Caitlin Hofmeister is not a person you expect to be contemplating failure. She holds one of the most coveted jobs in Missoula—maybe anywhere—as a producer, writer and co-host for several highly successful YouTube-funded series, including SciShow, a science-education program with more than 4 million subscribers and advertisements plastered on billboards and bus stops nationwide. On one episode of SciShow, Hofmeister digs into the difference between astronauts and cosmonauts. On another, she regales viewers with the latest science surrounding black holes and a disappearing island on one of Saturn's moons.
But like a lot of people who spend a ton of time online, Hofmeister has found herself increasingly sucked into the internet's own black holes of unrealistic pro tips and lifehacks, mean-spirited listicles and shaming articles about what a person should achieve before turning 30. The experience, she says, got her thinking about the pressure she feels to self-improve while hiding her worst mistakes from the world—and she wondered if other people felt that way, too.
"I was going through a phase where I was reading a lot of stuff with titles like, 'How to pay off your loans really fast' or 'I just stopped drinking lattes and now I have a six pack and own an empire,'" she says, laughing. "It's self-help stuff that's under the guise of being inspirational—the kind of thing that makes you feel productive just by reading it. But instead of feeling better, it was just starting to make me feel bad."
Hofmeister recently started "You're Doing Just Fine," a podcast she describes as "celebrat[ing] real people and the shortcomings and failures that make up real life." The title is a kind of answer to the questions Hofmeister was asking herself: Am I doing it wrong? Am I a bad person?
"I was working at my job and I didn't really have time to read a bunch of stuff about starting a podcast," she says. "But I took some time Googling 'podcast,' and then 'you're okay,' and then 'you're doing just fine,' which were things I wanted to be true. So that's the phrase I came up with, because I wanted it to be a thing. And it wasn't a thing that I could find."
- photo by Amy Donovan
- Caitlin Hofmeister, a producer for popular YouTube series SciShow, recently created a podcast about human failure.
The first episode of "You're Doing Just Fine" is an introduction to the concept, with Hofmeister talking about her fear of starting a new project, even as a person who has experience working on a major YouTube channel. On the second episode, she interviews local musician Caroline Keys about her new band, Caroline Keys and the Lane Splitters. It's a casual conversation in which Keys talks about her love of music, but at the heart of the discussion are uncertainties: the risk of putting songs out into the world, "imposter syndrome," and Keys' unease at her transition from backup singer and musician to frontwoman. The problems are utterly ordinary, even as they're dressed in the details of Keys' life. And that's kind of the point of talking about frustration and failure: It's relatable.
At the beginning of the project, Hofmeister made a list of 30 people, many of them artists, whose brains she wanted to pick about failure. The third episode focuses on Wartime Blues frontman and songwriter Nate Hegyi.
"He was at the top of my list because he went through a quarter-life crisis after a couple big moves and a break-upand then a break-up that didn't fully break," Hofmeister says. "I got to witness this period in his life where he would try a new thing and try a new thing and he was really running at everything head on, and he would crash and burn. And then he'd run at a new thing head on. I know he must have been really frustrated working through that, but it was awesome to witness."
The title "You're Doing Just Fine" is key to understanding the way Hofmeister views the world. In 2012, when she was in film school at the University of Montana, she made a short in which the main character goes through some major struggles. Despite the darkness, the final scene ends with the main character saying, "Goodbye, and thanks for coming." Editors wanted to cut the line to tighten up the story, but for Hofmeister, that line gave the entire film the bright turn it needed. "I've always been that way," she says.
"You're Doing Just Fine" comes out of Hofmeister's interest in the things people gloss over—the little sentences dropped in conversation that make you realize there's more going on than you know.
"There's not necessarily a way to bring some things up," she says. "You can't really say, 'Hey, I know you guys are struggling to have kids right now because you mentioned something. What's that like?' There's just not really a normal time to say that. So I thought maybe if I have a microphone, I'd be allowed to ask these questions of people—because these are issues we can all sympathize with."
Visit Caitlin Hofmeister at justfinepodcast.com.