Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Mark Manson (@IAmMarkManson), a three-time #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck as well as other titles. His books have sold nearly 20 million copies worldwide and have reached number one in more than a dozen countries.
Since 2008, he has written articles at MarkManson.net, one of the largest personal-development blogs in the world, with more than a million monthly readers. In 2023, a feature film about him and his work will be released in theaters by Universal Pictures. See SubtleArtMovie.com for more details, and click here for the trailer.
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With many episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
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Tim Ferriss: Hello, boys and girls, ladies and germs. This is Tim Ferriss. Welcome to another episode of The Tim Ferriss Show, where it is my job to deconstruct world class performers from all different walks of life, all different arenas, to tease out the habits, lessons learned, et cetera, that you can apply to your own lives.
My guest today, long overdue, is Mark Manson. You can find him all over the webs, including on Twitter @IAmMarkManson. Mark is a three time number-one New York Times bestselling author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, maybe you’ve heard of it as well as other titles. His books have sold nearly two zero, 20 million copies worldwide, and have reached number one in more than a dozen countries. Since 2008, he has written articles at MarkManson.net, one of the largest personal development blogs in the world, with more than a million monthly readers. In 2023, a feature film about him and his work will be released in theaters by Universal Pictures. We’ll link to everything in the show notes as per usual at tim.blog/podcast. Mark, welcome to the show. Nice to see you.
Mark Manson: It’s a pleasure. Happy to be here.
Tim Ferriss: I read this profile of you in New York Mag, and it shared many different stories and I want to dig into maybe certain aspects of that. But what I’d be curious to hear, just off the cuff, because a lot has happened in your life in the last five to seven years, what have been some of the most difficult changes to get accustomed to or default behaviors to modify now that your reality has changed?
Mark Manson: Oh, man. I mean, I feel like we could do the entire show just on this. You could do probably do an entire episode. Maybe you could get an all-star guest list of what people don’t tell you about success.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, let’s do it.
Mark Manson: So one thing, the most surprising thing and the most difficult thing at the same time was The Subtle Art of not Giving a Fuck, came out in 2016, it hit number one early 2017. And by mid 2017 it was just off to the races. I think it sold two or three million copies just that year. And for me, it was very strange. I mean obviously there was a lot of happiness and joy, but for me, it was very strange, because as a young author with their first traditionally published book, I had all of these long-term goals and dreams and visions for myself of I’m going to be writing till I’m 50, and maybe one day I’ll be on the Times list and maybe one day I’ll get invited on a morning show. And I hit all those dreams in three months, basically.
And so my surprise is that there was just this profound kind of emptiness on the other side of that, of, “Oh, what do I dream now? What do I hope for in my future?” And so very unexpectedly, I spiraled into a little bit of a funk, a little bit of a depression. And the worst thing about that type of depression is nobody wants to hear you talk about it.
Tim Ferriss: There’s no tears shed.
Mark Manson: Yes, no sympathy whatsoever. Like, “Oh, boohoo, poor author, sold three million books,” or whatever. And so it really caught me off guard. And there was a little bit, there was imposter syndrome, which I think comes with any sort of monumental success. There was a little bit of what do I do now? How do I follow this up? A lot of insecurity of am I ever going to do anything this meaningful or noteworthy again? And I struggled with that for a number of years, and that was just on the emotional and personal side. That doesn’t even get into relationships and money.
I feel like it’s almost like a prerequisite to being “wealthy” is you have to spend money on something stupid that you regret. I just feel like that is a non-negotiable. You’re not really wealthy until you’ve done that at some point. So I went through a couple of those experiences.
Tim Ferriss: What would be the most notable?
Mark Manson: A fucking house. The funny thing about me is I’m very minimalist. I’m very Spartan. I don’t really like to have a lot of possessions, but for some reason when it was time to buy a house, I’m like, “You know what? Let’s just get all the rooms. I have nothing to put in them, but let’s get them all.” And that was just an unbelievable mistake that really made my life a headache for a while.
Tim Ferriss: What are some of the things… And just so people listening understand where I’m probably going with this, there is a meandering path, but there is a path, is I want to talk about the present tense and then I’m going to rewind and do, I don’t want to call it a life review, but look at some of the trajectory at least insofar as I’ve been able to observe it in the course of watching you do what you’ve done from the sidelines, but also having done research for the conversation. So present tense though, building on what we were just talking about. What are some of the things you thought you wanted or needed that you got and you were like, “Huh”?
Mark Manson: I would say actually the biggest thing, and this is kind of a broad thing, but I think you and I are very similar in that we started as online blog guys. And I think when you come up in the internet world, even if you amass a very large audience, at least for me, there was always a little bit of this chip on my shoulder of I’m not a real writer. I don’t have an article in a magazine. There hasn’t been a profile on me in a newspaper. And there seemed to be kind of an invisible wall between me and that world.
And so for a number of years I really, really wanted that, for lack of a better term, mainstream media attention. Just that nod of respect of like, “Yeah, kid, you did it.” And when I started getting that and started working and engaging with a lot of legacy media, I was like, “Wow, this sucks. I miss my blog. I miss the emails from my readers. I don’t want to do this. This is such a pain in the ass.” We have Zoom calls with 11 people on them, and I don’t know who half the people are. So that’s been a pretty eye-opening thing the last few years.
Tim Ferriss: And to flesh out the current state, most people listening will have heard about Universal Pictures or have some passing familiarity, “Oh, maybe I saw that at the beginning of a movie, I think.” Yes, you did. Not a small entity. And I would love to know how this feature film came to be. How did it come together? And related to that, what does your current team look like? Not only including any full-time employees, but also agents, managers, et cetera. Just what does that constellation look like?
Mark Manson: Well, the film, I kind of Forrest Gumped my way in to. After the book blew up a bunch of studios started sending offers to my agent and-
Tim Ferriss: For sure. To your book agent.
Mark Manson: Yes. To my book agent. And I know you know this, but for everybody else, it’s pretty common for film and TV studios to buy up rights to bestselling books without any intention of actually doing anything with them. It’s kind of just like a land grab. Just in case, so-and-so director one day is like, “I love that book. I want to do a thing with it.” They already own it. So out of all these offers that came through, there was some pretty off the wall stuff. There was some stuff that I couldn’t ever imagine myself doing. And I told my agent, I said, “If we do any of these deals, it’s really important… The only reason I think I’m ever going to do a film or a movie or film or a TV show is to simply spread these same ideas to people who don’t read books. To me, that’s the only reason to do this.”
So when the offer for a documentary came through from a production company that specializes in documentaries and has done a bunch of them based on books before, to me, it just seemed like a very logical fit. I was like, “Okay, if I was to ever have a movie that is the kind of project that I would do. I would feel good about.” My agent told me, she said, “These things never get made. Don’t get your hopes up.” I was like, “Okay, cool. I’ve never had any ambition to have a movie or be in the movies.” So I was like, “Cool,” kind of forgot about it.
Like a year and a half goes by and I get a phone call and it’s the production company, and they’re like, “Guess what? We got financed by Universal.” And I was like, “Okay, what does that mean?” And they’re like, “You’re going to have a movie, you idiot. Do you want to be in it?” And I was like, “Sure, why not?” And then from there, next thing I know, I’m on a plane. I’m flying down the New Zealand. I’m meeting with the production company. I’m meeting with directors.
Tim Ferriss: Was New Zealand due to COVID? Is that why it was in New Zealand?
Mark Manson: Yes, it was. The production company is actually based in New Zealand, but we were originally going to do it in New York. But then when COVID happened, I used it also as an opportunity to just get the hell away from COVID.
So during this whole process, they’re telling me, “We’re going to have a theatrical release. We’re going to take it to festivals. We’re going to do this. We’re going to do that.” And I don’t know, and I’m sure we’re going to talk about Will later, but maybe from being around Will, I just became jaded of Hollywood people. I was just like, “Yeah, sure,” while not really believing it. And sure enough, we’re a month out and it’s coming out, and it’s going to have a limited theatrical release. It’s going to be available online.
And I seem to be the one who’s like, “Wait, this is actually happening.” It’s one of those projects that I can’t take a ton of credit for consciously navigating myself into. I don’t have the three bullet points of how to get your movie made. I wish I did, but-
Tim Ferriss: Step one, have an unexpected global bestseller.
Mark Manson: Yes. Step one, sell 10 million books.
Tim Ferriss: Step two, wait for a lot of inbound.
Mark Manson: Not very reproducible. In terms of your question about team, so I have my agent at CAA and she’s phenomenal. She’s amazing. And the amazing thing about her being at CAA is that it opens up all these crossover opportunities into film, into TV. It’s how I ended up doing Will’s book, or a big part of why I ended up doing Will’s book. So she’s great. I have my web team, which is four full-time people. I have a researcher. I have a content guy. That is his official title, content guy, because he just wears a lot of hats and he kind of makes everything run. I have a tech developer, tech/development guy, and then I have a social media manager and it’s all in-house. Everything we do is in-house. All the design, the tech stuff, the promotion, the marketing, everything. We use a few freelancers, if we’re doing video content, stuff like that. But, yeah, that’s the team right now.
Tim Ferriss: Number of follow-up questions on this, the web team, you said four full-time people.
Mark Manson: Yep.
Tim Ferriss: Now is that including the researcher, content guy, tech, and social? Or is that in addition to, so you end up having seven or eight full-time folks?
Mark Manson: No, those are the four positions that are full-time.
Tim Ferriss: I see. I see. Got it. Got it. What does the researcher do? I mean, I know they do research, but what type of research?
Mark Manson: So I don’t have a graduate degree in psychology, yet, I consistently find myself in the sticky situation of having to say something that feels somewhat authoritative. I mean, I’m sure you’re in this position a lot too.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, sure.
Mark Manson: At a certain point I just went out and hired people with graduate degrees in psychology, and said, “Look, can you just make sure I’m not putting my foot in my mouth or giving terrible advice?” So a lot of times I’ll go to her and I’ll say, “I’ve been thinking about an article on, say, the negative side effects of self-esteem. Can you go out there, find all the research and data, what are the studies? Are they good studies? Were they done well? And then just summarize it for me.” And then if I want to dig into it with her, I can. She’s been invaluable. It’s almost like outsourcing a piece of my brain to somebody. And it’s been very helpful.
Tim Ferriss: And I’m asking about the team out of personal curiosity of course, but also because I enjoy and benefit from hearing how people think about teams. For instance, I’ll give you an example, Kevin Kelly, arguably the most interesting man in the world, people should look him up, kk.org. Also, the author of a famous article called 1000 True Fans, which I encourage everybody to read. And he said to me once, explained to me rather that he has an assistant and then he has a researcher, but they’re not the same person. And he said in his experience very often to optimize for one or the other, you will find that they are somewhat mutually exclusive. In other words, the traits are somewhat mutually exclusive.
