172: Abel James: A Renaissance Man: Reshaping The Argument Against Specialization And Striving For Holistic Balance As A Practice Of Life
In the modern world, many of us are overly specialized. While that has its many benefits, oftentimes, we miss out on seeing the best of other things because we focus too much on one thing. As a modern-day renaissance man, Abel James has known this to be true. Abel is a New York Times best-selling author, musician, online creator, the host of the award-winning Fat-Burning Man. In this episode, he joins Thane Marcus Ringler to share his unique perspective against specialization and why it is necessary to strive for a holistic balance in life. He tells us about his daily practices, the origin story of his show, the things he has learned from coping and navigating through trauma, and the inside perspective on entrepreneurship. Plus, Abel also talks about the importance of operating with integrity, innovating into the future, taking back ownership of the online world, and so much more. Join him and Thane in this interesting discussion as they pull back the curtains of many things and remind us that everything is connected.
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Abel James: A Renaissance Man: Reshaping The Argument Against Specialization And Striving For Holistic Balance As A Practice Of Life
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I’m excited about this interview. It is an interview with Abel James. He is The New York Times best-selling author, musician and online creator. He’s the host of the award-winning The Fat-Burning Man Show, rated as Apple’s number one health podcast in eight countries with over 50 million downloads and 2,000-plus five-star reviews. A coach to the coaches, Abel has worked with thousands of people across the world to optimize performance, mindset, health and longevity. Abel was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness by Greatist. He has been featured in documentaries, ABC TV, Entertainment Tonight, People, Wired, SXSW and hundreds more. Abel’s hit podcast is named as one of the top three Health and Fitness Podcasts of All Time by The Huffington Post and has won four awards in independent media including People’s Choice in Health and Fitness at the Podcast Awards.
Also a recording artist, multi-instrumentalist and voice actor, Abel has won several awards including Outstanding Achievement in Songwriting in R&B by The Great American Song Contest. Hailing from the middle of nowhere in New Hampshire, Abel enjoys playing guitar and piano, writing, reading, sketching, running, hiking and discovering delicious foods with family and friends. He lives with his wife, Alyson, and her rambunctious yellow lab in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. His new book of irreverent poetry called Designer Babies Still Get Scabies, a number one international bestseller in humor is available now. Abel is a man with a lot going on.
In this interview, we talk about Abel’s daily practices, the origin story of the Fat-Burning Man Show, weird things that he learns from coping and navigating through trauma and inside perspective, and pulling back the curtain on entrepreneurship. The importance of operating with integrity, innovating into the future, taking back ownership of the online world and much more. He’s a great guy. I enjoyed this time. There’s so much that we can learn from him. It was a wide-ranging conversation, but you’ll find it as interesting and thought-provoking as I did. I definitely recommend checking that out. He’s an inspiration and encouragement to many and I know that you’re going to enjoy this fascinating, fun and wide-ranging interview with Abel James.
Abel James, welcome.
Thanks for having me.
It’s going to be a fun time together. I’ve enjoyed getting to talk with you a bit and get to know a little bit more about your story. It’s a lot of fun researching all the things you do. You’re multifaceted and multitalented. We’re going to get into a lot of that, but according to your mom, you’re a great poet, singer, incredible musician playing several instruments with expertise and an actor. That was about half of what you do. We’re in for a great show.
It’s not normally the case that people would get to talk to my mom before the show. I’m happy that you guys got to connect. It’s amazing.
The other thing that people reading wouldn’t be able to see is someone else, another mutual connection or a friend commented about your Captain America hair. You’ve got some Captain America hair going. The other thing I heard is you are defined as is having a golden voice. You’ve got a lot of things going for you. The other description I heard and it might be on your website even too is a Renaissance Man. What does it mean to you to be a Renaissance Man?
In the modern world, many of us are overly specialized. Looking back to a few generations before us, it wasn’t uncommon that if something broke around the house, that you could fix it. Even if your car had a problem, you could change out the oil or fix a flat tire. Now, if you’re able to do any of these things, it’s the exception. I’m not saying that I’m able to do all these things either. What I am saying is that it can serve us to become specialized. You’re a glaring example of the success of that approach. I’ve had success with that approach in various aspects of my life, not to the degree that you have. When you start seeing golf, music, dancing as one thing or different expressions of a similar thing instead of as separate things, then all of a sudden you can start to see the best practices between them.When you start seeing things as one instead of as separate, you can suddenly start to see the best practices between them. Click To Tweet
One example that I use is when I get tendonitis from running up the mountain too hard and fast, and I don’t give myself enough rest and recovery, it’s similar to when I overdo it playing on my guitar or I’m playing too many gigs. I get tendonitis from that. No matter what you’re doing in your life, oftentimes I’ve found that the answer comes from an oblique angle. It comes from the other side, from another domain. It comes from experimenting in a totally different vertical. I was grateful to have an education where that was the idea at the high school that I went to. Everybody does sports. Everybody does art. Everybody does a little bit of everything and you can learn more about all these different domains if you take that approach.
It’s one of the best arguments or descriptions for being a generalist that I’ve heard, which I love because it is an uncommon argument now. As you see your current life and the different plates or buckets you have your hand in, how would you say you practically apply this? As you look at what you’re trying to do in each space, how do you intentionally incorporate this lateral thinking of I’m not coming up with a problem in this realm, so I’m going to give it some space. What is that process like for you?
A lot of times, it’s realizing the simple things that we tend to forget. Once you get good at music or at a sport, you don’t stay good forever. That’s not how that works. The path to mastery doesn’t end with rainbows, sunshine and butterflies everywhere. It’s through the daily practices that you become, whatever you want to be or stay whatever you want to be and keep those chops. You keep that level of mastery, but it easily slips away if you all of a sudden don’t do the exercises or play the songs that you’re meant to do. As soon as you stop meditating or stop doing your daily walks and stop hydrating correctly, all this stuff falls apart, but we blame something else in our life. We want to find a magic bullet.
We want to layer something else on top of it instead of being like, “Did I do the simple things that I know always work?” For me, even from a body composition standpoint, I’ve been doing intermittent fasting for many years and it’s one of the ways that I keep my weight in check because sometimes it’s easy to let your eye off the ball and have fun on a bunch of weekends. Go out drinking, go on a vacation or what have you or have things creep up on you. I like being at 171, 175. When I get close to 180, then the cream comes out of the coffee. I stop taking supplements or anything else in the morning. It’s a pure fast until noon. If I do those things, I know this because I’ve done it many times, then eventually it’s I’ll lose a couple of pounds a week or over a couple of months, I’ll be back toward where I want to be. That’s not a complicated thing to do, but it’s a matter of doing it.
It’s always easy to talk about on a show. I’m curious, in your current life, where do you feel the least well-rounded or where do you feel the most imbalanced?
Cashflow comes up sometimes, especially as you try to grow your business, grow your team, expand into different domains or as a function. Sometimes the business landscape as with the pandemic and everything that’s happened, the rug is pulled from underneath your feet. You need to adapt fast and get rid of the things that aren’t working and try to do something more. The challenge that we have as I’m growing business and doing this many times over the years is when you’re hiring staff, not only does it cost money, but then you have to manage them. That pulls you away from doing that. If you make the wrong call there, it’s expensive from a time and energy standpoint and from a monetary standpoint too. That’s been our biggest challenge over the years with every single business. We’ve made more than $1 million in sales in a month and that didn’t save us from having to keep doing that. It’s similar to mastery. If you want to keep that, you have to keep doing it.
I love that story and illustration because life is a journey. There’s no arrival. We think about $1 million in a month in sales is a destination and we’re set. I don’t think there are any set and it isn’t what we want anyways because life isn’t stagnant.
That’s not enough money anyway if you have a team of significant size. That sounds like a ton of money. If you take out the big difference between revenue and margin, you take that or you take out 60%, 70%, then you pay your staff. All of a sudden, you’re making $5,000 a year than making $1 million. That happens more often than people realize.
You have to spend money to make money. The difference is usually smaller than you would expect. That’s a good point. I want to rewind the clock a little bit. Speaking of podcasts, you’ve been in the podcasting game for quite a bit. I feel the origins might have started in the seventh-grade bedroom radio show with Dave Potter. What was this origin story like?
