#064 How to live with Derek Sivers

#064 How to live with Derek Sivers

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Episode Transcript

The transcript is computer generated. There may be errors.

Derek Sivers: Shallow happy is eating an ice cream. Deep Happy is being proud of yourself for not eating the ice cream. Mastery is more and more rare in our day and age and our culture where anyone can have hits of shallow happiness all the time. 


Sharad Lal: Hi, everyone. Welcome to how to live. A podcast that explores ways to live a good life. I'm your host Sharad Lal. This is episode 64. I'm thrilled about today's episode because we are joined by a legend. Derek Sivers. For those who might not be familiar. Derek is the founder of CD Baby, which added Stein as the largest online retailer of independent music. He famously sold his company, donating all the money to charity. Derek is a best-selling author. A sought after speaker with three Ted talks under his belt. And the man who brought us the concept of hell yet, or no. We'll get into this concept during the episode. His work with its profound yet accessible wisdom has influenced millions around the world, Including myself. 

On a personal note, Derek inspired my journey into podcasting. I first heard him eight years ago in the Tim Ferriss show. Since then Derek has conversations with talk leaders like Shane Parrish, Mark Manson, And others. Have deepened my interest in podcasts and his wisdom. Today we dive into Derek's latest masterpiece, how to live, a book he regards as his finest creative achievement. We'll explore teams of mastery, independence, storytelling, creativity, commitment, and much more. But before getting to the episode. 

Thank you for your support with your support folks in over one 30 countries, listen to us and we're in the top 5% of the world. Do consider following us. And if you love the show, please do rate us. Thank you in advance. Now let's experience the magic of Derek Sivers together.

Sharad Lal: Hi, Derek. Welcome to the how to live podcast. How are you doing this afternoon?

Derek Sivers: Great. Thanks for having me. Audience, we are talking via Singapore to New Zealand, morning to afternoon. I am so thrilled to be on a podcast called How to Live since my last book and, and I still think of it as like the greatest thing I've ever made is my book called How to Live. And it's amazing that we haven't talked until now.

Sharad Lal: It's such an amazing book, Derek, and it's such a huge, huge honour to speak with you. So there's so many areas we can go into Derek, but I thought where we'd start was, I remember the first Tim Ferriss show I listened to. You talked about the story of Tarleton.

You were working in a circus. And this lady who you described as hot. And we call her drop dead gorgeous. She was 33 and you were 18. And you were working in the circus and she told you that you were the brightest person she'd seen. and when she said it, that single handedly the biggest thing that drove your confidence and you went and thrived in life.

So firstly, are you, does she still impact you? Are you in touch with her? 

Derek Sivers: It still impacts me. No, we are in touch occasionally. 

Sharad Lal: The big thing that I took out of there is how you tell stories. It was such a beautifully told story and then as I tracked other podcasts, you were telling so many of these beautiful stories. How did you become a good storyteller and have you actively honed the skill of storytelling?

Derek Sivers: Thank you. That's nice. Think it just comes from talking in social situations and trying to not be boring. I've lived in international cities for most of my life, which means I'm constantly meeting strangers. and so when you meet strangers You have to communicate things in a non boring way because they're not so invested in you yet. Maybe it also comes from telling stories repeatedly.

Like, I think I've told many, many people the story of how I met Tarleton and how she gave me my confidence. And I've probably told that story, I don't know, ten times? And maybe just over the years of telling it, it starts to get a little more honed. Maybe it's also my value system because I wanted to be a professional musician, which part of that definition is to be an entertainer.

So I wanted to be good on stage. I wanted to be entertaining in the media. That's kind of part of the job. So maybe it's my value system, right? 

Sharad Lal: turning to your book, How to Live. One of the things that struck me related to storytelling there was you of course journal a lot. You put your memories down, you talk about, and that's how you deepen the experience. But what was interesting is you take the liberty to embellish your stories, to make them interesting. there was something out there on that whole storytelling while you're looking at your memories to make them better, to serve you better. 

Derek Sivers: So for myself, I wouldn't embellish a story to make it more entertaining, but that's something I would do for others. I would feel it's almost my moral obligation to make a story a little more entertaining. 

Not just because it's considerate for your listening audience to tell a good story, but it helps a story travel further, right? So Aesop's Fables Aesop's Fables are thousands of years old, and we remember them because they've been told a thousand times And so they've become more and more memorable if there were some unnecessary details in those stories, those details have fallen away and what's left are these little stories that you can picture, whether it's, you know, the scorpion and the frog or whatever it may be, you can picture that story. And therefore, remember the lesson that that story was meant to communicate.

But, when you're talking privately in your journal, or just to yourself. What I might have been talking about there was the importance of taking a useful point of view. So you could say that person in my past was evil and they did wrong. They wronged me. You could stick with that version of the story, but you might notice that That interpretation of the events is disempowering. It makes you into a victim and there's nothing you can do about it. But on the other hand, if you look again at the past and say, Actually, wait, that was my fault. I created that situation that made that person act that way. I might have done the same thing if I were in their shoes, or they might be saying the same thing about me. They might be saying that I wronged them, and what they did was just payback.

It can help you make peace with your past, to find a more empowering point of view. 

Sharad Lal: Thank you for that, And as I understood, that's an iterative process. So first, of course, there are emotions that come out. You just get the emotions out of the page. And then you start questioning them and making it a little more empowering.

How does that process work for you? Does it take days? Do you sit down in one go and do it? How does that shift reframing happen for you?

Derek Sivers: Oh, that's a fun question. Both. Sometimes it's something slow that happens over days, or sometimes even months or years. Sometimes I've slowly thought again and again and again about a subject, even something as simple as, should I get a dog? I've spent years asking myself that question. If I had, why would I have a dog?