Now, I don’t know if I agree or disagree with that, but it was an interesting observation based on the pattern recognition from someone I respect. So how did you choose full-time versus contractor? Or internal versus external would be another way to put it, I suppose.
Mark Manson: Some of this is personal preference. I like working long-term with people. I like finding exceptional talent, paying them very well, and then sticking with them over a long period of time. So I’ve never had an employee leave. And two of my guys, one’s been with me for 10 years, one’s been with me for almost nine, and then the other two have been with me for about three or four, which in the web world is crazy. That’s like crazy [crosstalk].
Tim Ferriss: It’s eternity.
Mark Manson: And I have entrepreneur friends with online businesses and they look at me and they’re like, “Are you nuts? You could pay these people half as much.” I’m like, “Yeah, but I’d be hiring every six months.”
Tim Ferriss: It’d be a Faustian bargain. Yeah, you’d be paying for it with your time, for sure.
Mark Manson: Exactly. And I also just, there’s something to be said with the trust and loyalty. I don’t know how you measure that, but there’s the trust and loyalty that comes with working with somebody for 10 years. So two days before we’re recording this, we completely redesigned my site and relaunched my newsletter. It was a multi-month project, and I know the guys that I have, I know I don’t have to look over their shoulder. I know they’re going to get it done. I know it’s going to be well done. And a lot of that is simply because I’ve been with them for so long and they’ve been with me for so long.
Tim Ferriss: I feel the same way, which is why I have full-time team. In addition to contractors, I do use freelancers and contractors. How did you find the members of your team? And we don’t necessarily have to go one by one, but do you have a particular approach to sourcing talent?
Mark Manson: Yes. So I always find them through my email list and my subscribers. I’ve tried through kind of conventional job searching venues, and you get so much extra leverage from, I guess, the fan relationship. Generally, every time I ask for applications through my own audience, the people who apply are almost comically overqualified and the talent level is through the roof. And a lot of that is just, they love my work, they’ve been reading it for years, and that earns you a lot of clout.
Tim Ferriss: It does. That makes sense. And do you mail out a link to a page with a job description? Do you just simply put it at the end of one of your newsletters. You’re like, “Hey, by the way, I’m looking for this.” Is it dedicated? How do you do it?
Mark Manson: So I will create a temporary page for the position. I usually go through three steps. So I have the initial application, it asks for the generic stuff, resume, cover letter. I’ll usually ask a few cute questions in there. What are your three favorite books? What was the last risk that you took, major risk you took in your life, and what happened? Things like that. Although, as the years have gone on, I’m discovering that those questions aren’t really great filters. So I’ll do that. That’s kind of the first round. I’ll get hundreds and hundreds of applications, and then I narrow it down to say 20 to 30 people.
Tim Ferriss: Do you review all of those yourself?
Mark Manson: So sometimes I will have a team member kind of go through and just be anything-
Tim Ferriss: Putting highlights.
Mark Manson: Yeah. Or anything that doesn’t… Because I’ll set standards on the application page. So I’ll tell them, “Anything that doesn’t meet the application standards just kick out.” So this most recent round of hire, I’m hiring a video team to start doing more video content, and I asked for at least three years of professional full-time experience in some form of whether it’s TV, film, YouTube, whatever. And sure enough, you get 200 applications from people who have never held a camera before, but they’re really ready to learn. They can’t wait to learn, Tim. So it’s nice to have somebody to just go and mark those all red for me.
Tim Ferriss: They want a scholarship ride to graduate school at Manson University.
Mark Manson: Exactly. Exactly. So I’ll filter those down to 20 to 30 strong candidates, people who meet the requirements and seem smart and talented and driven. And then I’ll actually give them a few small pieces of work to do, like, example tasks similar to what the position is hiring for. And I’ll give them a deadline to meet it at. And it’s always funny, because there’s always at least two or three people who immediately complain about this. And they say, “This is slave labor. You’re taking advantage of us. You’re using us to crowdsource ideas for yourself.”
Which is silly, because, I mean, I understand why they think that, but I think anybody who is in our industry understands that ideas aren’t the thing that matter. And so from that, I’ll narrow it down to three to five people, and then those people I’ll do face-to-face Zoom interviews, until I find the one that feels like the right fit.
Tim Ferriss: What are you looking for in the interviews?
Mark Manson: So by the time they get to the interview, it is, they’ve basically shown that they are completely qualified to do the work. They’re probably going to do a great job. The interviews for me, it’s 99% looking for intangibles, looking for personality, character. I usually try to get a sense of what their values are, get a sense of how resilient they are. Do they take responsibility for themselves? A little bit about their background, things like that. But also just like, do I get along with them? Do I like talking to them? Do we have a sense of humor that meshes well? Things like that.
Tim Ferriss: Makes sense. Last question on the team. And there’s a point to all this, people listening, part of which is just satisfying my own interest, big part of which. But CAA, this agent, there are a lot of agents and you’ve got quite a few three letter acronyms to choose from, right? You’ve got CAA, WME, UTA, and there are many other boutique agencies and so on. A lot of people out there who could ostensibly probably do a pretty good job. Many who would promise the moon and do a terrible job. But how specifically did you decide on this agent that you work with at CAA?
Mark Manson: That’s actually a great question. So my blog blew up in 2013, 2014. It kind of went from maybe a hundred thousand readers to a million, million and a half. And around that time, agents and publishers started coming knocking, asking if I wanted to turn some of my work into a book. And at that time, again, homegrown internet guy. I self-published my first book. I’ve been selling online courses since 2010. I’ve always had a little bit of an irrational, I want to do it myself mentality. But back then I had a very, very irrational, I want to do it myself mentality.
So a lot of my calls with these editors and agents was basically me just being a bit of a dick and being like, “Why should I publish a book at all? Why shouldn’t I just self-publish. I get way more royalties or whatever?” And it was funny, because pretty much everybody in the publishing industry kind of stumbled over that question. They couldn’t really give me a satisfying answer.
So my agent, her name’s Mollie, at the time, she wasn’t at CAA, she was at a small boutique agency in New York. So I get on the phone with her and we start having a conversation, and she’s constantly interrupting me, she’s constantly talking over me. She’s very aggressive and assertive, and to the point that I’m getting a little bit uncomfortable talking to her. And so I throw out my gotcha question, “Why should I even publish a book at all? I can self-publish a book and keep all the royalties for myself?” And she kind of sat there silently, and she was like, “Well, figure out what the hell you want to do. Stop wasting my time. Call me if you want to publish a book,” and hung up on me.
And I was like, “Goddamn, all right.” And a couple hours go by and I start thinking to myself, I’m like, “That’s who I want bargaining on my behalf. If I have a six or seven figure negotiation with somebody, I want her on my team.” So I called her back and I said, “I’m in.” And she’s a total rockstar in her field. And it was, again, Forrest Gump moment. So right before Subtle Art came out, she called me and she said, “Hey, I just want to let you know I’m moving to a new agency. Nothing’s going to change. I’m going over to CAA.” And I was like, “Oh, cool, what’s CAA?” And she kind of thought I was joking, I guess, she didn’t answer me. And I remember, I googled CAA and if you go to their website, it just has a snail mail address. There’s literally nothing on their website.
Tim Ferriss: There’s nothing. Yeah. So for folks wondering if they don’t know, it’s Creative Artists Agency, it’s one of the largest, suppose we could call it, talent agencies in the world. They represent a lot of the-
Mark Manson: Everybody.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, top tier, A grade celebrities you would recognize.
Mark Manson: And it was maybe a week later, I was talking to my editor and he goes, “Hey, congrats.” And I was like, “For what?” And he goes, “Mollie moving to CAA.” I was like, “Yeah, why are you telling me congrats?” And he just looked at me like I was the biggest fucking idiot. He’s like, “Manson, you just won the lottery.”
Tim Ferriss: Well, speaking of winning the lottery, let’s talk about, and this is going to be a bit of a strained metaphor, but putting yourself in a position where at least you have a chance at winning the lottery. And I’m going to further confuse matters by reading a paragraph from a Wikipedia entry on a video game, and this will hopefully make some sense for people in a second. There’s a video game called, and I don’t know how it’s pronounced in English actually, but Katamari Damacy in English, but in Japanese, it’s Katamari Damashii, which literally means clump spirit.
And the reason I learned about this video game was in a presentation by Matt Cutts, who at the time was at Google and he was giving a presentation, I think it was at the State of the Word, or an annual WordPress meetup. I could be getting those specifics wrong, but I was there. And he described how he observed people building audiences over time.
This is where we’re going to go through the looking glass and go back in time with your story. But here’s the plot, this is directly from Wikipedia. “The game’s plot concerns a diminutive prince.” I’m not saying you’re a diminutive prince. “The game’s plot concerns a diminutive prince on a mission to rebuild the stars, constellations, and moon, which were inadvertently destroyed by his father, the King of All Cosmos. This is achieved by rolling a magical, highly adhesive ball called a katamari around various locations, collecting increasingly larger objects, this is the key part, ranging from thumbtacks to human beings to mountains, until the ball has grown large enough to become a star,” goes on and on. So that’s Katamari Damashii, at least in Japanese, I suspect they changed the spelling D-A-M-A-C-Y, so they could trademark it. But that’s a side note.
All right, Matt’s point was, when you first start, you are generally, in these success stories he has seen, starting very small with a ball that’s rolling up thumbtacks, and then eventually it gets a little bit bigger and you move to larger objects, and then you get to humans, then you get to mountains and so on. And I thought maybe we could start, if you’re open to it with you telling the backstory on a character, maybe not a character, a person named Entropy. Could you explain who Entropy is or was?
Mark Manson: Oh my God.
Tim Ferriss: And then walk us through the development, because it seems to parallel this video game. In actually a very similar way that my trajectory has mirrored this video game in a sense, the metaphor at least. So Entropy, who is Entropy?
Mark Manson: Oh, God. Well, ironically enough, it was originally my gaming handle when I was in high school, but it was my, I guess, you could call it a pseudonym of my first blog. I started blogging, my roommate had a blog in college, and he and I, the pickup artist thing was popular at the time, and so there was a lot of kind of writing, like, “Oh, I went on a date last weekend, this is what happened.” And him and another friend of mine were kind of always egging me to, “Start a blog, dude. Start a blog.” And it was really just because we all read each other’s stories and stuff, and they wanted to read mine. So that’s actually how it first started, was just my roommate peer pressuring me into sharing stupid drunk things I did, as a-
Tim Ferriss: And what year is this roughly?