Dave Potter was one of my best friends and still is one of my best friends in the world. He was the best basketball player and had the best jump shot in elementary school. Whenever I could partner up with him, we did and we became best friends. I was more the supportive player in that sport. In soccer, it flipped. We had this wonderful thing over the years. We were best friends and we love laughing together too. We didn’t have the internet or social media as it exists now. Back then, we did have a little bit of internet but what we loved to do was goof around and we had this tape player. Later on, I did it on a computer because I was getting into computer recording and stuff.
We started using old Monty Python sketches and sound effects and making each other laugh with what you’d expect from 6th or 7th-grade boys. It was a blast. Lo and behold, it’s what I do for a living now. Not the immature potty humor or whatever from a sixth-grader or Monty Python jokes as much. I stand in front of a microphone and I edit the sound files in almost exactly the same way that I used to back then as someone who was in junior high. When we look at kids who are coming up, it’s tempting to think like, “That’s cute.”
If someone does something in sixth grade for a couple of months, that’s almost like 5 or 10 years once you’re later in life. There’s some weird thing about the time back then, where if you fall in love with something I did with music and with the goofy radio show, sports, moving and all sorts of things. If I didn’t fall in love back then, I’m not sure I ever would have. It’s a good example of why parents and communities at large should try to help kids find whatever that thing is that they can fall in love with. That oftentimes become, if not their profession, then a major part of their lives for the rest of their lives.
For a lot of people, when they hear that, they will often think, “I remember the things I loved as a kid and I’m not doing that at all.” In a sense, for people that find themselves in that situation of this disconnect between our childhood loves and what we’re doing now. I feel a lot of adulthood is returning to that childlike state in many ways. What was that journey for you? Did you ever have a disconnect between those? Was it always a part of your life?
I’ll give you one example. Around the time I turned 30, I broke my foot and that made it hard to exercise, to do weightlifting. I’ve been a lifelong runner. I’ve always loved to run, but when I was younger, I loved mountain biking. This is before I got a car. I would bike to and from school up rough terrain. It’s hilly and sandy in New Hampshire. I had some bad spills or whatever, but I loved it. I grew up, I had to move or whatever. I went through a couple of bikes, but I had to sell them. I forgot how much I loved to ride my mountain bike. I had to break my foot and then buy a bike so that I could ride a little bit with my boot on with that broken foot, but it took me breaking my foot for me to realize it.
I hopped on that bike again and I’m like, “I love this. It’s so much fun.” That doesn’t mean that you have to do it forever. I’m not in mountain biking season, but it’s sitting right over there and it’s ready to go when I’m feeling it. It’s important to find those different things in your life, and also accept that sometimes you want to do it. Other times, you want to do something else. You’re like, “I don’t want to do mountain biking. I don’t want to do skiing, but I want to go for a hike,” for example. I have many days like that. Sometimes you have to follow whatever that moving target is. I’m sure you can relate to that.
It’s a dance, which makes it more fun. Dancing is way more fun than walking through life. Let’s be good dancers. I’ve heard you’re also fairly into birdwatching.
Is that from David? It’s funny because he asked me. He’s like, “What’s one thing that no one would ever know about you?” It’s like, “I record on podcasts all day and people ask all these questions. Something that no one knows about me?” I had to rack my brain. That is something that I’ve been into more, not as something that we seek out, but it’s something that my wife and I have sought out when we pick out a place to live and we’re renting where we are, but we’ve done this in a number of places over the years. That’s one of the things that we prioritize. What is nature watching like? Can we look at the birds sitting down drinking coffee in the morning?
We’ve lived in many different places. We’ve lived on the road for several years. That five-minute walk around your house is the most important part of your life because you’re going to be spending 80% of your time or at least your free time within that five-minute zone. You’re going to be walking out. If you have a dog, what should we do? You’re going to be walking out there every day. You’re going to be seeing these neighbors every day. You’re going to be looking down at this view every day. We try to put birds there and deer and mountain lions and bears sometimes or whatever. We love living in the mountains or in the environment and being able to look at nature and realize that you’re the one inside the zoo.
It’s comfy to be inside the zoo in the morning up here in the mountains when there’s a bear out there. It makes you feel more connected as part of a magical ecosystem where you can tell, looking at all these different birds and animals. People who watch nature documentaries don’t realize that a lot of those animals are baited or they’re made to fight each other. That’s not how nature is. Nature is cooperative and it’s like a dance. Seeing all these different animals throughout the day, it helps me stay grounded and balanced. We all would be well-served to have a little bit more nature in our lives
Nature is cooperative. That’s a great way to put it. It flows together. It helps us be connected. What are other practices for you that help you stay grounded or connected? As a man wearing many hats and having your hands in many pots, there’s so much pulling for your attention and vying for your energy. There has to be something that rhythms and practices that keep you grounded. I’m curious about what those core ones are.
It’s such a great point to bring that up because if you don’t have those things in line, it’s easy to go off the rails. A lot of people don’t realize that just because someone does have a show or they’re playing professional sports, a lot of times they wake up and they don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it. After I wake up, I do a little bit of no outside tech, no artificial lights or what have you. Oftentimes, I wake up with the sun or a little bit before the sun. I’ll write my dreams. Whatever is bouncing around in the subconscious. I’ll try to get out there if I remember it. I don’t every time, but then I’ll try to do a little bit of reading that’s meaningful, intellectual, spiritual or theoretical symbolic type stuff. That’s off the wall but fun to think about.
It’s like, “Why are we here?” I try to wake up and ask these questions and try to learn a little bit of weird stuff like old rooms. I’m learning how to interpret rooms and learning old ancient symbology and spiritualism according to different practices. That’s how I try to wake up. For 5 or 10 minutes, I’ll do a reading of some kind. Generally, I’ll try to do about 5 or 10 minutes of Tai Chi, Qigong type of exercises, which is not only physical movement and mobility but also breathing. I don’t think of it as doing breath holds and slowing down my breath and all that because it’s built into the movements I’m already doing. It’s breathwork as well, but I don’t necessarily think it is. You hear a lot of people talking about cold showers and doing hardcore breathwork and stuff. It’s interesting. I’ve tried a lot of those. I don’t like it. I don’t like hardcore breathing.
I’ve done it and maybe I will get into it but it’s like, “Right now, I’m not riding that mountain bike.” It’s important to know that you don’t have to put everything there. You don’t have to make it super hard if you don’t want to. You do the simple things that pay off. After I have those things done, usually I’ll do the exercise in the sunshine. I try to get sunlight depending on the season as soon as I can in the day, have it hit my skin and my eyes. Also, I’ll do that in front of a red light or near-infrared device like wall panels. That can be healing and feels good and helps warm you up. We live in a place that gets quite cold.
That’s a nice, relaxing, almost like a mini sauna type experience as I do some of my exercises, and then a little bit of quiet meditation but not much. I go after my day but I usually start it off with my sketchbook. A blank piece of paper and I’ll write down the priorities and scribble them out hard. I’ve been doing this since I was 12 or 13. I read a book that all the geniuses in time ever kept a journal. I don’t know how much of that was true. It was the market-y type language, but I’ve been doing it ever since. It’s one of the best habits I have.There's such a temptation to think that everything's getting better, and we're moving on up, but our culture is extremely destructive. Click To Tweet
Isn’t it fun that it doesn’t have to be the perfect impulse or start to something? It’s something that connects enough with us that we commit to doing it. That’s the payoff. That’s cool. I’m curious. I have to ask two questions about this. One is what have you learned about old ruins and what has surprised you about going down that rabbit hole? The other is what is the strangest or most bizarre thing you’ve dove into in that realm?
You said ruins and I said runes, but also it’s the same thing. When you look back to the ancient cultures, let’s start with runes. I wanted to look at languages that are different from our own. In some languages, to a higher degree, you can express multiple ideas at the same time in a way that you can’t in English. You look back at some of the hieroglyphics and glyphs and there are a lot. We live in the American Southwest. I love taking road trips out here and there are many old petroglyphs and bizarre things. They’re at places with ruins. The ones that we visited have been breathtaking to the point where you look around now. We’ve got Taco Bell and we’ve got these giant buildings that are rectangle.
