On the cruise a friend was asking me about my days in pickup. What was the worst rejection I experienced, he asked? That's a path paved with so much rejection that it's sort of like asking which leaf on a tree is the greenest, but one stuck out in my mind.
I was at a place called Dallas Nightclub in Austin, Texas. There was a large ice-skating rink shaped dance floor in the middle, and tables and chairs around that. The music would alternate between hip hop and country, bringing a different crowd to the dance floor every other song.
My friend and I walked around the perimeter, taking turns approaching groups of girls. It was my turn, and I walked up to three pretty girls and started talking. Very quickly, I started telling a story. I can't remember which story it was, but I remember how I felt telling it. It quickly became obvious that they were not interested in my story, and I was so nervous that I was helpless to do anything but continue.
Suddenly one of the girls broke eye contact and turned away, leaving me with her two friends. Okay, there are two of us and two of them, I thought. That's not so bad. I kept on going with the story.
Then the second girl scooted away slowly, leaving me with just one girl listening to my incredibly boring story. This situation was getting bad, but I didn't know what to do. Obviously failing in a ball of flames, I stuck with telling my story until the last girl turned her back, too, as I was mid-sentence.
I think it was around then that I decided I needed to learn how to tell stories. Like so many other things, the problem isn't that it's a terribly difficult skill, just that no one ever bothers to teach it. Once you're good at telling stories, you can entertain people with crumbs. I used to demonstrate by telling strangers about everything I bought at the grocery store that day.
The first rule of storytelling is that it's all about the listener. You should be making eye contact, not just because only creeps stare off in the distance while talking, but because that's how you gauge their interest level. The experience of telling a story is a dynamic one, always feeding off of the other person's level of interest.
A story has three basic parts. There's the setup, the buildup, and the payoff. The setup should be as short as possible, the buildup should be as long as you can maintain interest, and then the payoff should be short.
The setup sets the scene. You give the listener everything they need to know to make the payoff worthwhile, and nothing else. A very common pitfall here is to dive into every possible tangent. This bores the listener and makes them doubt a payoff is ever coming. Rather than give your friend's full background, you say something like, "... and I was with my crazy friend John, who later flew to Libya to join the rebels..." If they want to hear about John, they can ask you about him later. If they don't, you've spared them the boredom.
The buildup is the exciting part of the story where you're withholding some piece of information. This is the part of the story where you'd be saying things like, "... so the night finally came when we decided to do the heist. From our designated positions, we slowly crept into place. I was in front, so I put my hand on the doorknob and twisted. It was unlocked..."
It's during the buildup that you really need to gauge how interested the listener is. Once you get used to this part, you can accurately tell how engaged they are. If they're very engaged, continue to give them more details to make the story come alive, even if those details aren't completely necessary. You'd say things like, "So you need to understand-- I'd never stolen anything before. Not even a pack of chewing gum. And yet here I was, crawling through the ceilings on my hands and knees, shaking with fear..."
On the other hand, if the person is impatient or not interested, you make the buildup very short and move on to the payoff. This is how you build trust-- if someone sees that you pick up on cues and don't rattle on when they're bored, they'll let their guards down and want to hear longer stories.
The payoff is the grand reveal. It's the twist at the end of the story, the lesson you learned, or even the obvious conclusion presented in all of its glory. Some stories have amazing payoffs, "And it turned out it was my best friend from high school all along!" but others are small, "And since then I've never once eaten a hot dog."
The important part of the payoff is that you cut it short and end on a high note. Very often someone will ruin a story by enjoying the glory of the payoff and trying to revel in it for too long, going on and on with useless details. If someone does that once, you never want to hear another story from them, because there's the threat of it never ending.
Storytelling is an important skill to have. Think about history class-- if you remember anything of it, it's not the dry facts on the blackboards, but the interesting stories. Telling stories is how you share your world with others and relate it to them. Being a bad storyteller is actually disrespectful, because it ignores the interests of the other person and imposes your own desire to talk up on them.
The actual content of the story is the least important part of the process. Sure, a heist will always make a better story than a grocery list, but a good grocery list story is certainly better than a bad heist story. Practice the structure, pay attention to the facial feedback of your listeners, and try to improve. And maybe, just maybe, the day will come when people don't turn their backs on you mid-sentence.