Mark Manson: This was 2007.
Tim Ferriss: 2007. Okay.
Mark Manson: … I was 23, and doing things at 23-year-olds do. And again, Forrest Gumping my way into it, at that stage, there was no ambition or kind of vision for this. It’s just the cool thing that my friends want me to do. And I enjoyed it too, I found. That was kind of actually the first point in my life that I discovered, “Hey, it’s really fun to sit down and write something just because you enjoy it, not because it’s a term paper or whatever.” So that went on for about a year and I don’t think the “readership” was probably never more than a dozen people. But then something strange started happening, which is, people that I had never met started reading it and commenting on it, and I have no idea how these people found me or where they came from.
And that was a little bit mind blowing to me. And it was around that time I started to get very curious… So this also coincides, I was out just out of school, the Great Recession was going on, so there were no jobs anywhere. I was basically living on a friend’s couch. And it kind of opened up this idea of, “Hey, there’s internet stuff you can do. This blogging thing is actually a thing. You can promote products and get commissions, you can put ads on your site. You can make a little bit of chump change, if you think about it and are strategic about it.” And this story’s going to lead to you, Tim, I got to warn you.
Tim Ferriss: Uh-oh. Uh-oh.
Mark Manson: So I started getting curious about, I guess, you would call it kind of the online marketing, online blogging world. And it was around that time I discovered The 4-Hour Workweek. I think it had just come out or been out for a year or something.
Tim Ferriss: That was April 2007 it came out. Seems like a lifetime ago.
Mark Manson: I found that and I read it. So to your credit, I read that book and it blew open my mind in terms of what the possibilities were. I was just like, “Oh, my God, you could do all sorts of shit online and automate this stuff. Oh my God, I’m going to be living in Argentina and this is going to be great.” I’m like, “Sign me up, dude. Here, I’ll go buy…”
Tim Ferriss: Argentina, here I come.
Mark Manson: Exactly. I had a very love-hate experience with that book, but in hindsight, both were good. The love side of it was… It just opened my mind to so many possibilities. The hate side of it was, I thought it was going to be so much easier. The way you described some of those examples, I’m like, “Oh yes, this was a month tops.” Meanwhile, a year and a half later, I’m still grinding 12 hours a day. I went through a period of, “God damn that Tim Ferriss, what the hell was I thinking?” You and I have had a complicated relationship, you’re not aware of most of it, but…
Tim Ferriss: Oh, tell me.
Mark Manson: No, I mean, it was a difficult but very, very rewarding period in terms of just trying all these different websites, blogs, SEO pages, and AdSense pages, and 90% of it doesn’t work. Then, the 10% that works, it brings in $100 a month and you’re like, “Okay, well if I can just do 10 more of those, maybe that gets me somewhere.” It’s one of those grinds that you look back with some nostalgia and romance… There’s a little bit of romance to it. I don’t think I’d ever be able to stomach it today, but as a broke 25-year-old, I’m really proud of it.
Tim Ferriss: What was the website, or the primary websites at the time?
Mark Manson: Oh man. Back then, Google was rewarding blogs. The idea was you build up a blog, you create a bunch of articles about whatever the topic is, you get a little bit of traffic, and then you either put ads or do affiliate links. I had a blog for Feng Shui, I had a blog for teeth whitening strategies, I had a blog for… God, I’m trying to remember, mixology and bartending. Keep in mind half the stuff I didn’t actually know anything about, I just Googled other stuff and rewrote it. It was not the greatest work I’ve ever done, but in a way, it was putting in the hours. Meanwhile, I had the Entropy blog, which was still writing about my dating life. Ironically, I guess I had to learn this the hard way, that was the thing that actually caught traction because it was the thing that I actually cared about and I actually thought about a lot from my day-to-day.
Tim Ferriss: Probably also enjoyed writing about more so than teeth whitening and Feng Shui.
Mark Manson: Yes, 100 times more.
Tim Ferriss: Not to knock either one of those.
Mark Manson: Going to get a lot of dentist hate mail coming to you.
Tim Ferriss: I don’t want to miff the teeth whitening young-adult novel writers out there.
Mark Manson: That’s what started to take off. I kind of found myself… In college, I dabbled in the pickup artist stuff. As my blog started to get accepted in those circles, guys started asking me to coach them, they wanted to do calls, they wanted to meet up with me, they wanted to bring me down to New York and go out to bars with me. As a guy with nothing else going on, that was really enticing, it was really exciting. I kind of got sucked into that world for about, I’d say a year, a year and a half, and then was pretty strongly turned off by it. It felt very… Obviously there was a lot of toxic advice in that industry, but also just the dynamics of everything was so performative. Nobody actually really cared if you were having a good time or not, nobody cared if the woman you met was really smart or interesting or funny. It was just like, “Did you make out with her? Did you get her phone number? No. All right, you’re not on the scoreboard tonight.”
That was kind of the extent of their thinking, and so I started to become pretty grossed out by it. But also at the same time, I realized that there was very much an opportunity to integrate some of those more healthy emotional elements into it. I rebranded my website, my little blog as Practical Pickup. I started using my real name. I started promoting honesty, vulnerability, actually giving a shit about who you’re talking to instead of just trying to press the right buttons to get her into bed. I guess you would say that was another… That’s when that ball started picking up bigger and bigger items.
Tim Ferriss: Started broadening the scope.
Let me ask you, this just popped into my head, and I’ll give a confession first. If I go back and look at the oldest versions of my blog over time, they’re awful. Some of them are really, really hard on the eyes, and that is not what I’m going to say about my question coming right now. But I’m curious, am I making this up that on one of your blogs in the early days, there’s a photo of you with a very low cut V-neck shirt on it? Am I making that up? It just popped into my head. Is that a real thing?
Mark Manson: I had a goofy picture of me with a scarf and sunglasses. Tim, you’re bringing out… This is the douche-y 25-year-old Mark you’re pulling out here.
Tim Ferriss: No, I’m not… I want to clarify my intentions here. I want to clarify my intentions. My intention is to show how this ball works in practice, to use the video game analogy, in the same way that I started with very narrow… At least in the blog capacity, I started a very narrow tech audience focused productivity slot. That’s where I focused. Really, I was speaking almost directly to people in Silicon Valley where I lived at the time. It was very, very narrow. Then, it expanded, and after the success of the first book, I realized I didn’t want to get painted into the corner of being the X hour work week guy forever, but I had the optionality at that point, which might not come again to try something totally different because I knew publishers would take the gamble just based on the audience that I built, so I did The 4-Hour Body, and then it started to expand from there.
I want to perhaps provide a little bit of historical context also for the time that we’re discussing. In 2005, I want to say, The Game by Neil Strauss came out, somewhere around there. Then, I want to say it was in that same range, 2005, 2006 that I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell came out by Tucker Max. No matter what people feel about the content in those books and the subject matter covered, both of those got a lot of young men, or let’s say boys on the verge of becoming me, late adolescence, writing for the first time. Then, both authors, Tucker Max and Neil Strauss, ended up doing their own version of rolling this ball afterwards. My intention here is to point out, in a sense, how much went into contributing to where you are today, not saying you would replicate it if you attempted to in the same way. But that’s why I’m going through this backstory, because also… I’m sort of showing the punchline in a sense, and I’d be interested to know if you think this is a fair comment.
A lot of folks, especially I think right now when they’re able to study or at least see supposed case studies of people becoming these overnight successes on platforms like TikTok and so on, they dramatically overestimate what they are capable of doing in three months, but they dramatically underestimate what they would be capable of doing in three years, let’s say. That’s why we’re having this conversation in part because a lot of folks are like, “Oh, Mark Manson, that’s the Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck guy. Oh my God, huge mega bestseller. I’m so glad that he did that, and what a genius.” You may very well be a genius, but I want to provide the backstory to the genius, if that makes sense.
Mark Manson: For sure. There’s 10 years of quiet iteration behind that big breakthrough success.
Tim Ferriss: Going from $100 a month with teeth whitening and Feng Shui to writing a book with Will Smith, that’s a dramatic transition, but it’s not a one-step phase shift, right? It’s this sort of incremental build, and that’s the picture that I’m trying to paint. When did you go from then the pickup expanded into honesty, vulnerability, and then bleeding into relationships to broader advice?
Mark Manson: The transitions happened… The pickup stuff kind of started 2009, I’d say, the honesty, vulnerability stuff the next year, 2010. Then, what I realized I think in either late 2012 or early 2013, something really strange happened, which is I realized that 25, 30% of my audience was female, which is bizarre because I’m explicitly writing men’s dating advice and it is written in a way that it’s dudes in a locker room talking to each other. But I kept getting emails from women saying, “I don’t relate to this or that, but this advice you gave about boundaries is the best thing I’ve ever heard. It’s better than any female advice that I’ve ever seen.” I started getting email after email of that. It occurred to me that it no longer made sense to limit myself to simply writing for men.
I took that step, the further step of just rebranding to just my name, I’m going to write for everybody, and initially it was mostly dating and relationship advice. But the other thing I started to notice around that time as well… By then I had been writing, dating, and relationship stuff for five years, and when you really dig down into it, there’s no such thing as a dating problem. Every dating problem is simply a personal emotional/trauma/baggage problem that’s manifesting as a dating problem.
Tim Ferriss: For sure.
It’s a human problem.
Mark Manson: It’s just a human problem. I was like, “I don’t really think it’s valuable for me to sit here and write things like top five first date locations,” whatever. I should be talking about this deeper level stuff because that is what everybody seems to be struggling with. That was also part of the transition of getting into I guess what you would call more traditional personal development topics.
Tim Ferriss: If we then flash forward, so we have this blurry Austin Powers kind of transition, and we end up, I believe… Tell me if I’m getting this right, January 8th, 2015. I may be getting this right. Blog post, 2,354 words, I believe, so this is the big one. This is the mother lode. My question is, before the blog post became the Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, what other names did you consider for that, if you even remember? And/or how did you just end up with the title? Because you think a lot about wordsmithing and crafting, I know you spent time on this, and I know you have spent a lot of time thinking about headlines and titles. What was the process of getting to that?
Mark Manson: There’s not really a way to answer that without going back a little bit and talking about what that era of social media was and what my whole process was back then. I think I had my first mega viral post in 2012, early 2013. It took a while for everybody to figure out, but it was right around then that Facebook turned on the spigot of reach for outside published material. Facebook decided that they wanted to be the newspaper for everybody, and so if you were able to write an attention-grabbing headline, a little bit of copy, have an intriguing image, you would just go crazy on that platform. The big growth spurt that happened in my audience was on Facebook from 2013 to 2015. Subtle Art was actually one of the last viral articles I had in a series of probably eight or 10 very viral articles over that two-year period. I discovered this and then started refining a process, and as you pointed out, a huge part of the process was title.
