Julia Schifini, who has ADHD, left her day job and embraced the opportunity to turn weekly chats with her best friend into a podcasting career. Creator of the popular Spirits mythology podcast, she’s found her niche in topics like Greek mythology, Dungeons & Dragons, and more. Along the way, she has also taught herself sound engineering.
Listen to how Julia navigates ADHD within the demands of her podcasting work. Find out how her many, varied interests in life have helped her thrive. And hear her explain what a podcasting collective is.
Listen in. Then:
Check out an episode of the Spirits podcast, hosted by Julia and her friend Amanda.
Watch a video from a young person with ADHD whose varied interests support their career.
Eleni: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "How'd You Get THAT Job?!," a podcast that explores the unique and often unexpected career paths of people with learning and thinking differences. My name is Eleni Matheou, and I'm a user researcher here at Understood. That means I spend a lot of time thinking about how we find jobs we love that reflect how we learn and who we are. I'll be your host.
Julia Schifini is a podcaster. She is one of the founding members of the podcast collective Multitude. She is also co-host and producer of "Spirits," which is a queer mythology and folklore podcast told through a feminist lens. Julia is also a sound designer for a variety of fiction podcasts, and she also has ADHD. So, welcome to the show, Julia.
Julia: Thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited to talk.
Eleni: Yeah, I'm excited too. It does feel a little bit meta interviewing a fellow podcaster about podcasting as a job. So, in the introduction, I mentioned you have a podcast collective. Can you explain what that means?
Julia: Sure. Basically, as a collective, we are a bunch of different shows who share similar resources and are able to promote each other from within. So, it's basically, like, if you ever think of, like, a commune, we're like a podcast commune in that sense.
Eleni: I love that analogy. Cool. And what is the collective about?
Julia: So, at Multitude, we are all about talking about topics that we love but in a complex way, like we're able to kind of acknowledge the fact that not all of these things that we love are perfect. And so we can lovingly criticize them in ways that one, show how much we love those topics. And also two, allow us to have conversations and build communities around them. So anything from, like, basketball to Dungeons & Dragons to mythology, we just try to cover all of our bases about things that we're passionate about.
Eleni: Yeah. I particularly loved the mythology element. My family is from Cyprus, so definitely grew up listening to a lot of mythology and learning about it.
What prompted you to start the collective? Were you already into podcasting? How did it all start?
Julia: So we started with our show, "Spirits," which is the mythology podcast. And that kind of started after I, and one of my best friends I've known since I was 5, we both graduated college. I had moved back to New York and we were just in really, like, dead-end jobs, really not enjoying ourselves. So we would meet every night at a bar. And we'd just talk about stuff that we loved to talk about. So it would be stuff like, "Let's talk about the meaning of death and why we're all so obsessed with it." From there, we were just having these conversations, and I was like, "I feel like other people would be somewhat interested in these conversations, and they're conversations that we both love talking about. Why not make a podcast about it?" Because at that point I had been listening to podcasts, and it seemed like something that was doable at the time. And so we kind of, like, brainstormed. We chatted about it for a couple weeks. And then I came up with the name "Spirits," and I remember jotting down what would become the logo on a napkin. And I looked at my friend, and I was like, "Oh no, now we have to do this. Now that we've created the vision of it, we're going to have to do it."
Eleni: Wow. So, it sounds like it came more so from just really enjoying having conversations and then thinking, "Oh, maybe other people would enjoy listening to this as well."
Julia: I mean, like, that's such an ADHD thing, right, is being like, I just love talking about this thing and I want to share it with everyone else. I want everyone else to know how much of this thing is so cool. And that's like been my kind of hyperfocus since I was 8 and I picked up Edith Hamilton's "Mythology" way too young. And I was just like, "Do you guys know about Clytie? She's the reason that there's sunflowers." Everyone's like, "What are you talking about?"
Eleni: I was actually gonna ask if you saw any connection with your ADHD and this interest, both in podcasting and in mythology in general, or any of the other topics you talk about? How does it play a role?
