This week on As Me, Sinéad shares some of her favorite moments from Season 1 that reflect the essence of the show. From talking about imposter syndrome with Florence Welch and Riz Ahmed to self-acceptance with Justin Tranter and Akilah Hughes to letting go of perfectionism with Adwoa Aboah. Each of these moments captures the power of connection and vulnerability in every episode, all of which help us to understand and empathize with each other more.
[00:54] Sinéad Burke: Welcome to As Me with Sinéad. On this episode, I wanted to reflect back on some of my favorite moments from this first season. Can you list each of the questions that every interviewee was asked? There were at least four pillars to every conversation: How do you describe yourself personally and professionally? What’s it like to live in your body? What’s your inner monologue? And what gives you hope? There were other questions like what are the moments that have changed you? What advice would you give to your younger self? This entire season taught me so much. It taught me explicitly that we are all so different based on where we’re born, the bodies that we live in, the religions we believe, the cultures we practice, and the values that our parents and friends and family instilled upon us. We’re not actually that different. What we care about. what we love, what we fear are so similar. Yet this world was constructed to divide us, to create animosity between differences. And this show taught me that the universality of our experience is something we need to articulate and talk about more and more because it unites us. It creates empathy and human connection. And in many ways has the power to change the world.
[02:22] Sinéad Burke: I wanted to do this show because I think at the very beginning there was the power of an audio medium to not necessarily hide my disability and to shy away from articulating that I’m a little person, but it created a vulnerability in the guests and in me that it felt like just two of us were in a room, with nobody listening. And maybe at the time when we were recording, there wasn’t anybody. But it gave us such freedom with our performance to just be ourselves. And when the show started, I didn’t know if those things would be possible. I’d never hosted a podcast before. I’d done interviews via my blog, but I didn’t have much experience. But now, 32 episodes in, I’m more confident than ever that vulnerability, empathy, kindness, curiosity and humanity are the tenets that we need to survive and to be better people. Some of these moments are things that we all universally experience, like learning how to live in our bodies and how that can be uncomfortable. Whether that’s because of age or societal biases or just discomfort with ourselves. But other moments, they’re not necessarily the universality of our experience in the sense that we all live in bodies, but they dig deep into our emotional souls and they excavate us and they figure out what makes us worry, what makes us tick, what concerns us and how isolating that can feel. Even though when we say these things out loud, I find people nodding along. They get it. They’ve been there, too. Maybe not in this moment, but they’re fluent in that language.
[04:06] Sinéad Burke: I want to start off with what it’s like to live in our bodies. One of the reasons why I wanted to ask this question is because so much of my experience, and the lens through which I view the world, has been disciplined based on the body that I live in. But almost like an oxymoron, I spent most of my life not conscious of the body that I live in. I’m not reminded that I’m a little person until I can’t reach something or somebody points me out. So even though my physicality is the rationale behind so many of the decisions that I make, it’s almost so unconsciously embedded that I forget about it entirely. And really, I wanted to work out and to listen and to learn from others to see how did their experience of their bodies differ from mine. So let’s start with Hozier. Hozier and I are about opposite as it gets, particularly when it comes to looks. I mean, he’s 6 foot 6, so I loved hearing the ways that he worked through his own body image and figured out how to be comfortable in his own skin. I remember sitting across from Hozier in London doing this interview, and he was slightly contorted on a chair in a recording studio. He spent a lot of time kind of just unsettling himself. He kept moving from different positions. Then I asked that question about what it’s like to live in your body. And he sat still and he contemplated it. And then sat straight, fully, took up all of the space within his own body to give that answer. And it transformed the whole dynamic of the conversation. It was really special.
[05:38] Hozier: I’ve an odd relationship with the physical side of myself and — most of my life, at least the first 27 years of my life, at least — I lived in the space just, you know, just behind my eyes. Having discovered things like mindfulness and stuff I’ve gained a few skills of trying to kind of ground myself a little bit more into an experience of a whole self. But, you know, I think the older I get, I’ve definitely gotten more — and it might sound strange — this tall person who gets up on stage and kind of maybe it doesn’t look like it — but I was always very, very deeply uncomfortable with my height and stuff like that. In the last few years, I’ve only still come around to that and get to own it as such, you know? And I’ve started to dare I say it even, you know, just be very happy with the height that I am.