You look at some of these ruins from thousands of years ago that they built into cliff sides or on places that should have eroded or places that are exposed to ridiculous earthquakes over thousands of years. They’re still hanging out, being beautiful with perfect proportions, with no explanation for how they would have been cut or designed. Even modern man would struggle to build a lot of the things that were built thousands of years ago. The idea that our ancestors were a bunch of knuckle-dragging idiots is a total myth to me. It’s a myth that we’re progressing also when you look at what was valued by ancient societies. We live in Colorado now and the Utes, the Native American tribe, used to live here. They and other tribes would spend decades manipulating trees, tying them down, twisting them such that they would indicate where the water was.
You could find navigation, you could find trails and they were doing this. They were manipulating these trees as a language of the forest such that the seven generations ahead of them down the road would be able to read the woods and find water. They were providing for their progeny and they were trying to improve the world. They were thinking ahead and we could learn a lot from that. Especially now, there’s such a temptation to think that everything’s getting better and we’re moving on up, but our culture is extremely destructive.
We could dive down a million rabbit holes. It’s going to take some discernment to know what because we could talk for days. I want to rewind the clock because it’s clear that you are well-versed and a well-rounded individual. That doesn’t happen without fire or refinement in some ways. I’m curious to hear the story surrounding or leading up to your house burning down and then what that time brought for you.
I had moved to Austin, Texas. I went to college, took on loans, moved to Washington, DC, worked there for a couple of years and tried to save up enough to pay off the loan. I was broke for the first time in my life. I had a few thousand in my bank account tops. I went out on a Friday night and came home. The apartment building where I moved everything to my name was in this 20, 30-foot wall of flames and we lost everything. I had the clothes on my back and I had moved to Austin a few months earlier or something like that. I only had a handful of friends who are acquaintances because I’m not from Texas. I came from DC. I’m from New Hampshire. It was crazy.
At the time, I had also been following the advice of a doctor because I had good health insurance and I was eating as little dietary fat as I possibly could. I was avoiding dietary cholesterol, avoiding red meat, trying to eat low calorie, but still running a lot and drinking orange juice that my doctor said I should do. I was in the worst health of my life. My thyroid was having problems, I was in my early twenties. I was about 30 pounds overweight, high blood pressure, high triglycerides. He put me on a half dozen different prescription meds after going in there for a few months. After losing everything in the fire, I’m looking at myself in my early twenties and being like, “You’re fat and sick too. This is great. Let’s do some work. Let’s make this the project, Bob. Let’s do this one.”
I tried to focus my energy and bring in all the scattered, chaotic energy from your life being turned upside down and not having money to your name and wearing someone else’s clothes and driving someone else’s car. It was the craziest thing because, in order to get by and get my documents again, I needed to have my documents and I needed to prove that I lived at a place. When I tried to get a post office box because the place had burned down, they said I couldn’t get a post office box without a permanent address, but I needed a post office box because it had burned down. I couldn’t get any of the documents that I needed to prove that my place had burned down. It’s like, “It used to be there, now it’s not there. Go take a look. It was down the street.”
You fall through all these cracks. One thing that I learned is that a lot of times when you’re down, that’s when all these creatures crawl out of the woodwork and even the system itself sometimes comes to take advantage of you. You want to think that there’s mercy and that someone’s going to help you when you’re down. Unfortunately, there are a lot of creatures out there that will kick you when you’re down and try to exploit you in one way or another. That was a rough thing to see, not in our own lives to experience that, but also that whole community that lived there. That was another giant loss. I can’t remember how many 30, 50 different families living in that whole unit.
They shut the whole thing down. Everyone had to find a new place to live. Thankfully, no one died in that. They lost some pets but no one died, but that community was basically dead. All those best friends, we would be hanging out one night. I’d go play with the guy on the third floor and play some guitar and then I’d go hang out with the other guy who was watching the game at the end of the hall, that all disappeared. It also helped me realize how temporary all this is. Once you’ve lost everything, I’m not going to say that it’s always good. There’s definitely some trauma that I still need to work through that bubbles up sometimes when bad stuff happens.
You do learn that you have a different relationship with your stuff than you think. It’s not as simple as people make it out to be. Getting rid of everything and having nothing, you’re going to have a hard time remembering who you are if that’s what happens. The things that I missed were the sentimental things. It was the books that my high school teacher had autographed and given to me at graduation. It was the pictures of my friends and family. It was the paintings that would never be replaced that a friend gave me one time. It was those things. It wasn’t anything that was valuable, aside from my musical instruments, which was losing seven guitars and the saxophones. That was rough. Those were replaced too in one way or another.
How did that moment change you as a person at that moment? When you lose everything, where do you go? What do you do? In the time after that, did you notice an actual change within you right away internally? What was the time after that like for you?
I went inward hard when that happened. Fat-Burning Man is the name of my podcast, like tongue in cheek, because I was a fat man on fire when that happened. I’m not sure that I would have taken the path that I’m on if that hadn’t happened. I’m not at the point where I can say I’m thankful for it. It was a rough time for a while. It gave me that excuse to focus on trying to make myself a project and improving that, which in the corporate world and even in the academic world, you’re trained to be a kiss-up. You’re trained to grovel to those in power and what have you.
This was when I was beaten up and at a low. I had that realization. This is on me. If I want to change this, if I want to be in better shape, if I want my body to respond and be better than it is now, I got to do something different. I know that I’m trying hard, but that’s not what matters. I need to try hard and do the right thing. I do a thing that’s more appropriate from physical training, from a nutrition standpoint or even a lifestyle standpoint. For me, I got in shape fast. If everything else was still going on, if I had a cushy job, a nice place, a girlfriend or whatever, it would have been easier to become complacent. Keep a level of mediocrity that I would no longer accept when I hit that bottom that hard.
I appreciate your honesty in saying that you can’t say you’re thankful for it because a lot of times we go through something hard like that and then we always look back like, “I’m grateful for it,” a tongue in cheek. When in reality we haven’t processed it. If we’re honest or aware of it, it’s affecting us more than we would ever admit or even know. Traumatic elements of that still linger and pop up in different ways. I love that you share it that way because that’s empowering for all of us and be like, “I don’t need to feel like I need to say I’m grateful for this when I’m not yet or I’m never going to be and that’s okay.” They don’t fully understand it and that’s okay too.
There’s a lot of weird stuff that happens. Another example that happened to us a few years ago, we were staying at a rental house. My wife and I were asleep and the heater malfunctioned because they hadn’t kept it up at that rental. They also hadn’t installed the carbon monoxide detectors. My wife and I and the dog were poisoned almost to the point of death. It was a rough time coming back from that. Now that we’re years out, you’d think that that’s enough time. I’ve been able to work now. I couldn’t work for a few months, but then I’ve been working for years. I’ve been plugging along and my wife has as well. The hot water went out a few days ago at the place where we were staying and the furnace needed some attention.
When that happened, both of us started shaking. We looked at the arrow button on the furnace, which is gas-powered. We had almost died because of the furnace. We never cared about furnaces in our lives. I never thought about it for a minute before it almost killed me. Now it’s like we’re both shaking, even though there’s no real problem. We called one of our neighbors who’s a handyman to fix it up and make sure everything’s cool, but that stuff lingers. For years after that fire, anytime I heard a siren, I would get a little shaky at first. That would come down to not shaking and not obvious, but it’s still in there. A lot of this trauma is way deeper than a lot of us know but it’s okay.
It’s perfectly normal. You can’t try to squish it. When it does bubble up, I believe you have to take it head-on and let it come out and experience it. That’s how you can move forward. It’s going to hurt, but it’ll hurt less over time. It’ll probably always be with you, this trauma, whatever it is, but you can learn how to focus your energy in a way that’s not damaging. When you do get those shakes because messed up stuff has happened to you, everyone knows that feeling. That’s a great time to go for a walk, to hydrate, to take deep breaths, to play guitar, to journal, to do all these simple things that sound like they don’t matter. It sounds like they’re too obvious and easy to ever do them. No, this is when it matters the most.