Julia: So, it's really interesting because I think the reason that I got into podcasts is that my ADHD makes it very difficult to just sit in silence and do things. And sometimes music almost feels too distracting, but I can put on a podcast and zone out the voices a little bit and sometimes pick up little things, and it makes it so much easier to read or research or write at the time. So, I think when I was in college and I started listening to podcasts for the first time, that was a way of me being able to channel to focus, was having that kind of background noise background buzz at the time. And also because people were telling fascinating stories or I was learning really interesting things while listening to podcasts in those moments where I could tune back in and be like, "Oh yeah, that is really interesting. I love that imagery." That kind of thing.
Eleni: Yeah, that's interesting. So in a way it was like a coping mechanism to help you focus.
Then you're also simultaneously able to learn while that was happening. So while I was looking into this interview, I was reading that the word "podcast" actually comes from the words "iPod" and "broadcasting" combined, which I didn't know. Being a podcaster wasn't always a thing, right? That's like a pretty newish, for our times, path. But did you always want to be like some sort of broadcaster?
Julia: Oh God, no. I hated the sound of my voice for an extremely long time. I graduated with a degree in history and religious studies. And I like to joke that the religious studies part of my degree was a complete accident, because it kind of was. I had to take a forced elective. They're like, all right, you have to choose between these two classes. And one was, like, ethics in biology. And I was like, "I've no interest in that whatsoever. No, thank you." And the other one was, like, comparative study of cultures. So I'm like, "That sounds fun and fine." I, like, fell in love with this professor. She was so cool. And I go up to her at the end of the semester when it's time to pick classes for the next semester, and I'm like, "Oh, Professor, what classes are you teaching next semester?" And she's like, "I'm teaching a class called 'The Meaning of Death.'" And I was like, "I will see you next semester at 'The Meaning of Death.'"
And I just kept taking classes with her, because it was, like, the one steady thing in my life at the time. Because college was weird, moving to a new city was weird. A lot of my ability at the time to keep my ADHD in check was structure. And so going away to college, I kind of lost all of that structure and, like, I didn't do bad my first semester, but I did fully miss a final my first semester. I was, like, crying in the registrar's office trying to get things sorted out. But I had lost a lot of that structure going to school, and so finding this professor my first semester helped me get my structure back, knowing that at least every semester I'll be able to see Professor Setta.
So it ended up working out pretty well.
Eleni: Yeah. I think that idea of people with ADHD struggling once they get to college because of the loss of structure, I hear that a lot in my research, and we actually have had another episode talking about that as well. Structure and routine can be really important. So that's a really creative way to have consistency in your life.
Eleni: Yeah. I was actually going to ask you, so like you have the collective, you co-host this podcast, you also do the voice acting and the sound design. That sounds like a lot. Like, how do you fit that all in? Where do you find the time?
Julia: Ooh, it is a lot. It super is a lot. I feel like a good way of answering this question is telling you about how I lost my job.
Eleni: Go for it.
Julia: So we had been doing the podcast as a side thing, and I had transitioned from the kind of dead-end job that I had been in that I was super not enjoying to something that I enjoyed a little bit more. So, fast-forward, that company got bought out by a much larger supermarket brand. And at the time that that happened, they started downsizing, and I had been the kind of lowest-level employee in my department. And so I was like, "Oh." I was forced to take a step that I had been dreading but also knew that I wanted to do eventually. So losing my job forced me to become a full-time podcaster.
And so circling back to your original question about how did I end up doing all of these different things? I had to start diversifying. I had to start figuring out OK, well, yes, I'm making a certain amount of money each month from doing that one podcast. Are there other ways that I can be enhancing my skills and making it so that I can be more appealing for different kinds of jobs? And so I started doing the voice acting on the side, which was a lot of fun. And then realized that a lot of these projects that were hiring voice actors were also hiring editors and sound designers. And I was like, "I think that's a skill that I could teach myself." And so I did, I just watched a lot of YouTube videos. I downloaded a DAW. A DAW is a digital audio workstation. So if you are recording a podcast or editing a podcast, you're basically going to be doing that on a DAW.
