If the Internet is correct, Mark Twain once said, “The two most important days are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”
Life is constantly full of twists and turns, and in the midst of change, the waters can get a little overwhelming if you don’t have someone to help you navigate. Enter: Half Hour Intern.
We had the privilege of talking with Blake Fletcher, the voice and mastermind behind Half Hour Intern, a podcast dedicated to people wanting to learn about interesting jobs & hobbies, all in hopes of finding their true calling. See how Blake came up with the idea for his podcast, what he’s learned along the way, and how he continues to inspire people on the journey of finding purpose.
Tell us a little about your background and how you came up with Half Hour Intern.
When I was 24, I managed to get my dream job (being a medical device rep). Somehow though, it just didn’t feel quite right. It didn’t click. It checked all of these boxes for what type of job I should like and yet somehow, still, certain parts of the job felt wrong to me…like dating someone who checks all the right boxes, but there’s just no chemistry and you don’t know why. I thought maybe I just needed a new company, or a new product, or to be in a more senior position.
Six years later, I had shifted all of those things and the job still never clicked, it still was not the job I imagined, and still was not the job I wanted. I have been a been a big podcast fan for a long time, and one day it occurred to me, I could make a podcast for people like me. People that aren’t doing what they want to be doing, but who have no idea what the heck it is they want to do instead. That is the highest calling of Half Hour Intern, to actually help people. I’m also an incredibly curious person and I love learning about the world around me, and I know lots of other people do too. That’s the broader, less ambitious goal of the show, to have a great time while learning about cool stuff.
Is Half Hour Intern your full-time job or is this a side hobby?
It is my full-time job. I had my idea for the podcast three years ago, and did almost nothing with it for over a year. I would work on it a bit, then my life would get too stressful trying to balance it with my job, so I would drop it and go back to just working at my job.
Two years ago, I started listening to Wayne Dyer audiobooks. Two things he said stuck in my head and I would find myself thinking about quite often while I was at work:
The Golden Rules
Don’t die with your music still inside you.
There are no accidents. Any coincidence you see in life is not a coincidence.
What was I doing with my time as a medical device rep? Certainly not making music. I had this idea, this thing I wanted to create, and I just sat on it because of fear. One morning while working in my office, I decided I needed to make my music and I would put it off no longer. Right then and there, I came up with a list of the top 5 jobs/hobbies that I wanted to interview for the podcast. I told myself I would start trying to find people that did those jobs later that week.
Later that day, I had a lunch scheduled at a surgeon’s office, so I called the surgeon to find out where he wanted me to get lunch from. He told me he wanted Chinese food (the first and only time a surgeon ever told me that in 6 years), but didn’t have any suggestions for where I should go. I went on Yelp and chose the first place near his office that offered pick-up.
I went to pick up the food, thinking about how excited I was to get started on the podcast later that week, when next door to the Chinese food restaurant, was a shop with a huge sign out front that said ‘Bird Watching.’ Bird watching was the #1 hobby I had written on my list that morning…and I’m not too sure I have ever seen a bird watching store in my life. I grabbed the Chinese food and put it in my car, walked into the bird watching store, and got my very first interview scheduled. Later that day, I came across an indoor archery range at another shopping center I was in. That was the #3 hobby on the list I had made that morning. I contemplated Wayne’s words and thought of the odds of any of that happening, and one week later I quit my job to work on the podcast full-time.
We experience such a deluge of sensory overload every day, and just listening to something can be really nice.
It seems like nowadays most people have blogs or video channels. What made you want to start a podcast?
I actually never even considered anything else. I was a pretty early adopter for podcasts and have always loved them. As a rep, you have to spend a lot of time in the car every day, and I loved spending that time learning something new or being told an amazing story. Listening to a podcast can become such an intimate experience. We experience such a deluge of sensory overload every day, and just listening to something can be really nice.
How do you find the people you interview?
It’s pretty incredible, but I’d say that 90% of my episodes have been through referrals. When I first started, I reached out to friends and family to ask if they had anyone they would suggest for the show. After the show launched, I put out that same call to listeners of the show, and it has been a pretty self-sustaining thing. The other 10% of the time, I typically find people on reddit. For instance, with the beekeeping episode I went on the beekeeping subreddit and asked who they thought I should interview for the show. So many people got suggested that I decided to do a trilogy.
Do you talk to the people you meet beforehand? Or is the first time you talk to your guests during the actual podcast?
We email back and forth a bit, but typically the first time we actually speak is during the interview. I usually try to talk with the person for 5-10 minutes on a video Skype call before we cut to audio only, and start the interview. That way, they can get to know me a bit better and see me as a person, not just some voice that hosts a show.
Do you have a preset list of questions for each guest? How do you usually come up with questions?
I want the interviews to be as candid and natural as possible, so I went back and forth in the beginning between not writing questions, writing questions, and writing questions and sending them to the guest ahead of time. With trial and error, I found the best way to do it is to send them questions ahead of time so they can feel more comfortable and confident heading into the interview. None of the candor or natural feel is lost.
As far as coming up with questions, a lot depends on the topic. Sometimes I have SO many questions for someone because of what they do. Other times I have to do a decent amount of research online about what the person does before I can come up with questions. And lastly, I occasionally employ the help of my amazing wife, Asta, to help come up with questions. If it’s the type of thing I know Asta will be interested in, I always go to her.
