A Conversation With Derek Sivers

derek sivers drawing
58 min read

I’ve been following Derek Sivers since 2014. He’s a writer, speaker, programmer, musician, blogger, and more. He’s also the founder of CD Baby, a platform for independent musicians. 

On this episode, Derek and I talk about being meta-considerate, speaking your mind, being alone, knowing when to move on, focusing on one thing, saying no to everything else, playing to win, avoiding burn-out, and why changing your mind is Derek’s favorite thing in the world.

Listen to this episode on:

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Full Transcript:

Darius Foroux:
So I was reading your “now” page. You said, “I checked in on my email list and over 6,000 people replied. So I just finished replying to all 6,000 emails.” And what comes after that was very interesting to me because we’re now in the middle of the coronavirus crisis. And you said, “Many have already had the virus sickness and come out on the other side. Many are devastated and can’t pay next month’s rent. I’m immersed in their stories and almost devastated from the stress, but also thankful for the connection.” So I’ve been following your work for about five years now and my impression is always that you are someone who truly cares and this email just shows this as well to me. So I was really wondering, have you always been this way?

Derek Sivers:
I think I feel very, very thankful for the people that I know through my mailing list. It’s not just the usual blast. It’s not just the usual one-sided like, “Hey, put your email address here and then I’ll blast my junk to you.” It’s a two way conversation. Everybody who signs up to my email list, I send them a little question a week later. I just kind of look through it and I see if any names look familiar. And if I don’t know who it is, I send out a little email saying, “Who are you? Tell me something about yourself. Where are you?” And I keep track of this stuff and people tell me what they do and where they are. And I think, okay, cool. Now I know a photographer in Berlin. That’s pretty cool. And this guy is making guitar pedals in Slovenia. That’s pretty cool. And I keep track of this stuff so I know where people are.

Derek Sivers:
And then when I’m traveling, I often look up people on my mailing list that I know in that area. So a few months ago I just went to Helsinki out of the blue on an impulse. There was a cheap flight leaving that day. So I said yeah, hopped on a flight that day to Helsinki on a whim and got in at midnight and sent some emails to people on my mailing list that were in Helsinki saying, “Hey, I’m here. You want to meet up?” And the next day I was sitting half-naked in a spa with some dude from my mailing list. Yeah, they’re not just names on a list to me. They’re real people that I hope to meet someday. And I don’t know most of them, but I know a lot of them. I mean, I’ve hundreds and hundreds of them. I’ve met in person, not just in saunas, but just at conferences or events or whatever.

Derek Sivers:
So, yeah, I care about the people on my list, but I would not describe myself as a caring person in general. I usually kind of feel bad about this. I don’t care about most things. I don’t care about politics. I don’t care about anything that’s in the news. If I look at a newspaper, I can look at all of it and I’m like, “I don’t care. I don’t care about any of this.” I don’t care about anything that’s on social media. It’s all just lost on me. It’s why I don’t have any social media apps on my phone. I basically never look at Twitter. I’ve never ever looked at Instagram. I don’t even have a Facebook account. I just don’t care. But I do care about the people that I know and I care about the people on my list and yeah.

Darius Foroux:
Yeah, the funny thing to me is that the things that you mentioned, social media and the news and all the other stuff is very like a superficial way to care. I’ve been reading a lot of things. Kindness is like many topics that are popular at times. I’ve been seeing a lot of articles about kindness recently. I don’t know if you notice this as well. But when I look at it, it just seems that people just say it because it’s cool.

Derek Sivers:
Right, right.

Darius Foroux:
And that type of superficial caring is not very useful to me as well. But I find it quite difficult just to keep tabs and all these things. Did you learn this along the way or was this… Have you…

Derek Sivers:
No. Okay. So thinking more about your question, I think I have a strong sense of the overserved and the underserved. So maybe that’s part of why things in the news and social media don’t interest me at all. And current events don’t interest me because I feel like everybody’s focused on that, right? Millions and millions and millions or probably billions of people are focused on what’s going on in the news today, what some stupid politicians said today, what silly celebrity outrages going on today. I feel like billions of people are watching that.

Derek Sivers:
But then there’s other stuff that I feel is being underserved. So I see myself as having a role in the world and I think of myself in relation to others. So all this stuff that everybody else is paying attention to, I think, okay, I don’t need to worry about that. Greater minds are already paying attention to that. I’m going to pay attention to these little things over here that I feel like nobody else is worried about or taking care of or paying attention to, and that just feels like it balances out my world. Do you know what I mean?

Darius Foroux:
There are a lot of things that you don’t care about?

Derek Sivers:
Almost everything I don’t care about. I get the feeling like you’re asking why.

Darius Foroux:
Yeah, exactly.

Derek Sivers:
You say, “Have always been this way?”

Darius Foroux:
Is this your DNA you think? Or this is something that you learned?

Derek Sivers:
I think that’s what I’m trying to answer. I don’t know what’s in my DNA. I don’t know if this is something I learned or if this is nature versus nurture, but I do suspect that it comes from this thing I’m trying to describe where I actively don’t care about things that I feel like plenty of other people do care about. That’s already taken care of. I don’t need to care about that. Lots of people care about that.

Darius Foroux:
Okay, so you take your energy or you spend it this way.

Derek Sivers:
Right, yeah. The things I do care about are the things that feel to me like they don’t have enough people that care about these things.

Darius Foroux:
That’s one of the reasons I think a lot of people are also attracted to your work is because you just do it because you want and you don’t need the attention or you don’t need anything. You don’t need to sell anything. And that’s what I really love about this whole message. I read your article about being meta-considerate and just basically, and this is something that I’ve learned in recent years, is that just by taking care of yourself and making sure that you are emotionally stable and got your shit together, right, you’re not being a burden to the people around you. And from that point of view, you’re actually taking care of the people who are your life, right?

Derek Sivers:
Right. Yeah, exactly. And we all have different things that we care about and nobody can make you care about something you don’t care about. Every now and then, I mean, of course, lots of times people come to us usually digitally and try to make us care about their issue. They say, “We’re trying to save the…” I remember years ago there was this club, a music venue in New York City called CBGBs and I never liked CBGBs. I think I felt personally slighted by them because back when I was a full time musician in New York City, I kept trying to play CBGBs and I’d often contact the booking guy and they would never book my band at CBGBs. And then years later CBGBs was going out of business and people were like, “No, we must save CBGBs. Derek, you have to help support our cause to save CBGBs.” I was like, “Sorry. Nope.”

Darius Foroux:
Nope.

Derek Sivers:
“I’m happy you care about that. But I cannot. I do not care about that. I’m very sorry.” Yeah.

Darius Foroux:
Yeah. That’s also a stoic way to look at it, right?

Derek Sivers:
Is it?

Darius Foroux:
Yeah. It’s like you just focus on what’s inside your control and use like at this point, there’s not much you can do, right?

Derek Sivers:
Well, there’s that too. You have to feel that caring will actually make a difference. Something like that where it’s like, okay, there’s this nightclub that’s been around for a few decades and I get the feeling it’s going out of business. And no matter what we do to kick and scream, I think it’s going to go out of business anyway. Whereas on the other hand, what am I going to do? Contribute $1,000 to saving CBGBs? It’s like, well man, there are a lot of people in the world that like $1,000 could save their life. That matters a lot more to me than saving CBGBs.

Darius Foroux:
And what you said just earlier about that your help should make a contribution or that it’s actually useful. I definitely can relate to that is that if I see an opportunity to provide help or make a contribution, I always think about, is this actually making an impact? For example, last year I started making some YouTube videos because people ask me, “Oh do you make videos?” And I was like, “Well, that’s maybe a good idea. Let’s try that.” I started doing that but I noticed that compared to my blog and podcast I was reaching a lot more people and helping a lot more people compared to the videos. So at some point, I was like, the videos are not that helpful to people. So I stopped just based from that point of view.

