Derek Sivers

Interviews → The Darius Foroux Show / Darius Foroux

Caring about the things no one else cares about, solitude, why I enjoy changing my mind, knowing when to quit, why no one invites me to parties

Date: 2020-04

Download: audio (mp3)

Link: https://dariusforoux.com/derek-sivers/


Darius:

On your /now page, you said, “I checked in on my email list and over 6,000 people replied. So, I just finished replying to all 6,000 emails. Many have already had the virus sickness and come out on the other side. Many are devastated and can’t pay next month’s rent. I’m immersed in their stories and almost devastated from the stress, but also thankful for the connection.”

I’ve been following your work for about five years now and my impression is always that you are someone who truly cares. This emails shows this to me as well. Have you always been this way?

Derek:

I feel very, very thankful for the people who I know through my mailing list. It’s a two-way conversation. I sent everybody who signs up to my email list a little question a week later. I look through it and see if any names look familiar. If I don’t know who they are, I send out a little email that says, “Who are you? Tell me something about yourself. Where are you?”

I keep track of this stuff, so I know where people are and what they do.

When I’m traveling, I often look up people on my mailing list who are in that area. A few months ago, I went to Helsinki o on an impulse. There was a cheap flight leaving that day. I got in at midnight and sent some emails to people in Helsinki. The next day I was sitting half-naked in a spa with some dude from my mailing list.

So, they’re not just names on a list to me. They’re real people that I hope to meet someday. I don’t know most of them, but I know a lot of them. I’ve met hundreds and hundreds of them in person.

I care about the people on my list, but I would not describe myself as a caring person in general. I feel bad about this, but I don’t care about most things. I don’t care about politics. I don’t care about anything that’s in the news. I don’t care about anything that’s on social media. It’s all lost on me.

It’s why I don’t have any social media apps on my phone. I basically never look at Twitter. I’ve never ever looked at Instagram. I don’t even have a Facebook account. I just don’t care.

But I do care about the people who I know, and I care about the people on my list. I think I have a strong sense of the over-served and the underserved. That’s part of why things in the news and social media don’t interest me at all. Millions and or probably billions of people are focused on what’s going on in the news today. Greater minds are already paying attention to that.

But there’s other stuff that I feel is being underserved. I want to pay attention to these little things that I feel like nobody else is paying attention to. I feel like it balances out my world.

Darius:

Is this your DNA? Or this is something that you learned?

Derek:

I don’t know if this is something I learned or if this is nature versus nurture. The things I care about are the things that feel to me like they don’t have enough who care about it.

Darius:

I read your article about being meta-considerate. By taking care of yourself and making sure that you are emotionally stable, you’re not being a burden to the people around you. From that point of view, you’re taking care of the people who are your life, right?

Derek:

We all have different things that we care about. Nobody can make you care about something you don’t care about.

There was a music venue in New York City called CBGB. I think I felt personally slighted by them because when I was a full-time musician in New York City, I contacted the booking guy often, but they would never book my band there. Years later CBGB was going out of business. People said, “We must save CBGB. Derek, you have to help support our cause to save CBGB.”

I said, “Sorry, I’m happy you care about that. But I do not care about that. I’m very sorry.”

Darius:

Yeah. That’s also a stoic way to look at it, right?

Derek:

Is it?

Darius:

You focus on what’s inside your control.

Derek:

You have to feel that caring will actually make a difference. There’s a nightclub that’s been around for a few decades, and it’s going out of business. No matter what we do to kick and scream, I think it’s going to go out of business anyway.

What am I going to do? Contribute $1,000 to saving CBGB? There are a lot of people in the world where $1,000 could save their life. That matters a lot more to me than saving CBGB.

Darius:

If I see an opportunity to provide help or contribute, I think, “Is this actually making an impact?”

Last year, I started making some YouTube videos because people asked.

I thought, “Well, that’s maybe a good idea. Let’s try that.”

I started doing that, but I noticed that my blog and podcast were reaching a lot more people than the videos. So, I stopped making them.

Derek:

You have to feel that it’s worth your time. That it’s having an impact. That’s a great point too. 

You mentioned the underserved. During the 2008 financial collapse, I decided to donate money to a nature preservation thing. I thought that nature preservation is something people only donate to when they really feel like they’ve got plenty of money and all their basic needs are met.

Suddenly in the midst of a financial collapse I thought, “I’ll bet these organizations that are really doing good work to preserve nature are probably not getting any donations right now. I think now it’s up to me to donate to the nature conservation society.”

I did and that felt better because I felt like I was helping where it was really needed.

