The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Jerry Colonna (#373)

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Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Jerry Colonna (@jerrycolonna), the CEO and cofounder of, an executive coaching and leadership development firm dedicated to the notion that better humans make better leaders. Prior to his career as a coach, he was a partner with J.P. Morgan Partners (JPMP), the private equity arm of J.P. Morgan Chase. Prior to that, he cofounded New York City-based Flatiron Partners with Fred Wilson, which became one of the nation’s most successful early-stage investment programs. His first leadership position, at age 25, was Editor-In-Chief of InformationWeek magazine, and now he has returned to the written word with his first book, Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up. Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, Castbox, or on your favorite podcast platform.

#373: Jerry Colonna — The Coach With the Spider Tattoo


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Tim Ferriss: Hello, boys and girls, ladies and germs. This is Tim Ferriss, and welcome to another episode of the Tim Ferriss Show where it is my job each and every episode to deconstruct world-class performers from all different disciplines. And my guest today has a very, very interesting job, and that is he, himself, I would say deconstructs and helps to reconstruct world-class performers. His name is Jerry Colonna, C-O-L-O-N-N-A, on Twitter @jerrycolonna. He is the CEO and cofounder of, an executive coaching and leadership development firm dedicated to the notion that better humans make better leaders.

Prior to his career as a coach, he was a partner with J.P. Morgan Partners, JPMP, the private equity arm of J.P. Morgan Chase. And prior to that, he led New York City-based Flatiron Partners. You may have heard of it, which he cofounded in 1996 with Fred Wilson. Flatiron became one of the nation’s most successful early stage investment programs, and certainly those in the venture game know that is understated. His first ever leadership position at age 25 was editor-in-chief of InformationWeek Magazine. And now returning to the written word, his first book is Reboot, subtitle: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up. Jerry, welcome to the show.

Jerry Colonna: Hey Tim, it’s great to be here. I’m really excited to talk to you.

Tim Ferriss: We have so much we could possibly talk about. You and I have spoken before, had quite a few conversations over the last, God knows how many years, with particular density a handful of years ago. And I thought we could start with the spider tattoo, which you just showed me over video. It is not a small tattoo, so perhaps much like a novel I greatly enjoy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, this would be The Coach with the Spider Tattoo. But I don’t know the story. Why do you have a gigantic spider tattoo on your chest?

Jerry Colonna: Oh, wow. Yeah, so Spider is a good friend of mine. Spider is my spirit guide. So in 2007, I went on a retreat led by a Jungian ecopsychologist named Bill Plotkin, P-L-O-T-K-I-N. And on that retreat… This is a long story, Tim. You ready for it?

Tim Ferriss: Oh, I’m ready. We have nothing but time.

Jerry Colonna: On that retreat I started to go really deep into some of the important structures of my life, and I had a dream. It was after a night of ecstatic dancing in which I danced nearly naked in a drum circle, and I’d fallen asleep. And I had this dream in which I was going to a house that I owned on Long Island, and I got to the house and the house was completely white. I was really terrified. And I went into the house and it was supposed to be my house, but it didn’t feel right. And I ended up in the basement, and in the basement, the basement floor was covered with this, sort of, like the floor of a forest. And these mushrooms were sprouting up. I got very scared, and I tore the mushrooms from the ground and I ran out of the house.

So the next morning I went into circle again, and I shared that dream. And Bill turns to me and he says, “Go, leave. Leave the circle right now. I want you to go into the forest. I want you to find those mushrooms, and I want you to apologize to those mushrooms. And ask it what it was that you were supposed to hear from them that you were too afraid to hear.”

So I left the circle, and I started wandering around and I’m like, “What the fuck am I doing? I’m walking around this forest trying to find these mushrooms, and I actually have to have a conversation with these mushrooms.” And to be clear, I was not ingesting the mushrooms. Okay? Because I know who I’m talking to.

So I’m walking around, and all of a sudden I see on the ground the exact same white, long, stringy mushrooms. And I’m freaked out. And I drop to my knees, and I start crying. And I said, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. What were you here to teach me?” And they said, the mushrooms said to me, “You’re too afraid. Go into the forest, and find your place.”

And now I’m freaking out even more. So I’m just standing up, and I’m like stumbling around. And this is a time period of my life where I’m just a freaking wreck. And I’m crying, and I’m wandering through the forest, and I find this little sort of indentation, this little spot. And I sit down, and I’m sitting on my rump, and I’ve got my hands on my knees and my head. And I’m just crying. And I look up, and off and to my right is this gorgeous spider web. It actually has little dewdrops glistening on it; they look like crystals. And this little spider comes walking out. It’s this Virginia garden spider.

And I look at it and I said, “Okay, I give up. What the fuck are you here to teach me? Because I have no idea.” And the spider says to me, “You worry too much. Your children are going to be fine.” And I just start shaking, because there is no message that I needed to hear more than that. And so I came out of that forest, I came out of that retreat. And a few weeks later was my 45th birthday, thereabout. The actual year doesn’t matter so much as the fact that it was my birthday, and on my birthday I got this spider tattoo above my heart so that I can never forget the fact that I worry too much, and that my kids are going to be all right. So that’s the spider.

Tim Ferriss: Has it remained relevant to you? Is it something that you consciously notice, or because it’s so continuously present, do you find yourself sometimes losing sight of it?

Jerry Colonna: Both. Meaning, I’m often reminded, as I was when you asked and you said, “Oh, I’m going to ask you about the spider.” I’m often reminded, so thank you for reminding me that the point of that spider’s visitation to me was to remember who I am. And I can use that reminder every day, because I forget every day. Not only do I forget who I am, but I forget that my kids are all right, and that I worry too much.

Tim Ferriss: Thank you for the story. It makes me think of, given the spider, Lakota mythology and Iktomi. There are various names for Iktomi, but Iktomi is a spider trickster spirit, bit of a hero. And perhaps one of the ways that you are a productive trickster is by asking questions that are very uncomfortable, or that can be very uncomfortable. And I think that’s one of your arts. And we’re going to come back to that, for sure.

But I thought we could revisit another, perhaps, chapter or event in your life that seems to have been very impactful. Could you talk to, I believe it was February, 2002, after something involving the Olympics, or the Olympic bid meeting, if you know what I’m referring to.

Jerry Colonna: I am. So, yeah. So February, 2002 I was working at J.P. Morgan at the time. I was co-leading the technology investment practice for a fund that was about $23 billion under management. So a large fund, and this was after having left Flatiron Partners in, I think, around the middle of 2001.

Tim Ferriss: And just for clarity, that was billions with a B.

Jerry Colonna: That was billions with a B. That’s right.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, that’s a large fund.

Jerry Colonna: It’s a large fund. I mean, but we were very diversified. We did everything from Brazilian railroads to funding the launch of JetBlue Airlines to the latest web-based startup in some capacity. Anyway, and a few months prior, it had been clear that my previous fund, Flatiron Partners, needed to be wound down. Fred and I needed to make some decisions about what to do.

I was in the midst of trying to sort through what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I did not have the internal capacity to raise a new fund. I know now that I was in the midst of a very and profound depression that was exacerbated by the attacks on 9/11. And one of the ways I responded to the attacks on 9/11 was to throw myself into the Olympic bid effort. We were bidding to bring the 2012 games to New York. And for me, this was a profoundly important effort, because now you’re going to make me cry. My city was attacked. The city that I love.

Tim Ferriss: And where you grew up.

Jerry Colonna: The city where I grew up, the city of Brooklyn, the place that had so much meaning for me, it was attacked. I remember feeling helpless during the fall, following the attack. Anyway, around the same time I had to decide whether or not I was going to accept an offer to join J.P. Morgan, which had been one of the funders and the funding partners for Flatiron Partners. And eventually I did that, and Fred linked up with Brad Burnham, and they launched Union Square Ventures.

By the way, worst decision of my life — to join J.P. Morgan and not go to Union Square Ventures. Anyway, so he went off and did that. I joined J.P. Morgan, and by February, 2002 I was a wreck. And what you’re referring to is February 2nd, 2002. I left an Olympic bid committee meeting, which was being held downtown, not far from Ground Zero. And I found myself outside of the stinking, smoking hole that was The Pile, as they referred to it, of Ground Zero.

And I remember feeling completely overwhelmed and feeling like there were ghosts flying around that area, and I wanted to die. And I was obsessed with the idea of running down to the Wall Street subway station and leaping in front of a subway. And I ended up deciding not to do that, but wisely and thankfully, instead called my therapist, Dr. Sayres, who said to me promptly, “Get in a cab and come out and see me.” And I did just that and saved my life at that point.

Tim Ferriss: What did your therapist do when you arrived? What was that session like? Can you describe that session?

Jerry Colonna: Yeah, so Dr. Sayres was a psychoanalyst, and so I very traditionally, almost like a New Yorker cartoon, would lay on the couch. And I can’t help but think of that and think of like somehow it’s a dog sitting in the therapist’s chair. So it’s like this some sort of New Yorker thing. Anyway, so I’m laying on the couch staring at the ceiling, as I did all the time. I remember saying to her, “Just stick a fork in me. I’m fucking done. Put me in the hospital; throw away the key.”

To be clear, the threat was real, because when I was 18 I did try to kill myself. No fooling around here, right? I mean, this isn’t just some idle ideation going on here. I was in it. I was 38. I was being cooked, and I was declaring that I was done. And Dr. Sayres, who was also from Brooklyn, said the most magical thing possible. She said, “What the hell do you want to go to a hospital for? The food sucks. Go to Canyon Ranch. You’ll get a massage everyday. You’ll be so much better.”

Tim Ferriss: What is Canyon Ranch?

Jerry Colonna: Canyon Ranch is a health spa, and it’s a very nice place. I loved it. It was really sweet, but it’s about as far removed from a psychiatric hospital as you can imagine. Because by the way, I did spend three months in a psychiatric hospital, so I sort of knew what I was asking for, if you will. So that’s what I did. I made plans to go down to Arizona. I think it was the Arizona branch of Canyon Ranch. And yeah, that was the beginning of me being rebuilt.

Tim Ferriss: When and why did you spend time in a psychiatric hospital?

Jerry Colonna: Well, I mentioned a suicide attempt when I was 18. I had, on January 2nd, something about the number two, right? January 2nd, I guess it was 1981. I’m losing track of the time. I had just turned 18, and I tried to kill myself. I cut my wrists and first went to, I was taken to the emergency room, Jamaica Hospital, the Trump Pavilion. That’s all I’m going to say. And then I was transferred from there to Creedmoor State Hospital, which is just this side of Hell. And then from there, after three days of Creedmoor, I was transferred to a hospital that actually is no longer a hospital, Cabrini Medical Center in Manhattan; I was there for three months.

Tim Ferriss: I think this is a good point to come back to questions — and good questions. And you’re very skilled in this department. So I’m going to pose one of your questions to you, and you can feel free to tweak it, paraphrase it, correct it any way you like. But if you look back to 2002, how were you complicit in creating the conditions in your life that you would have said you didn’t want?

Jerry Colonna: Nice turn!

Tim Ferriss: Which is a great question. So maybe you could repeat it for folks, because it is so important. And this is something that has greatly aided me when you introduced it to me many moons ago. And then if you could speak to that as it applies to that particular period in your life.

Jerry Colonna: Yeah. Yeah. So I’ll unpack the question. So the way I usually ask the question goes like this: “How have I been complicit in creating the conditions I say I don’t want?” And the reason for the language is very purposeful. I like to use the word complicit and not responsible. 90% of the time when I first ask that question, people hear the word “How have I been responsible for the conditions?”

Complicitness is important, because it’s relieving the person from the burden of feeling responsible for all the shit in their lives, because that’s not fair to carry that responsibility. But it’s helpful to think of ourselves as somehow being served by the challenges that we’re going through.

The second piece of that is that “I say I don’t want.” And that sort of unpacks that notion even further, which is there’s something oftentimes about the way in which we operate and the way we set up the conditions of our lives to be in unconscious service to us. The psychological term is secondary gain. But there are ways in which we find ourselves repeating patterns in our life. We always date the same type of person. We are always finding ourselves in the same kind of job. We’re always frustrated by the same sorts of situation. And so it’s really useful to sort of start to unpack that. So that’s that question.

And before I even answer your question, I want to say one other thing. The discomfort of difficult and powerful questions reminds me of something my daughter Emma likes to say about me, which is: “Imagine growing up with a man who asks you questions that you’d really rather not answer.” So shout out to Emma.

So I think that the way I was complicit —

Tim Ferriss: I guess we should thank Emma for being the crash test dummy for the questions that you use now in your career.

Jerry Colonna: You got it.

Tim Ferriss: Thanks, Emma.

Jerry Colonna: Emma and her brothers, Michael and Sam, for sure. For sure. God love them. They put up with so much with me. Oh, my God. “Dad, stop coaching me!” So, yeah. So before I can answer that question honestly, what I would say is Dr. Sayres taught me three additional questions. And those questions are: “What am I not saying that needs to be said?” “What am I saying that’s not being heard?” and “What’s being said that I’m not hearing?”

So again: “What am I not saying that needs to be said?” “What am I saying that’s not being heard?” and “What’s being said that I’m not hearing?” So for me, the way I was complicit was I wasn’t speaking. I wasn’t saying what I needed to say. And more often than not, Tim, the suffering that I encounter can almost always be rooted back to somebody not saying something that needs to be said. And if there’s a little corollary to that in not saying it, or not saying it in a way that it can be heard, because oftentimes we speak without words, but by our actions, and we go unheard.

Tim Ferriss: Could you give an example of something that you needed to say during that period of time that you didn’t say or that wasn’t heard?

Jerry Colonna: Yeah, yeah. Something very, very simple. I wasn’t happy. That despite all the outward trappings of success, I was empty and hollow inside. That I wasn’t speaking truthfully. That I wasn’t living in integrity, and that I was too afraid of losing the good graces and esteem of everybody around me to actually talk about the fact that I did not want to do what I was doing with my life at that point.

Oh, by the way, I didn’t know what else I was going to do, but that’s a separate issue, right? I mean, I knew when I decided not to continue working with Fred Wilson, stupid man that I was, I knew that it was actually the right thing for me to do. But when I agreed to take a job at J.P. Morgan, it wasn’t because I wanted to continue doing that work. It was because I was too terrified to do anything other than that, and I certainly didn’t want to lose the esteem and the good wishes.

I mean, think about your reaction just a few minutes ago when you pointed out that it was a $23 billion fund. And even in that moment, I felt a little bit of that pride mixed with a little bit of the shame, because I walked away from that. Right? And I didn’t want to lean into that space of “What if I don’t matter anymore? What if nobody calls me?”

Tim Ferriss: How did you get over that? What are the things that contributed to you making it through those questions? Because a lot of people seemingly don’t make it through those questions, right? They stay in a given track in a given relationship.

Jerry Colonna: They stay stuck.

Tim Ferriss: They stay stuck. Exactly. For five, 10, 15, 20, or more years. So what —

Jerry Colonna: Or a lifetime.

Tim Ferriss: Or a lifetime.

Jerry Colonna: What did Emerson say? The vast majority of men… Let’s update it. The vast majority of people lead lives of quiet desperation. [Ed. Note: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” is a line from Walden by Emerson’s friend Thoreau.] How did I get out of it? I guess your question implies an agency that I didn’t feel at the time. Meaning, “Huh, I wake up one day and I decide I’m going to be different.” No, it wasn’t that.

It was that I ran out of the ability to continue to operate anymore. It was that moment above the lip of Ground Zero, and that moment where I chose not to leap in front of the subway but to get into the cab and go to see Dr. Sayres. And it was that moment where I decided to follow her advice and go to Canyon Ranch. It was the series of moments where it was like, “Okay, I know it’s not working. I admit it’s not working. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but what I had been doing hurts too much. And if I have to suffer the consequence of the loss of status, approbation, affirmation, all the external trappings, so be it.” It’s like my soul basically said, “Listen, motherfucker, you better sit down and pay attention to your life, because the stakes are too high.”

Tim Ferriss: I think I read that in the Bhagavad Gita, if I’m correct. Brooklyn Edition.

Jerry Colonna: It’s the Buddha from Brooklyn. Listen, mofo.

Tim Ferriss: Now, how did you find your way to, I’ll use this term, it may not be the best term, but how did you find your way to coaching?

Jerry Colonna: So on that plane ride from New York to Arizona to Canyon Ranch, I read three books, When Things Fall Apart by Ani Pema Chödrön, Faith by Sharon Salzberg, and Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer. And before fully answering your question, I’ll give you this. I must’ve done something really, really good in a past life, because I have the benefit of considering all three of those people, Ani Pema, Sharon Salzberg, and Parker Palmer, as my friends. I didn’t know them at the time, but I have the good grace and the incredible good fortune to say I’m friends with them. They are my teachers. So what was your question? Sorry.

Tim Ferriss: The question was: How did you find your way to coaching? And just to reiterate something that you just said at the time, they were not your friends.

Jerry Colonna: That’s right.

Tim Ferriss: But you had the books —

Jerry Colonna: That’s right. And when I —

Tim Ferriss: and so I asked how you found your way to coaching, and you went back to the plane ride.

Jerry Colonna: Right. And so in reading those books, and those three books were really important because they did lead indirectly to me becoming a coach. Each one of those books presented something different to me. Faith presented this notion of really being honest with myself with what was going on. When Things Fall Apart was the first laying out of Buddhist dharma as a path. But it was Let Your Life Speak, which is a brilliant, beautiful, short little collection of essays, that really shifted the dialogue for me. Partially because Parker is so open and honest and authentic about his own struggles and depression.

Okay. So to your question, now let me fast forward it. Probably four or five years later, I’m still working my way through all of the issues that I’m carrying at that point and trying to sort myself out. I’m in an office. I’m sharing office space with Fred Wilson and Brad Burnham from Union Square Ventures, but I have a little sub-office within their space, and I’m doing a bunch of different things.

I’m serving on a bunch of boards of directors. I’m making little angel investments here and there, but I’m just sort of hanging around the hoop, if you will. And this young guy comes to see me and he says he’s there to “network.” This is the thing everybody is supposed to do. Network his way to a new job.

You ask about questions. So here’s the story. So he comes in, and he’s a lawyer and he wants to get a job in the startup industry. So he wants to find a way to get some sort of position. And I turned to him, and he’s probably in his late twenties and I said, “I’m happy to help you, but just answer a question for me.” It’s kind of my first coaching question, right? And I said, “What made you [decide] to become a lawyer in the first place?”

And he starts crying to me and he starts telling me about pleasing his father and about how it was his father had taught him that if all else fails, at least he could make a living as a lawyer. The kid was just miserable, just miserable. And so I reached up to the shelf, and I pulled down a copy of Let Your Life Speak, and I said, “Here, read this. And then get back to me.”

And then he left the office, and I turned around and I said, “Fuck, I think I need to be a coach. I need to do that more frequently.” And so within a few days I had signed up for a coach training program.

Tim Ferriss: Okay, let me pause for one second. So what did you feel? What did you experience? What was it about that encounter that made you so decisively say that to yourself?

Jerry Colonna: A couple of things. I could see relief in his eyes. I could see… I think the first thing I felt was empathy. I knew his feelings, because even though the content of the story was different, my experience was so similar. I had been so ruled by fears that I was living in a box. I had lived in a box that was not of my making. It was somebody else’s box. It was the wrong box. It was the wrong suit of clothes. It was not me, and I could feel all that.

And when I reached for Let Your Life Speak, I was reaching for the very same thing that had gotten me out of the box. And I said, “Here. Here’s a path.” And there was just relief. Relief not that he had read the book yet, but just relief that somebody actually understood his feelings and had given words to his feelings that he hadn’t been able to give to.

Remember that question: “What have I not been saying that I need to say?” There was that going on for him. So then I said, “Wait a minute, dude, you can do something about relieving suffering. You’re not the mess, and it’s not always just your prefrontal cortex that’s going to figure everything out.” Because I didn’t have an answer for him. I didn’t say, “Here’s the job you should do that’s perfect for you, so that you no longer go to bed at night feeling like crap, wondering whether or not you should wake up in the morning.” I just had to listen to my heart, and I did something completely non-intuitive. I reached onto my bookshelf and I gave him a book. And the feeling that I had was poignant pain coupled with a sense of being able to do something. I could be helpful.

Tim Ferriss: This may be overreaching, but how much of your call to coaching do you think, if any, was finding relief in taking the focus outside of yourself?

Jerry Colonna: Oh, my God. What a great question. It wasn’t just the call to begin coaching. This helps me every day. This is the craziness about the work that I do, about living my vocation like this. Even today, in my worst moments, when I can be with another person’s pain — by the way, which is the root etymological meaning of the word “compassion” — to be with someone else’s feelings, I magically feel relief from my own unbearable feelings. Because I think that’s the essence of being human together. We get to actually — geez. We look at each other across the campfire, I keep imagining us in pre-civilization looking across the campfire — and again, must be in Brooklyn — and going, “Dang, it’s hard. Isn’t it hard being human?” “Yeah, it’s really hard.” “Okay, let’s do this together.”

So I think the call was that. But if I may, I think the call was also to retroactively go back in time and save myself.

Tim Ferriss: Interesting. This makes a lot of sense to me. In saying that, do you mean — and I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of IFS, I think it’s Internal Family Systems — insomuch as, by helping people who are in similar positions with similar states or pains as you experienced earlier, you are healing that younger version of yourself in some capacity?

Jerry Colonna: Yes. Well, first of all, to answer your quick question, I have heard of IFS. I have not been trained in IFS, and I know a few of my clients have benefited from it. But broadly speaking, you want to understand Buddhism? It’s what we’re talking about right now. You want to understand wisdom traditions across the world? It’s what we’re talking about right now. It’s like, even the best of Christianity, even the best of what Jesus taught, I just imagine him exasperated, sitting there saying, “For God’s sake, love one another. Come on, can you just stop the nonsense and just reach across and just be with each other?” Think of it this way, Tim. There’s almost a universal wellspring of pain that you and I share. And in a similar fashion, there’s a universal wellspring of happiness and joy that you and I share. So if you’re in this painful spot, I can tap that universal wellspring of happiness and joy, and point it a little bit more at your suffering. And you can do the same for me.

Tim Ferriss: Let me ask you a question. You and I have spent a good amount of time on the phone together. To those people listening who are self-described high-achievers who don’t want to lose their edge, who are looking for the tactical practical, if they hear that and they’re rolling their eyes and like, “All right, you had me at 9/11. You had me at the books. But I don’t see how this applies. I’m too busy for that shit. I don’t have time to go to Burning Man and do fire dancing. This is serious business. I have serious work to do, sorry.” How do you relate that to someone who, in their first meeting, fits that profile, perhaps? What do you do with them in a first meeting?

Jerry Colonna: My job isn’t to necessarily convince people that they need help.

Tim Ferriss: Right.

Jerry Colonna: Right? And the first thing I would say to anybody who’s listening is, “If everything’s working for you, go at it! Have a great time. Go enjoy yourself. Go ahead.” But there’s a simple little trick. I have this little reputation that I make people cry, and all this stuff. You know what I do? I ask them a simple question. “How are you?” And I often follow it up with, “No, really. Don’t bullshit me. How are you? How are you really feeling?”

Because here’s the thing. You describe this would-be resistant person as a high achiever. Here’s the thing about high achievers, in my experience. High achievers, early on in their life, figure out how to get an A. They figure it out. Because the whole system is geared towards that grade. And then we take that entire system from our childhood, and we move it into work. It’s just getting As, getting As, getting As, getting As. And the highest achieving people oftentimes come in to me scared. Because there’s a little whispery voice in their ear that says, “You are a fucking fraud. You have no idea. And when they figure out that all you’re doing is reading the tea leaves on what it takes to get an A, they’re going to toss you out of the tribe. They’re going to toss you out on your ass. They’re going to push you away.”

Or, they say to themselves — because they haven’t experienced loss, or they think they haven’t experienced failure — they’re just waiting. They’re just playing a waiting game. They’re just waiting for something, for fate, to catch up to them and bang! The hammer’s going to come down. Now, if this resonates with you, you might also then recognize the anxiety that comes in. Where you put your head down at the pillow at night and you go, “My God, I don’t know if I can do it again tomorrow. Maybe they’ll catch me tomorrow.” And if that’s what you’re working with, then there’s an opportunity in all that we’re talking about. Forget universal suffering, forget about wellsprings. Forget about spiders, forget about Burning Man, which I’ve never been to, by the way, and I don’t believe in substances — but that’s a whole different issue. Forget about all that stuff.

Tim Ferriss: I’ve been three times. I’m a fan, at least once in your lifetime. But —

Jerry Colonna: God bless. The truth is —

Tim Ferriss: Separate conversations. So, continue.

Jerry Colonna: Separate — the truth is, I’m probably too scared to ingest any material inside of my body. But leave that aside for a moment. Forget all that nonsense. All the esoteric stuff like that. Here’s the simple question. “How’s it working for you? Because if it’s not working for you, why are you in pain? Why are you doing it? And would you like a little relief?”

You want to know the secret, nasty little trick that I play?

Tim Ferriss: Yes.

Jerry Colonna: I get them — if they either have children or hope to have children someday — I will ask them, what would they like their children to feel when they’re at the same age. Because if they would like them to feel something other than what they’re feeling, now’s the time to start changing the way they organize their lives.

Tim Ferriss: That’s a really good question. What if — and this could combine with what we’re talking about right now — someone comes in. They don’t feel imposter syndrome, necessarily, but they are simply overwhelmed. You ask them how they are, no, really, and they’re like, “I’m good, I’m just busy. I’m stressed. I just have too much. I’m overwhelmed.” If that’s the breed of client that shows up, how do you begin to work with that?

Jerry Colonna: Well, once you’ve established a certain level of trust and relating through empathy, and don’t necessarily try to step in and fix it, the first question I would start to ask or elicit is: “How is that being busy serving you?” Remember that “How have I been complicit in creating the conditions I say I don’t want?” Because here’s the thing about busyness. Busyness can feel fucking awesome. It can feel so amazing internally. Like, “Look at all the great stuff I got done.” Externally, “Look at how busy I am. I must be important.” That’s an interesting statement. Busyness can also serve to distract you from those voices inside that say, “Hey, I’m not happy. Hey! I’m not happy! Hey, I’m serious. I’m going to throw you down on the ground with some sort of somatic illness.” — lower back problem, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine headaches; that was my specialty — “I’m going to throw you down until you pay attention to me. Oh, okay, you’re too busy. Okay, I got you. Okay.”

Because here’s the thing, too. Somewhere around 35 to 50 years old, the systems start to break down. The systems that got you out of childhood, that got you into adulthood, that got you established, that got you to the point where you think you got it all figured out. And then all of a sudden, holy shit, the whole thing starts to collapse. Now what do I do? And when I see someone who’s busy, who’s in the early 20s, I see a striver trying to establish themselves. But when I see somebody who’s busy who actually doesn’t need to be that way, I get really, really curious. What internal need is trying to be met by all that busyness? And that’s the place to inquire.

Tim Ferriss: What are some of the more common patterns that you see with that busyness? I’m very curious about this.

Jerry Colonna: Well, I promise not to coach you, but why is it so curious? No, just kidding.

Tim Ferriss: No, I can tell you why it’s curious, or interesting to me. We can jump into some — I’m game to hit some volleys, if you want. For instance, I’m looking at — and apologies to everyone I have not replied to, but that is sort of my ethos and the gist of everything I’ve written. So I feel like I’ve bought some permission. But I currently have 618,952 unread email. And combination on two different tracks of 165 plus 255 unread text messages. And that’s the tip of the iceberg. So I actually feel surprisingly low anxiety about that. Nonetheless, a small amount of anxiety. And in the process of literally rebooting those various phone numbers and addresses, because it’s not physically possible to address that.

Perhaps similar to many of your experiences, it’s given me an opening line or common sentiment of commiseration that opens up the floodgates to similar types of problems in other people. So they confess. I’m the productivity guy in the confessional box for people who want to tell me about similar things. Those are a few things that come to mind when you ask me, “Why is that curious?” I just think it’s very common.

Jerry Colonna: I think it’s hugely common. You asked the question by using a particularly descriptive word. You described it as feeling overwhelmed. If we were to do dream analysis, we might talk about being flooded. That’s typically the psychological signal that the system is overwhelmed. Again, we use our construction and we talk about complicitness, not necessarily responsibility. And I’m going to use you as an example of a high achiever who is incredibly busy. So busy that he has over 600,000 unanswered emails. And we’ll just stick on that one for a moment. By the way, you’re allowed to declare bankruptcy at that point. You’re done.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, yeah.

Jerry Colonna: And what I hear you say is, “I don’t feel anxiety, just a small piece of it.” I would argue that you probably have been so overwhelmed by it that you’ve actually given up feeling anxious about it. And it’s just like, “Forget it. I’m not going to get to it.” So here’s the question for you. And you don’t have to answer it, but hang out with it. Couple questions. The first might be something like, “When did you start feeling overwhelmed, and how long have you felt overwhelmed? And while feeling overwhelmed, did you take on more tasks?” In your case, Tim, “Did you sign up for another book and another show, or another thing, which only produce more stuff?” Because that’s what I do. If there’s a tiny bit of open space in my life, I tend to fill it. And then, the magical question is, “How familiar is that feeling and how does that feeling serve you?”

Tim Ferriss: I’m willing to play on this one. I will say, before I get started, that I do think I have much better systems and rules and perspectives in place now. But to answer your questions, I’d say it started probably middle of undergraduate college, this feeling of overwhelm. Or at least that’s when it was most noticeable. The feeling of overwhelm then kind of ebbed and flowed, but certainly up until at least 2004, my solution to feeling anything I didn’t want to feel was to add more activities and stuff —

Jerry Colonna: Okay, can you just pause and say that again? Your solution to —

Tim Ferriss: Feeling anything I didn’t want to feel. In retrospect, I recognize that’s what it was. So if I felt anything I didn’t want to feel, I would add more activities to drown it out. Some people use heroin, some people use coke, some people use work. And I used activities. At the time, I also used stimulants, so I was in fact using both. But that changed quite a bit in 2004, by building in empty space. I think that still, now, there are vestiges of behaviors that in some sense helped me to find a toehold in financial security, that are no longer serving me that are nonetheless default gears, if that makes sense.

Jerry Colonna: Sure.

Tim Ferriss: And to that extent, the vast amount of my focus for the last year has been on saying “No” to practically everything. More than a year, the last several years. Nonetheless, there is a part of me — I think you had a, what was it, a crow? A raven on the shoulder —

Jerry Colonna: A crow. A crow.

Tim Ferriss: We’ll come back to the crow. And no, it’s not another dream sequence, for people wondering.

Jerry Colonna: No drug-induced dream sequence.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. We’ll come back to the crow. Something on my shoulder saying, “You might need this person.”

Jerry Colonna: You might need this person.

Tim Ferriss: This person. In reference to any given email that might come in. So what I find in my life is that the vast majority of stuff is clearly noise, and I can ignore. There are categories of activities — I’m not particularly good at moderation, whether that’s with chips, or chocolates, or speaking engagements, or fill in the blank. There’s certain things where I need to either be considering each item that presents itself or not consider them at all as a category. So I’ve decided certain things, just from a binary perspective — speaking, I will not do any of unless they happen to be a 10-minute drive from my house, and fit 20 other parameters. Otherwise, it’s an automatic “No,” and I don’t even see it.

Where I think I find more difficulty is where there are people who have been very helpful in the past, who perhaps were very supportive in the early days, who now have lots of favors to ask. But, if I’m listening to my body, it’s absolutely not a full-body yes. There’s a large part of me that knows I do not want to acquiesce, I do not want to agree, I do not want to accept, I do not want to do whatever it is they’re asking me to do because it doesn’t feel right, and/or it’s unreasonable. Nonetheless, those are the types of emails that tend to pile up. Those are the types of emails also that, even if I have someone like an assistant or multiple assistants filtering, the names are probably noticeable enough or old enough that they’ll get brought to my attention.

So let’s see here. Is it familiar? Yes, it’s familiar. How does it serve me? This I have more trouble with. I’m not going to say it doesn’t serve me, because I’m willing to, at least as a thought exercise, to accept that if it didn’t serve me I would have already found some clean solution or I wouldn’t have any emotional difficulty fixing it. How would you walk me through figuring out how it serves me?

Jerry Colonna: Yeah. I want to reflect back a couple things that I’m hearing, so we can just establish it. The first thing I would say is, I really admire all the filtering that you’ve put into your life, and the structures that you’ve put into your life to create boundaries in saying no. And I think that the rules, as you define them — and they might be rules for, “Hey, every morning I’m going to do X, and every afternoon I’m going to do Y, or I’m only going to work from hours…” — those are all important, but ultimately insufficient, for complete relief from some of these feelings. They’re really, really helpful. They’ve reduced your anxiety from overwhelming to small. But 620,000 emails…

I want to bring your attention to two other feelings. One was, you said something about missing something that might be important to you. Seeing someone that has been helpful to you in the past, or something that’s important to you, that you might miss something. So that’s one fear. Is that right?

Tim Ferriss: I would say so. I think the greater fear is that people who would at least believe that they have supported me without asking for a quid pro quo in the past would get upset. And this does happen, it has happened, where people take things very personally. I recognize I can’t take responsibility for everyone else’s feelings and responses to things. I do think that’s a fear, more than missing an opportunity, because I’m not concerned about missing financial opportunities.

Jerry Colonna: Not anymore. You once were.

Tim Ferriss: Not anymore. I once was. But I also stopped startup investing completely in 2015, because the noise simply wasn’t worth it. The cortisol-fueled, unnecessary hurrying associated with that culture was causing more harm than good, so I stopped in 2015. So I missed a pretty decent bull run, which I’m okay with. So it’s not a financial concern so much as social cost and fallout, if that makes sense.

Jerry Colonna: Yeah. What I’m hearing is a fear of disappointing someone who matters to you.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. That would be a piece of it, that would be a piece of it. This is helpful to me to talk through because it’s not just disappointment. In some cases I actually really dislike interacting with some of these more recent acquaintances, but for whatever reason, they view their position as very entitled insomuch as they expect a fast and very compliant response from me on many things. And they know a lot of people in the same circles, and that causes concern.

Jerry Colonna: So there’s an implicit internal, existential threat.

Tim Ferriss: I think that’s fair. I think that’s fair to say. And —

Jerry Colonna: What I —

Tim Ferriss: If I could say one more thing, just so I don’t sound totally like I’m living in a land of make-believe. I have run into many, many instances — more than a dozen, at least — where, say, someone will send me an email. They want a blurb for a new book; they want this, this, this, and this. And by the way, it’s coming out in four weeks, or whatever it is. There’s some set of requests/demands. I don’t reply. This has happened with journalists as well, where for whatever reason, I won’t help them, and then a hit piece comes out. Or then there’s some type of blowback/vengeful behavior, whether that’s shit-talking me on stage or whatever it might be. So there’s evidence to support the fear. But here I am. I’ve survived, I’m fine, that is also true. So I just wanted to add that color.

Jerry Colonna: Right. So I want to reflect back to you, empathetically and rationally, you’re not nuts. The threats are real.

Tim Ferriss: At least not in that department.

Jerry Colonna: That’s right. That’s right. What I often say is there are three basic risks that we’re all trying to manage all the time: love, safety, and belonging. We want to love and be loved. We want to feel safe physically, emotionally, spiritually. And we want to feel that we belong. So if you resonate with those at all, the existential threat — and I want to bring your attention to existential, because I think that the threat is to the essence of who you are — or at least the perceived threat, when someone trash-talks you on stage, what they’re trash-talking is you. The you. Not the meatbag, but the essence of you. I know for myself that the fear of disappointing others is a threat to my belonging. I’m not going to be in my family anymore. My children won’t love me. My partners won’t love me. So therefore, I will be unsafe. I will be bereft. I’ll be by myself. I’ll be alone in the woods, fending for myself. And there are few things that threaten me more than the threat to belonging. I don’t know. Does that resonate with you?

Tim Ferriss: It does resonate. I think that a lot of what I’ve done and been able to do has been dependent on maintaining very long-term relationships with people who I enjoy being friends with, who happen to also be very, very good at what they do, whatever that is. So I think there’s a bit of, what got you here won’t get you where you want to go, or won’t get you there. That does resonate. And we don’t have to jump to this, but what I’d love to talk about, or listen to you describe, because I think a lot of people would benefit from it, is when you run into someone who, like me, is fielding a lot of inbound. And it could be from one person. But they, for whatever reason, are having difficulty saying no or establishing boundaries. What are tools or books or approaches that you’ve found helpful for people in that position? Whether it’s nonviolent communication, or fill in the blank. Anything at all. Or questions — anything at all. How do you begin to advise someone like that?

Jerry Colonna: Well, there’s a couple things come to mind. I’m going to reference two friends of ours, Seth Godin and Sharon Salzberg. The first thing was, when I was really struggling with this early on in my adult career, Seth Godin gave me some wonderful advice, which boiled down to this phrase: “I wish I could, but I can’t.” And that became an interesting little fence around my life, a boundary marker. The idea was that you would be able to say to someone who reaches out, “Can you do this favor, this thing for me?” And you get to say, “I wish I could, but I can’t.” You just pause around that. The problem is, of course, there’s an inauthenticity that can set in, which is: “I actually don’t wish I could.”

Tim Ferriss: And “I can, but I really don’t want to.”

Jerry Colonna: Yeah, that’s a whole ’nother level. “I can, but I won’t.” Right. So then it becomes a little bit of — listen, I’m trying to take my own advice to heart. And the advice I give clients is to take care of themselves first. So that becomes a useful tool. But then you referenced something before about not being responsible for someone else’s feelings. And that brought to mind a teaching that Sharon Salzberg gave me, which goes like this: All beings own their own karma. Their happiness or unhappiness depend upon their actions, not my wishes for them.

Tim Ferriss: Say that one more time, please.

Jerry Colonna: Yeah. All beings own their own karma. Karma being the cause and effect, the consequences of their actions. Their happiness or unhappiness depend upon their actions, not my wishes for them. Or the corollary to that is not the actions that I take or don’t take. Now they may say to you when they’re reaching out to you, Tim, “Tim, if you don’t do this thing that I’m asking you to do, then I will be unhappy. And if I’m unhappy, I will be mean to you.” That’s essentially the existential threat.

Tim Ferriss: I wish they would actually just send that email, because then I would say, “Gotcha, bitch. I have a blog. Shouldn’t have sent that email!” Which has actually happened with writers from The New York Times, believe it or not, which is horrible to say.

Jerry Colonna: So they’re explicit in their threat!

Tim Ferriss: Oh, yeah. And then as soon as they realize what they’ve done, they’re like, “Ah, shit,” and then they cool their jets. But yeah, yeah.

Jerry Colonna: So here’s a little tool that I have come up with that helps me. I often think of creating these little fences, and I often visualize a chain link fence so that I can see through it. And it has a gate in it, and the gate only opens one way, inward. I get to control whether or not the gate opens. So then I can see someone on the other side, and then the phrase that comes up is: Love them from afar; be kind to them in my heart. Set clear boundaries, right?

I have, as your friend, as your guide, as somebody who hopefully is standing shoulder to shoulder with you on this crazy journey, I really feel for all the people who have reached out to you 620,000 times in your inbox and all of that stuff. And I feel for you, and I would advise you to delete every one of those things and to basically love all of those people who are going to get unanswered from afar and be kind to them in your heart and recognize that, on the whole, you’re doing the best that you can, because you are.

Jerry Colonna: I wish I could give you like, “Here’s the tool.” Like NVC, Nonviolent Communications, has some brilliant tools. Or “Here’s the book that magically unlocks that.” To me, the challenge isn’t not having the tool. The challenge is in the meaning that we put into the situation. That is the hardest thing to come over. And to recognize that you’re okay even if you’re not necessarily being at your kindest or at your best. Because you, like everybody else, like me, we all get resources that are thin at times. My God, my God. And so if you’ve not answered a text message from me, Tim, or if you’ve not answered an email from me, I am never, ever, ever going to think ill of you.