[06:34] Sinéad Burke: The second person that really resonated with me was Adwoa Aboah. I think that all of us know what that internal battle is. Especially during this time, how do we strike the balance between everything we are told to do? To hear this from Adwoa was such a great reminder that while we may not always know the answer to that question, we’re not alone in asking it.
[07:01] Adwoa Aboah: To live in my body now. Let’s do the negatives first, which would be my own negatives. I’m a perfectionist, so that means I battle with myself probably like quite a few hours of the day on how well I’ve done, or have I done it good enough. Or everything I do I have to like do perfectly, which isn’t ever going to you know — what is perfect anyway? But it’s like I think I just don’t want to waste any time. I’m just like those years where I was so unhappy and — it wasn’t a waste of time, I obviously can use all of that information now, but it felt like a waste of time. And so now it’s just like — I just don’t believe we have all the time in the world. I don’t believe that saying. I just try and do as much as possible. But it works as a constant argument between self in my head. Take it easy. Keep on going. Slow down. See friends. Don’t see friends. Sit home. Do work. And there’s this whole thing.
[08:03] Sinéad Burke: Watch Love Island.
[08:04] Adwoa Aboah: Yeah, exactly.
[08:06] Sinéad Burke: That internal battle reminds me of another topic that was so frequently brought up on the show: impostor syndrome. That feeling like you do not deserve to be where you are, that it’s some kind of fluke. And soon everyone will find out that you’re a fake, that it’s fraudulent, and you don’t deserve to be there. One of the people I talked to about this was Florence Welch from Florence and the Machine.
[08:29] Florence Welch: I mean, I think it’s a very anxious time to be alive. So it is a kind of narrative of all these things that are going on in the world at the moment that are making all of us super anxious. And then personal anxieties — I think when you’ve had — when you’ve been an addict and you’ve had that experience, you live with this weird fear that someone’s going to come and tell you that this new life, or this peaceful life that you made for yourself, is just a lie. And we really know who you actually are. And everything that you’ve built for yourself, you have to leave it behind and you have to come back to the mess. And like everybody knows now. And it’s getting better, but I think you live with quite a lot of imposter syndrome. And if I’m not sort of keeping myself making things, or keeping up with meditation and self care, I am naturally self-critical.
[09:31] Sinéad Burke: I think so much of imposter syndrome is this idea, that our insights, how we feel and know ourselves, doesn’t match what we see on the outside of people in our professions, which is part of the reason I always ask people to describe themselves both personally and professionally. I loved the way that Mara Wilson talked about this.
[09:50] Mara Wilson: I think that everyday life is really fascinating and really weird and we take it for granted. My father was an engineer and I feel like that engineer brain that kind of makes you stop and fixate on the little things, but also just wants things to be, you know, just right and efficient — that kind of got into me. So I always thought like I was my mother’s child because I’m loud and talkative and performative, and, you know, quick-tempered and short the way my mother is. I look just like her. And I was like, I’m my mother’s child. But I do have my dad’s way of kind of looking at things, I think. So I always say I’m half Jewish and half engineer. So that’s how I would explain myself personally. I think also neurotic and anxious. I think that a lot about me makes sense when you keep in mind that I am nervous all of the time. And I’m just a naturally anxious person. And that I’ve kind of come to embrace that. Professionally, I would say I’m a former child actor. I am a writer. I didn’t describe myself as an actor for a long time now, but I do voice acting and every now and then I’ll do face acting or stage acting, too. So I guess writer and actor kind of works. Or I’ll say just writer and voiceover actor. But every now and then I’ll appear in something so you know. I mean I feel most happy like on a mic and behind the scenes. But I like being a part of things. Like I’m never gonna be Meryl Streep, I’m never going to be Jennifer Lawrence. I’m never gonna be these actors out there because I don’t want to be. And also, I don’t really fit the image of what these people should look like. And I’m obviously not that great of an actor compared to all of these people. But every now and then, I will act in something and people will be like, hey, what gives, I thought you gave up acting? And I’m like, look, I just like being a part of something.
[11:28] Sinéad Burke: This explanation in particular stood out to me because the idea of our parents shaping who we are, not just in terms of genetics, but behavior and ambition, is something that’s very close to home. I would describe my parents as a mix of introverts and extroverts. And I think I have the best parts of both of them. In the argument of nature versus nurture, so much of who we become is based on who were shaped by. And I think me and Mara are incredibly lucky to have been surrounded by great people.
