Suswati Basu portrait in black and white

I’m waking up in clammy sweats at night wondering what the world has in store for us next. But what’s worse is the fact that I have a presentation, and my stomach just keeps churning at the prospect of this. Does this sound familiar?

Well, it was me amid the pandemic in November 2020. Hence finding a creative side outlet where I could breathe a sigh of relief was therefore inevitable.

For a solid nine years, I managed to keep my head below the parapet of the media world. Working in major newsrooms from the BBC and The Guardian to ITV News and Channel 4 News, somehow, I navigated the terrain by generally being invisible, which is just the way I always enjoyed it. I believed it gave me a sixth sense for observation, sniffing out stories, and being a detached chameleon.

Fast forward to 2020, I am sitting in front of my three large screens, fumbling and mumbling, faces looming over Zoom as they expect me to say something clever in my highly confidential techy job. And it truly is word vomit. And then afterwards, the real thing.

So, as I tossed and turned in bed, it suddenly occurred to me, ‘Suswati, you have a problem.’ The first step of course, is to acknowledge you have an issue, and for me, it was having confidence to speak in public. The second step was to actually do something about it. And the words of my friend echoed in my ear in the dark: ‘You’re a human being, not a human doing.’ And thus, the podcast was born!

I was obviously at a slight advantage in terms of having a basic understanding of editing from my journalism days, but indeed, it was a learning curve understanding what was considered adequate sound quality, good enough to be enjoyed by the masses. What was unquestionably a concern was the fact that I couldn’t speak beyond a sentence at a time, hyperventilating between each take. It took an entire 52 weeks, an upmarket microphone, and speaking to hundreds of other podcasters via the amazing number of groups on social media platforms to feel comfortable in my skin. Start with the basics, get a good headset and microphone, a name, some cover art, and remember to listen to what’s already out there.

And much to my delight, it was well worth it. From it being hailed “a beautiful gem in an ocean of self-help podcasts”, to “hugely inspirational content, some unbelievable episodes”, I had taken a different approach by amalgamating my love of reading hundreds of books per year with mental health advocacy. After all, us writers have so many stories to share, and so much to learn from others.

"At times I felt I was working two full-time jobs, until I sat down and created a more realistic timetable."

Suswati Basu

From speaking to the likes of The Good Immigrant editor Nikesh Shukla on what it feels like to be pigeonholed into topics, as well as powerlifter, award-winning writer and author of Stronger Poorna Bell, to The Year of Living Danishly author Helen Russell on working on women’s physical strength and embracing sadness. There was a smorgasbord of incredible subjects covered by equally impressive people.

However, it was not an easy journey by any means. Carving out time between working full-time and juggling hospital appointments as someone with a long-term health condition, it meant being highly organised with the time that I had to spare. Allocating a solid hour to two hours per day just for reading the two to three books, as well as research, interviewing, editing and marketing, at times I felt I was working two full-time jobs, until I sat down and created a more realistic timetable. My workplace was aware of what I was doing and had caveated that it was fine to continue thankfully, so long as I reiterated that my “views are my own, and no others” of course.

As a result, while balancing the two aspects do not feel like a stroll in the park, if you love it enough, it seems to work out in its own prophetic way. Timing will forever be the biggest challenge for a lot of side hustlers, especially as marketing can take oodles of hours per month, and as a genuine introvert, it undoubtedly did not come naturally to me. The most important part I found is keeping yourself accountable through your listeners and your fellow podcasters. If you tell your audience that Sunday is the big release day, make sure you turn up for the party!

Not to say you don’t have to reschedule from time-to-time. In December 2020, I caught the Delta variant of COVID-19, so I could barely speak without coughing up a furball. And while I managed to release two episodes during that period, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. For those two episodes, I sounded like a dying cat. You must listen to your body!

There were times due to my very rare degenerative neurological condition, I had to sit some fights out. I would just let my audience know that I needed some me-time to recover. If you’re running a mental health podcast, you must practice what you preach. Hence, I usually would take a full day of rest, taking in the peaceful sounds of gong meditation, and mindfully eating my meals. Especially the chocolate.

In the end, running any side hustle requires patience, resilience, and trust that it will succeed. Go into it with your eyes open and with pure intention. As Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The More of Less Joshua Becker says: "The worst thing you could ever waste is your life. Instead, commit yourself to intentional living and living with purpose."

Suswati Basu is a journalist, intelligence expert, and mental health advocate running the How To Be… podcast to promote reading for self-care. Having spent 15 years working for major publications including The Guardian, and working in top UK newsrooms such as for ITV News and Channel 4 News, she has worked in India and China covering women’s issues and has appeared as a commentator on BBC Woman's Hour and BBC News. As a mentor at UK’s largest eating disorder charity Beat, and a trustee of disability cycling charity Wheels for Wellbeing, she is an award-winning activist having won the Emma Humphries Memorial Prize in 2007.