Also with that, trying to avoid or protect from trauma ever happening is equally oppressive in the sense of you’re not living. Trauma is going to happen in life and we can either try to avoid it and live an unalive life or we can embrace that. When it does happen and come and bad things happen, we’re able to not shame ourselves or guilt ourselves but accept and love our self for that. It’s counter to how we naturally think about these things.
We need to be gentle and empathetic and open. We’re not encouraged to cope in any way that’s healthy in the West. It’s like binge drinking, watching sports or doing extreme dirt bike races. It’s absurd. That’s blowing off steam and I like some of that stuff too. If you look historically and if you look at our ancestors, they had a much better handle on actual stress and keeping themselves grounded and sane and not flipping out. Many of the things that we’re exposed to that put us over the line now are completely artificial or invented by humans. We stare into artificial lamps. We have these artificially manipulated, social media feeds and Google is feeding us information. No wonder we’re all at wit’s end.
We’re not built to withstand this to some degree. If people can learn anything from that, you got to put your shields up, you’ve got to understand that. Unfortunately, we don’t necessarily live in a world where people will deliver on their word. I want to think that I could trust everyone but you can’t. You’re going to get burned a few times. It’s important to learn how to cope with and navigate that. That’s part of getting older. It’s okay to get older, but I’m trying not to get more bitter. When I get burned or screwed over by someone these days, I’m like, “I’ve seen that before. I’m not that surprised.” The first few times it happens, it hurts. I didn’t learn that in school. I didn’t learn that until I went out there and started being an entrepreneur or you put yourself out there and all of a sudden, you’re exposed to almost everything. If you don’t put yourself out there, you won’t necessarily learn those lessons.
How do you do this? This is fascinating because one of the things I try to emphasize when I talk with people is that younger people should be idealists. You should be because you haven’t lived long enough to have the natural skepticism or cynicism that life brings. Invade too much of that. That’s an important role in our society. We need idealists. As you get older, how do you get older and not bitter? What have you found helpful for that? The more crappy and horrible stuff that happens to us, the more we’re going to get bitter, upset, angry in justified ways. That will then turn us much more often into someone who is pessimistic or cynical. Cynicism is probably the most dangerous of those. I’m curious, what strategies you use for that? How do you think about that for yourself?
You have to get back up again and forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t something that you do one time. It’s an act. For example, I’ve had people who have backstabbed me and then publicly been out there and advertising to me, advertising to my mom. I see that face and I have to actively practice forgiveness every time I see that face. It’s not something where I’m like, “Years ago, you did this thing and I forgive you. That’s fine.” No, I see everything more as a practice. We wake up and we’re not at 100% most of the time. We’re human. We have all these different feelings. A lot of times, there’s a lack of motivation, but if you’re willing to put in the work and keep up the regular practices of things, then you can at least get a hold of yourself.
If you have a hold of yourself, even if I’ve been drunk at bars or whatever, I never felt that I was about to lose it and punch somebody. The more that you try to stay grounded and no matter who’s coming at you or whatever, if you have your stuff together, then you’re going to be all right. You can dodge a lot of bullets and you can adapt to a lot of the bad stuff that happens because you have to know that it will happen. These challenges are here. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be as fun, especially not in hindsight. It’s another way to learn who your real friends are and learn who your businesspeople are. Also, that balance is difficult over the years too. I’ve heard the advice that you should never work with friends or family or whatever. I’ve tried it with friends and family. There have been good and bad experiences. The longer you do this, the more generic advice is like, “Eh.” Everything becomes true.If you don't put yourself out there, you won't necessarily learn those lessons. Click To Tweet
Seeing everything as a practice. That opens up so much. That’s well said. I’m curious, what would be helpful for people reading and also I’m fascinated by it because if you look at what you have built and what you’ve created and what you’re doing, it’s an amassed collection that’s wide and vast. People would look at that and say, “I’m not that type of person. That would never happen.” Normal people do these things. You and I and whoever else is reading, we’re all normal people. We’re all human beings. It takes deciding to take that action. That moment from that home burning down was when that first step of like, “I’m going to take action when this happened.” Since then, what you’ve built is remarkable from the outside, looking in that sense. I’d love to hear an overview of that process and the different stages of it and what that looked like because it doesn’t just happen. It doesn’t come from thin air. It does come in baby steps a lot of times, but I’d love to hear you give an overview of that journey.
It’s changed every 3 to 6 months to 12 months. We have to invent a new business. We need to adopt a business and get rid of another business is what it feels. We’ve got to figure out how to do that. I started off as a one-man show and my first real team member, there were a few here and there, but my wife has been working with me and we’ve been together for many years now. She handles more of the day to day and I handle more of the being off in space or theoretical or in front of a camera all day or traveling someplace. Having those two roles is extremely important.
I’ve been fortunate to work with Alyson for many years. Aside from that, the team has grown and shrunk depending on projects. The trajectory that I was following was I had a blog with 40,000-plus RSS subscribers. That’s how people followed before social media. It was much better than social media, but for whatever reason, they punted that one. Podcasting became my main focus. I tried to follow the things that make the most sense, how can we have the most impact? For me, as a musician who already knew how to use a microphone and turn the knobs and all that, that sounded a fun challenge to me. It’s like, “Let’s bring this blog into an interview-based podcast.”
That was 2011. It’s still largely a small team. It’s been a small team the whole time, but then I’ve kept the podcast consistent. I’ve taken a year off a couple of times and done reruns. With over 350 episodes of the show, there is a lot that people wouldn’t have heard or even if they’re hearing them for the second time years later, it’s still for reasons like programming. We did that a couple of times. After the podcast took off, which was 2012, 2013, 2014, I started getting into developing apps with some partners. We had a half dozen different number one food and drink apps. One of them, Caveman Feast, was number six in the whole App Store. Working with partners after Apple takes 30%, after Apple takes all those fees, after the development costs, after the cost of Apple making you redevelop it every 3 to 6 months because they change everything, after redeveloping it for Android also and keeping programming teams, the margins were super slim.
I realized I didn’t want to run a business where I’m doing accounting and where I’m doing publishing for other people who are not clients, but kind of clients. I got rid of all the client-based models, except for the group coaching, which I did, which I’ve been doing for many years, group coaching online for a low price or even free in some cases. That was a business model for a while. I tried eBooks, online courses. I had a New York Times bestselling book in 2015. I did a major TV show on ABC around that time. With each of these big projects it sounds like, “He’s going from one win to another.” It’s like, “No, we went broke from one project to another.” The next big project comes because we need to stay above water.
When you have a team or when you have travel costs or especially software costs for us, hosting online, having a big platform and all that, it becomes expensive. If you’re not able to monetize it every month and then you go cashflow negative quickly. While I’ve been balancing that and that’s not always easy, we’ve also been able to do whatever projects we want this whole time by saying like, “We need another cashflow-based project.” It’s hard for me. I had to adjust to this. I never want to be obsessed with money and that’s not why I’m doing this. I had to balance that with realizing that we lose that everything if we don’t have cashflow. You have to balance those two things.
I would recommend that you never try to squeeze money out of something that’s not a cashflow generator. Identifying the things in your business or the things that you want to do to generate cashflow have been important. It’s taken us in all those different directions. In 2018, we launched Wild Superfoods, our supplement line, to be an inroad to help feed people and get them the literal nutrients that they need, but also make our coaching free as part of that to level up and add more scale. If you have digital products like we did for so long, apps, digital courses, you can only sell those once unless it’s a membership, but those aren’t high priced enough to support a whole team or a whole business.
Being able to add these different things and experiment, see what gets traction and what doesn’t, what’s a good use of your energy. If you want to learn how reality TV works, there’s nothing better than starring on a reality TV show. I learned so much about media, but probably the most important thing I learned is that there were 100 people on staff filming us with all these cameras that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. All these ridiculous places that were super expensive. That show got two million people watching it every week or something and went on for a few weeks on ABC prime time. While that was happening, I was filming my podcast in the bathroom of the condo because it had a white background. I’m filming and doing my podcast in the bathroom.