Tim Ferriss: Well, I appreciate that. I wish I could transmit that composure to all of my 620,000 senders. Let me ask you a situational question, and this is true in my life, and I’m sure it’s true for many people listening. I have a handful of people who are kind of close to me, very much in the same circles, playing at a high level, who tend to reach out to me only when there is an ask of some type. And there tends to be some great degree of discomfort associated with the ask insomuch as perhaps they have two or three people who are close friends of mine attending an event of theirs or investing in blah-be-de-blah, whatever it might be, so that there’s a great degree of discomfort that I feel in ignoring the email. Maybe I actually get texted by one friend and then the email from this person. There are a few people who are repeat characters, kind of like Newman in Seinfeld, and Seinfeld shakes his fist, “Newman!” Yeah, so I have at least a half a dozen Newmans who are pretty tough to get rid of. And they’re not very good at reading hints, or they deliberately ignore hints that I don’t want to do things or that I don’t want to respond.

Have you coached people through breaking up with friends or having direct conversations with their own Newmans? And that maybe the Newman is a cofounder. Maybe the Newman is someone on the board of directors. Maybe fill in the blank. For having a really direct conversation about this type of dynamic?

Jerry Colonna: Sure. Can we put aside just for a moment cofounder and board member?

Tim Ferriss: Oh, totally, totally.

Jerry Colonna: Because there are power dynamics there that are different than the Newmans that you’ve been talking about.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, let’s leave out cofounder and board member. I agree that adds a level of complexity.

Jerry Colonna: Or we can circle back to it separately. But here’s the thing. If we start with a basic, basic, basic, basic premise, it goes like this: “Am I a good person? Am I doing the best that I can?” And if I can answer that question relatively straightforwardly and honestly, then I don’t have to feel guilty. Because that’s what we’re talking about, right? That’s the emotion that gets manipulated. I don’t have to feel guilty saying to somebody, “I don’t have the space to do the thing that you would like me to do, which might include maintaining this contact.”

There’s an image that I often use, whether it’s with a client or with my own self, and it’s come to me as I’ve gotten older and I’m obsessed right now with myself being old. The image is of a bonsai tree, which over its lifetime — you can see this one-foot-tall bonsai tree and it could be anywhere from 10 years old to 300 years old, and you have really no idea, right? What I see is something that has been carefully pruned into a thing of beauty. And I think that that’s our opportunity in life.

Now if we start with the supposition that we are never enough, that we are not good enough and that we therefore not only, you said before, become addicted to busyness in order to make ourselves not feel the things that we don’t want to feel — remember that?

Well, one of the things that we do is we maintain unhealthy relationships in order to not feel the things that we don’t want to feel, even when those unhealthy relationships make us feel other things we don’t want to feel. Whereas if we start with the basic premise that we are enough just as we are and that there is no great loss to you, Tim, if over time you lose some connection, and you use this term several times, to some high-powered person, oh my goodness, this high-achieving person, this high-performer person. There’s no real great loss if…

Think of the people that you have interviewed over the years. The people who maybe began in some powerful position and that have gone on to some powerful position. “Oh my God, if I lose that connection that I once had to them, then somehow I’m at a loss.” We take a breath; we breathe into that. The Buddha taught us one thing: You are basically good just as you are, not because of the connections that you have maintained. And those people who love you and care about you and understand the essence, are going to be fine even if you say, “Hey, I’m sorry, I actually can’t maintain this connection.”

Tim Ferriss: May I ask a question?

Jerry Colonna: Sure.

Tim Ferriss: All right. I agree with everything you just said. And what I’d love to hear you elaborate on is any practices or tools that you use or recommend people use to get from intellectually agreeing with what you just said to embodying that in some way that translates to different behavior. Does that make sense?

Jerry Colonna: Sure.

Tim Ferriss: Because one of my favorite quotes is, I guess it’s Ted Geisel, but Dr. Seuss [Ed. Note: or Bernard Baruch], which is: “The people who matter don’t mind, and the people who mind don’t matter.” I mean, I love that quote. I remind myself of it all the time. Nonetheless, I do have this guilt that crops up on occasion that I recognize as counterproductive. Nonetheless, it crops up and causes me to behave in ways that I know are not necessary nor productive. And I’m wondering how you help people to make that leap from kind of the intellectually “Uh-huh, yup, I get it” to the other lily pad of behavioral change?

Jerry Colonna: Well, the first thing I would say is that the practice that you just described, embodying the Ted Geisel, Dr. Seuss quote, that is a practice. And the first thing to do is to remember that the thing about the word “practice” is that we actually never achieve, right? We’re always moving towards. We’re always going there. But oftentimes, achieving it permanently, sustained, persistently, that’s a tough one.

So in those moments when we fail to understand and remember that those who love us won’t mind, when we fail to remember that, it can be helpful to remember what I was saying before about “I am enough and I’m doing the best that I can.” Or as Dr. Sayres once taught me, “Not bad, considering. Not bad considering how rough you may have had it. Not bad considering how hard your life is right now. You’re okay. You’re okay.” And if I can say that to myself every day in one form or another, bringing a kind of mindful attention to the points when I fail with a kind of forgiveness to myself, well then, wow, okay, that can be helpful.

Tim Ferriss: Do you use journaling for this? I know journaling is very important to you, and I want to discuss that as a topic. And there are a million and one ways to journal, so I’d like to learn more about how you use journaling. But is journaling one of the ways that you remind yourselves of these things?

Jerry Colonna: Yes. Yes.

Tim Ferriss: And if so, what does it look like, down to the mundane details? Do you write down “I am enough” as a prompt and then write for two paragraphs on why that is the case? Or how does one implement this?

Jerry Colonna: Yeah, yeah, yeah, thank you. Just for context, I have been journaling consistently since I was about 13 years old, daily. And I’m 55, so a hell of a lot of journals. Again, to be consistent. And I think you do the same thing, I hand write.

Tim Ferriss: I do, yeah.

Jerry Colonna: What may be unusual is I never go back and reread. Because it’s not about figuring shit out, it’s about the experience. And so my general prompt, the thing I almost always start with is: “Right now I’m feeling,” and I simply bring my attention to it. So I might be feeling, to talk about this very specific situation, guilt, right?

For example, and I’ll use the sort of mindful attention, if I were to journal about our conversation, one of the things I might journal is about the guilt that I have felt over the years as to whether or not I was reaching out to you when you might be in trouble, or if I was one of those folks who put you in an uncomfortable situation. And I bring that up not to elicit a response from you, but as an example of an exploration of the guilty feelings that I might have. Where are they coming from? What are they doing? Was I kind? That sort of thing. And then I blow a kiss to myself. “Easy there, buddy boy, easy.” This is all a journaling exercise. I’m just talking it out.

I remember something that’s really important about that word “guilt.” Guilt is self-focused. Remorse is about the other. Remorse is “Oh, I hurt someone’s feelings, and I would like to not be hurtful. So I’m going to try not to be hurtful.” Guilt is “Oh, my God, I can’t believe this. I’m ruminating, ruminating, ruminating, ruminating.” If I find myself journaling in a ruminating kind of way, I try to bring attention to that. And that’s the moment where I say, “Easy, boy, easy. You’re a good man who sometimes fails to live up to your aspirations.” That’s it. That simple.

Tim Ferriss: I also promised I would return to the crow. This might be a good place. Now I’m going to get the pronunciation wrong, Mary… Help me with the last name. P-O-N-

Jerry Colonna: Ponsot.

Tim Ferriss: Ponsot. Poet.

Jerry Colonna: Yeah. And it’s Marie, Marie Ponsot.

Tim Ferriss: Marie! Always a tricky one. All right, so Marie —

Jerry Colonna: Ponsot.

Tim Ferriss: Ponsot.

Jerry Colonna: And she’s still with us, thank God.

Tim Ferriss: And the crow, what does she describe in terms of the crow? This might fit, might not. But I want to make sure I fulfill my promise to return to the crow.

Jerry Colonna: Oh, I think it does fit. I think it does fit. So Marie was one of my professors in college. She taught poetry. But I also took a particular track in teaching writing, and so she was also my mentor. She used to talk all the time about the crow who sits on your shoulder telling you what a piece of shit you are, “Caw, caw! That’s a piece of shit. I can’t believe you wrote that.” It’s like I hear that voice. And it sits on your shoulder and it tells you all the things that you have done wrong and all the things that are happening.

Oftentimes in my journal — sometimes I’ll take a second pen so that there are two different colors — I will allow the crow to speak. This is really important. This is a jiu-jitsu move. Because the mistake I think a lot of people make is they try to throw rocks at the crow and shut the crow up, right? That crow is a really interesting voice. That crow tells us all the things that we are doing wrong and the ways in which we are not enough. And that’s the linkage back to what we were just talking about. This notion that we are not enough just by ourself, that’s the fuel by which the crow is there.

Now this is the move to make. The crow’s mission is to preserve your ability to be loved, to feel safe, and that you belong. What? It makes you feel like shit, though. Yes, it makes you feel like shit. But its motivation is for you not to feel ashamed. And so the crow is doing you a favor. The crow is trying to keep you safe. The problem is the crow is so attentive and so vigilant that it’s a little too active. And so what we want to say at that moment is “Thanks a lot, buddy. I really appreciate it. But all those people who might be angry with me because I didn’t respond to them or do the thing they wanted me to do, they actually don’t really see me. And if they don’t see me, they don’t know that I’m doing the best that I can. So I’ll blow them a kiss. I’ll put them on the other side of that chain link fence and I’ll love them from afar.”

Tim Ferriss: This is really important. And by “this” I mean everything that we’ve been talking about pretty much since the get-go, but especially I’m referring to the journaling and creating an outlet for the crow or the monkey mind or what Tim Urban of Wait But Why would call the mammoth. And I highly recommend that everybody check out an article he wrote called Taming the Mammoth, which is on this subject. That if you hate that part of yourself and try to contain it, at least in my experience, that does nothing but exacerbate, does nothing but worsen the problem. But along the lines of, say, Morning Pages, you know, Julia Cameron and so on, writing freehand in the morning and providing that monkey mind an opportunity to fix itself on paper, at least for me, gives me tremendous amount of increased levity during the day. It removes a huge burden.

Do you tend to journal first thing upon waking up? Could you walk us through when you’re at your best, when do you wake up, what is your first kind of 60 to 90 minutes look like, or two hours, whatever you choose?

Jerry Colonna: It’s two hours. And when I’m at my best, I wake, I clean up, so I shower and stuff like that, and I have caffeine, because you do not want to be around me without caffeine.

Tim Ferriss: What time do you wake up, generally?

Jerry Colonna: Between 5:00 and 6:00 am, almost without fail, usually without an alarm clock. So I’m really awful at around 9:00 at night; I’m a very boring person. I do not look at my phone. Let me say that again. I do not look at my phone. I do not look at my phone! Because it’s just too painful. And with a cup of coffee. Coffee, not cwafee as they say from Brooklyn. Then I journal usually for an hour. And then I sit in meditation usually for a half hour, sometimes 45 minutes. It sort of depends on how the day has gone and what’s going on. But the entire period feels like one quiet, meditative period. So that’s me at my best.

Tim Ferriss: The journaling for an hour, I want to dig into that a bit because I think it’s such a powerful tool and I’d like to hear more about how that hour is spent. I’m looking at a page in the new book, appropriately named Reboot, and you have in this book different journaling invitations, right? So you might have, let’s give a few examples, “In what ways do I deplete myself and run myself into the ground? Where am I running from and where to? Why have I allowed myself to be so exhausted?” You mentioned earlier that you often start the journaling with “Right now I’m feeling… ” Are there other prompts that you personally tend to use more than others?

Jerry Colonna: I would never say that I would use prompts like I’m going to use the same prompt every time. Usually the one thing that I do consistently is “Right now I’m feeling…” And then generally speaking I might review the past 24 hours almost in a diary kind of fashion. You know, so “Yesterday I woke up and da, da, da, da.” I also don’t worry about explaining people. So I might say, “And then I met with Mary Jane,” and I don’t have to explain who Mary Jane is because who cares? I’m never going to read it again and nobody is ever going to read it, right? So I get rid of all that monkey mind bullshit chatter, right, and I just go right into it. And I presume that the journal knows all, sees all, has been there with me all along. That’s an important point.

Secondarily, I will ask myself many questions like, “How long have I felt this way?” Which will then bring me back to some early memories, and I will start to be able to elucidate the patterns of my life. And that’s really important because it’s the patterns that actually point out where we have some struggles.

Can I circle back to a point that you were making before about accepting the totality of what’s going on? Because the journaling can help me in that.

Tim Ferriss: Yes, of course.

Jerry Colonna: The journal can help one in that. I mentioned before about maybe utilizing different pens to speak for the different parts of ourselves. Before I even go further, let me make this observation. I think it’s super helpful for you, Tim, to speak openly about the ways in which there are different parts of you. For those of us who are mildly curious about this space, that’s an obvious fact. But there’s still very much a point of view in the world that there’s just one mind, that there’s just one point of view, and all those other voices we pretend aren’t there, they’re not part of ourselves. And you are absolutely right, when those voices are not given airtime, they get really pissed off, really, really angry. And the energy that they hold is really important. So if we go back to journaling for a moment, by giving voice to those other voices, by giving airtime to those other voices, we get to lay out in fact all the conflicts that exist within us.

In Buddhism we’re taught that there are seven layers of consciousness, seven. There’s an observer observing, observing, observing, observing. There are all these layers of what’s going on, right? And by taking the time in a good journaling session, you can allow, you don’t even have to swap all these pens, you can allow dialogue. You can allow conflict. You can allow argument. And it’s in that expression, that’s a manifestation of that full acceptance that you were talking about before. Oh, wait, I can contain multitudes. Isn’t that what Whitman said, “Do I contradict myself? I do. I am large. I contain multitudes.” Amen.

Tim Ferriss: Whether we’re aware of it or not, we all do. A book that helped me a lot with this — and I found so much value in the first, I want to say, 50 to 100 pages that I wanted to get to work immediately; I was like, “Okay, that’s plenty of grist for the mill, let me get started” — was Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach.

Jerry Colonna: Oh, God, what a great book.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I think the title is fairly sterile or milquetoast, but the book is so good. In my particular case, my default emotional home in a way was anger. And the way I dealt with that was by fighting anger, if that makes sense, and trying to cage and contain it.

Jerry Colonna: Yeah, totally makes sense.

Tim Ferriss: And Radical Acceptance offered me an entirely different way of relating to that, which I found extremely valuable. Are there any other tools, meditations, books, anything at all that might be helpful in assisting people to accept or reconcile with different parts of themselves? At the very least, recognize different —

Jerry Colonna: Yeah, yeah. You know how before you were saying you were taking an intake of breath because you wanted to jump in? I’m having all those same feelings. Yeah, so much here. First of all, shout out to Tara Brach for Radical Acceptance. What a brilliant book. What a gift she is as a teacher. Yes, yes, yes, on the acceptance.

You talked about anger being your default mechanism. For me, growing up with the violence that I experienced as a kid, rage was a major part of my childhood. But the challenge that I experienced was that anger, rage, was so dangerous that I actually turned it into anxiety all the time. And so actually you can’t see it because the video is off, but on my desk are two little action figures. One is Hulk, and the other is Thor. One part of me that I learned to accept was The Hulk.

When I was a kid, I remember this one time. I have a younger brother named John. And in my mind’s eye he’s still 10 years old, even though he’s in his 50s. So hey, John. Anyway. When I was a kid, we lived in a part of Brooklyn called Bensonhurst. We lived in the second floor of a two-family house. I remember looking out the window and one day this kid was throwing rocks over the fence at my brother John, and I went ballistic. I ran downstairs and I grabbed this kid and I pulled him over the fence and I threw him on the floor and I pounded the crap out of his face. Because here’s the thing, you do not fuck with my people. You do not fuck with Hulk’s people.

The problem was that Hulk was often dangerous and would often lead to something negative happening to me. So I would shut him up, and I’d pretend that he’s not there. And he would show up in all sorts of ways, like really cleverly dissecting somebody’s argument and being really wordy and verbose and shutting people down and all these awful behaviors. And what I had to do was radically accept that that guy, that big green guy exists in me for one reason only: to keep myself and those who love me safe. And by loving Hulk, I transformed him into Thor. Who’s just as strong, just as powerful, less likely to be out of control, and motivated by justice.

Tim Ferriss: Better hair, too.

Jerry Colonna: And much better hair and much better skin. So that radical acceptance, that accepting the fullness of ourselves, oh my God, it’s so liberating, isn’t it?

Tim Ferriss: It is. What’s liberating also is simply the realization that you can in some fashion reconcile these different parts of you and that they serve a purpose. Not only do they serve a purpose, but that they were probably in some way fundamental to your survival, whether that’s physical, emotional, or otherwise. And that they were incredibly, incredibly important, and may still be very important for certain things, certain situations. But, yeah.

Jerry Colonna: That’s right. I mean, that recalls Carl Jung’s notion of the shadow, which is the place he describes as the place we put the dismembered parts of ourselves, and this is really important. Not only do we put the parts of ourselves that society may say are obviously not good, let’s say a rage-like anger, but also the parts of ourselves that are actually quite powerful, quite positive, and quite lovely.

But because they threaten, say, our belonging, they have to actually be put in the shadow as well. Well they too get really pissed off, right? And they too cause trouble. So you might put into the shadow your intellect, or your capabilities, or your ability to write a book, and you might sit for two or three decades, knowing that you want to write a book and not doing it because it might threaten you in some way or another.

Tim Ferriss: This is a good segue for difficult decisions, and by difficult I mean emotionally difficult. For instance, sitting on the desire to write a book for 10, 20 years, and then finally taking whatever the steps are, the first steps to finally write that book, potentially. Maybe that’s leaving a job, maybe that’s starting a job. Could be any number of things.

Could you speak to, and you can choose which of these questions you would like to answer, a time when you said no to something that was very difficult to say no to that ended up being very, very valuable in retrospect, very important?

Conversely, and these are kind of two sides of the same coin, when you chose to switch your focus or very thinly focus, which by necessity means saying no to a lot of other stuff that ended up being very, very, very important to your life trajectory?

Jerry Colonna: I’m not sure I understand the second question. It’s hard to answer both without understanding the second question. Could you reframe it?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, there are two ways of getting to the same thing. So one is, when did you say no to something that was at the time very difficult to say no to, which in retrospect was very important to your life?

And then the other is, when was a time when you decided to kind of block out all the noise, block out everything else, and focus on something very narrowly, and that ended up being extremely important in retrospect? Does that make sense?

Jerry Colonna: Yeah, now it does. Thank you. What occurs to me is that the answer to both questions is the same. Meaning probably the most consequential career choice that I made, the consequential saying no that I ever did, was to walk away from the venture business, and to stop being a professional investor.

The rest of my life unfolded, and I’m sitting here talking to you today. I mean, we might have been friends, Tim, had I taken that path. Who knows? But I’m sitting here talking to you about something that feels like the most profound fruition of who I am. My vocation, my belief systems, all of this, because I said no to the thing that I was actually really successful at.

Which was a mind fuck if you think about it, right? Because if I was failing as an investor, you could sort of say, “Well of course he walked away. He failed.” But I actually walked away when I was successful because it was too painful.

Tim Ferriss: Can you walk us through how that happened? Because you had to have this feeling for, I would imagine more than 20 minutes. Maybe it was days, maybe it was weeks, maybe it was months. What was the kind of the 24-hour period, the dinner, the conversation, the 48 hours, whatever it might have been when you were like, “Enough is enough. I’m actually sending the email, having the conversation, and walking.”

Jerry Colonna: Yeah, so it was actually years in the making, and I would have to go back to ’99, 2000, right around that time period where if you recall, the market crashed, the NASDAQ crashed. I forget the absolute numbers because they would be minuscule compared to the numbers we’re dealing with now.

But the market crashed around March 1999, and I remember it because I was on a family holiday to Washington, D.C. when Fred I think texted me, said, “Did you see the NASDAQ?” And I was like, “Oh, my God.” And I think it had dropped like 700 points or something, which at the time was like a phenomenal number.

Anyway, right around that time I started having this, I just couldn’t sleep, I was just not happy, and it was, I was 37, 38 years old, so in hindsight I was clearly entering midlife, and the systems were collapsing all around me.

Then I thought I couldn’t go out and fundraise with Fred and raise a new venture capital fund for Flatiron, and so I decided to leave the fund. But I decided to leave the fund and go to J.P. Morgan because I thought that the problem was changing the externalities.

Tim Ferriss: Right.

Jerry Colonna: Right. And so then I took a position starting January 1st, 2002, and as we were talking about before, by February it was just not working. And I remember going in to see my boss at the time, a guy named Jeff Walker, who is Vice Chairman of the bank. He’s still a very, very close friend. And I remember saying, “I can’t do it. I just can’t do it.”

And I think it was probably a few months after the Canyon Ranch visit, and I said, “I’m not going to renew my contract at the end of this year.” And he said, “Well, what are you going to do?”

And I said, “I don’t know, but for the first time in my life I’m going to be without a job. First time since I was about 13. And I’m going to be liberated from this definition, from this notion of wearing somebody else’s suit of clothes.” And it was incredibly scary. It was incredibly hard.

Tim Ferriss: Was the trigger — I hate to interrupt.

Jerry Colonna: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Was the trigger that you had a preset scheduled meeting for the renewal of the contract? It was kind of like “Shit or get off the pot” in the sense —

Jerry Colonna: No.

Tim Ferriss: No? So you —

Jerry Colonna: No, it was a dinner.

Tim Ferriss: It was a dinner. Okay.

Jerry Colonna: It was the dinner. I was like, “Jeff I need to have a dinner. I need to talk about this.” Because the presumption, everybody renewed their contracts.

Tim Ferriss: Did something prompt, was there like a particular day or moment that prompted you asking him out to dinner?

Jerry Colonna: It was a growing sense that, you know. So I went down to Canyon Ranch and I read these books. Let Your Life Speak. “Holy shit, I’ve actually not been listening to my life!” And I started to spend the next few months, it was the beginning of my meditation practice. I first meditated at Canyon Ranch. And I would argue I first began listening to my life, to my heart.

And over the next few months up until November of that year, I think we had dinner right around November 2nd or so, there’s that number two again. I never noticed that pattern before. We had dinner, and I said to him, it was like one of those moments. Do I say it at the beginning of the dinner or do I say it at the end? You know.

Tim Ferriss: “Oh, yeah! Just one last small thing before we go.”

Jerry Colonna: “By the way, I’m not going to be your partner anymore!” I said it at the beginning. I knew in my heart that he would still be my friend. In fact, we remain super close. But the fear was like, what was I going to do? And I didn’t know. I had no idea. Thank you for bringing me back to that time because it’s important for me to remember that. I’m feeling that right now.

Tim Ferriss: What was the day after you walked like? Do you remember what you did on the first one or two days after you walked out?

Jerry Colonna: I remember starting to tell people. I told the woman who was my assistant at the time. She remains a very close friend. See, there’s a pattern. Carrie Rackland. And I said, “Carrie, I’m not going to do it.”

I don’t remember all of the details. It was so long ago. This is 17 years ago now. But I remember the feeling, and the feeling was a combination of utter relief and absolute terror. Both feeling simultaneous.

Tim Ferriss: What is your advice to someone who is in that position? And I could phrase it as, what advice would you have given yourself when feeling those two things at that point and time, which you can answer.

Or since you have experience with so many executives, founders, and so on, when people are experiencing this sense of relief combined with abject terror of facing the unknown, what’s your advice?

Jerry Colonna: Well the first thing I would say, and I would have said to myself, is: “Welcome to midlife.” For sure. And I say this often now. Because I often can see the connection.

I was talking to the CEO of a very successful company who, I was just talking to him this morning. He’s 39 years old. It’s like, “Everything is working. Why do I feel groundless?” I was like, “Well let’s talk about that.”

So what I often say is, “Remember you’re not alone.” And the second is that “There are adults, men and women, who are on the other side of that gulf and we’re fine, and you’ll be fine. And they have trod the path before you and you’re going to be okay.”

You know, how many references to books have you made, Tim? Those were all written by people — you know, Tara’s book was written just as much for herself as it was written for anyone else. You know?

And all of those people, they’re there. They’re like ancestors guiding us through that period and saying, “Come on over. The water’s fine. You’re going to be okay. Don’t be so scared.”

Tim Ferriss: What has helped most with, or what helped most if it’s past tense, with your anxiety, with your worrying, when you transmuted rage into anxiety, or if anxiety bubbled up from other sources. What are some of the things that have helped you most with that?

Jerry Colonna: I’ll speak about the rage for a moment. The rage, and then turned into anxiety. It would often turn into anxiety, but it would equally as often turn into migraines. And that’s when Dr. Sayres first taught me the first of those three questions, which is: “What am I not saying that needs to be said?”

And by linking speaking to the rage and to the migraines and to the anxiety, I gave voice to the feelings. And that didn’t magically make them go away, but it lessened the power of that anxiety. It lessened the power of all of those feelings. So learning to speak, whether it’s in my journal or actually learning to speak like an adult with another human being.

“Hey, that hurt me.” Or, “Hey, I’m scared. That thing that you said last night scared me. And as a result, I want to do the thing I would normally do, which is withdraw and cut off connection to you, but I’m going to stay here and be an adult and engage with you.” That move, it doesn’t make the anxiety go away, but it puts me back in control. Puts the adult me back in control.

The other thing that I do is, I start to ask the anxiety questions. You really want to work with what’s going on in that amygdala, which is where the source of the anxiety tends to be, right? The amygdala. Ask it questions. “What’s the threat? What am I afraid of? Have I heard this before?” Those questions fire off the prefrontal cortex, which can relieve the anxiety.

Tim Ferriss: Do you personally tend to ask those questions before meditation, in journaling? What form does the asking take?

Jerry Colonna: Yeah, I do. Well, remember, I journal before I meditate.

Tim Ferriss: Right.

Jerry Colonna: So a lot of times, I will be sitting down at the cushion going, “Oh, this is what I’m working with.” I’ll tell you what happened this morning in my journaling and my meditation session. I was working with some really difficult feelings that came up over the weekend. And I was sitting in meditation.

I had a conversation with Sharon Salzberg yesterday and it was really helpful. And all of a sudden, she came back just as I sat down. And I’m a very ritualized meditator, right? So I have candles, I have incense. I’m a former Catholic, so I like all that ritual stuff. Somebody can ring a bell, it makes me happy, right?

So I’m doing all that stuff. I’m sitting on the cushion and all of that is emerging. And all of a sudden, I start visualizing the area of my chest where my heart is. And the object of my meditation this morning was “Open your heart, your heart is closing. Stay open.”

And in that moment, I realized that what I was continuing to work with was the impulse to close down this weekend that I was feeling in response to the fears. And so the naturally arising thought that came from that session and that moment was “Open, open, open.” Which very quickly turned into loving kindness meditation for myself.

Tim Ferriss: And for people who don’t know, correct me if I’m wrong here. But loving kindness meditation, if you want to learn more about it, I would highly recommend diving into that. Also known as metta — M-E-T-T-A — meditation.

Two folks worth checking out.: Jack Kornfield, who has been on this podcast before, specifically speaking about Metta and loving kindness. Sharon has also spoken about it on the podcast. Those are good. Those are great places to start. Very effective short, at least can be short, meditation that really punches above its weight class in a sense.

I think in part for me, I’m really glad we are talking about this because it’s a type of meditation that I haven’t used in a while and I really should. At least for me, it’s a vacation from obsessing on myself.

Jerry Colonna: Hmm.

Tim Ferriss: If it is directed at other people.

Jerry Colonna: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Ferriss: Now as was pointed out to me during my first ever extended meditation retreat, I was talking about loving kindness and how much I enjoyed it. And they asked on the way out, “Just a quick suggestion. Have you applied this to yourself at all?” And it was so nonsensical to me.

Jerry Colonna: What?

Tim Ferriss: Like they might have been speaking to me in Klingon. I was like, “Loving kindness to myself? What? That doesn’t make any sense.” And lo and behold, I did find it very valuable. But I really enjoyed combining that with also loving kindness meditation for other people.

And if you’re just going to roll your eyes at the sort of new age, hippie-sounding wording of loving kindness, then we can switch to a different language and look up metta — M-E-T-T-A — meditation. Same, same, but different.

Well Jerry, let me ask you just a couple more questions.

Jerry Colonna: Sure.

Tim Ferriss: We could go for many, many hours more and we certainly have spoken for many hours before. But for the purposes of right now, I think we’re getting close to a really good getting reacquainted chat and round one of the podcast. But I’ll ask you just a few more questions.

One is, what is the new behavior in the last handful of years, it could be any time really, or belief that has most, or I should say greatly improved the quality of your life? New behavior or belief in the last fill-in-the-blank number of years that has significantly improved the quality of your life?

Jerry Colonna: The main one that comes to mind is that I am a good man.

Tim Ferriss: The belief.

Jerry Colonna: It’s a belief. I believe that I am a fundamentally good person. And that I accept the fact that I often fail to act in accordance with that. But that feels, to this guilt-ridden, anxious-ridden, angry child from Brooklyn way back when, that feels radically transformative. “What? I’m good just as I am? No! Yeah. I’m good.”

Tim Ferriss: That’s huge.

Jerry Colonna: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Hard to imagine something bigger.

Jerry Colonna: By the way, I have to practice it every day. But I’m a good enough partner. I’m a good enough businessperson. I’m a good enough coach. I’m a good enough parent. That’s the hardest one for me.

Have I wounded my children? Yes. Does that undermine whether or not I’m a good man and a good father? No. And that allowance has done something really magical. It’s allowed them to accept themselves. So yeah, it’s a big move.

Tim Ferriss: That is a big move. So the next question might segue, might be completely different. But if you could put a message on a billboard — metaphorically speaking — to get a quote, a word, a question, anything non-commercial out to billions of people, what might you put on such a billboard?

Jerry Colonna: I’m going to add two sentences.

Tim Ferriss: It’s a big billboard, so there’s plenty of room.

Jerry Colonna: It’s a big billboard, so it doesn’t say “Impeach Trump!” Just kidding. It says “You are not alone. And just because you feel like shit doesn’t mean you are shit.” The “You are not alone” is really, really important. Because we feel so broken because we question our worthiness all the time. We exacerbate the feelings of “I must be the only one who is going through this.”

And this is crazy, because despite all the evidence, whether it’s myths, whether it’s stories, whether it’s religions, whether it’s philosophical traditions, everybody is saying the same thing. “You’re fundamentally good. Yeah, there are things you could do to improve your life, but you’re fundamentally good. Relax. It’s okay.”

That’s that equanimity that I often talk about. It’s like, “Okay, so I guess you’re not alone and just because you feel like shit doesn’t mean you are shit. And if I’m not shit, then this feeling of it being crappy right now, well this will pass.” So let’s add another one: “This too shall pass.”

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Always.

Jerry Colonna: Can I add onto that?

Tim Ferriss: You can add. You can keep adding.

Jerry Colonna: Tim, think of the times in which you have struggled. You’ve been very open about your struggles. And by the way, thank you for doing that because you model something that’s really important.

Think about when you’ve been at your worst and how alone it feels. And how it becomes this self-reinforcing, negative view that you must be crap because you feel like crap.

It’s like, “No, stop. You must be human because you feel struggle. And there are billions of humans, and have been billions, and there will be billions more. And struggle is universal.”

Tim Ferriss: It is. It is part of the amusement ride.

Jerry Colonna: That’s right. And you bought a ticket, so you might as well go for a ride.

Tim Ferriss: Can’t be on magic castle indefinitely. You’re going to go through the haunted house occasionally. Jerry, thank you so much for taking the time today to share and to catch up and to teach. I always enjoy our conversations. So point number one: Thank you very much.

Jerry Colonna: Well, thank you. Thank you for giving me the opportunity and thank you for asking gorgeous questions that really helped me think and feel. And thank you for doing what you do every day. It really means a lot to the world.

Tim Ferriss: My pleasure. I really appreciate you saying that, and it helps me as much as I hope it helps other people.

Jerry Colonna: Right. There’s that weird, crazy, esoteric thing that all those high-achieving people, say, “Oh, there he goes. Oh, helping me helps other people. Helping other people helps me. Yeah, right.” Tim’s living proof of that. So there.

Tim Ferriss: It’s true. It’s true. I mean I think that I’ve been very fortunate to somehow stumble my way like a drunk in the dark into a career that involves having conversations like this. So thank you, Lady Fortune, for that.

And it’s also just a tremendous opportunity to explore some of these things that perhaps aren’t explored as often as they should be. You are a great companion on the path of that, so thank you again. And where are the best places to say hello to you online or to learn about what you’re up to?

Of course the book Reboot, subtitled Leadership and the Art of Growing Up is available and certainly something I would recommend people check out. It has many of the prompts and more that we’ve talked about. A lot of case studies. The personal history. And a distillation of a lot of what you’ve learned working with hundreds, thousands of clients at this point.

Jerry Colonna: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And what else should people know? Anything else?

Jerry Colonna: Yeah. I mean probably the best way to sort of follow what’s going on is But also if you just go to the website, we’ve got a bunch of resources, podcasts, self guided courses, journaling exercises.

All sorts of things designed to help folks all for free, because hey, what the heck? You know, let’s help each other out. And that’s probably the best way. You can also follow me on Twitter @jerrycolonna. You mentioned that earlier.

But pick up the book. I’m pretty proud of it and I hope it makes a difference, makes a dent in the world. That’s the best that we can hope for.

Tim Ferriss: And for people listening, I’ll link to everything that we’ve discussed, the website, the book website, Twitter, and everything else that came up in this conversation in the show notes as always at

You can just search Jerry, J-E-R-R-Y, or Colonna if you want to take the black diamond route instead of using the easy option. And you’ll be able to find it very quickly.

Jerry, any other comments, requests, anything at all that you’d like to say before we wrap up?

Jerry Colonna: No. Just that it was a real, heartfelt pleasure. It was really a blast.

Tim Ferriss: Likewise. Thanks so much, Jerry. And everyone out there, thank you so much for listening and until next time, pick up a damn journal.

Jerry Colonna: Amen. That’s right. And real pens. Real pens.

Tim Ferriss: Give it a shot. It’s amazing what you can discover when you take what you think are clear thoughts and put them on paper. That’s it for now, so until next time, thanks again for listening.

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Jerry Colonna — The Coach With the Spider Tattoo (#373)


“You are not alone. And just because you feel like shit doesn’t mean you are shit.”
— Jerry Colonna

Jerry Colonna (@jerrycolonna) is the CEO and cofounder of, an executive coaching and leadership development firm dedicated to the notion that better humans make better leaders.

Prior to his career as a coach, he was a partner with J.P. Morgan Partners (JPMP), the private equity arm of J.P. Morgan Chase. Prior to that, he cofounded New York City-based Flatiron Partners with Fred Wilson, which became one of the nation’s most successful early-stage investment programs. His first leadership position, at age 25, was Editor-In-Chief of InformationWeek magazine, and now he has returned to the written word with his first book, Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, Castbox, or on your favorite podcast platform.

#373: Jerry Colonna — The Coach With the Spider Tattoo

Want to hear an episode with someone else who understands the value of coaching? — Listen to my conversation with Eric Schmidt, in which we discuss the immeasurable impact late coach Bill Campbell had on Silicon Valley’s rise as a veritable modern superpower. (Stream below or right-click here to download.)

#367: Eric Schmidt — Lessons from a Trillion-Dollar Coach

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Less Hustle, More Art — Moving to a New Model


Hello, my lovelies! This is an important announcement.

From June – Dec, 2019, I’m removing ads and sponsors from the podcast for a six-month test. The podcast will continue to be 100% free for everyone. There will be no paywall, and no one has to pay for anything.

If interested, you can contribute a few (or more) dollars a month to support me doing more crazy experiments and initiatives, or to simply say “thank you” if any of my books, nearly 400 free podcasts, or 1,000+ free blog posts have had a positive impact on you or your loved ones.

Visit to find out more and support.

Since the podcast has become the engine that fuels everything else, if this experiment doesn’t work out after six months, we’ll go back to sponsors. If it works, we’ll stay with fan-supported. Easy peasy.

Here’s what you get:

1. Once per month, I’ll do an hour-long, live video Q&A… just for this much smaller group of supporters. You can ask me anything. Only supporters get to participate and ask questions. The first one will be on July 1st, 2019, and you’ll be notified via e-mail. If you can’t make it live, each session will be available to supporters right afterward as a recording. And if the audio is ever shared on the podcast, it will be delayed by at least a month.

2. Each time you hear a podcast episode (or see anything from me) that you consider impactful and want to share with friends, you can smile, knowing that you helped make it possible.

I’d really love a more direct relationship with my most dedicated listeners, readers, and fans. This is a great way to test it out. And since the podcast has become the engine that fuels everything else, if this experiment doesn’t work, we’ll just go back to sponsors. Easy.

Please only contribute what you feel great about contributing. This is zero pressure, and I’m not mailing out any beer koozies or other crap you don’t want. I’ll just do the private monthly Q&A for supporters, and I’ll share more good stuff. Think of it as a monthly gym membership for your mind and career.

Visit to check it out.

Sending much love to you and yours,


If you prefer, you can listen to this announcement in an audio format on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, Castbox, or on your favorite podcast platform.

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The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Julie Rice (#372)

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Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Julie Rice (@julierice_), an entrepreneur best known for co-founding the fitness phenomenon SoulCycle. Julie served as Co-CEO at SoulCycle from 2006 to 2015 before joining WeWork in November 2017, where she is focusing on WeWork’s brand and the experience WeWork provides its members and seeking new and innovative ways to grow and share the WeWork experience around the globe. Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, Castbox, or on your favorite podcast platform.

#372: Julie Rice — Co-Founding SoulCycle, Taming Anxiety, and Mastering Difficult Conversations


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Tim Ferriss: Julie Rice. Who is Julie Rice? She’s an entrepreneur, best known for co-founding, the fitness phenomenon SoulCycle. Rice served as co-CEO of…Let me try that again. Rice served as co-CEO at SoulCycle from 2006 to 2015 before joining WeWork in November, 2017, as a partner.

Rice’s life’s work has been about building community. At WeWork, Rice is approaching everything through the lens of community. She’s focusing on WeWork’s brand and the experience WeWork provides its members, and seeking new and innovative ways to grow and share it the WeWork experience around the globe. And a common thread that we’re going to explore is connection, and we’re going to get into all sorts of details and tactics related to that.

Rice lives here in New York City, with her husband Spencer and their two daughters. She is a board member of the Public Theater and Weight Watchers, as well as an advisor to the women’s club The Wing. You can find her on social media, Instagram @Julierice_. Tricky. @Julierice_, and on Linkedin as Julie Rice. Welcome to the show, and thank you for being here.

Julie Rice: Thank you for coming to visit us.

Tim Ferriss: Although this is your home, so thanks for having me.

Julie Rice: So thank you for coming to visit us.

Tim Ferriss: We’re going to jump all over, chronologically, which is my habit. I try to turn that bug into a feature. We’ll see how I do. Flashback to childhood. So were you a well-behaved child, or do you have any memories of misbehaving? Getting in trouble.

Julie Rice: I was a super well-behaved child, like borderline nerd, actually. I was the kid that didn’t have a curfew, because I actually called my parents before it was time to come home, to let them know when I would be home. I did get in trouble once in a very big way, and I will tell you what happened.

I decided I wanted to get a second piercing in my ear, and my mother said absolutely not. I was 11 years old and that was completely inappropriate to have a second piercing in your ear. I had one friend, she was my most rebellious friend. Her name was Laura. We decided to take the bus to the White Plains Galleria Mall, and we were going to get our ear pierced anyway. And so we did. We took the bus and she convinced me that it was no big deal, and my mom wouldn’t even see it.

So I just came home and I put my thing over my hair, and you know, my mom actually did notice it. You know what, I actually don’t even think she noticed it. I was actually such a nerd, I told her. I couldn’t do it for more than five minutes without telling her that I got my ear pierced. So I admitted that I got my ear pierced, and my mom decided that a great punishment for me…

Well, first she called the woman who pierced my ear to explain that you actually couldn’t put holes in the bodies of minors without parental consent. And the woman didn’t seem to really care that my mom thought that, and she said, “Well, if you don’t like it, then you should sue me.” So my mom decided that she would.

Tim Ferriss: “I’m not only going to teach my daughter a lesson!”

Julie Rice: She decided that she was going to sue her for $8.99, the entire contents of my piggy bank that I took to get my ear pierced, and that I was going to have to take the stand. Yes. And that’s exactly what happened with my punishment. My mom went to the library, and she was her own lawyer. She figured out that yes, in fact, you could not pierce the body of a minor without parental consent.

Then I had to go to court, and get up on the stand as the most terrified 11-year-old that you have ever seen, to tell them that, yes, I had disobeyed my parents. I’d gone to the Galleria Mall and gotten a second piercing.

Tim Ferriss: Go, mom. So what did your parents do professionally?