Derek Sivers:
Yeah. Yeah. You have to feel that it’s worth your time, that it’s having an impact. Yeah. That’s a great point too. 

Derek Sivers:
It’s funny you talk about the underserved. I remember years ago in the first the 2008 financial collapse that I decided to donate money to a nature preservation thing because I figured that nature preservation is something people only donate to when they really feel like they’ve got plenty of money. All their basic needs are met. So suddenly in the midst of a financial collapse I thought, I’ll bet these organizations that are really doing good work to preserve nature are probably not getting any donations right now. So I think now it’s up to me to donate to the nature conservation society. And I did and that felt better because I felt like I’m helping where it needs help.

Derek Sivers:
But I really liked those… What is it? I’m forgetting the name. There’s an organization out there that does some kind of metrics to show you what is the most efficient use of your charity money. If you feel like you can afford to donate money to charity, then they’ve analyzed the internal workings of a bunch of organizations and they can say pretty objectively this organization is saving the most lives per dollar.

Darius Foroux:
Wow.

Derek Sivers:
And so therefore the most efficient use of your money or the best bang for buck is to contribute to this organization. And I like that idea where you can feel good, but for most of us in our life, we have to pick our own things that we feel are worth turning our attention to. Like you just said about your videos, if you feel like they’re not getting enough of an audience and it’s taking a lot of work, well then yeah, it’s probably not the best use for your time unless you have some inherent love of doing it. And that comes back to the art versus commerce thing. Are you doing it for your own need versus for the market place?

Darius Foroux:
That is also one of the things that people often ask me about is, why do you just keep on publishing free articles or whatever? And it’s just for me, the writing stuff is a way to basically learn for me. As I’m writing, I’m learning. Like you said, art versus commerce. At some point you don’t look at the commerce anymore and you just look at what you get out of it. And also not only, I don’t know how about you, but with writing I finally found something that is both satisfying to me but also to other people and I found that combination is very satisfying. There’s a lot of energy.

Derek Sivers:
Yeah, I agree.

Darius Foroux:
One thing that I just noticed as well was that you’re quite contrarian, right? When people go left, you go right like with the example. Maybe not always, but the few examples that we talked about, right?

Derek Sivers:
Yeah.

Darius Foroux:
Giving money to charities, caring. Other people are focused on the superficial stuff. Is being contrarian a strategy for you? Or again, is there something just like we talked about earlier with the caring?

Derek Sivers:
I think that one is nature. That one I feel like I’ve always been that way. I remember even as a kid, if I’m surrounded by a bunch of people that are being silly and goofy, then it makes me feel being very serious. And if I’m around a bunch of people that are being much too serious, then it makes me feel being silly. I’ve actually talked with friends about this since high school, and I think we’ve described it as balancing out the energy of the room.

Derek Sivers:
I don’t know where it started. I don’t know if it’s purely nature. This is just something that’s in our DNA. And it’s interesting because I’ve got an eight-year-old kid now. And so I’ve noticed that there are definitely some things that have been a part of his personality since he was born. And there are things that I thought would just be like nurture learned things. No, he is always been that way. So maybe I’ve always been this way.

Derek Sivers:
Maybe it was partially shaped by the fact that, I don’t know if you felt this way, like moving to Netherlands after you were born, but when I was five years old, I started moving around the world a lot. My dad just had the kind of job that when I was five we moved to England and I was… Everywhere I went, I was not from here. So that just became part of my identity. I’m not one of you people. I’m not from here. Your rules don’t apply to me. So maybe that shaped my definition, but now I get the feeling like it’s some kind of a nature thing, kind of like introvert extrovert.

Derek Sivers:
Are you the kind of person that wants to join in the energy of the people around you or the kind of person that wants to react against the energy or the vibe of the people around you? So yeah, definitely. It’s not a deliberate strategy unless… Sorry, let me take this back. When it comes to my writing, then I feel like, well of course, why would I put something out into the world that’s already been said? I’m not just here making noise for noise’s sake. I only put out something into the public if I feel like this is something nobody else is saying, this is a point of view nobody’s talking about or here’s a different way of looking at something that I’ve never heard before. Well now that’s worth putting out into the world.

Derek Sivers:
Whereas if I had an opinion that aligns with a lot of other people’s opinions and I just wouldn’t write about. Lots of people like this music. I also like that music. I’m not going to write about it. But if here’s the kind of music that I’ve never heard anybody like it before or most people don’t like it, we’ll now this is worth writing about. Yeah. So that’s a strategy.

Darius Foroux:
There’s a lot of stuff there. What you said about not feeling that you are from someplace, I can definitely relate to that. As being immigrants growing up in the Netherlands, everybody doesn’t look like you. But I had the same ideas as the culture here in the Netherlands because it’s very… Yeah, I find it difficult to describe the culture here in the Netherlands, but if I would pick one word, I would pick skepticism. People are very skeptical about almost everything and a little bit pessimistic as well. But I think it’s been a very good strategy for me because I just never related to any type of group or anything. And I always saw myself as being independent and that really shaped my vision or basically just the things that I’m writing about and the way that I look at things, and that gave me the courage to speak my mind.

Darius Foroux:
And I’ve read some of your articles about this topic as well, just saying what you think and making specific topics make it yours. And just like what you talked about just earlier, you don’t want to, for example, start a blog writing about music just like the thousands of other people. And one thing that, a question that I often get from readers is that, “Well, there are already a million blogs. Why would I start my blog?” And I’m always like, “Well, when I started there were also a million blogs, but no one has the same perspective as you, right?”

Derek Sivers:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Darius Foroux:
How did you come to the conclusion in years when you were… The most interesting things that I read from you is, “Don’t quote.”

Derek Sivers:
Right. Okay, so the “Don’t quote” thing. Well first, let me tell the audience what we’re talking about. The article is at sivers.org/DQ as in don’t quote. But the point is that I think too many of us quote somebody else like, here’s what somebody else said on this subject. And we give the reference like it came from this book or from this famous philosopher or this famous entrepreneur. This rich person said that and that therefore you should listen. But I feel that instead, we should not quote that person, but just if this is something you believe, then internalize it. Put it in your own words and state it yourself. You own this now. Ideas are not money that you steal from somebody else. You’re not taking anything away from Mark Twain if you take one of his ideas and make it your own and say it yourself and give no credit to Mark Twain. You’re actually probably doing the world a favor instead of just continuing to echo, echo, echo, echo, echo what Mark Twain has said.

Derek Sivers:
So I think that we should stay very aware of noise and waste, and we should ask what’s necessary and what’s not. So for example, it used to be that when I would read books and tell friends about them, then I’d spend most of the time. There would be an idea from a book that I’d wanted to share with a friend. But then I’d spend two minutes telling the friend about the book. It’s this book called Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely and he’s a behavioral psychologist and this and that. And he wrote this brilliant book and in the book, Predictably Irrational, he has this idea that he said what happened at a school in Israel and dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. And then after two minutes of explaining my source, then I’d finally say the actual point. But after hearing myself do that a few times and always being aware of noise and waste and what’s necessary and what’s not, I had to ask like, “Why am I doing that? Does my friend really need to know the bibliography, the source of every thought?” No, just say the damn thought.

Derek Sivers:
It feels weird at first to share a thought when you know where it came from, but you’re making a decision that’s not important where it came from. And if somebody were to actually say, “Oh wow, that’s a brilliant idea. Where did you come up with that?” Well then, of course, you can say, “It comes from this book Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational. That’s where I got the idea from.” You’re not trying to claim the credit. You’re just not cluttering the conversation with unnecessary info.

