How One Girl Went From High School Introvert to Podcast Star
Some of the coolest careers probably don’t exist yet. Or at least they’re not on your radar. Just ask 26-year-old Lauren Shippen, the actor-turned-writer-turned-creator of the hit podcast, The Bright Sessions.
This “science fiction podcast about therapy for the strange and unusual,” simultaneously highlights real issues like mental health and LGBTQ+ rights, winning it a massive following. In fact, the show has been downloaded more than seven million times, and now Lauren’s developing it for TV. See how she got there by taking the career path less traveled below.
What were you like as a teen?
I was pretty introverted. I had a couple of close friends and hung out with the other drama kids, but I mostly kept to myself and spent a lot of time reading and watching TV. Mostly, I was just trying to soak up as much pop culture as possible, which I would then write about in a blog that I'm fairly certain no one read. I wasn't necessarily shy, but I certainly didn't have a lot of confidence, and I think I compensated for that by being a bit caustic at times.
As an adult, what do you wish you could tell your teenage self now?
I would tell my past self that it's okay to be enthusiastic and passionate about the things I love. I think I was really scared to be unabashedly excited about music or TV or books or what have you, because it left me open to mocking. As someone who was bullied all through middle school, I was terrified of being made fun of as a teen. This made me embarrassed about loving things loudly, and I think I wasted a lot of time hiding my passions in the shadows.
How exactly did you get to where you are now, professionally?
I was acting in Los Angeles—doing the classic hustle, working at a restaurant, auditioning all the time, taking improv classes—and I was getting really frustrated with my own career. I wasn't getting the auditions that I wanted and, even when I did, the roles that were available to me were not all that engaging. A lot of roles for young women in Hollywood are the love interest or girl-next-door; roles where the physical appearance is prioritized over any actual character work. I wanted to write my own material, something that my actor friends and I could really sink our teeth into, so I started The Bright Sessions.
We never expected it to get to the point that it has—I could never have dreamed that it would be this successful. The success of the podcast has allowed me to expand the world of the show even more and branch into other mediums and projects. As much as I still love acting, writing is definitely my main squeeze now.
What's one thing you wish you'd known then that you know now about having a career?
Hank Green once said, "I don't know how to do my job because no one's ever done it before," and that's how I feel about my career. I think I expected there to be a lot more signposts and linear steps to take, but instead I've discovered that most of my job entails just...making it up as I go? There's not a clear path for me to take, but there's also no one to tell me that something is wrong or won't work.
What career advice do you have for young people just starting out?
Take the risk when you're young. Worry about practicality when you have to pay your own rent. Don't be afraid to ask questions or say, "I don't know.” I spent a lot of time in my late teens and early twenties trying to pretend I knew how to do everything and that just meant I spent way more time trying to do things on my own and then not doing them very well. It's good to ask for help. No one expects you to know everything, so don't expect that from yourself.