Julie Rice: My dad was a phys ed teacher, and my mom had, actually, an antique business. When people move from homes or estates, she appraises the contents and sells them off. She’s kind of like an art historian.

Tim Ferriss: And you said White Plains, so where did you grow up?

Julie Rice: I grew up in Westchester, in New York.

Tim Ferriss: Westchester. All right, so we’re going to flash forward, as promised, to a year before SoulCycle. Could you paint a picture for us? Where are you, what’s going on in life?

Julie Rice: Yes, so I have had, this is just about my third career. My first career was I worked in the movie business. As a kid, I had always been obsessed with theater, with musical theater. That was always kind of my thing. I loved entertainment, and I always wanted to figure out a way to work in the movie business. I remember coming home my sophomore year of college, and saying to my dad, who was a gym teacher, and my mom, who worked in the antique business like, “Don’t you people know anybody? I need an internship somewhere. This is never going to happen for me unless we know somebody.”

My dad recalled that he had worked with some woman whose husband ran a kid’s talent agency, cut to I got some internship. Long story short, I did find my way into the movie business. I worked in New York for about eight years as a commercial agent. Then I figured out that, if I really wanted to go to the next place in my life, I would need to go to California.

So I went to L.A., and I became a manager in Los Angeles. I did that for about 10 years, and after 10 years, I flash forwarded ahead to what people’s lives looked like in the entertainment business, servicing clients all the time, really being a prisoner to a lifestyle of servicing people. Although I loved artists, which is what I was always in it for, I really thought to myself, “I’m kind of ready to go back to the East Coast. I’m ready to make a change.”

I came back to the East Coast. My husband and I both went into our offices on the same day. I met my husband in Los Angeles. He was an agent at William Morris, and I was working for a management company. We decided we were going to head off for nobler professions, head back to the East Coast to keep it real. We got up one morning, we lived in Malibu at the time. It was sort of like our swan song. We decided to move to Malibu on the beach, because we knew we were going to head out of the West Coast.

We got up one morning and we said, “Okay, today’s the day. We’re both going to go quit our jobs, and we’re going to tell everybody goodbye. We’re going back to the East Coast.”

My husband and I, we left that morning. He came home and I came home at the end of the day, and we said, “How’d it go?” He said, “Oh yeah, everybody said great job, thanks a lot, whatever. I’m all good.” And I said, “Oh, well, they told me that they were going to move my assistant a month ahead of me, and that I should take a month on the road, and then I could do this in New York if I wanted to.”

And then I started thinking, “How are we going to pay our rent?” So I kept my job. Basically the picture was that I came back to New York, and I was running a New York office for the agency that I’d worked for in Los Angeles. I was still working in the movie business. I was having a better time doing it here, but definitely beginning to think about what’s next.

I’d been thinking about what was next already, when I was thinking about leaving the West Coast. The one thing that was really going on for me here, in New York, was that in L.A., so much of my life had been tied up in lifestyle pursuit. I went hiking with my friends. I belonged to a running club, we lived at the beach. When I came back to New York, there was just nothing here that was lifestyle.

Fitness was really about going to a big box gym, burning calories, having somebody yell at you about were you beating the person next to you, could you push harder, how could you get it done quicker and more efficiently. It’s interesting. Cut to 2006, there was no green juice in this city. There was no boutique fitness. There were a couple of yoga studios. But certainly what’s going on today was not what was going on in 2006 in New York.

So for me, there was a real void, even though I was desperate to come back to the East Coast and be with my family, there certainly was a void in what I had experienced in Los Angeles, in terms of lifestyle.

Tim Ferriss: So I want to talk about, just for a moment, managing talent. So what does a manager do, and based on what you just said, which you said several things, but one of which was, they said, “Great, we’ll give you a bunch of time off, and you can then pick up with your job.” You, I would imagine, were good at that job. So what does a manager do, and what were some of your better bets or better decisions as a manager?

Julie Rice: Sure. An agent is responsible for getting actors jobs, and a publicist is responsible for making sure that people know about those jobs, and a lawyer is making that they don’t get screwed over in the contracts for those jobs. What a manager does is think about big picture. You really think about who that person is, who they want to be in the world.

What I learned, actually, from being a manager, is you’re really thinking about creating a brand for a person. What is that person’s brand? How do they walk through the world? What do they stand for? What do people think about when they think about an actor or an actress, everything from their fashions, the things that they endorse to the way that they talk in interviews, and really thinking in terms of how do I plan a career, not just a job to job for this person.

Tim Ferriss: And when you got to L.A., you transitioned to this job as a manager. Were there any particular wins or finds, from the perspective of talent, people you chose to work with or ended up working with that come to mind? If you can talk about them.

Julie Rice: I definitely can. Well, I will definitely say that I think that one of my better skills in life is picking people.

Tim Ferriss: I’ve seen that. I agree.

Julie Rice: I’m a very good people picker. I think I have just about the greatest husband. I chose a fantastic business partner, and I feel actually very lucky in my life with my friends, and the people that are around me, are all dynamic and really feed me in very specific ways. But I’ve always been a good people picker. I genuinely love people, and what I really love, is I love the nuances that make people the people that they are.

Those little things about people that are special are things that I feel like I can really see. Something that I love doing in the world is trying to help figure out how to connect to the world, the things that are special about those people. And so I’ve had good luck all along. Early on in my career, Ellen Pompeo was a bartender that wouldn’t give me a drink. When I finally gave her my card and her boyfriend found it in the laundry, a couple months later she called me, and we had quite a good run.

I worked with Selma Blair for a while. I worked with Justin Long. And then, when I was in Hollywood, I worked on the teams of people. I worked for a bigger company, but I worked on the teams for people like Jennifer Lopez and Sean Combs and Will Smith. Those were not necessarily people that I found, but I was actually really lucky to be a part of those teams, because I worked for somebody, a guy named Benny Medina, who is a very famous talent manager. He’s created a lot of incredible artists.

He was one of the first people that really thought about how you create artists into brands. He would take somebody like Jennifer Lopez and think, “How can we release an album on the same day as we release a movie, on the same day as we put a fragrance into the world?” And I think that was pretty early thinking back then, in terms of 360 thinking about how you could turn a person into a company.

Tim Ferriss: Let’s flash back to Ellen. You mentioned bartender.

Julie Rice: Bartender.

Tim Ferriss: What did you see…as context for me, as well as people who are listening, do the most successful, iconic managers have five clients, 50 clients, 100 clients? What does that tend to look like, in terms of the number of people you work with? And then, what did you see in Ellen?

Julie Rice: Sure. When you’re starting out, you’re betting, and you’re betting on more people. So usually in the beginning, you start with about 25 or 30 people. First of all, your ability to sign. You’re not me at 25 in the world saying to J. Lo, “Hey, come on with me.” That’s not happening.

So you’re trying to identify talent, you’re trying to find people that you think are going to have trajectory, and you’re usually signing between 20 and 25 of them, and then watching how their different careers are advancing. As your clients become more successful, what winds up happening is you personally handle less people, because now you’re really building companies. If things are going great, you’re actually producing things, you’re looking for properties for them, you’re really overseeing pretty much every decision for them. And so you’re probably, at that point, handling between, if they’re mega stars, you’re having between one and three. If they’re big stars, you’re having between three and five, and if you have a bunch of people on TV series and other things…

I’m going to say that, once your clients are successful, you don’t have more than 10 that you’re personally handling. You might have a team of people below you that are handling a bunch and you’re kind of saying yes to that, no to that, whatever. But you’re hands on with, I’m going to say, between three and five.

Tim Ferriss: And what did you see in Ellen? And the reason I’m asking this, just for people who are wondering, “Why is he drilling so deeply in this?” is that whether you think of yourselves as investors or not, you are all investors, in the sense that you are allocating your hours, you’re allocating your attention. And so, in a way, her choosing clients is putting together an investment portfolio. You’re placing bets and you have finite number of bets you can place. So why Ellen? What did you see?

Julie Rice: You know, I saw, in Ellen, interestingly enough, what I ultimately wound up looking for in SoulCycle instructors, what I ultimately look for in employees, and what I actually do ultimately look for in entrepreneurs, which is there was something about her that made me want to know her, that made me want to understand what she was thinking, what she was going to be doing.

When I used to audition SoulCycle instructors, I would say the main criteria that I had for a SoulCycle instructor was, “Do I want to have a whole meal with you?” I’m talking about an appetizer, an entree, and dessert, and I’m still not bored of you. How do you connect to people? Watching her, there was something that was just fascinating about her. There was something that was really deep that I wanted her to tell me.

I think that’s really interesting. I think that there are certain kinds of people that you really want to lean into, and whenever I had that instinct, when my body wants to lean into somebody, to know a little more, I genuinely know that’s a person that I need to surround myself with, because there’s something about that person that is interesting for me.

Tim Ferriss: So we’re back into SoulCycle land, which is perfect. When did SoulCycle become something real, in the sense that there was a concrete action of some type of taking it from in the head to into the world in some way?

Julie Rice: Right. That’s what actually separates the boys from the men, right? I always say “Everybody’s got an idea tucked away somewhere.” I was working in New York, I was still working in the talent business, and I was taking classes at many different gyms, just sort of trying to find something that fulfilled me, in terms of exercise. I’m an anxious person, exercise is a real must for me in my life, to sort of keep myself and everybody around me and in good spirits.

I just couldn’t find anything that was enjoyable. I kept thinking to myself like, “This could be different, this could be fun, this could make you feel good.” I was taking classes with an indoor cycling instructor at a gym, and I became friendly with her. I just kept saying all those things to her. And finally she said to me, “You know, there’s a woman that takes some classes with me at another gym, and she’s been saying the same thing to me. You guys should meet for lunch.”

And so she connected me with my business partner, who’s right there. My other soul mate, as I like to say. We had lunch one day, and it was really the craziest thing. I mean it’s a hard story to believe, because we met for lunch. We had a couple hour lunch. It was in the winter. It was at Soho House here in New York, and we had lunch. It was crazy. It was like we had the same exact idea, and we were just completing each other’s sentences.

When I left lunch that day, before I even got in my cab, my cell phone rang and it was Elizabeth. She said to me, “I’m going to look for real estate, and you look at towels. I’ll call you on Thursday.” And I thought, “Wow, that’s amazing.” I still had a job and whatever. And sure enough, she called me on Thursday, and she said, “I found something on Craigslist. It’s a 1,200-square-foot sublet of an old dance studio. We can take a five-year sublet, and you should meet me tomorrow on 72nd street.” I went, and four months later we opened.

Tim Ferriss: How were you doing on the towels? She’s like, “So how are you doing on the towels?”

Julie Rice: So it’s really interesting, actually, in case anybody wants to start a business. It turns out that, when you have a 1,200-square-foot studio, and you don’t actually have laundry facilities, what you do is you rent towels, and somebody picks them up and takes them away every day and launders them. I learned that on Google, and I dutifully brought my towel report that day, as she was signing the lease for our Craigslist dance studio.

Tim Ferriss: You, based on just the reading that I’ve done in preparation for this, made some, in retrospect, what would seem to be very important decisions. One of them was deferring or minimizing payment to yourselves, it seems. I read about, maybe you could talk about, I think it was what, the every Sunday $200 ATM, maybe talk about that. But could you explain the rationale behind that, and could you elaborate on the weekly ritual with the ATM?

Julie Rice: Definitely. So when we started SoulCycle, I actually had a good job. I was making real money. It was really the first time, actually, that I ever thought about my time as money, because I was sort of giving up a salary now and I was going to be using all my time, but I wasn’t good to necessarily be taking…I took a small salary because, at the time, that’s what we needed to do, but my husband was working, luckily, and he was supporting us. But we had a five-month-old baby, and we moved into a rent controlled apartment. We paid a little less than $1,000 a month. We lived on 71st Street over Harry’s Burritos, and I had a five-month-old baby, who’s in the front row. She’s not such a baby. What are you wearing?

Tim Ferriss: I’ll let you guys sort that out.

Julie Rice: And yeah, so what we decided was that we were going to make sacrifices so that we could start this business. Spencer, my husband, would go to the cash machine on Sunday nights, and he would take out $400. We decided that, when we started the business, we were going to give our credit cards up, and we were going to put ourselves on a real budget, which we hadn’t really done before. We were two people with no kids and two salaries. We weren’t making tons of money, but we certainly had enough that we could each go to Starbucks and take cabs, and go out for dinner, and not think about a vacation.

So Spencer would give us a white envelope. Each of us on Sunday nights, we each got $200, and that was our money for the week. And when the $200 was gone, that was —

Tim Ferriss: Each of us, meaning he got one.

Julie Rice: He got $200 and I got $200. And I will tell you, with a child in New York City, $200 does not go that far. So it was a lot of strollers on the cross town bus, not a lot of Starbucks, but that’s what we did. Actually, I think that one of the really interesting things about really believing in what you’re doing and being so passionate about an idea, and really believing that something should be born was, it was hard.

I remember clamping my finger in that stroller a million times, and cursing on that bus, but it didn’t really feel like that big of a sacrifice. I mean, we were happy. Elizabeth and I were loving what we were doing, and we did it. We lived in one room, and when we wanted to watch TV, we rolled the crib into our bedroom, and when we wanted to go to sleep, we rolled the crib back out into the living room, and that’s what we did.

Tim Ferriss: Thank you for painting a picture, and you already said sort of anxious by birth. So it doesn’t strike me as the perfect time to necessarily start a company, just with a five-month-year-old kid…five-month-year-old kid? Is that what they say? For the Brits in the audience, that’s American, that’s Yank speak. It, I think, just highlights the fact that if you really have something you want to do and feel it’s important, there’s very rarely going to be a perfect, convenient time to do it.

Julie Rice: You know, it was such a gift that had happened so quickly. I talk a lot about Elizabeth, my business partner, sort of being a great entrepreneur, and me being a really hard worker. I think that’s part of what makes us such great partners. Elizabeth’s an incredibly good risk-taker. I always say Elizabeth’s like a total baller, and I’m just sort of running behind trying to work really hard. But the truth is that I think because she was such a good risk-taker, because she’s so good at moving the ball forward, it all happened so quickly, I didn’t actually have time to be anxious or think, “Oh, I’m giving up my job. What’s going to happen?”

It was just like we met on Tuesday, we saw the place on Thursday. We went across the street to Starbucks. We wrote on a napkin, which we still have framed. It says, “If we could see 100 people a day, at $27 a bike, we’re going to have enough money to pay for some babysitters.” We both had young kids at the time. “We’re going to be able to pay our studio staff. We’re going to be able to take a little bit out of the business to justify the fact that we’re not raising our own kids for the next decade.” That was our business model on the back of that Starbucks napkin.

And the truth is, it happened quickly, and we just got into action mode so quick that we didn’t have a lot of time to obsess about what if, what if, what if. We just had to make it happen every day.

Tim Ferriss: What other names were candidates for the business besides SoulCycle, or was that just a lightning bolt from the sky and that was it?

Julie Rice: That was a lightning bolt to Elizabeth’s husband in the shower one day. There was not a lightning bolt to either of us, but we thought of a bunch of different names. At the time, again, there was no boutique fitness in New York City, and so we felt like we needed something sort of descriptive about the cycling part of it in the name. We thought about Cycle NYC. We definitely had a lot of “cycle” in the different other names, because we felt we needed to be somewhat specific for people.

Tim Ferriss: Then you landed on SoulCycle. How did you decide on the business model, not just, say, the technology and the ambiance, and all these other elements that made it different, but how did you both think about developing the business model?

Julie Rice: So it’s interesting. I think that, again, at the time, the landscape was, in New York City, there were big box gyms. The model that was profitable was you went in, you gave somebody your credit card, they took an imprint of it, and then they just hoped that you never came, because the best thing that could happen was that they could double or triple book your spot when they were figuring out their utilization. And rather than take 400 members, they could have 800 members, or even better. Both of those people didn’t show up, and they could have 1,200 members.

And so, for us, we really began to think about it in a different way. I think a lot of it had to do also with our idea that we were tasking ourselves to create a really special experience every time. To the point of being a theater lover and thinking about things in terms of a production, we used to always say that every time somebody crossed the threshold at SoulCycle, it was curtain up. And until they left, it was curtain down, because we were only as good as their last experience.

When we decided on a pay-per-class model, everybody thought that we were crazy. “Why wouldn’t you just take people’s credit cards? Why wouldn’t you just charge them?” For us, it was a challenge to everybody there, from the people at the front desk to know your name, to the instructor in that room to deliver a certain kind of experience, to us to make sure that the brand was delivering a message and continuing to innovate. And we just really felt like we wanted to challenge ourselves in that kind of way. We wanted to deliver that kind of experience every time.

Tim Ferriss: Were there any other early decisions that proved either particularly important/good or particularly bad?

Julie Rice: There were many decisions that proved both of those things. Let’s talk about the good ones first. I think that, when we started SoulCycle, there were quite a few things that, even though our business model on the Starbucks napkin might not seem sophisticated, I think that we were smarter than we thought that we were. We thought about a few different things.

We thought about technology, we thought about the fact that, at the time, you had to go to the gym an hour early to put your name on a paper list, and sign up for a class that was only going to be 45 minutes long. So your gym experience now turned into two hours plus for 45 minutes worth of exercise. So we created the first online reservation system. We thought about brand a lot. We thought about creating something.

We never thought about SoulCycle like we’re creating a gym. For us, our muses were things like the White Cube, the art gallery in London, or an Apple Store. We always thought about ourselves in a much different way and creating a brand. We never compared ourselves to fitness. We always thought if we could create a brand, if we could set a stage, if we could create a place where people felt safe and empowered, and like they could share with other people, if we could set that stage and create that for people, then they could have a different experience than they could have in an environment that wasn’t like that.

We also really thought about community, and we thought about “How do we create a place where people support each other?” So much of what was going on at gyms was competition between people, and for us it was all about, “Some days, I’m not going to feel like exercising, but if you can bring it for me on Monday, and I can bring it for you on Wednesday, and we can all raise each other up, what does that kind of a place feel like?”

Tim Ferriss: As co-participants.

Julie Rice: Correct.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Julie Rice: Correct. And you know there were a lot of little decisions that we made along the way, and things, also, that just happened to us in a lucky way. We started out with 35 bikes in the room. We got popular before we could find a second space. So we ended up with 45 bikes in the room. And what did that do? It put the bikes this close to each other.

When people were done complaining about, “Can you believe they’re going to charge $27 and I’m going to have to sit that close to somebody?” What actually happened was, the lights were dark, and people could all feel the music at the same time, and you could almost feel somebody breathing next to you. Your foot was on the same beat as their foot was on, and all of a sudden it became connected, and it became tribal, and it was dark, and there were candles. The music was amazing and an instructor is telling you that you could be more than you thought you could be. Somehow, the room is moving together in a way that you don’t often feel connected to people like that even when you’re having deep conversation.

There’s something about a moving meditation with other people that are rooting for you, that are holding space for you, that aren’t there to compete with you, that are there to elevate you so that they can be elevated as well. And when we created an experience like that, it was magic. I mean, it was really magic. It was a really transformational thing for people.

Tim Ferriss: It’s really remarkable, among other things, that you two are still close, in the sense that a lot of co-founders blow to smithereens at some point. They get speed wobbles, maybe. because the company’s growing really quickly. They might not have the important conversations up front that they should have. There are a-million-and-one reasons why a lot of these relationships don’t work out.

I don’t know if this factors in, but could you talk to coaching or advisors and if and how you’ve utilized people to help you guys develop and maintain close bonds and ability to work together?

Julie Rice: Definitely. So early on in our business life, Elizabeth and I started to see a coach. The way that that happened was, we had a third business partner in the beginning. We quickly found out that partnership was not necessarily going to work. And we realized, as that partnership was crumbling, that it takes work to make good partnerships, something that I’ve have worked on in my marriage, something that is no longer a secret to me, that people actually need skills and tools to be in relationships with other people.

There are plenty of people that are in relationships that are fine, but if you really want to have great relationships, that’s actually a particular skill set. And so Elizabeth and picture, I don’t really know Elizabeth very well at this point. I mean, we’re about a year into business. We met at this lunch, we decided, “Let’s just go for it.” We’re still pretty much strangers.

Elizabeth, while I was in L.A. growing a career, Elizabeth’s in Colorado. She goes to University of Boulder, she spends her time in Telluride.

She is a much more evolved, spiritual, at peace with the world person than I am. I’ve only lived in the coast. I’ve only done that grind. Elizabeth calls me in the middle of the night and she says, “I’ve googled Life Coach NYC.” I’ve realized she’s having a nervous breakdown because she realizes that her business is taking off. We got to get rid of our third partner, who’s completely toxic. Now, it’s like, “What’s going to happen here?” We both have little kids at home. The worst thing that’s happening is that our business is becoming such a success. We’re going to have to put our foot on the gas here. She said she’s googled Life Coach NYC and that I should meet her tomorrow at some location around Gramercy because we’re going to meet with the coach.

I hang up the phone. I say to my husband like, “This woman is bat-shit crazy. There is no way. I have to work tomorrow. There’s no way I’m getting myself in a cab, going the way downtown to go to some hotel and sit with some Life Coach NYC.” I’m thinking we’re sitting with Dionne Warwick and she is going to tell us. You know what I mean? Sure enough, I mean, we get there. We start to talk to our coach who, by the way, we still work with today. There are so many decisions in my life and our life that we wouldn’t make without her. I met with a woman. Her name is Meredith Haberfeld. She has an incredible company called ThinkHuman. We started to talk about what it’s like to be good partners, and what it takes to make decisions together, and any relationship.  You’re two people that have a common vision, but are in very different moments in your life at all times.

A business relationship is no different. I mean, there are times that I need money and you don’t, or I need to slow down for a minute because something’s going on in the life of my family. You want to put your foot on the gas or whatever. There’s just things that you want to do with the business. I’m ready to sell the business and you’re not. What does that all look like? Everything along the way, from learning how to be the only two employees in a company to managing 2,500 employees, and what do you look like as leaders? How do you communicate with your employees? We’ve started down this journey with Meredith, our therapist, coach, Life Coach NYC. I really think she’s changed her website since then.

We’ve worked with her for a long time now, 10 years. I will say that she taught us lessons that helped inform the entire way, that the culture of our company would exist. We would learn how to have a conversation with each other. Then we would take those skills and we would codify them. We had an incredible chief culture officer. We’d work on them. We’d learn to have those skills, and then we’d bring her in to learn that skill. We’d codify it, and we would teach the entire organization how to communicate like that. We did that until we created a really extensive library of tools that we use to build a culture. What was amazing was, and I know that you speak to so many founders that have spoken businesses that have started businesses, but I really do believe that just like the way that I was saying to you, the nuances of people, what makes them special are just so intricate and so interesting.

I really think that the nuances of great businesses come from the DNA of their founders. It’s those very things that make those people special that ultimately make those companies so special. The problem is right after it goes from two employees to 2,000 employees, how do you take that DNA and keep it in a place that’s really what it was meant to be? I will say that finding that coach was so lucky, not only for me personally. I can honestly say that it has changed who I am as a human being and who I ever would have been able to be as a leader. It also allowed us to scale this stuff into our culture, which was incredible for our employees. I mean, we gave them tools like, how to get unstuck, which was really just teaching them how to have a conversation about what was bothering them and to create spaces where they could have those conversations and not feel like people were going to judge them or reward them or punish them for what they were saying.

We had an expression saying, “No lumpy carpets.” We created an ethos where it was you had to communicate with your coworker if something was bothering you. We created a space where you could have those conversations. We taught people not only how to express themselves, but also how to listen.

Tim Ferriss: Okay, there’s so much to unpack. Let’s get into it. The tools that you developed or were able to learn from your coach, are our one set of questions that I’ll get to. But let me start with going from, “Oh my god, we’re going to be talking to a psychic. Get me out here. I’m busy.” to working with someone for 10 years, were you sold in the first meeting? If so, why? What did she do, not do, ask, not ask, exude that sold you?

Julie Rice: Well, here was what was so interesting about our meeting. I mean, first of all, it was definitely one of those lean-in moments. I had never really met somebody who had such different life experience than me, and was so different than me and yet saw it all the same. Elizabeth and I have such completely different things that we bring to our partnership and relationship. Yet, at the end of the day, we have a really common vision. I think that’s really what drew me to her.

Tim Ferriss: In the case of Meredith, specifically, how did she overcome your skepticism about that use of time?

Julie Rice: Well, first of all, she’s just completely cool and normal. If she was here with us, she would just be us. She’s super, and she’s just real. There’s no bullshit. She will call you on it. She asks you really hard questions. You’ll sit there and defend something for 15 minutes. “Well, that’s not how I see it. That’s not how I want it. Yeah, but that’s it.” Then she’ll say to you, “That’s all great. Here’s what I want you to think about, and you don’t have to answer it now.” She’ll say to you something like this. “At the end of your life, when you look back on this, who do you want to have been? How do you want people to have thought of you?” I’ll just go, “Wow,” because that’s some different shit than what I was about defending right now, right?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, yeah.

Julie Rice: Wow, that’s way different than being right in this room right now. When I think back to the end of my life, and I think back about the way that I want people to have thought of me, or have listened to people, or have taken a moment to consider somebody else’s feelings or point of view or put myself in their shoes, I mean, that’s some different stuff than being right in the moment. When somebody asks you a question like that, you stop. It’s always questions like that or it’s questions, a lot of times, it’s just you and yourself. She’ll just ask you questions about why you’re doing things. “Is it about your ego? Is it about the way other people think about you? Is it because you need more money?” I don’t know. I have not done enough work on myself to really ask myself those questions. I’m really good still at a talking to myself into the things that I want to hear.

Tim Ferriss: When you were talking about the getting unstuck, if I’m getting that right, or/and no lumpy carpets or no lumps in the carpet — I might be getting the phrasing wrong — or managing these what could be very uncomfortable conversations with a partner about wanting to sell when someone else doesn’t want to sell, whatever the conversation might be, right? It seems like a lot of those tools. Whether it’s for employees, or for the two of you, is about having uncomfortable conversations successfully and managing conflict. Are there any specific recommendations, tools, anything at all or examples you could give how to approach say the employee who has something that is bothering them about a co-worker and walking them through how to do that in a way that doesn’t lead to World War III?

Julie Rice: Well, first of all, for better or for worse, I think that company culture also has a lot to do with it. I think that creating environments where it’s safe for people to do those things. There’s so much politicking and things that still go on in many places, where you have to actually reward that behavior. I do think that that is something that has to be considered. But what I will say is that I do think that having those conversations and beginning to have those conversations really start with teaching people how to listen first. I think that training people how to listen to what somebody else has to say allows people who then have issues to go out and be heard.

I will tell you about something actually great that my husband and I have done for a long time, which actually changed the dynamic of our relationship. I can honestly say that if I ever had to say the other best thing that I’ve ever done is we had our first daughter. All of a sudden, we were no longer two people that could just do what they wanted whenever they wanted. If we both wanted to go to take different exercise classes at different gyms at the same time, well, somebody had to stay home with our kid. That began to create conflict. We no longer had the time that we used to have to ourselves. We no longer had the autonomy. It’s different when you have a child. We’d started arguing and we had started having all this conflict. My husband, who happens to be a much more evolved person than I am and a much better communicator, said, “Well, maybe you should go talk to somebody.”

We started to go to some couples counseling and see different marital people on a hunt for some solution to this. When we were in the room with couples counselors and therapists, we basically were two really smart people. We would just play to win the therapist game. We’d spend a couple hundred bucks an hour trying to figure out who was going to actually win that day. Then, finally, we quit the couples therapy because I decided that our therapist liked him better. Then finally, Spencer was seeing a therapist on his own.

She had given him a suggestion. She said, “You should read this book, and it’s called Getting the Love You Want.” He brought it home one day, and he started to read it. He would say to me like, “You’ve got to read this. This book is really amazing.” Before he was through the book, he had gone out and bought a copy for me and said, “We should read this together.” We started to read this book. Before we were done with the book, we had actually signed up for the workshop. I bring this up because this is actually a technique that we have learned that you can use with your employees. You can use with your children. You can use with anybody. But we went to this workshop. It was probably the most important 40 hours of our marriage up until that point.

It is these two older therapists called Harville Hendrix and Helen Hunt. Here’s what’s so fascinating. Harville was the first person to win the Oprah Daytime Emmy. He’s this amazing older therapist who had studied relationships for a long time and was becoming very prominent. His wife was also a research professor that was studying relationships in the brain. She’s learning all these things about the brain and cortisol levels. He’s winning Daytime Emmys. They’re both on their second marriages. They’re actually about to get divorced while they’re all winning all these awards and stuff. You go and take the seminar and cut to this. 50% of first marriages end up in divorce, 70% of second marriages end up in divorce, and about 90% of third marriages do.

Teaching you that it has not much to do with the partner that you choose, but mostly the skill set that you bring to the relationship, right? Here’s the crazy thing. Nobody teaches us how to be married. Nobody teaches us how to communicate with a partner. Nobody teaches us how to communicate with anybody. I don’t remember being in a class in school where somebody said to me, “This is how you listen. This is how you talk to somebody. This is how you consider what they’re saying.” Really, all you do in this workshop is you learn active listening. We learned how to make appointments with each other, to have conversations so that you’re not bombarding somebody at a time where they can’t hear you. When you make an appointment and you say it’s your turn to talk, basically, I say what I need to say, and then all that person gets to do is repeat back to you and say, “Is there more?” That’s it. That’s all the person gets to do.

You know what? There always is more. It’s never really just about that, is it right? Then you say what more there is. Then they get to repeat it back. Then they get to say, “Is there more?” You know what happens at the end of three “is there mores?” Rather than trying to win the therapist and rather than trying to be right, what you realize is that somebody is suffering about something. That it’s coming from a source of pain, not coming from a source of, like, [aggressive noise] at you.

It’s not about you being right. It’s about taking care of somebody that you love, or taking care of somebody that you work with, or hearing a child that’s coming home from school that didn’t have a good day or got a bad grade, that’s feeling disappointed also. I think really teaching people how to listen and how to have conversations is something that’s so important.

Tim Ferriss: Thank you. Very specific. Are there other examples of ways you’ve brought things from that workshop or book or elsewhere into your relationships? Aside from the specific examples you just gave in terms of active listening, are there any other tools or habits that you’ve adopted or found useful?

Julie Rice: There are actually many others. I think that one is really the one that it’s really the focus of the workshop and what you do most often, but there are a lot of amazing practices. Telling people what’s great about them. I mean, how often do you think about something that’s wonderful about your partner, and make sure that you share that every day? How often do you make time to be proactive about doing something nice. Again, whether it’s for a spouse, whether it’s for a child, whether it’s for a colleague, I think there are a lot of incredible things that happen out of that workshop. I will say that the foundation of it is really learning to listen.

Tim Ferriss: You mentioned that, and I’m paraphrasing here, so correct me if I’m wrong here. You see founders with certain DNA, certain superpowers that infuse and inform the organization. I think it’s at least been my experience observing and being involved in a lot of companies that also if there is acute dysfunction in a founder, that can also infuse its way into a company. I’m mentioning that just to say that the culture, which we take to be like a shared set of beliefs and behaviors, at least that’s how I think of it, does not just take care of itself. Part of that is doing the work that you guys have done as founders both separately and together.

Are there any other — whether it’s books, seminars, advisors, anything that comes to mind — as having made a real difference? Whether it’s in your business life, or in your personal life that you’re like, “You know what I would recommend? I’ve tried a lot of things. Here a few things I would definitely recommend that people check out.”

Julie Rice: A big book at SoulCycle for us was always Start with Why from Simon Sinek. I know that’s made it to a lot of your lists. A lot of people are Simon Sinek fans. I will say this is what I think is so interesting as somebody who is fascinated with brand, and the articulation of brand, and all things brand. I think that people are often confused and think of brand is the way something looks or the color of a logo. Brands are really how people feel. I think it was maybe Jeff Bezos who said it. It’s what people say about you when you’re not in the room, or  that kind of a thing. I do think that Start with Why is so important, because people understanding why you do something, not what you are doing, is really what makes or breaks a brand.

I think everything about that book is fantastic. I think that, for us, really, we spent so much time. I remember the day that we just really officially stop doing our day jobs. I looked at Elizabeth and said, “Are we ever going to get to go back to work? Or do we have to spend our whole life making these people happy?” Referring to our employees. That was the truth. There was a day where it all turned, and you began to realize that if the culture wasn’t going to be good, that the product wasn’t going to be good. I think that’s a real  core value from Simon Sinek who really says that your happiest customer is only as happy as your happiest employee.

For us, really making sure that our employees were taken care of. Taken care of meaning not just financially, but really felt they mattered. The things that they were doing were moving the needle for the company that we personally understood. Things that they were going through, achievements that they were making happen. I think that really taking care of employees in a way that they feel heard is very important.

Tim Ferriss: What were little things or big things that you did to foster those things, to make those things happen?

Julie Rice: I mean, interestingly enough, one of the main things that we recognized in the beginning when we started SoulCycle was that the fitness industry in general was really broken. Instructors didn’t have full-time jobs anywhere. If you were a fitness professional, you would teach two classes at one gym, and three classes at another gym, and personal train somebody in their home. You’d spend your entire life commuting and being exhausted, just to try to cobble together a living. Then, on top of it, for doing one of the most physical jobs in the world, you had no health insurance. You had no paid vacation. You certainly had no place to call home or really feel you had somebody or to support you or that cared about you.

One thing that was very early on a goal for us was to create these careers for fitness instructors, which is something that we really did. We paid more. We gave people full health benefits. We paid for those vacations. Most importantly, we really gave them a home. We built a platform. SoulCycle was really a platform that we built — we really thought of our fitness instructors as artists — to allow artists to really find their voice on a platform and to give them the room to be creative and to grow into being their best selves. I think by giving people that platform and room and then really taking care of them and the tactical aspects of their lives, it allowed people to become a different kind of employee.

I mean, what we found was that we didn’t have employees. What we had was brand ambassadors. We had people walking around so proud that they worked at SoulCycle telling everybody how fantastic it was. It became way more like a family than it did a job.

Tim Ferriss: I’m going to ask some questions about good strategic decisions then we’re definitely going to get to.

Julie Rice: You see how I’ve avoided the failures, right?

Tim Ferriss: Yes, yes. No, we’re going to get to the waste of time and money because there are plenty of those stories in all businesses. Initiatives that didn’t go quite as hoped. One story that I read was related to opening the Bridgehampton location, and how you resisted the urge to pay yourselves or pay yourself much. As I understand, also had not taken outside investment. I would imagine, especially being in New York City, as soon as something seems to be going really well and spreading quite widely, that you start getting calls. You start getting emails about outside investment. Could you talk to why or how you decided when to take outside investment, which could just be why you didn’t take it up to this point?

Then, the thinking behind the Bridgehampton location, which for people who, everybody in this room and a lot of people, I’m sure know where Bridgehampton is, but for those people in the wider world. You have Manhattan. Then you have Long Island. You go way out. You have this place called The Hamptons. Depending on who you are, there’s very little in the middle, either you love or you hate The Hamptons. I happened to grow up as a townie out there, so I have this incredible inner conflict. I bounced back and forth between the two. Just too, for people who do not know, The Hamptons are where many of these successful people from Manhattan go to summer, beautiful beaches, where for some people they go to be seen. Why Bridgehampton? How do you guys think about it? Why no outside investment?

Julie Rice: Well, let me just say that, again, to the point of ignorance is bliss, we opened in four months. When I look back now, and when I think about all the investing that we’ve done, and when I think about how the world is spinning with people raising money, I really think that it was an incredible luxury to have no investors. I mean, we were really allowed to make decisions that were just the best for the business. We always just used our gut instincts. There was no choice except doing what was right for our customers, what was right for employees. Really, what was right for SoulCycle. I mean, we invented a brand that was like a human being. We would always make choices.

We have four daughters in between us, but SoulCycle was like our fifth daughter. We would always really make choices, thinking about what is the right choice for this business. Not having money in the beginning, I also think really informed the way that we marketed. We had no marketing dollars. I mean zero. Until 10 years into the business, we didn’t spend any money on advertising. I think what it really did was it really forced us to be incredibly disciplined and incredibly scrappy, and really be a part of the communities that we were trying to create. We would be out there at the mouth of Central Park handing out flyers in the bike loop. I’d be pushing my stroller up and down Broadway trying to get doormen to let me into mailroom buildings so that I could leave flyers.

If you could actually find our studio, which by the way, was in the rear lobby of a building with no sign on the outside of it — we forgot to talk about that; we’ll get to that and the epic failures — we were so happy to see you that we would do anything. I mean, I would watch your dog. I’d feed your parking meter. I’d let your kids sit there and play a video game. It didn’t matter. We needed you to like your experience, because we had zero money for marketing. At the time, I’m trying to convince somebody to come to the back lobby of an office building — actually, that was a mortuary — to do that, to convince you to pay $27, to click into a bike, to be in a dark room for 45 minutes. I mean, if we could get you there, you had to come back.

Tim Ferriss: We have to keep you.

Julie Rice: There was nothing we weren’t doing to get you to come back. All that being said, it really was interesting, because when I think about the way that we thought about that first studio, I think about that napkin that we wrote our hundred riders on, I think about starting a business. I think about this for a lot of young entrepreneurs, there is so much low-hanging fruit in the beginning. I mean, we really thought about building that first studio rider by rider. People will say to me, “Did you ever think SoulCycle was going to be such a big deal? Did you ever think this was going to happen?” What I always thought to myself was, I just knew that I needed to get 100 people there.

That was not going to be a problem for me because if I had to go and walk up and down the streets of Manhattan, and call my friends and get people on those bikes, 100 people are coming today. That was what I thought about it. I think that really forced us to have a different a discipline than if we had had crazy investment and marketing dollars. It just shaped who we were in the way that we understood our customer because we were in it in a different way. There was a lot of freedom to that. The great news for us was that our business model was great. I mean, we kept throwing more and more bikes in that room. It was a teeny little place. I mean, 1,200 square feet we ended up. We had 40 something bikes in there, $27 a bike going eight times a day.

We were able to create our first four or five, six studios taking from Peter, giving to Paul, selling to Mary. It was pretty great. We were really able to finance one with the other. Because we were not taking money out of the business, because we really were that disciplined, we were taking everything that we made, we were putting it back into the business. We were growing organically. Again, to the same point of not noticing the Starbucks was missing from my life and taking the taxis. We were having a great time. It really didn’t feel like we were suffering.

Tim Ferriss: I’m going to end there. I may be chasing the wrong trail in terms of Bridgehampton. We can scrap it maybe.  I want to highlight something that’s really important, that’s come up numerous times with founders of companies that have done extremely well, on a large scale, is that in most cases — especially if the business models actually work — I mean, there are some companies that get very big with business models that don’t work. But in the case of something like SoulCycle, it’s very tempting to want to say that you’re aiming for this billion dollar, $2 billion, x billion dollar outcome. As Seth Godin said on the podcast before, it’s very easy to hide when you have this grandiose, somewhat abstract, gigantic goal. He’s like, “Start small, because then you have nowhere to hide.”

If it’s 100 people, it’s a very clear, measurable outcome. With no marketing dollars, this is also a common thread that I see with a lot of these companies that are at least those have been exposed to that are consumer facing, is if you don’t have much in terms of marketing dollars, or you can strain it deliberately, you have to make sure your product is great. You really have to ensure that your product or service is really, really good. Then your customers become your marketing.

Julie Rice: Well, that was always the philosophy, right? I mean, we always knew. Again, this was part of it: all work together, right? Because we created a pay-per-class model, it had to be great every time or else nobody had to come back. What we used to say was like, “It can’t just be good. This cannot be a utility. This needs to be so good that people are talking about it when they’re out with their friends on Saturday night for dinner, and they are wanting — you want the credit for finding the coolest, greatest thing that’s going to make your friend feel the best. You’re going to bring that person.”

The saying in the halls of SoulCycle would be like, “We do not create users. We create evangelists.” Our evangelists were spreading the gospel for us. That really was our marketing, but I will answer your question about Bridgehampton. We were doing very well. We had become this little Upper West Side destination. The studio was bustling, and we were selling our classes really well. We realized pretty soon everybody was going to leave for the summer because that’s what happens in New York, right? There’s a mass exodus to different beaches and whether people are going to The Hamptons, or the Jersey Shore, or wherever they’re going, there’s nobody here on the weekends in the summer.

