Launched My Audiobook, Seinfeld, Health Crises & June Huh | #189
July 16th, 2022: Greetings from Burlington. I’m visiting my friends Alexa and Jordan in Vermont and attending a wedding this weekend. We went on this awesome bike ride in Burlington yesterday, check it out:
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In today’s issue:
Jerry Seinfeld and having a lower bar of success
The prevalence of health crises leading to unconventional paths & waking up
What I learned creating an audiobook
June Huh, the “wandering” weirdo who won a Field’s medal
A couple of other pathless path-y reads
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#1 Seinfeld & Alternative Options
I loved this reflection from the beginning of Jerry Seinfeld’s book Is This Anything?
I thought, “Oh my god.
I want to do that.
What if I can’t?
What if I’m not funny?”
I remember thinking,
“Well, but I wouldn’t have to be that funny anyway.
I would just have to be funny enough to buy a loaf of Wonder bread and a jar of Skippy peanut butter a week.”
I could easily survive on that.
It was all I ate in my parents’ house, anyway.
And even if that’s all I had, it would be a better life than any other I could envision.
I was more than happy to accept being a not-that-funny comedian over any other conceivable option.
Without realizing it, of course, this attitude is the exact right way to start out in the world of comedy.
This is probably the right mindset to approach any new path. Too many people I talk to think about trying to “replace their income.” This always feels like the wrong approach. .
In the first few months after quitting my job, I felt like an idiot. The ten years of experience on my resume didn’t seem to help me very much. I had so much to learn and even more to unlearn. I had to put myself out into the world in so many new and scary ways. I was a beginner.
This was a good thing because part of what made me want to quit was that I missed being a beginner. I liked learning and the joy of figuring things out.
Yet if I had set my benchmark for success as having to match or even come close to my previous income, I would have had to admit defeat. Luckily, similar to Seinfeld, I quickly realized that I was more than happy to accept being an average self-employed person over any other conceivable option.
Here’s Seinfeld on what keeps him going too:
But when I’m in the company of other stand-up comedians I feel like I’m rolling around in a litter of puppies.
To this day, I feel that same excitement when I walk into a comedy club.
And I have to say, part of it is also this feeling that wherever comedians are working, it is a place of battle.
I am totally in love with the very clear winning-and-losing outcome that a stand-up set can have.
In some ways, it’s more sports than theater, really.
This might work tonight.
And it might not.
I sense a similar thing on my path. It’s not reaching any sort of metric of success that energizes me, it’s the feeling of not knowing. I really don’t know what I’ll be doing in a year and if what I’m working on now will “work” or not.
It’s constantly trying stuff on my own terms and then seeing what happens.
Warning: The book is mostly a collection of jokes with very little storytelling about Seinfeld’s life - I wouldn’t recommend the book for that reason unless you want a book of jokes.
#2 Health Issues & Perspective
Sam Sager shared this excellent reflection on how some health challenges at 15 years old helped him reflect on his life in a new way:
I left the hospital and made a single commitment to myself: I was going to do whatever was necessary to ensure this disease did not prevent me from living the life I wanted. There would be sacrifice, but I was never going to let it prevent me from doing something important to me.
Do read his full essay, it’s very good.
It’s funny how common health issues seem to be among people I’ve met taking unconventional paths. Tiago Forte’s entire Building A Second Brain system emerged because of his own health crisis too. From his book:
One day, sitting in yet another doctor’s office waiting for yet another visit, I had an epiphany. I realized in a flash that I was at a crossroads. I could either take responsibility for my own health and my own treatment from that day forward, or I would spend the rest of my life shuttling back and forth between doctors without ever finding resolution
This kind of thing, especially experienced when young seems to be one of the fastest ways to “wake up” from going through the motions in life.
#3 Audiobook Lessons
One thing I’m slowly learning the hard way is that new, large creative projects are usually much harder and more complex than I imagine they will be at the beginning. I chronicled all my learnings from writing my book in this massive should-be-an-ebook-in-itself 9k word brain dumb. Recording an audiobook was no different.
I started recording my audiobook with the same guy who gave me DJ lessons at the studio down the street from my apartment in Austin. This seemed to be going well and I recorded all ten chapters over six or seven weeks in April and May.
Yet I made a tactical error.
I didn’t listen to any of the chapters until after I finished recording most of the audio.