There’s an organization out there that has metrics to show you the most efficient use of your charity money. If you feel like you can afford to donate money to charity, they’ve analyzed the internal workings of a bunch of organizations. They can say pretty objectively which organization is saving the most lives per dollar.

I like the idea that makes you feel good, but for most of us, we have to pick the things that we feel are worth turning our attention to. That comes back to the art versus commerce thing.

Are you doing it for your own need versus for the market place?

Darius:

People often ask me why I publish free articles. For me, the writing is a way to learn. Like you said, art versus commerce. At some point you don’t look at the commerce and you just look at what you get out of it.

One thing that I noticed that you’re quite contrarian. When people go left, you go right. Is being contrarian a strategy for you? Or is that just the way you are?

Derek:

I think that one is nature. I feel like I’ve always been that way. I remember even as a kid, when I was surrounded by a bunch of silly and goofy people, it made me feel like being very serious. When I was around bunch of people that were being too serious, then I felt like being silly. When I talk about this with friend, we described it as balancing out the energy of the room.

I have an eight-year-old kid now. There are definitely some things that have been a part of his personality since he was born. Before I had him I thought they were nurture-learned things. But he’s always been that way. So maybe I’ve always been this way.

Maybe it was partially shaped by the fact that when I was five years old, I started moving around the world a lot because of my dad’s job.

Everywhere I went, I was not from here. That became part of my identity. I’m not one of you people. I’m not from here. Your rules don’t apply to me. So maybe that shaped my definition, think it’s mostly nature.

When it comes to my writing, I think, “Why would I put something out into the world that’s already been said? I’m not just here making noise for noise’s sake.”

I only put out something into the public if I feel like this is something nobody else is saying. When it’s a point of view nobody’s talking about. That’s worth putting out into the world.

But if I had an opinion that aligns with a lot of other people’s opinions, I wouldn’t write about it. That’s a strategy.

Darius:

One of the most interesting things that I read from you is, “Don’t quote. Make it yours and say it yourself.”

How did you come to that conclusion?

Derek:

The article is at sive.rs/dq as in don’t quote. I think too many of us quote what somebody else said. We give the reference. But I feel that instead, if this is something you believe, internalize it. Put it in your own words and state it yourself. You own this now.

Ideas are not money that you steal from somebody else. You’re not taking anything away from Mark Twain if you take one of his ideas, make it your own, and give no credit to Mark Twain.

I think that we should stay very aware of noise and waste, and we should ask what’s necessary and what’s not.

In the past, when I told friends about books, I spent two minutes explaining my source, then I’d finally say the actual point. After hearing myself do that a few times, I became aware of noise and waste. I thought about what’s necessary and what’s not, I asked myself, “Why am I doing that? Does my friend really need to know the bibliography, the source of every thought?”

No, just say the damn thought.

It feels weird at first to share a thought when you know where it came from, but you decide that’s not important where it came from. If somebody asks, “Oh wow, that’s a brilliant idea. Where did you come up with that?” Of course, you can say, “It comes from this book by Dan Ariely.”

You’re not trying to claim the credit. You’re just not cluttering the conversation with unnecessary info.

For years, I’d noticed that conversationally, but just recently I’ve noticed that a lot of current non-fiction books I do the same. The pages are filled with he said this, and she said this and this source and that source that. I looked at the page and thought, “That’s a lot of noise.” You pushed four names into my head for no other reason than you felt that you should. But I didn’t care about any of that. I just care about the point.

After that, I decided to make a new rule for myself, “Don’t quote, just adopt it as your own, like adopting a pet or a child.”

Darius:

We don’t have the courage to say, “Hey, this is what I think. This is how I feel about certain topics.” And last year I thought, “I’m really done with this.” So, I wrote the whole chapter from my own perspective. I didn’t quote anyone. At the end of the chapter, I pasted a quote from one person who gave me inspiration, and that was it. It’s my perspective and I’m just saying what I think.

Derek:

It depends. Ryan Holiday, for example, is writing the kinds of books where he’s trying to introduce a modern audience to the ancient thinkers. So, in his case, the reason he’s writing the book is to share the thoughts of the great philosophers.

But for most of us, we’re just trying to communicate a point. It’s more powerful if we adopt the ideas ourselves and present it in our own words.

Darius:

The question that I get from people often is should I start a blog or not? Do you have any tips that you learned along the way about speaking your mind? Was it gradual or was it just like a sudden realization that you had when we were talking about this?

Derek:

Oh, mine was sudden. It was a very deliberate plan. After I sold CD Baby, my company, in 2008, I was a little lost and maybe depressed. Not sad but lost. I didn’t know what to do. I felt like I had peaked, and the best was behind me.