I called Hamptons magazine to see what it would be to take an ad. I thought, “Oh, we’ll just take an ad in the fourth of July publication.” They gave me a staggering quote. I thought, “Well, we certainly don’t have that much money.” The truth is what we did was experiential. I could sit here and tell you how awesome it is to be on a bike and what it feels and the music and the sweat, and the instructors and the people. Then you’re like, “Hmm, you still can’t really feel it because there’s no music playing and we’re not in the dark.” What I found was the only real way to get people to come and really experience it was to come and get them to take a class.

We comp a lot of classes. We tell people if they didn’t like it, they shouldn’t pay. If they didn’t like it, we give them their money back. I realized that doing something experiential would be better than taking an ad. We got a phone call one day. Somebody said, “There’s a great old potato barn, and there used to be some pole dancing class in there.” The pole dancing class was apparently going out of business. Now the space would be vacant if we wanted to create a cycling studio. We figured we could either spend $75,000 running a quarter page ad in Hamptons magazine, or we could just run the studio and plan on making no money and just think of it as a marketing experiment. I mean, that’s all we thought it was going to be.

It was marketing dollars, and so we did. We went and we painted the barn. We rolled our bikes in there, and we put a big yellow wheel on the wall. We flung open our doors. The barn became a sensation. It really became…we live in a little bit of a SoulCycle bubble, but it really is. I mean, it’s really the epicenter of  Hampton social life. People will tell you that if they can go and take a class at the barn at SoulCycle in the morning and then hobnob in between classes, they barely need to go out at night anymore — because that barn sees hundreds and hundreds of people between the hours of seven and 12 on a Saturday morning. Really, what it did for us was it took our little Upper West Side business from being a local, great neighborhood business, 100 people a day, to all of a sudden becoming this buzzworthy, New York City, on page six in The New York Times destination.

We came back from that summer. What happened on Mondays at noon, which is when our reservation system opens — if you want to reserve up I get SoulCycle, you go on Monday at noon if you have a specific thing that you’d like to reserve, you sign up for your classes for the full week — what happened for us when we came back that fall was that we started to crash servers. At noon on Monday, the demand load became crazy and all of a sudden we noticed like a line of town cars up and down the street would always be parked outside for SoulCycle classes. There was no Uber yet at the time. And what it was is that people were coming from all over now, waiting and their drivers or whoever, whatever rides they were taking up there would be waiting outside. That’s when we knew like we needed to grow.

Tim Ferriss: I’m no scientist, but —

Julie Rice: I think we should get another studio, except the market doesn’t want us to grow. It’s 2007 and everybody wants a Chase Bank or a Duane Reade in their space. Two women with a business that is throwing off a bunch of cash still does not look that attractive.

Tim Ferriss: Okay, how do you solve that problem?

Julie Rice: Well, then 2008 happens. Suddenly —

Tim Ferriss: Wake up.

Julie Rice: Suddenly, cash is king.

It still was not easy, but 2008 happened and it definitely became easier for us to think about getting space. Now let’s talk about when we actually did take money because there did come a point after about four years where we took money. We had eight studios and it’s interesting, our decision to take money was not so much about the money itself, but again, we really loved what we were doing. We could really see how SoulCycle was changing neighborhoods and it was changing communities and it was changing the way that people felt about themselves and about other people.

And we wanted a win. We had a first mover advantage and we were starting to see copycats come into the landscape and we were introduced to Equinox, to Harvey Spevak, who is the CEO of Equinox. And we started to get to know him, and the money and the cash infusion seemed nice, although we had a pretty good business.

I mean the businesses were making money and we could have expanded in a slower way, but we thought to ourselves that we would take a strategic partner rather than just taking money and they would be able to help us grow 10, 15, 20, 30 studios at a time rather than, let’s say, five or six or seven a year.

Tim Ferriss: What were some of the decisions or initiatives or anything where you look back and you’re like, “Wow, that was a bad use of time or money?” Is there anything that comes to mind?

Julie Rice: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Ferriss: Or just, “Yeah, we should’ve thought about that differently?”

Julie Rice: Well, there are definitely a few. I mean, we definitely made a lot of mistakes along the way. Neither of us had ever been entrepreneurs before and there were small mistakes and there were definitely bigger mistakes. Elizabeth always likes to say every time we would make a mistake, it would be $50,000 we didn’t have. And she would say, “Well, look at it this way. Neither of us went to business school. It’s like part of our tuition for our MBAs.”

That was always true. But we started out in our first studio and what did we know? We’d never built anything before and we built a studio and some guy told us that he was really good at soundproofing things and he’d done some porn studios in midtown. And so we thought, “Great. This guy’s done porn studios. Go to it,” and he stuffed some insulation into the ceilings and closed them off. And then cut to opening day, we turned on the stereo to find like a line of irate neighbors outside of our door.

And we certainly did not have money to re-soundproof the studio. And so that was really interesting.

Tim Ferriss: Hold on. I’m sure it was interesting. Fade to black. What’d you do?

Julie Rice: Well —

Tim Ferriss: Now we’re getting to that.

Julie Rice: I find that if you can befriend local neighborhood law enforcers, sometimes they will come and do the sound checks for your studio later in the evening when there may or may not be actual classes going on. And then you might actually be able to make the sound a little bit lower than you do during regular classes sometimes. That worked for us for a while until we had money to re-soundproof the studio.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, you have to sometimes have to build the bridges you’re crossing.

Julie Rice: Yes, we built some of those. Another fantastic memory was our first customer appreciation day. This is really like one of my favorites. I can talk about studying human behavior. We decided after about a year, we really wanted to thank the people that had helped us build business. And so what we were going to do was an entire day of free classes on Saturday starting 7 o’clock in the morning all day long. We were so excited about it.

I mean for us, giving up a Saturday of revenue is huge. I mean, Saturday was our biggest day. We had four of those a month. I mean we were still living by the skin of our teeth. We were still growing.  We decided we were going to let everybody just call the studio rather than use the reservation system and sign up for free. We were going to do big bowls of fruit and free drinks and juice sponsorships and all this great stuff.

Cut to, we like open up the phone lines and of course a million people that don’t ever come to SoulCycle sign up for the free classes. And now all of our regulars are irate because they actually don’t give a shit if they have to pay for class. They just want to be on the bike. They want to be on with the instructor at the time that they want to be on. And now what we have is hundreds of pissed off customers who cannot get into a Saturday class at SoulCycle and hundreds of people that may or may not actually show up, but just signed up for a free class because I put it in Time Out. And that was our first customer appreciation day.

So that was a great learning exercise. I would say the worst amount of money we ever spent was scrappy entrepreneurs, no funding. Elizabeth worked on all of our technology with a web developer in Long Island. They built everything as it came up. First, we built it for one studio, and then we built it for 10 studios, and then we wanted to have ecom until we built this thing that was basically like building a million extensions onto a foundation of a house that couldn’t handle it. And so we needed to rebuild our website. And so we were psyched.

I mean, we had $1 million to spend and we were going to hire the pros and that’s what we did. We went out and we hired a big fancy agency and we worked on articulating our vision and our brand and we spent six months explaining to somebody else what we already knew, which was our brand and our experience and user experience and things that were kind of already working on that website. And then it was going to be the big reveal, our big, fancy, new website.

They gave us a new CTO that was checking all the hardware and software and all the things that we were launching. But somehow we flipped on the switch that day and flipped off the other website. And it was great because eight people could book the same bike in the same class at the same time, and that was a disaster. And then to make it even better, nobody could fix it. One week of sign-ups went by, four weeks of sign-ups went by, six weeks of sign-ups went by. Talk about using up your goodwill.

The first few weeks people gave us the benefit of the doubt. We have great customer service teams. People showed up, they gave people hugs, they gave people free classes and juice.

Tim Ferriss: I’m sure the fourth they were like, “Yeah, enough with the hugs.”

Julie Rice: By week number four people were just like, they just thought we were totally inept. And that’s actually how our app was born to divert people from our fancy new website that never actually got working. I mean it works now, but it took us quite a while. I mean, we were able to build an app better than we were able to fix that site.

Tim Ferriss: That sounds really stressful.

Julie Rice: It was stressful.

Tim Ferriss: I don’t know if this is still a thing and maybe it was never a thing and it’s just something somebody wrote on the Internet: 16 Seconds to Calm.

Julie Rice: That’s how long I can meditate.

Tim Ferriss: Can you talk about it? That and any other tools that might help when you were going through an experience like that.

Julie Rice: I’m not really good at sitting still. That’s not my specialty. I’ve definitely tried meditation in many different forms with many very talented people, and many trusted friends have referred me to many places that I’m sure are the right places to be meditating. And I have never found it yet in my being to meditate. I think that’s why SoulCycle continues to be such a huge part of my life just because there is something in that room for me that is really meditative and to the point of coping skills, it’s still something that’s in my daily practice almost, at least a couple times a week.

But for me, I have a friend who started a meditation studio in Los Angeles and sent me a million ways to get onto her app and her stuff. And there is one meditation that I have found that is called 16 Seconds to Calm, and it’s 16 seconds and you basically take one breath in and one breath out. But this guy tells you why you’re interrupting patterns while you do that because you’re focusing on your breath. And he claims that in those 16 seconds, you have interrupted your thought patterns enough that you have broken the cycle of anxiety. And I choose to believe it.

Tim Ferriss: Besides the 16 seconds and aside from SoulCycle, are there other tools, habits, routines, anything at all that you found to help you to operate at a high level when there’s the potential to be overwhelmed by stress?

I mean, like you said, you don’t strike me as the type that sits still for very long. You seem to do a lot and get a lot done, and therein lies the risk of, I think overwhelm. So what are other things you do to avoid buckling under overwhelm?

Julie Rice: I will honestly say that the number one thing that keeps me from buckling under is that I have a really awesome marriage. I know that that sounds funny or maybe not, but I have chosen a partner who actually is really amazing at communicating with me during times of anxiety and actually has sort of created an atmosphere in our home that is not super tolerant of my anxiety in the best way possible. In the best way possible.

Tim Ferriss: What does that look like?

Julie Rice: It looks like when I walk through the threshold of my house I have a partner that if I’m stressed out, sort of demands me to communicate about it and sort of get rid of it. We have a lot of respect for each other and he usually finds a way to figure out what it is that can bring me down from that. And I will say that being in a relationship like that with somebody who is not an anxious person, who is able to kind of de-escalate your own anxiety is kind of fantastic.

Tim Ferriss: Could you give an example? You don’t have to, but if you can of…language is so important here. Like the devil’s really in the detail. What might he say or ask when he’s like, “Uh-oh! Code red. I see what’s coming,” and wants to get you to talk about it or de-escalate? What might be —

Julie Rice: Like just this morning, we were preparing for this interview and I said to him like, “Are you going to help me with the questions for Tim Ferriss?” And he said to me, “I didn’t want to say this to you yesterday, but you said that to me the same way yesterday and you are asking it to me in a way that obviously you’re very anxious, and of course I want to help you, but would you like to ask that in a different way?”

And I thought to myself, “I know he wants to help me,” because he is like the biggest supporter of my whole entire life. And I know that he spent a lot of time thinking about this because he sent me emails that I asked him to think about this. And then I thought for a second about my own anxiety and where I was going with it because I thought, “Oh, I have something else to do at 11:00 and is he going help me at 10:30?” And it was my own crazy person in there thinking like, “You need to help me right now.” That was like my own person.

But he does not get worked up like that. And so he said to me like, “Do you want to ask me differently because you asked me the same way yesterday and I don’t think…” And the thing was that was just my own check. Most of the times that I’m communicating badly with him, with my children, it’s because I’m in a state of anxiety or distress. And I think having somebody like that by your side that can check you like that again, in a way that’s loving, not in a way that’s like that, I think that really helps to bring the situation down.

And I will tell you one other amazing thing that we do in our house that has really helped to kind of reframe the way that we live. We started to celebrate Shabbat about five years ago. I was out one day with a friend of mine who is like a super successful music executive. She’s like definitely one of my main girl crushes. She’s like a total boss and a real power broker. And we were having a business lunch one day, and at the end of the lunch, she said to me, “I have to duck out a few minutes early. I have to go pick up a challah for Shabbat.”

Challah, for people who don’t celebrate Shabbat, it’s the braided bread that we eat on Shabbat. One thing that my business partner Elizabeth loves, she always says to me, “It’s always fun to find out something new that you don’t know about somebody that you think you know really well.” I looked at my friend Julian, I said, “Really?” I said, “You celebrate Shabbat on Friday night?” And she said, “Yeah. I’m out a couple of nights of the week listening to music. And I find that because I’m so busy, it’s a lot of integrity for our family. We all have to be at the dinner table at 6:30 on Friday night and we put our phones away and we light candles and we don’t take out our phones till the next morning and it’s the one thing we do in our house that really reframes our time together.”

And I thought, “Wow, she is clearly more important than I am. And she makes this happen. So I could definitely fit Shabbat in,” and we started to have Shabbat. And here’s the interesting thing, we’re not religious people. I would say that we’re spiritual just in the way that we believe the way that you are in the world is the way that you feel in the world. And I think that we believe in something bigger and that we’re all connected in some way, but I wouldn’t say that we’re religious.

But we started to have Shabbat and we have very few requirements of our children, but one requirement is that everybody is home for that evening. Our daughter, who was five months old when we started SoulCycle, she’s now 13 and our rule for her, she can have as many friends as she wants, but she has to be there. And we light our candles at 6:30 and there’s something about the time that it takes those candles to burn that for me, who cannot meditate, being with people that I love and there’s always plenty of people at our table, it’s friends or family and it’s always fantastic and there is just something about the time that it takes those candles to burn and not having phones and having a different kind of conversation with each other and it’s almost like I’ve given myself permission for the evening to shut down.

And whatever that is inside of me that has…The minute we light the candle it says like, “It’s cool until tomorrow. The world’s going to wait for you.” There’s something about that ritual for me that’s really one of the times that I look forward to most in the week.

Tim Ferriss: What rules do you have during Shabbat? And what’s the duration? Is it primarily from that dinner to the following morning and you guys all put phones away? Is that the most important rule? Are there other rules that you guys follow?

Julie Rice: No. We light candles and we do say two prayers in Hebrew. It’s what we do. My husband has recently started playing the guitar and he’s mastering some guitar songs and so we try to have some music. He’s getting pretty good. Our kids are usually super embarrassed if their friends are over and their dad’s playing the guitar and their mom’s singing and clapping like it’s a really big hit.

I try to buy a lot of really good desserts, everything from Levain Bakery to Baked By Melissa on down to lure my kids to stick around the table for a certain amount of time. Spencer and I try to keep our phones in the drawer until the following morning. My daughter would obviously die without getting back on Snapchat by about 9 o’clock, so we allow her to do that. And there are no rules really.

The crazy thing is it’s just, again, it’s always intimate. It always feels like a safe space. It always feels like people can share like what really happened to them that week, how they’re really feeling about themselves, their triumphs, their tragedies. It just feels like there’s like no bullshit at the table. For all the times during the week that you had to go out and pretend it was great or that you were killing it at work or that I loved you at school today or whatever it is, it just feels like it’s a really kind of…we go in pajamas or sweatpants no matter who’s coming over and it’s just a super relaxed kind of just bring your best self or bring your real self.

Tim Ferriss: I love it. What a beautiful ritual. Where should I go from here? Well, you mentioned the prepping for the interview and the anxiety. Were there any questions that you hoped I would ask you? Like, “You know what, I have a really good answer to that. I have a really good answer to this type of question. I hope he asked me this.” Or conversely, was there anything where like, “I hope to God he really doesn’t ask me…?”

This is a bit of a trick — or is it?

Julie Rice: Well, I have to say I did do some research while I was getting ready for the interview and I listen to a lot of very impressive people on your podcast and I was really thinking to myself like, “I haven’t written a book. I don’t really have a method for anything.” I was really hoping that you wouldn’t ask me for some sort of dissertation on something.

I was thinking a lot. A couple of things that I was thinking about were just I was thinking about SoulCycle a little bit and I was thinking kind of about what made the experience special. And I was thinking about if we would talk about that a little bit, just sort of about the construction of what that experience is like in the room. I think that’s kind of an interesting one. I think that we’ve really crafted the experience in that room to be a lot of the things that I think people really need today.

And what we’ve done is we’ve created an eight-week training program for our instructors, and what we teach in those three things is we teach them how to be spiritual and emotional leaders. We teach them how to be physical fitness instructors so they can give people what they need for their bodies. And we also teach them how to be DJs and how to create music like artists. And what I think is really interesting about taking those three different tracks of psychology, physical experience, and also creativity and putting them together is you really provide something for people in a room that allows them to access many different parts of themselves that I think people don’t often get to access.

And I do think that there is something about that and about creating sort of that moment. We’ve created the class sort of in five stages. I mean there’s almost five stages that we break it down into, which is we warm people up, we pop the party, we break them down, we give them a soulful moment, and then we send them home like heroes. And there’s something about that emotional arc and that physical arc with music matching and all that I think really provides people with a lot of what they need to get today in the world. And I think it’s also a really interesting journey for people to go through together, because although people aren’t speaking and aren’t communicating, they are all experiencing a journey together.

And so it’s a really interesting way, in a world where people have almost forgotten how to communicate with each other — because of phones and digital isolation — to allow people to participate in something where they really do feel closer and connected to each other at the end.

Tim Ferriss: I’d love to ask a bit more about the spiritual, emotional leaders part. What does the curriculum look like for that?

Julie Rice: There are quite a few. There’s several parts of it and I think the main part of it is allowing people to have a place to be vulnerable, to come and express their own vulnerabilities, as well as to talk about things that they’re thinking about, their own vulnerabilities. And then to empower people to really deliver messages to people that allow them to as they are wearing down physically, as the music is playing, as they are this close to somebody else who’s moving with them, we are teaching them to deliver messages that allow people to believe that they are enough, that they can be more than they thought that they can be, that they could achieve more than they thought that they could achieve.

That people are rooting for them, that are hoping for them. And I think that there is something about the empowerment that people get in that room when they are inhabiting their physical bodies in a way that feels strong, and teaching those instructors to deliver messages of positivity to really…they read a lot of different…so many of the books that are on your list or books that we’re giving them in those classes.

Tim Ferriss: What are some of them?

Julie Rice: Let me think about what people are reading in there. The curriculum’s actually wide. And that’s the other thing also because we’ve created it to look more like a framework and we also like to use the expression “freedom within a framework.” We are allowing people to…although they are creating within that framework to really find their own voice, to find their own music. And that’s also why I think that our riders gravitate to different instructors because somebody that’s moving me might not be the same person that moves you.

And yet we’ve kind of created this shell of an experience, it’s almost like a Mad Lib where they learn sort of this outline, this technique. And then they can take it and fill in their own content.

Tim Ferriss: And aside from the Simon Sinek book that you mentioned — which I do recommend people check out; it does pop up a lot on the podcast — are there any other books that either you’ve recommended to managers or employees or that you’ve just recommended or gifted to other people?

Julie Rice: Well, I definitely give people a lot of people that Helen and Harville book that I was talking about, Getting the Love You Want. Something else that we did a lot of reading at SoulCycle is Setting the Table by Danny Meyer just for…we also ran an incredibly interesting hospitality school for our people that worked in the front of house and not in those rooms. We’re all big fans of the Tony Hsieh book Delivering Happiness. And I think those were like some of our favorites.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Danny Meyer’s amazing. Very, very fascinating guy. For people who don’t recognize the name, you should look it up. How are we doing on time? I do not have a countdown. Yes, I do.

What was that?

Speaker 1: 7:35.

Tim Ferriss: Okay, great. Let’s see. I would love to hear what you are currently most excited about and why? Because much like my question at the very beginning about what you saw in that bartender and how you kind of pick where you’re going to allocate your time, you’ve made some very deliberate choices and when you make a choice, when you make a decision, you are cutting yourself off, just like incision. You’re cutting yourself off from other possibilities and opportunity costs. So what are you most excited about now, professionally, personally, or anything in-between?

Julie Rice: Definitely. It’s funny to talk about opportunity costs, because for the longest time I really thought you could just do everything. I’m starting to understand that there are only a certain amount of hours in the day. But I will say that sitting here in the middle of Made By We is really interesting because I think that it’s definitely a good example of something that I’m thinking a lot about these days, which is, “How are people connecting in a world where people spend most of their time on their phones or connecting digitally?”

I think that’s something that’s really interesting to think about is where are the places and what are the experiences that we’re delivering to people to allow them to connect? We’re reading about loneliness as an epidemic and I’m personally terrified watching my 13-year-old in the way she interacts with her friends and their phones; they’re all in the same room and yet they’re all on their phones communicating.

And so I am really obsessed with the fact that people are lonely and people are unhappy. And how are we giving people skills to be happier? And how are we giving them places to find those connections? And so a place like this, when I think about it, it’s really a new version of a community center. A place where we can go and especially in an economy where so many of us have the luxury of having our own company, working by ourself in our apartment, and that all sounds great until the day that you wake up and think, “I could really use somebody else around me to help me get inspired.”

And so really thinking about how people connect and what kind of tools we need to give them so that they can connect and connect in meaningful ways.

Tim Ferriss: This is a beautiful space. I don’t know how people in the audience feel, but it’s my first time here and I would love…I could have used a place like this many years ago and hopefully, there’ll be many, many more.

Julie Rice: Come any time.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely stunning. And let’s wrap up with just a few final questions. This one, sometimes a good question, sometimes it’s terrible question. We’ll find out. And that is if you could put a message, a question, a quote, anything at all, and metaphorically speaking on a billboard to get a message out to millions or billions of people, noncommercial for the time being, do you have any thoughts on what you might put on that?

Julie Rice: For me, this is very easy one. I’m a terrible claustrophobic.

Tim Ferriss: I did not know that.

Julie Rice: Yes, I am a terrible claustrophobic and ready for this? I live in New York City. I do not take elevators. Like, do not, never, don’t take elevators. Have gone to weddings, black-tie weddings at the Rainbow Room. 71 flights, I walk.

Tim Ferriss: Wow. Presumably, you’re not in like running shoes when you go to such a function?

Julie Rice: I have a whole situation. I have my heels in a bag and I wear my sneakers up in full hair and makeup outfit. I make it to the top. I blot, I put my heels on, and I walk out like nothing happened. But yes, so elevators are not my thing. And so if I was going to put a billboard up, I think that it would say: “There is no elevator to success; you have to take the stairs.”

Tim Ferriss: I love it. I dig it. Do you have any final comments, asks, recommendations, anything at all that you’d like to say before we wrap up?

Julie Rice: I don’t think so. I’m so happy I got a chance to talk to you and thank you so much for coming. I know that people were so excited to have you in the space, so it’s awesome to have you here.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, it’s great to be here and it’s nice to see you again. For people who don’t know, we’ve spent time together before and I’ve been looking forward to this and as soon as had a chance the very first time to spend 10 or 15 minutes ago, I was like, “I need to get her on the podcast,” at some point in my head. So here we are.

Julie Rice: Awesome.

Tim Ferriss: And it’s been really fun. I’ve taken so many notes. Everyone in the crowd is watch me taking all these notes for things that I’m going to follow up on and dig into.

Where are the best places for people to find you, learn more about what you’re up to, WeWork? Anything that you’d like to mention in terms of resources and of course I’ll put these in the show notes online as well.

Julie Rice: Definitely. You can always find out what’s going on in this space on our Instagram. Is that right, Joel? Where are you?

Julie Rice: I’m here.

Julie Rice: What’s the best way to find out about stuff in this space?

Julie Rice: If you go to Made by We website or look at Instagram.

Julie Rice: Yes. It’s very hard to get domain names these days.

Tim Ferriss: There we go.

Julie Rice: A good way to find out what’s going on with me is either at my Instagram, which is @JulieRice_ or Elizabeth and I have a great Instagram, which is @soulfounders.

Tim Ferriss: Awesome. Thank you so much for taking the time.

Julie Rice: Thank you so much.

Tim Ferriss: This has really been fun. Thank you, everybody, for coming and until next time, see you around.

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Julie Rice — Co-Founding SoulCycle, Taming Anxiety, and Mastering Difficult Conversations (#372)


“There is no elevator to success; you have to take the stairs.”
— Julie Rice

Julie Rice (@julierice_) is an entrepreneur best known for co-founding the fitness phenomenon SoulCycle. Julie served as Co-CEO at SoulCycle from 2006 to 2015 before joining WeWork in November 2017.

Julie’s life’s work has been about building community, and these days she brings that focus to her new role at WeWork. At WeWork, Julie is approaching everything through the lens of community—she is focusing on WeWork’s brand and the experience WeWork provides its members, and seeking new and innovative ways to grow and share the WeWork experience around the globe.

Julie lives in NYC with her husband Spencer and their two daughters, Phoebe and Parker. She is a board member of The Public Theater and Weight Watchers, as well as an advisor to the women’s club The Wing.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, Castbox, or on your favorite podcast platform.

#372: Julie Rice — Co-Founding SoulCycle, Taming Anxiety, and Mastering Difficult Conversations

Want to hear another episode with someone who knows how to build an enticing atmosphere into a business model? — Listen to my interview with hospitality mogul Liz Lambert, in which she talks about balancing the desire to be an artist with the desire to be a business tycoon. (Stream below or right-click here to download):

#320: The Art of Hospitality: An Interview With Entrepreneur and Hotelier Liz Lambert

Important announcement from Tim below:

Hello, my lovelies!

From June – Dec, 2019, I’m removing ads and sponsors from the podcast for a six-month test. The podcast will continue to be 100% free for everyone. There will be no paywall, and no one has to pay for anything.

If interested, you can contribute a few dollars a month to support me doing more crazy experiments and initiatives, or to simply say “thank you” if any of my books, nearly 400 free podcasts, or 1,000+ free blog posts have had a positive impact on you or your loved ones.

Visit to find out more and support.

Since the podcast has become the engine that fuels everything else, if this experiment doesn’t work out after six months, we’ll go back to sponsors. If it works, we’ll stay with fan-supported. Easy peasy.

So, why am I doing this? Two main reasons:

#1 – Sponsors and ads chew up a TON of time that I’d rather spend finding and doing cool things I can share with you. To be clear, I don’t think all advertising is evil. I turn away 90-plus percent of inquiries, personally test everything remaining, and then share the best. I feel good about that, BUT it consumes a lot of my time and energy. I would rather focus on finding, doing, and making cool things that I can share with you. That’s what I love, it’s what I’m good at, and it’s why many of you ended up reading my books or listening to the podcast in the first place.

#2 – Over the years, thousands of readers and fans have asked me, “How can I thank you?” Aside from the books, I’ve never sold any products, courses, or otherwise, nor do I plan to. Fan-supported subscriptions allow people to say “Thank you, and please do more.” If you want to help fuel more experiments, science, and exciting discoveries, you can easily sign up below and contribute to the cause. Think of it as a monthly gym membership for your mind and career. How much would you gladly pay for that?

Then, each time you hear a podcast episode (or see anything from me) that you consider life-changing and want to share with friends, you can smile, knowing that you helped to make it possible.

Please only contribute what you feel great about contributing. This is zero pressure, and I’m not mailing out any beer koozies or other crap you don’t want. I’ll just do and share more good stuff.

The lower tiers of support are roughly equal to four Starbucks cappuccinos per month, or one decent bottle of wine per month. The higher tiers of support are roughly equal to a gym membership, or a single dinner for two per month.

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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

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The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Ramit Sethi — Automating Finances, Negotiating Prenups, Disagreeing with Tim, and More (#371)

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Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Ramit Sethi (@ramit), author of the New York Times bestseller I Will Teach You To Be Rich, who has become a financial guru to millions of readers in their twenties, thirties, and forties. He started his website,, as a Stanford undergraduate in 2004, and he now hosts over a million readers per month on his blog, newsletter, and social media. Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!

Watch the interview on YouTube.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, Castbox, or on your favorite podcast platform.

#371: Ramit Sethi — Automating Finances, Negotiating Prenups, Disagreeing with Tim, and More


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Tim Ferriss: Why, hello, boys and girls. This is Tim Ferriss. Welcome to another episode of The Tim Ferriss Show where it is my job to interview and dissect world class performers and all around funny people, like my guest today. And I’m going to butcher his name even though I’ve known him for a thousand years: Ramit Sethi. That’s R-A-M-I-T S-E-T-H-I. Author of The New York Times Best Seller, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, has become a financial guru to millions of readers in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. Got to make sure I don’t disqualify myself soon. He started his website,, as a Stanford undergrad in 2004. And he now hosts more than a million readers per month on his blog, newsletter, and social media. Ramit and his team of dozens of employees build premium digital products about personal finance, entrepreneurship, psychology, careers, and personal development for top performers. The IWT community includes one million monthly readers, 400,000 plus newsletter subscribers, and 35,000 premium customers. He has written about personal finance for the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and has been interviewed on dozens of media outlets including MPR, ABC News, CNBC, and The Tim Ferriss Show. Welcome back to the show, Ramit.

Ramit Sethi: Thanks a lot. It’s great to be here.

Tim Ferriss: And you can find Ramit if you want to say hello, ask a question, or yell at him on Twitter at Ramit, R-A-M-I-T, and Instagram at Ramit. So I thought we could start with the floor mats. Maybe you could tell me about your dad and the floor mats.

Ramit Sethi: You want to start there?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: All right. So you know how you grow up and you discover that your parents did things a little differently and you just thought it was normal? I thought it was normal to take five days to buy a car. Because that’s what my dad would do. My mom would stay home. My dad would take us. He would take a couple of the kids in my family, including me, and we would go to the dealer. It was always Honda or Toyota. You know that. And we would start looking around. And my dad would play very innocent. He didn’t know anything about cars. My dad knew everything. He knew how much the dealer was paying, how much the hold back was, everything. So we’d go, we’d test drive it, he wouldn’t be sure, da, da, da. And then we’d stay there for four or five hours and he’d say, “Okay, I’m going to think about it.” The car dealer spent five hours with my dad. He goes, “No thanks, this price isn’t good. I’m going to go.” They’re like, “What?” So we literally left.

Then we go back the next day. We’re basically having breakfast at the dealership. And I remember one time we were buying a car for our family. And it was the fourth day. Okay, again, I thought this was normal. And we’re down to the last bit. We’re at the part where the dealer’s drawing the numbers and telling you, “Well, it’s actually a really good deal.” And my dad, he knows the math. He’s an engineer, of course. And finally, we’ve closed the deal and my dad goes, “You’re going to throw in free floor mats, right?” These are $50. And the guy’s like, “Sir, we’re losing money on this car. How can we throw in these floor mats?” And my dad says, “I’m out of here.” And we just walked up and left.

Ramit Sethi: And I was like a Vietnam vet. I’m just shell shocked walking out. My eyes are just glazed over. And I’m like, “We just spent a week buying this car and we walked out of here over $50 floor mats.” So that’s where I learned to negotiate in the most elite negotiation of all.

Tim Ferriss: Now where are your parents from?

Ramit Sethi: They’re from India.

Tim Ferriss: And are they first generation? They immigrated to the US.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah, they came here in the ’70s. My dad came here actually to study. He went back to India. And it was known that he was coming back. He was a bachelor. And they sort of arranged things so that he meets people when he comes back. And it passed around the community that this bachelor’s coming back. And he ended up meeting my mom. They met by both families coming together in a living room and talking. And they met each other. The families decided it was a good thing. Seven days later, they were married. My mom got on a plane and flew to the US for the first time. And they’ve been married for about 40 years now.

Tim Ferriss: Amazing.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: We have so much to talk about. And so much to catch up on. And so many questions that I want to ask. But I thought we could start and certainly we’ll bounce all over the place. But you said before we start recording, because you have a new edition of your book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, noticeably lacking a photograph of you barefoot on the cover. And you have some incredible quotes and testimonials, I should say, including from Burton Malkiel, author of A Random Walk Down Wall Street. But you said to me, because I haven’t read the introduction, that you either should have started it or you did start it with, “I was right.” Could you explain? Please explain.

Ramit Sethi: Okay. So this book, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, originally came out in March 2009. And let’s just dispense with the idea the name sounds like a scam. We both know we write books that sound like scams, but they’re not. I mean, it’s like a running … And I’ve just learned to embrace it. Guys, it’s the weird sounding book, but it’s actually good advice. And in the first edition, I talked about long-term investing, low-cost investing, thinking about really automating your money, and using psychology against yourself for positive results.

Now if you had followed that advice, it turns out that when the book came out in March 2009, that was the absolute bottom of the recession. Crazy enough. Now I don’t believe in market timing, but if you had used the advice in the book, this $10 book, you would be set for life. So I started the book off by saying, “Well, I was right. Let me tell you all the things that would’ve happened if you’d use this book.” I did get a couple of things wrong and I had to change. One of them … Man, the biggest mistake in my life was putting in interest rates in the book. Like the … Okay, do you remember what —

Tim Ferriss: Sounds like me putting … Doing market testing with magazines.

Ramit Sethi: Okay, so I put in … Back then, savings rates were five percent. Remember these banks were paying five percent? So I was like, “Oh, it’s five percent. Da, da, da. Here’s the math.” And then the minute the book came out, they dropped to four, three, two, and then point five percent. Now the point of it is you don’t make money on your savings account anyway. We’re talking about $21 a year or a month versus $4. It’s irrelevant. It’s tiny details. Every day for the last decade, I’ve gotten 10 emails a day that are like, “Fuck you. Where’s the five percent you talked about, you liar?” And so I’m like, “Never again. I’m never putting interest rates in this book again.” So I took them out, I clarified it, I corrected a couple of things that I wanted to update, and I added 80 new pages of material. So things have changed a bit, but good advice really shouldn’t change that much.

Tim Ferriss: Now I’ve had a chance to observe you as sort of an animal in the wild for 10 plus years. And part of the reason I enjoy having our conversations, but also sharing your tactics, and scripts, and so on, is that I’ve seen you use them and walk the walk, which is more than I could say for a lot of financial pundits or commentators out there in the world. And I wanted to perhaps just mention a … And not really an upsell. Maybe a side sell, which is if somebody wants to be either greatly informed on the arts of negotiating or if you’re just looking for outrage porn to get really angry if that’s your current sport of choice, you can find a guest post that you’ve put on my blog quite a few years ago called, How to Negotiate Like an Indian, which I can only imagine the response to that title if I were to publish it.

Ramit Sethi: Probably not a good idea.

Tim Ferriss: But now, it’s staying the way it is, folks. So there you have it. If you want to Google that on Tim.Blog, you can find it. But let’s talk about some of the perhaps counterintuitive things that you do. Because we talk about all sorts of aspects of finance, and investing, and life in general on the phone just the two of us. But I’m looking at a number of different bullets that I was hoping to explore. And one is you’ve mentioned that you’ve lived in the same apartment for 10 years. Why do you still rent?

Ramit Sethi: Yeah. I get this question a lot because in America, real estate is religion. And if you’re successful, then you’re supposed to buy, right? And the old tax deduction, and they’re not making any more land, and all these things that we say that we don’t really understand. I rent intentionally. I could go buy a place in Manhattan tomorrow with cash, but I don’t want to. It doesn’t make sense for me financially. And also, I enjoy the flexibility.

Just to give you an example, I love that the building that I live in has awesome services. I love that anything that goes wrong, I make a phone call. It started raining last winter and water started coming through my window sill. So made a phone call, and they came up, and they took a look, and they were like, “We actually have to replace this part of the roof because it connects. And we have to send someone to the outside of the building.” I said, “Sounds good to me. It doesn’t matter to me. I’m going to be out of town for the next few days. So have a blast.” I would estimate that that repair probably costs in Manhattan on a weekend probably $25,000, maybe $35,000. I didn’t pay it. Right? So that’s financial. Also a flexibility issue, which is I don’t know where I’m going to be five years from now. And if you’re going to buy and you run the numbers, it makes sense to plan on being there at least seven to 10 years minimum so that you can sort of eat the cost of the transaction fees.

But I think the biggest thing that really surprises people is that in America, we have been told so many times, real estate is the best investment. And in my opinion, that’s just not true a lot of the time. Now I don’t think it’s a bad investment always. But I always say you should run the numbers. And when I run the numbers in Manhattan, it just makes no sense. I would rather take that money, and I would put it in the stock market. And I know consistently what that outcome is going to be over the long term. I don’t have to do any repairs. And as we may talk about, I really hate anything that affects my convenience. So I think for a lot of people, I just want people to think, “Hey, is it really true that real estate is the best investment?” For me, it’s not. It’s a cost. And I’m happy to pay the cost just like I’m happy to pay the cost of a basket of strawberries that I’m going to eat. I don’t think I’m throwing money away on strawberries. I don’t think I’m throwing money away on rent.

Tim Ferriss: So you said real estate is religion or it can be. And I think this is worth taking into for a second because there are a lot of statements that in certain circumstances can be conditionally true. Right? Like real estate is the best investment asterisk, fine print, if A, B, C, D, E.

Ramit Sethi: Yes.

Tim Ferriss: Right? And there are things that are just patently, I think, untrue, right? Like you need money to make money. False. It’s who you know, not what you know. False dichotomy. Not mutually exclusive.

Ramit Sethi: Investing is only for the rich.

Tim Ferriss: Right.

Ramit Sethi: Ironically, the way you get rich is by investing.

Tim Ferriss: And there are a lot of different ways to invest, right? So the one perhaps undertone or portion of context that I think is worth talking about, because I’ve been thinking a lot about this myself in the last 10 years, is that there are investments that you make to optimize for financial ROI. And then there are investments that you make which are decisions about allocating resources for optimizing other things. Right? So I’ll give just a perfectly seemingly opposite example, which is I have bought real estate. I’ve also had my ass handed to me a year and a half before your book came out, in fact. Hello, adjustable rate mortgage first home buyer.

Ramit Sethi: Oh.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, that was ugly. But I have bought real estate. Typically I have used mortgages of various types. And I had a friend of mine, a different Indian, who was also first generation.

Ramit Sethi: Who is this guy? We all know each other.

Tim Ferriss: Navin Thukkaram

Ramit Sethi: Okay.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, so thank you, Navin, for this advice, by the way. Who I’ve known for ages, also an engineer. Brilliant guy. And we were looking through different financial decisions. Because … And I want to talk about kind of “what got you here won’t get you where you want to go” type changes, right? Because I imagine you do things very differently from your parents.

Ramit Sethi: Totally.

Tim Ferriss:  Even though their behavior makes perfect sense based on their conditioning and their experience. What he said to me looking at my balance sheet, there’s a small amount of principal left to pay on a mortgage. And he said, “Just for your peace of mind, for this primary residence, it doesn’t make financial sense. You should pay this off so that you feel as though no matter what, you have that and it’s almost like a homestead.” Right? You have something that on many levels cannot be taken away. That’s how you feel. And I did that. Not saying this is the advice that everybody should take by the way. But for me in that moment, there was so much uncertainty and uncertainty in my life, to make a decision that seemingly did not let the numbers line up was, in fact, the right thing to do.

Ramit Sethi: I completely agree. I’m so glad we’re talking about the nuance because I believe there’s a few underlying beliefs when it comes to money. And I believe that number one, most people are mostly the same. And that’s profoundly different than a lot of people who believe that we’re all individual and we have different situations. No, I believe that most of us are mostly the same. And if we can optimize … If we can basically just follow good advice for 90, 95 percent of the way, then we earn the right to take advantage of our individual specialties and differences. So for most people, that means saving a certain percentage, investing a certain percentage, et cetera. But I do think once you do the basics, then you earn the right to say, “Hey, what are the nuances here? Where do the rules not necessarily apply to me?” So for you, yeah, you have the principal. Maybe financially it didn’t make sense, but it just felt good. Or it provided safety in an uncertain world at that moment.

I’ve got examples in my own life where I pay for stuff that makes no rational sense. I hired a personal trainer for the last many years. That doesn’t make any sense. I could theoretically find the same workouts on YouTube. And they’re all printed out. Or I could just stop going with my trainer. Why? He’s giving me all the workouts. But there’s something more that I get out of it. And when I was starting out, when I was 22, I wish I could go back and shake myself. Because I was very utilitarian and really judgmental about how other people spent their money. And I would scoff. I would say, “Flying business class is so stupid. We’re all getting to the same place. I’m just paying 20 percent of what that person’s paying.” And what I really should’ve done is say, “Why do they do that?” If we’re listening to you right now saying you paid off a principal where you really didn’t have to, you could’ve just dripped it out. You’re not paying much in interest. Why? And for you, that safety was meaningful. For me, I like the flexibility and convenience.

