Miss you already, “Dear Sugars”: 5 life-changing lessons I learned from my favorite advice podcast


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Photo: New York Times; Artwork: Well+Good Creative

I’ve never been one to treat my books like sacred objects—though I definitely consider them part of that category. For me, putting a title back on the shelf with dog ears, underlines, and, yes, teardrops is a sure-fire indicator that something about the contents struck a chord with me. So a few years ago, when I experienced the worst book hangover (it’s a thing) after closing my torn-to-pieces copy of Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, a friend practically saved my emotional life with the sentence, “You know there’s a podcast too, right?”

By the time I queued up the first episode of Dear Sugars, the project already had a long and legendary history. It all started in 2008, when author Steve Almond started anonymously writing a weekly advice column called “Dear Sugar” for The Rumpus. Two years later, he passed the incognito baton to none other than Strayed. In 2014, both authors revealed their true identities, and began filling the digital airwaves with what could only be described as unabashed empathy on heart-wrenching topics from female ambition to body weight, romance to sibling rivalry.

If you’re unfamiliar with how each episode of Dear Sugars used to unfold, it always went something like this: Each week, Strayed or Almond would read off a letter sent in by an unnamed writer from around the world. And slowly, through generous and insistent discourse, they’d expose someone’s singular struggle as being plainly, universally, and stunningly human. To say they gave “advice” would be the understatement of the century. What they really offered people was a fresh-eyed, compassionate vantage point on the aspect of the letter-writers’ lives that most resonated with them.

It’s now been over a week since the show has come to what I would classify as an intensely bittersweet end, but it’s really just hitting me how much I’ll miss it.

It’s now been over a week since the show has come to what I would classify as an intensely bittersweet end, but it’s really just hitting me how much I’ll miss it. I may only be 22, but I know for a fact that it’s rare to feel undeniably accepted and understood by people who are strangers to you—and that’s exactly how I felt about not only Strayed, Almond, and whatever guest they’d invite on the show, but also every other person out there who listened in with me each week for the past two years of my life. The show taught me what all good storytelling sets out to prove: “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike,” in the words of Maya Angelou.

As my precious live-well gurus depart to write new books, I’ve been going over the podcast’s best hits in my head. Every nugget of wisdom on the show was solid gold, but these are the five that will really, really stick with me.

Here are the 5 pieces of wisdom from Dear Sugars that I hope I never forget.

dear sugars podcast
Photo: Stocksy/Lauren Naefe

1. Real friends want me to speak up for myself.

When Oprah came on the show, she schooled us on what happens in our lives when we start saying no. “If a person turns against you because you say ‘no’ to them, you recognize that that wasn’t real love anyway,” she said. “True love, true friendship, true support comes from people who want you to tell your own truth. They don’t want things given to them that don’t come from a pure place. Ultimately, you have to let go of some of the toxicity in your life that was preventing you from being your most true self in the first place, even with family members.”

2. My negative inner voice *can* be silenced.

Strayed reminded us that a lot of the storytelling that goes on in our heads just isn’t true—and we have to act as the editors of our own inner narratives. For instance, she said, “I become mindful when I feel jealous of somebody, and I have trained my mind to interfere with that thought…This is really about bringing to consciousness your feelings and telling some of those feelings that they’re invalid, and then turning them away.”

3. The definition of “self-care” should be different for everyone.

Counselor Hilary Kinavey, co-founder of Be Nourished, offered one question that’ll transform your outlook on self-care: “If you knew that weight would never been a problem again—that you would have all the lovers, and all the respect, and all the peace—what would you want to do to take care of yourself?” You might be surprised to find the answer is to take more rest days and eat more desserts.

4. Change is good… no, really.

Strayed shared the quote that echoed in her mind before she set off to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, and I’ve since stolen it as my own. “One of my favorite poems of all time is by Rilke, ‘Archaic Torso of Apollo,’ and it culminates in this line that has come into my mind countless times throughout my life: ‘You must change your life.’ It’s such a simple statement, and it reads to me like a command that sort of echoes in my mind in moments when I really, finally realize that things aren’t going the way they should be.”

5. That “not-enough” feeling we all experience? That’s a good thing, too.

Strayed and Almond reminded us that believing we are “not enough” is universal—but refusing to accept that notion can make us extraordinary. Said Almond: “It is part of what allows people like Cheryl, for instance, to say, ‘I want a bigger life than the one that’s set out for me. I don’t just want to be nice all my life. I want to speak fiercely. I want to say things that might be discomforting, or even unsettling for me, because that’s the kind of life I want to lead.'” Sweet advice, indeed.

Note: The Sugars will still be accepting e-mailed letters. So if you feel the need to write down whatever you’re grappling with, you can email dearsugars@nytimes.com. I, for one, will definitely be writing soon. 

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