Then instantly all at once, on a plane while reading a book, I had this a flash of inspiration and thought, “I want to be a writer, speaker, thinker kind of guy. I want TED to invite me to speak. I want people to know me for my thoughts and my writing.”

This was new to me. At the time, I was just known as that musician who started a music store. That was exciting to me. It was the first inspiring idea I’d had in over a year. Before that I was thinking about changing my name and disappearing to be an open source programmer somewhere.

By the time the plane landed, I had a three-page deliberate plan on how I was going to do this.

It didn’t earn me any money and I didn’t try to make it earn money. I’ve done all of this just for my own intrinsic reasons.

Darius:

Yeah, well, it’s doing good in a different way. If you turned this into a massive business, you would spend your days running the business and less time on answering emails and being there for people.

It’s all about just the strategy you take. What book were you reading on that plane where you had this idea?

Derek:

It might have been The 48 Laws of Power. But the idea had nothing to do with the book. There was one sentence in the book about attention. It was about being in the spotlight. When I quit CD Baby, I had 85 employees, and it was not much of a hierarchy. A lot of those 85 people would complain directly to me about their life. I didn’t like that. I didn’t like having all that responsibility. I didn’t like being even a little famous.

I seriously looked into changing my name and becoming an open-source programmer. I thought about moving somewhere where nobody knew me and living off my savings. I was going to live a cheap life, find a little apartment for $400 a month, and lose myself in the intellectual fun of programming. That’s what I was planning on doing.

Then, there was a sentence or idea that changed my mind. It was talking about the taking on the responsibility of being in the spotlight. It wasn’t a brilliant idea, but it was a tiny idea that hit me at the right time. I thought, “I could run away from the spotlight and all responsibility, or I could do the opposite and step into it and just deal with the downsides.”

There are some downsides to being a little bit famous. Not many. It’s mostly pretty awesome. As long as you can mitigate the downsides and deal with the people that might pour too many expectations or projections onto you, then it’s actually pretty awesome. So, that was the actual thought in that moment. It was like, “No, I’m going to step more into the spotlight, and that’s why I’m going to start writing and speaking.

Darius:

That’s a pretty big shift, right? You basically chose the opposite of your first thought.

Derek:

Oh, I do that almost every day. My single favorite thing to do in the whole world is changing my mind. I love it when I think the opposite of what I thought was true yesterday. To me, there’s no feeling better than when I change my mind on a subject. If you look at everything I do, that’s the common thread. But I’m not trying to convince anybody to think like me.

Darius:

Sometimes people look at changing your mind all the time as something negative. What are your thoughts on that?

Derek:

It does get a bad reputation because it can be annoying to other people. Back when I was running CD Baby, and I had 85 employees, they would quite often get upset at me when I would change my mind on something.

They’d say, “You’re always changing your mind.”

I’d say, “Well, that’s how getting smarter works. Every day I’m learning more. Every day I’m analyzing my thoughts and the plan.” I’m not going to stick with something I said long ago if I realize now that it was wrong. Consistency is very low on my value chart.

Darius:

I just had a realization. I think that people perceive changing your mind as a bad thing because of what other people think. 

People can get disappointed In Chris Voss’s book, Never Split the Difference, he says, “Avoid asking people why because why is defensive. You make people want to defend themselves. You don’t get an honest response when they are just trying to defend themselves.”

Derek:

Darius, you know what would be really fun right now? You should ask me some kind of why question. So, let’s get onto my next question. Why are you into weightlifting?

Darius:

Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So, if you ask it in that type of way, like why are you saying this? Why did you change your mind? That makes people have to defend themselves. It’s not coming out of curiosity.

It’d be better to say, “Oh, wow, that’s interesting. Yesterday you were thinking X and today you’re thinking Y. I’m curious, how did you come to this conclusion?” That’s more out of curiosity.

Derek:

You can take anything that people think of as negative, and rock it and be proud of it. I used to feel that it was a bad thing that I’m a slow thinker. I would be a terrible debater. I would be a terrible live TV guest. I’m not super quick like that. If you ask me a question, my usual response is, “Huh, I don’t know,” and then the next day I have an answer.

I used to think that I should be faster. But instead, I thought, “You know what? I like the fact that I think slowly. I like the fact that what comes out of my mouth is not just some knee jerk reaction.”

I wrote an article proudly proclaiming that I’m a slow thinker.

Darius:

Yeah, that’s a good way to live. We can’t get enough of people owning who they are. But that requires knowing who we are, and I think that’s a big challenge. If we don’t know who we are, we can’t own it.