[14:34] Sinéad Burke: Another thing on the show that I’ve talked about a lot is my family’s role in shaping the way I think about myself as a little person in the world. And I loved hearing about how other people’s families played a role in their lives. There was a certain story from Justin Tranter that provided me with a totally different perspective on what it’s like to be queer, especially as a young person.
[14:59] Justin Tranter: As queer people for the most part, you are born a minority in your own home. So you’re not just a minority in the world, you’re a minority in the own home that you’re born into. Which I think is why there’s so much, so many levels of shame for everyone that feels like they’re an other and is an other. But for queer people, it’s like there’s no one in your family, for the most part, that can even walk you through this crazy fucking process. There was moments I definitely remember when I would be nine or 10 years old and I would be insisting on only wearing pink things and covering everything I own in like glitter puff paint. And I remember a couple times my mom, in the sweetest way that you possibly can, be like, “I just — I love it. I think it looks great. I just want to make sure that you’re aware you’re already getting bullied beyond belief at school. I don’t think glitter puff paint is going to help that.” And I was like, “well, I think it looks great.” And she’s like, “well, so do I. Then go.” There was I remember a couple moments of her wanting to warn me that my choices to live so confidently and live so freely might bring me trouble. And I just didn’t give a fuck because I’d rather be who I am than be safe.
[16:09] Sinéad Burke: First off, I love their response, but it made me reflect on how fortunate I am that I had somebody in my home who looked like me. My dad is a little person. That wasn’t a privilege my dad had. He was the only one who looked like him in his household growing up. 80 percent of little people are born to two average-height parents. But knowing that my dad survived and thrived and experienced such joy and love, I knew it was possible for me without those words ever being spoken. On another episode, Kimberly Drew talked about how she is occupying spaces that her family wasn’t always included in, and teaching them about those spaces as a return for them teaching her about the world.
[16:53] Kimberley Drew: My family, demographically speaking, is one of those groups that has traditionally been excluded from the spaces that I find myself in now with comfort. And so I’ve taken it as a duty to really make sure that they feel welcome in any space that I’m in. To make sure that they know that if there’s a question of something that’s confusing, that I’m there to answer it. Because I was once in a moment where I needed them to teach me about the world. You know, I wasn’t born with generosity. I wasn’t born with thoughtfulness. I wasn’t born with a duty to other people. I learned that from them. You know, they taught me how to love. They taught me how to care. And they taught me that being curious was a strength.
[17:34] Sinéad Burke: I think particularly when we talk about institutions, they often use the language of being open and accessible and welcoming. But if you don’t reach into the communities that have been excluded historically, how do they know that you’re a safe space for them? How do they put their trust in you? How do you convince them that they’re not just going to be excluded when they come to the door? I don’t think that’s explicit to art. I think it’s theater. I think it could be education. It could be government. And it underlines that question I often ask: who’s not in the room? And then how do we think about bringing them to those spaces, inviting them? And not just for performative reasons, but to take part and to challenge us and them on our whole worldview. One of the last things I want to talk about, and probably our broadest category across the season, is all of the ways people found their voice. And how that voice is what ended up fueling their work. A lot of these stories came from people being overlooked, usually for something like race, gender, disability or religion. The first one is from reporter, comedian and podcast host Akilah Hughes.
[18:43] Akilah Hughes: I never felt that from that teacher. And I think it just really affected me in that way. And so I also think that like part of the reason I left Kentucky after college was because I felt like in a lot of ways I was in a place that was not ready to celebrate, support, or even on the lowest level, just listen to someone like me. But I had been using the Internet that whole time. I feel like Neopets and all that stuff kind of happened starting in fourth and fifth grade for me. And so I had this dichotomy, right, of my reality being people outside thinking that I’m too radical because I think that, like, black people should be treated as people. And then on the Internet, I’m, you know, talking to people all around the world and being treated like just a citizen of the world. And, you know, like playing games and laughing. And it’s never that serious. And so I think that I found the confidence to leave because I knew just from spending time with people online who were not, you know, directly across the street from me, I knew that there was a better world out there, and that there was a space for my voice to be heard. And so the long way to answer your question is I think that I was highly aware of the fact that my sort of energy wasn’t really supported or appreciated.
