Essay I’m Reading — “Still Alive”

Still Alive” by Scott Siskind, better known as “Scott Alexander” (@slatestarcodex). This really struck a chord, and if you are considering growing your audience or “platform,” make this essay part of your required reading. This bullet will be a bit longer and more heated than usual, as it reopened old wounds.

Some of my dear friends are journalists, and they’re wonderful people. They measure twice and cut once. They are thoughtful, unrushed, and considerate, despite organizational pressure and incentives to be the opposite. That takes extraordinary discipline, and it’s fucking hard. It isn’t the path of least resistance, and I admire the hell out of them for doing what is right, despite the uphill path. This includes some amazing humans at the NYT. This praise doesn’t mean that they write fluff pieces; it means they aim to be fair and humane and take the time necessary to think about ethics and the Golden Rule.

That said, there is a great-to-terrible spectrum for any professional group, including surgeons, elementary school teachers, politicians, hot dog vendors, and, yes, even journalists. There are people in all walks of life who are spiteful, narcissistic, harried, or simply uncaring. They do what is easiest and best for them personally, and what is expedient, without thought to those vulnerable to their mistreatment. Perhaps it’s from fatigue, perhaps it’s from outside pressure, perhaps it’s from ill will, but the outcomes are often the same. Sadly, there are journalists who earn a living by repeatedly earning trust and betraying it; they are a minority, but they clearly exist. I don’t say this about anyone referred to in Scott’s essay, as I’m not in the know, but based on my personal experience with hundreds of interviews over 10+ years, plus other authors’ similar experiences. There are great people in the unlikeliest of places, and there are bad apples at even the best publications. Don’t assume a good masthead means you are in safe hands.

This entire essay by Scott can serve as a cautionary tale about public exposure, fame, privacy, and living life. The “don’t kick me in the balls” section speaks to deeper truths and risks of the spotlight. Personally, I’ve been misquoted by tier-one newspapers and even threatened by one writer at a newspaper of record. Why was I threatened? Because I asked that he only include my answers if he quoted them in full, instead of pulling single sound bites out of context, which he’d done before. This was for an online piece, so there were no space constraints. He got very upset and wrote directly, “You are not in control,” and proceeded to explain the power dynamic. Endearing, eh? I immediately saved and drafted that exchange as a just-in-case blog post, which I still have. Thankfully, I didn’t need it then, and I can only guess that he realized the liability of explicitly typing what he did. That’s an edge case. There are tougher cases that don’t leave as obvious a paper trail. For example, I’ve had fact-checkers at a magazine famous for fact-checking *not* make the corrections I provided via phone, which resulted in a grossly inaccurate profile that will sit in Google results for years and probably decades. Lesson learned: only do fact-checking via email. For these reasons and more, I rarely do print interviews any longer, and if I do, I use email or insist on also having recordings of the conversations. Pro tip: ensure you ask to record on your side and have your own audio (via Skype, QuickTime, Zoom, or other), as I’ve also had several writers promise to send their audio and then never do so, despite multiple follow-ups. As Mike Shinoda (@mikeshinoda) says in Fort Minor’s “Get Me Gone”:

“After that I made it a rule:
I only do E-mail responses to print interviews
Because these people love to put a twist to your words
To infer that you said something fucking absurd

Now I’ve got the interviews on file
Which people said what, which number to dial”

Again, in the world of media, as in any group of humans, there are the good, the bad, and the ugly. There are some beautiful humans and some deplorable humans, and a vast majority fall somewhere in between, depending on which side of the bed they wake up on. Plan accordingly. And if you want more scary bedtime stories, alongside some tactical points, consider reading 11 Reasons Not to Become Famous.

Fame, even micro-celebrity, is like a razor-sharp scalpel with no handle; it easily cuts both ways.

[This post originally appeared in the “5-Bullet Friday” newsletter.]

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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9 Replies to “Essay I’m Reading — “Still Alive””

  1. Tim — I see that you included another wonderful Rumi poem in your newsletter. In her recent book about learning Rumi with her Persian father (“The Rumi Prescription”), Melody Moezzi offers this translation of that poem (and many others), which I thought you’d appreciate:

    “Your wounds may summon the light hereto /
    But this sacred light does not come from you.”

    Thanks for so frequently reminding us about Rumi’s transcendent poems.

  2. Though it has nothing to do with this blog post, I saw this quote and thought you might like it, Tim: “I am a lover of what is, not because I’m a spiritual person, but because it hurts when I argue with reality.” – Byron Katie

  3. Thanks for the tips Tim! I’m a visual artist who has been gradually building my audience for the last year or so and these sort of honest blog posts around the topic (along with this one - & 1000 true fans) have helped steer me in the right direction. Much appreciated man. Keep up the good work!

  4. Excellent book recommendations and I love opening my in box to read your “5-Bullet Friday” posts. Something I truly look forward to.

  5. I love your 5-Bullet Friday posts – something I look forward to every week. I’m an avid reader, hoping to one day put my writing “out into the world”, and I dabble in watercolour sketching.
    Your advice for business, creatives and on life in general is spot on and I learn something valuable each time I read what you have written.
    Thank you for sharing.

  6. Dear Mr Ferriss, thanks so much for ‘Tools o T.”, your weekly blogs and recommendations! You have no idea how much encouragement your work gave me during my toughest years. Regarding your latest blog… Just this morning, I found this quote which supports what you are saying: “There are two races of man…only these two..the “race” of the decent…and of the indecent. Both are found every where…No group consists entirely of decent or indecent. In this sense, no group is of “pure” race.”
    Victor Frankle: Man’s Search for Meaning

  7. Referring to the repost of Rumi´s poem in last 5 bullet Friday:
    I have something in a similar vein for strength in dire times, partly inspired by your wording, your story. Any thoughts on that?
    (I am not a native speaker)

    Seasoned for enduring

    Keep your head up, love
    keep your heart clear
    Kill your darlings, burn
    with bitter vigor
    sharpen your senses, purge
    by virtue of choice
    release your stride to lengthen
    an integral of sincerity
    splits open
    face your raw spirits, bleed
    in generous indifferent
    truly rich
    find your reflection lifted
    quenched by a salty essence

  8. Fellow Wrestler!

    Tim, I have found that many people I meet and ultimately call friends most times I find out that we share the common empathy of finding solace in the great conversations held around a hot shower after a two hour beating.

    I read your Workweek book back in the day and last month I found your podcast last month and now listen to it daily on my runs. I am reaching out to you as I hear snippets of your personal life in some of your interviews and wanted you give you my thoughts that might help you in your decisions about marriage and children.

    My wife and best friend, Nancy, and I met in New York 41 years. I was her waiter in a mid-town restaurant. Three months later we were married…Make it easy and fun and don’t over think stuff

    we did not have kids for 13 years because Nancy was on Lithium and it did not work for pregnancy however once she got off we had two sons within 18 months…They are truly our best friends

    Of course there are challenges, Nancy has suffered from depression all her life and Just recently fell down the stairs and is now paralyzed. Also, one of our sons, Gable was just diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 25… and our oldest, Hagan has just got 3 months of sobriety at 29. But, the Journey is glorious and I truly only really remember the good memories ( both our sons were fierce wrestlers as well as loving and compassionate men…both very creative like my wife… one is a rapper and the other is an artist and both are entrepreneurs. In short, we gave them limitless love and mindset to never quit in the face of adversity…as a man, Tim, I am grateful for my family and the decisions I made to make the jump to marriage and family. If you and your partner are each others best friends… everything will work out…let me know if you ever want to talk.


    PS keep your hips low and your elbows in!