I read several articles you wrote about being alone. You said you went on a family trip and had to recover for 10 days. Can you explain the impact that being alone had on your after that trip?

Derek:

I’m not that different from most introverts in that I feel that I am recharging my batteries when I’m alone. When I’m with anybody else, even if there’s somebody else in my house, it feels like my batteries are draining. Solitude recharges me.

Part of that is because of my life’s goals. If my life goal was to be a community leader or an organizer, then I would be charged by being out with people. But my goals in life are almost entirely things that I need to do alone at a keyboard. It’s mostly writing, thinking, reading.

I had an interesting observation. I have often been with people and wished that I was alone, but I’ve never been alone and wished that I was with people, Never.

My friends are all over the world because I move a lot. So, the only people I stay friends with are people who like talking on the phone. I have seven dear friends, but all of them are remote. So, in order of time zone, I think Australia, Singapore, Los Angeles, New York, Germany, Spain, and Ukraine. That’s where my seven friends are, one in each. We talk on the phone every week.

Darius:

So, when’s the last time you actually caught up with a friend face to face?

Derek:

Well, now you’re asking that during our COVID-19 lockdown, a month and a half ago, I saw my friend in Spain.

But before that, if I think of my seven best friends, it’s been a couple of years since we’ve seen each other face to face. I think I haven’t seen one of them face to face in 15 years, but we talk every week.

Darius:

I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot recently because I have several friends who I’m close with, and we speak every week. I also have a younger brother who I’m very close with as well. Obviously, we also work together, so we see each other every day. But society tells us you need the physical contact. I don’t know. If you’re like, “Well, I don’t have that desire at all,” that’s okay. So, if you don’t have the desire, why would you push yourself to change? Right?

Derek:

It depends on the person. Some people do, and it depends on what you consider friendship. Someone’s idea of friendship is going out drinking with friends and the idea of keeping in touch on the phone is absolutely moot. For her, friendship is not a conversation. It’s an activity.

For her, in person is a requirement. Whereas my definition of friendship is more of a conversation.

Darius:

One of the things that I decided in recent years is that I prefer to spend time with people who have a similar outlook. How do you look at this? Do your friends have a similar values as you?

Derek:

We all have a human need for certainty – for the things that are known to us already and comfortable. But we also all have a human need for uncertainty – for surprise and the unknown.

The adventure of life is balancing these two things in your life; however, you see fit. So, part of you wants to interact with people who are completely different from you. Getting to know that person can be a life-expanding experience. But, of course, sometimes you want to talk to somebody who’s just like you. I think we all have the need for both.

Some people want to be in the familiar most of the time. Some people want to be in the unfamiliar most of the time, but it can also be situational. You can have times in your life where you are just flying high and life is a breeze. And because of that, you actually want more adventure, more of the unknown, more uncertainties in life. You want surprises.

But you might get really sick, or injured, or have some kind of disaster happen in your life. And you’ll think, “Oh man, I don’t want any surprises. I just want my old favorite food. I want to be at home at my mother’s house. I think it depends on your life scenario.

Darius:

How do you know it’s time to move on from a project, a certain lifestyle, or whatever it is. How do you know it’s time to make a change? Do you have a process, or is it more a gut feeling?

Derek:

I have a core belief that change is good. So, I err on the side of moving on, as you put it. I’ve never regretted it.

But I think it depends on your value system. Do you want broad experiences in life? Do you want to do lots of different things or do you want to dive deeply into one thing?

I move every couple years. This is what I enjoy doing. But a lot of people I know are living in the same town they grew up in. They’ve been in the same house for 30 years, and they’re planning on dying there. They love this grounded sense of community that it gives them. That’s their value system.

So, you have to know yourself a bit. Observe it in yourself. Even if your friends say, “What, are you crazy? Why would you quit a job that you just got a year ago? It’s a good job.” You can say, “Well, I want to. I want to go do something else now. I’ve done this for a year and that’s enough.”

Your friends might tell you you’re stupid and wrong, but they have a different value system.

When you have a feeling, the feeling has to persist for a long time. You can’t just be in a bad mood or having a slump that week or month, and then determine that you are done with this thing. You have to make sure that the feeling persists.

The point is, don’t make a major decision only based on emotions, because emotions can change with a simple refocusing. 

Like the example I mentioned before about the plane. At one o’clock in the afternoon, I wanted to legally change my name and disappear. And by two o’clock in the afternoon, I decided I wanted to step into the spotlight and be a famous speaker. Your emotions can change in an hour.