The reason that was an issue was that I got a lot better at reading text over the course of ten hours and when I listened back to the first few chapters I was disappointed. I re-recorded some of the sections of the first few chapters but when the guy I was working with tried to integrate everything, nothing sounded like it matched up. The process was also dragging on with each request and in May I decided to just re-record everything myself, starting from scratch.
I reached out to my friend Kevin and asked if he would let me use his audio equipment. In late May and early June, I ended up re-doing Chapters 1-6 by myself and then hiring an editor on UpWork to edit the audio.
I thought this was genius but again encountered challenges with the editor. He was a very good editor but required much more hand-holding than I expected. The editor would constantly tell me he’d send files by a certain date and then never actually follow through. He also kept making mistakes, doing the wrong edits, and not removing repeated parts of the audio (note: there is one minor mistake in the current version, so if that drives you crazy, wait about 10 days until ACX updates the file - yes it takes them about 10 days to do it!).
Anyway, to manage this process I had to dust off my consulting project management skills and basically be a day-to-day task manager. It was incredibly frustrating but we finally got everything done.
If I had to do it again, I’d probably either buy a high-quality mic and soundproof my closet and record it myself and teach myself how to master audio or find an in-person producer that is also a project manager and spend a bit more on defining that process up front.
Since producing high-quality audio is the primary skill in the process, this raises the requirements for project management from the specialist. This is a bit different than book writing, where as the writer, even if I’m working with a talented editor, I still have the final say on the production of words, chapters, and the book.
As with anything, you live, you learn.
Total Costs: $1280
Six two-hour recording sessions: $130 x 6 = $780
UpWork Audiobook editor: $500
Time: about four months of time & learnings
#4🚶June Huh, The Wanderer
I am not sure how many people sent me this article on June Huh but it was a lot. June is notable because of his story - he dropped out of high school to become a poet and eventually discovered a lot of Mathematics and went on to win the Fields Medal.
I think the thing about the story that stood out was not winning the Fields Medal but his total embrace of wandering as an approach to life:
To hear him tell it, he doesn’t usually have much control over what he decides to focus on in those three hours. For a few months in the spring of 2019, all he did was read. He felt an urge to revisit books he’d first encountered when he was younger — including Meditations by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and several novels by the German author Hermann Hesse — so that’s what he did. “Which means I didn’t do any work,” Huh said. “So that’s kind of a problem.” (He’s since made peace with this constraint, though. “I used to try to resist … but I finally learned to give up to those temptations.” As a consequence, “I became better and better at ignoring deadlines.”)
It’s easy to convince ourselves I could never do that!. Modern work and the modern world more broadly conspire to convince us that we have to be busy. This is why I think fighting for periods of time like this are so important!
Here he is on not aiming at any specific goals:
He finds that forcing himself to do something or defining a specific goal — even for something he enjoys — never works. It’s particularly difficult for him to move his attention from one thing to another. “I think intention and willpower … are highly overrated,” he said. “You rarely achieve anything with those things.”
His story is inspiring but probably not as accessible as the article makes it seem. Personality-wise, Huh seems way more self-assured (dropping out at 16 in Korea takes some guts!), intelligent than most, and seems to like doing the same thing over and over again. I think it would be hard to replicate any of this directly. The article also doesn’t exactly say it but sort of implies that the key to his success is basically dropping the ball on things.
This might be the most important skill I’ve learned over the past ten years and I’m still probably not that good at it because I operated in a working world where trying to be good at everything was the norm.
I sense that the key to being successful with one thing, or at minimum, creating the kind of space that allows a wandering creative energy to emerge, is not about aiming at being good at a lot of things and being seen as a broadly successful person. It’s essentially to figure out how to strategically drop the ball on as many things as possible without blowing up your life. Easier said than done of course.
Do check out the full essay, it’s quite good (and nerdy if you like math too).
#5 📖 More Reads
⛵ Morgan Housel had a very Pathless Path essay come out this week. It’s about someone who started in an attempt to sail around the world and then called it quits halfway through
There were so many beautiful days on this beautiful boat that it really made time change dimensions … I was just feeling totally alive. And that was just fantastic.
💰 Ben Hunt has a fascinating essay on how in the past 25 years wealth creation has become disconnected from underlying economic growth.
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