So I’m not saying “Don’t ever buy real estate” and you’re not saying “Buy or pay it off tomorrow.” But what are the circumstances in which people who are otherwise probably pretty thoughtful make certain decisions?

Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative). And the mistake that I’ve, in retrospect, made a lot when I was younger — And I think that’s also in part because I grew up with, by necessity, very, very frugal parents, is — sounds like much like yourself, I would scoff at and sort of look down upon a lot of behaviors that had I actually looked closer and said, “What am I missing? All right, a bunch of wealthy people are doing X.”

Ramit Sethi: Yeah, well they must know something.

Tim Ferriss: Now, I’m like, “Holy shit. I can’t believe I’ve missed it for 20 or 30 years.” It actually makes a whole lot of sense.

Ramit Sethi: Okay, so let’s talk about what are some examples. What are some things that you scoffed at in your early, let’s say, teens or 20s that now you’re like, “Oh, I get it.”

Tim Ferriss: Well, and I don’t want this to sound obnoxious to folks because we’re going to start to … We’ve gone through many kind of checkpoints. Right? We’ve … You and I have been very fortunate and we’ve made some good decisions, had a healthy dose of luck. But I’ll give you an example because you just mentioned business class. My assistant I have today, my primary full-time assistant, still remembers when Tim, this is not that long ago, would get a middle seat economy class ticket.

Because I remember when I first had people reach out to me about paid speaking engagements, which seemed completely absurd at the time. Number one, I said “Yes” to everything. So I was like, “What? People are going to pay me to speak? Yeah, sure. Yes.” To everything. All of the above. And one of the options that I realized was available at one point was they could buy the tickets for me, which was, if negotiated by a speaking agent or something, usually business or first class. Or they could give me the cash expected for a first class ticket. And then I could just pocket it and buy a middle class economy seat, which I did once to Australia for a speaking gig that was, I mean, at the time, kind of my high watermark. Right? It was a very important gig. It was critical that I do well at the speaking engagement. And I sat hinged at 90 degrees at the hip in a middle seat with my arms thrusted in front of me like a cadaver, like a Dracula, for whatever, right? Like 18 hours. And got there and I was just pounded hamburger meat for three days. And I said, “Okay, that was very penny wise and extremely pound foolish.”

So that would be one example and I think that’s the broader category of protecting the physical asset.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah. What I like about these examples, I don’t find them shallow to discuss. I think that each of us, no matter what level of your success, has gone from a certain place in life when you’re in your early 20s to a different place. Right? I used to read PC Mag and think about what parts to build my own computer. Now I just go buy a Mac. It’s as simple as that. And I haven’t kept up and it’s just not a good use of my time. I just want someone else to make the decision for me. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re buying first class tickets internationally or you’re going to a restaurant instead of cooking food for yourself one night. One night a week or a month. We all intuitively know that as you change in life, your spending is going to change. So I actually don’t think anyone should listen to your example of a middle seat and say, “Oh my God, must be nice to be Tim.” Or for me, “I have an assistant as well. Must be nice.” It is nice. But you might have money and you don’t choose to spend it like that. You choose to spend it on something else.

I have a student of mine in this book who used the book. He told me he retired at 35. And his wife retired. They’re 35 and 36. And they drive around in an RV. That’s their rich life. That is not my rich life. But to him, that’s his rich life. So when I was back in my 20s, what I wish I would’ve done was to look at people who had succeeded in the ways that I could conceive myself succeeding. I would’ve never seen myself in an RV. So maybe I didn’t have something to learn from that person. But if I was really introspective and if I were really curious, I would’ve said to him, “How’d you do it? What’d you? And why did you choose, of all the things, to travel in an RV?”

If I’d done that, I would’ve put myself aside. And all these things that we love to define ourselves are, which by the way, is interesting. People love to define themselves by what they’re not as opposed to what they want. So you see it on dating profiles everywhere. “Don’t message me if…” Or people say, “I would never do that if I had $1 million.” Well, you don’t have to worry about having $1 million. Because when you define yourself by what you’re not, you won’t get there. When you choose what you would want to do, now it becomes, “Okay, cool. I want this. I want that. How can I work to get it?” So I wish I would’ve reframed the way that I thought about money and psychology earlier on.

Tim Ferriss: How do the frameworks or rules, guidelines, anything that you use for financial decisions differ from those you absorbed from your parents or other people when you were younger? And there are a number of different ways to approach that, right? We could look at sort of the approaches you used to … You mentioned, $1 million. To get to your first million versus what you used after that point. Right? Because if it’s anything like my experience, very different.

Ramit Sethi: Totally.

Tim Ferriss: But I’ll let you tackle that any way you like because I think what’s … If people could take one thing from this conversation, it would be test your assumptions and try to be aware and it takes a lot of effort and practice of what rules you’re following or biases you have that you arrived at through logic and reasoning versus having simply absorbed over the course of bouncing around like a pinball in a pinball machine in this thing we call life for the last 20, 30, 40 years. Because those are not your rules. They’re somebody else’s.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah, I call them invisible scripts. These are the scripts that run our lives. And they’re so deeply embedded in us that they are invisible to us. And you see it. One invisible script that I grew up with was “Education is always good.” And I believe that. I believe that’s a positive invisible script. I think that’s a really good one. I’m all for education, self-development. That’s what I do for my business and in my life. I also grew up with things like “You shouldn’t pay for that. We could do it ourselves.”

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, me too.

Ramit Sethi: Right? Yeah. And so and it really trickles down in lots of peculiar ways. So there are some ways that I really love. When we used to take vacations, our vacation was mostly driving from where we lived in Northern California to L.A. We would visit family. My mom would pack lunches and we would stop on the way and eat. And what I love about that is we didn’t need any fancy food. We were a family. We spent time together. That was vacation for us. I didn’t know what it was like to stay at a fancy hotel. In fact, I never ordered room service until I was 20 years old on an interviewing trip for Microsoft. So I like that. I like knowing that I grew up a little hungry. Not physically, but just knowing, “Oh, cool. We’re happy. We’re good. There’s another level. We can’t quite do it right now, but we’re happy.”

But I think I also grew up with some beliefs that I’ve shed or changed. Some of them would be being really conservative with my job. If I had followed all the paths in life, I’d be sitting here wearing a very oversized Cisco engineer t-shirt and just I’d be telling you about my sales engineering stuff. It’s a conservative, go get a good job, et cetera. And as I got older and I started making different choices, my parents were supportive but they were a little surprised. I think on the financial side, I didn’t really understand why people would pay more. Why pay more when you can pay less? But there’s a famous quote from Dan Kennedy. He says, “If you can …” Dan Kennedy says, “Why pay less when you can pay more?” Total flip of the equation. So whether that applies —

Tim Ferriss: Who’s Dan Kennedy?

Ramit Sethi: Dan Kennedy is a famous marketing consultant. And he has a great book out about marketing to the affluent, which if you read it, it can be a bit abrasive, but it’s also like a very eye opening, shocking book. Because what he points out … See, most people go through life with a lens. I call it a money lens. They put a pair of glasses on and they look at the world through a frugality lens. “How can I save money?” And you see this in lots of ways. If you say, “Oh, that’s a really nice jacket, where’d you get it?” They’ll tell you and they’ll say, “I got it on sale.” Or, “I got it for 50 percent off.” Oh, that’s interesting. But if you talk to somebody who bought an absolute … It’s something they love. This, they went to Italy and got this perfect jacket that was handcrafted. They would never say, “I got it for 50 percent off.” They have a different lens. Maybe craftsmanship. I grew up with a frugality lens. Everything was about cost. Growing up now, it’s also about value. So as Dan Kennedy says, “Why pay less when you can pay more?” If you’re going to have an amazing anniversary dinner, perhaps that’s the place you don’t need to save 50 percent. Perhaps you actually want to spend more to create a memory you will never forget.

Tim Ferriss: Dan Kennedy, interesting guy. I’ve never met him. But one of his books, I’m blanking on the name. We’ll put it in the show notes at But it’s something like Million Dollar Ideas. Or How to Make the Most. Or Find Your Own Million Dollar Ideas. [Ed. Note: How to Make Millions with Your Ideas: An Entrepreneur’s Guide] And it was, as I recall it, a collection of different business ideas and examples, which was really useful for also removing the financial lens that I would’ve had on at the time, which was you make money doing A, B, or C, which happened to be whatever three things I had seen, maybe around me. And to show just how flexible the approaches can be. And I’d love to hear a bit … Since you have such a great sample set of students, right? What are some of the psychological blind spots or rules that most prevent people from reaching their financial goals?

And I want to touch on … So think about that. I want to touch on one thing you said, which was frugality and having grown up with a definite frugality lens. I think this is worth commenting on. That is frugality has its place. You don’t want to just be flying blind because … What is it? A fool and his money are soon separated? I mean, it’s like no matter how much money you have, you can spend it all. Right? And I’ve seen this a lot. It’s not hard. So you have to have a means of assessing what is worth spending money on and what is not. However, if you make, let’s just say, 20, 30, 40, $50,000 a year, fill in the number. But let’s just say, $50,000 a year. If you want to reach all of your financial goals by cutting costs, the maximum amount that you can cut is $50,000. At which point you are … You’ve got a t-shirt and you’re a wandering ascetic begging for food and so on.

So there is, by definition, a limit to the delta you can create between the money you spend and the money you have. Whereas if you have an equal focus on income generation, or you’re in a disproportionate focus on income generation, sky’s the limit in a sense. Right? So that would be one where I was trained to cut, cut, cut, cut, cut. But if you’re not simultaneously looking at income generation or increasing income, it can be really problematic.

Ramit Sethi: 100 percent. That’s why most of America and most of the world has the frugality lens on, right? There’s a limit to how much you can cut, but no limit to how much you can earn. And if you think about the typical financial advice, it’s a very pointed question to ask, “Why don’t any of these so called financial experts in the newspapers talk about how to earn more money?” And the answer is they don’t know how. That’s not their job. They’re writers. So to be able to understand that you do need the manage your costs, for example, there are a lot of things I do in my life that are highly frugal. Highly. Especially for the income that I have. And I just … It’s not of interest to me. But I also —

Tim Ferriss: Like what?

Ramit Sethi: Like my wife makes fun of me because I run my entire business on a MacBook Air, and you know, I put my feet up on the table, I’ve got my thing on my lap, and she’s like, “Why don’t you get a new computer? That fan is so loud and I had to have –”

Tim Ferriss: How long have you had it?

Ramit Sethi: So that’s what I wanted to find out, I went to the Apple thing in the top left corner and it shows you when you bought it. It’s seven years old. But like, it still works. So I don’t want another one. And I also, when I grew up, this comes from my childhood. We didn’t buy a new computer unless the other one did not turn on. So I’ve kept that with me and I like having little places in my life where I intentionally impose scarcity. I think it’s healthy, I think it’s healthy to have restraint.

Ramit Sethi: I think it’s healthy to build that discipline. If you just go out and buy everything you can, I think you’re on a quick path to a bad place.

Tim Ferriss: You’re also aware that you’re doing it.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah. Yes, exactly. So exactly. Another example is I hardly ever eat out at all, and that’s a big change from 10 … Well, I was single and I was … Seamless. My Seamless receipts were just through the roof. Seamless is an online delivery service in New York. Everybody there uses it.

Ramit Sethi: And now for health reasons and also just for cost reasons as well, we like to cut back on that.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: But I spend more on things. So I always like to spend extravagantly on the things I love but cut costs mercilessly on the things I don’t. Mercilessly. So I liked that. I actually would, I think a lot of people kind of try to cut back a little bit here and a little bit there and they just end up generally unhappy about it.

I would actually encourage people to pick the area, I call it a money dial. Pick the area of your life that you truly love spending money on. Like let’s do a quick exercise. What’s the area of life that you love? It gives you joy to spend money on?

Tim Ferriss: Travel. Travel and food.

Ramit Sethi: Perfect.

Tim Ferriss: Whether I cook at home or I go out, I would say. And now, you had a Veracruz breakfast taco this morning.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Which was amazing. Not expensive —

Ramit Sethi: No, I loved it.

Tim Ferriss: … but delicious.

At the same time, I could go to say, San Francisco to like, Saison —

Ramit Sethi: There you go.

Tim Ferriss: — and enjoy that as an experience. So those would be two areas. Travel and food.

Ramit Sethi: Perfect. So let’s do this now. A lot of people say travel. It’s one of the most common ones. Mine is convenience. I like my life to be super convenient. So I’ve spent a lot of money and time engineering that.

Now let’s take your money dial, travel, and like a stereo dial, let’s turn it up. Let’s say just for easy math that you spend $100 a month on travel. Again, easy math. What if you 10x that or let’s say you 100-x that. What would travel look like for you, different than what you do now?

Tim Ferriss: Let’s see. Well, it would probably mean that I have, which quite honestly I’ve thought about because given some of the gnarly, crazy places I go, I’ve had some catastrophes and near catastrophes. I would probably have a fixer on the ground each place I went. I would have somebody who is on call and available to effectively fix any problem or tackle any challenge or want that came up.

Ramit Sethi: I love that. Anything else?

Tim Ferriss: That’s the one that comes to mind.

Ramit Sethi: Okay.

Tim Ferriss: Because it’s, yeah. That’s the one that comes to mind.

Ramit Sethi: All right. Now, what’s something in your life that you spend money on but you don’t really care? It doesn’t make that much of a meaningful difference to you.

Tim Ferriss: Clothing.

Ramit Sethi: Perfect. Okay, so this is, you’ll find this —

Tim Ferriss: My fans have given me unending grief for it.

Ramit Sethi: You know, my wife is a personal stylist.

Tim Ferriss: Okay.

Ramit Sethi: Oh, man. All right. Well —

Tim Ferriss: She won’t like my budget.

Ramit Sethi: You talk about this … Okay, so I love this exercise. There are about 10 money dials that I’ve identified. Travel is a big one. Convenience is very rare. There’s health and fitness. There’s relationships. There’s a few more. What I like to see people doing is actually spending more on the thing they love.

Tim Ferriss: Health and fitness is the one where I would ratchet it up.

Ramit Sethi: Okay.

Tim Ferriss: That’s where I would turn the dial.

Ramit Sethi: What would you do?

Tim Ferriss: I would actually get a trainer, which I do not have currently. I have different trainers for different things, but it’s all a la carte. Nothing has been prepaid or pre-scheduled yet, which is an issue, right? I suspect that part of the reason, tell me if I’m wrong, that you like having a trainer, is the accountability and the regularity.

Ramit Sethi: 100 percent.

Tim Ferriss: And I would like to do that.

Ramit Sethi: Okay. I love this. By the way, whenever you ask someone about their money dial, you can just see their face light up, right? Cause they love it. I loved, I love, I’m obsessed talking about how I have built my life around convenience. I’ll take you through every last detail. You can see the joy in my eyes. So what I love to do is for people to dream big. If it’s travel, it’s not just like adding an extra 10 percent, it’s like 10x-ing it. What would that look like?

And then in order to get there, whether it’s twox, fivex, 10x, what would you be willing to cut back on? And suddenly people start to realize that money actually should be bifurcated. It should be highly bifurcated. It’s spending very little on the things you don’t like and going extravagant on the things you do. And when you start to think this way, now your rich life becomes way more specific and meaningful to you as opposed to me.

I don’t need a fixer, because I don’t travel at those kinds of places and I don’t do the kind of traveling you do.

But for me, I want even more convenience. And now you know, I want a different type of travel now that I’m married. So these are things that I want everyone to think about. What’s your money dial and what if you could 10x it?

Tim Ferriss: This is valuable also just for people who may be listening and going, “Ugh, waste of time. I don’t have the money to spend 10x on it, whatever.” Whatever the pushback might be as a thought exercise, this is very, very valuable. In the same way that if, like when I wrote my last book, I asked myself “If I only had a month…” Actually, for the last two books. “If I only had a month to write this book, how would I do it?”

Ramit Sethi: Oh, really?

Tim Ferriss: What would it look like? And, 90 percent of the ideas were terrible. But then there were 10 that made the process I was planning on already two, three, four, five times more efficient. And so the question itself might seem absurd, but many of the ideas end up being extremely practical.

And let’s talk about convenience. So what are some of the —

Ramit Sethi: Oh, my God.

Tim Ferriss: … things that you do or have found disproportionately rewarding? Gratifying from a convenience standpoint?

Ramit Sethi: Well, okay, I’ll tell you, but it’s going to sound weird because to me, this is truly joyful and to other people, I’m going to sound like a lunatic. But this is my rich life, so I’m going to break it down.

I wake up in the morning and by the time, I wake up early. We started waking up at six after we went on our honeymoon. We were waking up early for safari and then we both kind of looked at each other and we’re like, “Do you want to keep doing this?” And so we do. We sleep around 9:30, 10, wake up at six, and by the time I start working, I just open up my calendar and I double click on whatever’s in the morning; it’s usually writing in the morning. And everything is perfectly organized.

The link is there. I click the link, the document is ready to go with exactly the right information. It’s all organized, like there’s nothing left to chance, there’s no documents over here, there’s no files over there. It’s all in its place.

Tim Ferriss: You’ve prepared this in advance?

Ramit Sethi: My assistant has and my team has, so that has all been engineered.

And I do believe that the best morning routine is decided the day before, the week before, even the year before. So by the time I get there, it’s just ready to go. It’s like a chef walking in —

Tim Ferriss: Mise en place.

Ramit Sethi: Exactly. And everything’s in its place, so I love that. Then on a day-to-day basis, things like scheduling. My assistant, Jill, handles it. She’s fantastic. And even when I was coming here, I walked outside to get an Uber or taxi and I didn’t even know what airport I was going to. I just knew that when I double clicked my calendar, it would tell me, so it’s all taken care of.

Finally, a couple of other examples. When I travel, especially for an extended period of time, we have something called the travel protocol, and Jill activates the travel protocol. That means my plants get watered if they need to be. That means that she handles email in a different way. That means that all these details that I normally attend to when I’m in the office are now attended to by somebody else.

Tim Ferriss: Let’s get super boring. Not For me, not for you, but maybe for some people. Is this a checklist that lives in a Google document? Where does that protocol, once you click on go go gadget travel —

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Where do the instructions live? ‘Cause let’s say Jill is sick —

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: — and somebody needs to fill in. We don’t have to get into that complexity if necessary. But the instructions.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah, they’re in a Google Doc. There’s a Google Doc that’s roughly 25 or so pages of preferences, like when I travel, if I’m traveling over five hours, I want to sit in this type of seat. It all lives there and it’s updated. So it’s a live, living document.

One recent thing that I updated was when I travel for a longer period of time, I want to have food delivered to my hotel so I can try to stay generally on diet. So I’ll get to the hotel and they’ll have a Whole Foods bag there delivered with food that I know that I can kind of eat on the go. And it’s got a spoon too, because the first time we did it, there was no spoon and there are no spoons in a hotel room, which I had to learn myself.

So it’s like a lot of iteration. But to me I don’t find it annoying. I actually love it cause I’m like, cracking the code of what it takes for me to be really efficient.

So it lives in a Google Doc. If my assistant were sick for some reason, she would transition it to someone else. And so it’s accessible to anyone at the company, and we just go from there.

Tim Ferriss: I want to mention something ’cause I’m extremely particular about preferences for travel. So hotel room, not near an ice machine, not near the elevators. I have very particular thoughts on if it’s a hip, cool hotel with a really loud lobby, certain max heights, but take into account fire escapes, and so on. I mean I’ve a whole set of preferences.

Ramit Sethi: I love this.

Tim Ferriss: But let’s just say that somebody listening as a thought exercise had dialed up their travel money dial. What you realize is that in some cases, the things you would expect to be expensive, or problems you would expect to be expensive to fix, are not expensive. Like the Whole Foods example.

Ramit Sethi: It’s so cheap.

Tim Ferriss: So you could do … Whole Foods may do its own delivery. If not, perhaps Instacart, if not, in a place like Austin, you could use Favor. There are really inexpensive ways to do this.

To give you an example: So I used to, I still do ice baths. And I didn’t have what I have now, which is this somewhat risky MacGyver cold plunge that I’ve engineered, which you have to make sure you’ve unplugged before you get in. But before that, when I was living in San Francisco, I had ice delivered or I would have ice picked up. I would usually stop at a gas station after the gym and like pack my trunk full of ice, which was a huge pain in the ass. And then I realized, wait a second. At the time, Instacart will deliver 60 pounds of ice for five bucks. And I was like, “I am that asshole.” I’m the guy who was like, “Can I order kettlebells on Amazon Prime and get them shipped for free so I don’t have to pay twice the cost?”

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And lo and behold, I was able to do it.

So the solutions, even if you brainstorm them in a wealth exercise, do not always end up being expensive.

Ramit Sethi: Hundred percent. That’s why I’m so glad you said a few minutes ago: don’t scoff at the mental exercise like, “Oh, I don’t have enough money.” Dream big. Dream the dream of what your money dial is at 10x. But the solutions are often so simple.

Every time I travel, I will post a video on Instagram of the food that was delivered and it’s like classic stuff. It’s like, yogurt. It’s stuff that we all eat. It’s yogurt, it’s some almonds, maybe a peanut butter thing. And people are like, “What service did you use?” That’s the question. “What service?” And I’m like, “The service doesn’t matter.” You could find somebody on Craigslist; this is like a $20 purchase. $20 that can change your life. And in order to get there, you just have to start with the dream. It’s the money is like really the last of it.

Tim Ferriss: So this $20. This is my … I have a very good assistant and it’s taken a quite a bit of time and it’s not something you necessarily get right off the bat, and you don’t need an assistant for this. But she said to me at one point, she was like, “Tim…” I don’t know when this was, it was not that long ago. She’s like, “Tim, just travel with a roll of 20s and you can solve almost any problem.” And I was like, that’s a good idea.

And I’ll give you another example of a lifestyle upgrade that does not cost a lot of money. If you go out to restaurants, choose a restaurant you think you’re really going to like. Go to that restaurant, not on the weekend, so say between Monday and Thursday. Go either early, preferably like right when they start for dinner service. Sit by yourself, and again, this is kind of a one-time investment. Go there for a week.

This is also stuff I picked up when I was writing The 4-Hour Chef, because I would go in with a little notebook and I would order a bunch of stuff, and I would take little notes and they’re like, “Who the fuck is this guy?” Right? Number one, the chef typically at that point is not going to be as loaded, not on booze, although that happens too. But on a like, 52 menus open at once, that’s not going to happen at 5:00 or 5:30, so they might take an interest in — the maitre d’ might take an interest in — you. Order all sorts of stuff to try and then tip like 40 percent.

Ramit Sethi: Mm-hmm.

Tim Ferriss: And do that three days in a row, and you are forever a VIP at that restaurant.

Ramit Sethi: Oh, wow. So I liked that little insight. The 40 percent’s not that surprising, but the three days in a row.

Tim Ferriss: Do a couple of days in a row, so people get to know you, you get to know them.

Ramit Sethi: Wow.

Tim Ferriss: And like, you’re VIP for life.

Ramit Sethi: Okay.

Tim Ferriss: And sit at the pass if you can. So if there’s a chef’s table or a counter where you can see the kitchen, sit there, because most people will never ask for that.

Ramit Sethi: I love this. Okay. I love how to take a mundane experience like a restaurant and turn it into something special. So thank you for sharing that. Let me share a couple of my own. I had two experiences. One where we, I think we got something magical, and the second where we didn’t do it, but we got an idea.

We were on our honeymoon and we were just having the most amazing time. We went to four different countries and we started in Italy, then Kenya, India, and then Thailand. And the hospitality was just like, on another level, right? We’re on a different planet. And I said to my wife, “If there’s anything you think of or you want, just ask,” because at these hotels they really, really, really want to say yes. And we were at one hotel in Thailand and my wife loved the spring rolls.

And so the manager comes out and he said, “hello, how’s your meal?” Dah, Dah, Dah. And she said, “You know, I was wondering…” she was kind of nervous. “I was wondering if we could have the recipe for these spring rolls because these are the best I’ve ever tasted?” He goes, “You know what, give me just a minute.” He goes to the back, he comes out with the chef. Chef in his hat, and the chef says, “I heard that you’re interested in the recipe.” And he goes, “I would actually love to arrange a cooking class for you.”

Tim Ferriss: Amazing.

Ramit Sethi: “What time are you available tomorrow?” She’s like, “I can come any time.” So she goes to this cooking class, private. In the back in the kitchen. Not only did they make four different dishes, they even said, “Okay, you know, your stove doesn’t have as much flame as ours, so you want to adjust the recipe,” et cetera.

So she sends me these photos, I’m just sitting in the room. I was doing some writing and she sends me these photos of four full dishes and then they were like, “Here you go. Compliments of the kitchen.” She will never forget that. Never. And it was just about asking, “How do you do this?” She didn’t even ask for the class. So I learned from that, and I thought that was magical.

The second experience is a new thing that I’ve added to my playbook, which is, my buddy Nick took me. He’s like, “Hey, do you want to go to a tea tasting in New York?” I was like, “Yeah, let’s go, green tea.” I thought it would be a typical tea tasting. You know, you go —

Tim Ferriss: A typical tea tasting?

Ramit Sethi: I don’t know —

Tim Ferriss: Just one, ah just another tea tasting.

Ramit Sethi: People in New York who like tea, they do it. We go there, there’s like six people from Japan, there’s a translator, and there’s a photographer. We’re like, “What is going on right now?” We’re like, “There’s something happening, but we don’t understand what’s going on.”

So we’re sitting there and then this person comes and starts speaking and the translator’s translating and they basically say, this is the best tea in Japan and it’s being brought to the US for the first time. And we’re like, “Okay, how good can good be? It’s tea.” We didn’t understand quality at this level. Okay. So the way that we truly understood it, they told us, “You know, they only grow it on a certain part of the mountain and they use these types of things,” and we’re like, “Okay, okay.” The way that we truly understood it was when they put the tea leaves in and they said, “Okay, steep it for a second,” and they said, “Drink one drop.” One drop.

And we’re like, “What?” And so we drink one drop. It was amazing, it was really good. I’ve never tasted anything like it. And then there was a little thing that said the prices. We looked at each other, my friend Nick and I, and we said, “Ounce for ounce, this is the most expensive thing we’ve ever had to drink,” if we were to buy it. It was like $70 per sip. Crazy, right? And we didn’t pay that much for the tasting. But what we learned from that was number one, sometimes quality you can only tell it by certain attributes. Two, I wasn’t at the level of being able to appreciate it. And three, and this was the real key: what we should have done, and what I’m going to do from now on, is whenever I go to a cool, whether it’s a tea tasting or any kind of interesting restaurant, I have a little playbook now.

I asked my assistant Jill to put it together. We’re going to make the reservation. Of course I’m going to pay, I’m not asking for anything free, but she’s going to send a note ahead of time that says, you know, “Hey. Ramit’s coming in. He would love to be able to take a kitchen tour if you have –”

Tim Ferriss: I was just going to say this.

Ramit Sethi: “– If you have 15 minutes ahead of time. He would love to be able to take it and if possible, he’d love to post it on Instagram or whatever.” Again, not asking for anything free, but what I’ve learned is people who are the best love to share it. So there’s this phrase, you know, “Those who can’t do, teach.” That’s totally incorrect. Never believe that. The very best love —

Tim Ferriss: Those who can’t, wait. Those who can do, those who can’t teach.

Ramit Sethi: Or they say those who can’t do, comma, teach.

Tim Ferriss: Oh I got it.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah. And that’s a total misnomer. Let the very best people, like here you are, you’re the best in the world at what you do and you love to teach. Everyone who is the best, whether it’s a chef or a tea master, they love it. So I’m going to try to do that when I go to these places. And I’m just like, every one of us can do that. So anyway, that was my exciting experience.

Tim Ferriss: So you said that one, oh, that’s the one that gave you the idea.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah. I didn’t execute that yet.

Tim Ferriss: And the, well. There are many things that one could take from what you just said. One I want to underscore is the importance of asking. And I think that what I would hope for myself, because I’m still developing my thinking and priorities will change and worldviews will change as it relates to money.

Ramit Sethi: Right.

Tim Ferriss: Money is an interesting thing. We can talk about like, what the fuck money is to begin with, but that’s a separate thing. It’s part of the reason why I have a $100 trillion note from Zimbabwe framed that I put up on a wall because it’s important to remember just how conceptual a lot of this is. But my thinking will change. But to stress-test your own assumptions, it’s very valuable to not just do thought exercises, but certain real life exercises. So one could be asking for a kitchen tour and don’t, by the way, don’t do it unless you’re interested. And if you’re not interested, go watch Chef’s Table, like Francis Mallmann or one of those. Like, get excited about it and have some basic vocabulary so you can appreciate what the hell is being shown to you. If you’re going to do it, don’t do it just to do it.

But that is a question.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Right? And we know someone who lives here in Austin, also. Noah Kagan, who has his coffee challenge, right? So walk into a coffee shop, ask for 10 percent off. And you can’t tell them you’re doing an experiment. You can’t tell them that “So-and-so told” you to do it. It doesn’t matter what they say. So it could be a Starbucks, it could be an indie. Doesn’t matter. And if, like, “What if I bought, what if I don’t like coffee?” It’s like fuck, I don’t care. Get a water, get a, you know, order a Pellegrino, and well, order a tea. But ask for 10 percent off.

Cultivating the muscle used for asking for things is so incredible. And you were talking about, you know, those who can’t, teach and how there are these common sayings that are taken as true. I do … there is one that I like, which I do think is generally true and that is: in life, you don’t get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate.

Ramit Sethi: I agree.

Tim Ferriss: And sometimes negotiating is just asking for what you want, right? So are there any exercises that you would suggest, or practices, phone calls, questions to people who are listening that might help them kind of stress-test some of the things they have accepted?

Ramit Sethi: Yes. I love this. So I’m going to give you a small one and I’m going to give you a big one. The small one is, if you have any sort of late fee, you should just use the scripts in my book. Or you can Google for them, and you should call up your financial institution. Usually it’s a credit card, and negotiate the late fee.

Tim Ferriss: What should they Google specifically?

Ramit Sethi: If you don’t … well, get the book, But if you don’t get the book —

Tim Ferriss: Get the book.

Ramit Sethi: … but you can just Google “Ramit Sethi negotiation scripts.”

Tim Ferriss: Okay.

Ramit Sethi: And you’re going to see there, this is how it’s going to go. You call up the credit card and you say, “Hi. I just wanted to confirm that I’ve been a member for the last four years,” and they’re going to say, “Yes, I see that 2000-whatever year.” “Okay, great. I noticed that there’s a late fee here of $37 from last month. I’d like to get that waived, please.” And they’re going to, by the way, notice my tonality. “I’d like to get that waived, please.” Why sir? “Well, I made a mistake, but I sent the payment in the next day and I’d like to confirm that it can be removed and it won’t affect my credit.”

80 percent of the time right there, you’re going to get it removed and there’s a reason I put that in chapter one of my book, as well as with bank fees, overdrafts, et cetera. It’s that most people have never proactively taken control of their money. They just accept the world the way it is. “Ah, the credit card screwed me again.” No, you can get that back and once you get that late fee back you’re like, “Oh, my God, I can actually have control over this. These companies work for me.” So that’s the first thing I would say.

The second exercise is a little bigger and it’s more conceptual. Right now I’m doing a small coaching program with like 150 people, I’m walking them through my book. And it’s like this private group and I’m just walking them through every chapter, and I asked them a thought exercise a couple of days ago. I said, “If I gave you $10,000 tomorrow or if you just found it, no obligation, no strings, what would you do with it?”

Okay. Tim, what do you think they said they would do with this $10,000?

Tim Ferriss: $10,000. This is just like right off the cuff. Pay down mortgage or invest in an index fund, but I’m guessing closer to the former than the latter. I don’t know.

Ramit Sethi: Okay. You’re pretty, pretty close. So it turns out that according to these answers that they’re all saints. We have a bunch of Mother Teresas in the group. They’re like, “I would pay off my debt,” “I would give 10 percent to charity.” “I would do this and that.”

I’m like, “You got $25,000 of credit card debt. You’re telling me that you would magically take this money and just pay it off?” What they were doing was they were having a very optimistic sense of their future selves. I would rather they say, “I actually don’t know what I would do with this money. Based on my past behavior, I’d probably just spend a lot of it.” Or “I have no system or way of thinking about what to do with my money.” That would have been more honest.

Tim Ferriss: Yup.

Ramit Sethi: Instead, when faced with what we’re going to do in the future, we’re really optimistic. “Oh, I’d work out four times a week.” “I’d pay this off.” “I’d pay for my parents’ retirement.” What I would really like to see, people, is go through this exercise to start with your optimistic self and then try your realistic self.

If you say you’re going to pay off all your debt, why are you even in debt in the first place? Clearly you didn’t have a system that would keep you out of it. So I think for people, whether it’s a $100 a $1,000, $10,000, whether it’s, you know, you could even go as big as somebody just gives you a house, what are you going to do with it? I haven’t even done that myself. But you could play with the concept.

And then remember if you don’t have a system, like for me the answer is, “I would put it straight into my system, put in the checking account and money would be withdrawn to certain places. 20 percent would go here, 10 percent would go there. Some money would be spit out for guilt-free spending.” And I’d probably go buy a beautiful sweater.

Tim Ferriss: Where did they …

Ramit Sethi: That’s where it always ends up.

Tim Ferriss: You and your sweater.

Ramit Sethi: I know. I love them.

Tim Ferriss: So where do those funds go? If you’re comfortable talking about some of the places?

Ramit Sethi: Sure.

Tim Ferriss: So you get 10 grand, you put into the checking account, and then it gets kind of put into this process.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah, it’s a process map, basically like an email inbox, and it gets filtered and shunted where it needs to go.

So day to day, my spending is very consistent except for two areas. Rent is the same, food is basically the same. Everything is pretty stable. I like to put, my target is I start by saying I want to save and invest at least 20 to 30 percent, and I think that’s a good, healthy number. If you’re doing that, the rest of your life is generally in control. It’s 20 to 30 percent and because we don’t have kids right now, my wife and I’ve been talking about our numbers. We want that number to be towards the higher end.

Tim Ferriss: 20 to 30 percent, just technical question: is this pretax, or is this taking into account taxes?

Ramit Sethi: That’s a great question. It can be either. I always like to be more conservative. Always. So post-tax is really good if you can do that because you’re, you know, you’re going to be putting more in. But really for any of these numbers, if it’s post or pre, you’re generally in a good place anyway.

So then that money is getting saved and invested, and investing is like, I tried to go more aggressive on investing. Because we’re young, so I put that into things like a target date fund and you know I love Vanguard and I recommend them. I don’t have any deals with them, but I think they’re the best. That’s where I put —

Tim Ferriss: What is a target date fund?

Ramit Sethi: A target date —

Tim Ferriss: I understand all the separate words, but I don’t actually know what that is.

Ramit Sethi: Okay, so very quickly everybody thinks investing is about picking stocks and like sitting here and looking at the screen that looks like Minority Report. That’s not investing. Investing is very simple, low-cost funds, and these cost you almost nothing these days. We’re talking about 0.1 percent expense ratio. It’s very, very low cost.

What you do is something like a target date fund is you pick a target date that you’re going to retire. So if you’re 30 and you’re going to presumably retire at 65? That’s 35 years from now. So there’s a target date fund called Vanguard 2060 Fund, okay? And what that does is it’s like a pie chart. It’s pretty aggressive in your 30s because you’re young and as you get older it gets a little more conservative. Basically what it means for you is that you don’t need to do anything except put money into it automatically every month.

I love this as a great simple, low-cost way to invest, and the bulk of my portfolio is either in target date funds or individual index funds, so that money would go in there. I have some money in sub-savings accounts. I’ve got some targets like, you know, I saved up for my wedding before I was, before I even met my wife, saved up for an engagement ring. I like to plan ahead, so I have those numbers. Same for a down payment on a house, which eventually I will buy even though it doesn’t make sense for me right now, but I still plan for it. Also vacation, like midterm goals, you’re talking about roughly one to five or so years.

Tim Ferriss: How do you keep these things separate, or are they only separate in a spreadsheet where you’re keeping track? How do you not commingle —

Ramit Sethi: Yeah, I like keeping them separate because I think it’s like —

Tim Ferriss: Separate meaning separate bank accounts.

Ramit Sethi: Well you can have sub-savings account —

Tim Ferriss: I see, sub-saving accounts.

Ramit Sethi: So Capital One 360.

Tim Ferriss: Kind of like an authorized employee on a credit card account or something like that.

Ramit Sethi: Exactly.

Tim Ferriss: Just for tracking purposes.

Ramit Sethi: For tracking purposes. I also think it’s nice if you have one big old commingled account, you don’t really know what’s for what. What I would encourage everyone to do is, think about what do you want to save for between one to five years and for one year there are things like Christmas gifts, like you know, that’s a known irregular expense, or it’s a known regular expense. It’s coming every December. If it’s 500 bucks, you might as well start saving now.

Then there are things like an anniversary dinner. There’s also mistakes. I used to have a stupid mistakes account because I used to get a lot of parking tickets. I don’t do that anymore. Thank God. I don’t need to plan to for that, but then there are things like a down payment, maybe getting married, things like that. Above and beyond five or so seven years, I just put it in the market because I don’t need it and it just grows, then —

Tim Ferriss: You’re putting it in the market with a target-date fund?

Ramit Sethi: Target-date fund. Yes. Those over the long-term over history have returned about eight percent. If you do the math and you go to one of these calculators like Bankrate or something, you can plug in the numbers and you’ll see that your money doubles roughly every… it’s the rule of 72. 72 divided by 10, it’ll double about every seven years. That’s why compounding is so powerful.

If you start now and you put even a hundred bucks a month in, that number gets very large, very fast. That’s the power of investing. The rest of the money pays my fixed expenses like rent, things like that. Finally out pops guilt-free spending. This is my favorite part —

Tim Ferriss: The sweater account.

Ramit Sethi: The sweater account. That brings me to my two things that are variable. Travel, I tend to overspend on travel a bit and clothing and I’ve set up this system, because now I’ve sort of advanced my financial system where a lot of it is automated. I have a meeting once a month, I have a personal CFO, we kind of look at it and I basically told them I want my document prepared in this way.

I want an executive summary. I want the expenses categorized as such and I only want you to flag the following ones because these are the ones I’m variable on. I don’t really care if I spend 20 bucks more on deodorant. That doesn’t move the needle, but like too much on travel, I got to know about it so I can kind of correct over time. That’s how I think about the spending.

Tim Ferriss: Okay. To next topics, I thought we would discuss prenups. This is a topic that is shied away from a lot. It seems to be an important topic at least in the US and it’s something that came up in conversation recently and you joked that you might be willing to talk about it on the podcast.

This is one of those subject areas that is I think neglected. I’ve seen a lot of difficulty and angst and pain and discomfort faced as a result of I think an unwillingness to make it more of an open conversation. Where should we start with prenups?

Ramit Sethi: I’m an open book man, I’ll tell you anything.

Tim Ferriss: All right.

Ramit Sethi: This is one of those things that when I walked into it, I didn’t know anything and I only knew what I had heard on TV, that prenups are bad or they’re for people who have generational wealth that’s been inherited. I didn’t know anything. Then I discovered when I talked to friends, there was so many people who have thought about this or gone through it, but none of it is online. It’s all behind closed doors.

Tim Ferriss: Prenup, prenuptial agreement. What is a prenup, what’s the purpose of a prenup?

Ramit Sethi: Prenup, sets the terms of what you are coming into a marriage with. It is acknowledgement that certain people might have certain assets or interests, like a business or cash or investments, whatever the case may be. It also sets the terms for if the marriage ends for whatever reason, what is to be done with those assets, specifically the pre-marital assets. That’s what a prenup is about.

Tim Ferriss: Okay. How did you think about this? Because I’ve heard some disaster stories of this process being handled poorly or terms not being perhaps reviewed as carefully. I should point out also that this is not a male/female thing.

I’ve seen this in same sex couples. I’ve seen this in cases where the woman is coming in with significantly greater assets than the husband to be. How did you think about this, and what’s one of the smarter ways to go about thinking about this?

Ramit Sethi: Well, I’ll tell you what I did and I’ll tell you some mistakes I made too. The reason I want to talk about this is that I want to shine the light on money topics that people don’t talk about. I want people to be informed.

You can make your own decision, but I walked into thinking about getting married with a lot of preconceived notions about what a prenup was, who it was for, and just to give you a sense, like nobody around me ever signed a prenup growing up. It just was not a part of my culture. I started thinking about getting engaged a few years ago and my girlfriend at the time, we were discussing it and —

Tim Ferriss: Discussing what? The engagement? Possible engagement.