Derek Sivers:
So for years, I’d noticed that conversationally, but then just recently I’ve noticed that a lot of current nonfiction books I was reading are so filled with he said this and she said this and this source and that source that I started looking at important names. But a recent book that I generally liked the book, but I looked at the page, and on one single page of the book were four different names of four different philosophers, each one with the name of the philosopher, what era they were from, the Greek philosopher, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah from 680 said this. Whereas on the other hand, Marcus Aurelius, the emperor dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, said that. And I just think, man. I looked at the page. I was like, that’s a lot of noise. You just gave me… You pushed four names into my head for no other reason than you felt you should. But I didn’t care about any of that. I just care about the point. So…

Derek Sivers:
I didn’t care about any of that. I just care about the point. So, after those two things combined, I decided I’m making a new rule for myself. Don’t quote, just adopt it as your own, like adopting a pet or a child. I have now adopted this idea and it is mine. I am going to share it directly without needing to quote, and if somebody wants to know the source, well, in my head I know where it came from and I’m happy to tell you if you care, but I’m assuming most people don’t.

Darius Foroux:
Yeah. I really love this for my last book, or not the last one, but the one that I wrote last year, what it takes to be free. I really was tired of myself, because in the past I was that guy. You know? I probably didn’t do it four times on one page, but I know exactly what you’re talking about. And if I look at myself, especially when I was beginning as a writer, I was hiding behind other people’s names. As you’re talking about this, you’re saying noise and waste, and I agree. But what I also hear is basically we’re just hiding, right?

Derek Sivers:
Yeah.

Darius Foroux:
We don’t have the courage to say, “Hey, this is what I think.” Right? “This is how I feel about certain topics.” And last year I was like, “I’m really done with this. What I’m going to do is I just want to quote or I want to give credit to the person that gave me the inspiration.” So, what I did was I had the chapter and I basically wrote the whole chapter from my own perspective. I didn’t quote anyone. At the end of the chapter, I simply just pasted a quote from one person that gave me inspiration, and that was it. I just didn’t say anything about the quote. I just put it there just as some kind of reference, almost, but just moving forward, I probably don’t even have to do that. Right? It’s just this is my perspective and I’m just saying what I think.

Derek Sivers:
Yeah. It depends. I mean, Ryan Holiday, for example, is writing the kind of books where he’s trying to introduce a modern audience to the ancient thinkers. So, in his case, it’s like this is why he’s writing the book is to share the thoughts of the great philosophers.

Darius Foroux:
Yeah.

Derek Sivers:
But yeah, for most of us, I imagine we’re just trying to communicate a point and it would be more powerful if we adopted the ideas ourselves and presented it in our own words.

Darius Foroux:
The question that I get from people often is should I start a blog or not? The whole story or the thing that we talked about now is the actual reason, right? That, sure. Why not? Why not start a blog? Right? That’s the thing that I often ask is why not? Right? Instead of why should I? Why would I start a blog or whatever, I’m just picking a blog in this case, but you could apply that to anything, but I would turn it around and say, “Why not start a blog? Just share what you think.” Do you have any tips or anything that you maybe learned along the way of speaking your mind? Was it gradual or was it just like a sudden realization that you had when we were talking about this?

Derek Sivers:
Oh, mine was sudden. It was a very deliberate plan. After I sold CD Baby, my company, in 2008, I was feeling a little lost and maybe depressed, but not sad, just lost. I didn’t know what to do. I felt like, “Okay, well, I’ve peaked. My best is behind me.”

Darius Foroux:
My life is over now.

Derek Sivers:
Yeah. It’s just going to slowly descend, you know? And then instantly all at once, on a plane while reading a book, I had this just flash of inspiration of like, “Oh my God, I want to be a writer, speaker, thinker kind of guy. I want the Ted conference to invite me to speak. I want people to know me for my thoughts and my writing,” and this was new to me. At the time I was really just known as that musician that started a music store, and this was super exciting to me. It was like the first inspiring idea I’d had in over a year. Before that I thought I was just going to change my name and disappear and be an open source programmer somewhere. So, yeah.

Derek Sivers:
By the time the plane landed, I had this three pages of a deliberate plan on how I was going to do this, and it started with every day I’m going to wake up and spend the first four hours of everyday writing the best article I can with a unique point of view, something that nobody else has said, looking at conventional things in an unconventional way. Whatever it takes, I’m going to find a way to be an interesting voice in the crowd. So, yeah, that was very worth it for me, for what I’m doing. I really enjoyed it.

Darius Foroux:
Yeah.

Derek Sivers:
I mean, it didn’t earn me any money and I didn’t try to make it earn me any money. I was actually shocked when I… you know, I’m friends with Tim Ferriss, and I asked him about his podcast one time. I was like, “Dude, you have like six minutes of ads at the start of every podcast. What the hell?”

Darius Foroux:
Yeah.

Derek Sivers:
And he said, “Yeah, I know. But the thing is, those ads make my podcast earn over a million dollars a year, and a lot of that I send to a schools in Cambodia for charity. And so, yeah, I could eliminate the ads so as not to annoy people, but then schools in Cambodia would be getting $1 million less each.” And I was like, “Dammit, that’s a good reason.”

Darius Foroux:
That’s a damn good reason, yeah.

Derek Sivers:
And maybe I should try earning some money. But, no, I haven’t. I’ve just done all of this just for my own intrinsic reasons because I feel like it.

Darius Foroux:
Yeah, well, it’s doing good in a different way. The way that you check in on people I think is also worth so much for a lot of us that you can’t have if, let’s say you turned this into a massive business. You would spend your days probably running the business and less time on answering emails and just being there for people.

Derek Sivers:
Yeah.

Darius Foroux:
It’s all about just the strategy you take. Ultimately I think it all leads to the same place as in just making a contribution. But one thing, as you were sharing a story, I was thinking to myself, “What book were you reading on that plane where you had this idea?”

Derek Sivers:
Might’ve been The 48 Laws of Power. It kind of had nothing else to do with the book.

Darius Foroux:
Okay.

Derek Sivers:
It was just like there was literally like a one-sentence somewhere in the book that just kind of made me stare out the window and think for a minute. I was like, “Yes.” You know what? It was. Okay. Actually, I do remember what it was. It was about attention. It was about being in the spotlight. See, the deal was when I quit CD Baby, I had 85 employees, and it was not much of a hierarchy. A lot of those 85 people would complain directly to me about their life if they’re not happy, and I didn’t like that. I didn’t like having all that responsibility. I didn’t like being even a little famous. That’s why I said five minutes ago, I said I was considering just changing my name and disappearing and being an open-source programmer. I seriously looked into-

Darius Foroux:
That was not a joke.

Derek Sivers:
No, I was seriously looking into legally changing my name.

Darius Foroux:
Wow.

Derek Sivers:
Moving somewhere where nobody knows me and just living off my savings, living a cheap life, finding a little apartment for $400 a month and just being an open source programmer, just losing myself in the intellectual fun of programming and just having no responsibilities, just disappearing. People would say, “Oh, I wonder what ever happened to Derek Sivers?” You know? Maybe once a year somebody would wonder and I would just be gone. I would just change my name and I would retire there.

Darius Foroux:
40 years you will pop up somewhere and people would say, “Hey, that’s Derek Sivers.”

Derek Sivers:
Or hopefully not. Hopefully nobody would recognize you. So, that’s what I was planning on doing for real. Then this sentence or the idea that changed my mind was talking about the taking on the responsibility of being in the spotlight. It wasn’t a brilliant idea, but it was a tiny idea that hit me at the right time that I thought, “You know, yes, I could run away from the spotlight and all responsibility, or I could do the opposite and step into it and just deal with the downsides.” You know? There are some downsides to being a little bit famous. Not many. It’s mostly pretty awesome.

Darius Foroux:
Yeah.

Derek Sivers:
And as long as you can kind of mitigate the downsides and deal with the people that might pour too many expectations or projections onto you, then it’s actually pretty awesome. So, that was the actual thought in that moment. It was like, “No, I’m going to step more into the spotlight, and that’s why I’m going to start writing and speaking and being a public speaker and doing the Ted conference and all that kind of stuff,” was that decision in that little moment.