And I just started playing around with it, and it was a fun little side project to make weird noises and make cool sounds. And then I finally got someone to be like, "Oh yeah, you can sound design for me. That would be cool." And then it just blew up from there.
Eleni: We've also had other people on the podcast that have talked about this drive to teach themselves. Do you think that relates to your differences at all? Is that just a personality or an attitude thing?
Julia: I think in my brain, it absolutely is an ADHD thing. There's very few things that I feel like on a day-to-day basis that I can, like, sit down and be like, "OK, I'm going to do this thing." But when my mind makes itself up for me and it says, "Hey, we're going to learn how to sound design," that's what we do. We just do it. But at the same time, I think also survival instinct kicked in at that point too. It's like, "You need to learn how to do this because if you don't, who knows how long you're going to be able to do this for."
Eleni: I know we talked briefly about sound design. But we didn't really talk about what that is. What is that job?
Julia: Oh, so, sound design, basically, if you're listening to a podcast, particularly a fiction podcast, but any podcasts in general — sound design is creating the soundscape, basically. The things that you're hearing that aren't the voices, or the effects that are on the voices. So for instance, one of the first projects that I sound designed was a fiction show called "Janus Descending," which is basically about two biologists who go to a planet, encounter an alien there, things do not go well. So, basically, like, "fun science-fiction horror" is a great way of describing it. But it was my job to create the sounds of that alien planet. The sounds of them communicating through the radios and stuff like that. The aliens themselves.
Eleni: And so you mentioned that it was partly out of necessity, but it also sounds like you get a lot of variety. Is that something that you were also seeking, or did it just happen that way?
Julia: Oh man. No, my brain loves variety. I've been thinking about this a lot, and the idea that my brain cycles through excitement about the projects that I'm working at. So, you'd be like, all right, "Spirits," for instance, is a weekly show. But sound design is a really intense project 90 percent of the time, and can be a little daunting when you're getting towards the end of a season. And you're like, all right, God, I know it's going to take me like four hours just to design this two-minute scene. So you gotta get through it. And so I'll go through a phase where I'm doing three to four months of intense sound design, and then I'm taking a break until the next project starts. And by the time that three-month period of the break is over, my brain is like, "Are we sound designing again?" Because I really want to sound design again, but so it's just letting my brain recharge again.
Eleni: That's interesting. So it sounds like you have more of a monthly or a quarterly cycle of the kind of work you do, rather than a weekly. Do you have, like, a typical week or does it really depend on where you are along those particular project cycles?
Julia: Because I have, like, weekly shows that go out, I do have like a typical "Monday, we do this; Tuesday, we do this; release day is Wednesday; prep for new episode Thursday, et cetera, et cetera." When I'm doing other projects on top of that, that's when the schedule fluctuates, which is actually very good for me. I think that one of the best parts about working from home and also creating your own schedule, like, as a podcaster, is that I can take breaks when I know that my brain is just not into it that day.
And then there's some days where it's like, "All right, schedule dictates that this thing needs to get done. And then the rest of the day is yours. Do with it what you will." And those are the days where I feel like I can take a break and I can move on and I can read a book or play a video game and let my brain decompress for the day before we get into another day where it's like, "All right, we're going to do full day, cycle through, hyperfocus, let's go."
Eleni: So, Julia, when did you find out that you had ADHD?
Julia: So, I was diagnosed at a fairly young age. I skewed more towards inattentive than hyperactive, but I did end up going to therapy and stuff as a young kid. And that taught me a lot of coping mechanisms that really helped me succeed from elementary school to high school.
In terms of how that affected me, I guess, I know that you guys talk about, like, co-occurrence with anxiety and depression quite a bit. End of high school tended to be where that was kind of starting to happen, where I was starting to feel anxiety a lot more and my depression a lot more, to the point where, I was always very into supernatural stuff and also, like, superhero stuff a lot when I was a teenager. So I, like, jokingly in my head, told myself I must have a superpower because I must have like premonitions or precognition or something like that. Because why would I just be nervous about something when nothing around me was happening? So that was funny, at least looking back, on hindsight.
