is by Janice Brown. June Thomas is senior managing producer and Alicia Montgomery is executive producer of Slate podcasts. Gabriel Roth is Slate’s editorial director of audio special, thanks to Ashley Judd. I’m Charles Duhigg. Thanks for listening this year and have a great, great 2021.