Darius Foroux:
That’s a pretty big shift, right? Basically the opposite. Yeah. You basically chose the opposite of your first thought.

Derek Sivers:
Oh, I do that almost every day. This is my favorite thing. I should probably change on sivers.org when it says at the top, “This is what I am, this is what I do,” my single favorite thing to do in the whole world, like better than sex, is changing my mind. That is my favorite activity of all. I love it when I think the opposite today of what I thought when I woke up this morning. To me, there’s no feeling better than that, is when I actually changed my mind or have my mind changed on a subject. That is amazing. That’s my favorite thing in life. And so if you look at everything I do, that’s the common thread, right? I’m not trying to convince anybody to think like me.

Darius Foroux:
Yeah.

Derek Sivers:
I’m often just taking some usual way that we look at things and seeing if I can see the opposite.

Darius Foroux:
But there must be some kind of combination of if you, for example, change your mind all the time and you look at it as being something negative, which is I think what most of us do, because I was recently talking to a friend, and she was like, “I just can’t make up my mind. I’m just changing everything, basically,” like you said. Right? But she basically said the same thing, but she had a negative association for this whole concept. That is really fascinating to me.

Derek Sivers:
Well, if she’s a good friend of yours, you should ask her to reconsider that, because I think that… but, yeah, it does get a bad reputation because it can be annoying to other people. Back when I was running CD Baby and I had 85 employees, yeah, sometimes, or quite often they would get upset at me when I would change my mind on something and say, “you’re always changing your mind.” I’d say, “Well, yeah, that’s how getting smarter works. Every day I’m learning more, every day I’m analyzing my thoughts and the plan better, and so, yeah, ideally I changed my mind on something every day. That’s how you get smarter.” I’m not going to just stick with something I said long ago despite realizing now that it was wrong. Yeah. Consistency is very low on my value chart.

Darius Foroux:
Ah, I have a realization now. I finally understand why people perceive this or changing your mind as a bad thing. I think it has a lot to do with what other people think. 

Darius Foroux:
Yeah. I hadn’t thought about that, actually, because, yeah, people can get disappointed or this is like, “Well, you said this yesterday, why are you changing?” I can’t remember which book it was I was reading. Oh, no, I remember. It was Chris Voss, the negotiation book (Never Split The Difference). Have you read that book?

Derek Sivers:
Nope.

Darius Foroux:
It is about negotiation, but it’s more about philosophy, I think. But in the book he says, “Avoid asking people why, because why is defensive, and you basically make people want to defend themselves, and often you don’t get an honest response because they are just trying to defend themselves.”

Derek Sivers:
So, Darius, you know what would be really fun right now? You should ask me some kind of why question. So, let’s get onto my next question. Why are you into weightlifting?

Darius Foroux:
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. So, if you ask it in that type of way, liken why are you saying this? Why did you change your mind? That’s very… and I agree with those types of why questions, because you make people have to defend themselves. It’s not coming out of curiosity, so instead of saying, “Oh, wow, that’s interesting. Yesterday you were thinking X and today you’re thinking Y. I’m curious, how did you come to this conclusion? Right?” That’s more out of curiosity.

Derek Sivers:
Right. Yeah.

Darius Foroux:
So, yeah, that’s pretty fascinating.

Derek Sivers:
You know, any of these things that people think of as negative, you can take it and rock it and be proud of it. You know? I used to feel like it was a bad thing that I’m a slow thinker. I would be a terrible debater. I would be a terrible live TV guest. I’m just not super quick like that. If you ask me a question, my usual response is, “Huh, I don’t know,” and then the next day I have an answer. So, I used to feel bad about this. Like, “Oh, I should really get faster.” But instead, I thought, “You know what? I like the fact that I think slowly. I like the fact that what comes out of my mouth is not just some knee jerk reaction, but it’s something that I’ve thought about for a while.” So, instead, I wrote an article just kind of proudly proclaiming, it says, “I’m a very slow thinker,” and I could imagine your friend doing the same thing to say, “I change my mind every day.”

Darius Foroux:
Yeah. Just own it.

Derek Sivers:
And I’m proud of it.

Darius Foroux:
Yeah, exactly.

Derek Sivers:
The rest of you are just going to have to deal with that.

Darius Foroux:
Exactly.

Derek Sivers:
Because I am proud of it.

Darius Foroux:
Yeah, that’s a good way to live. That’s something I think we can’t get enough of, is just owning who we are. But that requires just knowing who we are, and I think that’s the biggest challenge often, just figuring out who are we actually so we can own it, because if we don’t know who we are, we can’t own it. Right?

Derek Sivers:
Right.

Darius Foroux:
We just don’t know where we are. But another thing that I had on my list of questions that I wanted to ask you was kind of related to this as well, is just owning who you are and being a slow thinker, and also I read several articles about you writing about being alone. One thing I can remember awhile back, you said you went on a family trip or something and you had to recover for 10 days or something like that. You can almost tell how important it is to you, but can you explain the impact that it has on you just being alone?

Derek Sivers:
Sure. I think I’m not that different from most introverts in that I feel that I am recharging my batteries when I’m alone, and when I’m with anybody else, even if there’s somebody else in my house, it feels like my batteries are draining, you know? So, solitude recharges me. Part of that is because of my life’s goals. Maybe if my life goal was to be a community leader or an organizer or even a politician or something like that, then I would be charged by being out among people because I’d feel like this is bringing me closer to my goals in life. But for whatever reason, my goals in life are often, or almost entirely just things that I just need to do alone at a keyboard. You know? It’s mostly just writing, thinking, reading. Those are all my goals in life, probably fall into those three categories, and those are all things I do best alone.

Derek Sivers:
But then I noticed once an interesting observation. I have often been with people and wished that I was alone, but I’ve never been alone and wished that I was with people, Never. Once I realized that, it’s like, “Oh, yeah, I think we have a clear answer. I prefer being alone.” I’ve never wished otherwise. I’ve only wished one direction. Som my friends around the world, we’re all remote, partially because I move a lot. I’ve tended to move every couple of years ever since I was a teenager. So, the only people I stay friends with are people that like talking on the phone, right? I have seven dear friends, but all of them are remote. So, in order of time zone, I think Australia, Singapore, Los Angeles, New York, Germany, Spain, and Ukraine. That’s where my seven friends are, one in each. We talk on the phone every week.

Derek Sivers:
And, yeah, if I meet somebody that’s really cool and they’re just not the kind of person that wants to talk on the phone, every now and then I meet somebody that I feel kind of startlingly kindred with and I say, “Hey, we should keep in touch. Do you want to talk on the phone?” And if I get this kind of like, “Oh, phone? I don’t really…” then I’m like, “Okay, nevermind.” I say, “Okay, I’ll see you every few years when I’m passing through the place that you live. Otherwise, I guess I won’t talk to you.” But, yeah, I just kind of travel so much, or not travel, I move so much that being alone and having best friends around the world is my norm and ideal. Yeah.

Darius Foroux:
So, when’s the last time you actually caught up with a friend face to face?

Derek Sivers:
Well, now you’re asking that during our COVID-19 lockdown, a month and a half ago I saw my friend in Spain.

Darius Foroux:
Okay.

Derek Sivers:
But before that, wow. Wow. Actually, that’s a good question. Let me think about this. Before that, like if I think of my seven best friends, it’s been a couple of years since we’ve seen each other face to face. One of them I think we haven’t seen each other face to face in like 15 years, but we talk every week.

Darius Foroux:
Yeah. So, you feel close, right?

Derek Sivers:
Of course. Yeah.

Darius Foroux:
Yeah. I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot recently because I have several friends that I’m close with and we speak every week. I also have a younger brother who I’m very close with as well. Obviously we also work together, so we see each other every day. But the physical, the face to face thing and just having friends, and there are also some things that are in our society as in you need the physical contact. I don’t know. I don’t know if I get this correct, but some of us feel like we’re obligated or something to have contact with people a lot. But you’re like, “Well, I don’t have that desire at all,” and that’s okay. So, if you don’t have the desire, why would you push yourself to change? Right?