I just realized the title is almost as important as the entire article itself, so I started spending hours just writing out dozens and dozens of titles. I also just kept around title ideas that I had. I just had a Google Doc that I’d be out at dinner with a friend, he’d make a joke, and I’m like, “That’d be a really good article title,” and I’d pull out my phone and jot it down on the Google Doc. The Subtle Art, the title had been sitting on that Google Doc for a while. I’m a big metal fan, and the band, Lamb of God, has a song called The Subtle Arts of Murder and Persuasion. It was right around that time… I forget, I had a couple articles with… Another thing about Facebook’s algorithm at the time, I noticed that if I just put Fuck in the title, you would get 50% more juice.
Tim Ferriss: Turbo Boost.
Mark Manson: Yes, exactly. It was like a cheat code for Facebook. I was looking for… My mind was already in a spot where I’m looking…
Tim Ferriss: Back in the wholesome, good ol’ days. The F word, oh my God.
Mark Manson: I was already existing in a head-space where I’m always on a lookout for a clever use of the F word. I was listening, I was a huge fan of Lamb of God, and that song comes on my iPhone or whatever, the Subtle Arts of Murder and Persuasion, and I was like, “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck.” I was like, “Wow, that’s really catchy.” Then, it sat on the document for a while, and then it’s actually funny how the article got written. It sat there for many months, I never really felt the inspiration to do something with it. Then, there was a period that holiday, the Christmas and New Year’s right before that… As you said, it came out January 8th, that holiday was really shitty for a variety of personal reasons. It was just one of those Christmas holidays that you’re like, “Fuck, why do I have a family? Do I have to spend time with these people?”
I was coming out of that in a pretty bummed-out state. My wife, who I was not engaged to yet at the time, there was Visa trouble so she was stuck in Brazil. I was actually in Austin, I was sitting alone and basically just moping in Austin for a few weeks. When I get mopey, I get very, very snarky and bitingly sarcastic. It was time to write an article, and I pull up the list and I see that title and I’m like, “You know what? I am going to write the most offensive, profane thing I can possibly imagine, but I’m also going to give the best possible advice that I imagine I can give. I’m going to combine the two things, and I just want to create that dissonance in people.” I wrote it and I thought it was completely over the top and ridiculous. Sometimes when you write something, I’m sure you have this experience, you can’t really tell if it’s good or not, you’re too close to it.
Tim Ferriss: Yes, you’re too close to it.
Mark Manson: I put it away, I woke up the next day, I was still unsure about it, and I sent it to my content guy, official title, who also kind of acts as an editor for me. I told him, I was like, “I don’t even know if I want to post this, it’s pretty ridiculous.” He came back on Slack in all caps and he was like, “You can fire me, I’m posting this fucking thing.” He’s like, “This is the best thing. We have to post this.” Sure enough, he was right. It went absolutely crazy, it was everywhere.
Tim Ferriss: Yes, I remember that. I do remember that. The banner with the kitten thinking, all that. I remember seeing that when it came out, and I was like, “That’s a really, really good headline.” It was a good piece too. But I remember thinking, “Man.” Every once in a while, it could be an album, it could be… This hearkens back to my early days when I had the sports nutrition company and was doing now what would be called D2C, but lots of paid advertising, so I needed headlines to work. I was also working with very expensive long-lead publications like magazines. Good Lord, you think it’s hard to zig-and-zag online, man, with that type of lag time, it’s brutal. I developed an affection for really, really good titles and headlines. I was like, “Man, that’s a gold medal right there.”
Out of curiosity, of the eight or so articles that you had go mega viral in a two-year period, which especially in the context of that time, is a very high hit rate. I mean, thinking back to that time, I was on the playing field, that’s a very high hit rate. How many of those started with a headline and then became an article, because I would imagine most people who write, write something and then try to come up with the headline? Oftentimes I think that will be the case.
Mark Manson: I would say half, it was probably 50/50.
Tim Ferriss: What was second place in terms of virality, do you remember?
Mark Manson: Second place was Seven Strange Questions That Help You Find Your Life Purpose. Then, the number one question was, “What is Your Favorite Flavor of Shit Sandwich, and Does it Have an Olive?”
Tim Ferriss: Oh, the questions, the questions. Things go completely cuckoo bananas. Watching it from, I suppose I was saying the sidelines, but kind of front row seats because I was tracking things in the blogosphere, roughly speaking, quite closely because I was still so involved.
Mark Manson: We’re in the same space, we have mutual friends.
Tim Ferriss: Oh yeah, it would make sense [inaudible]. How many blog posts have you written, do you have any idea?
Mark Manson: Well, I think the site still houses about 250, but a lot of them have been removed.
Tim Ferriss: Decommissioned.
Mark Manson: Decommissioned. Thank you for your service, you are no longer necessary. I would say probably in the neighborhood of five, 600.
Tim Ferriss: That’s a solid… I mean that’s solid canon. After, let’s see, a thousand plus on my blog, because I got started in 2005, so I had a bit more of a lead time, I ended up spending a lot of time thinking about the crafting of certainly pieces and also headlines. Before we delve into the explosion after that event, and I think a lot of people might be able to fill in some of the gaps because they, I would imagine at least more than a handful of folks, will have some familiarity with maybe the later chapters of what the success of that book looks like, and seeing the orange cover everywhere, any airport anywhere in the world, there it is. I actually do want to ask about the cover because that’s I think an element that has also worked tremendously well. But before we get to that.
What are the things that you most struggle with now, or recently?
Mark Manson: This is going to be a bit of a blasé answer, especially probably for you and your audience. I have always struggled with the physical health side of things. I spent pretty much all of my twenties getting my head in order, getting my baggage cleaned out, fixing my relationships, understanding my emotions, developing self-awareness, all these things. I was always so focused on that, that I never really developed good habits around taking care of myself. I’m at that point now in my late thirties where you actually pay for those bad habits, because when you’re 28 you don’t really pay for it, but these days… I hit a point a year or two ago where I realized it’s never going to get easier or better. It’s not a sexy answer, it’s kind of a blah answer, but the last year especially has been very, very health focused. I’ve actually been listening to a shit load of your episodes on subjects like that. It’s been very helpful.
Tim Ferriss: I appreciate that. The health piece, this is… I’m 45 now, and all of those little decisions add up. I’ve been pretty good at maintenance, but I’ve also, just through pure life aggression, sustained 30-plus fractures, a handful of surgeries, and holy shit do those start to reappear. The degree of self-care, what I’ve realized, just needs to go up in a very non-linear fashion the older you get, or you just start sliding in a really significant way. I’m in maybe a similar boat in the sense that I’m also, in the last year and certainly for this upcoming year, going to be focusing on the health component because it’s this upstream variable that just affects positively or negatively everything else. For what it’s worth, I’m happy to chat about that anytime.
Mark Manson: Thanks, man, I appreciate that.
Tim Ferriss: Whenever I feel like I’m getting off the rails, it’s just, for what it’s worth, I have found… I have some degenerative disc issues in my back also, which is unfortunate, but congenital– Kettlebell swings, slow carb diet, perhaps also skipping one or two meals, let’s just say breakfast because I find that easier than portion control, and some type of core work, whether it’s something like really technical Pilates or let’s just say gymnastic strength training also, but that’s a bit more aggressive on the joints so you have to have that stability/connective tissue strength. But if I just do core work, kettlebell swings, pushups, and some type of diet that restricts high caloric density, carbohydrates to some extent, it really makes a huge difference. Do you have pains? Do you have a lot of pains? In terms of symptoms, is that…?
Mark Manson: I actually don’t, I’m very fortunate in that regard. I just got fat. Especially, I mean we’re going to get to my run the last five years and all the projects I did, I overworked, I overdid it. The wake-up call for me was actually… I was writing three books at the same time.
Tim Ferriss: Sorry.
Mark Manson: You know how stupid that is.
I was writing three books at the same time. I was living in New York, traveling, I’m on planes if not every week, every other week. I was actually sitting in my office one morning and I started having intense heart pain, or chest pain I should say. I started having intense chest pain, and it freaked me out. I have a history of heart disease in my family and I was like, “I’m fucking 37, this can’t be happening.” I sat down, went to a doctor, ran all the tests, everything’s fine. But he looked at me, he’s like, “Have you had any stress going on in your work lately?” But yes, I had gained probably 25, 30 pounds. The little exercise I had been doing before then went out the window, my eating habits were terrible, my sleeping habits were terrible, I had massive circles under my eyes.
I kind of had just this come to Jesus moment of like, “Dude, you can’t put this off any longer. You have to do something to take care of it.” There was also a little bit of a humbling that had to happen of realizing that after a number of years of trying to do it myself, that I just… For whatever reason, this part of my life, I don’t seem to have good decision control, so I hired a coach and that was super helpful. Speaking of that snowball effect, the further I go down the path, the more I want to go down the path. I also feel a little bit stupid because my whole thing for 15 years now has been all about how people think, feel, and helping them deal with struggles and pain in their life better, and I’m sitting here and I’m like, “Wow, not drinking for a few weeks, going to bed at 10:00 PM, I feel 20% better on a day-to-day basis. How did I not realize this before?” How am I so late to this party? It’s been an interesting experience.
Tim Ferriss: Just out of curiosity, where were you when you stopped drinking and started going to bed earlier, getting a solid night’s sleep, just geographically, where were you?
Mark Manson: LA.
Tim Ferriss: LA. I ask, because New York, in my experience… I grew up on Long Island, I’ve spent a ton of time in New York City. It is just a cultural norm I mean to drink four or five nights a week, and you get on this caffeine/booze seesaw, which is the norm for millions of people every week, if not every day. That’s why I was asking about the switch.
Mark Manson: I was completely unprepared for how influential moving from New York to LA would be in that factory, because you’re absolutely right, all social life in New York revolves around eating and drinking alcohol, and after seven years it adds up. It really adds up. Whereas in LA, people don’t drink nearly as much. Everybody wants to go on a hike, they want to surf, they want to go hang out on the beach. So, it’s been very good.
Tim Ferriss: The where of health matters a lot, not just the how of health. The how of health is often a consequence of the where, in a way. LA does have that in spades. If you haven’t been to the Venice Boardwalk green on, I want to say a Sunday when the acrobats go to train, you should definitely check that out. You see Cirque du Soleil athletes practicing on this green, which is probably 30 by 30 feet, and-
Mark Manson: That’s awesome.