And then as an adult, I finally managed to convince my primary care physician, "I got diagnosed with ADHD as a kid. Do you think that there is a way that as an adult now I can get medicated?" Because this was like during the period of time where I'd been trying to transition into podcasting full-time, and I was like, "I have no structure now; I don't know how to act or create structure on my own outside of an office space. I need to talk to someone about this. I need to, like, do something about this." And so he finally gave me the information for a neurologist, and we like went through the process, which, it was a very smooth process, and it changed my life in the sense that I finally was able to create structure on my own without so much difficulty and, like, trying to force myself to create a structure. I could do it and feel good about that and focus on the things that I needed to focus on. So, that was huge, kind of getting that adult diagnosis and finally medicated.
Eleni: Yeah. How do you find that the depression, anxiety, and ADHD interact?
Julia: I think a lot of times, for me, the rejection sensitivity part of ADHD can trigger the depression. And mine tends to, like, come in waves. So I'll be, like, two weeks where I'm really good and then two weeks where I'm down. And again, that's why we created that brick wall scenario, my therapist and I, she's like, "Listen, even if half the wall gets broken down, half the wall is still there, and it's going to be not as difficult as rebuilding the wall from scrap." And then the anxiety again, it's just those kind of spiraling thoughts, which I think is made worse by ADHD sometimes. Like, I will be laying in bed and you just can't shut off your brain. And when it's anxiety mode plus the ADHD spiral, that's a rough time. I found that for me, at least, and I know this isn't for everyone, but, like, reading really helps me hyperfocus on one thing and stop the spiraling.
Eleni: Yeah, I mean, that's a really healthy coping mechanism. Are there other ways that you think your ADHD shows up at work? I know you talked about the hyperfocus.
Julia: Yeah, I run the social media for the "Spirits" account and stuff like that. And, oh boy, rejection hits real hard when people can just tweet their criticisms directly at you. That's rough. And like social media is rough, but when you're putting yourself out there and trying to teach people on a weekly basis, sometimes you mess things up. And I am trying to be more accepting of the times where I mess things up, but it hurts. Real hard. Even the nicest of criticisms can really bring your whole day down, which is tough.
Eleni: Yeah. What do you do to cope with negative emotions?
Julia: Oh boy, bless my therapist, because she's a delight and a wonder, but we talk about how a lot of self-esteem is building a brick wall. A lot of your bricks are central to your foundation. And when someone knocks against that brick wall, they might loosen a brick or two, but the whole wall doesn't come crumbling down. So I try to conceive of it as that brick wall in my head being like, "Yep, all right, a couple of the bricks from the top fell down there, but we can rebuild." And I have, I know it doesn't sound conceited for anyone who understands where I'm coming from, but I do have a folder of all the nice emails that people have sent about the show. And, like, all the compliments, like "you've improved my life" kind of things. And those really help because sometimes that self-doubt really does come in, and it is nice to be reminded that people love the show for a reason.
Eleni: Yeah. That's such a lovely idea to hold on to affirmations or print them out and have them available so you have something you can immediately turn to if you're not feeling great or if someone says something hurtful.
Julia: It's helped a lot to truly be able to call upon support and just good vibes really can help turn it around when you're just feeling frustrated with yourself or down on yourself.
Eleni: Well, thank you for sharing that. I think that's a useful visual, as well, with the brick wall. I might even use that for myself.
Julia: I hope so, yeah!
Eleni: So do you have a favorite show from the collective?
Julia: Oh no. You can't ask me that. They're all my babies. They're all my friends. I think if you're going to be giving the collective a try, just find something that is a topic that you're super interested in. And like I said, we run the gamut from like, mythology; we've got basketball podcasts; we have fiction podcasts; we have Dungeons & Dragons; we have world building and science. We have everything. You'll find something that interests you. If you just go to multitude.productions and check out our shows.
Eleni: I know that you mentioned you had an interest from a young age in mythology and folklore. Have you always been someone that has niche interests?