What do I want from a dog? What would be the downside? What would be the plus side? These perspectives might slowly form over years. But on the other hand, sometimes I have to make a decision about something. And so I will just sit with my journal for hours and keep challenging myself.

But then I also call friends. And I have thoughtful friends. I mean, I think that's actually the core trait. My core definition of friendship are the people that I most love talking about life with. And they do the same to me.

My friends call me up and, and ask me about Hey, what are your thoughts on this? You know, this happened today. What do you think of this? We talk about things that we're processing. 

Sharad Lal: Those conversations with friends, do they go like you're speaking and you figured it out and say thank you for your help? Like quite often you're processing on your own and just the ability to speak to someone and get your thoughts in the right place helps you? Or is it like advice?

How does it normally work?

Derek Sivers: Good question. I think it's 50 50. I think it's sometimes just the act of saying something out loud to somebody, the act of explaining your thought process to another person that is not in your head, is very useful. But sometimes many times, actually I feel it is maybe most of the time, my friend, whoever, whatever friend I'm talking to will say something really helpful, like they'll push back a little bit and say, I don't know, Derek what about this?

And you go, Ooh, Oh my God, that's such a good point. I'd never thought about that. And those are such wonderful moments, you know, for both of us and hopefully it happens. Both ways. I know that so many of my life epiphanies have been sparked by a thing that a friend said.

Sharad Lal: Absolutely. When I think of reframing, sometimes in my experience, I tend to fall into this trap of, all right, I want to look at the positive. I want to look at the useful. And I keep going down that path where I could take something which is not good, there's very little good about it, but I would want to quickly get away from that feeling of it not being good and try to make it useful, which sometimes might take my life in a direction where I'm just looking at, maybe living in fool's paradise, where I'm just looking at things which are not necessarily okay, but I'm just telling myself this is fine, this is fine, and I keep going.

So I wonder if, if that happens to you and what's the balance of saying, Oh, I've gone too far. This is not working. Let's call it that. 

Derek Sivers: Well, you said the key there. You said, this is not working. That's the real judgement. And sorry, I have way too much to say about this subject because It is the subject of my next book. It is what I was writing until 15 minutes ago. I was working on my next book, which is called Useful Not True.

And this is basically the subject. It's to judge ideas or perspectives. Not by whether they're true or not, but by whether holding that idea or belief is useful to you. And that's the best judge. If you ask yourself, is this positive, would you say a fool's paradise point of view, useful to me? Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't.

None of them are true, everything's just a perspective anyway. So you just have to notice in yourself which belief or which idea is most useful to me right now, because sometimes the negative ones are the most useful.

And I'll give a real concrete example of that. Years ago in Singapore, I met this wonderful, amazing, Australian scientist woman that we just fell head over heels in love with, like the day we met and had this great romance. But then one day in Singapore, I just, something just felt a little bit off. I don't know what it was, but instead of talking to her about it.

I just left. I just booked a flight and left with basically a couple hours notice. I said, Hey , I know that we were going to spend the whole week together, but I changed my flight and I'm leaving tonight. So goodbye. And she went, Oh, my God. Okay. And she was so shocked that she didn't. Say anything about it.

And I got on the plane and a few days later, I really, really regretted it in a really deep, horrible way. Like I've made a huge mistake. That was the wrong thing to do. I should not have done that. I should have talked with her about it. And when I talked to friends about this, they said, well, it's probably for the best.

I said, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Don't do that. That's not what I need right now. I don't want the fool's paradise though right now. I need to feel the pain of that mistake. I did the wrong thing, and I don't want to sugarcoat it and make it okay. Because if I do, I won't learn the lesson. I need to feel this pain to remember this lesson.

So that's an example where the negative point of view is the most useful one to you.

Sharad Lal: That's such a good example. And as you were talking, I had a similar experience sometime back and it was a very tragic event. I won't go into the details. But for me, whenever things were bad. That's how I was taught. Put a, put your head up and move forward in life. And that's what I do. But at that time, I couldn't do that because the more I did it, it became worse and worse.

And I needed to have a huge, good cry. And I needed to feel it. And I did that during a, I'd gone into yoga for the first time. I did a chakra cleansing class. And for the first, I'd never done all that before, but I let go. And it was the first time I found crying therapeutic. 

And it's exactly your point, it was that negative emotion, supposedly negative emotion, which helped me heal and move forward. And if I hadn't done that, I would not have moved forward. I've looked back at life.

Sometimes it's anger, stay with the anger because that can help you versus reframing all the time and getting to a positive. 

Derek Sivers: Yeah. Great example. Yeah. I found that The things that get me angry are things that are worth doing something about. Instead of just convincing myself to not be angry about it, anger can be a great call to action. Yeah, anger can be a good thing.

Sharad Lal: And I think with that usefulness, it brings about movement, call to action. It makes you move out of that state, whether it's mentally acknowledging it or physically actually going out and doing something. what it's worth for this book I'm doing for the useful not true book I'm working on now. My definition of useful is whatever helps you do what you need to do. Be who you want to be or feel at peace because sometimes you don't even need what you need is not to take action. It's just to feel at peace with what's already happened.

That's interesting. So if I was thinking of movement, movement can be mentally moving from a state of anger or uncertainty to a state of Resolution, healing, feeling at peace. It need not be you go out and start partying the next day and you're back to normal life. You know, because that's what some of my friends wanted to see me do.

But I didn't, I was faking it, right? So it was like faking, I don't really feel like doing it. I need to take the time, but when I mentally shift, that is movement and I know that is movement. 

Derek Sivers: I like that.

Sharad Lal: Let's go to how to live. One of the things that struck me was mastery. And I'll read something that you wrote, which was, which was just beautiful.