Tim Ferriss: … if you just want a casual pass by a Cirque du Soleil performance, you can take a look at that. It’s inspiring. It’s really, really inspiring. Let’s talk about the five-year period of projects and the three books at once. Oh my God. Oh boy, that’s a lot. Could you describe what you did with Will Smith, how it came to be, and your personal primary lessons learned? It doesn’t have to be from the content of the book, it could also be from the interactions, exposure to LA, entertainment, et cetera. Just love to know what you did, for people who don’t know, how it happened; maybe those are in the opposite order. And then what your personal primary lessons learned were from that.
Mark Manson: I co-authored Will Smith’s memoir, which came out last year. It’s called Will. We worked on it for I think about two and a half years together. The way it came about was his team actually reached out to me. He had wanted to do a book for a little while. I wasn’t there, but from what I understand, he had some casual meetings with a few different authors just to see what was out there, and when they contacted me about it, first of all, another story of my agent being great. My agent didn’t tell me about it right away. The first thing she did is she sent me an email and she said, “Hypothetical question. If a celebrity wanted to write a book with you, on what terms would you be interested?” Which is smart, because she didn’t tell me who it was.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, that’s smart.
Mark Manson: And I said, “It would have to be an A-lister, and they would have to want it to be more than just about their life. They would want to dig into their problems and history and baggage, et cetera.” Which is, as it so happens, exactly what Will wanted to do. After that, we set up the meeting. Super surreal. I always tell people the craziest part about meeting a really, really famous person isn’t actually the really, really famous person, it’s all the shit that goes on around the super-famous person. It’s hard to explain.
But next thing I know, I’m getting whisked away to Atlanta, where I’m supposed to meet him on set of a film that he’s working on. Turns out Ang Lee is directing that film. So, I’m like, “Don’t fanboy at Ang Lee, don’t fanboy at Will Smith,” like, “Oh God, this is so stressful.” And you’re supposed to just act casual, like this is all normal. So, he finishes, they’re rehearsing a scene or something, and I’m walking in circles, not knowing where you’re supposed to go, and his people are like, “Are you okay?” And I’m like, “Where should I sit? I’ve never been on a Hollywood set before.”
Tim Ferriss: “What do I with my hands? What do I do with my hands?” Like Ricky Bobby.
Mark Manson: I told one of his managers, “I’ve never been on a Hollywood set before. I don’t know if I’m in the right place or not,” and she just looked at me like, “Really?” And I was like, “Sorry.” Next thing I know, they finish rehearsing. We go straight to an airstrip, I’m getting loaded onto a private jet, and they’re like, “No, no, no, you need to sit in the front with Will, because you’re going to talk about the book now.” And I’m like, “Now? Okay.” First time on a jet. So, we’re being whisked away. The whole thing is just surreal and strange, and everywhere he goes there’s a mob of fans waiting for him, people shrieking. It took a few days to get over that, get in a room with him privately where it’s quiet, and actually have an extended one-on-one conversation with him.
Before I went to meet him, I had two conditions for myself. The first one is, he can’t be an asshole, because no amount of money, no amount of prestige is worth spending three years working with an asshole. And then two was, everything needs to be on the table. He needs to be very willing to open up and go anywhere. We had a few really good, productive conversations, and I was blown away. The thing that really knocked my socks off about him is, he’s a smart guy, obviously, he’s a very hard-working guy, obviously. His charisma and his ability to read a room and react in a way that makes people feel comfortable, and then also talking to him a little bit about some of the hurdles that he went through in his life, his ability to adapt to setback, to reframe it in a way that is helpful to himself, it’s really incredible. I know this seems strange to say after the Oscars incident, but he really is one of the most emotionally intelligent people that I’ve been around.
We had a dinner the last night, and he just out of the blue was like, “What’s up, Mark? Are we going to do a book or what?” And I was like, “Well, I’ve got an outline in mind,” and I told him the thing I just said about emotions and his ability to use his emotions to adapt to things. I also said it’s probably why he’s such a good actor, is that he’s able to summon emotions and play with them and react to them in a masterful way. And I said, “I think the book should be built around emotion. It starts with fear. It moves through all your defense mechanisms into your fame, into all the success, until that facade collapsing, and it eventually, finally ends up at love, at a very genuine, authentic love,” which is something that it took him a long time to get to.
And I said, “As you move through all those emotions, there’s a word for somebody who’s able to move through setbacks and deal with any sort of negative emotion and harness it to advantage them. It’s Will. So that should be the name of the book.” It was like the Fresh Prince came back. He was just like, “Hell, yeah.” He gets up, starts slamming stuff on the table. He’s like, “Hell, yeah. Hell, yeah, we’re doing that.” And I’m like, “All right. I got the gig?” But it was a-
Tim Ferriss: Good meeting, good meeting.
Mark Manson: Yeah, a good meeting, good meeting. But it was a wild and fun two years with him. As you can imagine, I get so many questions since March about him, but honestly he’s such a great guy deep down. Obviously, he makes mistakes and does stupid things like the rest of us. But I have nothing but gratitude for that project. It was very easy to write, it was very enjoyable. The way we did was, I presented the outline, we refined it together. I wrote the first draft, he did a revision of that, and then me and the editor at Penguin did a final pass. So, it really is both of us in that book. A lot of people assume it was all me, or assume it was all him, I don’t know. But it really was both of us. He put a lot of work and effort into it, and he really cared about it.
Tim Ferriss: I’m going to ask about what you learned about Hollywood and entertainment through the process of interacting with him and writing the book. I’ll just open a door if you want to walk through it; if not, we can skip it. I know you just mentioned a lot of people have asked you about the Oscars and Chris Rock incident and so on. Is there anything you want to say about that, or about him with respect to that, or not? You can also just say, “Nope, not really,” and we can move on. Totally up to you.
Mark Manson: I publicly wrote a piece about it as a newsletter. It’s on my website. The TLDR of it is basically he did something really stupid and unacceptable, but as somebody who spent a lot of time around him, and not just him: his family, his friends, getting to know his kids, getting to know his brother, honestly, there is so much generosity that happens with him that nobody ever sees, and it’s very much by design. He doesn’t feel a need to publicize it. Just seeing what I’ve seen being around him, I told people, “Look, that’s not the real him. That’s the worst side of him. The Will that you know and that you hope is real, that’s the real Will. He’s a very great, loving, but flawed human being.”
In terms of what I learned, and you asked earlier what I learned from him, it’s funny, because he does have a marvelous story of resilience and overcoming. He comes from a very dysfunctional family: an abusive father, grew up on the streets of West Philly, very rough neighborhoods. It’s actually very remarkable how he navigated that and avoided all the pitfalls that come with that sort of upbringing to get where he is today. It’s definitely not an accident. That story is amazing, but there were no epiphanies for me personally.
The epiphanies for me personally were just being around him as a professional; being around a guy like that who’s been at the top of his game, top of his field for 30 years, one of the most famous human beings on the planet. I was blown away at the way he worked with his team, the way he was with his fans, the way he dealt with the media. To be honest, dude, the first time I hung out with him and I saw him get mobbed by fans, my immediate reaction was like, “Man, I should be nicer to my fans.” I think Will is nicer to his fans than I am, and he’s Will Smith.
Tim Ferriss: He’s paddling out through 100-foot waves every time he steps out of a door.
Mark Manson: But one of the things that he helped me see, and he said this to me too, is he was like, “I’m very aware that every encounter I have with a fan is a very asymmetric encounter. For me, it’s five seconds that I’m going to forget about within a minute. For them, it’s five seconds they’re going to remember for the rest of their lives.” So he’s like, “Just put in the effort for those five seconds. The payoff is so monumental for the other person that there’s no ethical argument to not do it.”
The other thing that he said that was really profound for me, because as you can imagine, he’s got this full staff of people that just follow him around the world; he’s got cooks and chefs and wardrobe people and security guys and everything, logistics. I asked him once, “Do you ever feel like it’s weird just having this team of people that just shadow you everywhere you go?” I was like, “When was the last time you cooked a meal for yourself?” He started laughing and he’s like, “I don’t know, man, probably at least 10 years.” But he told me, “Look, it’s really simple. I am world-class at one thing, and it’d be very easy for me to be the humble guy and cook a meal for myself and send the chef home, but I’m only world-class at one thing, and that would take away from my time and energy from being world-class at that one thing. Not only that, but my chef is world-class at one thing, and by sending him home, I am taking away from his ability to be world-class at the thing that he’s world-class at.”
Tim Ferriss: That’s cool. I saw potentially the first part coming, but not the second part. That’s a significant addition, looking through the mirror from the other direction, not just your direction.
Mark Manson: He described it as robbing him of an opportunity to be excellent, which just to me is such a beautiful… It’s funny, because you hear so many outsourcing conversations in terms of business of how to hire and outsource and automate and do all this stuff. He spoke about it in ethical terms, which was really profound for me.
Tim Ferriss: What did you observe, or what stood out to you about how he worked with his team outside of that example that you just gave?
Mark Manson: This validates what we were talking about earlier. The first thing that really stood out to me about his team was they’ve all been with him forever. It was funny, he’s got one guy named Scotty, who I love. Scotty has been in a few of his YouTube videos; lovely, lovely guy. Scotty was joking with me. He’s like, “I’m the new guy on the team. I’ve only been here nine years.” Everybody in significant roles in his team have been with him since at least the Fresh Prince days, many of them since the ’80s, some of them since he was a kid. They’re childhood friends that he put into the appropriate place.
That really blew me away. It also validated a lot of my beliefs around loyalty and trust. He also explained it to me once as, “Look, when you become famous, nothing is scarce. If you want money, you can go get money. If you want parties, you can go get parties. If you want sex, you can go get sex. The one thing that becomes more scarce as you become famous is trust.” So he said, “I very much tried to build my organization to optimize for trust first and everything else second,” which I thought was very wise of him. But in terms of just operationally, he’s very good at including everybody. There’s no rigid hierarchy of, “Well, you’re the assistant of this manager, so you shouldn’t be in the room talking about these ideas.” He loves to just joke and bounce creative ideas around, and if it’s the lowly production assistant who comes back with a great idea, he’s happy with that. He’ll run with it. He doesn’t feel a possessiveness around who gets to tell him what.
Tim Ferriss: Fascinating. Super, super fascinating. What are your goals, desires, wants maybe? I don’t know how crazy we want to get. But in the next, you can choose the timeframe, three years… Because there was a point, as you said, you’re writing for your friends in college, readership per se of no more than a dozen people, not really thinking about where this is going or how you’re going to optimize it. It was just writing, having fun with friends and enjoying the process. Now you have, among other things, paradox of choice situation on your hands, where there’s more inbound than you can probably even begin to process, even more than your agent can probably process. She has to have some quick means of eliminating things. How are you thinking about what you want to do or not do over the next handful of years?