[20:03] Sinéad Burke: I started my fashion blog when I was training to be a teacher. I remember at the time — I think I was maybe 21, so it feels like a long time ago now — I’d started because there wasn’t anybody around me who was interested in the way that I was. I felt not necessarily lost, but disconnected from so many of the conversations, or as if what I was interested in mattered less because there was less of an audience for it. So the Internet became this powerful tool where not only did I no longer distract my parents and my loved ones with all stories about what was happening in fashion, but I had an outlet. And what I quickly realized was I wasn’t the only one who felt excluded by the fashion industry. So many others did. And the power of finding people who can relate and support and challenge your ideas, but just be part of a broader community? There’s no feeling like it. And whether that’s a fashion blog or being part of an advocacy organization like Little People of Ireland, and finding people who look and think like you, there’s nothing like it. Akilah sought out a community that she knew existed beyond her hometown. It’s brave, but she’d looked forward to a world that was different, that felt more like a world that she really wanted to be part of, that deserved her. But I also talked to someone who took the opposite approach to being overlooked because of race. Someone who uses history to understand why some people treated him differently. That’s Secretary of the Smithsonian, Lonnie Bunch.
[21:36] Lonnie Bunch: I grew up in a town where there are very few black people. And in my school, my elementary school, I was the only black kid. And so there were a lot of times that I had fights, that there were a lot of racial epithets, and there were people that treated me wonderfully, and people that treated me horribly. I remember like it was yesterday, I was playing ball in somebody’s backyard, and the mother came out and she had glasses of Kool-Aid to give everybody. And then she saw me and said, “you drink out of the hose.” And I never forgot that hurt. And so I realize that maybe history would help me understand why some people hated and why some people didn’t. And so history began as a personal way for me to heal and to understand, and hopefully became a way for me to think, how can I help a country? How can I help the world find reconciliation, peace and healing through the past? So that’s how I became a historian.
[22:38] Sinéad Burke: We cannot deny the amount of discrimination people experience because of race, sexual orientation, religion, gender and disability. As a little person, this is something I experience regularly. I remember the story Ruth Madley told us about winning a BAFTA and having to be carried onstage because they didn’t have a wheelchair ramp for her.
[23:00] Ruth Madely: when Don’t Take My Baby won, we weren’t onstage so our exec. producer, writer, director, producer all went on stage. So they walked upstairs and I went round the side. I was carried on and then I met them on the stage.
[23:14] Sinéad Burke: And let’s just remember the timeline here. It wasn’t a surprise to BAFTA that Ruth was winning. She was nominated months in advance. And yet they didn’t think that the stage could or should be made accessible. And this is in the theater where we can put helicopters on stage, or boats, or we can transform the stage to an entirely different fictional world, but we can’t make it accessible. And maybe it’s not because we can’t, we just haven’t wanted to, or haven’t thought of doing it just yet. It reminded me of the importance of visibility, the importance of having disabled people at the front of our minds, who take part in culture, who can’t always demand that these changes happen, but their existence alone shapes how we view the world. I remember watching Briony on the Great British Bake Off and being aware of her physical disability, but it never being articulated. And then that alone being so powerful. You know, she spoke on the show about people’s curiosity, and how she facilitates all sorts of conversations about her smaller hand, because it’s important to educate people. And in many ways, I can empathize with that, whether that’s a kid coming up to me at a grocery store and saying, “hi!. Why are you so small?” The importance of educating people about differences, although it’s not our individual jobs, it is important.
[24:36] Sinéad Burke: For me, I am perfectly OK if someone wants to ask me about it. You know, I would much rather they did that than them stand there and stare at me for 10 minutes. And it’s like kids, I’d welcome them to come up and touch it and say,”look, it doesn’t hurt.” And you get like little toddlers trying to pull my fingers out. And it’s very cute. I don’t mind people asking me. I’d rather that than the ignorance or the hush-hush chatting.
[27:26] Sinéad Burke: When I re-listen to a lot of these clips, the thing that comes to mind the most is resilience. Each of these individuals had no choice but to survive in a world that didn’t accept them. And while it’s amazing, it shouldn’t be something that they have to do alone. There was someone at the top and a lot of these stories who could have said something different, done something different. I think of the story that Dan Levy told us about a teacher he had in high school.