Mastery is the best goal because the rich can't buy it. The impatient can't rush it. The privileged can't inherit it. And nobody can steal it. You can only earn it through hard work. Mastery is the ultimate status. Can you talk a little bit about this idea?

Derek Sivers: Sure. First I'm going to take a tiny tangent and say, I love that quote so much that I almost forget it's mine. I, there, there are some quotes in this how to live book that I think are so beautiful and I feel like I'm not supposed to say that. But then I hear it quoted back at me and I just think, God, that is great.

Sharad Lal: That is great.

Derek Sivers: It's, it's, it's a strange feeling. I don't, I've never heard anybody talk about that publicly before about being really, really proud of something you've made to the point where you just think it's, you know, the most beautiful thing ever made. That's how I feel about the how to live book. I just think it's my favourite book I've ever seen.

And coincidentally, I'm the one that made it. So I love that feeling okay. So, oh my gosh, mastery deep, happy versus shallow, happy,

Shallow, happy is eating an ice cream. Deep. Happy is being proud of yourself for not eating the ice cream. Mastery is. more and more rare in our day and age and our culture where anyone can have hits of shallow happiness all the time.

So I think even 30 years ago, it was much more common to be sequestered away you In your practice shed, improving and improving, improving at something six hours a night without distraction, getting great at playing an instrument or painting or, you know, being a gymnast on the high bars or whatever it may be.

Whereas now that's becoming more and more rare since it's More and more tempting and possible to indulge in every little shallow hit of pleasure. That's why I think it's going to be more and more valuable, like not just immediately valuable, but I think in our lifetimes because it's going to be more rare, that makes it more worth doing because you'll probably be more rewarded for it since it will be more rare.

But just even in the present moment. Pursuit is the opposite of depression. And that in itself is a great reason to pursue something and get the constant rewards that come from levelling up and improving and improving one thing. you get these deep rewards that, That most people don't get.

True mastery instead of just a little bit of dabbling. The status thing is I mean, I hope it's kind of self-evident, that doing this is so rare, and so difficult, and can't just, you can't just buy your way into it. It doesn't matter who your dad is. You have to earn it yourself. You have to do the hard work. 

Sharad Lal: As you were speaking, I just had some thoughts around, you talked about it, the pursuit. And as you pursue and reach a certain level, it gives you a deep happiness. And then you get deeper and give you deeper happiness. Dr. Paul Conti and, and a woman had a lovely podcast on peace, where they talked about peace as the ultimate state, which you take as a generative drive.

So you have the urge and the pursuit to do something. And as you do it more and more and more, it gets you to that state of peace. And I don't know if peace and mastery are related, because that was for me very different From the way I thought of peace. First, I thought of peace as a static state that you just relax, but this is a very high state where your generative drive is taking you deeper and deeper into what you, your craft or whatever you're looking at towards mastery.

Derek Sivers: That's a, that's a nice one. I've never heard of that. Maybe like in the same way that I said deep happy versus shallow happy. Maybe it's like shallow peace versus shallow peace is a hot bath. In a quiet room with a candle that anybody can do and deep peace is this Feeling of yeah fulfilling good words.

Yeah fulfilment comes from Setting out to do something difficult and you did it and you achieved it and you feel Wow, I did it. What a great deep feeling of peace.

Sharad Lal: And I do a little bit of work commercially on purpose at work. And with work, we can get filled with noise like in the corporate world. I mean, you would know that there is just so much noise around that we forget about things. There's fame, there's other things. And I'd love to click into noise, noise with you.

But sometimes when I do a little meditative exercise, all of us kind of go deeper, and we think of a few things at work. where we solved a problem, where we got that joy and satisfaction. That's when we connect to the craft part of it that you were talking about, the craft, the mastery part, which is inherent in us.

And that, once we can use more of it, gives people purpose beyond, beyond paying the bills, beyond other things, because there is inherent purpose, but we lose it along the way because of all these things.

Derek Sivers: Yeah Yeah, I like that. I agree.

Sharad Lal: Now, one of the things about mastery as you start, of course, you start with enthusiasm, there's, you're trying to improve and get better, but. over a period of time, it can start getting a little boring. That's where the rigour needs to come in. Now, of course, there's rituals, things that you make sure you do. There's discipline, there's habit creation. But I was wondering, is there any kind of way of thinking about it that, hey, this rigour, I have to keep going through it.

I have to keep going through it to get towards mastery, towards a new level. 

Derek Sivers: I think the rewards are more subtle and they're more work. A friend of mine is a professional powerlifter, weightlifter lifting huge barbells over her head. And when I was telling her about the squats, the deadlifts I do, I talked about putting an additional five kg on the bar.

Every time I do it and she goes, Oh God, I missed those days. I said, What? What do you mean? She goes, Derek, I have to work for weeks just to add another like one kilogram to my deadlift. She said, Yeah, because I've been doing this for so many years that I'm really hitting the max of my capabilities and it takes weeks of work to add another kilogram

Yeah, those gains are very small, but she's getting a bigger reward because now she's out there competing against the world's best powerlifters that are flying across the world to get together in South Africa for an international competition.

And that's where she's competing. So it might be a little more. boring on the day to day level. You're not making the huge improvements that you made the first year. But I think you get this deeper sense of like, Oh my gosh, I'm, I'm one of the top 0. 1 percent in the world at this now, just because I've been doing it for a few years.

So I think maybe the satisfaction comes in different shapes.

Sharad Lal: I was wondering if something around the purpose is useful there. Like if you connect to a deeper story that this is your purpose, this is what you're meant to do. This is what you meant to manifest. And there's hard work to get there. I wonder if that is also another kind of motivator in those, in those moments.