I realized that the reach of my podcast, which is more than 50 million downloads now, it was tens of millions back then. It’s being recorded in the bathroom by one person while I’m also recording with 100 people that are going to see seconds of little clips on this reality TV show thing with advertising in between. We didn’t have a TV at the time and we didn’t have TV access. We drove more than an hour to a Motel 6 to watch this show. It’s the first time in years that we’d been watching TV and TV advertising in that way. I’m like, “I didn’t realize how far behind mainstream media is.” It wasn’t until I was on that show that I was like, “I am happy to have a podcast and my own video channels and all the rest of it,” because you don’t need 100 people to do that.
There are many things that the perception of them is different than the reality of them. You don’t know that until you experience it or live it. It’s cool to hear stories of people. You have experienced a lot of those things and yet are able to open the eyes or the curtain to say there’s a lot more behind the scenes that you don’t see. That’s true. The worst thing is for people that have this fantastical idea of what entrepreneurship or self-employment or anything like that, of this fantasy idea of it that keeps them discontent with where they’re at. When they finally do make the leap, then it’s way different and harder than they expected. It’s a double negative on both sides.
This is an interesting tension that I would love to hear a little bit more. It’s not being obsessed with money but needing to make money. What you’ve learned from even an entrepreneurial perspective on your journey because you’ve had your hand in many different projects, you’ve had different team sizes. You’ve gone on the wide scope within this realm. One of the things you said that you’ve learned from is never squeezing money out of things that you don’t want. I’m curious to hear what other core principles you’ve extracted from your experience at this time? What are the things that you see to be resoundingly true from that experience so far?
You need to find a way to monetize where you can still protect your integrity and your ethics. That sounds easy, but it’s difficult when you start working with real companies, real people, real sponsorships, partnerships and all the rest of it. It can be dangerous to put yourself on the hook for a company that doesn’t deliver on its promises. I’ve seen a lot of people sell out and there’s a tendency, especially now, to think that if you have a sponsor, that you’ve made it. If you have a bunch of Instagram followers and you have a sponsor, then it’s like you’ve made it. When I was growing up, that was called selling out. You didn’t want to do that. That’s bad to sell out, especially if you’re selling whatever, which is so much of what people are doing now.
If you follow the money, I turned down probably $3 million worth of deals before I ever made even close to $1 million. I continually, as a practice, turn down an exorbitant amount of money for things that I don’t believe in. One company offered me $40,000 for less than one day of work, but I didn’t believe in what that company stood for. I didn’t want them to put my face and name on their thing because I don’t believe in it. How many people are going to turn down $40,000 for less than a day’s work? That’s the thing. As soon as you hear that first part, it’s $40,000 for one day’s work. I’ll do whatever. A lot of people would do that for $500 or $50 a day, depending on where you’re living. That’s the hardest part for people. It’s not being attached to that. I would rather work for a year and work hard. That’s not something that I feel comfortable doing.
You probably won’t have that glaring of example, certainly not right away. I didn’t either, but you’re going to have small examples, even things like during the pandemic. This is interesting. I’ve had a bunch of accounts, companies and whatever say that they’ll offer an exorbitant amount of money for me to post a video of saying something on my social media channels. I was on a conference panel during a conference out of Philadelphia about free speech with someone who was a higher up at the FBI in law enforcement. He’d been retired. When that all came up and the free speech thing happened, it was bizarre talking to someone who essentially says that you’re liable for every single word that comes out. You’re liable for every single thing that you type on the internet, every photo, every video and all the rest of this stuff. At the same time, it’s not guaranteed that when you try to communicate, your communication will be received. Now we have this interception of our own communication online.
That makes all these conversations a little bit more difficult to have. We think that certain things might land, but now it’s easier than ever for everything to be misinterpreted, to be chaotic, for things that are supposed to work, to not work. As businesses, it’s important that we try to stay clear on the things that are working or that could work. Here’s another example. I got 40,000 followers on Instagram and I stopped posting for longer than a year. I realized after reading a little bit of research about it, that the longer that you spend on Instagram, the worse you feel about yourself. The more likely you are going to be depressed. I decided to not post to Instagram. That’s not an exorbitant number of followers by any means, but it’s enough that some people would be like, “I have 40,000 followers. I should post every day. I should sell out. I should get butt implants. I should do whatever.”
In this environment where our communication has been intercepted and manipulated. The algorithm is like, I would have millions of followers probably if I want it to be a butt model on Instagram or whatever and set that up as the profile or do ab pics all the time. You have to ask yourself, why are you doing this? Are you here to make money in whatever way that you can and be an influencer? Do you have something to say? Those are different things. What we’ll find, especially as you see during the pandemic and all this, all these vapid celebrities at their pools saying, “This is hard.”
They’re not giving any actual advice or life lessons because they have nothing to offer. That’s not fair, but a lot of them are not being useful with whatever they’re saying on social media channels or their public persona. For anyone out there who’s trying to navigate this, don’t squeeze money out of the wrong things, but know that there’s always going to be a way. As long as you can find a way of paying the bills, I don’t care where it comes from as long as it’s in your alignment. For me, I’ve been willing to write, play music, do voiceovers, do podcasts, sell eBooks, be on TV shows, try virtual reality and all these different things to see what would work. What are things that are an actual business and what do we have to do to get by?
I don’t mind getting some dirt under my fingernails and going in and doing programming again and going to these different domains from time to time. It’s part of the fun. It’s part of the practice. If you’re going to run a business, you have to come to terms with the fact that you’re putting out fires all day. It’s a whack-a-mole. You don’t get to kick back and make a ton of money and do nothing. Sometimes you do. I tried that. I hated it. I felt like I had no purpose anymore. I felt like if someone else can do my writing for me, if someone else could do all the blogs and they could do interviews or write the books or whatever and I kick back and make money, that sucks.
That sounds great before you’ve tried it. After doing that a little bit, I realized that the most important thing is to have meaning and purpose behind your work. It’s not the do no work. If you can retire at 27, do you think that you’re going to be a great person, if you kick back for the rest of your life? You’re a great example of funneling all that energy into one career and then switching to another and focusing on, “Let’s build this, let’s make this the project next.” When you hear some of these people with these impressive bios or whatever, they do all these different things, it’s tempting to think that they did all those things at the same time, but that’s not how it works. I used to be great at playing the saxophone. I suck at the saxophone now.
I was great in 2015 when I did an album. If I want to be good again, I get back into shape. I’m great at guitar now, but I can’t be great at all these things at once. You have to decide what your mountain bike is. You have to decide what your main thing is that you’re going to focus on. It’s like playing saxophone made me way better at guitar. That makes me way better at singing because I can learn from each of these different things. That doesn’t mean that you need to be on the hook to do everything all the time forever. Letting go of the things that are either no longer interesting or serving you is important and easily skipped over part of the process. It’s not an additive process. It’s a cyclical one.
Now I got two questions coming off of that. The first, what you spoke to before was beautiful in the sense that there has to be purpose or meaning for there to be fulfillment in the thing itself. I’m curious, twofold. What is the meaning and purpose of your work? The other would be, what would you say along the road of the journey so far with all the things you’ve done? What has led to the biggest impact or what has had the biggest impact in looking back? You can go backward on that too.
Let’s do the biggest impact. I’ll go back to the example of being on that ABC primetime TV show because to me, as a kid watching ABC, that’s as big as it gets. If you’re on a TV show primetime ABC, CBS, NBC, it doesn’t get bigger than that until you go on that show and you realize that podcasts are already big. I already had more especially when you add up the other shows that I appear on, not just mine. The reach of all those different podcasts and video shows that we already have as little independent creators is much more massive than mainstream. That was powerful. This is back in 2016 that I realized this. That’s only accelerated.
The illusion makes it feel like that’s not true. It still feels, for some reason, that mainstream and these big channels have more sway, but they don’t. It’s word of mouth. Especially now, it’s trusting these institutions and these mainstream publishing and books as well. It’s movies, books, news, it’s gotten worse. The standards are lower. Following people instead of social media accounts, these NBCs and CBSs and all these. Instead of following those organizations, I’ve been focused on following people. No matter how much they’re censored, they’re buried or the algorithm tries to get rid of them, you can still find people. If you sit down and you write down, “Who do I want to learn from? Who do I trust here?” That presents a lot of promise because we can learn anything if we approach it that way and we communicate as humans. If we try to surf the net, it’s dark these days. What was the first question you asked there?