Mark Manson: The place I’m in now, I will write more books, but I’m in this almost prodigal son coming back to the internet moment. Doing all of these projects over the last five years in legacy media, it’s been very rewarding, and it’s been in many cases very fun and educational. But what I realized is that that’s not what I love doing. I love just the raw dynamism of posting something, getting immediate feedback, processing that feedback, understanding, “Oh, people like that. Why did people like that? What is it about that idea that resonates with people?” And then trying to figure out, “Well, how could I do something more with that?” I love that process so much, and the immediacy and the creative control that comes with that, that I’m envisioning this place in my career as I’m coming back to that. I mentioned earlier that I’m currently hiring out a video team, and before 500 people listening to this start sending me applications-
Tim Ferriss: I can learn. I can learn, Mark. I’m willing to work for free, but you have to teach me everything.
Mark Manson: Exactly. I’ve already made the initial hires. If there are more people that I’m hiring, subscribe to my newsletter. It’ll be announced there. I’m very bullish on online media and independent media in general, and I think it has a bright future. You can argue it’s already the predominant form of media in terms of just where the narratives come from and where the best content comes from. But I think that’s only going to continue over the next decade. So, I’m excited to be here for that.
There’s two things that I love. One is what I just said, the immediacy of online content. The other one is I have this very, very strong passion, bordering on fury of a thousand suns, to take the self-help world, which traditionally… When I was growing up, when you were growing up, self-help was not something for the masses. If you had a bunch of money in your savings and could fly to a city and sit in a conference room for five days, that’s where this content used to be. I think over the past 20 years we’re living through, I don’t know if “democratizing” is the right word, but just a widespread dissemination of these very important concepts and ideas to the masses for either free or very, very, very cheap.
I really deeply believe that a lot of these concepts, these basic things that you and I talk about week in, week out, they should be everywhere. They should be taught in school. Basic relationship skills should be taught in school. Basic meditation, a lot of the exercises you do in therapy, CBT, these concepts should be taught everywhere. Everybody should have access to them all the time. I’m very passionate about that idea, and that has always been kind of a chip on my shoulder that I’ve had throughout my career, and it’s still there. There’s still work to do. So, the marriage of those two things is where my head is at right now.
Tim Ferriss: To choose the things you want to do, which you’ve been describing, to home in on the things that you know you enjoy. It would seem to me that a prerequisite of ensuring that happens — I have a number of follow-up questions, this is one — ensuring that happens requires you say no to a lot of stuff that you either ignore completely, don’t respond to, or say no to a lot of stuff. You’re fortunate that you have a team, so Mollie can also say no to a lot of things on your behalf.
I’m curious how you’re thinking about saying no to very tempting things. And they may not be tempting, but I’ll give you an example. You get an email from Mollie, she’s like, “Might be worth a five-minute conversation; give me a call.” You get on the phone, she’s like, “Steven Spielberg. He read Will, he’s not done this for anybody, he wants you to write a three-part-
Mark Manson: Oh, God.
Tim Ferriss: … book series.”
Mark Manson: People can’t see, but I’m already [crosstalk].
Tim Ferriss: And maybe I’m actually screwing up this thought exercise by making it a three-parter. It’s not a three-parter, but it is going to be a year or two of focus on this, which would be the seminal, definitive book with Spielberg’s full cooperation, full access, journals, everything. Pay you some insane amount of money, twice the number that you would pick as a stretch goal that you’re like, “They’ll never say yes to,” he’s like, “I’ll just pay you twice as much. Let’s get this over with so we can get to the work.” What do you do when stuff like that comes up? Because you know it’s going to come up.
Mark Manson: Well, I don’t know if that [crosstalk]-
Tim Ferriss: Maybe not that specifically. I’m using an absurd goal to drive the exercise, because if it’s like, “Eh, this is a B-minus offer,” easy to say no to, because you want to strive to do an A-plus in the things you just described. How do you think about, say no to the stuff that will be tempting?
Mark Manson: Well, for lower-level stuff. I think the best way is to simply set rules. I’ve done that with speaking the last year or two.
Tim Ferriss: What are your rules?
Mark Manson: My rules are basically it either needs to be an Uber away, or it needs to be just an absolutely stupid amount of money, which nobody takes the stupid amount of money. So, it’s basically just an Uber away. Also, I decided too that I’m not really going to do keynotes anymore. If you want me to sit onstage and answer questions, that’s fine, but the preparation, the thought, the practice that goes into a keynote, the mental energy, that sucks.
Tim Ferriss: You’re not getting paid for 60 minutes on stage.
Mark Manson: No.
Tim Ferriss: You can pay for everything around it.
Mark Manson: Exactly, exactly. So, speaking has been a big one that I’ve cut out, and actually, the delta between how speaking opportunities look on paper versus reality, it’s just so wide, because you get that email and then there’s this number with a bunch of zeros behind it and you’re like, “Oh my god, that’s the easiest money ever.” Then you actually go do it and you’re like, “Wow, I just spent a week not doing anything else to be here.” So, rules around that.
To the Spielberg opportunity, my rule with any celebrity memoir would probably be very similar to my rule with Will: A-lister, has to be doing it for the right reasons. I think the difference this time would be, part of the reason I gave myself chest pains a few years ago was I think I was so eager to say yes to things. To back up a little bit, after Subtle Art, there was a little bit of this insecurity, maybe call it impostor syndrome, of like, “This might be my 15 minutes. Say yes to everything, because who knows if this is going to come-
Tim Ferriss: Who knows? Totally.
Mark Manson: … back around.” So, I did that. I don’t necessarily regret it, but I think this time around it would be on my terms. It would be like, “Is he an A-lister?” Yes, he is. “Is he doing it for the right reasons?” I’d probably have to sit down and talk to him, get a feel for that. “Is it a good fit chemistry-wise?” I’d have to sit down, figure that out. Then I think it would be on my terms. I’d be like, “Here’s my schedule for the next two years. Here’s where I can fit this in. This is when I’m available. Take it or leave it.” I think the money at this point would be a very, very minor factor. I’ve definitely hit a-
Tim Ferriss: Only so many Skittles you can eat.
Mark Manson: Seriously. You do hit a certain number where you’re like, “Fuck it, I’m just going to do stuff I want to do.” Very fortunate to be there.
Tim Ferriss: Let’s say Monsieur Spielberg, he’s like, “Great, that all sounds fantastic.” Would it fit around what you just described you would want to do, or would it start to crowd it out, just knowing yourself?
Mark Manson: If that offer came down the pipeline tomorrow, my reaction would be, “I’m building out a video team. We’re going to start scaling video content in 2023. I’m under another contract with Harper to do another book in 2024, so we can get started 2025 if you want.” That would probably be the conversation, which I’m sure he would hate. The challenge there would be holding a line with that, if he started to push back and it’s like, “Well, we’ll offer you twice as much money as your Harper contract.” You can’t get seduced.
It’s like boundaries in relationships. If you tell somebody, “Hey, this doesn’t work for me, don’t do it,” and then they do it, it’s really hard to not let it slide. Nobody wants to confront people in their lives and say, “Hey, that’s upsetting to me. I told you not to do it. It’s really hurtful that you did that.” Nobody wants to have that conversation. But if you want to have good relationships, you have to have that conversation. I think it’s the same in the professional world. If you don’t set those boundaries of like, “This is what works for me,” and if you don’t hold those boundaries, then you just end up in this no-man’s land.
Tim Ferriss: Furthermore, if you don’t hold those boundaries, if you make exceptions, those exceptions are going to travel. Then people will either say, “You don’t actually follow your own rules, so you should say yes to my,” fill in the blank. And most certainly, because I’ve experienced this and I’ve become a lot better at holding strong lines in the last, say, 10 years, people will get pissed. People will get very pissed. If you’ve said no to a bunch and then you say yes to one because for whatever reason it’s more appealing or it just bleeds over into the “maybe I should let this slide” category, you can really find yourself in just a world of messiness, slogging through the swamp of unclear boundaries.
Mark Manson: It’s funny too, because early in my career I prided myself on my ability to say no to things that I didn’t want to do. That was kind of a badge of honor I had. What I didn’t realize is that as you scale the mountain, the things you have to say no to are proportionally difficult to say no to as how high you get. So, it’s a skill you have to keep learning over and over and over again.
Tim Ferriss: It absolutely is. The stuff you’re saying no to now, flash back not that long ago, a handful of years, they would have been offers that would have exceeded your wildest dreams, right?
Mark Manson: Yep.
Tim Ferriss: And these are the things you have to say no to now. It’s a funhouse mirror of psycho-emotional experience, because it’s not like we’ve let go of all of our conditioning and hard-wiring we’ve developed over decades. It just doesn’t happen overnight.
Let me fulfill a promise to my audience, because I did say I was going to ask about it: The Subtle Art cover. What is the background story on the cover, and how do you feel about it? Did you like it when you first saw what ended up being the cover?
Mark Manson: I love the cover. To Harper’s credit, they did it.
Tim Ferriss: Good for them.
Mark Manson: It’s funny, because when I went into that book, that was my first book with a publisher, all my friends who are published authors had all these warnings of how horrible publishers are and how terrible decisions they make and all this stuff, and everything with Subtle Art was just a breeze. Everything went really well, everybody got along, there were no problems, and I was like, “Wow, what’s everybody talking about?”
Tim Ferriss: That’s amazing. I will just highlight, this is extremely rare. I’m not a therapist, I don’t play one of the internet, or I try not to, but was just doing my 100th iteration of a three-hour therapy session with someone who’s going through their first book experience. I’m like, “I’m sorry. I don’t know what to tell you, I’m sorry. This is the norm.” Because he was like, “Is this normal? This can’t be normal. Does this is actually happen all the time?” And I was like, “Yep, it does.”
Mark Manson: It’s actually obnoxious. If you get any amount of authors in a room together, inevitably the conversation just always ends up in bitching about publishers. The funny thing about the cover though, they were very adamant on the orange. Initially, it didn’t have that splat. The splat was me. Again, this is credit to them because I didn’t realize this was not normal. They sent the initial draft of the cover, I took it, opened up Photoshop myself. I think I changed the font to be the same font as my website, and then I added the splat because I wanted something kind of iconic to, I don’t know, seem fitting. I sent it back to them and they were like, “We love it. It’s great. We’ll do it.”