It's a story that keeps us going. It's not true. I've never seen a purpose in nature. It's just in our heads. So it's not true, but it's a story that we tell ourselves to keep going.

To do what we need to do, be who we want to be or feel at peace. 

Sharad Lal: Maybe we dig a little deeper into purpose since you've come here. How have you seen purpose in your life? 

Derek Sivers: I don't tell myself much of a story of purpose. I don't think so. I don't usually think in those terms. What I do think in terms of are the Venn diagram of happy, smart, and useful I wrote a little article on my site and I gave it a nice short URL so I can just tell you that it's s i v e dot r s slash h s u, like happy, smart, useful.

And if you go to that URL you will see the diagram of happy, smart, and useful and my thoughts around it because somebody asked once how do you decide what's worth doing? I had to put some thought into it and I realised that's how I decided. It's this intersection of what would make me happy.

But it is also useful to others and also a smart strategy. And if all three feel like the intersection, then it really feels like it's worth doing. 

for me to really throw my life's energy into something, it has to for me. At least I have to feel that I'm doing it for other people as well as myself. And then it has to be somewhat smart.

So by smart, I mean, Strategic. Like it might make me happy and be useful if I were to quit everything I'm doing right now and go work at a soup kitchen ladling soup for the homeless. But I think for me, that would be Not smart, because having a big audience online just because of my life circumstances brought me here.

And I could do more good for the world by doing things that reach a bigger audience. And then maybe it could, I could do something that could pay for thousands of people to feed the homeless instead of just me down there holding a ladle. That would feel like a dumb strategy for me. Whereas for somebody else that is a smart strategy.

so that intersection of those things I don't call it purpose, but I guess it has that same feeling inside.

Sharad Lal: Love that. Love that. And I was very curious about smart, so I'm glad you explained it. But maybe if I can double click on that, because that kind of puts it together. a story came to mind. Somebody had actually talked to on the podcast he was working in consulting with BCG. He retired and he wanted to do good and he signed up for hospice service and they kind of then put him towards cutting someone's hair and he was going to do that and I think the smart lens came to him and he said this isn't my competitive advantage.

I'll probably spoil someone's hair. I'm a consultant. I can impact people in a different way. That's my competitive advantage And now he's working with a bank where he gets to change the culture, bring in purpose, and make a bigger impact. So in that way, I like competitive advantage.

moving forward you talk about creating and one of the other quotes that you talked about, which I really like, the most valuable real estate in the world is the graveyard.

There lie millions of half written books, ideas never launched, and talents never developed. People die with everything still inside of them. with this context, you get people, you tell them to go out and create. Even if you're not sure, just pick something and create. So I'd love for you to talk about this.

Derek Sivers: Sure. Yeah. Again, I'm going to take a tiny tangent first to say you know, listening audience, if you haven't read the book yet called How to Live it's a weird format where every chapter thinks it has the answer. It's kind of a joke and the point of the book is that the title is ironic. The book does not tell you how to live.

So yeah, the title is meant as almost sarcastic because every chapter disagrees with every other chapter. Every chapter thinks it has the answer. So there's a chapter that says be independent. This is how to live. You must be independent. That is the most important thing, is to be independent, to depend on nobody.

But then the very next chapter will say, Here's how to live, commit, like commit to a place, commit to a person, commit to a career. So it's the exact opposite of what the previous chapter was saying. 

I'm never saying that one thing is the answer. And that's actually the punchline of the book.

You'll see at the end, there are two pictures. The unspoken point is that no one thing is the answer. When I was finished writing the book and it was time to do the audio book, I tried hiring 27 different actors to read the 27 different chapters. The whole point is like, I know this Italian woman, she speaks like this. It's very, very sensual. And so her name is Laura. So Laura, I had Laura read the chapter about feel your senses, feel the wind in your fingers, feel the sun in your face.

And you're like, so like she. Embodied that chapter of hedonism because that's also like how she lives and I know her and she's got an amazing voice So I said, okay I want you to read this chapter and then I found like a really old actor from Finland that was reading the chapter on commitment and he had one of these deep gravelly voices with a Finnish accent.

He said, commit. This is how to live. That's what I really wanted from the book, so that you could hear. That it was like 27 different people giving their answer on what they feel is the best way to live. But unfortunately, I found Laura, and I found this guy in Finland, and I found maybe six or seven others but I couldn't find all 27.

And I tried and I tried and it wasn't working out. So finally I just went, oh well. And I came in here to my recording booth. And I did all 27 chapters myself.

If you, if you listen to the audio book, you'll hear I do it in kind of 27 different voices, not quite to the extreme I just did right now, but almost.

I look forward, as you were describing it, I wish at some stage you'd get 27p. I'd love to hear it, but the way you described those 27 things, I was like, hey, I need to get to the audio book right away. 

Okay, anyway, creating. Yeah, that one is very dear to my heart. I think one of the values of creating is not just making something for other people, but you learn something about yourself in the process of making something. Everything is an experiment. If you sit, whether you're a painter or a musician You sit down with this feeling of, well, let's see what happens if I take you know, cellos instead of a bass guitar, or if I use I'll use a bass as a drum instead of using a drum or let me, see what, what happens if I write lyrics that have no verbs.

and I'm going to give myself that creative restraint. So it's like you're kind of challenging yourself to see if you can do this. And then by doing this, you're kind of exploring yourself, you know, can I do this? 

Like I said, just 20 minutes before we hit record today, I was working on my next book called Useful Not True. And just because I've been sitting with this idea for so many hours, I came up with a new definition of a belief.

And I've never heard somebody say this before. I didn't read this in any philosophy book, but I really like it. belief. That is a stance on what's inconclusive. Like, we don't say, I believe, unless what we're going to say next is not necessarily true. Because if it were true, there would be no need to say, I believe. We don't say, I believe in squirrels, or I believe a square has four sides. We only say I believe for things that are not facts, where there's a need to take a stance because it's disputed.