What do you do when there’s an awkward silence? What are some techniques you use to avoid awkward silences?
It’s funny, I have never even worried or wondered about this at all, and there has never been any awkward silences. Perhaps this means I’m actually meant to do this for a living! Back when I was a medical device rep, I had an endless list of things that would worry me and stress me out. Usually, when I would bring them up to other reps, they would say, “Really? I can’t believe you even think about that. I’ve never thought about that.” Maybe your innate stress/worry levels with a job is a good barometer for how “meant” you are for a particular job.
Are your podcasts recorded and published raw or do you record and edit the content before publishing?
A friend of mine and I minimally edit the show. I listen through and take out any major mistakes made by myself or the guest, and also listen for parts that are redundant or superfluous in some way. My friend, who is a professional audio engineer, then takes out parts based off the notes I send him. Afterwards, he runs everything through EQ + special settings he has put together to make it sound good.
What kind of equipment do you need to start a podcast?
You could buy a good USB microphone that will plug directly into your computer for $79. If you have a Mac, you can use Garageband to record and edit, or a great free app for both mac and PC is Audacity. After that, you just need to pay someone to host your podcast episodes. I currently use Soundcloud, but I used to just host it on my Squarespace website for no extra cost. The only downside with Squarespace, and the reason I recently had to switch, is because they cap you at 100 episodes. If you interview people online like me, you should get ecamm’s call recorder for Skype. It’s only $30 and works great. The whole thing can be done really inexpensively. My equipment is now a step up from that, and like most things, can get very expensive if you want it to, but you really can make a great sounding show for cheap.
Most people don’t like the sound of their own voice. We have to ask…do you like the sound of your own voice? Also, do you have a “podcast voice” that differs from your regular voice?
Hahaha, this is a great question. Nearly everyone that comes on the show talks to me afterwards and mentions how they think they sound bad. I don’t really mind the sound of my voice thanks to having a decent microphone and my buddy Frank making it sound good with EQ. Any time I heard my voice prior to the podcast, it was always on a voicemail or something, which really makes your voice sound weird. The mic is much more smooth and I was pleasantly surprised by how not bad I thought my voice was (which is just my regular voice).
The other thing that makes guests cringe, and that I definitely still notice for myself, is when you get into a habit of saying something over and over again in an interview. That is the worst! I actually put a post-it note on my computer with the word ‘Like’ and a big X through it to try and remind myself not to use the word ‘like.’
Maybe your innate stress or worry levels with a job is a good barometer for how “meant” you are for a particular job.
Do you keep in contact with the people you interview?
Sadly, not as much as I would like. Sometimes if we’re from the same area, we get to hang out, but usually we just stay in touch via social media. I put out 100 interviews per year so it’s hard to keep up with people when there’s always someone new I’m speaking with. That being said, there have been a lot of people where six months after the interview, reach out to me (or I reach out to them) for a question–so the communication lines are always open!
What was a mistake you made in the beginning that you make sure never happens now?
Oh man, probably so many things! The one that sticks out the most is recording while in non-optimal conditions, thinking that my audio expert friend Frank would be able to fix it in editing. You CANNOT make bad audio sound good, or get rid of a construction crew that keeps working outside during an interview. You can make good audio sound better or get rid of a one-off noise. Now, I always try to start with a good, quiet setup. If there is outside noise via your/your guest’s location, it’s always better to reschedule.
What has been the biggest takeaway from this entire experience?
The unknown is far scarier than the known, and things in general are far less scary than they seem. Right before I quit my job, I was so afraid and all I thought was, if I’m this afraid now it’s going to be so bad after I quit. Instead, I completely mellowed out. That moment before I quit was the most afraid I ever was. Now, problems arise or money gets tight, but I know everything will be okay. When you face your fear and realize it’s not that bad, it gives you more confidence in future adversity and more perspective on the nature of fear and self-induced stress.
Any advice for people wanting to start up a podcast?
If you just want to start one for fun or as a hobby, check out the links in question nine and just go for it! If you’re thinking about doing this full-time, it gets a little trickier. Like blogging and making videos, there are thousands of new podcasts being made every month, so it can be very difficult to get in front of listeners. Especially given the fact there are big podcast networks and/or celebrities constantly putting out new podcasts, too. Any success that Half Hour Intern has had is from people finding the show via word of mouth. People like it, tell a friend, and ultimately somebody who is in a position to do so features it on a podcast app or writes about it on their blog. Then, after it gets featured on something, that process starts all over again. Whenever I take time away from the show to do extra marketing and advertising, the results are very minimal.
My 3 Pieces of Advice:
You need to really enjoy making your product
Make the best product you can
Be confident in your product
Lastly, I would suggest you get quiet with yourself and really examine why it is you want to do whatever it is you want to do. It may lead to a different path or other options for you. For example, if you want to surf because you absolutely love surfing, you should surf. If you want to surf because you like the beach, you should maybe consider other things as well, like being a bartender on the beach.
If you want a job that allows you to work from home, there are a lot of them. If you want a job that pays good money, there are a lot of them. If you want a job where you don’t really have a boss, there are a lot of them. Typically, there is some sort of core reason for you wanting a particular job, and I would suggest you try your hardest to find out what that is. If you don’t really know what you want to do, why don’t you give a listen to Half Hour Intern and see if something captures your interest?!