What is the meaning and purpose that underlies your motivation on what you’re doing now?If you want to learn how reality TV works, there's nothing better than starring on a reality TV show. Click To Tweet
I would say it’s using your natural capabilities, developing them like a craft and then trying to develop those skills and use them to serve others or the world at large to make some improvement. The way that I see it is you can be a part of the problem and get paid easily. That’s how it works. I’ve been a part of the problem working for big companies, working for the government in my early career. If you stay there too long, it’s toxic. It’s poisonous because you can’t fully express yourself. You realize that you’re not living the life that you wanted to. At least I didn’t feel like I was. When you step out of that, it’s a double-edged sword because it’s a lot of responsibility.
Now you have to say whatever you want, you’re on the hook for it. The internet is not kind and doesn’t forget. It takes things out of context and what have you. Your meaning will be taken away, subverted, distorted in some cases, slimed and copied. You have to find some way to navigate that. Maintaining your own purpose, as long as you have your own house in order, as long as you’re doing the work. Some of my coaching clients ask me for relationship advice and I feel like I have zero to stand on. If I’m in a little tiff with my wife, which it happens to us, but that’s usually temporary at the same time because we always get through these little tiffs. The reason we do is we try to work on proper communication.
We try to work on it. We don’t just say, “You’re the problem.” If you approach life, relationships and all the rest like that and you take responsibility, you realize that you will never be perfect. You will never see with 100% clarity. It’s easier to realize that you’re a flawed being, trying to get by as best as you can, knowing that you will make mistakes. Ethics and morality and all that are weird because a lot of times in life, we only get the superficial version of other people’s lives. You look at what they’re doing and it’s like, “I don’t know if I agree with that,” or “They’re doing everything squeaky clean and perfect.” If you look a little bit deeper though, those could be totally flipped on their head in a lot of cases.
You need to personally define what your ethics and morals are. Not necessarily by writing them all down, but being clear on like, “What do I stand for? Am I going to be part of the problem? Am I going to do the work and try to be part of the solution?” You can’t be part of the solution unless you’re out there doing the work. That’s another thing that I’ve learned. When I’ve taken a year to go write a book or even a few months to go do other things, it’s not like people forget about you, but you have to earn their attention back. You don’t get to keep these things that you attain sometimes. You need to earn them every day.
You mentioned about how we have the ability now not to just follow channels, but to follow people. I’m curious, who would you say are some of the few people that you look to or follow to shape and inform some of your own thoughts or perspectives?
I look to completely different domains a lot of the time. The channels that I follow are cryptocurrency, looking into the fiat money market compared to silver and gold. I’m interested in blockchain and decentralized technology. There’s that. If you look at my other most recommended videos online and things that I like, it’s guitar video. Most of the stuff that I’m looking at is working on my craft and then anyone who’s on my show or going on your show, I do my due diligence. I’ll record 6 or 12 in a row over 1 or 2 days. I’ll read a stack of books. I’ll do a bunch of research. That’s how it comes out over time but you have to stay flexible.
This is never going to be the same and it’s never going to be easy and there are always going to be new things popping up. It’s important to realize that too. You can either get dragged down by that, which happens, or try to dance with it. Once you try to dance with that and you use that energy or use that anxiety as fuel for your focus, then you can start getting cool things down. You can get out of a lot of jams. I’ve seen a lot of friends around me make and lose millions and millions of dollars over and over again. You think you’d learn your lesson about the not losing it part after that many times that it happens, but for some people, it’s part of the fun. That’s what I realized. Some of them are doing it for sports and we are too. If you think of it that way it’s like, “This is a craft. This is a sport. This is a game.” That’s more fun. It’s harder to get dragged down if you approach this more like a game.
I want to look back a little bit and forward a little bit. I’d love to hear more about Designer Babies Still Get Scabies. This is the latest book. You sent me a copy of it. I was loving what I read because it’s fun, playful, creative and unique in many ways. Your mom said it best. You’re a great poet. I’d love to hear where this idea came from. What were the process was? You’ve written books, but writing poetry is such a different type of endeavor. I’m curious because I’ve never tried it. For family members on holidays, you’ll write a poem or something but I’ve never gone in, so I’m fascinated by what that process would be like.
This is a funny story. The place where we were living had an elementary school that was quite close. It’s down a little hill. Literally, 150, 200 school buses every morning at 5:30 or 5:15 would start backing up. This went on for many months while we lived at this place. I had no choice. Depending on the time of the year, sometimes they would start at 5:00 AM. Sometimes it was 4:45 in the morning. I’m like, “This is the worst.” That place didn’t have central air or whatever. If we wanted to breathe, we had to have the windows open. You get all the sound from those stupid buses coming in. I’m like, “How can I make some lemonade here?”
I decided to stop drinking and I stopped drinking for a year because if you wake up early and you’re not getting back to sleep, you’re going to feel terrible. I’m like, “I’ll clean it up. If I have to wake up at 4:45 every morning, I’ll wake up at 4:45 every morning.” I woke up at 4:45 every morning for months on end and I played piano and did that for around 45 minutes. I’d practice guitar for about fifteen or so. I would see what wanted to come out. I would write a little bit. Sometimes I would get a poem a day. Sometimes I would get three. A lot of times I’d get nothing or I get a few lines.
I started writing poetry when I was young and I found a bunch of poems from seventh and eighth grade and some more from high school. I realized this is politically relevant. It made almost no sense to me, but I’m like, “If I could have that much fun back then, this is a way I could adapt to the current times.” Instead of going down a dark path with all the political things that are happening in governments and seizing control and the little people having no power anymore, what if we funnel this energy into making fun of it and then turning it into satire? For me, I’ve been writing songs for a long time as a musician, those are poems and some of the poems in the book are songs also.
There are a lot of crossovers there, but I realized that it’s a way that you can make these little time capsules of emotions. It’s also a way that you can diffuse negative emotions, frustrations. You can let off steam and the tension. You can turn it down a few notches by getting people to laugh. I realized that I could practice more free speech if I rhymed and turned it into a silly little limerick. I could get away with saying more than I could in long-form conversation on my podcast or in interviews. There are certain terms and subjects that you have to tiptoe around them not to be censored or not to be distasteful or not to be unsolicited political speak or whatever it is.
I try to be sensitive to that. I never want to stay in my lane. There is no lane, but it’s important to be respectful to other people politically, spiritually with religion. At the same time, when you’re dealing with things and you have your own personal beliefs, it’s fun to play with these different ideas and conspiracy theories and weird ways that people are thinking about things. Poking at it a little bit and seeing if we can make it do something or if we can laugh or if we can let off a little bit of steam by examining these things in a more artful playful context. A lot of times it’s too dangerous tiptoeing online to be playful anymore. Even making a joke can backfire horribly and it comes off as something that you totally didn’t mean or whatever.
Comedy has become dangerous and we don’t want to suffocate ourselves because it damages us when we bite our tongues much, when we’re not able to express what we truly feel. This is my exercise and doing some of those things myself. Even when I was young, dealing with coming to age around 9/11, The Pumpkin’s Poem was more about that. I have a few political ones that sound like they’re written for now in a lot of ways but were based on that. It helped me appreciate the cyclical nature of a lot of this too. I’m realizing that in some ways I was at the max level at fifteen years old. I learned a lot from going through my past notebooks. I was executing and I became valedictorian.
I was playing all these sports. I was doing the lead in the theater. I was playing music and it’s like, “Why don’t adults have these standards?” Even myself, I don’t have the same standards I had when I was a kid. Not even close. How many fifteen-year-old kids are in awesome shape because they’re going to practice a few times a week? They also play saxophone or do competitive ice skating or gymnastics. How many adults are doing these things? We all could be.
