It’s a frustrating truth, but a truth nonetheless - we can’t change our past. All we can do is play the hand we’re dealt as best as we can play it. This is something Robin Hopkins has quite a lot of experience in coming to terms with, and she has taken her desire to share that knowledge with the world and given it a microphone. Her podcast Well…Adjusting covers everything from the spine-stiffening stress of personal finances to the deep cuts of grief, all with a sense of humor and plenty of warmth.
In each episode, Robin talks to her guest in an approachable setting, creating a high level of comfort with what can be difficult subject matter. The podcast feels like exactly what it is – smart, interesting people trying to work through their crap as best as they can. It’s refreshing in that way, because it’s more about identifying the source and the bigger issues surrounding the immediate problem than it is about solving it or doling out generic platitudes. Best of all, it’s all done with a lot of laughs along the way. I got to experience a bit of that welcoming warmth and enjoy some of that laughter for myself when I spoke to Robin about Well…Adjusting.
As an advice show, it's expected that sometimes you're going to be delving into things that are difficult or even feel shameful. How do you think that your background as a performer, especially as a comedian, gives you an advantage when it comes to putting people at ease?
I always follow the mantra that my dad used to say, when he managed a restaurant or did whatever he did: 'I'd never ask anyone beneath me to do something I'm not willing to do.' And I use that same mantra, except I'm not talking about cleaning out the bathrooms. I share from my point of view, too. It's about saying “I'm here, and I'm just like you, and I'm going through the same things too”. I think sometimes that creates a space for people to feel comfortable. I come from a performer background, I know all I want to do is listen to you and I just want to be in the experience with you. That's the whole nature of acting – listening and responding.
I have always been fascinated with people's problems. And I know that's a really weird thing to say. Post-college, I was always guilty of being like, “We're three drinks in, okay, let's talk about your mom”, you know? I don't have to work hard to listen, because I'm so fascinated by where people come from, what happened to them, and you can see the dotted line to what you were left with. Your parent did this, and then that now shows up in your life in this way [...] and then you recognize it, you have an opportunity to make a change. It becomes your own. You may not, but you have an opportunity that didn't exist before.
I've heard you say that getting into things like self help, or just generally being the kind of person who wants to solve problems, can create this kind of compulsion to give advice to everyone around you. Does hosting this podcast make the feeling even stronger? Or is it kind of like opening the release valve a little bit?
I went through a period of my early thirties where I was really advice pushy. I was going to tell you about your mom, whether you wanted to hear it or not. After I did some work and some therapy, I had a real eye-opening moment where I realized that because of the chaos and the way that I was raised, I was really uncomfortable with other people's trauma or other people's problems. I just wanted to get in there so fast, I wanted to help you, and I thought I was doing a good thing.
I had to kind of step back a little bit at some point and kind of be like, “well, that's their journey”, and boy, that was a struggle, I'll tell you what. But I had to do it. I wasn't coming from the right place. And I think I'm not there any longer. I can do it because I'm interested, because I'm genuinely connecting, and not out of a place of fear, or out of a place of “I love you so much that I can't have you sit in this space”.
Now I can meet people where they are and I can just listen. I have this freedom, and if I have something that I can say of value, great. That's one of the reasons that we have an expert that comes in at the end of the show, because I might […] throw some things out there that are thought starters, and that may help [or] it may not. Let's say it's one person whose mom died and she's dealing with grief in her life. Our expert comes in and can bring it much more holistic and be like “anyone who's experiencing grief…” So I just really think it makes it very, like, open for everyone. It's accessible.
I was nodding along so hard I thought my head was going to fall off when I was listening to the episode about ADHD and career and parenting. Women and femme-presenting people are so under/misdiagnosed when it comes to neurodivergence, but we're starting to see a huge shift where people are realizing “Oh, hey, there's a reason why I'm like this”. Which, of course, can shine a light on a lot of the really terrible advice that they've been trying to apply to their lives all these years without diagnosis. I’m wondering how much of that you've noticed and how it affects the way that you approach the show and the topics that you cover.
I definitely have noticed what you're talking about. I think it's really wonderful, like you said, particularly for women. I feel like we all kind of live under this, like, “Oh, it's just a feminine thing”, whether it's about body health or mental health. Particularly women of color, if you look at the healthcare system, everybody gets dismissed.
In terms of my approach, it doesn't really change too much, because I'm not a therapist who's diagnosing anyone. What I am is your [emotionally intuitive] friend at the bar who's like, “Well, let's just pick it apart and like, let's see what's in here”. I'm listening, and [then] I'm like, “Okay, well, that's interesting. That's the fourth time you've mentioned your mother, and we're really not talking about your mom. So what's with that?” I think sometimes the more that people talk, the more you can kind of hear patterns. Sometimes, it's just as simple as people feeling heard. That's why this podcast has been so incredibly fun for me to do. I feel like we're just talking to people where they are right now. And everybody's kind of a mess.
