If you enjoy this kind of thing, I dished about four other tools last year.
People worry so much about people being angry at them or doing the wrong thing, but obscurity can be this great gift. You can experiment. It’s a kind of freedom. Now, unlimited freedom can be very paralyzing, too. Freedom is not necessarily the best thing ever for art; there’s a tension between freedom and constraint out of which great art arises. Obscurity can be a real gift if you use it correctly.
You can listen to the whole thing here:
Related reading: a message to graduates
“If you’re going to tell people the truth, be funny or they’ll kill you.”
Statistically, I say “no” to almost all podcast requests. I say “no,” not because I hate recording podcasts, but because I love recording podcasts. You see, I am the rare extroverted writer, and I would much rather talk than write, and I could easily fill most of my afternoons with recording podcasts and never write anything again.
When I do say “yes” to a podcast, my policy is one of candor, of being as straightforward, honest, and frank as I can. I’m not sure if this moves as many units as sticking to talking points, but it’s a helluva lot more fun, and I figure if we’re going to talk for an hour, let’s try to get somewhere interesting.
Life is very short, and we are all very tired. We are especially tired, I think, of not just being lied to, but of hearing people talk like they’ve run everything through their own public relations department. I don’t think it’s just me, but when I hear someone tell the truth these days, I feel a jolt of electricity that makes me feel alive.
Maybe that’s lofty talk from a short man, but there you have it.
Tomorrow I’m talking to Jessica Abel, which will be recorded as a live podcast with Q&A from the audience, so my candor might get me into more trouble than usual.
Register here. Watch the replay here.
I had a long, lovely chat with doctor and YouTuber Ali Abdaal this week. He read my book Show Your Work! in 2016 and said it inspired him to start sharing online. (He now has over a million subscribers and makes more money as a YouTuber than a doctor!)
One of the topics from the book we discussed is how much you learn when you have the courage to share what you have learned, regardless of your level of expertise.
It was certainly true of our conversation, as I learned something really interesting from Ali: he says he gets way better results with his YouTube videos when he titles them, “How I Remember Everything I Read,” instead of “How to Remember Everything You Read.” There’s something about using the first-person pronoun that opens things up, lets him speak from his own experience, and lets viewers feel like they can take what they need and do their own thing.
Stop worrying about becoming an expert before you start. Teaching that comes from a fellow student is often more impactful than teaching from an expert. C.S.Lewis once said “fellow schoolboys can teach fellow students just as effectively as the teacher”. It’s the difference between saying ‘I’m an expert and I’m going to teach you something’, and saying ‘I’m a fellow student and I’m going to share what I’ve learnt and maybe you can take something from this’.
By his own account, Quah’s actual qualifications for taking on the role of public thinker on podcasting were nil. He’d never made a podcast, had no background in radio or audio media of any kind. In fact, he was not long out of college and a few months into his first media job, an entry-level gig at Business Insider that he describes as closer to market research than journalism. He was basically some random guy with a new off-hours hobby…. Within a couple years of starting his newsletter, this random guy was able to quit his day job and become, for lack of a better word, a full-time expert…
Rob writes, “More than ever, expertise seems to have become a DIY affair; strategic and determined obsession can replace specific credentials or a tangible track record.”
Again, it’s not about being credentialed or being an expert, it’s about seeing a space open up, starting to do work that needs doing, sharing your ideas, and sticking around long enough so people show up and you can interact with them in a meaningful way and build something lasting.
Part of this is also forgetting about job titles and focusing on the work that should be done. Here’s a brief clip from a longer conversation I had with Nelda Sue Yaw about an idea from my book Keep Going:
The crucial thing, I think, is that if you do get the job title, if you do become something like an “expert” or “professional” in your field, you must retain an amateur’s spirit and remain a student, so that you can benefit from the best thing about having your work out in world: the “free education that goes on for a lifetime.”