Julia: My friends will look at me and be, like, "Julia, you trained in professional wrestling for two years. You do embroidery." I feel like I look back at my life and I can look at, like, my Instagram for instance, and be, like, "Oh, that was a fun six to eight months to two years where you were really interested in mushroom hunting," or something like that. And I definitely think that's an ADHD thing is to have that fixation for a limited amount of time. Be like, "All right, that was fun. We're moving on to something else now, though." So I've definitely had some weird, interesting niche interests for sure, 100 percent.
Eleni: So you mentioned wrestling and mushrooms there. Is there anything that you want to get back to or that you think might turn into a podcast? Building on that, have you gotten any inspiration from, like, any of your interests for the collective — things that you want to showcase?
Julia: Absolutely. There are certain things that I want to get back to. A big reason that I stopped doing professional wrestling: because there was a pandemic all of a sudden. And so getting face-to-face with some sweaty people seemed like a bad idea at the time. I toyed with the idea of doing a wrestling podcast, but, yeah, every once in a while, I'll just have this idea that pops into my head and be, like, can we make that into a podcast? And then whether or not it stays around for an extended period of time and, like, stays in my brain is whether or not I feel like I can develop it into an actual show.
Like, "Spirits" — mythology has been my thing for years and years and years. It's like the one hyperfixation that has stayed around over the course of my entire life. So, that made the most sense when we were planning a podcast to be, like, that's the topic that we're going to talk about. With everything else, you know, things come and go, and that's just a real big ADHD mood.
Eleni: So, this podcast is an extension of my day job as a user researcher. It is a little bit more of a creative side project. And I know that you also talked about that's how you started. But do you have any hot tips for me or other aspiring podcasters that want to get their podcast off the ground or make it more of a full-time gig, be successful, especially if they have ADHD?
Julia: I will say we have a bunch of free resources at Multitudes' website that I would highly recommend people check out. It's got everything from, like, marketing advice to how to get started to budgeting and stuff like that. Great resources. It's multitude.productions/resources. Check those out. From my personal standpoint, if you are looking to start a podcast and you're an ADHD person like me, my biggest advice would be: Find the topic where your voice is unique and individual. There are, for example, a million true crime podcasts out there, right? Find what your voice can tell specifically and tell that story or tell that perspective and create it from there. Create it from what you can do yourself and why you're unique and why you should be the one telling the story. That's the biggest thing for me.
In terms of, if you're trying to transition from side job to career in podcasting: One, make sure you're ready for it because it is an interesting and volatile field. And, two, make sure you have a support system, because the biggest thing for me in podcasting is being able to turn to my team or turn to my friends and be, like, "Hey, I'm just, I can't do it today. Can you help me pick up the slack?" So find that team, find that support system, and I think you'll be OK.
Eleni: Thank you so much for being here, having this conversation with me and for sharing all your stories.
Julia: It was my absolute pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Eleni: This has been "How'd You Get THAT Job?!," a part of the Understood Podcast Network. You can listen and subscribe to "How'd You Get THAT Job?!" on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. And if you like what you heard today, tell someone about it. "How'd You Get THAT Job?!" is for you. So we want to make sure you're getting what you need. Go to u.org/thatjob to share your thoughts and to find resources from every episode. That's the letter U, as in Understood, dot O R G, slash that job.
Do you have a learning difference and a job you're passionate about? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you'd like to tell us how you got THAT job, we'd love to hear from you. As a nonprofit and social impact organization, Understood relies on the help of listeners like you to create podcasts like this one, to reach and support more people in more places. We have an ambitious mission to shape the world for difference, and we welcome you to join us in achieving our goals. Learn more at understood.org/mission. "How'd You Get THAT Job?!" was created by Andrew Lee and is produced by Gretchen Vierstra and Justin D. Wright, who also wrote our theme song. Laura Key is our editorial director at Understood. Scott Cocchiere is our creative director. Seth Melnick and Briana Berry are our production directors. Thanks again for listening.
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leads user research for Understood. She helps Understood to center its work on the lived experiences and voices of people who learn and think differently.