I know it is a journey back to our childhood in many ways. What you brought up too is probably why many people love to listen, myself included, to Joe Rogan. Joe Rogan has become a space where these things are talked about a lot more openly, partly because his background is comedy. It makes sense that he is a facilitator for that because he seems grounded and he has a background in comedy. He can make light of these things in a way that’s more approachable. He does a good job with that.
When you look at comedy and satire, what they have to do in order to write that and create that is to take beliefs that they hold usually sometimes close to the heart and then stab it with a knife or poke it until something happens. They walk around it and they prance around these ideas, especially ones that they’re not supposed to talk about. That’s why we need satire comedy and art more than ever because it needs to be okay to say things that sound wrong if you do it in an artful way. AI algorithms can’t be the ones deciding that. They can’t be deciding what’s a comedy and what’s not. When we talk about free speech and free expression, that’s what I’m talking about. We need to be able to crack jokes and not be held accountable as that’s violence and measured in the same way as violence because it’s not. It certainly can be, but we don’t want AI deciding and we don’t want unelected technocrats deciding either. We want to thoughtfully get through this together and it’s going to take some work.
It’s the mess we’ve made in that sense. It’s the unforeseen effects of some of these great tools that we get to use, like this right here, talking to each other over a computer. We were only a couple of hours away from each other, but still, this is such a sweet gift and blessing, but yet there is a dark side. There is trouble or danger or hard things that we have to work through with them. I know you’ve talked about it a bit, but this is something that more people would do well to grow an awareness of. The importance of thinking critically for ourselves and having a better idea that what is shaped online is specifically crafted or structured or even manipulated at times. What do you think most people aren’t aware of in that realm or maybe their perceptions aren’t quite as accurate? What have you learned from your experience that has changed your perceptions of that?
Someone’s steering and you don’t know who they are. A lot of times they don’t have good intentions. They’re steering you. This was the promise too. It would connect to the world. We would have all the information in the world at our fingertips. What we have is all marketing. Look at the priorities of social media and Google. Ads always come first. Advertisers come first and you are the prey. That becomes damaging when we’re talking about free speech and free expression. What it used to be in the promise of even when you look at Twitter and the invention of the feed, it was supposed to be a timeline of your friends, of the people you follow and trust. No longer is it anything remotely close to that.
You need to understand that you do have to have those shields up and realize that you’re being manipulated. In the same way that you’re driving down the highway and everything’s fine. You’re not hungry. You see that big red sign, that big billboard with a huge greasy burger and the fries and the shake and your stomach rumbles. They got me again, then you see another one. This is what the internet is. When you’re checking out in the grocery lane, you see all those tabloids. That stuff is of higher quality than what you find on the internet. That’s better journalism than what social media and the internet has become. It doesn’t have to be this way but this is what it is.
If you want to make it better, then find people and humanize the internet. Build platforms that allow us to connect in a more human and transparent and authentic way. We’ll be fine. We’ll be fine anyway. It’s like Zuckerberg doesn’t get invited to the party. All these people who have burned our trust, all these platforms, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, Amazon. All of these platforms, as soon as they burn our trust, and each one of those has burned mine and some more as well. They’ll never get it back. Anyone who is able to build a place that has more trust and honesty and that’s more fun and interesting, they’re going to destroy the rest of these platforms in the same way that I’m never going to trust NBC News or ABC News.
After I was on ABC news and after I was on Fox, I’m like, “I’m never trusting any of these ridiculous sideshow circuses.” There’s zero accountability. What I would love to see is the people who are leading the world acting on behalf of the people and serving them in some way. Even falling on the sword at their expense so that the people are better served. That’s what a real leader does. I don’t mean to be political here. I’m talking in every sphere, health, Instagram butt models, politics, sports, whatever. We need to have good examples for people who are coming up now. That all starts with the daily practice. If we want something that’s better than Facebook, it’s clear Facebook will not be building it. We’ve got to build it.
Once we do, that’s cool. I’ll hop on a social network invented by my friend or even that I heard of from someone that I trust. I’ll do that in a second. There are going to be many incredible things coming online. I’ve experimented a ton with virtual reality and 360 videos and all that. The next generation of technology is going to be a higher definition, such that you can sense people’s presence. If they have weird energy that’s all up in your face or if they’re not telling you the truth, you can see with a greater level of detail if they are for real or not. As technology progresses, as we move away from Facebook and YouTube into whatever’s coming next, we’re going to have that higher degree of clarity, so we better use it for good because it can also be used for ill. It will be more manipulative. It’ll manipulate us more if we let that happen. If we don’t and if we get ahead of it, then it’s going to be incredible for education. Even though we are a few hours away, the idea that you can go to a place virtually or speak to someone virtually is insane.
As long as the grid stays, we have that. That’s here to stay. There are many good things that will come with that. This one-to-one connection, small groups and things that. We’ve still got that. We’ve got that from anywhere. That’s where the real good stuff is going to happen. Most of the best companies come with 3 to 6 people hanging out in a garage or now in a virtual garage is building things on a small scale. Not these giant companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google. They’re not going to be innovating anymore. They buy stuff. They’re going to buy whatever you invent next if you choose to sell. You can always say no.Don't squeeze money out of the wrong things, but know that there's always going to be a way. Click To Tweet
Size does corrupt many things. It’s a good word because ultimately, it’s being conscious. It’s raising awareness that there are no free lunches. There’s nothing for free. If you think something is free, it’s not. What’s costing is your attention and addiction, and your future dollar spent towards whatever’s being shown to you.
Your consciousness is being bought and sold without you realizing it. There’s a reason that you see something from your ex-girlfriend or from this friend. It’s because they’re driving you, not because that friend posted and you saw it because they posted it right then. That’s the illusion. That was the bait and switch.
Critical thinking is something that would change much of the environment we see especially in our country at this time. We are being fed by consuming many things, whether it be news or social media or any of that that’s being produced. We’re fed these ideas and narratives and perspectives that lead to us finding ourselves the most divided time that I’ve been alive at least. It’s not anything new. Poetry that you wrote back when you were in high school, it had a lot of the same elements. It’s not like this is novel or new. We feel it and see it more than probably I have ever seen before. It’s simple on an individual level what change looks like. It means we’re aware and conscious of these things. We’re starting to take back ownership of our own thought process, our own critical thinking and our own time spent on what it’s being spent on. Every single human can do that. It takes work. It’s going to be hard, especially when we’re addicted to certain things and elements of that, which isn’t entirely our fault in that, but we have to take ownership always.
It doesn’t have to be serious. It can be playful too.
That’s why I love what you’ve done with that book. What is your hope for Designer Babies Still Get Scabies? What do you see for it?
I wanted it to be an excuse to start the conversation. A lot of times at family functions, that’s the last time you ever hear poetry that’s written by the family. That was something in our family at weddings, at the get-togethers, the aunts and uncles. You don’t have to be a poet to write a few rhymes. It’s fun. It’s the same idea. Everyone should be a singer. Everyone should be a dancer. You’re missing out if you’re not. I’m terrible at dancing. I’m terrible at a lot of these things, but that’s part of the fun. Being weak and bad at something in front of other people while they can be good at it is part of what being human is. That’s the max level in my mind.
It’s important to keep that dance going as well. The serious part is where we get ourselves into trouble. If you put your head down and you keep working, who knows where you’re going to end up? You might make a lot of money. You might lose your wife. You might keep your job. You might get laid off. It seems safer to put your head down and work or do what you’re told. I would argue that it’s not necessarily safer long-term. It appears short-term safer.
Once you grab your fate and you get clear on what you want to do, not necessarily long-term. People ask me what I want to do in a few years, “I have no idea about a few years. Are you kidding?” In the shorter-term, that’s where we can get clear about what we want to accomplish and try to follow these natural cycles of energy to get things done that feel the most right at the time or that you have to get done. It shouldn’t always be this grind or this slugging along, doing the same thing over and over again. You’re perfectly free to live your life that way, but there’s way more fun on the other side too.
That’s a word that I need a lot too. I know my tendencies can easily shift into that head down grind mode.
It’s a superpower. It’s rewarded. There is good to that too.
It’s definitely imbalanced as you’re pointing out well.
We’ll have to balance it. It’s not something you ever figure out. It’s something you’ve got to figure out every day.