I was like, “Wow, great. I love these guys.” Sure enough, you find out that that never happens. The publisher never listens to your feedback. They try to force things through.
But it’s actually ironic because I think at the time I was just this no name internet guy and so they’re like, “Oh yeah, well if that makes him happy, let’s just put it on the cover,” but then once you become Mark Manson or Tim Ferriss or Ryan Holiday, suddenly-
Tim Ferriss: Once they’ve got the sunk cost of a real advance, now things are a little different.
Mark Manson: Exactly. It’s like everything is just murdered by committee over and over again.
Tim Ferriss: What excites you these days? I’ll give you two options. This is a multiple choice. What excites you these days? I think in part you’ve certainly answered or alluded to that, and with video and the teams. I think this is maybe me as an avid horse buggy driver in a world where a model T came out a few years ago and everybody’s moving to cars and I’m still digging my horses, trying to sell people on why my horses are so incredible, but is the drive to video something that you really want to do in your heart of hearts or, and this is not a pejorative option B, is it because inevitably everything is driving to video and that if you’re not capitalizing on that, you are simply going to be invisible to the algorithms that matter and the results that matter? Or something else?
Mark Manson: It’s a great question and I’m not going to lie. There’s definitely some of the latter in it of just like, “I love this business, I love what I do, and blogs are dead.” You and I both know blogs are dead. You get no reach for any sort of written content whatsoever. Newsletters are getting super saturated. It’s hard to stay in front of eyeballs in our industry.
That said, I had a little bit of a … I wrestled with this past year because I think it’s been like four years now, my team has been telling me, “Dude, you either need to do videos or have a podcast. Dude, you either need to have videos or have a podcast.”
I’m like, “Motherfuckers, I’m writing three books right now. Talk to me in two years.” But they were right and I knew they were right. It’s just the way the world is going.
I actually dabbled a little bit with a podcast. It was funny. I went, actually, I think you have an old article from years and years ago about the starter kit of equipment.
Tim Ferriss: Yep. Mm-hmm.
Mark Manson: Bought all that stuff and I just wanted to do a dry run just to see, do I enjoy this? Is it fun for me? Actually, my first guinea pig was our mutual friend, Ryan Holiday so I went over to his house down there in Austin, brought all the mics and everything, sat down, talked to him for an hour and a half, two hours, went home, opened up the audio, started listening to it, and I realized that it was probably the least interesting conversation Ryan and I had ever had in our five year friendship. That immediately gave me a respect for what you do and other podcasters do. Because on the outside it looks like, “Oh yeah, you just sit down and talk to somebody. How hard is that?” You don’t realize how much goes into being a good interviewer, how much thought you have to put into the questions you ask.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I usually have this out of frame. Yeah.
Mark Manson: Yeah, yeah. It’s not an accident. It’s not an accident.
I realized that that was just something, it definitely wasn’t grabbing me. On the video side of things, I initially did it for the reason you just said. I was like, “Well, having a YouTube channel just seems like a thing you’re supposed to have,” and so I started recording some short videos about two years ago and sent it off to a freelance editor and kind of never thought about it after that. But as time went on, I started to enjoy it more and more. I think the thing with video is that there’s a very long learning curve to it. You have to understand it’s not just about being good on camera. You need to understand lighting, you need to understand audio, you need to understand editing, file types, resolutions, aspect ratios, all this stuff, and usually the way you learn is by fucking it up first.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Also YouTube. You have to pay attention to the headlines, the thumbnails, a million other variables. there’s a lot.
Mark Manson: Yeah. It’s been a slow burn for me, but I think it started to become the highlight of whatever I was doing that month.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. This is interesting. How did that shift happen? How are you making it fun for you?
Mark Manson: Okay. I don’t know if you run into this much, but one of the frustrations I’ve started running into is when it comes to personal development topics, there’s nothing new under the sun. All of these concepts and ideas, save for some recent psychological research or every couple times a year, a really great news study will come out in psychology, and then three years later it’s not replicated. Most of what we’re working with is ideas and concepts that have been around for decades, if not centuries.
Tim Ferriss: Footnotes to Plato.
Mark Manson: Yeah, right? Exactly. Everything’s a footnote to Plato. There’s only so many ways you can write about how to get over anxiety before you just start repeating yourself. There’s only so many ways you can write about getting over a breakup before you just start repeating yourself. The last few years I’ve felt like I’ve hit that and it’s been frustrating. You feel like you’re trying to reinvent the wheel all the time. I feel like video … A new medium opens up opportunities to approach age old topics from a new direction or new dimension and that’s kind of my plan for that.
I’ve become a lot more interested in, okay, I’m less interested in writing about theory and this is how your mind works and this is why you get anxious and this is what resilience is, and I’m becoming far more interested in implementation. Okay, how do you actually get somebody who’s read this stuff to go do something with their life? If you’re limited to the written form, you can’t really do anything about that but if you’ve got a camera with you, fuck it. Go visit the guy, see if he’s getting off his couch, film it, ask him how he’s feeling. I think there’s just a lot of opportunity to explore things in that format that haven’t been tapped into. That’s what really excites me at the moment, the new creative opportunities in that sense.
Tim Ferriss: It sounds like format wise, at least at first blush as you’re describing it, it’s not going to be Between Two Ferns with Mark Manson. You won’t be sitting down, doing a video, what people might think of as a video podcast necessarily.
Mark Manson: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: You’ll probably be featured and a part of the entire cocktail that makes it work, but do you envision a lot of it being case studies, so to speak? Or real world tracking of different people in a sense? I know tracking might be a strange word.
Mark Manson: I think there’s a lot of, keep in mind, this is still super early days for me, but I’ve got a lot of brainstorms around this right now. One idea that I’ve talked to the team about is you can kind of reinvent classic psych studies. There’s a famous marshmallow study. You could probably do a really fun and entertaining version of that with just random people off the street and give them 100 bucks if they win or whatever. I think there’s a lot of opportunity to do a real time … You can use things as incentive, you can kind of gamify it a little bit. I don’t know if you’ve watched, there’s a new trend going on YouTube of gamifying everything. Mr. Beast got huge and everybody’s-
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I’ve seen Mr. Beast, for sure.
Mark Manson: Yeah. When I was watching Mr. Beast, the thing that occurred to me was, “Okay, well that’s fun. You put people in a circle and see how long they can stay and then give them $100,000,” whatever amount he gives them. What if you actually took somebody who’s struggled to lose weight over the last five years and you’re like, “Hey, I’ll give you $50,000 if you lose 20 pounds in the next six months,” or whatever, and then you track them and follow them and see what’s their process, where do they get hung up? What are the self-defeating beliefs and doubts and stuff like that? I think what I like about it too, is that if you look at research on motivation and people actually sticking to behaviors and goals and things like that, money is one of the most effective inputs.
Tim Ferriss: Super effective. People don’t like to hear it, but man, do incentives work.
Mark Manson: What’s that Charlie Munger quote? It’s like, “Everything is incentive…”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, just follow the incentives.
Mark Manson: Yeah, just follow the incentives. But yeah, it works. It’s not scalable on a mass … You can’t have an army of therapists who offer you $1,000 to lose weight, but you can have an asshole on YouTube who does, and I’ll be that asshole. That’s kind of like the working concept at the moment. I think it’ll be fun, but it also just … It renews the subjects for me. I’ve been beating these dead horses for 15 years at this point and this brings the horse back to life.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Mark Manson: I think it also just introduces a lot of these concepts and ideas to a new generation. Gen Z is not on Twitter, they’re not reading blogs, they’re not signing up for newsletters, they’re on YouTube, they’re on TikTok, so that excites me as well.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I dig it. I love that you’re tweaking and brainstorming to keep it fun and interesting for yourself. I’ve seen so many examples of YouTubers who have created a style, very successful style. They’ve been cursed with getting a lot of attention and ultimately a lot of money for creating a caricature of themselves that they then have to continue to be.
Mark Manson: Yep.
Tim Ferriss: The question therefore of how do you do this in a way that is energy giving, fun, creatively satisfying on some level without just being the -nth person to come up with a 22nd dance routine on TikTok, hoping that you’re going to ride that wave?
Mark Manson: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: If that’s not something in a million years you would ever want to do otherwise.
Mark Manson: Yeah, I feel like I have a couple competitive advantages. Entering that space in a serious way, I feel like I have a couple of competitive advantages for the simple fact that I’m old because most big YouTubers, they’re 20 something year old dudes who have never had a real job, never been married, don’t have kids. I feel like as somebody who has been doing this for a long time and who has fallen into a lot of those traps of feeling like you have to please the audience all the time, or feeling like you have to publish all the time or being terrified that you’re going to lose people or they’re going to leave you or whatever. I’ve gone through that in my own way and I feel like I’ve got my head on straight about it at this point. Then I also just think it’s an advantage to be older and know who you are. Be in a position where it’s like … Well, it’s like the Spielberg thing, right? It’s like, “Well dude, I got enough Skittles. Thanks, but I don’t need your views. Thank you.”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. You also are in the enviable position of having the ability to do a huge range of experiments because you have sort of the time and space if you choose to create it and protect it, you have resources, so if you wanted to do something out there that might cost a pretty penny, but you can afford to lose it, you can do that. It’s a great position to be in. I’m excited for you. Couple of boring tactical questions. Do you still use Scrivener when working on your books, or do you use other workflow?
Mark Manson: I used Scrivener for the first draft of my first two books or for Subtle Art and for Everything’s Fucked. I find it great if you still haven’t quite nailed down the organization of a book. Scrivener is great for moving around large chunks of text very-
Tim Ferriss: Totally.
Mark Manson: … easily, but its actual user interface I think is inferior to Word so if you’re actually trying to go line by line and just make everything really polished and clear, I think Word. Usually I would do first draft on Scrivener and then import it over to Word and do all my revisions on Word.
Tim Ferriss: And go from there. Sophie’s World. I have read, I don’t know if you still feel this way, this is from an interview on nomadicmatt.com from a while back, and it has here, you can’t believe everything you read on the internet, so feel free to confirm, deny, or modify, but, “If you’re a complete newbie to philosophy and want to get a basic understanding of the Western canon I recommend a book called Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder, I want to say? It’s a fun fiction book that acts as a kind of primer, or primer, depending on how fancy you want to get to the most important Western thinkers.” Is that still a book you would recommend?
Mark Manson: Yes, with the asterisk that I read it as a teenager and it is a fun way to get, I would say, a Wikipedia understanding of each major thinker and their contributions and how they influenced Western civilization.
Tim Ferriss: Which writers or thinkers or … Let’s stick with writers first, and we can then talk about other people who might be influencing your thinking, but are there any particular writers or books that you have been paying particular attention to in recent memory? I can buy some time by giving examples.
