As juniors, Joanna Yamakami and Arnell Ariyana, both NYU Steinhardt Media, Culture, and Communication (MCC) majors, wondered what motivated people to pursue seemingly unconventional careers. This simple curiosity spurred the idea to create a podcast exploring unexpected career choices. In season 1 of So, What Do You Do?, the pair questioned the man behind New York City’s original subway voice, someone who makes a living as an urban explorer, and a professional cuddler. In season 2, Joanna and Arnell interview a stuntwoman, a stand-up comedian, a mindfulness meditation teacher, and more. Their podcast premiered on WNYU, NYU’s student-run radio station. In 2019, Joanna and Arnell became official Webby Award honorees.
JOANNA: I’ve always loved one-on-one conversations with people about the trajectory of their lives, so a show based on this concept really appealed to me. Also, we’ve both always struggled with where and how to find career happiness. Is it possible for passion to translate to happiness? What if financial stability is not possible in your career path? Does job success play a huge role in whether people are happy?
ARNELL: As students coming from cultural backgrounds that emphasize success over happiness, the question of career fulfillment really resonated with us. Thankfully, neither of our families instilled these pressures in us, but it was definitely something we witnessed growing up.
JOANNA: And then coming to New York City, we were struck by the sheer number of careers that exist that we had no idea about.
ARNELL: Our minds were swirling with all of these questions. And as emerging adults soon to enter the workforce, we were intrigued to find out whether subverting career norms could actually increase your happiness.
JOANNA: I’d been involved with WNYU radio as a news reporter since my first year. And I’d always wanted to make my own podcast. I knew that the studios at WNYU had all the equipment I needed to record and air the episodes. But I didn’t want to do it alone. I told my friend group that I was looking for someone to collaborate with and Arnell said she also wanted to make a podcast.
ARNELL: I was looking for an outlet to express myself creatively. At the time I was listening to a lot of podcasts and the idea that we could be both entertained and informed was so interesting to me. So, we met for a couple of hours at Argo Tea, and by the end of the meeting, we had our concept and name. Soon we began reaching out to people.
JOANNA: At first, we were worried we wouldn’t have enough people to interview. But, surprisingly, people are really willing to share their experiences. We usually find our guests through articles online, random brainstorming sessions, or suggestions from friends.
ARNELL: NYU’s location also exposes us to a variety of talented people in unique professions. The heart of the campus, Washington Square Park, provides so many opportunities to feel inspired. That’s where we met one of our guests, Peter Chinman, whose job is writing poems for people in the park.
JOANNA: The guests we’ve interviewed so far have been some of the most talented people we’ve ever met. We walk away from each interview feeling like it was our favorite. They all inspire us in some way. People can be versatile, and dreams don’t always have to be all or nothing. They can be the perfect balance of inspiring and realistic. As an MCC major, I am able to analyze how to tell stories and figure out which ones have the urgency to be told. I think discovering how to be happy is a universal goal for humans. In our small way, I hope we can spark discussion on how to do that.
ARNELL: We love listening to our guests’ career journeys because they remind us that everyone goes through ups and downs. But their resilience and passion allows them to continue working in the field they love.
JOANNA: I guess this is why we continue making the podcast: to cast light on narratives of amazing professionals and inspire listeners to reconsider their own paths.
ARNELL: Working with Joanna in the studio has given me some of my best memories. Despite our busy schedules, I always look forward to it because we genuinely have so much fun collaborating creatively. It is so cool to see the final product. Receiving the Webby Award was an exhilarating and full circle moment; it felt like all of our hard work had been recognized.
You can listen to Joanna and Arnell’s podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and SoundCloud, and you can follow it on Instagram at @swdydpodcast.