It's not conclusive. So I thought, yeah, a belief is a stance on something inconclusive. And that's why right now I'll say that no beliefs are true.

Anytime you say, I believe such and such, it means that that's not necessarily true. If it were conclusive, it would be called a fact.  there's probably a hierarchy in stance. Belief is up there where maybe you have some level of evidence, some level of proof. It's not fully there. But there's an opinion, which is one level below. Where maybe you start with some sort of an opinion where I think where it's like you're leaning towards a certain angle and then you start gathering some proof that gets into belief.

Sharad Lal: And when then everyone believes it, it becomes a truth which also is not the truth like science is also not fully true like if everything changes, 

Derek Sivers: Earlier we said that the purpose of purpose, I think for a lot of people, they would say the difference between an opinion and a belief, it's almost just like a level of intensity. Like no, that's not just an opinion. This is my belief. This is my conviction. And I'm not prepared to go.

I'm not deep into this yet, but the next chapter I'm writing after our call today is, The more emotional the belief, the less likely it's true.

Sharad Lal: hmm, very interesting, 

Derek Sivers: if you've tied up your emotions in this, it's an indication that there's something else going on there. That you've attached some weird kind of identity or meaning to this.

We don't get all emotional about a square that has four sides unless there's a big fight about it. You know, some people got very emotional about vaccines because in 2020, there was a fight about it, but for the most part, if you're getting all emotional about something, it's a sign that that's not necessarily true.

Sharad Lal: Absolutely. I'd love to dig into it, but I respect that. There's ego and stuff. we won't, we won't, we won't dig into it.

Derek Sivers: next time we talk.

Sharad Lal: Next time we talk. 

I was curious, like you've been creative, you started in music. After that you created a business in my view, at least sometimes there are two minds.

There's a creative mind, which I hadn't used for very long, and I'm trying to start using it. And there's a business mind. So how have you been, do you come from one source? How do things work inside your head when it's coming to creative business stuff?

Derek Sivers: Business is as creative as any art form. It can be, if you're starting a business, you get to create. A world, a universe, where you make all the laws in this little world that is your business. That anybody that interacts with your business is playing by your rules of the game. Yeah, maybe that's another way of saying it. It's like you're, you, you've just made a, A game where you've made the rules.

Like those people that make board games. You say, okay, in this game, here's what you do. So when you're dealing with my business, I don't care what you do anywhere else. Here's how we do it here. You get to make up all these rules. It is so creative because you don't have to do what any other business has done.

You can just ask yourself from scratch, like in a perfect world. What would happen when somebody calls my company? You think, well, in a perfect world, somebody would pick up within the first two rings and say, hello hello, company name. Not be sent to a voicemail, not, you know, thank you for calling, please press 1 for this and that.

And you'd say, oh, but that, that would be difficult. You think, yeah, but That's this is the challenge. This is the creative challenge. How can we make it so that anytime somebody calls our company, we answer in the first two rings, a real person answers and greets them or whatever your values may be, how can we make it so that I can offer everybody?

A money back guarantee for anything they get from us. How can I do it so that instead of paying people once every quarter like my competitors do, how can we make it so that we pay them every day? Or whatever the challenge may be. This is your creativity, it's your creative envisioning.

Sharad Lal: That's so empowering. Unfortunately, I've been an entrepreneur in a boring type of business and I've taken it like, Hey, what's the PNL, where's the revenue going to come from, what's the client, it can be more interesting and I haven't thought about it.

Derek Sivers: Sorry, but even in what people would consider boring businesses, I think that The process I'm describing gives you a competitive advantage. And sorry, my memory's a little fuzzy on this, but I think if you read the story of Federal Express, aka FedEx, and I think the founder's name was Fred Smith, I think what he was doing, back in whenever it started in the 1970s or 80s, was like revolutionary at the time.

But in a way, that's just straight up B2B logistics, moving packages and planes. And where do we set up this hub? And how can we solve this logistical problem? But I think he was solving it in a way that nobody had considered doing before. And his creative approach is what Made him a huge success. So I think it can be the same in almost any industry.

You know, I actually was thrilled to see this story today about BYD, the Chinese car manufacturer about how they're going to be marketing this car or have started selling this car for 11, 000 to compete with 50, 000 American cars, and I almost. Wanted to applaud reading it like it was a great job.

I'm so happy to just hear this news. Like good for you that they've, I don't know what they've done differently in their whole supply chain or battery technology or whatever it is, but hell yeah, that's amazing. And you could say that, well, it's just cars, you know, there's no, it's not a creative industry, but I think there's room in any industry to find a way to do things differently. 

Sharad Lal: and those kinds of things which are creative as well. And maybe a lot of this was because I had left art personally a long time back. I grew up in India where it became very clear that maths is going to take you forward.

So it's like a very nerdy maths kind of a guy. And now I'm trying to get Some part of the art part of creativity,And I found something that you said very interesting when you kind of have constraints. Like for me, if I have an empty canvas and I'm to create, it's very difficult from an artistic way.

But if I have constraints that, Hey, don't use nouns, like you said, or speak without saying this word, my creativity comes out. So I found that extremely interesting.

Derek Sivers: You know, let's add one more example to this because it's an interesting subject where we were. Yeah. I think most people think the way that you do or did, which is equating creativity with like the arts, the pure fountain of, you know, the colourful fountain of creativity, whereas, you know, business is just P and L.

I'm going to give another example. Where, you may have heard the story, because it's easy to find everywhere online and people include it in my bio, which is when I sold my company. I gave all the money to charity and that was actually a creative solution proposed by my tax attorney. I should say he was my attorney.