Derek Sivers:
Yeah.

Darius Foroux:
Right?

Derek Sivers:
Yeah. It depends on the person. Some people do, and it depends what you consider friendship. I know somebody that her idea of friendship is going out drinking with friends and the idea of keeping in touch on the phone is like absolutely moot. She’s like, “No way.” She may talk to her mother every day and enjoy that, but her definition of friendship is these are the people that you go out drinking and doing activities with. For her, friendship is not a conversation, it’s an activity.

Darius Foroux:
Yeah.

Derek Sivers:
So, for her, in person is a requirement. Whereas my definition of friendship is more like just conversation.

Darius Foroux:
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Oh, man, this is a really good one, and especially I think maybe this comes from the whole college thing and just in high school and all that kind of stuff because you just go out with people and do activities, and then your friendship is based on that activity, and then when that activity disappears, the friendship also disappears. Right?

Derek Sivers:
Right, right.

Darius Foroux:
Yeah. I’ve had that as well in my life. So, yeah, I think, yeah, just friendship, one of the things that I decided in recent years is that I prefer to spend time with people who have a similar outlook. I find this difficult, by the way, and I want to talk to you about this as well, because on the one side, I want to spend time with people who have a similar outlook on life, but I also like talking to people who think differently. You know? How do you look at this? Are all your friends have a similar values as you?

Derek Sivers:
I think we, look, we all have a human need for certainty, for the things that are known to us already, and comfortable. But we also all have a human need for uncertainty, for surprise and the unknown. So the adventure of life is balancing these two things in your life, however you see fit. So yes, part of you wants to interact with people that are completely different from you, somebody that grew up across the world from you in a completely different demographic, that has very different outlooks on the world as you. And getting to know that person can be a life-expanding experience. But then, of course, sometimes you just want to talk with somebody that’s just like you, and grew up like you did, and has the same cultural references, and you can make a joke about. So we all have the need for both, I think.

Derek Sivers:
And so each person has their own… I was going to say their own balance. Some people want to be in the familiar most of the time. Some people want to be in the unfamiliar most of the time, but it can also be situational. You can have times in your life where you are just flying high and everything’s going well and life is a breeze. And because of that, you actually want more adventure, more of the unknown, the uncertainties in life. You want surprises. But then you might get really sick, or injured, or have some kind of disaster happen in your life, and now you’re broke, and now you this. And it’s like, “Oh man, I don’t want any surprises. I just want my old favorite food. I want to be at home at my mother’s house. I’m going to watch my old favorite TV show from 20 years ago. I want nothing new right now.” So I think it depends on your life scenario.

Darius Foroux:
I look at this the same way. Just having different stages in life. And I remember, a few years ago, I had a real drive to just get out of the place that I was living. And I ended up living in London and that was a really great experience, and also traveling a lot. And one of the things that I often talk about with friends but also with readers is that it’s just knowing when it’s time to move on. And obviously, you’ve lived in different places and you’ve done different things. You started a business, you sold your business, you’ve written a book, and you’re working on other books. How do you know it’s time to move on from a project, or a certain lifestyle, or whatever it is, like in terms of just making a change? Do you have a process, or is it more a gut feeling?

Derek Sivers:
Well, I have a core belief that change is good. So I err on the side of moving on, as you put it. And I’ve never regretted it. I’m always looking to change. But I think it depends on what’s your value system. Like do you want broad experiences in life? Do you want to do lots of different things, or do you want to dive deeply into one thing? Which can be places too, right? Like I told you, I move every couple years. This is what I enjoy doing. But a lot of people I know are living in the same town they grew up in, and they’ve been in the same house for 30 years, and they’re planning on dying there, and they love this grounded sense of community that that gives them, that they know their place really well. And that’s their value system. Do you have a high need for variety or a low need? 

Derek Sivers:
So these are the things you have to know about yourself a bit first. Or I can see, just observe it in yourself. Even if your friends say, “What, are you crazy? Why would you quit a job that you just got a year ago? It’s a good job.” You can say, “Well, I want to. I want to go do something else now. I’ve done this for a year and that’s enough.” And your friends might tell you you’re stupid, and you’re wrong, but they just have a different value system. And their value system, if you found a good job, you should stick with it for the rest of your life. 

Derek Sivers:
But when you have a feeling, like the feeling has to persist for a long time. How did you put it? Is it a gut feeling? So if you have a feeling, I’d say it has to persist for a long time. Like you can’t just be in a bad mood, or having a slump that week, or that month, and then determine that you are done with this thing. You have to make sure that the feeling persists. And the real point is, don’t make a major decision only based on emotions, because emotions can change with a simple refocusing. 

Derek Sivers:
Like the example I said with being on the plane. At one o’clock in the afternoon, I felt that I wanted to legally change my name and disappear. And by two o’clock in the afternoon, I decided I wanted to step into the spotlight and be a famous speaker. Your emotions can change in an hour. So don’t let your emotions guide major decisions. Let them have a vote. But you should really use your smarts. Use your wisdom, and think of what a wise person from the outside would suggest that you do. Like if you were to ask a wise person that doesn’t know you objectively from the outside, what would a person in my situation do, you should heed that. You should think of what is objectively the wise thing to do. And then let your emotions have a vote.

Darius Foroux:
So the plane example is actually a good one, because you mentioned that you don’t want to chase your emotions, basically. So how did you go after the plane ride? So you had the idea, I want to be a famous speaker and author. And did you let it sit?

Derek Sivers:
No. Well, see, that’s what I mean about using your smarts. So kind of like all at once in that moment, emotionally I felt like, “Yeah, I’m super excited about this.” Like I am sitting completely upright in my chair and like more driven than I have felt in a year and a half. Because you got to understand, I was also sitting there for like a year and a half doing almost nothing, just drifting. So it’s not like I was going to quit something I was doing in my life to do this other thing. But I could tell it was also the smart thing to do. 

Derek Sivers:
Given my situation, given the fact that I already had this database of a quarter million people that I had either sold their music or sold music to them. I had already been blogging, but only to musicians, for 10 years. People had already told me for years that they liked my writing, but I just thought, “Okay, well, thanks. I mean, that’s not what I really do. I’m just running a music store here. But thank you. I’m glad you like my writing.” So I just kind of realized that this was the right strategy for me, that this is what I love the most, this is what I’m well-positioned to do. And so yeah, it was a combination of smarts and emotion. It just made it instant. 

Darius Foroux:
At some point, everything just clicks, right? 

Derek Sivers:
Right. 

Darius Foroux:
It feels like it’s almost like destiny. I don’t believe in that kind of stuff, but it just looks like it on the outside, like a romantic movie almost. Right? You’re sitting on a plane.

Derek Sivers:
Well, it could also… Okay, we hear these stories of somebody who is a professional… I just saw this little article yesterday… It’s like a professional swimmer, like an Olympic swimmer was jogging around a river when a bus fell off a bridge and crashed into the river. And he just instantly, he knew, “Like this is what I need to do.” And he just instantly dove into the river, and like one by one pulled up like all 31 passengers of the bus. Dove down like 30 meters over and over and over again, 31 times, to get those people because he knew, “I can do this. This is needed.” Sometimes it’s just what you need to do is extremely clear and obvious. And it can be instant like that, like a bus crashed off the bridge, or it can be instant like, “Oh my God, I just realized what I need to do with my career.” But it’s not like destiny. It’s more just the obvious, right answer, given everything you know.

Darius Foroux:
Yeah. So that is actually, your process is just know yourself, know your values, and know basically how you operate. And also just make sure that you do some stuff. 

