How Shameless podcasters found courage to follow their dreams

In their early 20s, Michelle Andrews and Zara McDonald quit stable jobs to launch a podcast. It was a massive leap of faith – but it’s paying off big time.

Journalists Michelle and Zara, both 26, never anticipated their pop culture podcast, Shameless, would become the media institution it is today.

In 2017, the best friends became business partners by leaving media group MamaMia to pursue their then-side project podcast independently.

It was a bold move, and while leaving a stable job on a wing and a prayer may seem like a daunting prospect at any age, Zara says the pair’s relative youth worked in their favour.

“We had the privilege of being young with nothing to lose, so it was fun to find something that we loved that we could put all our energy into that wouldn’t deplete us,” Zara says.

“One of the worst things about your 20s is not knowing what to do with your life.

“But I think that is also one of the best parts, because you have a lot of freedom to chase whatever you want to chase and put energy into whatever you want to.”

How taking a chance paid off for Shameless duo

Award-winning Shameless – the “podcast for smart women who love dumb stuff” – has since become one of the most popular pop culture podcasts in Australia, boasting 250,000 weekly downloads.

But taking a gamble on their careers was not the only time Michelle and Zara have had to make courageous decisions.

In the podcast’s early days, they formed a Facebook group for their growing audience.

While the group sparked thought-provoking discussion, support and entertainment among like-minded listeners, it could just as quickly change direction.

By June of this year, Michelle and Zara felt they had little option but to shut the page down.

“(As the group grew), it increasingly was becoming a space where emotional labour was being put on to people who exist in minorities to explain really important issues,” says Michelle.

“So we realised as a business and as two people, Zara and I would far prefer to pay for that emotional and intellectual labour and to actually platform those opinions and beliefs in our newsletter, beyond a Facebook group, because to be honest, it’s not a conversation. Like Black Lives Matter is not a conversation; it’s not a debate, it’s a fact.”

Tapping into the lives of 20-somethings

Through their Shameless Media production company, Michelle and Zara have launched another two podcasts, Love etc. and She’s on the Money, while juggling weekly Shameless episodes, a book club, newsletter and charity merchandise.

And if all that weren’t enough, they have just released their debut title, The Space Between.

Covering all aspects – good and bad – of living through the notoriously rollercoaster 20s was important to the pair.

“My experience during my early to mid-20s has been tied to the themes of ambition and mind and body and voice, so we were really excited to tackle some things that arise in your early 20s that we hadn’t seen other books cover,” says Michelle.

They don’t shy away from personal anecdotes on their podcasts and their book is no different, covering topics they have not even discussed with those closest to them.

“These are stories that we’ve never really felt ready to tell or had a space to tell so now it’s like, ‘All right, let’s get the audience to know us in a completely different way’,” says Zara.

The loneliness felt by women in their experiences and feelings is another central premise of the book, says Michelle.

“I really hope that they can read our book and know that the complete opposite is true; that even if you’ve gone through some really sh–ty things between adolescence and adulthood, there are so many women out there who feel and live exactly the same way you do and are there for you and share that,” she says.

the space between book

The Space Between by Zara McDonald and Michelle Andrews (Penguin, $32.99) is available now.

Written by Charlotte Brundrett. Pictures: Miranda Stokkel.