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5 surprising things I have in common with economist Steve Levitt

Freakonomics co-author Steve Levitt recently invited me on his podcast. We discussed everything from dream jobs and fantastic failures, to the power of mental health peer support.

Freakonomics co-author Steve Levitt recently invited me on his ‘People I (Mostly) Admire’ podcast. Our conversation ran the gamut: we discussed everything from dream jobs and fantastic failures, to the power of mental health peer support and the fall of the Berlin Wall. These are topics close to Steve’s heart, so I also learnt quite a bit about him—including some surprising personal parallels!

Here are 5  things that Steve and I have in common. The last one especially was a surprise!

  1. We are not afraid to fail because we prioritise learning. Steve tries out more projects than the average academic. I’ve worked on many failed projects in my career. We talk about some of my favourites on the podcast, like Project Loon and Project Foghorn at X. We both continue to prioritise learning over a fear of failure in our roles today!
  2. We have close family members who struggled with serious mental illness, leading us to care deeply about mental health. Having experienced the power of peer support, both giving it and receiving it, we are curious  about the science: what makes therapy and peer support effective, and how someone with much less training than a therapist can help others recover.
  3. We had the same business idea. We both imagined matching people experiencing mental health struggles with peer supporters who have gone through the same. When Steve’s daughter Lily shared her experience recovering from an eating disorder on Instagram, she got countless DMs from other teens asking her for help. Steve never got around to setting up a peer support marketplace, and was delighted to discover that I set one up at! 🙂
  4. Our worldviews have been shaped by experiences with US and German culture, at different points in our lives. Steve’s wife is German and he lives there now. I grew up in Berlin, went to the US as a high school exchange student as a teenager and almost missed the wall coming down, which we also talk about on the podcast.
  5. We both have imposter  syndrome. (Wait, what??? Steve Levitt has impostor syndrome!!) On the podcast, Steve wonders how many of his podcast listeners really feel like imposters, so he invites them to send a one line email to saying either “imposter” or “not an imposter”. I’m curious how many of you feel that they’re an imposter. If you’re brave enough to share openly, please let me know in the comments! 

Thank you Steve, Morgan and the PIMA team for the enjoyable, interesting and sometimes challenging conversation.I was nervous at the beginning of the recording (imposter!!!!), sitting in a dark studio in San Francisco talking to Steve halfway across the world. By the end Steve and I could have chatted for two more hours. Mental health and peer support are complicated to unpack. The podcast format was perfect for it, especially since Steve had a personal connection. 

I’d love to do more podcasts on the topic of mental health and peer support, for example: How peer support works with other modalities/solutions to the mental health crisis, a deep dive on the science of peer support, hearing from others with lived experience of mental health challenges for whom peer support  has worked, and whether a chatbot could ever deliver proper peer support (which is  as much a philosophical as a technical question).

What conversations about peer support and mental health would you like to hear on a future podcast? Get in touch here and let me know!

You can listen and find the transcript on the Freakonomics website here, or download the episode on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

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