Derek Sivers:
Yeah. And by knowing yourself, you should ignore what you say and just look at what you do. Like look at your past actions to know yourself well. Because I think all of us have something we’ve been saying for years that we’re going to do, and we haven’t done it. Or something we’ve been saying for years, like this matters to me. But if you look at our actions, our actions disagree with that statement. It clearly doesn’t seem to matter to us that much, because our actions are not actually doing this thing. So yeah, look at your actions, not your words.

Darius Foroux:
Yeah, that’s a Peter Drucker exercise, right? 

Derek Sivers:
I didn’t know that.

Darius Foroux:
So I was recently, one of my favorite, it’s actually an article, Managing Oneself, by Peter Drucker. And in the article, he shares what he calls, I think, feedback analysis. And he says, “Write down what you think you will do in the next year. And then in one year from now, look at what you actually did.” And basically what you’re saying, right. We have a lot of things that we say we want to do, or say we are, and then we look back on our actions, and our actions are basically who we are. And by looking at the difference between what we say we are going to do and what we actually did, we can actually see what our strengths are, what we’re good at. 

Darius Foroux:
And I think, as I’m just listening to your story, I see a lot of things, that you’re pursuing things that you’re also good at, because the example that you gave of blogging about music and people saying to you, “Oh, you should write more”, or, what did you say? People told you that your articles were good, or something?

Derek Sivers:
Yeah. I’d noticed that, yeah, people had always complimented my writing.

Darius Foroux:
Yeah. Well, that’s a great sign that, well, there is actually something in here. I should pursue that. I love that, as a process of figuring out when to move on. And was this the same realization that you had when you, was this last year, that you decided to focus on writing books or the year before? When did this happen, instead of writing more articles?

Derek Sivers:
Oh no, that was just a few months ago. That was more like, I have this unfinished book that I desperately want to finish. It’s called How To Live, and I’m so excited about it. I think it’s going to be like the best thing I’ve ever done. But I was spending like four hours a day writing an article every day, because I was trying to do this like daily blogging, writing exercise thing. And I just looked at that and I thought, “Yeah, for a while, I need to reorganize my priorities. I just need to make finishing this book my most important thing. And if I’m not churning out an article every day, or even every month, then that’s okay. I just need to finish this book.” So that was really just a few months ago. I just kind of intentionally shifted around my priorities and said, “I’m going to let my blog be quiet for a while so I can just finish the book. And then once the book is done, because it’s hard to finish it right now, once it’s done, maybe I’ll find some new balance again.”

Darius Foroux:
And how is that process going for you right now? Are you just fully immersed in the book writing process? You don’t miss writing articles, or doing podcasts for yourself, or anything?

Derek Sivers:
Actually, right now, I am splitting my time with programming. There’re some things I still need to program for my site. Doing podcasts like this, especially in lockdown, has been fun. It’s fun to have these conversations. And then working on the book, yeah. So that’s my current thing. And pretty soon I’ll finish the programming I’m doing, and then I’ll just be spending all my time working on my book, except when I stop to do a conversation like this. 

Darius Foroux:
And do you take on projects like sequentially? You finish one thing and then you move onto the next?

Derek Sivers:
Mostly, yeah. I throw myself fully into one thing at a time. I wish I could be that kind of person that does a little of this for two hours, and this for one hour, and every day I do this for three hours, and then I change and I do that. But instead, I’ve just found I just really get into one thing at a time. But who knows? Maybe that’s something I’ll change someday. 

Darius Foroux:
Yeah, yeah, exactly. You can always change your mind, right? 

Derek Sivers:
Yeah.

Darius Foroux:
The reason that I’m asking this, why I brought this up, about writing your book right now, is that I’ve been thinking a lot about opportunity costs, because I realize if you just say yes to, for example, and I try to balance this as well, because I said for myself fully yes to my blog, and I’m committed to writing articles, because I feel that I still have a lot of topics that I haven’t covered yet. But at the same time, people also, for example, enjoy the podcast. And last year, I decided I’m going to spend more time on my website and writing articles, because I realized that I found it a little bit difficult to combine this. Because, like you, I just want to give the thing that I’m doing my full attention. 

Darius Foroux:
If I say yes to the podcast as well, there’s so much things that I want to say yes to. And it’s so difficult just to pick one strategy, or one thing, and just stick to it. And I think I find this difficult to balance between changing your mind, because I’m like that as well. I kind of change my mind on certain things, but at the same time, I also want to finish… well, not finish, but just keep on doing what I’m doing. Can you relate to that as well?

Derek Sivers:
Yeah. I mean, it’s a dangerous train of thought because, at least for me, again, different people have different personalities, but for me-

Darius Foroux:
Yeah, for me too. I can relate. 

Derek Sivers:
I find it… Well, actually I was going to disagree with one thing you said. I don’t find it difficult to say no to things. I actually find it difficult to not say no. I find it difficult to have four different things I’ve said yes to, and trying to do them all at once. That’s the difficult thing. I think saying yes to only one thing and no to absolutely everything else, like the absolutism of that is so wonderfully simplifying. Like that just becomes your answer to everything. You just say, “I’m finishing my book, and I’m doing nothing else until the book is finished.” You might as well just not even check your email until the book is finished because you’re like, no. No to everything else.

Derek Sivers:
So says, “Hey man, let’s hang out.” “No. What part of no to everything else do you not understand?” “Well, hey, can we do this podcast?” “No.” I am saying no to everything else until I finish my book. To me, there’s a wonderful simplicity in that, and you just have to trust that this one thing you’ve said yes to is worth it. So there was a great article from some famous sci-fi author, I’m thinking it might’ve been Neal Stephenson, where he wrote kind of a letter to the world saying, “This is why I don’t answer email.” He said, “Now that I’m famous, everybody emails me, and I could spend the rest of my life answering emails and they will never ever stop. Or I could just finish my book.” And he said, “I’m going to guess that most of you would rather I keep writing books, even if some of you are disappointed that I’m not answering your email. So this is just my public proclamation to let you know I will not be answering email because I am just writing my book and that’s it.”

Darius Foroux:
I think we could say that to you as well, right?

Derek Sivers:
Yeah, I’ve thought about that. Especially, like you said at the beginning, when the corona thing hit and it was getting really serious and people were dying, I emailed everybody on my mailing list, just three sentences, saying, “How are you? Yes, I’m really asking. Let me know, please.” And yeah, it ended up being more than 6,000. It was closer to 8,000 people that replied. And it was all I did for 15 hours a day for like two solid weeks, was I answered something between 500 and a thousand emails per day. It was one of the most intense things I’ve ever done in my life. I did nothing else. I didn’t even see my kid for those two weeks. His mom just had to take care of him, and I just said, “I just need to do this.” A lot of people are really upset, and a lot of people are waiting for my answer, whatever.

Derek Sivers:
So for two weeks I did nothing else, every single waking hour, except just type as fast as I could, to read and reply to every single email. And for me, that was my value system. I was glad that I did that. It made me deeply happy. There’s shallow happy and there’s deep happy. Shallow happy is having ice cream, deep happy is being proud of yourself for not having the ice cream. So I wouldn’t say that answering 8,000 emails was fun, but it was deeply satisfying. 

Darius Foroux:
Well, I can’t even imagine the process but like I really understand what you’re feeling, because you making such an impact. And it also, it’s an example of like what you were saying earlier, saying yes to one thing for two weeks, and you basically did, in terms of just your blog, you did nothing else. Now that we are talking about saying no, I like the strategy, and I think a lot of people can relate to this because what you’re saying is, in my opinion, also true, is a very simple way to live. Because if you say, like you’re saying, if you say yes to a lot of things, you make your life unnecessarily complicated. But at some point, and I probably already know the answer you’re going to give, are you ever concerned that you become a party pooper?

Derek Sivers:
No. I’m already a party pooper. I’ve always been a party pooper. It’s not that I poop at parties, just nobody invites me to the parties because they know that my answer is always no. I don’t hang out. I don’t sit around on couches. I don’t watch things. If you ask me, “Hey, did you see?” No, my answer is already no. I don’t watch things. I don’t have a Netflix subscription. I haven’t seen any movies. I haven’t seen any TV shows. I just write. This is all I do. And I like it that way.