Mark Manson: Okay.
Tim Ferriss: I would say there are the long-standing influences, which we don’t necessarily have to focus on, but we could if they’re still highly relevant to you in your life now. For instance, I believe that you’ve mentioned David Foster Wallace, Joan Didion, Hunter S. Thompson, and others, Steven Pinker, Jonathan Haidt.
In my particular case, for instance, I’ve had a number of books recommended to me only one of the three of which I’ve read. That would be, I believe it’s Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman, which I thought was a fantastic book and there are a number of chapters that really stuck out as counterintuitively helpful, such as cosmic insignificance therapy, which I ended up excerpting on the blog because I wanted to share it with people and share the book with people. Then there’s another, which I suspect I will find interesting, which is called Die With Zero, which is by, I believe Bill Perkins. I have not read it yet, but these are books that seem to cohere in a puzzle of life philosophies and instructions that I think will be very relevant to me now and over the next, say, five years, so I’m paying attention to those books and the threads that appear to connect them.
I’m also paying attention because I’m working on fiction right now in this highly absurd, but very, very fun series of world building exercises that I’m doing in fantasy, actually. It’s very different from anything I’ve ever done. If people want to take a look, the project is called Cock Punch and you can find it online anywhere. Cockpunch.com, and I bought that URL.
Mark Manson: I tried to get on your white list, but it was impossible.
Tim Ferriss: It was surprisingly popular. There’s a lot of demand, there’s a lot of fun coming. That is an example of me doing something for the pure fucking joy of it, and I’m having a lot of fun with that. At the same time, I can study, say, Ursula K. Le Guin and these classic, iconic, highly skilled masters of the craft, whether that be fantasy or science fiction. I’m paying attention to, for instance, the Writer’s Journey, which is effectively the Hero’s Journey, adapted, but applied to writing. Those are the examples personally of things that are currently on my mind.
I’ve also realized that I’ve been over caffeinated and inflicting biological anxiety on myself in a very unnecessary way so I’m going to be revisiting some of the Stoic writings, probably the Moral Letters to Lucilius by Seneca, which is commonly sold through, I think, Penguin classics as Letters from a Stoic. That would be a very long word salad of books of books that are currently on my mind.
Mark Manson: Gotcha.
Tim Ferriss: There’s like one that’s kind of anchoring to two more I want to read, and then with the craft that I’m currently involved with, let’s call that fiction, a few things that tie into that.
Mark Manson: Yeah, okay. Yeah, it’s hard because when you just say … There’s so many books to talk about.
Tim Ferriss: There are a lot of books. There are a lot of books.
Mark Manson: So many books. But yeah, I mean you definitely hit what I would consider my biggest influences. David Foster Wallace’s non-fiction is what made me want to be a writer. Particularly his piece A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, I go back and read it every couple years and just in awe of how clever and observant he is. Hunters S. Thompson, Joan Didion. I kind of think there’s almost like different categories in my brain, so there’s non-fiction writers I appreciate for the quality of their writing, which they are in. There is non-fiction, I would call it academic non-fiction, which I mostly read just to make sure I understand the prevalent research in the space, which would be Jonathan Haidt. I’m a huge fan of Dan Gilbert. He’s got a great book called Stumbling on Happiness, which-
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, excellent book.
Mark Manson: Yeah, in my opinion, it’s kind of the best book about happiness research and all the paradoxes and contradictions that come with it. Then in another category, I guess you would call it contemporaries. I also love Burkeman’s book. I’m actually friends with Oliver. He and I used to be meditation buddies in New York.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, no kidding. Small world.
Mark Manson: He sent me a draft of that for a blurb and my email back to him was like, “You fucker, man. Every once in a while you read a book and you’re a little bit angry because you’re like, ‘I wish I wrote this,’ because it’s that good and it’s that smart.” I was like, “Yeah, this is that for me. I’m happy for you, I’m so happy for you,” but there’s a little piece of me that’s like, “Shit.”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Mark Manson: It’s great.
Tim Ferriss: It’s very well written.
Mark Manson: Yeah, it’s fantastic. Stuff that you or Ryan or James Clear, people in this new personal development space I’m always tracking. In terms of just what I’ve been reading recently, I’ve actually been reading a lot of fiction the last year. I am not going to start writing fiction unlike you anytime soon. Maybe one day, it’s actually kind of a bucket list thing to do a novel one day, but it’s funny. Again, coming out of this intense period of work, it’s almost like my brain just seemed kind of repulsed by a lot of non-fiction.
Tim Ferriss: I like dark chocolate, but I’ve had it five times a day for the last three years. I need a break from dark chocolate.
Mark Manson: Seriously, man. I read, both in terms of research and also just my own curiosity, I read hundreds and hundreds of books, non-fiction books over that period, and I think coming out of it, as soon as I didn’t feel like I had to read those for a project anymore, my brain was like, “All right, give me fantasy, give me fiction.”
Tim Ferriss: No more homework. No more homework.
Mark Manson: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: What kind of fiction?
Mark Manson: I’m actually trying to get back to lighter fiction.
Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm.
Mark Manson: Stephen King is one of those authors that obviously I’ve always heard of him, always know about him. I read a couple of his books in high school, loved them, and then never really went back to him. Now that I’m kind of on this decompression reading kick, I’ve taken upon myself to go to actually go back and read some of the Stephen King classics. I read, this is not fiction, but it was a biography. I read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand about the World War II, incredible story. I’ve been reading a lot of World War II stuff. All the Light You Cannot See was fantastic. I’m on a light fiction kick, just letting my brain …
Tim Ferriss: Recover.
Mark Manson: Yeah, and maybe it’s also because just creatively in a zone in my career that’s very open and creative right now and I want to just be able to let any idea in and play with it, so maybe that’s why it feels right.
Tim Ferriss: I was thinking of easy-to-read fiction than I’ve enjoyed in the last few years. If you wanted to read, especially if you never have read a hard boiled detective fiction novel that I thought was incredibly hilarious and came highly recommended, The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley, C-R-U-M-L-E-Y. Some of the language is dated, I’ll warn people in advance, so trigger warning, but it is, as it says in its description on Amazon, one of the most influential crime novels ever written by a legend of the genre. It’s hilarious and the writing is very strong. James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss-
Mark Manson: Last Good Kiss.
Tim Ferriss: … would be pretty high up. I’ll give you one other different genre just in case you want to screw around. This is, well I’ll give you two. On the sci-fi side, either of the anthologies by Ted Chiang, C-H-I-A-N-G. Man, those are just incredibly strong.
Mark Manson: Unbelievable. Yeah, I read both of his collections, I think I want to say three or four years ago. Yeah. Just floored me. I was-
Tim Ferriss: So good.
Mark Manson: … speechless afterwards.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, incredible. Along those, I don’t want to say same lines because each of his short stories is so different, but there is a book called This Is How You Lose the Time War and part of what makes it so cool is that it was written by two people who alternated chapters as they went along, but it is entirely cohesive. How you even do that is almost beyond comprehension. I can see how you could have a writing partner and you work on a screenplay together, but to write a super compelling sci-fi novel that is a category breaking format in and of itself, deeply sophisticated and time bending with two authors is something else. It’s a fast read, super compelling. Anyway, I’ll throw that one out just as an option if amongst the 100 other books you’re reading, you’re looking for a hundred and first.
Mark Manson: Nice.
Tim Ferriss: Well, Mark, this has been a really fun conversation. We have covered a lot. I don’t feel the need to try to bleed the stone. I think people will find at least a few stories, a few tidbits, in this that they can walk away with and ponder or use in some fashion. Is there anything else you’d like to say? Any closing comments, questions, anything you’d like to point my audience to? Anything at all that you’d like to add?
Mark Manson: No, just the usual. Go to my website, read my shit type thing. I do want to say thank you to you. Seriously, you’ve been a pioneer for my generation and been a big fan for a long time. My adolescent anger towards you aside, while I was sleeping on couches, seriously, for those of us who are the generation under you, you’ve been showing us how to do it for a long time now so I appreciate that.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, thanks, man. I really appreciate that. It’s been really fun to see you on this rocket ship and it’s been very fun for me to have this conversation also ’cause I’ve wondered often. I’m like, “I wonder how the fuck he’s feeling about all this? What is his experience like? I wonder what the experience might be to be in his shoes right now?” It’s been fun to get a peek on the inside and to hear it straight from the man himself. I really do appreciate it.
Everybody, you can find all of Mark at markmanson.net. The new redesign is beautiful.
Mark Manson: Thank you.
Tim Ferriss: It’s very elegant. It’s very clean. I’ve been thinking of doing a complete redesign on my site for the first time in a long time and went to your site just in the course of doing research for this conversation, and I was like, “Wow, that’s clean. That’s clean.”
Mark Manson: Yeah. Yeah. The old design was like eight years old and it was funny because as soon as the first drafts of this new one came in, me and my developer went and looked at the old site and we were just horribly embarrassed. We were like, “How have we allowed this to be online?”
Tim Ferriss: Onward and upward, you’re trending in the right direction. I look forward to seeing the video, look forward to seeing the film also. Keep an eye out, folks. That’ll be released in theaters by Universal Pictures. Wild.
Mark Manson: Crazy.
Tim Ferriss: Who would’ve thought? My God, when back when you were working on teeth whitening and feng shui. It’s so fun. I find it so inspirational to track those things from the very early beginnings because you can’t possibly, if you had sat down, and maybe you did when working on all those many sites and throwing everything against the wall, and tried to form a 10 year plan that would get you here, it would’ve been impossible. Impossible.
Mark Manson: Never. Never.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. It just wouldn’t have worked.
Mark Manson: But it’s like the Steve Jobs thing where you can connect the dots going back. I look back and yeah, all those bullshit SEO sites, I needed those to kind of build up the skillset to actually build a functioning company and a blog that got an audience. Then from there you learn the skills to expand the audience and like you said, it’s the tacky ball.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, it’s the tacky ball. The [foreign language 02:14:08], the clump spirit. Sounds better in Japanese.
Mark Manson: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Well, Mark, I really appreciate the time. Thank you for taking it and being so open to discussing all of the things. Really, really do appreciate the time and appreciate what you’re trying to do in the world and what you are doing in the world, so keep it up.
To everybody listening until next time, one step at a time. Keep that sticky ball rolling and don’t underestimate what you can do over time. Try not to overestimate what you can do in a given week or month because you’ll just end up beating the shit out of yourself and that does not tend to help you in the long term. Be just a little bit kinder than is necessary to not just others, but to yourself, and thanks for tuning in.
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