I liked how you described turning lessons from a crappy childhood into useful advice. That's not always the easiest path, or the one that everyone chooses to take. How do you do that?
I was afraid. I was very, very, very afraid, because there wasn't a lot of stability when I was growing up. I felt like I had to be driving the ship or the ship goes down, and what happened was this real motivated, spreadsheet-driven building [of] systems and things that work for finances because I never wanted to feel unsafe around money again.
I started doing all these self-help workshops, and I started looking at [making] a commitment. There was a point where I was like, “Well, if I just tackle these two personal problems, I will be healed”, and there was a point along the way where I was like, “oh, no, you're never really fixed.” But what you can do is make a commitment to always look at yourself. So now, the place that I'm at is really just “when can I have freedom from my past?”
And that's really the crux of everything that I've taken from my childhood. Things happened. Some of them bad, some of them good, and I can't change those things. Ever. They're with me, they have defined me in some wonderful ways. I might always be afraid I'll never have enough money, that something bad's gonna happen, the other shoe's gonna drop. But what I can do is recognize that that's my default setting, and be ready to take a break. And by the way, every day, I've got to restart. I wake up and I'm a turd to my kids, and then I'm like, “'damn it, I gotta fix that”, you know?
The cruel cycle.
Especially as a parent. You're gonna make mistakes all the time. Let's say you were raised wonderfully and you had this mom who everybody thought was perfect. Well, goddammit, you're gonna want to be that perfect. Or let's say it was crappy. And now I want to make sure that I don't hand my kids that same crappy thing. There's this built-in guilt cycle of like, “did I spend enough time with them? Was I supposed to be hard on them there? Maybe I'm psychologically damaging.” One could go into an endless feedback loop. But those, again, are the moments to stop and go “stop it”. If I really feel like I did something wrong with my kid, let me clean it up and then let me try again. I really feel like that's all we can do.
So much of what's screwing up lives is self-sabotage, and it's probably something most of us know deep down, but we don't necessarily want to admit. How has your awareness of this affected your approach to the show, in terms of looking at these problems as a symptom of something bigger?
I always look to show them the patterns, the repeatedness of it. Let's take like one of the first episodes with a very good friend of mine, Aileen, who let the whole world in on her personal finances. It was really brave. We just had another talk, because we're gonna be doing a 'Where are they now?' to wrap up season one. I had a big conversation with Aileen and she was doing it again. She was like, “I'm wondering if I need to sell my house. I wonder if I need a second job.”
And I was like, “What we need to be talking about here is this real connection. I think you need to be journaling what's going on in your life in other areas. When you pop over into your finances and you start criticizing yourself, what else is going on? You have all these things going on. Do you think it's possible you're so uncomfortable over there that you can just make yourself bad and wrong over here?” It's looking for when people aren't listening, when they're not responding logically. When you're batting away rationale, it means you're in your emotions, and that's probably something from the past.
Have there been any moments making the show that particularly surprised you in any direction?
There's been some real moments that have stayed with me. Like when we interviewed Larkin. She's in the queer community, and she's Asian, and she's also adopted, which I didn't realize until the interview. We were just supposed to talk about dressing in the workplace and how you feel comfortable as yourself but still feel respected, and you can represent all of your pieces and your parts, and you don't feel like…you know, let's say you're a queer woman, and you don't want to be in some Laura Ashley dress, but you want to be taken seriously in the corporate world.
The conversation went so incredibly deep about Larkin's feelings of otherness, and at the end, I kept saying to her “I just want you to take up more space in the world. I just want you to say the things you think. Say them with pride and with a feeling of like, 'Damn right I've got the right to say this’.” And that's when the thing came out about her saying “I was adopted”, and I was like, okay, you can see how all the connections made her who she was. But it was such a wonderful, wonderful conversation, and that stuck with me for like, weeks after recording.
It’s been such an incredible experience, these conversations. I'm so proud of this podcast, and the feedback we've been getting is so wonderful.
I would love to hear your thoughts about the ultimate goal of the show.
We got this wonderful email from somebody saying that they were in the middle of some [...] grief, and then they heard Serena's episode. [They were] just saying “thank you that that conversation happened.” And all I had to do is show up with a microphone and have an amazing team at editaudio believe in the idea, and then this conversation is out in the world. Maybe you're grieving, and you don't know what to do when you hear it, and it opens up the door so that you can make your next step. If that happened for some people, I'd feel like I did something good, and we did something good. The whole team. That's really what it's about. It's mostly about opening you up, so that you get to what the next step is for you.