Darius Foroux:
Honestly, I’ve said this already a few times today, but I do really find this fascinating, because a lot of people say, “I do one thing,” and I often also say, “Well, I’m really focused on writing a book,” for example, but I don’t do it all day. And I just find it awesome to hear that you, like me, that literally, like you saying, you’re literally like doing one thing all day, right?

Derek Sivers:
Yeah. I mean, there are moments where I’ll wake up at 5:30, and I’ll start writing, and by one in the afternoon I’m feeling like… I’m feeling burnt out. And yes, okay, I’ll go walk around for an hour. I’ll go walk five miles in a field or a forest. And I’ll come back, I’ll take a shower, I’ll make a little something to eat, then I go back to work. 

Derek Sivers:
But if somebody says like, “Hey, you want to hang out?” I say, “Well, no, I’m going to keep working.” And if somebody says, “Hey, you should see this movie.” I say, “well, no, I’m going to keep working.” It’s because I want so desperately to finish. There’s always something that I’m working on that’s not done, that I desperately want it to be done. And so I just look at the, you called it opportunity cost or something earlier, I say, “Okay, I could stop and watch a movie about the joker, or I could finish my book.” And as soon as you just put it like that, it’s like, well, obviously, the choice is clear. 

Darius Foroux:
Where does this drive come from?

Derek Sivers:
I don’t know. Actually, remember how, an hour ago, you asked something like that, and I mentioned my kid? My kid has this trait too. And I think I’ve been like this since I was a little kid too. I have always just been really, really into one thing at a time.

Derek Sivers:
It’s just been really, really into one thing at a time, almost obsessively. And so, I think the drive is like an obsession, that whatever I’m into, I’m just really into that and nothing else. And I’ve always been like that, since I was a kid, and I see that he’s got that same trait. So, maybe, it’s just in our DNA.

Darius Foroux:
Your drive is basically just to finish something that you started, right? It’s not the end goal or the outcome that you’re trying to achieve?

Derek Sivers:
No, it’s not about the goal. It’s that when I’m into something, it’s all I can think about. I don’t want to be distracted. It can last for two weeks, like the example of answering all those emails.

Darius Foroux:
Yeah.

Derek Sivers:
Or it can last for 10 years, like CD Baby was a 10 year obsession of mine. I started it as an accident, but once it took off and there were thousands of musicians telling me, “Oh my God, I need this, I need this.” I was seriously 7:00 AM to midnight, seven days a week, for 10 years. I just did nothing else but CD Baby. It’s funny, I lived in Portland, Oregon and every now and then people would say, “Oh yeah, cool. Portland, Oregon. Hey did you ever go to this? Did you ever go to that restaurant? You ever go to the venue?” I was like, “Nope. I’ve lived in Portland for six years, I never hung out. I’ve never actually gone to any venue, or any restaurant, or anything. I just wake up at 7:00 AM and I work until I fall asleep at midnight. I sleep for six hours and do it again. This is my life.” That lasted for 10 years.

Darius Foroux:
Yeah. I’m starting to see a theme here.

Derek Sivers:
Exactly.

Darius Foroux:
We’re saying, “No,” a lot. You just do one thing until it comes to a natural ending, right? 

Derek Sivers:
Right.

Darius Foroux:
And then you move on and, for example, the stuff we talked about the year that you took some time to figure out what that next thing is that you’re just going to be passionate about. I can sense something like you just want to make sure that you’re spending your time in a way that gives you energy, but also is making contribution. Is that correct?

Derek Sivers:
Yeah.

Darius Foroux:
And if you find that combination, you just go for it.

Derek Sivers:
Exactly.

Darius Foroux:
Awesome. As I was thinking about questions to ask you, one of the things, the concept, that I’ve been thinking about as well recently is playing to win. Now that we’re talking about picking a specific challenge or a project, I’m perfectly okay with quitting that, as well, if I notice that, for any reason, maybe it’s not going well, or if I’m not having any serious change of winning, I just quit. And I’m specifically talking about from a career point of view. And I’m not talking about hobbies. What’s your take on this? How do you look at, for example, publishing books? Do you want to win? 

Derek Sivers:
I think it depends who you’re doing it for and why, because that decides what you mean by something’s not working. There have been businesses that I was doing just because I felt like it. And I would happily do them at a loss, because I just wanted it to exist in the world. So the definition of not working, for that, would be that it just doesn’t make me happy anymore. That would be an easy decision to quit, if the who was I’m doing it for myself, and the why was because I felt like it. Well then, the correct time to quit is when I just don’t feel like doing it anymore. 

Derek Sivers:
But now, what if the who you’re doing it for is for people who want it? And the why you’re doing it is just because they want it? You’re not even really doing it for the money. You’re doing it because people want this to exist, so I’m going to do this for them. And then, maybe, you’re also happy to do something like that at a loss, as long as those people still want it, and you’re able to do it. So in that case, not working would have to mean that people just don’t want it anymore. But even if it was losing money, you’d still say, “Oh yeah, this is a working project. This is working for me, because the people are happy, I’m happy. It’s losing some money, but who cares? That’s not why I’m doing it.” 

Derek Sivers:
But if the why is making money, that’s why you’re doing something. Well, now you have a clear definition of not working. You can just say, “Is this making money or not? This isn’t making money, so this isn’t working and I’m going to shut it down. I’m going to quit now, because it’s not working.” But for most of us, usually, I think it’s a mix of these things. Yes, you’re doing something to make money, but also because you find it personally interesting. So if it’s still making money, but you don’t find it personally interesting anymore, well, now it’s not really working for you anymore, even though it’s still making money. You’d have to really just be a cold, disconnected, business owner to say, “I’m just doing this for the money.” Under that situation you would only just, “Is this working or not,” by whether it’s making money or not.

Derek Sivers:
Or, like you just said, you used the books example. Some people, their idea of, “Is this working,” is, “Am I selling a lot of books? Am I a top seller on Amazon?” But for some of us, including me, I’m just making this book for my existing audience. I don’t really care. It’s like the middle example. The who, I’m doing this for people who want it and the why is because they want it. People have said that they wished that I had a book, so I am making a book for them. And if the 100 people that want it buy it, I’m happy. I don’t care if it sells a million copies. In fact, I’m not going to do anything I don’t want to do just to sell a million copies, because I thoroughly don’t care. I’m just doing it for the people who want it.

Derek Sivers:
And so, not working would have to mean that people don’t want the book and that would be fine. Then I would stop doing it. 

Darius Foroux:
Yeah, exactly. That’s how I look at it, as not working, or probably losing, is if I am… When we’re talking about this stuff, books, and articles, and content, or music, is that people just don’t find it useful or entertaining. I think, if that happens, I think I would probably move on.

Derek Sivers:
Yep.

Darius Foroux:
And one thing that I think about is, and I want to ask you this, would you still… I don’t know, how many articles have you published on your blog?

Derek Sivers:
I don’t know, a few hundred.

Darius Foroux:
Few hundred. Do you think you would still publish articles, if one person would read it, or would you just journal?

Derek Sivers:
Okay, for me, I would just journal. 

Darius Foroux:
Yeah.

Derek Sivers:
I write for hours a day in my journal. I have fun doing that. When I edit something down for public consumption, that’s… This is going to sound weird. But that’s like a favor that I’m doing for the world. 

Darius Foroux:
Yeah.

Derek Sivers:
I personally don’t love editing the hell out of something so I can put it out for the world, make sure it’s not misunderstood, partially because of my email list. I’ve got, I don’t know, 150,000 people on my email list, and they’ve asked me to tell them when something new is posted. It’s a bit of a pain. Every time I put a new article on my site, people on my mailing list get an announcement, and I get about 500 emails in response to it. So every time I post an article on my site, that means, I mean, how long does it take me to answer 500 emails? It probably takes me 12 hours? 

