Willow Belden

Willow Belden (32).jpg

Out There Podcast

What personal accomplishment are you most proud of?

In the spring of 2015, a year after leaving Wyoming Public Radio, I launched my own radio show: a podcast called Out There. It features stories and interviews about the outdoors, using the natural world as a lens through which to tackle broader social, psychological, and scientific issues. The content ranges from pieces like “Love is not a Finish Line,” in which Laura struggles to adopt her boyfriend’s sport in an effort to take their relationship to the next level, to “Solace in Solitude,” which looks at coming to terms with a parent’s death through a 500-mile hike, to “Failure in Success,” an episode that explores what happens with the thing you love ends up making you miserable.

Starting the show was a big leap into the unknown. I had no business experience, no financial support, and no colleagues. But I read up on intellectual property law, spent hours on the phone with established podcasters, took a course in long-form audio storytelling, and assembled several pilot episodes.

Today, Out There has listeners in more than 100 countries. And this summer, the show won a major award from PRNDI, the national organization of public radio news directors. There’s still a lot of work to do, but I’m thrilled to be making a nationally recognized show here in Laramie – and even more excited about the prospect of hiring a staff to join me in the years to come.

What is your primary personal development goal/business goal for the next 5 years?

Five years from now, I want Out There to be a beloved household name. I hope to grow my audience significantly, bringing in sufficient revenue to move the show out of my living room and into an office here in Laramie. I plan to hire a team of talented staff members, increase the production schedule to once a week, and begin hosting live events in the community. My hope is that these steps will not only turn Out There into a truly world-class show, but will also play a role – however small – in helping diversify Wyoming’s economy and attract career-driven young people to Laramie.

What is your biggest philanthropic achievement?

Last month, a complete stranger wrote me an email. She said she’d recently discovered Out There, and that the show had been “a really wonderful companion” during a time when she was grappling with major life questions. She told me the podcast had brought her to tears more than once. She ended with, “Let me say again how grateful I am for your podcast. Please keep making it!”

That last line startled me. I had always thought of the show as a somewhat selfish endeavor. I wasn’t saving children or curing cancer, or even reporting hard-hitting news that could shape public policy. I was just telling stories. I knew people were enjoying the show. But it hadn’t occurred to me that listeners might feel gratitude toward me.

Since then, I’ve received similar comments from other listeners; people tell me the show has offered them comfort during trying times, made them feel less alone, helped them make sense of their lives and the world around them.

This isn’t philanthropy in the traditional sense. But it means a lot to know that the show I’m creating is making a difference in people’s lives.

What action/event that you've been a part of, that you believe has made the biggest difference in Laramie?Or are you most proud of?

As a journalist, I’ve done a lot of reporting on scientific research. I love these stories, but they’re also infuriatingly difficult. That’s because the scientists I interview often seem to be speaking a different language – a language filled with mystifying technical terms that obscure the significance of their work.

So last year, I decided to do something to bridge the communication gap. I wanted to help scientists tell their stories – to make it easier for citizens and policymakers to learn about important scientific discoveries.

So I proposed a course at the University of Wyoming, focused on teaching scientists how to communicate with the public. In the spring of 2015, I led a five-week workshop at the Biodiversity Institute for graduate students and post-docs. At the beginning of the course, it was nearly impossible for me to understand some of my students. By the end, I was confident that each of them could explain what they do and why it’s important. They knew how to pitch their research to journalists, conduct interviews, and deliver compelling presentations.

I’ve taught several subsequent workshops in Laramie, and each one has been similarly gratifying. I’m proud of my students, and delighted to be helping them get the word out about the important work that they do.

What excites you most about the future of Laramie?

I love Laramie because it’s not Boulder. I love that the winters are long, and the trails devoid of crowds. I love that people are genuine and unpretentious – that they eat kale because they like it, not because it’s trendy. And I love that the city is a little rough around the edges. But there’s one thing about Laramie I don’t love: how transient the community is – how quickly the young, career-driven transplants pick up and leave.

I hope that will change.

I look forward to helping build Laramie into a place where talented young people want to stay – where they will find a vibrant artistic community, and exciting career opportunities outside the energy industry or the university. I look forward to the day when our little town offers more of the cultural amenities we typically associate with cities: art, theater, music, sidewalk cafes. I’m excited for Laramie to become a town that holds onto the qualities we hold so dear, while at the same time becoming a place that young intellectuals and entrepreneurs will want to call home.

What do you think has helped make you successful in your endeavors?

One of the hardest things I deal with on a daily basis is morale. Starting your own business is an uphill battle the whole way – and not just financially. Figuring out how to do everything yourself, managing all the logistics, and convincing yourself (and everyone around you) that you’re legit, is exhausting. So at times, it’s hard to stay positive.

There are two things that have helped me keep going in moments of gloom. One is loving what I do. Like, really loving it. I may not be making a living in my field at the moment, but I’m doing something profoundly interesting, and it makes me happy – genuinely and unconditionally happy. When problems pile up and I feel defeated, I remind myself of that.

The other thing that’s been crucial is surrounding myself with people who bolster my confidence, and asking for their help. My tendency has always been to hide my insecurities. I feel this need to appear strong and capable all the time, and to navigate all the roadblocks myself. But I’ve come to realize that that doesn’t work; I have to have an outlet for my insecurities. So I seek out friends and colleagues whom I trust, and share my fears and vulnerabilities with them. Remembering to do this – not just retreating into my own shell when things go wrong – has been invaluable. Turns out, when you admit you need help, people are more than willing to offer you both professional advice and emotional support. I can’t tell you how many times a tearful, late-night conversation with a friend has breathed new wind into my sails and given me the strength to forge ahead.

What advice would you give to other young professionals in Laramie?

Laramie is full of exciting young professionals. But because it’s a small town, you’re not always surrounded with other people who do what you do. For example, I’m one of just a few professional podcasters in all of Wyoming. And that can be isolating. There’s no one to commiserate with – no one with whom to share common woes, or swap advice. No one to help you grow as a professional. So you have to find colleagues outside of the state. Go to conferences. Join facebook groups for people in your field. Sign up for courses elsewhere in the country. Remember that even though you live in a rural area, you’re not constrained by the resources this area has to offer.