Ramit Sethi: What’s going to happen eventually and we’re together for the long term, things like that. I started looking into it and if you Google how to sign a prenup, you’re going to find a lot of really generic and borderline bad advice. It’s from disgruntled redditors and it’s from like AskMen or these magazines where they have these things, this advice, like you should blame it on your lawyer or you should blame it on your parents, or how do you get away with not making your fiance mad?

I just thought this is not the way I want to start this relationship — and this financial relationship as well — because that’s what marriage is. It’s legal, it’s financial, it’s also love. You’re a team in every way. I sat down, I did a lot of research, I talked to a lot of my friends and the thing that shocked me was when I started bringing it up with friends, so many of them, especially entrepreneurs, had lots to say. Lots.

I’ll fast forward to what happened with me and my girlfriend at the time, we sat down, we had a really serious meeting. We actually had a Google agenda. We came with our bullet points and we had a very adult meeting where we talked about —

Tim Ferriss: This is just the two of you.

Ramit Sethi: Just the two of us.

Tim Ferriss: No legal counsel or anything like that?

Ramit Sethi: No, no, no. We were just the two of us. We talked about, when would we like to be engaged and married? Where would we live? Do we want to have kids?

Tim Ferriss: Just to be clear, this is a life logistics meeting and not a prenup meeting. Maybe part of it, but it’s a broader conversation.

Ramit Sethi: I hadn’t even brought the prenup up.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: Okay. We go through kids and I told her, I even mentioned to my wife, I said, “Let’s talk about the names of our kids, because I never saw myself having some kid named Mike. I don’t want a Mike running around in my house.” And she’s like, “What the hell? Where’s this coming from?” I’m like, “I just feel particular about this.”

“Then it’s Thor or nothing! Thor or nothing.” We go through the list and the good news is we were generally on the same page. It’s a funny thing, she goes, “I’d really like to be engaged by Q1 of next year.” I’m like, “Oh, my God, this is the girl of my dreams. She’s talking –”

Tim Ferriss: Q1.

Ramit Sethi: In financial quarters. I’m like, “I love you, babe.” Then at the end of that conversation I said, “There’s something else that’s important. It’s really important to me that we discuss a prenup,” and she was surprised, kind of taken aback. She’s like, “Okay, what do you mean?” I said, “Look, you and I grew up very similar. We both grew up in California. Our parents have similar jobs.” And I said, “Because of certain decisions I’ve made, because of my business and because of a lot of luck, I’ve been put in this fortunate position where I have a business and I’ve accumulated a certain amount of assets.”

I said, “It’s really important for me that we talk about what that means before we get married and that we sign an agreement, in the worst case if something bad happened.” I was nervous, very nervous because, what is someone’s reaction going to be? I have no idea, but I thought if anything, is going to be bad, but I was nervous, but I also felt confident because it was something that I knew that I wanted to do. It was really important to me. To her credit, she said, “You know what, I’m surprised. I didn’t expect it, but I’m open to it. Let me get educated about it and we can talk.”

Okay, great. That was as good of a response as I could have hoped. She goes off and she does her own research. She talks to her friends and we start discussing more and more, right. We’ve got about four, five months until I propose to her. We start talking, the next step is to get lawyers.

Now, interestingly, you have to retain counsel. Each side has to retain counsel. Oftentimes what happens is, the person who has more assets will actually pay for the other person’s lawyer, which I did. These lawyers are very expensive. I said, “You know what? I’ll take care of that. I’m happy to do it.”

She found her own lawyer and we start to go through hammering these basic terms out. Now, the basic structure of a prenup is… Most people don’t need a prenup because most people are coming into a marriage with relatively similar assets.

The places where it starts to make sense, or if you have some major amount of assets, whether it be a house, whether it be an inheritance, a business, those kinds of things, it starts to make sense to think about. I had to get —

Tim Ferriss: Intellectual property.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah, absolutely. I had to get comfortable with the idea that this wasn’t a bad thing. I wasn’t planning for us to fail. That’s the most common objection people have to prenups, which is you’re planning for it to go wrong. I’m not planning for it to go wrong. I intend to be married forever. I want to, I always emphasize that with my wife and I made it clear that we’re a team, but I also mentioned that I’ve for whatever reasons, I’ve accumulated these things and it’s really important for me to plan for what might happen.

As we talked more and more about it, it became even more and more clear that in every other part of life, top performers plan, they plan ahead, they plan for good, they plan for bad, they plan. It’s like just in this one situation of life that society has told everyone, “No, that’s wrong. You shouldn’t plan at all. You should go into it like a doe with these doe eyes and you shouldn’t really think even for a moment about what would happen if something goes wrong.”

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I mean, you get on an airplane, they give you a safety briefing. They don’t stop because they expect the plane to crash into the water.

Ramit Sethi: That’s a great example.

Tim Ferriss: It’s also a place just to jump in where because I’ve thought a good amount about this, just relationships and marriage in general is that when you get married in official capacity, you are involving the state in your affairs.

You are signing up for surety and contractual agreements and so in any well planned agreement, you’re going to have contingencies for what happens if things do not work out.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: There’s going to be a termination clause. You’re going to have that in a publishing agreement. You’re going to have that in any number of dozens or hundreds of other contracts you will sign, will always have a separation clause.

Ramit Sethi: The reason why this is such a heated topic for people, I think there’s two reasons. One, there’s just a general ignorance of prenups because it is inherently a private affair. Inherently, when you have assets being discussed, it happens behind closed doors, specifically lawyers’ closed doors. It’s not public. There’re no good guides or no e-books on how to do a prenup.

There’s nothing, there’s not even any sample prenups out there. They’re very, very poor quality. The second thing is it attacks our belief that in America, a marriage is purely about love. I believe a marriage is absolutely about love, but go look at any parents or any couple that has, let’s say kids. Go look at them and look at their day to day. Yes, there’s love, but there’s also teamwork. This person’s doing dinner, this person’s taking the trash out, this person’s changing the diapers. It’s an arrangement. It’s a team.

On any team, you have to have a set of rules. I got comfortable with that saying, “You know what? This is a love marriage. We found each other, we met each other, we love each other, but it’s also we want to make sure that this is a team and we’re setting expectations.” We went through the process and we talked to our lawyers and the lawyers are hammering it out.

This is where it started to get really tough. Everything was going great, but then once you… everything’s great in concept and then you talk about real numbers.

Tim Ferriss: If I may, what are the basic terms that you’re agreeing upon in a prenup?

Ramit Sethi: The first thing is you’re laying out all the assets that each person has. Those could be assets, liabilities. You kind of put those all out on the table. By the way, that was a good conversation that we had. I forgot to take my own advice about when to talk about money with your partner. My wife had asked me years ago to help her with some 401k thing and I was like, “Yeah, I’ll help you, but first read my book.”

She reads my book and then she was like, “Okay, I still have this one question.” We went through it and I got to understand her pay and all that stuff. It was great, like we worked through it. A year or two later, she said, “I feel a little unbalanced because you know everything about my finances, but I don’t know anything about yours.”

That was when I realized I had made a huge mistake. By not telling her, I had put myself in a very unbal… she had been placed in an unbalanced position. She’s not fair. That afternoon we talked about it and we talked about my net worth, we talked about what it means for us. That was, I would say one of my most pleasant conversations.

Tim Ferriss: Most pleasant?

Ramit Sethi: Yeah. Because we talked about what does it mean for us. Like our rich life now, what does it mean and it means that when we travel, we can take our parents with us and we can spend extra for them to stretch their legs out. We can travel to places or we can make certain investments or take risks that we might not normally be able to do again as a team.

That was actually one of my favorite memories of talking about money in the early days. Now, we had listed out all our assets and liabilities and now the basic structure of a prenup is: What happens in the case of the marriage ending?

There are so many ways to cut it. No two prenups are alike. What happens if the marriage ends in three months at an extreme? In many cases a cheque is written. Can you believe that? If a marriage ends in three months, somebody might write a cheque to the other person. Why? Just like pure goodwill.

Tim Ferriss: Severance pay.

Ramit Sethi: You could call it that.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: Both partners might still have a job, et cetera. What happens if the marriage now ends, 30 years later, let’s say there’s two or three kids, let’s say that one partner has stopped their jobs so that he or she can take care of the kids.

Well, it’s kind of fair that that person should be compensated in some way because it would be unfair for somebody to walk out of the marriage with just this large amount of relative assets and the other person left with nothing. That’s just not fair. It’s not fair in my eyes personally, and it’s not fair in the state’s eyes either.

Tim Ferriss: In each of these cases or in most prenups, is it a lump one time payment or is it like an ongoing annuity that gets paid each year —

Ramit Sethi: That’s a great question.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. What does it look like?

Ramit Sethi: It can be decided however you like, but each lawyer is going to argue for their side. The person who would be receiving the payments is going to want it all upfront.

Tim Ferriss: Right.

Ramit Sethi: Right. There are also other questions about what if you’re living in a house with kids and the marriage ends, who leaves. How soon, that has to be dictated, and then there are other questions about, is there a cap on how much can be paid out? And that’s important too.

Understand, though, a couple of things. The money that… I’m going to speak generally now, the money that is earned when you are together is generally community property. When you are married, generally the money that is earned is together. It’s yours.

There are certain exceptions like if you have a business, there’s this and that and you can kind of carve those out ahead of time. In general, we’re talking about money that was accumulated before the marriage. That’s really important to understand. Kids are definitely a complicating factor, but you are not really dictating the terms of child, of what’s it called?

Tim Ferriss: Custody.

Ramit Sethi: Custody and also payments. The state will determine that. That’s really important to know as well. You can’t come up with a rule right now that says, “If we have three kids and this marriage ends, I’m going to write you a cheque for $1 or $1 million a month.” That can’t work. The state will decide based on lifestyle.

Tim Ferriss: Can I ask you a question, just from my perspective?

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Why get married at all? What is the reason?

Ramit Sethi: Wow.

Tim Ferriss: Because I do really dislike, and this is something that I talk about it usually in the first few dates. I mean, I have a great girlfriend right now, but once we’ve covered “What do you want for your main course?” Pretty quickly the subject comes up, it’s like, yeah, marriage, not keen on having some bureaucracy involved in my relationship.

Ramit Sethi: It’s a great question.

Tim Ferriss: Also it’s like if you’re coming into a relationship where the current trajectory of earnings is vastly disproportionate, the idea of having a bureaucracy involved and having sort of everything past a certain day become community property, doesn’t have a whole lot of appeal to me.

Tim Ferriss: Were your reasons for getting married, your desire, your partner’s desire, your families, multiple families expectations, or are there other reasons?

Ramit Sethi: It’s a great question and I think only in this day and age can this question really be asked, because as recently as 25 years ago, this question would have never been asked. It would be like, “Yeah, of course you’re going to get married.” Now you and I both know plenty of people who are either single or in cohabiting relationships or casual or whatever the case may be and they’re perfectly happy not being married.

I think for me the answer is probably all of the above. It was a desire on my part, a desire on my wife’s part, and also our families. This might be an invisible script from my childhood that I always saw myself as married. There’s a lot there. The way I thought about it was, “I love my wife, I love when we’re together, she makes me a better person, and I think I do the same. Together as a team, we are amazing. I love laughing with her. I love how she challenges me and I want to deepen that relationship.”

The financial part of it for me was a part that I wanted to address, but I also felt confident knowing that we could solve it, that we could come to an agreement. I didn’t see it as adversarial at least until the middle part, which I want to tell you about.

Tim Ferriss: Okay.

Ramit Sethi: I approached it like very much like can do. It’s like hiring someone, like I’m going to make him an offer, I want to make him a great offer, and I expect that we’re going to have some back and forth, but overall it’s about coming to an agreement that we can both work in a capacity together.

Now I know that sounds a bit unromantic for a marriage, but I’m talking about the financial part of a marriage. There’s so many different layers and we… in America only talk about love. What I’m trying to share is like, there are lots of other parts like be aware of it, don’t put your head in the sand.

Tim Ferriss: You’re not talking about marriage as a concept. You’re talking about the contract of marriage. If you get married —

Ramit Sethi: It’s a contract.

Tim Ferriss: Whether you go down to, the whatever it might be, I’m blanking on the term, but like some office downtown to get rubber stamped, like you’re entering into a contract with multiple parties.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: You can enter into a very nebulous contract, or you can enter into very clear contract.

Ramit Sethi: I always say for every major purchase in your life, every major purchase and every major decision, spend the time. Most of us should spend less time on most decisions and we should spend a lot more time on a few key decisions.

I want to take this seriously, so did my wife, so we did. We spent months, right? Now here we are, the lawyers are going back and forth and it’s starting to get a bit slow. They’re arguing and now we’re talking about it. It became stressful and at some points like pretty heated. Okay. I was like… I mean there are so many things that happened during this time.

One, we would just stop talking about it for weeks at a time because it was just too stressful. We had never had these kinds of conversations before about money. My perspective was, “I’ve thought about money for 15 or 20 years every day. This is my business and I’m really proud of what I’ve accomplished financially and I always love to come…I made a very fair, very fair offer bending over backwards.”

That was my perspective. My wife’s perspective was very different and I think that I didn’t listen as much as I should. I was like, “I, I, I. I came out, I did this, I made this offer.” She would say something and I would say like, “Look at this spreadsheet, look at the numbers.”

She was like, “Yeah, but,” and she was talking about something else in a completely different language and I was so preoccupied with like Mr. Spreadsheet Guy. Finally, she said, “We got to go talk to somebody about this. We should go see a therapist.” I was like, “Yeah, we really should.”

I totally agreed with her. You might wonder, where do you go to find a therapist? For us the answer was Yelp. We literally opened up Yelp and typed “therapists” and we found one two blocks away. That’s how it’s done, guys. We walked over there and we sat down in this room and we had a conversation like we’ve never had before.

This therapist was very good. She asked us about how we grew up with money, what it meant, and it turns out it meant totally different things to us. For me it meant being proud of what I’ve accomplished. It meant all the work and for anyone who’s built anything, you know, the sacrifices it took to build that. You look back, you can remember Friday nights where you didn’t go out or you can remember x or y or risks you took.

I was seeing that, and what my wife was seeing was something different. Money meant something different to her. This therapist helped us kind of bring that up and we find ourselves… we went one, two, three sessions. We find ourselves talking about our childhood and it’s kind of like a caricature, like a joke of what you talk about in therapy session, but we walked out of each of those sessions like “Wow, that was pretty good. That was pretty helpful.”

We still were having the lawyers go back and forth, but now we were connecting more with each other financially and we were reminded by this therapist, like, “We’re a team. This is just an agreement we need to come to,” but remember why you are together. Remember why you’re getting married.

We finally came to an agreement and we signed it. It’s funny because one of my buddies, he held an event called Should You Sign a Prenup? He invited like 20 or 25 people, right. One of his friends who was married and had done a prenup, sent him a note and said, “I’d rather be dead than come to this event.”

He was like, “Whoa why?” He’s like, “Dude, that was the worst six months of my life. Imagine you have someone you love and you’re arguing about money with lawyers for six months.” I didn’t get that until I’d gone through it. I would say that in retrospect, I learned a couple of things. Number one, I should have talked about money with my wife way earlier, like way earlier. I violated my own advice and that was horrible. I should have talked about it earlier.

Two, I should’ve stopped being Mr. Spreadsheet Dude and actually listened and said like, “Let’s put the numbers aside and talk about what money means.” For me, like I told you, I’m proud of it. My wife wanted to feel safe. She wanted to know that if anything went wrong that she would be taken care of and I didn’t really internalize what that meant to her.

What does that mean? I should have listened, should have gone to see a therapist earlier, and we should have not let it stretch out for as long as it did. That was really torturous for both of us.

Tim Ferriss: How would you have expedited it?

Ramit Sethi: Well —

Tim Ferriss: Therapy earlier, I mean.

Ramit Sethi: I mean, that’s why I’m here. I want to share with people. Don’t just hope that it will kind of work itself out over time. Everybody involved in the process wants it to stretch out. The lawyers, they’re not trying to just bill you more, but their incentive is to get you the best deal and the other lawyers to get the other one.

You have to take control and manage the process, but both of you have to be aligned on that. I would have definitely talked to a therapist ahead of time with my wife. We would have gone there together faster and we kind of would have … I would’ve started off not talking about money, but rather about meaning.

That’s something that I’m hoping to be able to talk more about, but I hope people listening to this, if you go in and you’ve got a spreadsheet that you want to discuss, you’ve taken a wrong turn. That’s what I did. I should have talked about meaning and fears and hopes about money as opposed to like, let’s go through the numbers. The numbers are the last part of —

Tim Ferriss: I was going to say it’s not either/or, right?

Ramit Sethi: It’s sequencing.

Tim Ferriss: Both ends.

Ramit Sethi: You got to talk about the numbers, but once you get meaning aligned, the numbers work themselves out.

Tim Ferriss: When we’ve chatted about this sort of in passing in the past, because I wanted it to make sure we did it on the podcast. A couple of stories have come up that, I’m not sure how to grapple with. Now, I’m at a point also where I haven’t had conversations with attorneys about this type of thing, although, I mean, it makes sense to think about estate planning, whether your estate is small, medium, or large.

It makes a lot of sense to think about that. Things can be really messy speaking as someone who had grandparents who didn’t think about anything and we’re not rolling … doing backstroke in a pool full of coins like Scrooge McDuck, but nonetheless, when emotions are heated, kids can fight over anything, even if it’s just table scraps, and that was a mess. I don’t want that to ever affect, if I have kids, to affect my kids. So you should think about it earlier, but the point I was going to make, because I haven’t gone through the actual drafting of say a prenup, but I’ve seen marriages implode. And the numbers, if you just like let’s try to coldly, objectively look at the numbers in the U.S., they’re not that hot.

So it makes sense to plan whether it’s driving with a seatbelt in your car, you’re not planning on getting in an accident, but you want to be covered if you do. I’ve heard horrible stories, right. So I’ve heard stories of a friend who had a prenup, went through all of the same process. And then I think it was a week after he got married or just before he got married, his wife to be or wife said, “I signed the prenup under duress.”

Ramit Sethi: Oh, my God.

Tim Ferriss: “I don’t … I don’t feel good about it.” And it was back to the table. Now under duress for people who don’t know, is … this is not a legal definition, but under extreme stress. Therefore, the position of the person who’s claiming duress is that the contract is invalid because they were pressured into it and this can apply to quite a few contracts, it turns out. And he was in a position where he had to go back and it was renegotiated and the numbers changed, so the lump payments and so on were changed, and so that’s fear-inducing.

Ramit Sethi: That’s scary.

Tim Ferriss: That you could have an agreement and then end up in a situation like that. And point number one, whether it’s legally forced upon you or just practically day-to-day, you’re like, “Well, where the fuck do we go from here?” And have to then step back into negotiation mode. And I’ve also heard of approaches … I’m not saying maybe this is getting too much into the dark arts or something, but where friends have thought, “All right, if I’m going to … if I’m trying to defend against the worst case scenario, would it make sense for me to go engage x number of very high caliber divorce attorneys so that they are conflicted out if we ended up having a divorce later?” That’s a little Voldemort, but I can also see the practicality of it. So how do you think about what landmines you might need to avoid, if there are any?

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: It’s a big question, but it’s like this shit gets messy.

Ramit Sethi: I would say that I’ve spoken to a lot of different attorneys both in getting married, but also as a CEO, and one of them told me something really interesting. They said that the people with … the lawyers with the most interesting stories are criminal lawyers, of course. The second most interesting lawyer stories are workplace attorneys. I would be willing to bet that the third is divorce attorneys, because the stories are just out of this world. I didn’t really approach it like that, to tell you the truth. I didn’t plan on the marriage ending. I simply wanted to account for what might happen financially. So let me put it this way, if at the point where you’re sort of already thinking about “Let me engage all these divorce attorneys,” which I don’t even know if that works or not. I’ve heard it’s a rumor, but I feel like there’s a larger problem going on there, a much larger problem. These lawyers are not stupid. They’re all very good.

They’ve seen it at all and the thing is to negotiate in good faith. You have to remember, you’re not trying to get one over on your partner, you’re … If you were just trying to get one over like a car dealer, you’re trying to maximize it because it’s a one-time transaction. This is the partner you’re going to be with for the rest of your life, so that actually necessitates a different way of negotiating. When I was discussing with my attorney and that attorney was negotiating with my wife’s attorney, I had to compromise on things that I normally would not compromise on and that, just to put it bluntly, I haven’t had to compromise financially in the last 25 years, at all. So suddenly I’m like, “What? What is this taste in my mouth? I haven’t tasted this taste of compromise.”

Tim Ferriss: This bile.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah. But that’s why I think it’s really important. A couple principles came up for me. One is, go slow to go fast. I should have done a better job of this, of let’s talk about —

Tim Ferriss: The meaning.

Ramit Sethi: The meaning, go slow to go fast, and the second one was, “Always remember the North Star.” The North Star here is not getting an extra dollar or protecting the extra $2. It’s “We’re going to be married day-to-day for the rest of our lives.” That’s the North Star and putting that in perspective, as the lawyer’s saying this or that, I had to constantly remind myself, so did my wife. And by the way, I just want to say she was excited for me to come here and talk about this. She actually encouraged me because I wrote about it in my book. I wrote some more details and I asked her, I said, “Are you okay if I share this?” And we talked about it.

We both realized going through this that both of us were pretty alone. No one was talking about this publicly and we’re both big fans. She’s a stylist. I do what I do. We love shining the light on things that people are not really talking about publicly because we’re both very curious and we both want to get better. So if she had said “No,” I would have never written this stuff. I would’ve never come on here and talked about this, but she actually said “Yes, go on there and tell them our experience, because other people should know this, whether you do it or not, you should know.”

Tim Ferriss: All right, I’ve questions. So this is going to be a super awkward one, maybe for me to ask more than for you to answer because you’re being put on the spot, but I’m the one who has the option of asking whatever I want. So this is something I’ve seen so many people struggle with, what I’m about to bring up and I want to hear if it affected you and if so, how you used mental Jiu Jitsu or contortionism to get through it. And that is, if you’re coming into a negotiation, say for a prenup, and you are the person who’s bringing in disproportionately the assets and income — and that could be not necessarily a 51, 49 split, right?

I mean this could be a 90, 10 split, 99, one split and it very often is, I mean it can very often be. When you’re looking at the settlement and the amount … So it’s very hard for someone, let’s just say, who’s made $10,000 a year to ever imagine what it really means and what it takes to make $100,000. Ditto if someone’s making like 50 grand a year, what does it mean in terms of sacrifice and planning and Fridays missed and weekends worked and holidays skipped to make $1 million. And so all of a sudden then, you’re going through a negotiation where someone who has perhaps not made a decade or two decades of sacrifice, is asking for an amount that is more than you made in the first 30 years of your life.

How do you navigate that, because there’s … viscerally, I know a lot of people, and I’m one of them, who’s just like, “That makes no sense.” And it also brings up, “Well, wait a second. If that’s the amount that gets paid out, I would start questioning the sort of motives of the other person.” It’s like, “Okay, well, they were able to kind of do whatever they want for x period of time, but now if we get divorced three years from now, they’re set for life if they don’t screw it up.” How do you … I would … that would make me feel very uncomfortable.

Ramit Sethi: Me too. I mean I think … remember when I said that I was proud of what I had accomplished and you go through so many emotions in this process? And the funny thing is when it comes to money, I’m not emotional at all. Day to day, I’m super … I call it hot to cool. I think most people or some people particularly those in debt, money is like a phantom or a gremlin. It’s a beast that they’re fighting. They need to break the shackles of this debt. I’ve overcome those things; to me it’s a tool and I use it for convenience, things like that. So to find myself going from nervousness in bringing this up to pride that I wanted to talk about the numbers and I was very proud of what I had accomplished and what it meant for us, and then resentment.

I definitely felt resentful because to me I’m like, “Look at the spreadsheet. I have gone above and beyond, and how can you not acknowledge that?” I found myself experiencing these emotions I hadn’t honestly ever felt about money and I think that’s where a therapist helped me, but I should’ve done it sooner because it really was not healthy to just sort of soak in them for literally months. And remember, we’re seeing each other day to day and so that definitely affects you as you’re planning a wedding with your partner. It’s not … it’s like the worst opportune time. If you could sequence it out, you’re like, “Don’t do that.”

I think that it’s a question that I don’t have a good answer to. I think that the basic … There are certain things in life that are just not fair, okay, and one of them might be this, but really that’s not the point. The point is not for me to win — that’s what I learned along the way. At least this is my lesson. Some people might think differently. My point in retrospect was not to win this negotiation. It was to win our marriage, meaning both of us get there together as a team and if I have to compromise a few things, which in business, I would never have made a couple of the compromises I made. But this is more important than my business, this is the person that I’m going to spend my last days with. So that actually really put things in perspective for me.

It’s like, oh shit. Sometimes you learn about yourself just by observing what you, yourself, do. And I was like, “Did I really just agree to that? That one term we’ve been discussing for a month? Yes, I did. Wow, my wife is that important to me,” and I realize, “Yes, she is.” So I don’t know, I don’t have a good answer for you on that, but I’ll tell you, I really swung emotions. I felt resentful and I hate feeling resentful. It’s one of the most toxic emotions, but I think there’s something larger than being right in this. Maybe that’s just what I tell myself.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, no. I mean that’s … I think cutting off your nose to spite your face to be right doesn’t make sense. I also think that the opposite of … I think it’s possible to play not to lose or set yourself up for blind spots while not at all costs trying to win.

Ramit Sethi: A hundred percent, a hundred percent.

Tim Ferriss: Don’t be an asshole and make a bunch of insistent demands based on principle that don’t practically make sense is fair, but walking into something blind and just offering yourself as a pinata doesn’t make sense either.

Ramit Sethi: Okay. You know what’s crazy about this whole thing now? So once you sign it, it’s done. In fact, at least in our case, we were like, “All right, thank God. We don’t want to look at this now. File it away. Good.” The real challenge actually, since we got married just about a year ago, has been day-to-day spending and that now using the tools we learned from this therapist and also going slow to go fast. My dream, okay, my fantasy was to have this just beautiful financial model, okay, that’s what I wanted, like this model that we’d look at and everything’s going from side to side. We’ve built that. It’s taken eight or nine months. What I realize now is, emotions first. What does it mean? Who’s cooking dinner? Who’s taking the trash out? Let’s get all that stuff done. The model part is the last part of it and because we had these tough conversations earlier on, now we’re like, “Okay, let’s start with the emotions.”

We have buffer, so if we overspend a little bit on eating out right now, that’s okay. We’ll dial in the numbers later. What I’ve realized is the numbers really come last and so we are both really thankful we went through the process, although I wish we could have been … I wish we could’ve had some guidance, really. But funny enough though, once you sign it, it’s not like you’re reviewing it every single day. It’s gone. Yeah, it’s the day to day, now. It’s literally the littlest things like “Who’s picking up x at the store?” That’s where day-to-day financial stuff comes in and that’s another area where I think you use the I Will Teach You To Be Rich stuff. The systems, the idea that you don’t really want to be spending your valuable cognition on who’s buying deodorant or rice, have a system, automate it, boom.

Tim Ferriss: We were talking about … we won’t spend a lot of time on it, but your relative who you thought was 65, you and your wife thought was 65 or something, ended up being 87.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah, my uncle.

Tim Ferriss: And how regimented … regimented is the wrong word, how much of his life is routinized. He wakes up at the same time and we were describing coffee earlier and I said, “I wonder how much of his longevity is that lifetime accumulation of avoiding decision fatigue on shit that just shouldn’t consume your brain every day?”

Ramit Sethi: At all. So I believe, just like you have a playbook, I believe in a playbook for life. Here’s a couple playbook rules that I have. One, I call it Ramit’s Book-Buying Rule. If you ever see a book you’re even remotely interested in, buy it, don’t debate it, don’t ask if it’s the second best … just buy it. It’s $10, it’s the best money you ever spent. Have a year of cash, have it available, liquid and if you don’t have it, build up to it. Save up for big expenses, engagement ring, wedding, honeymoon, all that stuff. House —

Tim Ferriss: Sub-accounts.

Ramit Sethi: Sub-accounts, boom. When I eat at a restaurant now, my joy is if I see anything that looks good, I just order it. And I also tell the people eating with me, do the same, don’t even think about it. And so my coworkers love eating out with me because I’m like “Just order it all, I got the bill.”

Tim Ferriss: Just a quick side note for anyone who has not seen it, it came out not long ago from the time of this recording, but there’s an incredible ESPN article on coach Gregg Popovich and the dinners and the wine for the Spurs. It is phenomenal.

Ramit Sethi: It’s fantastic.

Tim Ferriss: People can look that up, anyway.

Ramit Sethi: Have a couple of areas in your life where you have absolutely no budget. Doesn’t matter how much you spend, you just love it.

Tim Ferriss: Unlimited.

Ramit Sethi: Unlimited. There is no … if you love strawberries, like when I grew up, I loved strawberries, but we had a big family and strawberries were expensive. There is no amount of strawberries that will ever cause me any material difference in my life. It’s three bucks, four bucks, five bucks, six bucks, doesn’t matter, buy it. Have something … it could be as small as strawberries, it could be as big as whatever. Eat the … this is for me personally, a lot of people don’t agree, but eat the same thing, mostly the same thing, every single day. I do it. It’s just easy decision fatigue.

Tim Ferriss: I do the same thing.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah. And then also … So this is what my wife and I have been talking about recently is, “Let’s come up with some rules for our relationship too.” These are guidelines. We can change them, but we were planning a vacation. We’re going to stay with a friend for their birthday in Mexico City and we’re looking at flights and I find that we’re deciding which flight, should it be economy, should it be business, what hotel, this or that. And I said, “Hey, let’s get into it. Let’s kind of figure out where we like to travel together in what style, but over the course of the next few months, let’s kind of come up with some basic rules.”

For example, if you’re traveling over five hours … for example, if you’re traveling over five hours, business class, or if we’re staying just the two of us, we don’t need a fancy hotel. Whatever the case, make a basic guideline so that we don’t have to think about it all the time. And even down to like who’s taken out the trash, let’s just kind of articulate that and be explicit so that it’s all on the table and that way it clears up any misconceptions. So I love this general playbook for life, especially —

Tim Ferriss: So wait, what’s this … what was your conclusion on the trash?

Ramit Sethi: Oh, dude, I take the trash out.

Tim Ferriss: Okay.

Ramit Sethi: And it just got revealed, because I would notice the trash filling up and then she would take it out once in a while, but really she would say, “Would you mind taking the trash out?” And it just became very clear in any relationship, there are certain things that one person does or doesn’t like to do, and like the same thing’s true for cooking, ironing clothes: Cass cooks, I iron.

Tim Ferriss: Quick note on that. One thing that I’ve found really helpful is whether it’s with friends or your significant other, but especially significant other, is agreeing in advance from a scale of one to 10, 10 being absolutely heartfelt must have or must not have. You can’t use a lot of 10s. So you only really get a couple of 10s in your pocket, so don’t spend them on nonsense, but asking someone zero to … one to 10, how much do you like doing this, or one to 10, how much do you hate doing this? And it’s like, all right, if to you it’s like you don’t love taking out the garbage, but if it’s like, “Eh, I’m a five out of 10, six out of 10, who cares?” It doesn’t really matter. And she’s like, “I grew up in such a way, I hate taking out the garbage,” like, “Okay, fine, I’ll take out the garbage.”

Ramit Sethi: Wait, so what’s your 10?

Tim Ferriss: On liking or not liking?

Ramit Sethi: Ah, let’s go both.

Tim Ferriss: So I, for instance, very fond of cooking, very unfond of cleanup.

Ramit Sethi: Love it, classic.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: And what about something you hate?

Tim Ferriss: Well something I hate would be the cleanup.

Ramit Sethi: Okay.

Tim Ferriss: Other things I hate would be, for instance, I am much happier to pay for things if I can avoid decisions. So if my partner’s willing to handle logistics … We went to Burning Man, it was her first time and I knew what I was signing up for. And I told her, I was like, “I will go, but only if you handle the logistics. I will pay for everything, but in terms of getting costumes and getting everything there and the bikes and the lights and the … You need to be the COO of this operation and I’m happy to be the controller who approves the checks.”

Ramit Sethi: Love it.

Tim Ferriss: But that’s it.

Ramit Sethi: Got it. So I love that you’re explicit and I love that one to 10. I have to think about that. I’ve overheard my wife talking to her parents and I grew up with my mom cooking food for us every night. Every night, right off the stove, she would be giving us rotis or whatever she was making and we all ate together as a family and I really loved that. So every night, my wife will either make food or it’ll … she’ll have cooked it a couple times and then she’ll bring it to me and that is so meaningful to me because it reminds me of my childhood. And by the way, the food that we eat is extremely inexpensive. We’re not getting the fanciest cuts of meat. We don’t care about that, but it’s … we track all of our macros and all that stuff, so we care about that, but really it’s about the meaning behind it.

Tim Ferriss: Macros for people who don’t know, fat, protein, carbohydrate.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Percentages of each. What does the pie chart look like?

Ramit Sethi: I don’t know the math off the top of my head, but it’s like every week it changes depending on whatever my goals are. And I think the meaning there is really important and then there’s certain things for Cass that she likes or she doesn’t like and I’ll do — trash is a perfect example. I just kind of discovered she really doesn’t like taking the trash out. No problem. It’s easy for me to take it out. So getting those on the same page and developing this just life playbook of general rules of thumb you’re going to use, especially for stuff that’s not important, man, that really frees you up to really get into the stuff that is important.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, for sure. So I know we don’t have too much time left, but I want to jump into one of these because I’m curious what you will say in response to some of these questions and we may only have time for one or two, but these are from people on the interwebs. Always a risky proposition, but they were voted on or upvoted and one, this is from Scott, no last name here indicated. Where does Ramit disagree with what Tim teaches or preaches or … and I’ll just rephrase that, but what do you think we disagree on?

Ramit Sethi: This is a … this is one of my favorite questions.

Tim Ferriss: And it could be anything, but fire away.

Ramit Sethi: Oh, my God, I love this. I think that we disagree on morning routines. I think they’re overrated. I think that the best morning routine is decided a year ago. It’s about your psychology. It’s about how much you sleep. It’s about what have you outlined in your calendar. It’s all those softer details. And I think that … I get people asking me every day what’s my morning routine? And I’m like, “Who gives a shit?” You think if I asked Michael … I’m not saying I’m Michael Jordan at all, but if I ask Michael Jordan what shoes he wears or what his morning routine is, am I going to be like Mike? No. And similarly, if you find out what kind of coffee I drink, you’re not going to be doing what I do either, but I know that you’re not saying that, but that’s what people are taking away and it drives me insane.

Tim Ferriss: Well, yeah. I mean what —

Ramit Sethi: Can you please correct the record Tim?

Tim Ferriss: What one person tries to impart and what people hear are sometimes very different.

Ramit Sethi: The 4-Hour Workweek. Tim, you work more than four hours.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, yeah. I’m just like, okay, thanks for … yeah, right. The gift that keeps on giving. So morning routines I think are number one, for me, coming back to what we just said, morning routines are one example of removing decisions, that’s it. There’s a little bit more to it for me in the sense that as someone who had onset insomnia and slept very poorly for several decades, I would wake up and be nonfunctional generally speaking, so having a boot up sequence which didn’t require any thought. I’m not deciding what to eat for breakfast. I’m not deciding what step number one is. Do I do A, B, C, D, or E first? No. I’m always going to be doing B or A, whatever it might be, has been very helpful. I also know equally or far more successful people who have your answer. They’re like, “I wake up, I drink a fucking cup of coffee and then –”

Ramit Sethi: I scroll Instagram first, literally the first thing I do is I get on Instagram while I’m in bed. It’s the worst possible thing, but I’m like, I like it.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah and —

Ramit Sethi: Is that unhealthy?

Tim Ferriss: Wonder what accounts? Anyways, it’s all cabins. It’s all cabins, I swear to God. The question I think that is also just a macro questions worth asking is, is this person you’re looking at succeeding because of or despite what you’re looking at? This is really important. It’s especially important if you’re studying people who have already reached escape velocity in some type of success or financial freedom and you’re still working your way up because hindsight is not 20/20. A lot of folks who are on top of the world and are just crafting billion dollar deals every day, do not remember very clearly what helped them when they were working in the office on Thanksgiving or whatever it might’ve been.

Ramit Sethi: This is a great point and so powerful. By the way, this is why I love your podcast because here we are, two people who seemingly disagree on something, but now we’re getting into the nuances and we can really crack the code of what’s the differences and similarities. I will totally agree with what you just said about the more successful you get or the more time you get away from something, the less details you remember. I’ll give you an example. My wife started … she used to be a senior buyer at Equinox. She left to start her own styling business about 18 months ago. I would hear her doing sales calls in our living room and I would see her sometimes closing a client and sometimes going weeks without closing a client.

And I’ve got a business now, I’ve got amazing employees, we’ve got traffic that’s coming, we’ve got people coming and regular customers and all that stuff, but when I started off, that shit was not easy. I would go weeks without getting one person joining any of my programs and I forgot how emotional it is. The highs are so high and the lows are so low and half the game in this is just living to fight another day. It’s just not giving up and improving just a tiny bit every day. And I watched it and I heard her and I saw her go through the ups and the lows and it’s amazing. Now, this month she told me how many clients she’s done. She’s totally booked up for two or three more months. It’s amazing what she’s accomplished in 18 months.

She never would have believed it, but you forget and you forget fast, the tiniest details of what it means to wake up in the morning and say, “Wow, the last four weeks I haven’t gotten one client. Am I going to do it different today?” So I just … big shout out to every entrepreneur who’s starting out out there. It’s tough and you should always put in context the advice that you hear, and thanks for bringing it up because people need to know it’s not all roses. Shit is hard when you start. It’s hard for everyone. It actually should be hard, but if you stick with it, hopefully you’re doing the right thing. You can get escape velocity.

Tim Ferriss: So morning routines, one thing we have somewhat differing approaches to, what else?

Ramit Sethi: Tools. I think that tools are super valuable. People love to talk about tools, but you give Andre Agassi a wooden racket, he’s going to kick my ass. So I think when you ask … if somebody asks me like, what apps do I use? My apps are horrible. I don’t use … I use TripIt, that’s it. It’s … but I think the more powerful things are the psychology, are the systems which are run through a Google Doc. That’s my take on tools and so that’s … those are my two areas of disagreement. Curious to hear what you think about the tools and also if you disagree with me on anything.

Tim Ferriss: Well, I provide a lot of tools because I think the specifics are helpful, but it’s the reasoning behind it I would imagine, we’re probably on the same page with and that is, the tools are by-products of principles or strategies. For instance, I use TripIt too. I think it’s underrated, but people are like, “Okay, great, I’m going to go use TripIt and life’s going to be grand.” It’s like, “Yes, but, maybe but, what are the principles behind it? It’s so that I can avoid manual checking of things like gate updates. It’s so that I’m avoiding a certain decision, certain manual activities that are being automated. It’s so that I don’t have to go … I don’t have to go to Google or wherever on my phone and search fill in the blank airline check-in, because I can click a button and TripIt will do it automatically whether it’s Delta, United, American, whatever.”

And that principle, if you were to pull it back, will be … will then allow you to deduce which tools to use or at least ask people for the right tools. But it’s very easy to believe that, “Oh, wow, so-and-so’s a great player.” “So-and-so’s a great business person.” “So-and-so’s a great artist because they use watercolors.” It’s like “No, whether it’s watercolors, oil, conte crayons, doesn’t matter, charcoal, graphite, you need to know the technique and the principles behind it and the process, then you can choose your tools.” I think it’s easy to become a tool fetishist without understanding why you’re doing what you’re doing. And then you become kind of like, where is it, Solomon Islands where they have the cargo cult, where they have the fake runways and the fake towers and it’s like, “Okay, great. You have a phone full of the greatest apps. You’ve got 79 different rules for email filtering and guess what? You didn’t do one fucking important thing today.”

Tim Ferriss: There you go.

Ramit Sethi: So —

Tim Ferriss: Okay, I agree with you on that. I think that’s really good and I think the way you articulated … Deduce what TripIt … What the principles behind you using TripIt are is critical. I do the same thing. We use it for the same reasons, but I also take that same principle and apply it to what I do in the morning and how I decide what place to meet someone for coffee. All that stuff has been automated so I don’t have to think about it ever again. So that’s a good point.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah and I would say also that I think there is a … It is possible, very possible and actually very common to procrastinate by searching for incrementally better and better tools.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, I do that all the time.