[27:49] Dan Levy: All the sort of formative moments of my life have come from pushing the boundaries of what I have been told I can do or can’t do. And being embraced for taking the risk. So, you know, I think for me, my first impulse to write came in high school when I ended up interpreting an essay that I had to write. And instead of writing the essay, I wrote a long-form poem. And it was a risk. And it was an opportunity for a teacher to shut me down instantly or push me forward. And I was very fortunate enough to have a teacher that not just congratulated me on the way that I had interpreted the essay, but used it as an example of how the class should be thinking differently. And it was that moment that stuck with me and changed everything because I felt like there is a level of vulnerability when you’re doing something that’s a little different. And this, of course, is high school. There’s I mean, people making huge strides in much bigger arenas. But for me, it was a really vulnerable time. I was not sure of my skills. I was not sure of myself. And I took a risk. And she recognized that and encouraged it and told me that I had something in the writing and that I should continue to pursue it. And that could have been the moment when my potential career as a writer was stopped dead in its tracks.
[29:26] Sinéad Burke: I think we’ve all had teachers that have shaped us, positively and negatively. I’ll never forget explaining to my teacher that I wanted to be a teacher, and their resounding confidence in me was what allowed me to dream. And I think they could have had a moment of flippancy where they just said, “no, that’s not for you.” Or maybe in the rush and chaos of managing 30 four-year-olds, they didn’t give me the time to just affirm my confidence. And it’s easy to think that maybe that’s a teacher’s job, to instill confidence and to give dreams to young people. But how often has a friend or a sibling turned to us and said, this is something that I really want to do or I’m interested in this? Or maybe they don’t even display the enthusiasm that they should it because they’re afraid we’ll laugh at them. But believing in people is so important, even if you don’t always think it’s possible. Who are we to decide that? The goal of As Me was to create a space, to hear stories from people who are doing amazing work across so many different fields about what it’s like to be them, to get the truth on their experiences from their own voices. A lot of these conversations changed the way that I think about myself, and how I relate to other people. I want to end with something that Riz Ahmed says in his interview.
[30:42] Riz Ahmed: Well, I guess what really matters to me is connection. I love the idea of just connecting with people, man. I love the idea of just being able to pass through someone’s life for a moment and light it up. I find that really moving. I find that really satisfying. It makes me feel fulfilled. This idea that we’re all just kind of passing through this life, and you blink and before you know it, you’ll be gone — I mean, in my mind, I’m still like 21 trying to work it all out. But I’m 36 now. I’m closer to 50 than I am 20. And the last 15 years have been amazing, but they have just flown by. So, I mean, I’m constantly kind of aware of this. And I think it actually has something to do with having a Muslim upbringing, where the afterlife and the idea of like this life is a dream, you blink twice and it’s over — it’s so deeply inculcated in our culture that, yeah, I’m just kind of very much of the opinion that connect while you here try and light up people’s lives and light a path for people while you’re here, and then you’re done. When I’m at my least anxious, least fearful, least ego-driven and most mindful, I like to think that what matters to me is connection.
[32:00] Sinéad Burke: Right now, as people are still stuck at home, or maybe slowly begin to poke their heads out to take a walk, I think it’s so important to remember we need each other. Connection is important. The best way for us to connect is to understand or empathize with an experience of someone else. And listening is the tool. As Me was born out of the idea of listening to create more empathy in the world. I want to end this first season by saying reach out to people. Find time to connect. Don’t look at it as a chore, but as a gift. Learning how other people think, see and experience the world is a currency that will never not be profitable. Harvest the moments and the people that bring you joy. Have you ever had a conversation with a person and left that moment feeling better about yourself and the world? That’s true connection. Find as much of it as you can, and then offer it up to other people. Be brave and be comfortable being vulnerable. Don’t perform who you are based on a biased expectation of what the world is. Be confident that you’re enough and valid and interesting just as you are. Thank you so much for joining me for all of season one of As Me with Sinéad. I could not be more proud of the community that we’ve created and the connection that we developed. As Me is a production of Lemonada Media. Claire Jones is our assistant producer. Ivan Kuraev is our editor. And Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs are our executive producers.