So, don’t let your emotions guide major decisions. Let them have a vote. But you should really use your smarts. Use your wisdom and think of what a wise person from the outside would suggest that you do.

Darius:

How did you go after the plane ride? After you had the idea to be a famous speaker and author, did you let it sit?

Derek:

No. That’s what I mean about using your smarts. In that moment, emotionally I felt like, “Yeah, I’m super excited about this.” I feel more driven than I have felt in a year and a half.

But I also had been drifting for a year and a half. It wasn’t like I was going to quit something I was doing in my life to do this other thing.

My situation was that I had sold CD Baby. I had already been blogging, but only to musicians, for 10 years. People had told me for years that they liked my writing, but I thought, “Okay, well, thanks. I mean, that’s not what I really do. I’m running a music store, but thank you.”

So, I realized that this was the right strategy for me, that this is what I love the most, this is what I’m well-positioned to do. It was a combination of smarts and emotion.

Darius:

It feels like it’s almost like destiny. I don’t believe in that kind of stuff, but it just looks like it on the outside, like a romantic movie almost. Right? You’re sitting on a plane.

Derek:

I saw an article yesterday about a professional swimmer. An Olympic swimmer was jogging around a river when a bus fell off a bridge and crashed into the river. He instantly dove into the river, and one by one pulled up all 31 passengers of the bus. Dove down 30 meters over and over and over again, 31 times, to get those people because he knew, “I can do this. This is needed.”

Sometimes what you need to do is extremely clear and obvious. It can be instantaneous like that, like a bus crashed off the bridge.

But it’s not like destiny. It’s more just the obvious, right answer, given everything you know.

Darius:

So your process is just know yourself, know your values, and know how you operate.

Derek:

By knowing yourself, you should ignore what you say and look at what you do. I think all of us have something we’ve said we’re going to do for years, but we haven’t done it. So, look at your actions, not your words.

Darius:

Yeah, that’s a Peter Drucker exercise, right? 

Derek:

I didn’t know that.

Darius:

There’s an article called, “Managing Oneself,” by Peter Drucker. In the article, he shares what he calls, I think, feedback analysis. He says, “Write down what you think you will do in the next year. And then in one year from now, look at what you actually did.”

We have a lot of things that we say we want to do or say we are, and then we look back on our actions, and our actions are basically who we are. By looking at the difference between what we say we are going to do and what we actually did, we can actually see what our strengths are, what we’re good at. 

I love that, as a process of figuring out when to move on. And was this the same realization that you had when you decided to focus on writing books instead of writing more articles?

Derek:

That was just a few months ago. I thought, “I have this unfinished book that I desperately want to finish. It’s called How to Live, and I’m so excited about it. I think it’s going to be the best thing I’ve ever done.”

But I was spending four hours a day writing an article every day because I was trying to do a daily blogging exercise. I looked at that, and I thought, “Yeah, for a while, I need to reorganize my priorities. I need to make finishing this book my most important thing.

So, a few months ago. I intentionally shifted around my priorities and said, “I’m going to let my blog be quiet for a while, so I can finish the book.”

Darius:

How is that process going for you right now? Are you just fully immersed in the book writing process? You don’t miss writing articles, or doing podcasts for yourself, or anything?

Derek:

Right now, I am splitting my time with programming. There are some things I still need to program for my site. Doing podcasts like this, especially in lockdown, has been fun. It’s fun to have these conversations.

And working on the book. So that’s my current thing. And pretty soon I’ll finish the programming I’m doing, and I’ll spend all my time working on my book, except when I stop to do a conversation like this. 

Darius:

Do you take on projects like sequentially? You finish one thing and then you move onto the next?

Derek:

Mostly, yeah. I throw myself fully into one thing at a time. I wish I could be that kind of person that does a little of this for two hours, and this for one hour, and every day I do this for three hours. But instead, I’ve found I really get into one thing at a time. But who knows? Maybe that’s something I’ll change someday. 

Darius:

I’ve been thinking a lot about opportunity costs. It’s hard to give everything I want to do my full attention.

It’s so difficult just to pick one strategy or one thing and just stick to it. I find this difficult to balance between changing your mind because I’m like that as well. I kind of change my mind on certain things, but at the same time, I also want to finish. Can you relate to that as well?

Derek:

It’s a dangerous train of thought because different people have different personalities, but for me I’m going to disagree with one thing you said. I don’t find it difficult to say no to things. I actually find it difficult to not say no. I find it difficult to have four different things I’ve said yes to and trying to do them all at once. That’s the difficult thing.