Photo is the chef on our cruise ship. He looks like he's telling a story.
Shout out to Adrienne for suggesting this topic! Always open to suggestions.
A friend asked my yesterday why I do so many crazy things. What's my raison d'etre? He mentioned a few specific examples, and I had reasons for each, but those reasons weren't similar to each other. I've been thinking about it since then, though. Is there some universal motivator that's behind everything I do? If so, knowing what it is might be useful.
The more I think about it, the more I think that I don't do very many crazy things. At least not when you consider the scope of crazy things I could do. When it comes down to it, I think that my search space for actions to take is just a whole lot broader than most people's.
For example, sometimes I think about where else I could park my RV. I rent a spot now, but I know that eventually market forces will cause that space to be used by something more profitable. So where will I park next? I think about parking on the street again, the easy choice. Then I think about driving across the US and parking it in New York. I think about leaving it a few hours away at my mother's house and not even living in it anymore. I think about just going on the road and not staying in one place.
Then I think about moving to Japan for a year, or buying a tiny house in Las Vegas. Living on the island for the six months it's warm per year would be an interesting experience. The thought even crosses my mind to pick some random city somewhere in the world and disappear to it without telling anyone. I think about living on a cruise ship perpetually.
I used to think that it was a really bad idea to be a cog in the system. I thought this for two reasons. First, I was personally averse to being a cog in any system, and of course any preference I have is the right one to have. Second, there were a ton of visible examples of people who were cogs in the machine and didn't really seem to be doing much.
But then last week I was at my friend's house, and he was watching the Ben Heck show. If you haven't seen it, it's a show where a very unfunny nerd makes amazing things by hand. In the episode I saw, Ben was making a soda can crusher powered by a very small motor.
If the motor was just attached directly to a crusher, it wouldn't do anything to the can. It would move fast, but there wouldn't be much torque. So he had to make gears-- cogs-- to take the input of the motor and mold it to the needs of the project. With a series of gears, he adapted the input to go much slower but have enough torque to crush the can.
With different gearing, he could have done the opposite. He could have sacrificed torque and made the gears spin very quickly.
We've started a new tradition on our cruise called BLunch, which stands for Business Lunch. One member of our gang presents some background on their business, followed by the biggest challenge they're facing, and then receives feedback from everyone else. We all take it seriously, and the group is comprised mostly of entrepreneurs, so the advice has been excellent so far.
Today the guest of honor at the BLunch had an interesting problem. She wanted to expand to make more money on her business, but her avenues for expansion were limited. Each of the most obvious and promising options were vetoed for one reason or another.
As we dug deeper, it turned out she was burnt out by her business. Aspects of it sapped her energy and reduced her motivation on the rest of it. These parts of her business made no money, but she felt obligated to fulfill them anyway. No one else in the group thought that they were worth the effort.
One thing I noticed, that I've also seen in myself, was that she was willing to accept compromise in her life, but only a finite amount. It struck me that she was "spending" that compromise inefficiently. She could completely cut out the compromise that was really burning her out, and instead compromise a little by working an a venture that her customers would love but wouldn't be particularly inspiring to her. Same amount of compromise in her life, but less burnout and more money.
The other day Todd and I were sitting in a cafe. Next to us was a guy who appeared to be a typical San Francisco yuppie. I wouldn't have talked to him, but Todd is more extroverted than I, so pretty soon we were chatting away.
He had overheard us talking about travel, so that's where the conversation went. We learned that he traveled for two weeks every month, mostly to go places to hike. I imagined in my head what that must look like-- fly business class from San Francisco, check into a nice hotel, hike around, come back.
He asked us where we normally stayed when we traveled. Friends or AirBnB, we answered. Did we ever stay in hostels? No, not really. Why, we asked? He answered that that's where he usually stayed. In an instant my perception of him changed. I'd assumed wrong.
As it turned out, he was a prison psychologist. He worked two weeks every month, and did the credit card hustle to rack up a ton of miles. He'd pick some far away spot to hike, book a hostel, and do the whole thing as cheaply as possible. No stress, very sustainable.
