Story Time:  A Birthday Surprise that Launched My Podcasting Journey

Here’s the real story of how I started podcasting. 

The truth is, it was gifted to me.

Huh? What does that even mean? I had no idea then, but it was a birthday surprise that would launch my unexpected journey into podcasting.

Well, let me take you back to 2011. I had moved across the country the year before—from San Francisco, California to Hollywood, Florida—to kick off my entry into health IT. I had also started dating the person who would later become my dear ex-husband. 

I had spent the months leading up to my birthday expressing how much I missed my friends and the people who meant the most to me, and he decided to work on a secret project.

The Secret Project

To give me the surprise of a lifetime involved:  

  • Reaching out to 30+ of my friends and family on Facebook

  • Setting up a Google voicemail

  • Giving them this set of instructions and asking them to be part of my birthday surprise: 


    1. Call the number and sing Happy Birthday into the voicemail.

    2. Pick two songs that remind you of Joy & send their titles via email.

    3. Call the number again and introduce yourself, share a memory and/or why you selected these songs.

He compiled everyone’s happy birthday song messages into one track so that it sounded like a choir of my favorite people singing to me, and then he edited each person’s introduction to their chosen songs and the songs themselves in random order into a single audio file. 

Turns out that all those media files were much bigger than could fit on a mixtape or CD, so he figured out how to create a private RSS feed through Apple Podcast so that this 5-hour audio experience could be heard by only one subscriber—me. 

The Big Day

He was a teacher, so he left early in the morning for work on my birthday. But I woke up to flowers and a note on the table with instructions to find the podcast, press play, and enjoy this surprise

Having no clue that this had been in plans for more than a month and that he had cold-called and rallied my closest people to be a part of this, I kid you not, I spent 5 hours that morning listening to great music, hearing heartfelt messages, and just sobbing from the thoughtfulness of this gift. He even made cover art and show notes! 

For me, recognizing the voices singing Happy Birthday to me had me in tears and in wonder: how did he do this? When I heard each recorded voice sharing a story that brought me back to a core memory with them — a road trip singalong, a work dance party, the song to which my mom went into labor with me…words alone cannot express how special it was and how loved I felt.

Click the image to listen via Dropbox. This mixtape is a personal compilation for non-commercial use. It features copyrighted music for which I do not own the rights. This audio is shared for private listening among friends and is not intended for public distribution or commercial purposes.
The Gift That Kept Giving

The other present that was essentially baked into this gift was that it showed me what was possible—that podcasting could be an outlet for creativity and thought leadership, a way to bring people closer together when distance keeps us apart, to share important ideas, and to evoke emotion. It could be both intimate and personal and a way to connect with people you may never meet. 

This gift was just the beginning of my podcasting journey. 

Years later, after moving back to California, I took on a job that required 80% travel. Since the foundation had already been laid, we used that RSS feed to stay connected. He would record messages I could listen to in my rental car when I was out of cell range in remote parts of Alaska or while going through security to fly to my next appointment, using the medium to keep me connected to life at home. 

So in 2018, when I felt a strong pull to create a podcast dedicated to amplifying women’s voices in healthcare, it wasn’t a heavy lift or super intimidating because I was already familiar with the workflow and had in-house tech support for when I needed help.   

Lots has happened since then, but when people ask, “How did you start podcasting?” The answer is that it was a gift. One that keeps giving by influencing how I show up in the world.   

As we enter the prime gift-giving season, I’d love to know if you’ve ever received an unexpected yet wondrous gift that changed the trajectory of your life.