We’ve all been there — that is, in the self-help aisle of our favorite indie bookstore, flipping through the titles, trying to choose the book that’ll magically transform our lives. But the self-help aisle often gives us more anxiety than relief. Not only are there way too many options (some are completely worthless), but there’s also a stigma surrounding self-care books, and that can add a level of shame to our already-anxious minds.
That’s exactly why friends Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer decided to start their podcast, By the Book. Every two weeks, Jolenta and Kristen live their lives by the teachings of a specific self-help book and discuss their findings on a podcast episode dedicated to that book. Their findings are totally relatable, surprising, and hysterical. (They remind us of another podcasting duo we love!) We chatted with the podcasting pair to get the scoop on how it all started and why they’re happy to be, as Jolenta says, “shedding light on what most people consider to be a dirty little secret.”
Brit + Co: This is such an incredible idea for a podcast! How did it come about? Were you both self-help obsessed, or is the podcast more of a learning process for you both?
Jolenta Greenberg: A while back, a fire in my apartment building left me homeless for a year, and my therapist suddenly passed away. I was super lost and sad. I’ve always struggled with anxiety and depression, but this was a new low. Kristen and I were working at a radio news show and we got sent TONS of books by publishers. Some books end up getting talked about on air; most get donated or taken home by coworkers. I started hoarding every self-help book we got in an attempt to fix my life.
Kristen Meinzer: Jolenta suggested we make a podcast where we document trying some of the self-help books she collected, with each of us sharing our unique perspective (her openness to them versus my skepticism). I was totally on board in spirit, but in reality, it was impossible. In addition to being a radio producer and on-air contributor, I was also co-hosting a weekly podcast called Movie Date at the time. Jolenta was hosting her own podcast and contributing to the BBC, plus doing voiceover work and comedy, and all the other things she does.
JG: But fast-forward a couple years, and Kristen is working at Panoply and called me to write a pitch for our old idea. Panoply was putting together an internal podcast pitch competition. We were lucky enough to be selected out of dozens of pitches to pilot our idea — and By the Book was born!
B+C: So awesome! Can you give us a quick explanation of how this experiment works? What’s your time frame, and do you have any rules you’ve set for yourself through the process?
KM: We live each book for two weeks, following the book’s rules to the letter and keeping audio diaries throughout. For now, we think two weeks is enough time to put a book’s habits into place, but not so much time that listeners have to wait forever for each new episode. And while we live by the books, Jolenta and I try not to reveal too much to each other about how the books are affecting us. We want to keep things sounding fresh on air.
B+C: What are you hoping to gain from this experiment? Was there something specific you were looking to accomplish, or is it more of a grand experiment and you’re just along for the ride?
KM: Fame! Wealth! Health! All the things the books promise! No, but really, I hope we can just present something smart, fun, honest, and different to podcasting audiences. Jolenta is so funny. She’s so willing to be vulnerable. I’m very opinionated and am very committed to not letting her get hurt. And unlike 95 percent of podcasts, we are a dual female, mixed-race hosting team, which we both take pride in. The podcasting space needs a wider variety of voices.
JG: I’m aiming a little lower than Kristen when it comes to personal gain. I want to be content; I want to stop self-sabotaging, and learn how to enjoy the life I have. And I’m always a fan of more women and diverse voices in podcasting (and everywhere).
B+C: What’s the biggest surprise you’ve found so far in your self-help journey? Any pieces of advice that have really stuck with you?
JG: This sounds so dumb, but our first book was The Secret, and it tells you to smile for 60 seconds every day. Like, force yourself to smile. And I truly noticed a difference in my outlook just from that. I had NO idea how little I smiled day-to-day until I had to make time for it. I still try to make time to smile and notice a difference on days I forget.
B+C: Since it feels like you’re kind of the experts now, we have to know, do you have one self-help book that you’d recommend?
KM: There’s only one self-help book that I recommend regularly: It’s Called a Breakup Because It’s Broken by Greg Behrendt and Amiira Ruotola-Behrendt. The straight talk of that book really speaks to me. There’s no funny vocabulary or fake science, just some solid reminders of why things ended with the last person and why that’s not a bad thing. Also, it does something I consider important: It imparts some optimism. It reminds us that there are more people out there to love, and that so many of them would count themselves damn lucky to be able to love you back. That’s my kind of advice.
B+C: Can you impart any words of encouragement or advice for our readers who are on their own journeys?
JG: I say be vocal, talk about what you want to change and what you’re unhappy with. You can’t change things you never choose to acknowledge. If I hadn’t been open about how unhappy I was, I would have never embarked on this journey with my amazing friend, Kristen.
KM: My advice: Be kind to yourself. Be grateful for all you have. Try at least once a day to make someone else’s day better. It will make your day better, I promise. And make the decision to be happy. It’s easy to be bitter and sad and see the negativity of the world. Do what’s hard.
Do you have a self-help book you swear by? Tweet us @BritandCo and tell us what’s changed your life for the better!
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