Saying yes to only one thing and no to absolutely everything else is so wonderfully simplifying. That just becomes your answer to everything. You just say, “I’m finishing my book, and I’m doing nothing else until the book is finished.” No to everything else.

Someone says, “Hey man, let’s hang out.”

“No.”

“Well, hey, can we do this podcast?”

“No.”

I am saying no to everything else until I finish my book. You just have to trust that this one thing you’ve said yes to is worth it.

There’s a great article by Neal Stephenson. He wrote a letter to the world explaining why he’s a bad correspondent. He said, “Now that I’m famous, everybody emails me, and I could spend the rest of my life answering emails and they will never ever stop. Or I could just finish my book.”

He said, “I’m going to guess that most of you would rather I keep writing books, even if some of you are disappointed that I’m not answering your email. This is my public proclamation to let you know I will not be answering email because I am writing my book and that’s it.”

Darius:

I think we could say that to you as well, right?

Derek:

I’ve thought about that. Especially, when Corona hit, and it was getting really serious. I emailed everybody on my mailing list, just three sentences, saying, “How are you? Yes, I’m really asking. Let me know, please.” More than 6,000 replied. It was closer to 8,000 people that replied. All I did for 15 hours a day two solid weeks was to answer between 500 and a thousand emails per day.

It was one of the most intense things I’ve ever done in my life. I did nothing else. I didn’t even see my kid for those two weeks. His mom had to take care of him, and I just said, “I need to do this.” A lot of people are really upset.

I typed as fast as I could, to read and reply to every single email. That was my value system. I was glad that I did that. It made me deeply happy.

There’s shallow happy, and there’s deep happy. Shallow happy is having ice cream, deep happy is being proud of yourself for not having the ice cream. So, I wouldn’t say that answering 8,000 emails was fun, but it was deeply satisfying. 

Darius:

Now that we are talking about saying no, I like the strategy. I think a lot of people can relate to this because what you’re saying is a very simple way to live. If you say yes to a lot of things, you make your life unnecessarily complicated. But are you ever concerned that you might become a party pooper?

Derek:

No. I’m already a party pooper. I’ve always been a party pooper. It’s not that I poop at parties, but nobody invites me to the parties because they know that my answer is always no.

I don’t hang out. I don’t sit around on couches. I don’t watch things. If you ask me, “Hey, did you see ______?”

My answer is no. I don’t watch things. I don’t have a Netflix subscription. I haven’t seen any movies. I haven’t seen any TV shows. I just write. This is all I do. And I like it that way.

Darius:

I find it awesome to hear that you, like me, that literally do one thing all day, right?

Derek:

Yeah. I mean, there are moments where I’ll wake up at 5:30, and I’ll start writing but by one in the afternoon I’m feeling burnt out. So, I’ll go walk around for an hour. I’ll walk five miles in a field or a forest. I come back, take a shower, make a little something to eat, then I go back to work. 

But if somebody says, “Hey, you want to hang out,” I say, “No, I’m going to keep working.” If somebody says, “Hey, you should see this movie.” I say, “No, I’m going to keep working.”

It’s because I want so desperately to finish. There’s always something that I’m working on that’s not done, that I desperately want it to be done. I look at what you called the opportunity cost and think, “Okay, I could stop and watch a movie about the Joker or I could finish my book.”

As soon as I put it like that, the choice is clear. 

Darius:

Where does this drive come from?

Derek:

I don’t know. My kid has this trait too. I think I’ve been like this since I was a little kid too. I have always been really, really into one thing at a time, almost obsessively.

I think the drive is like an obsession. Whatever I’m into, I’m just really into that and nothing else. So, maybe, it’s just in our DNA.

Darius:

Your drive is basically to finish something that you started, right? It’s not the end goal or the outcome that you’re trying to achieve?

Derek:

No, it’s not about the goal. It’s that when I’m into something, it’s all I can think about. I don’t want to be distracted. It can last for two weeks, like the example of answering all those emails.

Or it can last for 10 years. CD Baby was a 10-year obsession of mine. I started it as an accident, but once it took off and there were thousands of musicians telling me, “Oh my God, I need this, I need this.” I was 7:00 AM to midnight, seven days a week, for 10 years.

I did nothing else but CD Baby. I lived in Portland, Oregon and every now and then people say, “Oh yeah, cool. Portland, Oregon. Hey, did you ever go to this? Did you ever go to that restaurant? You ever go to the venue?”

I said, “Nope. I’ve lived in Portland for six years, but I never hung out. I never went to any venue, or any restaurant, or anything. I woke up at 7:00 AM and I worked until I fell asleep at midnight. I slept for six hours and do it again. This is my life.” That lasted for 10 years.