As I've mentioned before, I'm pretty frugal. I like spending money on things like the island, travel, and good food, but I also like saving money. I spend very little money frivolously, and don't have an overwhelming appetite for luxury.
I don't make much money, either. I'm content to have enough income to fund my inexpensive lifestyle, to save a little bit most months, and to retain control of almost all of my time to invest in big future projects like Sett.
Relatively frequently, though, I'll have a small windfall. Sometimes I'll have a good run in poker where I make a few thousand dollars within a couple days. My new book, Superhuman by Habit has been doing really well, too. Thanks to my readers and friends, it's been in the top 1000 books on Amazon. For a while last year my bitcoins were worth a bunch of money.
In these sorts of situations, it can be tempting to spend more money. People bargain with themselves, allowing themselves to spend some or all of unexpected sums of money they come across.
Sometimes as a plane takes off, or a line for a bus inches forward, I occupy myself by making a mental list of things I'm grateful for. The list is never-ending, but the item on the list that I'm always most grateful for are the people in my life, my friends and family.
I don't think that I'm a grand expert of friend making, but I must have done a few things right to end up with such great friends, and I think I can tease out some core ideas.
The first is to not annoy. When I think about great people I'm not good friends with, the reason for the distance is always some level of annoyance. And it always seems to be a shame-- such a great person, but so hard to spend the time with them that it would take to become friends.
I'm sure I do plenty of little annoying things, but my time in pickup helped me develop a self-awareness to seek out those things an eliminate them as best as possible. If you have trouble making friends with people you think should otherwise be your friends, it might be time for some deep introspection and work on awareness.
The end of a long cruise always feels a bit unfair. It doesn't seem right that tomorrow morning I'll be unceremoniously dumped onto the pier in Yokohama, Japan. Over the past fifteen days I've become accustomed to my new social circle of nine friends and a couple thousand senior citizens. The new routines we've made feel normal and I'm not ready to give them up.
I've wanted to go on a transpacific cruise for a long time. Transatlantics are my favorite, but going across the pacific affords more sea days and brings me to my favorite continent. There are only one or two that leave each year, though, so it's not as easy to schedule as a transatlantic.
Over the course of a few months I brought the cruise up with a bunch of friends. Ben Yu, Nick Gray, Jimmy Hayes, Doug Barber, and Dick Talens all agreed to come. Ben brought his friend Adrienne Tran, Nick brought Amit Gupta, Jimmy and Doug brought Jodi Ettenberg, and Dick brought Debra Romer.
Today I got selected as one of the first Amtrak residents. The original pool was narrowed down from sixteen thousand to just over one hundred, and then again to twenty four. This event makes it increasingly difficult to push away the idea that I might actually be a good writer.
I was flattered, but not all that surprised, to find that I was one of the semifinalists. It was easy to believe that most applicants weren't even writers, and that the hook of me being a Time Magazine top blogger was enough to make it to the next round.
Looking at some of the others in the pool, though, I couldn't help but be proud of the company I was in. Besides little old self-published me were highly distributed published authors and columnists for major magazines. Even a lot of the people disappointed they weren't chosen were really impressive.
Time Magazine chose me as one of the best bloggers. Amtrak chose me as one of the best writers. Derek Sivers, whose book list I look to for inspiration, emailed me to tell me that he loved my book and was going to publish a good review of it on his list.
Some of the most interesting attributes are those that are both good and bad. A simple prescription of elimination of the attribute or building it isn't sufficient. Instead we must learn to manage it, blunt the negatives and channel the positives.
Stubbornness is one such attribute, and it's one that I'm perhaps too intimately familiar with. Observing something like stubbornness within oneself is to see it through muddy water, though. Only in others is it really clearly seen, and that's often when it's best to apply the lessons learned to oneself.
When I'm being stubborn, it's so easy to believe that I'm right and that external resistance is only due to other's stubbornness. Stubbornness is glorious when you're right; it's the process of believing in yourself, not being swayed by those with a less perfect view than your own, and finally triumphing.
And in that way, stubbornness is a good. Many great ideas, inventions, and breakthroughs have come by way of stubbornness. Some of my biggest accomplishments are really the children of stubbornness.