He's my lawyer, but he had a background in tax law. And when I had this handshake of a deal to sell my company for 22 million. He said, what are you going to do with the money? I said, well, I'm just going to give it away. I mean, I don't need it. That's stupid. What would I do with 22 million? He was the one that said, you know, how serious are you?

I said, very serious. He said, are you sure? Like irrevocably, like this is a final decision you can never go back on. I said, huh. Why? What's up? And he said, I know of this thing in the U. S. tax code that says. If you create a charitable trust and you transfer the ownership of your company into the charitable trust now before the deal is final, then the purchasing company buys your company, not from you, but from the trust.

And therefore, the entire 22 million dollars will go to charity. Whereas, If you sell the company, you'll get taxed at 35 percent or something like that, and like, and 7 million dollars will go to the IRS, and only 15 million will go to charity.

So I could set it up in such a way that da da da da da, and the entire 22 million goes to charity. And to me, that is creative. Accounting at work. That's like, accountants can be creative. I mean, We just don't think of it as such because it's not colourful fountains.

Sharad Lal: ingenuity, creativity, that's a good way to think about it. there's many people in Asia like me who've come very, straightjacketed and mathematically oriented. we're realising that the world has shifted.

Now There's a whole visual element that comes in. And if you incorporate some amount of artistic what was initially thought of as creative stuff to yourself, that helps you become whole in your thinking, and that helps you perform better, like now I'm doing workshops and speaking, I'm using storytelling versus frameworks.

That's one example. Like earlier I was BCG. ABC frameworks, that kind of a thing, where like stories are better and there's a creative way of doing it. So I was wondering if you have noticed that and what are the ways in which if we go in one way, feel very mathematical oriented, how can we use the other part of the brain?

How can we get both together to get the most throughput out of ourselves?

Derek Sivers: you just have to know your own context. You have to pay attention to what mindset is helping you do what you need to do, be who you want to be. For me, thinking in those very artistic, thinking of it as art, for some reason works against me.

Whereas, the example of creative accounting inspires me more than paint in a canvas or a sculpture or thinking when I think of like the arts in that case for me, my brain clicks into a different place that's almost anti productive.

But when I think of just day to day reframing these ways are more inspiring to me. Is it called first order thinking like this kind of back to basics like first principle.

Thank you. Think first principle thinking like stripping everything down to the basics. And so often in almost any project I do, I ask myself, okay, in a perfect world, how would it be? You know, like I said earlier with, you know answering in the second ring I ask myself this with even strange questions like, okay, I was actually having a, sorry I brought up a dog twice now because just this morning on the phone I was talking with an old friend about the subject of having a dog or not. she asked, like, under what situation would you want to have a dog? And I said, well, in the perfect world!

The dog would actually be like, A wild dog that lives outside that takes care of itself, but I feed it sometimes and it's there when I want it. I can open my door and call and the dog comes, but other times I don't need to take care of it. And she laughed. She's like, Oh, you know, you and your perfect world.

So, but this for me. This kind of thinking works better than thinking in terms of the arts. But it sounds like for you, you've been feeling like your life was too numerical, and was missing that balance. Maybe it is, well hey, look at our differences in backgrounds. I spent 20 years as a full time musician. I was doing nothing but the arts.

I was a ringleader of a circus. That was my life. So now, When I like to sit down to do computer programming, I feel like, ah, you know, maybe that's my balance. It's like, oh, how nice to be in code, you know? So yeah, don't audience don't let any particular podcaster or guest tell you that this is how you should be.

You have to discover it for yourself and notice in yourself which mindset or way of looking at things works for you and what doesn't.

Sharad Lal: Absolutely. Your own context and you'll be driven towards that. I've been kind of driven towards the other that I'm finding for myself. Now moving on  You talk about being not dependent on anyone. keeping friends at a distance so that then you can have a better relationship with them. And I get that whole thing of independence, but there's this other thing, of belonging and a community and dependence.

So I don't know, how do these sit in your mind? Like, where is, where's the balance? 

Derek Sivers: Well, I mean, the balance. Is in the last page of the book where you see the orchestra seating chart that I think of, say, independence as the trumpet. in the orchestra. It is a loud, brash sound that can occasionally play a startling solo on its own, but can work wonders when you combine it with a more soothing instrument.

A lot of my life philosophy that I tend to live by, Is driven by independence technology wise. Absolutely. In fact, one of the most popular things I wrote last year was a blog post called tech independence. 

like the metaphor of the trumpet, I'm never saying, okay, in real life, I'm never saying this is the answer. In the book, I said this is the answer because that was the silly format of the book. it was meant a little tongue in cheek, the book that disagrees with itself.

But in fact, wait, I don't know if you noticed. In that chapter in particular, I did something that I I was originally going to try to do with every chapter, which is to take an idea and follow it through to its logical conclusion, which became almost absurd. like, independence is good. You should not be dependent on any particular company.

You should not be dependent on any particular person. You should not be dependent on such and such. And therefore, You should live in a cabin, growing your own food, not dependent on any. And so the whole idea was to bring it to its absurd conclusion. And originally I was going to try to do that with every chapter and instead I let, you know, taste override that choice, but I don't know.

Does that help explain my stance on it a bit?

Sharad Lal: helps. That helps explain. Maybe if I can dig in to understand that. Let's talk about friends. There's something that I like where you keep it a distance so you can actually see who they are when you're too close. You're not really seeing them. And I think there was a metaphor which made the point very clear.

Yes, that was a great metaphor. Yeah. I'd love to talk to you about friendship. how does independence, friendship, dependence, how does that play out for you? 