Darius:

Yeah. I’m starting to see a theme here.

We’re saying, “No,” a lot. You just do one thing until it comes to a natural ending, right? 

Derek:

Right.

Darius:

Then you move on. I can sense that you want to make sure that you’re spending your time in a way that gives you energy, but also is making contribution. Is that correct?

Derek:

Yeah.

Darius:

If you find that combination, you just go for it.

Derek:

Exactly.

Darius:

Awesome. As I was thinking about questions to ask you, one of the things, the concept, that I’ve been thinking about as well recently is playing to win.

Now that we’re talking about picking a specific challenge or a project, I’m perfectly okay with quitting. If I notice that, for any reason, maybe it’s not going well, or if I’m not having any serious chance of winning, I just quit. I’m specifically talking about from a career point of view and not just about hobbies.

What’s your take on this? How do you look at, for example, publishing books? Do you want to win? 

Derek:

It depends who you’re doing it for and why because that decides what you mean by something’s not working. There have been businesses that I was doing just because I felt like it.

I would happily do them at a loss because I just wanted it to exist in the world. So, the definition of not working, for that, would be that it doesn’t make me happy anymore. That would be an easy decision to quit, if the who was me, and the why was because I felt like it.

Then, the correct time to quit is when I just don’t feel like doing it anymore.  But if the who you’re doing it for is for people who want it? And the why you’re doing it is just because they want it? You’re not even really doing it for the money. You’re doing it because people want this to exist, so I’m going to do this for them. Even then, you might also be happy to do something like that at a loss, as long as those people still want it and you’re able to do it.

In that case, not working would have to mean that people just don’t want it anymore. Even if it was losing money, you’d still say, “Oh yeah, this is a working project. This is working for me, and because the people are happy, I’m happy. It’s losing some money, but who cares? That’s not why I’m doing it.” 

But if the why is making money, now you have a clear definition of not working. You can say, “Is this making money or not? This isn’t making money, so this isn’t working and I’m going to shut it down.”

But for most of us, I think it’s a mix of these things. You’re doing something to make money, but also because you find it personally interesting. So, if it’s still making money, but you don’t find it personally interesting anymore, well, now it’s not really working for you anymore, even though it’s still making money.

You’d have to a cold, disconnected, business owner to say, “I’m just doing this for the money.” Under that situation you would decide, “Is this working or not,” by whether it’s making money or not.

You used the books example. Some people ideas of “is this working” is “Am I selling a lot of books? Am I a top seller on Amazon?” But for some of us, including me, I’m making this book for my existing audience. I don’t really care.

It’s like the middle example. I’m doing this for people who want it and the why is because they want it. People have said that they wished that I had a book, so I am making a book for them. And if the 100 people that want it buy it, I’m happy. I don’t care if it sells a million copies. In fact, I’m not going to do anything I don’t want to do just to sell a million copies because I thoroughly don’t care. I’m just doing it for the people who want it.

So, not working would have to mean that people don’t want the book and that would be fine. Then I would stop doing it. 

Darius:

Yeah, exactly.

How many articles have you published on your blog?

Derek:

I don’t know. A few hundred.

Darius:

Few hundred. Do you think you would still publish articles if only one person would read it or would you just journal?

Derek:

For me, I would just journal. 

I write for hours a day in my journal. I have fun doing that. When I edit something down for public consumption, that’s… This is going to sound weird. But that’s like a favor that I’m doing for the world. 

I personally don’t love editing the hell out of something just so I can put it out for the world. But I want to make sure it’s not misunderstood, partially because of my email list. I’ve got a lot of people on my email list, and they’ve asked me to tell them when something new is posted.

Every time I put a new article on my site, people on my mailing list get an announcement, and I get about 500 emails in response to it. So, every time I post an article on my site, that means, I have to answer 500 emails. It probably takes me around 12 hours.

So, every time I post an article that means 12 hours of work after it’s posted, not before. 

Darius:

Yeah. And the thing is, you don’t need to do it. You don’t need anything from… Right?

Derek:

Yes and no. I mean, it does fit with what I want to do.

I still want to be an interesting writer, speaker, thinking kind of guy. I still like being in the conversation. I like sharing interesting ideas with the world and I love getting people’s feedback even from people who say, “Actually, I think you’re off base here.”

Quite often, when people give me some interesting feedback on something, I go, “Wow, you’re right.”

Either, “You’re right, I miscommunicated that. Now I see that was an error in my writing.” That means I made a mistake in my writing. I wasn’t clear enough.

Or, “You’ve just pointed out a hole in my logic and thank you.”