Abel, this has been fun. I’ve got a handful of one-offs to end with here. What gives you hope?
The ability to know that at the end of the day we are creating this. We’re co-creating this. We are in charge of our own future to a higher degree than we realize.
If you could teach a class for a semester, what would you teach and why?
How to be an entrepreneur. I went to an Ivy League college and did well. I never learned anything about how to run a business, how to have employees, how to do the books even. It’s not what you’re taught in school. That’s hyper-specialized and random. The practical knowledge of entrepreneurs who’ve been doing this in multiple businesses over time, that’s some cool stuff. You’re going to get a lot of different answers. Some entrepreneurs will say, “Put your head down and work forever. You’ll be fine.” Everyone has their own experience.
What are you most proud of in your life thus far?
The relationships. Especially as the pandemic happened, they shut down all the in-person events. We definitely would have met in-person by now if this hadn’t happened this way. It’s been one of those things where I’ve connected with many people virtually and I’m thankful to be having hundreds and thousands of people, I cannot imagine how many people I know who I have personal connections and friendships with, deep relationships and long-lasting relationships. A lot of them in between, people who I respect professionally speaking, and then millions of people who I’ve never met in my life, who I probably never in my life will meet who I do run into sometimes.
They tell me stories of when they found my work years ago and it was the first podcast they ever listened to or whatever. When I meet people, especially later on, or reconnect with them online, even if it’s virtual now. I talked to a friend who I haven’t talked to in 3 or 4 years. It melts my heart. That’s the best. All these numbers, all the millions of downloads and all the other. It gives you a few butterflies at the beginning as the first time and then it means nothing to you after that. It’s taken for granted, but the thing that never goes away and never should be taken for granted are those relationships.
I’ve seen a few people learn this lesson the hard way and I’ve certainly made mistakes this way too, but putting your head down and working, you can sacrifice a lot of relationships and a lot of the things that you want and that you stand for by making that mistake. It’s important to pop your head up and be like, “Is this what I want to do? Is everything going okay here with my relationships in my life?” We’ve got to all do that a little bit more than we sometimes do. You’ve got to do it during the hard times.
That’s definitely when it counts. What book or books have had the biggest impact on you?
Wabi Sabi is a book about the philosophy that I read in high school. It’s about finding beauty in ugliness, finding beauty in decay, finding beauty in a cracked, old, imperfect cup that was made by someone who isn’t good at making cups. As a Westerner, that was such a weird thing to ever look at or think about. It struck me and I had a wonderful teacher who’s still a good friend of mine who introduced me to that book. I’ve revisited that over the years. Anything You Want by Derek Sivers is another one of my absolute, quick and easy book. He had the option of making a ton of money of building big businesses and all these people trying to get him to sell his business and give him all this money. He’s like, “No, I don’t care. I don’t want to make money.” Eventually, he does sell his company and he donates $20 million to charity. Following the stories of people who have achieved things but followed a different path than what you’d expect are most interesting to me. That’s a great one, especially for entrepreneurs.
If you could study one person for an entire year, who would it be and why?
Da Vinci probably, for the Renaissance Man reasons. Also, the immense amount of creativity that came from it. Some people say that it wasn’t even a person. It was a group of people like Shakespeare. Who knows about history? Anyway, the idea of what Da Vinci stood for and a lot of those other Renaissance people, art is a part of being intellectual. It’s a part of being responsible. It’s a part of being a man or a woman. It’s a part of who we are. It’s deeply spiritual and human at the same time. I don’t know. It’s like you go back that far in time and Da Vinci doesn’t seem commercial to me. You look at everything now through this different lens. Is it commercial or not? Is this going to be big on Instagram? Is this going to be the next big thing? Einstein, Da Vinci, many people in history before that, I have a hard time believing that’s what their goal was. Their work reflects that. Their work is deep. They had incredible skill in a lot of different places. He’d probably be it.
The final question is if you could send a morning text reminder to every up and comer out there, what would you say and why as a text reminder they get every morning from you?The internet is not kind, doesn't forget, and takes things out of context. Click To Tweet
I would say breathe through your nose preferably. I would say that because a few years ago, I met someone who’s become a friend who coaches professional athletes and has been doing that for decades. I asked them, “Is there anything that you find yourself telling most of your clients that gets them to the next level?” He’s like, “Breath, every time.” Almost everyone struggles with their breath. What it is when before you take that big shot or before you do that big thing or right before the moment that you’re supposed to be at your best, you get that shaky tight thing where you’re not breathing deeply. Your heart rate is going too high. If you practice slow breathing on a daily basis, it’s not necessarily the crazy stuff that you know I don’t like, but slow breathing, boxed breaths and things like that.
You do that most days and you’ll be healthy probably for the rest of your life. There are a few things that if you did them every day, it’s almost like there’s enough bleed over. There’s enough extra stuff that happens that’s good. You could do that one thing and the other good habits will become automatic if that makes sense. Never forget your breath. For me as a singer, as a wind instrument player, to some degree I didn’t have the luxury of forgetting my breath because it’s too obvious. I won’t be able to play through the line in the middle of the concert if I don’t think about this and breathe deeply. That was built in but for a lot of people, it’s not. Try to build that in, even if it has to be artificial. It’s worth it.
I want to get better at practicing that as well. Abel, there are many great discussions and topics. I love hearing your story and your perspective. Thanks for coming on and sharing with everyone and being generous with your time.
Thank you for having me.
Where can people find more about what you’re up to? What’s next? We didn’t even get to dive into the music side. There’s so much that we didn’t talk about, but where’s a good place for people that want to find more to go?
You can find me at FatBurningMan.com. You can look up Abel James on social media and various platforms. I’m responsive to messages and DMs and that thing. The book is called Designer Babies Still Get Scabies. It’s at DesignerBabiesBook.com. We’ve got Wild Superfoods. It’s our supplement line. We have delicious collagen, cocoa, greens powders and other good stuff. For virtual reality projects, go to AbelJames.com for that. I look forward to connecting with all you other weirdos out there.
That’s one thing that we also didn’t get the chance to dive into is VR. I’m excited to continue watching to see what’s coming out for you in that. We’re going to put links to all this. Until next time, thanks. It’s been a blast.
This has been fun. Thanks.
For you reading, we hope you have an up and coming week because we are out.
Following up with one last thing to note. If you would get a curated list of all the content I’m learning from, whether that be books I’m reading, podcasts I’m listening to, quotes I’m pondering or even some sermons I’m enjoying, In Thane is a monthly newsletter that brings vetted content that I know you’ll enjoy. Go to ThaneMarcus.com/inthane to sign up and you’ll be sure to receive the next one. Each edition of In Thane is released on the first Sunday of the month. This is a once a month newsletter that I hope you enjoy and benefit from as much as I have. Here’s to learning and growing one day at a time.
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About Abel James
A modern-day Renaissance man, Abel James is a New York Times bestselling author, award-winning talk show host, multi-instrumentalist, and serial entrepreneur.
As the #1 rated Health podcast in 8+ countries, Abel’s award-winning web series, Fat-Burning Man, has helped millions reclaim their health with cutting-edge science, outdoor workouts, and outrageously good food.
When his debut cooking app, Caveman Feast, bested The Food Network and Martha Stewart with more than 1,000 5-star reviews in 24 hours, Abel became the first independent publisher to hold Apple’s #1 food app and #1 podcast at the same time.
A leading voice in new media, Abel was named as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Health and Fitness along with Michael Pollan, Dr. Andrew Weil, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Deepak Chopra.
As a musician and songwriter, Abel has toured internationally, jammed with country superstars, and won several awards for vocal performance.
As a speaker, entertainer, and consultant, Abel has presented keynotes for the Federal Government, lectured at Ivy League universities, and advised Fortune 500 companies including Microsoft, Danaher, and Lockheed Martin.
Abel completed high school and college in a total of just six years. Distinguished as Valedictorian at New Hampton School, Abel graduated as a Senior Fellow with Honors at Dartmouth College with a concentration in Psychological and Brain Sciences.
Hailing from the frosty backwoods of New Hampshire, Abel lives with his wife and yellow lab in the mountains of Colorado.
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