Ramit Sethi: And I could do the vast majority of what I do with a day planner.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: And in fact, I think the finite nature, this is why I still use paper, I still use note cards or small pieces of paper for to do lists and things like that, because it is by its very nature finite. I cannot have a list of 37 things I need to do.

In some respects, I think applying constraints to the tools that you use in the same way that … And I had Neil Gaiman actually sitting right where you are on this podcast not too long ago and he uses, very often, a fountain pen and pads of paper for drafting. And it sounds very romantic — and it is in some respects — but it also has a number of psychological and practical benefits. But it seems very primitive. It’s not the latest cutting edge tool.

Tim Ferriss: All right. I love it. That’s a great explanation of the nuances behind tools.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: So yeah, I appreciate that. Let’s see. Where else? And it’s also easy I think for us … We could disagree on tools all day long. We could disagree on the implementation of various things, but here’s I think one observation that is important and that is you and I are not the same person, meaning you like fancy sweaters; I’m wearing an $8 t-shirt that my mom got me. Right?

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And these pants and these shoes were both given to me and I’m not wearing socks. So we have different desires. Your vacation may look differently from mine. Your family in India is different from my family on the East Coast of this country and that’s all fine. That’s great. And it also means that the way we approach problem solving is going to be different.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah. That’s a really good point.

Tim Ferriss: But a lot of the principles I do think are very similar.

Ramit Sethi: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Ferriss: The values and the principles are similar, otherwise I don’t think we would have been friends for as long as we have.

Ramit Sethi: Totally agree and I think there’s value in the diversity of how we think. There’s also value in knowing that those will change over time, right? So as I’ve gotten married, I’m like, “Oh wow, there’s this whole world I didn’t understand before and now I’m learning that and I’m growing with my wife.”

I think as we’ve gotten in relationships, we’ve talked about how that’s changed us. Wow. And that’s a pretty interesting topic. And then you know, if we had anybody else here who maybe didn’t look like us or if they weren’t our gender, we had all different kinds of diversity opinions, we would have even more ways of thinking about how we approach problems.

And I think what I have learned along the way … When I wrote the book for example, I was a bit judgmental about what the rich life was in the first edition. I was like, “This is how you should invest, follow the principles, and this is where you end up.”

Now, 10 years later, There’s a lot of people in the FIRE community for example, that’s Financial Independence Retire Early, and many people are happy to acquire enough to basically be able to live on 30k a year, live a very simple life, and if they want to have a fun afternoon, maybe they’ll go to the park. And they’re like, “We don’t need materialistic stuff. We’re happy.”

And back then, I think I would’ve been pretty judgmental about it. Now I’ve realized there’s lean FIRE, there’s fat FIRE, there’s all kinds of different FIRE, and some people don’t want to fire. In fact, most Americans will never FIRE. They will work until they’re of retirement age. But rich life looks different to different people, and part of that comes from how are we raised. What do our parents tell us? And then part of it is, do we want to change that story, or do we want to just go with that?

Tim Ferriss: Question about retirement. I was going to ask this earlier. So this … I’ve read about this as far back as my equally scammy-sounding book, 4-Hour Workweek, a thousand years ago. But there’s this concept of retirement, right. Let’s replace that with financial freedom, ’cause I want to ask you what that means or how you think people should think about it, because a lot of thinking about retirement I find to be extremely porous at best. It’s very faulty.

Ramit Sethi: Well in your book, you got a great example of mini retirements and “You want to buy a Ferrari, why don’t you just rent it for a week?”

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: Great example.

Tim Ferriss: Or you think, “Okay, 20 years from now, everything I’m doing is predicated on being able to buy a boat and I’m going to live on my boat and sail around the Mediterranean for 20 years after that.” It’s like, “Maybe you should get on a boat first.”

Ramit Sethi: Yes.

Tim Ferriss: And try that for a weekend. Go take a sailing course. You might come out of it being like, “That fucking sucks and I felt sick the entire time.”

Okay, good to know that now and not when you’ve kind of slaved away and done something that you find distasteful for 20 years. And people mess up the math too, right? They often miscalculate and end up having a very tough time in retirement, per se.

So with your students, how do you encourage them to think about the objective?

Ramit Sethi: Yeah. Well I don’t believe that most people are automatons that sit down and say, “Here’s my 50-year goal, and let me break it down and reverse engineer it to what I’m going to do this week.” I know about two people like that and they’re special on their own, but most people don’t do that. Most people are very simple. They want to wake up. They want to have a good day at work. Maybe they want to have a little bit of fun or watch Netflix or have a good conversation with their partner or their friends. And that’s a good day. And that’s okay.

Now, to kind of push people out of that and make them think a little bit bigger, it might be taking a vacation they may not have done. It might be going to a tea event that they may have never thought of going to. It’s these experiences that people remember. I would say that your comment about retirement is really true for people our age. I don’t hear anyone saying like, “When I retire, this that, my pension…”

Those conversations are not happening with our generation. So there’s more of, “What do I want to do?”

There’s more spending on things like wellness and vacations and experiences. And we’re seeing that in the economy as well. What I tell people is a couple of things. Number one, “You may not think right now that you want to retire, but when you look at everybody else who reaches a certain age does, if everyone does something, it might be true.”

And so plan for it. I don’t want to buy a house, but almost everybody else does, so I saved enough for a down payment. I don’t need to use it, but it’s there if I need to. Similarly, don’t wait, right? And think bigger. So don’t wait means go take a trip for three days, and think bigger is like, your retirement doesn’t have to just be sitting around.

It can actually be much bigger. That money dial, turn it to 10. And it could be traveling with a fixer. It could be going for a month a year, or two months. But in order to do that, you need to build a muscle now of thinking bigger. People have this linear belief that “Once this bifurcation of retirement happens, then the curtain opens and I get to do all this cool stuff.” Dude, if you haven’t been doing it until you’re 60 years old, you’re not going to magically do it at 60 years old in one day.

So I would encourage people to start building the muscle just like you’ve told ’em and realize that doing creative things, trying different things, is a muscle. I found myself getting lazy with this in New York. I looked at where I’d gone to in the city over the course of the last six months and I was like, “I live in this amazing city and I’m not even taking advantage of it.”

So I put it into my calendar, once a quarter minimum, I’m going to do a cultural event like a show or a tea tasting, whatever the case may be. Something that I could only do in New York. And so now it’s on the calendar. And you can say it sounds unromantic but I’m like, “That’s what I needed to do that to keep building my muscle of trying new things.”

So whatever works for people, do it, but I would say don’t wait until you are retirement age.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, and I feel like so much in our conversation has come back to making one decision that removes 1,000 decisions. In the sense that you put it in your calendar.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And for me, if it’s not in the calendar, it’s just not real, right? So even what we call batching conversations, with me and my girlfriend for discussing certain constant, not issues in the sense of problems, but we have regularly scheduled times to talk about certain things.

Ramit Sethi: We do the same thing.

Tim Ferriss: And it’s in the calendar.

Ramit Sethi: Same.

Tim Ferriss: And that’s true with certain types of date nights. If we’re talking about relationships, right? It’s true for taking trips together.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: It’s true for visiting my family, visiting her family and by making that decision and putting it in the calendar, you preserve your brain power and emotional resilience and so on for other stuff that is less predictable.

Ramit Sethi: Do you have a consistent thing you talk about on your check-ins?

Tim Ferriss: We do, yeah. We have a whole format and everything.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah. Okay, so this is amazing. I love meeting smart people who apply their intelligence to a different part of life. For example, there’s a book out by Gretchen Rubin, who we both know, and she’s just so smart and she decided to write a book about keeping her house and workspace organized. And I’m like, “Yep, bought it.”

Ramit Sethi: And the stuff she writes about in there is clever, interesting, it’s exactly what you would think a smart person applying themselves to something for a year, would come up with. And the fact that you and your girlfriend have … We call it a touch base or a check in and you have a consistency, it’s on the calendar, I love that. And —

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: I want to know what’s on that? What surprised you? ‘Cause we’re going through building our own one and we’re tweaking it and I’m like, “This is awesome.”

Tim Ferriss: She’s much smarter about anything involving emotions.

Ramit Sethi: Oh, God. That’s funny. My wife is the one who suggested it for us too.

Tim Ferriss: Much more observant than I am.

Ramit Sethi: It’s like two cavemen talking to each other.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: “Hey, how do you feel, Tim?”

Tim Ferriss: So she’s much —

Are we good?” “We’re good.” “Okay, great.” That would be our check in. “We good? We fucking good? ‘Cause I don’t really feel like having this conversation.” “Yeah we’re good.” “Okay, great.”

Tim Ferriss: Maybe this will be helpful for folks. We’ll spend a few minutes on this. We have a number of rituals and things in the calendar that I think are important for the care and nurturing of the relationship. And one epiphany that I think we both had at one point was that a, I have a tendency to emotionally shut off or get defensive with a lot of questions involving emotion or emotional vulnerability.

Ramit Sethi: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Ferriss: It’s just not something I was fully exposed to growing up.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: There was … Or in school or with coaches. Really the feeling was and I’m not going to say in my family as a whole, but I come from a pretty … What’s the right word here? Stoic, and not in the cool, hip Marcus Aurelius sense, but a fairly stoic, Protestant-like environment where in school for instance and in coaching, the general feeling was like, “Don’t tell me the good stuff ’cause the good stuff takes care of itself. Tell me what needs to be fixed.”

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Turns out that’s not, I’ve come to realize, the best approach for longevity in the relationship that I want to have with my girlfriend, which had to be pointed out to me.

Ramit Sethi: This is amazing, because just think about this. What got you here?

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: Something got you here to a very elite level and it would be easy to just be like, “Oh my God, I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing ’cause I won that game.”

You’re playing a different game now.

Tim Ferriss: Well I think that the question I didn’t ask for a very long time is: “What did it cost?”

Ramit Sethi: Yes.

Tim Ferriss: And what was the collateral damage?

Ramit Sethi: Wow.

Tim Ferriss: Right. ‘Cause it’s like, “Yeah, The Hulk’s a great fucking superhero. He also makes a fucking mess.”

Ramit Sethi: That’s a good one.

Tim Ferriss: And I think that there’s a lot of collateral damage that I probably didn’t notice.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And certainly didn’t weigh very heavily because I was like, “Yeah, but look what I did.”

Ramit Sethi: Totally.

Tim Ferriss: Or “Yeah, but look what happened!”

Tim Ferriss: And it excused a lot of mess.

Ramit Sethi: 100 percent.

Tim Ferriss: So what we realized after that was pointed out to me was … Or what I then said to my girlfriend because she was curious about how to better word things so that I wouldn’t have a disproportionate emotional response.

Ramit Sethi: That’s cool that she was curious about that.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. She’s very good at asking questions and probing because if … I think I have a sensitivity as someone who’s effectively worked as a freelancer for decades, that if I have my headphones on and I’m in the middle of a project, I don’t want to stop and have a five-minute conversation about something extraneous. I get unnecessarily spun out over stuff like that. And she says, “Well, how should I phrase things so that it’s easier and less distracting for you?”

Tim Ferriss: And I remember saying, I said, “It has nothing to do with the content. It’s all timing.”

And that was a real breakthrough for our relationship, not because we had the conversation. This is really fucking important ’cause like, “Yeah you can go to fill-in-the blank seminar. You can read fill-in-the-blank book. You can take fill-in-the-blank drug and have this amazing epiphany and do nothing with it.”

What we did from that point was then set up what we call these batching times, once a week or once every two weeks, where we sit down and she has a chance to talk to me when I am prepared to talk about things that are going to make me uncomfortable. And she can handle it whenever ’cause she’s more adaptable and resilient in that way but … I can blame it on my upbringing, I can blame it on being just a weirdo, who knows? Or just a heteronormative male who doesn’t like talking about shit, who knows? Having that time blocked out where I can steel myself and warm myself up psychologically to talk about things that are going to make me uncomfortable is very valuable in the format that we currently have.

So we couldn’t find any real great advice on this.

Ramit Sethi: Same.

Tim Ferriss: And the format we have is we will take notes, we have meeting notes after every one.

Ramit Sethi: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Ferriss: And it’s where we capture in bullet points what was said. So we start with … One person will start and they’ll say what they think they’ve been doing well.

Ramit Sethi: Nice.

Tim Ferriss: And it didn’t start out this way but it’s ended up … They start with what they think they have been doing well or doing better. Then they talk about, if they want, where they think they’ve dropped the ball or could focus more, which is very helpful for diffusing things.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah, ’cause they bring it up themselves.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Then they will tell the other person what they’re doing well and then they will tell the other person … “We started off with shit you need to fix,” or that was part of my phrasing. And then it was growth opportunities. And now it’s what I would love to see more of.

Ramit Sethi: Nice.

Tim Ferriss: And the phrasing turns out to be really important, right. So it’s what I think I’m doing well since we last checked in, what I think I could do better, what you’re doing well, and then what I’d like to see more of.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And then we take notes and we forward it to the other person and we can take a look at it. And that’s it.

Ramit Sethi: Amazing.

Tim Ferriss: It usually takes an hour. Maybe two hours and —

Ramit Sethi: Is this in the morning or in the evening?

Tim Ferriss: Usually in the afternoon or evening on a weekend.

Ramit Sethi: Oh okay. Interesting.

Tim Ferriss: That’s most common.

Ramit Sethi: Okay.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: So the note part is also interesting. So you take notes.

Tim Ferriss: I take notes.

Ramit Sethi: For what she’s saying.

Tim Ferriss: No, one of us will take notes on the whole thing.

Ramit Sethi: Okay, okay got it.

Tim Ferriss: There’s kind of one secretary or minute keeper for that session.

Ramit Sethi: That’s cool.

Tim Ferriss: And so it could be me. I take notes in notebooks a lot so I’d take notes in a notebook then take a photo and send it to her.

Ramit Sethi: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Ferriss: Or she’ll take it in notepad on her phone and then send it to me.

Ramit Sethi: That’s an interesting part of it too, is each person will have some skin in the game in terms of recording it.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: That’s powerful.

Tim Ferriss: And then I have an Evernote where I out all of our check ins in reverse chronological order. So the most recent is at the top.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: So I can go back and look and see did we … And this is not as a gotcha, it’s just to like, “All right, did I keep up my end of the bargain? Did I say I was going to work on something three weeks ago and then I kind of forgot about it?”

Ramit Sethi: Totally.

Tim Ferriss: Two weeks later.

Ramit Sethi: But also, not just from the avoiding bad but doing —

Tim Ferriss: More of the good.

Ramit Sethi: More of the good, yeah. Like imagine after a year —

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: You go and you’re like, “Oh my God, we have been super consistent and look at the things we used to talk about and look at the things we’re talking about now.”

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, the highlighting what is being done well is really important.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And it’s so against every behavior and habit that I’ve built over my entire life.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: But I have come to realize that without that —

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: It can really, really be tough.

Ramit Sethi: So one of the things that I love about this … First of all, thanks for sharing those things.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: Super helpful, as we are starting this ritual on our own. And I think this is a great example …

Tim Ferriss: And by the way, my girlfriend did 90 percent of that so I’m along for the ride but —

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: I want to give her proper credit.

Ramit Sethi: Totally. I think that’s an example where the ritual itself may be even more important than the content.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: The ritual of having the time, having it on the calendar, respecting it, always showing up, being mentally present and tracking it, that is like 90 percent of the ball game.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: And that just shows this awesome mutual respect you both have for each other. And the fact that you take it seriously and it’s not weird to write down an agenda, I think so many people are … They think about things as weird.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: “Oh, it would be weird to have a Google agenda. Or be weird to save for an engagement ring. I’m not even dating anyone.”

Well, I think it’s weird to live life as most people.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah.

Ramit Sethi: I think that’s weird. I would rather plan ahead. I would pick some things I want to do differently and just be unapologetic about it. So I think it’s really cool that you’re sharing that, including down to what are the questions. ‘Cause I’m going to take some of those and take it back to my wife and we’re going to do this.

Tim Ferriss: It’s really been a big deal for us. And like you said, I think the intention and the act of calendaring it is of great value, aside from the implementation.

Ramit Sethi: 100 percent.

Tim Ferriss: The fact that you are both setting aside time to keep the relationship on the rails and to improve it is in and of itself going to have an impact on the relationship and there are times also when we’ll out these batching sessions out … We’ll schedule them out and she’s better at this than I am. I could actually find Enneagram pretty helpful even though I’m not convinced it’s more than business acceptable astrology basically, but in any case, Enneagram can kind of be interesting as something to fit in to this. We can talk about that another podcast, but very important to her to schedule things out.

Ramit Sethi: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim Ferriss: And if we schedule it out for say, four or five weeks, there are times when we’ll look at it, we’ll know it’s coming, it’s like, “Okay, are we going to do this?”

Tim Ferriss: And it’s like, “No, we’re good.”

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: There are times when we don’t have a critical mass of stuff to talk about and it’s like, “No it can wait.”

Tim Ferriss: We’ll just do it, we can push it a week.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And so for my experience this far, better to have it on the calendar.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And then say, “Hey, we can play hooky.”

Ramit Sethi: Make it an opt out instead of opt in.

Tim Ferriss: Exactly, than to not have it on the calendar and have to hit DEFCON 5 when things boil over.

Ramit Sethi: Dude, everything that’s important in life should be opt out. Everything. It should be by default, it’s going to happen. It’s on the calendar and whether that is call your mom every Sunday evening, whether that is go train at the gym three, four, five times a week, whatever it is. Just that intentionality of writing it down and putting it on the calendar, even the intentionality of everyone listening and saying, “What are the four things that I want to accomplish every week? I want to call my mom or dad. I want to train. I want to, whatever. I want to read a book for 10 minutes.”

Ramit Sethi: And then putting those down on your calendar. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the morning or night, whatever works for you. That instantly separates you from being opt in, from being buffeted by the winds left and right and just going wherever the world takes you. You decide. Don’t let the world decide for you.

Tim Ferriss: Hear, hear. Ramit Sethi, Sethi. How do you say your name correctly?

Ramit Sethi: Ramit Sethi.

Tim Ferriss: Okay. So you have second edition of I Will Teach You to Be Rich available. And I’m sure by the time people hear this, it may be available … It should be available and has 80 new pages of material.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Tools, insights about money, and psychology. Stories of readers who’ve used the book. The scripts that we were talking about.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And oh, yeah, look at that.

Ramit Sethi: Look at those.

Tim Ferriss: Real reader results.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And we’re looking at a copy of the book right now.

Ramit Sethi: I wanted to show people that rich … A lot of people think rich looks a certain way. But I wanted to put photos of these readers. Men, women, black, white, young, old. Every one of us has someone we want to see ourselves represented.

Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ramit Sethi: You know, I saw an ad on the train for an Indian dad in Hindi. And I was like, “You know what? 10 years ago, that wouldn’t have been meaningful to me, but now I’m actually appreciating being represented.”

So that’s what I wanted in this book.

Tim Ferriss: And you’ve tabbed a couple of things for me to check out later, which I will check out. I’m just going to read the tabs. We don’t have to go through all of them. Stories, next. Victim culture, which I’m sure you’re a huge fan of. I’m kidding. Word for word scripts. Ignore Reddit. Invisible scripts. Crypto love and money.

Tim Ferriss: So you got a lot here.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: And as I mentioned earlier, I’m just going to read the first paragraph on the back of the book ’cause I haven’t seen this in ages. Just quick, quick backstory note, I remember when you were writing this.

Ramit Sethi: Dude, I came to you for advice.

Tim Ferriss: And I gave you … Do you remember the book I gave you?

Ramit Sethi: Bird by Bird.

Tim Ferriss: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: But here’s the first paragraph of the back copy, “Buy as many lattes as you want.”

That’s a reference to people who recommend you cut back on all these things like —

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: A latte. “Spend extravagantly on the things you love. Live your rich life instead of tracking every last expense.”

And what I’ve always enjoyed observing and learning from, are the tests that you do. You experiment.

Ramit Sethi: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: You actually implement these things and you provide scripts and actual algorithms for achieving very specific results.

So, awesome to see you.

Ramit Sethi: Thank you dude. It’s been a pleasure. I love catching up and thanks for having me on.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. People can find you on Twitter @Ramit, Instagram @Ramit and website Are there any other places where people can check you out? See what you’re up to or anything else that you would like to say before we wrap up this episode?

Ramit Sethi: Yeah. Get the book. It’s on Amazon and come visit me in any of these social places and the site and the newsletter and I would love to talk more with everyone about their rich life.

Tim Ferriss: Ramit, thanks so much for coming on.

Ramit Sethi: Thanks a lot.

Tim Ferriss: And to everyone who is listening, thank you for joining in. You can find the show notes, links to everything we’ve discussed at along with every other episode and until next time, track wisely, calendar the important shit. Plan your batching sessions and thanks for tuning in and I will be in touch very soon.

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The Tim Ferriss Show Transcripts: Adam Savage (#370)

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Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Adam Savage (TW: @donttrythis, IG: @therealadamsavage, FB: therealadamsavage), former co-host of Discovery Channel’s 14 seasons of MythBusters and current host and executive producer of MythBusters Jr., as well as host of the brand-new series Savage Builds, which premieres on Science Channel this June. Transcripts may contain a few typos—with some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it’s difficult to catch some minor errors. Enjoy!

Watch the interview on YouTube.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, Castbox, or on your favorite podcast platform.

#370: Adam Savage on Great Tools, Great Projects, and Great Lessons


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Tim Ferriss: Adam, welcome to the show.

Adam Savage: Thank you, Tim. It’s so awesome to see you, at least virtually on my screen.

Tim Ferriss: Yes, indeed. And there’s going to be no shortage of things to get into, and I thought we might start. Some people will be listening to this audio only, but I couldn’t help but notice a piece of, maybe not memorabilia, because you probably made it yourself.

But there is a No-Face behind you in your workshop, and for those who don’t know, it is from arguably my favorite film of all time, which is an animated film, Miyazaki — called Spirited Away. And could you please explain? Because I don’t know why you have a No-Face behind you.

Adam Savage: So Spirited Away is also one of my favorite films of all time without a qualifier that it’s animated. Hayao Miyazaki is one of the world’s great treasures as a storyteller, and Spirited Away is a mind-blowing film. I love explaining to people that it’s an entire universe that you only get the tiniest details about, and yet you’re clear it’s a completely consistent universe.

The film is about a little girl who loses her identity in the spirit world and with the help of this strange, needy spirit named Kaonashi, or No-Face, she gets her name back and is able to escape the spirit world.

At one point in the mid ’90s, I was at a Halloween party and I saw a really terrible rendition of No-Face, but still, seeing a No-Face in person made me jump and I thought, “I really want some of that.”

So once I started attending Comic-Con really regularly and thinking about putting on big costumes, I made a No-Face costume. I think it was my third or fourth Con. And it is, I have over 75 costumes, and some, like the Kane space suit from Alien behind me, that took 14 years and cost me probably, I have probably $10,000 of my own money invested in that suit and the commissions and the collaborations.

No-Face here cost me about 75 bucks. I think the most expensive single item was arm-length matte satin gloves from the Lusty Lady Drag Queen Store here on Mission Street that’s no longer around.

And even though it wasn’t an expensive costume and I put it together in about a day, the effect that it had on people when I hit the floor at San Diego Comic-Con was shocking. And not just shocking like they were surprised, but I was also handing out gold coins to people from beneath my hoodie.

Tim Ferriss: Amazing.

Adam Savage: I had chocolate gold coins, so every time I took a photo, I’d hand one out to someone. And then people started giving me back the gold coins, angrily. I could feel them grab my hand, put the coin in. And it turned out that of course it’s bad luck to take gold from No-Face in the film.

This was like the expansion of my mind about what cosplay really was. That it is a form of theater where the audience and the performers are all one thing. And we are all playing about a narrative that we love.

And it just started a lifelong fascination with what that process is, process of putting on costumes, transformation, enjoying that transformation with others who are as weird and wonderful as you are. There’s no end to it. And No-Face was where that first tic of consciousness about what it could be.

Tim Ferriss: I am so glad I asked, and I encourage everyone to try to see this film. I remember searching desperately a few years ago. I didn’t want to find it on Pirate Bay or somewhere else. I really wanted to pay for it. But it was so difficult to find Miyazaki films digitally. I couldn’t find it years ago.

Adam Savage: They still don’t stream. You have to buy physical DVDs. And this is actually, I’ve been recently getting into more Japanese anime and some of the really, you know, Satoshi Ohno and, I’m not getting that name right. I’m sorry. But like there’s some amazing filmmakers and so little of great Japanese animated cinema streams in the U.S., so I’m firing back up my old DVD drives for the laptop in order to be able to watch them.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Everybody should check it out. The name in Japanese, which I think is Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, or something like that. She loses her name, but is given a new one with just one character in her full name, which is Chihiro, so Chi and Sen are pronounced the same way in Japanese.

In any case, I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole too far, but I thought we could flash back and tie this obsessive tendency or tendencies really, that you’ve harnessed for the greater good and certainly as a career, all the way back to a suit of armor, at least that’s how I would describe it, that you built, I want to say sophomore year in high school?

Adam Savage: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Could you tell us about this suit of armor?

Adam Savage: Yeah. The suit of armor has its origins in 1982, going to see, which was the year, my sophomore year in high school. 1982, John Boorman’s film Excalibur came out with an amazing cast of Gabriel Byrne, Patrick Stewart, Liam Neeson, and some wonderful British actors like Nigel Terry, who played Arthur from the age of 17 to the age of 65. I was blown away by this film.

The armor in it is so beautiful. The knights wear their armor all the time, which was certainly something I wanted to do at 14, 15 years old. And I made two suits of armor inspired by that film in high school. The first one was in my sophomore year, I made one out of cardboard, replete with a white horse that I wore around me like one of those silly horse costumes.

Then I made one out of roofing aluminum and pop rivets, and it’s where I learned. My dad taught me all about pop rivets and we used about a thousand of them in this suit. And I wore it to class. I felt amazing. I immediately passed out of heat exhaustion in third period from the append that I was wearing.

And I woke up in the nurse’s office. And like, this is one of those moments in life where you feel like a screenwriter is writing it, and maybe they’re a little too on the nose.

Because I woke up without the armor on, because they basically removed it from me because I passed out. And I woke up and went, “Where’s my armor?” They were like, “All right. I get the analogy of the armor being both physical and theoretical, but Jesus, we could tone it down just a little bit!”

Tim Ferriss: Now you, as I understand it, have your hands in a lot of projects, a lot of materials. You’ve developed many divergent skills that then converged in interesting ways. In high school, what did you think you were going to be when you grew up?

Adam Savage: I thought I was going to be an actor. The drama club was definitely my people, the theater group in high school were my people. It was where I found acceptance and camaraderie and collaboration. And by the time I was 15, when I was 15, I wanted to take it seriously and I knew that my dad had worked in advertising in the ’60s. And so he reached out to an old friend of his, Charlie Kimbrough. Charlie is famous for playing Jim Dial on Murphy Brown. Charlie was one of my dad’s oldest friends.

And Charlie introduced me to his agent at ICM, Doris Manson. She took me on and started sending me out on commercials. And I got the first commercial I auditioned for, which was to play Mr. Whipple’s stock boy in a Charmin commercial. And I thought, “Oh, this is it. It’s that easy. I went on an audition. I got a great job.” I then played second lead in a Billy Joel music video and I did a few more commercials and stuff like that. And I really thought that acting was going to be it.

I even went to NYU for six months and studied acting at Tisch School for the Arts before realizing that my peers in that program were really serious about the craft of acting, and I wanted to be an actor. I got very quickly that there was a fundamental difference between their drive to study the thing and my desire to be a thing.

My desire wasn’t a real desire. It was more like a theater flat of desire. There was nothing behind it. So I ended up giving that up and by 19 I stopped going out on auditions and I stopped taking it seriously and I started concentrating on what I was doing for work, which was to be a graphic designer and assistant animator and I started doing a lot more working with my hands.

Tim Ferriss: I had read that in your 20s, you were concerned at points about being highly unspecialized. And you can’t believe everything you read on the internet, so feel free to correct me. But it reads, and I think it’s a transcript, actually.

“But I actually spent an inordinate amount of my time in my 20s thinking that I was too unspecialized.” Could you comment on that and how you got to a point where you got to a point where you didn’t feel like you were too unspecialized or that that was a liability.

Adam Savage: Yeah. So I lived in Manhattan from age 18 to 23, from 1985 to 1990. And then I moved to San Francisco, and the move is really the turning point for me and that understanding of specialization. The fact is my closest friend who is still in New York, was telling me in 1986.

“Your problem,” he said, “is you have talent, but no ambition.” I go, “Really?” And he goes, “Yeah. If you had ambition, you wouldn’t be talking to me. You’d be saying, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. George Lucas, I can’t make that by Tuesday.'”

And he really was totally correct. This was a guy who had been born and raised in Manhattan, and the thing that I now understand is that Manhattan is an amazing city if you know what you want out of Manhattan. It is a place built on and for ambition, and the people who get their work out and get seen in Manhattan have busted their ass to do it because it’s the singular focus in their life.

And it means, culturally, it’s a really important city because only the stuff that has been fought for gets to your attention. And I think that many great cities are like that. Los Angeles is totally like that. Chicago, London, et cetera. The world’s great cities are worlds where the culture is something, the culture of those cities is a competitive one.

But if you don’t know what you want to do, a place like Manhattan is a very cold and weird place. It’s not going to open its doors to you and you’re not going to be able to stumble into your ambition. And so after five years there of kind of trying several different careers and several different job paths and still not having a singular focus, I moved to San Francisco, which is I think one of the great cities in the world for finding your ambition.

It means that some of the culture here is not as good. It means that everyone, if you want to have your artwork in a gallery, San Francisco, you could do it within a few months. It’s not as hard to do it here as it is in a place like Los Angeles or New York. And I think that has its good points and its bad points.

Again, like I said, I think some of the culture here, some of the stuff you go out to see at night isn’t necessarily as rigorous as it might be in a city like L.A. or New York. But at the same time, it saved me because I was able to call myself a sculptor and have my work in like 40 group shows in the first two years I was in San Francisco. I got huge amounts of feedback from people about what that work meant to them and it gave me perspective in what it meant to me.

And it slowly allowed me to sort of build an ethos of what I wanted to do with my hands and my life. And when I ended up stumbling from the theater industry into the film industry, film and commercial television special effects was where I all of a sudden saw that everything I’d been doing was leading towards this.

Like this was an industry in which all of my excitement and creativity and passion and drive could be pointed in a singular direction. And so I was like, “Oh, I’m going to give everything over to this.”

Tim Ferriss: Did you notice that in a moment, in a flash? Or did it take a while to see sort of like the end of The Usual Suspects, or the red doorknob at the end of Sixth Sense or whatever? Did it take a while to realize that it was that, or did you recognize it immediately?

Adam Savage: No. So it happened like this. So I was working in theater for several years. Eureka Theater, Berkeley, REV, Beach Blanket Babylon. And I started getting a reputation for solving weird problems, and that got the attention of Jamie Hyneman, who was running a shop at Colossal Pictures. And he brought me in. We had a great interview and I ended up working for Jamie on and off full time for about four or five years.

Just before I was working for Jamie, I was working at Berkeley Repertory Theater and I was working at Beach Blanket Babylon. And so I was basically putting in an eight-hour day during the day. I was then doing three hours of a show every night, and I was still staying all night long making sculpture in my studio at Hunters Point. So I was like never sleeping. I was just a one-man building machine.

And when I started working for Jamie full time, I noticed after about a year that I was no longer staying up all night building stuff, and I thought, “Huh?” And then I thought, “I think this is specifically because this work is satisfying all of that creative problem solving that I get in my studio.” And then I went further and thought, “This is why so many people in film and special effects say things like, ‘I used to be an artist.’”

And I resolved at that moment, “I get this. I get that this work for commerce is satisfying the emotional and aesthetic need I have to explore this type of problem solving I was exploring in my art, and now I can point all of that towards this career, and I am steadfastly never going to say ‘I used to be an artist.’ Because it is the same mechanism.” I recognized it. And I still do stuff for myself that’s weird and sculptural and different.

I still apply that aesthetic, and I didn’t think, I think most importantly I didn’t consider it a loss of a purity. To take that energy and point it towards something that had to do with commerce, because I also saw that the commerce was feeding me. That this was a thing I could call a career, and hells bells, if it gave me the same kind of output thrill as making art, screw it. Let’s totally go towards this. Let’s see where it leads.

Tim Ferriss: Are there skills in this? I have one answer for myself in mind. I’m not asking you to parrot it. But are there skills that you developed along the way that have ended up being very important to the success of Adam now? And the background in theater for instance, seems like it might be one of those force multipliers for a lot of what you’ve been able to do.

Are there any other kind of overlaid skills? Kind of like Warren Buffett and public speaking, right? He feels like public speaking just makes you in many cases unique or better at everything else. And so you don’t have to necessarily be like Michael Jordan, top one percent of one percent of one percent. You could be top 10 percent in three things that are very rarely combined. And I’m just curious if any other skills or attributes come to mind.

Adam Savage: Yeah. There’s a family story in my family, that in the mid ’60s, my dad partnered up with a producer in New York and they formed a consortium. And my dad’s partner would be the business side and my dad would be the creative side.

And at the time, his partner had more experience in the advertising industry and he said, “We’re going to make a big splash about forming this consortium. We’re going to put ads out, we’re going to get articles in Millimeter and all these other trade magazines, and I got to tell you, if you start to believe in your own bullshit, I’m going to cut you loose.”

So there was always a family ethos about not believing your own bullshit. It’s a necessary family ethos because my family, because the men in my family, can tend to be very full of shit. Myself included. So watching the watcher and watching out for that drinking your own Kool-Aid is definitely an ethos I was raised with.

You’re right. Theater is a force multiplier for its camaraderie — its low threshold to entry. In fact, I think theater as an art has the lowest threshold to entry because if there is an apocalypse and there are 14 people left in San Francisco and they find each other and make a campfire, theater is the first art form that they will explore together. They will start telling stories and then they will start performing those stories. Because we, as humans, we need narratives to help us make sense of the world.

So I love theater. I have an abiding passion for it, and it was where, when I was working in theater and I saw something I didn’t know about, I could go, “Hey what about that?” And someone would make the opportunity for me. “Oh, I’ll show you how I do that.” So for me, as soon as I got into film, it doubled my income because unfortunately the pay in theater is still really crappy. So I didn’t look back from film.

But the experiences that I had in theater, of the camaraderie, of the learning everything that I could get my hands on, and of that low threshold to entry really have informed most of the rest of what I’ve done.

But all that being said, there’s a quote in Steve Martin’s book Born Standing Up. When someone says to him, “You will eventually use everything you’ve ever learned.” And it’s so true. Because that early acting training I had made me way more fearless about being in front of people and being myself and being out there than I would have otherwise been. And I think, you know, like we were saying about Warren Buffett and public speaking, that ability to perform is one of the biggest As in steam.

If you want someone to understand your scientific proof, you have to explain it, and explaining it is an art form. It is the art of getting your argument across, and nobody can do that in a vacuum. So one of the things I thought was most amazing when MythBusters showed up is I was like, “Oh, look at that. The performer sat dormant for 15 years and while the maker was ascending, and then all of a sudden, this opportunity showed up and the performer and the maker get to meet on the same plane.”

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. It’s really, it’s been a lot of fun to watch your career. I want a second Born Standing Up. That is an incredible memoir. I listened to it actually while I lived in San Francisco. I walked the streets of San Francisco listening to the audio book. Just a fantastic story.

Adam Savage: The thing about the audio book that I was sad about, because I read it, and then on a big road trip, I read it out loud to my wife, she read it out loud to me. Then we got the audio book and we listened to Steve Martin read it. And the only problem I had with the audio book was that Steve Martin didn’t fully commit to his recapitulation of his own comedy bits.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, that’s true. That would have been the icing on the cake.

Adam Savage: Which I totally get and I don’t begrudge him. He must have had a very real and reasonable reason. I’m just, I grew up on his standup comedy and I wanted to hear it again.

Tim Ferriss: So I want to revisit 2008.

Adam Savage: Okay.

Tim Ferriss: And I mention 2008 because I think it might have been the first time we ever bumped into each other, very briefly, in person. I want to say it could have been. And this was at the Entertainment Gathering, the EG. And it was, certainly for me up to that point, my highest pressure if you want to call it that, public speaking engagement. I was very, very nervous. And for those who don’t know, the EG, I think an easy way to describe it would be a smaller TED created by the same person who created TED, Richard Saul Wurman.

Adam Savage: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: Who is a very funny guy. And it was, I want to say at the time, what would you say? 500 to 10 days. Something like that.

Adam Savage: Not even.

Tim Ferriss: Not even.

Adam Savage: Maybe three, it was very intimate.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah, it was very small. I remember, please correct me if I’m wrong, but I want to say that you gave a presentation that involved The Maltese Falcon.

Adam Savage: That was that year. Yes, it was.

Tim Ferriss: And what struck me, aside from the fact that it was a fantastic presentation, what struck me was that you, I don’t know if you remember this. You started. You went for about 30 seconds, and then kind of like Adele when she did this tribute song for George Michael not too long ago, you stopped and said, “Nope. I want to start that over.” And then you started over. And you just nailed it. I mean the word per minute rate was so outrageous. It was clear that you really had planned and rehearsed and prepped for this.

But I had never seen someone call an audible like that and start over. And I was so impressed because I remember thinking, “If I fuck up my talk, I will not have the confidence to do that.” Was that the first time that you’d done that? And how do you think about, or how do you prepare for public speaking like that?

Adam Savage: That’s a great question because there’s many, many layers to this. First of all, that talk started its life as a 10-minute throwaway talk I did at Ideal at one of their evenings they called quickies. They paraded a bunch of people and each one does a quick rapid fire talk, and I thought, “Oh, let me talk about something that’s weird and personal. I’ll talk about how much time I spent on The Maltese Falcon.” I was followed by the World Yo-Yo Champion, who just blew the whole house away. It was a lovely, fun evening.

And coming off the stage, I ran into Kevin Kelly, who said, “That’s a really good talk.” Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired, Cool Tools. Kevin is one of the Forrest Gumps of the internet, along with Stewart Brand and a few others.

Tim Ferriss: Totally. Yeah, totally.

Adam Savage: Kevin said, “That was a lovely talk.” And I said, “Thank you, Kevin.” And he said, “I think you should workshop that.” And I said, “I have no idea what that means.” And he said, “I think you should continue to give that talk and keep refining it, because I think there’s a really great talk inside of it.”

And about a month later, my wife and my kids and I were in Nashville Airport waiting to change planes and we ran into this other nuclear family, Jon Ennis and Arline Klatte and their kids. And Arline and Beth Lisick run Porchlight, as they have for the past 20 years in San Francisco.

And we started conversing. And we’ve since become friends. We’ve been friends forever with them now. But she said, “I’m about to do a Porchlight on obsession. Are you interested in giving a talk?” And I was like, “Fascinatingly, I have a talk that I’ve been working on about obsession.”

So I went to Café Du Nord and I gave a version of The Maltese Falcon talk at the old Café Du Nord, where the audience is sitting all at your knees and you’re right in front of them and among them. It was one of those electric nights where it was, everything fired on all cylinders, and I thought, “I have got a really extra special talk here. I can’t wait to give it again.”

And that was the second year I had been to EG, I think. Or maybe even the third year. At any rate, in going to EG and having workshopped this talk, I decided that I wanted to rehearse it really, really precisely. Part of that meant that I wanted to tell the story with a lot of imagery. I wanted it to feel cacophonous because that’s the way my obsessions feel in my brain. I wanted the talk to feel kind of like a river moving past you.

So I think I have something like 120 slides in 13 minutes. And the rhythm is really important. I think in the very beginning of that talk, I gave this, I say, “A cache of dodo bones was found.” And that naturally happened the first time I was rehearsing the talk, and then I thought, “I’m building that in because I think I can make it sound honest and true. I think I can act that moment.”

And so this was the first time I had taken a talk and turned it into a bit of theater. And so when I was up there and I was rolling through the slides, because if you remember, the first one was taking a bunch of shots on Google Earth and zooming in on the island of Mauritius off the east coast of Madagascar. That rhythm between the words and the imagery, it was music. And I could tell in that first pass that I was out of step, and because I was trying little things to get back in step and they weren’t working and I thought, “You know what?” In my head.