Derek Sivers: Hmm. I can say that. Most painful moments of my entire life. The two or three most painful moments of my entire life. were times when somebody I thought was my best friend basically ended the friendship or disappeared. We depend on our dear friends. We lean on them. I'd say it's almost my definition of what makes somebody a best friend versus just an acquaintance or just a friend. Your best friends are the ones that you can lean on. Lean your weight on like a walking stick. You depend on each other.

Anybody, you know, somebody who uses crutches to get around with a broken leg or an old person that uses a walking cane. You really lean on that thing. You depend on that walking cane to help you get through your day. how I feel about my best friends. I lean on them and they lean on me.

Sometimes they call me at two o'clock in the morning and say, I need to talk. And sometimes it's me calling at two o'clock in the morning, I need to talk. I love that. Those are having a mutual dependence like that. Or leaning, a mutual leaning on each other can, is one of the most rewarding, enriching feelings is to have somebody that is truly reciprocal of that.

And conversely, when somebody who you're really leaning on, and maybe used to mutually lean on you, suddenly disappears. It is, those have been the single most painful moments in my entire life.

If you don't mind me asking, so with, with that complicated relationship, is it, what do you think of like, when you go into friendship, is it like, I'm going to be close, but I'm going to keep a distance. I'm going to be independent of, I'm going to enjoy this, but I'm also going to be independent of this depth, like. have you arrived right?

Derek Sivers: I think there are very, very few people that you really get into that mutual dependence. We all have met hundreds or thousands of people and this mutual dependent friendship is usually just maybe three people. So I think it is very ideal. It's the goal. It's something worth moving towards if you're both feeling that way.

Like, you know, you meet somebody and you initially like each other right away. Like, wow, I just met you. I really like you. And then time goes on. And you know, sometimes there's some people that just grow on you. Maybe it's a colleague and you two have been working side by side for five years. a friendship grows slowly even if it wasn't a big wow at first, but eventually, I think there might be a mutual recognition of mutual dependence.

That can be really beautiful. If it's kept balanced even. So no, I don't try to keep friends at arm's length. I don't apply my value of independence to friendships.

You know, that brings up an interesting subject though, that not just in my how to live book, but anywhere in life, I think of everything as a tool in the toolbox that is never meant to be used for all situations.

I have another saying that got pretty popular that says Hell yeah or no, which is If something, if you're feeling less than hell yeah to something, just say no, it leaves more space in your life. So then when you do find the occasional rare thing that makes you go, Oh, hell yeah, that would be amazing.

That'd be great. Now you have time and energy to throw yourself into that completely because you said no to all the little yeses in between. So that idea spread. Tim Ferriss talked about it a lot in his podcast and his book and, and the idea spread around a lot. And so I meet people like that. Tell me that they're applying it to everything in their life.

I say, no, no, no, no, no, no. That's like, hey, nice screwdriver. I'm using it to wash my hair. I'm using it well, you know whatever, to make my breakfast. No, it's just, it's a screwdriver. It's meant for one thing. It's hell yeah or no is a tool for some situations, but not for everything. And so the same thing with independence.

That for me applies self reliance to the world of tech and especially like big tech and all these cloud services that try to make you depend on them. I apply it very, very fiercely there. I am dependent on no big tech company at all, ever. But friendships, no, I don't apply there.

Sharad Lal: I love this analogy of the toolbox because there's so many Things that are applicable based on certain contexts. They could be very powerful, like hell yeah, I know. And, and you're the one who created and says that don't use it everywhere. So sometimes we tend to think that this is wisdom coming from someone that, Hey, this is the way we are, this is the way we are supposed to live life.

I think that makes it better. Let's have quite a few of these with us and use whatever we want to, depending on the situation. We're good to have a lot of this wisdom in the toolbox.

Derek Sivers: Yeah, there is a human tendency, not for everybody, but a lot of people have a tendency to want to turn every idea into an ideology. They can't just say, Ooh, good idea. They have, they, a lot of people have this tendency to think that's the answer. This is it. This is the way. No, no, no, no, no, no. It's just a tool.

Do I? Yeah, I strongly advise against making anything into an ideology.

Sharad Lal: I love that. I was trying to relate it back to finding what's useful versus what's true. There, all these things are there, but it's, this is you see what's useful and you take it out. So that was interesting.

Derek Sivers: anybody listening to this you might know this about me already. You might not. I really enjoy my email inbox. I really like hearing from people around the world. It's one of my favourite things. In fact, I think one of the main reasons I do podcasts like this is to meet new people.

And I really like it when people contact me and email me and introduce themselves. I answer every single email and I really enjoy it. So anybody listening to this should definitely go to my website, go to S I V E dot R S and there's a big link that says, email me, contact and introduce yourself.

Say hello, ask me a question if you want, or just say hello.

Sharad Lal: Absolutely. I will leave the links and thank you for replying to my email. SoI can clarify what happens. And I think I read a stat on your website that you've replied to 36, 000 emails last year, or

Derek Sivers: Oh, that 

Sharad Lal: a staggering number. Yeah. It 

Derek Sivers: I think it's yeah, I think it's, I'm, actually, I know I was just updating my database last night. In my database, because I keep track, I built my own system, there are 480, 000 emails. So that's how many I've answered since 2008.

Sharad Lal: Wow.

Derek Sivers: Yeah, I enjoy it

You've written a lot about parenting. And what struck me was so good, and I won't be able to phrase it the way you wrote it, where you're enjoying those moments with your son.

Sharad Lal: It doesn't matter. whether he'll remember them, what's going to impact him. But that particular moment, choosing to spend that time is huge. And you don't want to have expectations of him that because you spend that time, he needs to be a certain way 

I was wondering if you have some thoughts and if you can talk about that.