I like having it out there. It’s definitely work. But if the world didn’t want my articles anymore, that’s fine. I would keep writing in my journal and I’d have conversations with dear friends. That’s enough. 

Darius:

One thing that I was curious about is does it take a mental toll on you? This whole process that you just described, the feedback, and all this stuff.

Derek:

Receiving 500 emails after posting an article has a mental toll. That’s like, “Phew.” But I’m thankful for these connections. One of my deepest joys is the fact that I know some many people around the world, like my Helsinki example. I can go almost anywhere in the world and, how cool, I know people there. That makes me happy.

Also, it gives me a sense of safety. Someday I might be completely broke and bankrupt, and I might need to ask my email list something like, “Does anybody have a spare room?” It’s nice to know that I’ve got people I could ask.

Darius:

Yeah. Well, if you’re in The Netherlands, you can always call me.

Derek:

Hey, there we go. Thanks, Darius. It’s work, but it’s worth it. 

Darius:

Then it makes it okay, right? That it’s difficult sometimes, and sometimes you get some negative comments, or whatever.

I recently received a few emails from readers that were very touching to me. They shared their stories and I thought to myself, “I don’t care if I get a thousand or 100,000 negative comments. I’ll probably continue this stuff because even if there’s one person who might get something totally positive out of it, it’s worth it.”

That’s a beautiful thing about this stuff, and that’s why I was really excited when you shared that you’re doing podcasts again.

You said, “I wake up in the morning and I work, work, work, and I get a lot of energy out of it.” But have you ever come close to burnout? What’s your perspective on this?

Derek:

Of course you have to notice your own interest and energy.

If you’re feeling burnt out or overwhelmed, then you need to learn to delegate, especially if you start getting cranky in the way that you’re dealing with the world. Maybe you’re just hating your inbox, so you’re being cranky to everybody that contacts you. You need to stop doing that now because it’s better to answer no email then to answer them in a grumbly, bitter way. You need to help find somebody else to do that, or a system that can handle it for you, or find a way of saying, “Sorry. I don’t accept email,” or whatever it is.

For me, have I ever felt burnt out? No.

I mean with the extreme examples, like answering 7000 emails in 12 days. Of course, on day two I felt burnt out, but I thought, “I have to keep doing it. This is holding my end of the promise. If I ask people a question, I have to be here like I said I would.”

With most of these things you just push through. The essence of what willpower and discipline is doing the right thing, even if you don’t feel like it. Then what you do need to change is if you’re burnt out is to stop agreeing to things.

Stop saying, “Yes,” to things and finish your existing obligations, and then find a way to take on no new obligations. Make a change so that you’re excited again.

Darius:

Yeah. You’re saying that if you do feel burnt out, or close to it, say, “No,” to more things.

Derek:

Yeah or make a change in some way.

Maybe if you’re done with this aspect of your work, and it’s time to delegate that to somebody else or shutdown the project. Or if this is something that is still worth doing, find somebody else who’s interested in doing it.

I think in 2020, it’s going to be pretty easy to find somebody who wants a job. If there’s something that you can delegate to somebody else that you’re sick of doing, then you should or decide that it’s time to walk away.

I sold CD Baby not because I was burnt out but because I felt done. I had been doing it for 10 years, and for 10 years I was obsessively fascinated with it. I have often compared it to a painter who’s been working on a giant mural for a year. He puts a little bit of paint here and there. Then he steps back, and he looks at the thing, and he says, “I think I’m finally done. I just had nothing more to add. I think I’m done here.”

That’s when I decided to sell the company because I could tell that I was done.

Darius:

This stuff is so dear to me, just reflecting on all these different things. To free up emotional and mental energy you need.

One of the most important things to me is that I’m just freeing up some mental space, so I can come up with new things and notice what’s going on.” Because, otherwise, I risk living my life in autopilot. I’ve done that, and I really don’t like that, so that’s something that I want to avoid. 

You can definitely do that by saying, “No.”

I truly enjoyed this. This is probably the conversation that I looked forward to for a long time, and it definitely did not disappoint.

Derek:

Thanks, Darius. You had some really great questions, so thanks. Thanks for having me on your show.

Darius:

I appreciate that, Derek, and I’ll keep in touch with you. Like most people at the end of these shows, they ask, “Where can we find you?” We already know the answer. That’s sive.rs

Derek:

Yep, that’s the only place.

Darius:

I mention you a lot on my newsletter and podcast, so people are familiar with your work. I will just say, “Keep on following what’s going on.” I’m looking forward to your book.

Derek:

Thanks, Darius. You too.