Derek Sivers

Interviews → Yoga Talks / J Brown

On balance, viewpoints, play, formative times, screen time, focus, curiosity, self-expansion

Date: 2020-05

Download: mp3


J Brown:

I know you don’t always like to talk about business or money but I am curious about THE BALANCE OF INSPIRATION AND STRATEGY. For instance, I have long felt I have a book or two in me that I’d love to write but, after carefully examining the financial realities of publishing, can’t JUSTIFY THE TIME AND EFFORT it would require based on the return I might expect. I imagine that CDbaby started out as a passion more than a business, maybe I’m wrong. Was there A LONGER TERM PLAN going in? If not, did that change and when? Did you ever imagine that, at some point, you might be able to LEVERAGE YOUR CREATION and secure your financial future, or did you get lucky and win the lottery?


You don't need to balance.

Do something just for INSPIRATION. Just fun! Instead of watching TV.

Do something just for STRATEGY. Just profit! A different kind of fun. Like exercise. Deep happiness of results.

A single viewpoint change can change everything. YOU SAY: “Can't justify the time and effort” BUT IT COULD BE: “Sharing your thoughts with the world is the most important thing you can leave for future generations.” OR IT COULD BE: “Writing a book is one of the best things you can do to develop your brain.” (or social standing or whatever)

The big changes I made in my life were often do to one small shift that changed everything.

I left America when my realtor friend showed me a gorgeous house she had just sold. For one minute I daydreamed about buying a house like that. The next minute I was horrified at the stagnation of it. That minute made me realize it was time to leave America.

To answer your question about what I choose to do:

Whatever fascinates me right now is irresistible. Learning & creating : good Serving others : good Playing games : NOT good

And leverage my creation? no. CD Baby was just a favor for the first month. Then $35 setup fee paid all my expenses of doing it. No “secure my financial future” needed. Like your 10 years Brooklyn studio.

J Brown:

For ten years, I had a yoga center in Brooklyn, NY. For the first seven of those years, I never really thought of it as a business. I ran it simply on the principle that as long as more money was coming in then was going out then I was good to go. I have heard you define this as freedom and that time definitely allowed me to develop the work I do as a teacher now. But, eventually, the rent out-paced me and the balance tipped. And I did not have a spreadsheet that tracked sales numbers so there was no way to see patterns or strategize a future course. As much as I love simple formulas that clarify and add perspective to the creative process, if its not just art for art sake and we’re also trying to make a living then isn’t more nuance and detail required?


“MORE MONEY IN THAN OUT” is like saying “I have a roof over my head and enough money to eat”. It's freedom. It's fine.

But yeah we probably want to go beyond that. Get into self-actualization. See what you can be.

Play! PLAY with business. Play with marketing. Play with finding what else we can offer our clients.

J Brown:

To me, you represent the early days of the internet. I sometimes wonder if I have over-romanticized those times back when I was playing Hitchhikers Guide to the galaxy on a BBS before the web became monetized. Do you think the internet is serving us or slowly zapping us of our humanity?


Thank you!

We are a product of our formative times.

Someone who grew up in the fuel-shortage 70s may always turn out all the lights and turn down the heat at night.

Someone who grows up in Covid 2020s may always wash their hands more than most.

I was 24 when the internet came out in 1994, and I took to it right away. It was like a library. An academic, totally non-commercial, generous helpful place for smart people. It gave so much to me that I wanted to give something back.

If you look over my shoulder to see how I use computers, still, today, I do everything in a black unix terminal. Kinda like what most people see only if a Windows computer crashes to the DOS screen.

It keeps me focused. It keeps the advertisements away. It keeps it feeling non-commercial, academic, helpful, and inspiring.

I am definitely a product of that time, and thanks for noticing that.

re: internet is serving us or slowly zapping us of our humanity?

People who avoid toxic foods, toxic TV, and toxic friends will not let the internet zap their humanity. People who succumb to negativity and thoughtless rumors will.

But clearly the internet is a net positive. It's done so so SO much good for the world. But you have to take control or be controlled.

  • Switch to Firefox and immediately install “UBlock Origin”.
  • Set your settings to delete cookies every time you close the browser. Then close it whenever you don't need it.
  • Don't stay logged-in to any social media accounts.
  • Don't have it save your passwords.
  • Change your passwords to something long and complicated.

If you want to do less of something, make it more difficult.

Get your own site. Stop using the cloud.

Get from the internet what YOU want.

J Brown:

You are a dad. I am curious if you have protocols for limiting your children’s screen time? (I have a 10 year-old and a 5 year-old myself.)


He grew up in New Zealand, so he's not very interested in screens.

He just wants to play outside all the time.

J Brown:

The folks who listen to my show are largely “yoga people.” Just curious if you have had any yoga practice and, if so, what your experience has been?


Here are some things I'm curious about:

  • colloquial Indonesian language
  • camping
  • blindfolding myself for a year
  • learning to fly a small airplane
  • programming the Arduino
  • building my own small home
  • learning basic plumbing and electrical skills
  • learning the programming languages C, Elixir, Racket, and Rust
  • dancing lessons
  • reading all 600 of the “Very Short Introductions” series of books
  • emergency medical training
  • and... yoga

But no, I have tried none of those things yet for more than an hour or two. Hopefully some day.

J Brown:

I mentioned in my email to you the yogic principle of STIRHA/SUKHA, which is said to be a qualitative state that encompasses a perfect balance of effort and ease. Sometimes they say: “effortless effort.” I have often heard this idea expressed in other words through your writing. I am curious about the factors that play into where you put your energies and why? Are there any particular principles that guide your choices? (“Hell Yeah” is a personal favorite, I’d love to share some more of your gems with listeners.)


Current fascination.

Something I want to learn, to try.

I love self-expansion.

Right now I have five drivers licenses from five countries (US, Singapore, New Zealand, Belgium, England) because I've been a legal resident of all of them in the last 10 years.

I used to have a little apartment in Brussels. That felt so cool!

Even weight-lifting was something I never thought I would do. It expands my sense of self.

J Brown:

Yoga teachers have shared a similar fate to musicians in that online portals and scaled operations have effectively exploited the less savvy and created a situation where creators make a pittance while the key holders take the lion share (a la Spotify algorithms.) I am a big proponent of independent artists learning enough to own their own “means of distribution” so they can keep all the money and email addresses for themselves and not have all their eggs in a basket they don’t own. Your NOW PAGE idea was one of the first times I ever saw someone suggesting that we don’t need social media to connect to each other online and your website is an outlier of sorts (i.e. no header images or fancy website template and hosting your own audio files with HTML5 audio player instead of using a hosting service.) What are your thoughts on how independent creators can “decentralize” and utilize the internet in ways that don’t give away the keys to their stores?


First - consider INCENTIVES.

Nobody will care as much as you.

Think long-term

J Brown:

In trying to figure out who I want to be and what I want to put out into the world, distinguishing between a real exchange of value and an extractive economics has become fundamental. Yet, its not always so easy to do. For instance, we have always underpriced everything I have ever made so that it could be more accessible. Recently, my producer convinced me to use a tactic where we essentially doubled the price of something and then offered a 70% discount. And we sold a bunch of them and helped keep our very modest bottom line on target. The price after the increase/discount was still totally fair as we had been underpriced to start, and I feel good about what we offered but we did have to employ a manipulative technique to get more people to buy it. Do ends justify means when it comes to marketing? Do you have any thoughts on how artists can find a balance between undervaluing their work and tainting it with extractive economics?


How we FEEL about something matters.

If I THINK I'm buying a $100 thing for $20 I FEEL better than if I think it's a $10 thing I'm buying for $20.