“I’m doing this for two audiences. I’m doing this for the audience here, but I know they’re recording this. And I want the recording to be good. So screw it. I know I’m not going to get in trouble for asking to start again, and in fact I may even bring the crowd more with me. This is a net plus.”

And that comes from the more you do public speaking, the more you encounter the fact that each audience has a kind of character to it, and some are difficult, some are easy. Some of the difficult ones can be your best audiences when you find that rhythm.

And the EG audience, like the TED audience, is a heady and intense crowd of people to perform for. I mean years later, about four years ago I did a juggling talk for the EG, and Michael Hawley, who runs it, neglected to tell me that all of the Flying Karamazov Brothers would be in the audience when I was doing my juggling. And I got heckled by the Karamazov Brothers.

But all this is my way of saying, I give talks in many different ways. When I talk every year at the San Mateo Maker Faire, and when I do that talk, I do very little rehearsal for it. I want it to feel and be raw and off the cuff because I feel that I owe that to my fellow makers. I want them to see that it’s not all polish and perfection. And I want to be a little vulnerable with them. But when I spoke at TED in Vancouver four years ago, I rehearsed that talk so many times I forgot it.

And then it came to me as if a fresh thing, but a funny thing happened on the TED stage when I was doing the talk about cosplay, which was about a minute in, I thought to myself, “Look. I’m ahead of myself. I’m thinking a little too far ahead and consequently, I’m not taking the spaces with the words and the concepts in this moment, because I’m running the fore re-track a little too far the forward.”

And then I thought, “You’re always this far ahead in the first minute. Relax. It’ll be fine.”

Tim Ferriss: So you have the watcher. You have the speaker, you have the watcher watching the watcher, and then you have the watcher watching the watcher. That’s really remarkable.

Adam Savage: I love the exercise. I love the exercise of interacting with a crowd. I love the laughs that come with when you don’t expect. I love — Well, I particularly love the gasp.

When you can create a piece where the audience goes, “Ahh!” I’ve only done it a few times. As David Mamet points out, you can easily blackmail an audience into a standing ovation. It is impossible to blackmail them into a gasp.

Adam Savage: And thus ‘gasp’ as far as I’m concerned, the highest possible achievement you can attain on stage.

Tim Ferriss: So let’s talk about workshopping. Well, actually this goes far beyond workshopping. Could you talk to the origin of the phrase, “Failure is always an option,” please?

Adam Savage: So that grew out of a joke on set. It was the first season of MythBusters. I think we were trying to make biscuit dough explode inside a hot car. And this was the first season. We had no infrastructure. We didn’t know what we were doing. Jamie were still brand new to building scientific methods and thinking through worst-case scenarios.

It didn’t occur to us that even with 10 space heaters, it would be really hard to get the temperature inside a car above 100 degrees. And it took hours and hours and hours, and we’re sitting there and it is so boring. And we also realizing that like, “Are we getting enough on camera?” And I turn to the camera and I just said, “Remember kids, failure is always an option.”

‘Cause I was thinking, my sense of humor runs, “What is the opposite of the right thing to say?” Like, to me, the worst possible thing you could say is sort of like a stress reliever just to imagine in my head. I don’t then say it, but sometimes when I find a joke where you say the opposite of what you should say, it pleases me, and “failure is always an option” was — that’s a wrong thing to say in that moment.

And they cut in the show, and it became a kind of a catch phrase. And then I realized once people started saying it back to me, that there’s a deep scientific truth about it. That the idea of success or failure, to a certain extent, is anathema to scientific exploration.

And when I say scientific explanation, the qualifier is exploration, but any kind. And when you want to explore anything in a rigorous way, you’re doing it using the scientific method. Just by default, you’re comparing your results to previous things, from building the future experiments based on the things you’ve learned in the past.

And, you know, in film, we have the mad scientist go, “Damn it! My experiment was a failure!” And a scientist doesn’t say that. A scientist said, “I screwed up my methodology. I don’t have enough results,” or, “Wow! The outcome was totally not what I expected,” and to be honest, that’s usually why the fictional villain is upset, because the results are the opposite of what they wanted.

But a real scientist who comes up with the results that are the opposite of what they thought, is the most thrilled human being you’ve ever met. They are ecstatic that their expectations and their biases have been turned on their heads, and they have now this brand new, much wider understanding of what’s going on.

And that might be called failure by a neophyte who doesn’t understand the scientific method, but to a scientist, that’s opening up the whole world.

Tim Ferriss: Do you have any favorite failures that come to mind? And that could be a failure that set you up for something you later considered a success. It does not have to be MythBusters specific, it could be from any point, but any failures that in retrospect ended up being very, very helpful.

Adam Savage: Well so, in fact I had forgotten until you reminded me just now that at that EG talk, I stopped and restarted it. And that is a huge example. That was the first time I’d ever done something like that on stage and I realize now that it was inspired by a singer who I love named Jane Siberry.

And Jane Siberry famously did a beautiful duet with K.D. Lang called Calling All Angels, that was part of the Until The End Of The World soundtrack way back when. And she’s an incredible singer. She’s written many of my favorite songs.

And back in the ’90s, I used to see her perform whenever she came through San Francisco, and I saw her with a jazz ensemble at one point, and she started a song, and 10 bars in was like, “Stop! Everyone stop. We didn’t get that one right. Let’s go back to the top.”

And I thought, “What?” Glorious balls to do that on stage. Like, and again, it brought the audience closer to her to do that. And I loved that and I’m sure that I was thinking of that at that moment. I was like, “I’m going to do what I saw that I thought was courageous. I’m going to do that thing.”

But that’s not necessarily a failure in the traditional sense. And I think the distinction is important, because we talk a lot. I’m sure I know that in the lingua franca of self-improvement and making your output as impactful as you can, we talk a lot about helping kids to fail, helping them learn to fail.

In Silicon Valley: Build fast and break things. But we don’t mean failure. We actually are lying. It’s a great word. It catches your attention, which is important, but it’s not what we really mean, and I’d like to point out that real failure is getting drunk and missing your kid’s birthday party. That — that’s failing at what you should be doing.

What we really mean when we say failure is we mean iteration. We mean the creative process is messy and it’s iterative and you have to chase up a lot of wrong branches in order to get to the right one. And you’re never going to end up where you think you’re going to end up. And while some people may think that that’s failure, a true creator knows that you follow the thing to where it’s going, not to where you think it ought to go.

So, you know, I have a couple of jobs I did where I took them on without the correct amount of experience or foresight and I screwed them up. I’ve done jobs so poorly I lost friends. I’ve done jobs so badly I didn’t sleep for 60 hours, and you know, delivered something that was way not what the client wanted. And I still feel shame and sadness over those moments.

But the fact that I got through those, and the fact that I was able to see past them and learn from them, I remember at one point, the job that I did that I lost a friend on, when she told me, “You couldn’t have done anything more to make it clear that I should not be friends with you.” That’s how she put it. And I like called my dad. I was 19. I was like weeping into the phone and he said, “Look. You can’t change what happened. You can’t fix that. The only thing you can do, and you can’t even tell her about this, is you can take in what you did, you can absorb it, realize what mechanism in you led to that screw-up, and resolve not do that again. And that’s what’s being a human is about. It’s about noticing those things and trying not to do them again.”

Tim Ferriss: You think about — it strikes me that you think about your own thinking a fair amount, which I think is worth digging into a little bit. By way of looking at influences. And I’d read that you were, I think in your own words, radicalized by Noam Chomsky —

Adam Savage: Oh, yes.

Tim Ferriss: — in your late teens. Could you speak to that and then also, any other authors or thinkers, philosophers, anyone who has helped shape your thinking or impacted you?

Adam Savage: Oh, my God. There’s so many. I mean, you know. Starting off by reading all of Harlan Ellison’s weird and complicated semi-misogynous canon back in my late teens, to Kurt Vonnegut, who showed me that you could have rigor and deep affection and love all at the same time, to Richard Feynman who showed that there are — it is genuinely possible for there to be brilliant polymaths in the world who can explore many disciplines and be at the top of their field at any of them.

You know, all of that comes into play. Chomsky is amazing for — it’s funny, ’cause I’m thinking a lot about Chomsky now. There are two current schools of political thought about our current situation. And especially as somebody who vehemently disagrees with everything the GOP is currently doing.

These two schools of thought are important distinctions. One is that Trump is an aberration, and all we need to do is win in 2020, and we can erase that aberration and get back to the status quo. The other is, that Trump is a symbol or a measure of just how screwed up our culture really, really is and that we’re going to need to open up and take a look at those parts of our culture that we might not want to notice and understand how each of us is complicit in that, and really work towards building a society that we all want to live in.

Those two distinctions are really important and understanding — my clarity for me is that I think that Trump is a symbol of what’s wrong — of a significant amount of what’s wrong — with America. And Chomsky is coming back into this. You know, as I’ve been very upset about Trump, I get very upset about how The New York Times covers him, because I feel so much both sides-ism in The New York Times, and I read The New York Times, and I feel like it’s the pot of boiling water and I’m the frog.

And then I think back to Noam Chomsky, and I’m like, “He’s been telling me The New York Times supports the status quo and the power structure since 1984.” Like that’s when I read my first Noam Chomsky pamphlet.

And it is about that when they are asking these questions culturally. And you may just, you know, whoever’s listening to this may disagree with me politically and that’s totally fine. I’m assuming that if we’re all good actors acting in good faith, we’re simply trying to make the world a better place for our kids and our friends and our family.

As long as you’re with me on that, I’m happy to disagree with you about the methods we use. But asking those cultural questions, it is about being part of a culture and trying to help define it so you can be a better part of it all at the same time.

And it goes back to what you were saying, that watching the watcher, which is a very Buddhist, Dharma is full of exhortations to be able to meta-shift yourself so you see above the plane of what’s going on.

I remember at one point, speaking of watching the watcher, I remember at one point having an argument with a partner of mine at the time, and we were — it was one of those arguments where you both feel super vulnerable, but no one wants to give, and you attack, you both attack. And I thought to myself, “Ugh! I have no idea what to do with this situation. Neither of us wants to budge. How do we get out of this?” And I thought, “Okay. Let’s say I was writing this scene as a screenplay.”

This is again, it’s a shift. Right? I’m watching the watcher and I thought, “If I’m writing a screenplay, and I’m writing my character, how does the audience feel about my character? Oh. They don’t like him. I lost the audience. The last thing I said was shitty. And because I was looking to attack, the audience can see that, they can see my vulnerability and my venality, and they no longer are with me.”

And then I thought, “If I was rewriting this scene, how would I bring the audience back to my character’s side?” And I realized, “Oh, like being vulnerable and telling the truth.” And so I kind of wrote the scene in my head as I said it, which was, “I am really sorry for the thing that I just said. I am not upset with you. I am angry and vulnerable to XY and Z and it’s coming out as this, and I am really sorry.”

I said all of that also without expecting a specific response. I said it cleanly and for the reasons it should be said, but I didn’t get to it without making that meta-shift.

Tim Ferriss: Did you develop this watching the watcher habit organically? Did that come from parents? Did it come from books? That meta-level of self-awareness —

Adam Savage: That’s a good question.

Tim Ferriss: — yeah. Where would you say that’s come from, if anywhere, comes to mind?

Adam Savage: I’m really not sure. I know that I was reading a lot of — In my late teens I was also reading a lot of Carlos Castaneda —

Tim Ferriss: Oh, yeah.

Adam Savage: — and a lot of Ram Dass.

Tim Ferriss: Yep.

Adam Savage: Ram Dass talks about that a lot. And I do remember being with a girlfriend in 1985 or ’86, and she was upset, and I couldn’t figure out why. Like I — yeah. And so I thought to myself, I remember distinctly trying this thought experiment once. “Oh, what is the world bubble? What if I could see this scene through her eyes?”

And so I literally thought of her head as a machine that I could climb in and look out through the eyes, and when I did, I saw a color, like — I saw a color, and the color helped inform me where she was mentally.

Now, you ask me what I think that — what was going on there? I think I was using the analogy of color to help tap into my own intuition that my emotion wasn’t letting me tap into. I think that I built a framework with, I think that’s frankly, what, if you know, if you’re someone listening to this, and you go to see a psychic, and they help you, I’m quite sure that what that psychic is doing is using the cards that are in front of them, but mostly you being in front of them to kind of tap past an emotional response to an intuition about what’s going on.

We do that to our partners and our friends all the time, in terms of giving them perspective. And that exercise, really early on in my romantic life, gave me a sense that there were other vantage points from which to view something rather than through your own angry eyes in the middle of the melee.

Tim Ferriss: You’re a very well-spoken guy. I think that your abilities and the breadth and depth of your abilities can be intimidating to a lot of people, and I’m sort of speaking in the royal way here, because I find it a little intimidating. So I want to ask — no, no. So I want to dig into it, because you, I would have already mentioned this in the intro, we’re going to talk more about it, but you have a book, Every Tool’s A Hammer, and I’m super excited about it, in part, because I have this closet dream of being a maker.

Now, specifically, a maker with my hands. Right? So, not necessarily a keyboard, but really making things. And I have had this fantasy and this dream for a very long time. I’ve been to Maker Faires in the Bay Area and kind of wandered around sheepishly looking sideways at various things, but not engaging too closely. I even long ago, went through the — I get a number of areas in the MythBusters workshops with Jamie and — this has been with me a long time.

But at my current state, I would consider myself a manual illiterate. I’ve never really built anything, and so I’d be really curious to know if there are any particular projects you would suggest for kind of remedial maker 101? Or for people like me who know there’s something there —

Adam Savage: Yup.

Tim Ferriss: — who really desperately believe that using the hands kind of unlocks a certain humanness —

Adam Savage: Yeah.

Tim Ferriss: — that they don’t have access to. Where might you suggest that they start?

Adam Savage: So, number one. I don’t necessarily think that the secret is always in using your hands.

Tim Ferriss: Yup.

Adam Savage: I’m really careful that I define making as any time you are creating something from nothing, even if it’s a poem in your head.

Every time we reach out mentally, physically, to create something that is generated from us, we are participating in our culture and we’re adding to it. And I want everyone to have that experience.

But you ask specifically about the physical making of stuff. I do. I do have a project I think is a great gateway project to making and it is to build an architectural model of the living space you have. Your house or your apartment using cardboard and hot glue.

This is something that is not difficult to understand and to parse, and it’s not difficult to do a really good job at it. You can look at your room that you’re in. It’s got four walls at least. And this wall, let’s say, has a window in it, the wall behind you has a door in it. Those measurements are knowable measurements. You can build a 1/12th scale model of that room simply by taking the inch number and making it — taking the foot number and making it an inch. There you’ve done scaling, you’ve cut a piece of cardboard out where the door is the right distance in inches as it is in feet from the wall, and then you assemble these four things together, and holy hell, now you’re looking at an architectural model of your room. And it’s five pieces of cardboard.

Adam Savage: And you should go out from there. I have built architectural models of all of my living spaces, because it helps me put them into my head and thus it helps me put them into my body. I love understanding things from those different vantage points.

Tim Ferriss: What do you get out of putting it into your body? Can you explain that for a second?

Adam Savage: Well —

Tim Ferriss: Or what does that mean?

Adam Savage: So at the beginning, let’s say after our podcast, you start making an architectural model of the house. The mental process you’re going to go through is going to be one of a constant gear switching, from the macro to the micro. You’ll be, “Okay, uh, that wall is going to come to this, and that measurement comes to this,” and it’ll be this kind of constant back and forth.

For me, after all the years of experience that I have, it’s a very different mental process. I look around and I see the wall as a set of like — I’m instantly translating it as a set of actions from the real thing to the smaller thing.

And so there comes a point in the making of things, in which the discipline you’ve chosen gets past that gear-switching mode and goes towards an almost entirely mental mode, where, I build something in my head first, and then what I do with my hands is just cutting the chunks I see in here.

And it takes practice, that you know, most of — so like most of what happens when I’m collaborating with another builder, is I’m taking my next picture and attempting to grid it onto the one that they have. And it’s best if we’re doing that with pen and paper or with models in front of us. But frankly, you know, much of my building, like I said, happens in my head.

The other thing that I would say, so, I love the idea of building an architectural model as an exercise. Actually when I did my first Maker Box, that was the first project. I gave people a blueprint of my shop, and had thousands of people build architectural models in corrugated cardboard of my shop. And I loved that. And many of them went on to build models of their house. That’s a great exercise for sort of the gateway drug to getting you with a low threshold of materials, low threshold of cost, low threshold of skill, high probability of quality output, ’cause you’re just cutting squares. And there’s nothing complicated about it.

The other intersection that I suggest is to find something that you have to have. Now I am sure that in the explorations you do around the world, that you go to someone’s house and they show you the Japanese sword they have, or you go somewhere and you sit in a chair, and you’re like, “Holy hell. This is the greatest chair I’ve ever sat in.” Or you see a cup that is like, “Oh! I love this cup!” And you want one.

When you find something like that, that you can’t not think about, that’s the thing to maybe try and make, because you want something out of the process. I’ve never learned any of the skills I had — the skills that I have are myriad, but I’ve never learned any of them in a vacuum just because I wanted to learn a skill. I learned them in service of achieving something that I desired, whether it’s a ZF-1 from The Fifth Element or a No Face costume.

Tim Ferriss: Amazing. What is the last object or a notable object that you had to make yourself? Is there anything that jumps to mind?

Adam Savage: [crosstalk] Yup.

Tim Ferriss: Adam has run off camera to grab an item.

Adam Savage: So, so last year for my — I’m friends with the guys at the Weta Workshop. Peter Jackson and Richard Taylor, many of the amazing craftspeople at Weta have become really close friends of mine and I love what they do, and I love Lord Of The Rings, I love all the output that those guys do.

And last year for my 50th birthday, Richard Taylor gave me Boromir’s sword from Lord Of The Rings.

Tim Ferriss: Amazing.

Adam Savage: This is one of the most beautiful objects I’ve ever seen. This is hand built by Weta’s sword master Peter Lyon, who built all the swords for Lord Of The Rings. It’s an incredible blade and this is a full tang, battle-ready piece of spring steel that is razor sharp. It’s a masterpiece. And as soon as I had it, I knew I’ve got to build a scabbard for this.

And then I built four or five scabbards for other swords of mine in preparation for this scabbard. I’ve wanted this one to be beautiful and this is the scabbard I made for Boromir’s sword. It is leather and it’s steel, and I used techniques I had never tried before, and it is a suitable house for one of my favorite objects.

Tim Ferriss: Amazing.

Adam Savage: Yeah. And I absolutely, like not only did I have to do this, but for the first time, I did a lot of practicing before I built the Hero one that I want to do. And by the way, this is simply version 1.0. This is close by in my workshop, because I’m just about to strip it all down and make it even more correct.

Tim Ferriss: For the building of a scale home with cardboard and so on, what are the materials necessary and if this can easily be found somewhere, you can tell us where to find it, but what tools does one need?

Adam Savage: Well, so let me explain the process first of all, as I do it, which is, in general, most of us live in houses of a consistent ceiling height. The ceilings in your house look like they’re maybe nine feet. So if you were building a 1/12th scale model, that would be nine inches. If 24th scale, it would be four-and-a-half inches. Right? Half of that.

So the way I start any architectural model is I figure out my ceiling height, and then I cut out a bunch of strips of corrugated cardboard at that exact height. Now I’ve got my walls. They’re all overly long. So I take a piece of cardboard that will be the base and I draw out the floor plan in scale.

That only takes a right-angled ruler and a pencil. Once I have that, now I have a measuring device for these long strips of cardboard that are the correct height. So, I measure all four walls. Now I have four walls, that they’re correct height and correct width. Now I start to just measure where the windows and the details go.

All of this takes a ruler with an edge you can cut against, an X-Acto blade, a hot glue gun, and a few Amazon boxes, and that’s it. Oh, and a pencil.

Tim Ferriss: You know, this makes me think of a documentary. I’m going to butcher the title. If you haven’t seen it, I think you would love it. It’s called, I want to say, The Art Of Seeing, and it’s a BBC documentary. You can find it for the time being on YouTube, and it is about and features the artist David Hockney.

Adam Savage: Oh, yes. I have not seen this, but he’s a good influence on me.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, he’s amazing. And hilarious and brilliant and very good at explaining his own thought processes, which I admire. The reason he pops to mind is that at one point I want to say, and I’m going to butcher this as a yank, but the Royal Academy something, something, such, it’s a very famous gallery, offered him the entire space for not a retrospective, but his new work, which happened at the time to be landscape art.

And he created an entire scale model of this multi-room gallery so that he could tilt it and look through different doorways to see how his various pieces of artwork, which he had also replicated to scale, would appear through different walkways and entrances. And it was — When I first glanced at it, because I didn’t have any of the explanation, it seemed like potentially a huge waste of time, but as soon as he started demonstrating the utility, it was so genius.

And also, the miniature artwork seemed actually quite difficult to pull off, but aside from that, reasonably straightforward exercise that later in at full scale in the facility made such a huge difference to the experience of everyone who walked through. It’s — that is all to say, I’m excited about trying out this project.

Adam Savage: I’ll do another example. I was just in L.A. for the upfronts, and I stopped by a friend’s production office, ’cause a friend of mine is filming a big feature film right now, and they have this gigantic set they’re going to build for the finale of this film. It’s huge. It has all these different parts and it’s not just a set where the final action of the film happens, it’s also a set that has to fit with what the script is saying.

So there’s a part where one of the characters comes into the set and hides somewhere. So what they did was they built a scale model of the exact extent of the sound stage they’ll be building the set on. Then they have these things like rocks and stairs and architectural details and they’re placing them within that set but also asking, “Okay in this scene, if they’re hiding behind here, can we get over here so we can see that they don’t have the eye line? Then we’ll build the set with this part that moves and that part that doesn’t.”

It becomes a critical problem-solving tool in bridging, and this is bridging between the art department, the construction department, and also how the narrative actually pieces together, and what the audience will see, and how the whole last part of the film plays out. Huge chunks of this have to be in the right place, otherwise the story won’t get told correctly.

Tim Ferriss: So in the spirit of maybe low tech or at least low barrier to entry maker projects, I have read again in my internet research that you are good at making eggs. I don’t know if this is true.

Yeah no, eggs are my —

That you’ve thought a lot about making eggs. So this is a maker project in a sense, right? In a lot of respects I learn to cook by testing all sorts of things on eggs. So I would love to hear how you think about making eggs or really any aspect of eggs that you find interesting. Why eggs?

Adam Savage: Well, eggs are tough. Eggs are unforgiving. Eggs, like chicken, have a wide range of being edible, but a short range of being delicious.

Tim Ferriss: That’s very true.

Adam Savage: A lot of cooks and chefs that I know say that eggs are one of the hardest things to get right. I have always loved eggs. I’ve always loved scrambled eggs. I tend to not like omelets ’cause I think in the US omelets are too full of shit, literally. Then I guess about 15 years ago I came across this Gordon Ramsay video on YouTube where he talked about doing a slow cooked scramble. He literally, it’s a very weird scramble. You crack the eggs in whole. You’re stirring them constantly over a medium heat with a bunch of butter. As soon as they start to congeal you put them off the heat. You’ve stirred them like a risotto. You never stop stirring.

But the temperature control and attunement is all about not letting them ever congeal too much. I was like, “Oh, I’ve got to try this!” and I tried it. It kind of worked the first time and I’ve been doing it ever since. There’s this amazing moment I found — so first of all when you talk to cooks, they’ll say, “Oh, yeah, the slow cook temperature adjusted scramble is just objectively the best way to make eggs.” It’s literally they come out this sweet custard and there’s nothing else quite like it. It’s really hard to do right in a restaurant where you don’t have 15 minutes of concentrated time for everyone’s entrée.

So restaurants have all these really wonderful techniques for doing that and Ramsay was saying he makes new chefs cook him eggs in order to guess their chops. I have discovered so much about myself and about the process of what makes food textural and what I want out of them by adjusting that recipe over the years. So now I make my eggs the same way. I tend to let them get a little bit more congealed at the very end so I have some tooth to some of the eggs, ’cause I’ve found over the years that I don’t love it when they’re all custardy and soft.

But there’s this great moment that happens when you’re doing the stirring. When the heat helps the whites and the yolks fully emulsify, and this is before you’ve added salt or anything else, you just have butter in there. So you have some residual salt, but where the emulsification happens I feel like it’s because of the heat. When all of a sudden this sweet smell rises out of the pan and it’s the moment I know like, “Oh, cool I’m on the home stretch. Now I got it.”

Gordon didn’t talk about that. That was like my own exploration. But every time it happens. Because it happened to me spontaneously, it’s part of my love affair with eggs, is getting that “Ah!” moment out of that. In 2016 after the most recent president was elected into office, we started just having brunches every Sunday and having friends come over ’cause we just needed to be around a lot of people we loved on a very regular basis. I made those scrambled eggs for everywhere from five to 25 people every Sunday. I would make big batches, small batches, and sometimes I’d add in scallions or cheese or a little pepper or something like that.

But I have now cooked that dish thousands and thousands of times.

Tim Ferriss: I love it. Scallions are very underrated. Texturally, so I love eggs, and you can also learn so many fantastic principles and techniques related to cooking from eggs as a somewhat neutral palette if that makes any sense at all. Highly recommend people play with slivered almonds right at the end just when you’re getting ready to eat the eggs. Fantastic. You don’t want to put them in too early or they’ll get soggy and brittle. But if they have that crispness, remember a French chef told me at one point, and I don’t know if this is in French, but he said you want to take the eggs off the heat while they’re still a little snotty.

And that stuck with me and it’s like, “Yeah, you want a mild snot consistency when you take it off because you’ll have the carry over cooking,” and so on. But huge fan of eggs.

Adam Savage: On the flip side of that, there’s a great cookbook, you probably have it in your collection, Jacques and Julia. Jacques Pepin and Julia Child.

Tim Ferriss: Oh Jacques Pepin is like the Jedi master of …

Adam Savage: Dude, watching him debone a chicken in two minutes and telling you afterwards that he went slowly because they were filming it.

Tim Ferriss: Oh yeah. His manual skill, I mean when I was writing my third book, which involved a lot of cooking, I was prepared to dislike him for a few reasons. Number one, he had a fancy, to me, sounding French name. Number two, he was extremely well known, so I was like, “How good could he really be if he’s sort of French food for export? How technical could he really be?”

And his videos are just incredible. You watch him make a French omelet on high eat or any of these things, his knife skills alone.

Adam Savage: I did a pan flip once. I am not willing to try it again. Actually, when I do flip my omelets, my friends point out that actually as I’m doing the flip I’m using the spatula and the pan and my friends point out my whole body goes up when I do it. I try to get the whole, everything weightless like I’m [inaudible 01:05:29]. But Jacques Pepin and Julia Child both have the same way of finishing scrambled eggs. He does them fast over high heat, she does them slow over a medium heat, but they both take half of a beaten egg and pour it over the scrambled eggs just as they’re pulling it off the heat.

Then they stir it up and you end up getting this lovely sort of a little bit of extra wet on top of the scrambled eggs.

Tim Ferriss: Yeah. You could also use I think McEvoy is the name of the olive oil that’s in your neck of the woods, in northern California. You can use a finishing olive oil too, right in the last 60 seconds, and stir that in and you get a nice texture to it as well. I love eggs, so I appreciate you indulging the egg question.

You know what I’d love to ask if you’re open to it, because one of the risks in doing this podcast and speaking with people who are well known for being very good at what they do is that people who may be struggling or who have struggled in different ways may feel like everyone else is stepping up to bat and hitting home runs every time. Would you be willing to talk about, and certainly I’ve experienced some difficult times and talked about them publicly, do any particularly difficult periods in your life come to mind? Difficult stretches of time. If so, would you be willing to talk about one or two and how you found your way out so to speak?

Adam Savage: I mean, I think it’s the universal thing is that nobody escapes. Nobody gets out scot-free. Nobody suffers like the poor, as Charles Bukowski pointed out. But nobody escapes from suffering. It is the universal condition and it’s the reason it’s the first of Buddhist truths.

I love the output that we do on my website, on, because I realized we don’t make — so I do builds in my shop on, and I do them here in my cave. I realized at a certain point that they’re not how-to videos because I’m often discovering the process that I’m exploring on camera. They’re more like what happened videos. A couple years ago I was making some space suit parts. Actually if I tilt the camera, you can see that I’ve got a murderer’s row of-

Tim Ferriss: Wow.

Adam Savage: — [crosstalk] and fictional space suits over here ’cause I’m so obsessed with them. My friend Ryan Nagata in L.A. is an amazing space suit maker and I was making some parts for him. I’m intimidated by the quality of Ryan’s work and I wanted my pieces to be as good as the output I see comes from his shop. I was doing this build and I kept screwing it up. I spent this entire day with my camera team here just consistently getting these things further and further along the line and then boning them with a bad choice about the tool usage or what I was doing.

I was getting my order of operations all screwed up and I ended up finishing the day feeling super, super shitty. Like depressed about how crappy the day went. I went home and in this blue funk I literally had this thought, “You have no business making stuff.” The fact is, I feel that judge in me comes up on almost every build. He shows up on almost every build. When I finally got to Industrial Light & Magic in 1998, into their model shop on episodes one and two and Space Cowboys, I found an incredible group of peers and teachers and friends and there still was not a single build in the five years I spent in that model shop where I didn’t feel at some point someone was going to come up, tap me on the shoulder and tell me the relief pitcher’s coming out because I clearly have no idea what I’m doing and it’s time to go home.

And at a certain point at ILM I was like, “Man, I’m in Valhalla. I’m in the place where every model maker in the world wants to end up here and I am good enough to get here. Why do I still have so much judgment every time I screw something up?” Then I realize, “Well, that’s part of my process. It’s part of the process. Clearly it’s going to happen no matter how technically competent I get. So I’m just going to push past it.” And on Tested, that day that I finished feeling so crappy, I came in the next day. We filmed again for a day and I got the part right. Then I turned to the camera and I explained all of that because look, I really appreciate the way in which you were last year openly talking about your anxieties and about the things that inhibit you from fulfilling the things that you want to do.

I love the way Wil Wheaton is so forthright and honest about his difficulties and about depression. I view it as incumbent on those of us who are able to find the luck and circumstance to achieve some success to explain that it is not linear. It’s rarely on purpose. There’s so much luck and privilege and love involved in the process and we all feel uncertain all the time. Because, yeah, it really is easy to walk in here and go, “Oh, my God, you’re so productive!” I was tweeting last night about Laura Kampf and Simone Giertz, two of my collaborators on one of the episodes of my new show, and I described them as annoyingly productive.

The fact is, I am sometimes annoyed by how productive they are and I know that I have a fairly high degree of output. Yet I can get jealous about someone else doing something that I’d like to try. I can get venal. We’re all flawed. To be honest, confronting that, confronting the limits of one’s ability to be perfect, that is tough. So I will actually — you’ve asked me to talk to this, and I think one of the most instructive things I can mention is I’m a pleaser. I’m a mender. I’m a caretaker.

I want people to like me. So I am very, very attuned to the moods and the attitudes in a room when I’m in it. And in my place in my family, I was good at doing that mending and it’s a terrible thing to be good at doing that because it means you’re taking on a responsibility that isn’t necessarily yours. You can suffer trying to be the place where those difficulties end, like being the locus that doesn’t allow them to get past you.

It’s still very difficult for me to confront the fact that I’m a flawed human being. There’s still some part of me that thinks, “Oh, as long as I perform all these things correctly, everything will go smoothly.” The answer is, no. That’s fiction. Nothing will ever go smoothly. No plan ever survives first contact with implementation and we’re all going to screw up and feel unworthy at a very constant pace in our lives. That’s being a person. The trick is to be honest about that.

Tim Ferriss: I really appreciate you being willing to share. I think as you do that it’s really important because it’s easy, particularly in or I should say immersed in an online world where very often what you see is the highlight reel, it’s easy to feel uniquely flawed or alone. I grew up seeing, not just bipolar disorder but schizophrenia in my family. I know you’ve certainly witnessed a fair amount of bipolar disorder.

If anyone listening is going through a tough patch realizing that you are not alone and you’re not uniquely flawed and that it is part of the ride on this journey that we call human life. So thank you for being willing to speak to it because I think it is very important. It will become increasingly important I think for people like yourself to speak to it when you have a chance because I think increasingly what we see online will be, aside from the what bleeds leads headlines, very often self-selected highlight reels of sorts, which can make people feel very isolated. So thank you for that.

I’ve just a few more questions, but let’s start with, and I don’t say this lightly, I am so excited to get your book. It’s already ordered and it is your first book, which a lot like first funds for investing, I’m very bullish on first books. Particularly after a career like yours and having practiced explaining and having workshopped so many things that no doubt made it into the book in some form or another. So I have it here described as a love letter to creativity, secret thrills, exploring, making, and productive obsession. Could you tell us a little bit more about the book please?

Adam Savage: Okay. So when I sold this book to the publisher, to Atria at Simon and Schuster, the chapter in the book that I used as my north star is a chapter called Use More Cooling Fluid, which is a joke that I’ve told for years. Which is if I could go back and tell my young self one thing, this is an interviewer’s favorite question. If I could go back in time and tell my young self one thing it would be, “Use more cooling fluid.”

I’m being facetious to a certain extent, but actually there are some interesting keys to the castle in that phrase. Because on one hand, and I cover this in the chapter, I talk about why cooling fluid is important. How when you’re cutting metal with metal, keeping your cutting blade cool is really vital. I explain deeply the physics of what happens to metal when you let it get hot, how you cut metal with metal, the differentials between the hardnesses of the materials that you’re using, and where it can go south.

Then from there, I go on to talk about how using more cooling fluid is about taking extra time in order to do something right. And that actually is about a wider philosophy of addressing your work. By addressing, I mean putting the things that you’re working on in front of you at a comfortable position so your hands can actually operate them. Even that is a philosophical choice that we make when we make things ’cause sometimes I’m like, “Oh, I can do this without removing those three bolts.” And then, bang, something breaks and I’m boned.

Taking the time where it’s necessary at the same time as trying to go as fast as you can to be able to have a reasonable return on the investment of time you have on this project, especially if you’re working for hire. Taking the time to do it right saves a lot of time on the backend. It is an ongoing conversation in my head between future me and past me. So that was the chapter. So we thought that all the chapters would end up being like I describe one specific maker skill and talk about the physics of it and then talk about the philosophy and open that up to wider and wider onion skins of philosophy. Except that when I started to look at other things that I know, I definitely deeply understand the physics of cooling fluid and I understand the physics of the glues that I use.

So the glue chapter is also very much in that vein. But as far as a lot of other skills, I’m such a generalist that I am mediocre at all the other things that I know and thus I felt really strongly I shouldn’t present myself as any kind of authority on these things if it didn’t come naturally. That if I researched heavily the physics of something that I didn’t quite understand, well then I’m kind of being dishonest in this book.

So as I started to flesh out the other chapters with the things that I wanted to talk about, I realized that there was more to talk about from my autobiographical details that led me to the conclusions I came to about how I run my shop space, about how I deal with collaborations and partnerships. About how I’m a husband and a friend and a father. So whereas originally I thought it would be 50% instructional and 50% philosophical with some autobiographical stuff peppered in, it ends up being about one third each. Both my editor and I were surprised by the book that came out. When I gave him the final manuscript in December he was like, “Wow, this is totally different than I thought, but it’s great. It works. It’s its own thing.”

There’s a quote in the book from Andrew Stanton, Pixar director, directed John Carter. He directed the Finding Dory film and many other things. He’s an amazing. Andy is like the story guy and he loves unpacking story. He was telling me things like, Pixar has institutionalized the late understanding of what a story is about. So he’s like, “You go to the client and you say, “We’re going to dig up a tyrannosaurus rex. We’re going to spend millions of dollars digging up a tyrannosaurus rex.’” He’s like, “And there comes a point when you’re digging you realize, ‘Oh crap, we’ve got a stegosaurus.’ Are you going to have the guts to go to the funders and tell them, ‘You know, it turns out we have a stegosaurus?’”

Andy said that the central theme of Monsters, Inc., which is that the scream is the currency of the world, he said that didn’t come to them until like a year before they were finished. But once they understood it, it so framed the world that they invested in all of the changes they had to make to weave that into the plot and make it central because they discovered they had a stegosaurus and they had to service that.

Tim Ferriss: Amazing. Amazing. Thinking also of Spirited Away, where we started this conversation, if you ever have the chance and maybe you’ve already been, but if you go to Tokyo and have a chance to go to the Studio Ghibli Museum —

Adam Savage: I’m going. I’m going. My wife and I are planning a trip right now to go to Kyoto and Tokyo.

Tim Ferriss: Oh, you’re going to have the best time, particularly with the trained eye that you can use for the details. Look for the marbles that are within the metalwork on the spiral staircase. It’s really just incredible. I mean they have the full scale Cat Bus and everything you can imagine from the canon of his work, including some of his working desks.

It really digs into the process in a way that I think you will find enchanting. Well, I —

Adam Savage: There’s one other thing I wanted to say about the book, which is that as we were talking about sharing our personal experiences in the hopes that they resonate with people who might feel that their own experience is unique and keeps them from exploring what they want to explore, I also took as axiomatic this wonderful phrase I heard from Mary Karr in an interview. When she was writing Liar’s Club, her first memoir, she was talking to Tobias Wolff about it and he said, “You’re going to write about yourself as a young pre- and mid-pubescent girl, you need to write about yourself as you were.” He said, “Don’t sugarcoat it.” And the phrase he used was, “Take no cure for your dignity.”

And I loved that phrase so much because when we really do share those parts of ourselves where we are venal and jealous and weird and sad and uncertain and vulnerable, that’s when we get to connect with other people. So in the very beginning of this book, I say that I like to think of this book as a permission slip for me to you, if you need to be told, to fly your freak flag and try the thing that you can’t stop thinking about even though it’s weird. And I admit that this whole shop is filled with my weird hobbies of early computer history and costuming and space suits and I’m not necessarily solving the world’s problems in this space. But I am feeding myself and I am using this as a springboard about my experience to help others follow their weird passions. And that’s my goal.

Tim Ferriss: I think that’s an admirable goal. People can say hello on Twitter. Donttrythis is your handle. @donttrythis on Instagram and Facebook, the Real Adam Savage. They can certainly find the book anywhere books are sold, also at Are there any other places or any other places online, any other projects that you would suggest people check out?

Adam Savage: Well, so I just wrapped and announced a brand new show I’m making for the Science Channel called Savage Builds. That starts airing on June 12th. Among the things we did on that show, absurd engineering. I work with different collaborators in every episode. In one episode I worked with a master blacksmith to make a sword out of a meteorite. In another I worked with the Colorado School of Mines, with an N, not mimes, to make a 3D printed suit of Iron Man armor out of 3D printed titanium.

Tim Ferriss: Wow.

Adam Savage: And it is mind-blowing. I also have a bag and a parent company called Savage Industries. At I make bags out of used and recycled sail cloth. We have a number of other small projects there. I also sell plans and kits for making your own bag if you want to go that route and I think that is all of the things going on right now.

Tim Ferriss: Amazing. Well, never any shortage of projects. I will link to all of those in the show notes as well so for folks listening if you are commuting or juggling or doing something that doesn’t allow you to take notes at the moment, you can find certainly links to everything we’ve discussed at as well.

Adam, this has been such a pleasure. It’s always fun to see you and I hope we get to share scrambled eggs sometime soon.

Adam Savage: Like I said, I’m coming to Austin on the book tour. I’ll ping you and give you plenty of notice so that hopefully we can go out and have a beer and then maybe some scrambled eggs.

Tim Ferriss: That sounds fantastic. Is there anything else that you would like to say, any closing comments, suggestions? Anything at all that you’d like to add before we close up?

Adam Savage: No I think we’ve covered a lovely, wide range of stuff today. It’s been really fun.

Tim Ferriss: All right, well, thank you so much, Adam. I wish you all the best on the book tour. I’m really excited to dig into this and go get a glue gun and start my own cardboard project. So thank you for what —

Adam Savage: Take pictures man.

Tim Ferriss: I will take pictures and I’ll make sure I get the process so it’s not just this pretty final shot, or not-so-pretty final shot. I’ll get some of the ugly in betweens and really, really lovely to see you again. Until next time, thank you so much for sharing your stories and to be continued, I hope.

Adam Savage: Of course. Thanks, Tim.

Tim Ferriss: All right. Bye bye.

Adam Savage: Bye.

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