Darius Foroux:
Yeah.

Derek Sivers:
So every time I post an article that means 12 hours of work after it’s posted, not before. 

Darius Foroux:
Yeah. And the thing is, you don’t need to do it. You don’t need anything from… Right?

Derek Sivers:
Yes and no. I mean, it does fit with what I want to do. I mean, I still want to be an interesting writer, speaker, thinking kind of guy. I still like being in the conversation. I like sharing interesting ideas with the world and especially I love getting people’s feedback from them, and people saying, “Actually, I think you’re off base here.” Quite often, when people give me some interesting feedback on something, I go, “Wow, you’re right.” Either, “You’re right, I miscommunicated that. Now I see that was an error in my writing that you thought that I meant this instead of that.” That means I made a mistake in my writing. I wasn’t clear enough. Or, “You’ve just pointed out a hole in my logic, and thank you.”

Derek Sivers:
It’s just I like having it out there. It’s definitely work. Yeah, that’s it. It’s work. So if the world didn’t want my articles anymore, that’s fine. I would just keep writing in my journal and I’d have conversations with dear friends, and that’s enough. 

Darius Foroux:
Yeah. I feel the same about that. And one thing that I was curious about is does it take a mental toll on you? This whole process that you just described, the feedback, and all this stuff.

Derek Sivers:
The receiving 500 emails after posting an article, that’s a mental toll. That’s like, “Phew.” Again, I told you I’m thankful for these connections. I gave an example. I think it’s one of my deepest joys is the fact that I know some many people around the world, like my Helsinki example. I can just go to almost anywhere in the world and, how cool, that I know people there. That’s one of my things that makes me happiest.

Darius Foroux:
Yeah. Not a lot of people who can say that.

Derek Sivers:
Yeah.

Darius Foroux:
That’s a great position to be in. 

Derek Sivers:
Yeah. I really, really like that. Also, it gives me a sense of safety. Someday I might be completely broke and bankrupt, or whatever, needing to call on people on my email list like, “Does anybody have a spare room?” That’s nice to know that I’ve got people I could ask.

Darius Foroux:
Yeah. Well, if you’re in The Netherlands, you can always call me.

Derek Sivers:
Hey, there we go. Thanks, Darius. But for the most part, let’s just say, it’s work, but it’s worth it. 

Darius Foroux:
Yeah. Then it makes it okay, right? That it’s difficult sometimes, and sometimes you get some negative comments, or whatever. But, eventually, the balance. I recently received a few emails from readers that were very touching to me. They shared their stories and I thought to myself, “I don’t care if I get a thousand or 100,000 negative comments, I’ll probably continue this stuff, because even if there’s one person who might get something totally positive out of it, it’s worth it.”

Derek Sivers:
Yeah.

Darius Foroux:
That’s awesome. That’s a beautiful thing about this stuff, and that’s why I was really excited when you shared that you’re doing podcasts to ask you to be on my podcast, and have a conversation. And, like you, I don’t have any ads on the podcast, and I actually stopped doing interviews because most people had something to sell. Obviously, not naming names, but at some point you just sense it. Being inspired by you, and a few other people, who do it for other reasons, I decided I’m not going to do it unless there’s some real contribution. And I feel that you brought up so many important topics. Before we wrap up, I had one more thing that I had on my list of questions, or topics, that I wanted to talk to you about.

Derek Sivers:
Okay.

Darius Foroux:
Doing things by yourself, like you, I also do a lot of things, basically, almost everything for my website, and my books, myself and I get a lot of pleasure out of it. We talked about this topic already earlier. That you saying, “I wake up in the morning and I work, work, work, and I get a lot of energy out of it.” But have you ever come close to burnout? Because the reason that I’m asking this is because I’ve received some of these comments of people saying, “Well, what if you work too much?” What’s your perspective on this?

Derek Sivers:
Yeah, of course you have to notice your own interest and energy. And if you’re feeling burnt out, or just overwhelmed, then you need to learn to delegate, especially if you start getting cranky in the way that you’re dealing with the world. Maybe if you’re just hating your inbox, and so you’re being cranky to everybody that contacts you. Well, you need to stop doing that now, because it’s better to answer no email then to answer them in a grumbly, bitter way. Yeah, you need to help find somebody else to do that, or a system that can handle it for you, or that famous sci-fi author, just find a way of saying, “Sorry. I don’t accept email,” or whatever it is.

Derek Sivers:
For me, have I ever felt burnt out? No. I mean, just the extreme examples, like anybody would feel answering 7000 emails in 12 days. That, of course, on day two I felt burnt out, but I was like, “Have to keep doing it. This is holding my end of the promise. That I ask people a question, I’ve got to be here like I said I would.” It’s most of these things you just push through. I mean, isn’t that the essence of what willpower and discipline are? Is doing the right thing, even if you don’t feel like it. Then what you do need to change is if you’re finding you’re burnt out, stop agreeing to things. Stop saying, “Yes,” to things and finish your existing obligations, and then find a way to take on no new obligations and make a change so that you’re excited again.

Darius Foroux:
Yeah. You’re basically saying that if you do feel burnt out, or close to it, you just see it as a sign to… Well, actually basically say, “No,” to more things.

Derek Sivers:
Yeah, or just to make a change in some way. Maybe you’re done with this aspect of your work, and it’s time to delegate that to somebody else, or shutdown the project, or if this is something that is still worth doing, just find somebody else who’s interested in doing it. I think in 2020, it’s going to be pretty easy to find somebody who wants a job. If there’s something that you can delegate to somebody else that you’re sick of doing, then you should, or decide that it’s time to walk away. I mean, my CD Baby story. I was like, “I only sold because, actually, of this thing we’re talking about.” I wouldn’t call it necessarily burnt out, but I was just feeling done. I had been doing it for 10 years, and for 10 years I was obsessively fascinated with it. And at the end of 10 years, I felt like… I often compared it to a painter who’s been working on a giant mural for a year, and then he puts a little bit of paint here and there. Then he steps back, and he looks at the thing, and he says, “I think I’m finally done. I just had nothing more to add. I think I’m done here.”

Derek Sivers:
Yeah, that’s when I decided to sell the company, because I could tell that I was done.

Darius Foroux:
Yeah. This stuff is so dear to me, just reflecting on all these different things, and just spending some time, and freeing up the emotional energy, and mental energy you need to spot this, actually. I was talking about this recently with a friend. And one of the things we were talking about saying, “No more,” and I thought to myself, as we were having the conversation, I was like, “Actually, one of the most important things to me is, as I eliminate a lot of things out of my life, is that I’m just freeing up some mental space, so I can just come up with new things, or just notice and spot what’s going on.” Because, otherwise, I risk just living my life in autopilot, and I’ve done that, and I really don’t like that, so that’s something that I want to avoid. 

Derek Sivers:
Yeah.

Darius Foroux:
You can definitely do that by saying, “No.” I got to say, man, I truly enjoyed this. This is probably the conversation that I looked out for a long time, and definitely did not disappoint.

Derek Sivers:
Thanks, Darius. You had some really great questions, so thanks for… 10 minutes ago you said something like, “You brought up a bunch of interesting stuff.” No, you brought up some interesting stuff, I just answered. Anyway, thanks for having me on your show.

Darius Foroux:
I appreciate that, Derek, and I’ll keep in touch with you. Like most people at the end of these shows, they say, “Where can we find you?” We already know the answer. That’s sivers.org

Derek Sivers:
Yep, that’s the only place.

Darius Foroux:
Yeah. I mention you a lot on my newsletter and podcast, so people are familiar with your work. I would just say, “Keep on following what’s going on.” I’m looking forward to your book.

Derek Sivers:
Thanks, Darius. You too.

Darius Foroux:
All right, take care.

Derek Sivers:
Bye, bye.