Derek Sivers: Yeah. In short, try to think of everything from my kid's point of view. How old are your kids now?

Sharad Lal: Two in four. 

Derek Sivers: so, so, so different from the way that you see life. They do not understand time and clocks and what's going on in the world or anything.

It's just so right here, it's this toy and this thing and these crayons and that's it. So my main thing I would try to do. Ever since my kid was born and he, yes, he was born in Singapore. We moved down here to New Zealand when he was nine months old, but yeah, he was born in Singapore and we were PR at the time.

Thought I was going to live there forever. And I would just always try to enter his world. So. It's like when mama's on duty I just work as hard as I can. And when it's time for daddy duty, I shut down everything. I like to hold down the power button on my phone, swipe it across. It is off. I leave it at home.

There is no point in having that with me because it would just pull me into its little stupid world of urgency. So I enter my kid's world and I. Squat down to his eye level and I see the world through his eyes and I think of things from his mind and there are no clocks and hours and minutes and deadlines.

He's just living in the moment and he's doing what's exciting to him and what's interesting to his brain or what would be fun. And so we just do that. And I just, I make him the top priority when I'm with him. And I think it's that. A hard boundary for me that really helps is saying, now I'm working, I'm working, I'm working.

Oh, okay. It's, you know, whatever time it's three o'clock, right? It's eight o'clock. I'm on duty, shut down the computer, shut off the phone, change into comfortable jeans and a t- shirt or whatever, and just get down on the ground with him. and he's the boss. And that's it. Everything else just leads from that.

Sharad Lal: I love that.

Derek Sivers: Yeah, and I love it too. It's so peaceful. It's surrender. It's not trying to fight the Difference in worldviews, it's just surrendering to let his time scale lead the way.

And there were so many times when we would be at a playground and just sit there playing for like four hours at a playground. And all these other kids with their parents would just come in and go in like 10 minute little bursts because their parents would say, okay, fine. 10 minutes of playground. Okay.

Derek Sivers: Okay. Okay. And, you know, kids would come and go, Wee, wee, and they'd swing and they'd play, and then after 10 minutes, the parents would be like, Come on, we got to go. And I'd always feel bad with this whole, like, forcing kids into an adult time schedule. you could say, but that's reality. You have to. And I think, well, no, that's not true.

You can schedule your life in such a way that you can just let your kid lead the way.

Sharad Lal: I love that. I was guilty of doing something similar earlier where it was like if I'm taking my kids out, I would want to. Have it a certain way. Let's go here. Let's do this. Let's do that. The minute I let go and it happened by accident because it wasn't really working well with the two year old you hear knows very clearly and you see what works by default I just started following what the kid was doing what my elder daughter was doing and it was such a beautiful experience and then recently I was taking my other one who's now two years to school and just letting her do like she wants to walk then wants to get on the pram wants to do whatever and somebody passed by and said oh it's a special time for you.

I thought what a great way to put it. I thought it's a special time for this girl because I'm taking time out to take her, but it's a special time for you to be able to do that with that kid, that kid's not going to be that small. So I love everything that you're saying that if you're able to this all experiences in life, but there's one experience where if you can get into the kid's mind and see the world as a kid and just be present for them, that's the ultimate thing you can do for yourself,

Derek Sivers: Yeah. And,

Sharad Lal: for the kid, but for yourself.

Derek Sivers: And I got to say it, it's fun at the moment and it pays off that people now comment as my boy is 12, what a close relationship he and I have. Even when we're hanging out in person, he'll often just sit on my lap or we'll touch our two heads together as we're reading something. Or he just, we're just really, really close.

Somebody commented on that recently like I was in Japan for his school holidays, I took him to Japan because he begged me to and so a guy we stayed with in Japan, that was his main comment, like, after we were leaving, he said, got to tell you, like, the most remarkable thing is how close you two are. And I thought, well, that's actually just the culmination of an entire lifetime of what we're talking about, because I gave him my full attention and showed him his value. It, Paid off in the deeper relationship, 

Sharad Lal: So Derek, as we close out, I have this last question for everyone. At the end of your life, how would you know you've lived a good life? Yes. Yes.

Derek Sivers: The answer of many other polled people, the, you've heard of the concept of flow, the term coined by Mikhail Csikszentmihalyi and he apparently interviewed a lot of people and granted, now that I say this out loud, I'm realising maybe he had a bias in order to support his, his work, but at least he said that the people interviewed near the end of their life.

That were happiest with their life looking back were the ones that had spent the most time in the state of flow. I often use this as a compass for what's worth doing is to whatever is intriguing me the most. You know, it also matches that happy, smart, useful thing. I try not to waste too much time doing something entirely stupid.

But whatever is intriguing me the most. Is the thing that's going to give me that rapturous state of flow where you're just lost in something and it's what a great feeling. So I think a life spent pursuing that and a life that is structured to support that will probably give the best feeling at the end of your life that it was a life well spent.

Sharad Lal: Thank you for that, Derek. Thank you very much for making time and spending time with us in the How to Live podcast. I wish you all the best and I look forward to seeing you in Singapore sometime soon.

Derek Sivers: That would be wonderful. Yeah. And we'll hope to talk to you again.


Thank you, Derek, for such a deep, insightful conversation. For more, Derek will drop a link in the show notes. There's so much wisdom in that conversation. So there. Many many action steps, He does one that strikes out the most for me right now. Being smart in finding purpose. Purpose is not just what brings us joy and serves others. But it's also being strategic about it and smart. So here are some questions that can spark thinking. What stage of life are you in? What skills have you accumulated? What audience do you have? 

What's your competitive advantage? How can you bring this to the world? And if there's anything else around this, you can consider it to be strategic and practical about purpose. Best of luck. 

That's it for today's episode. I hope you enjoyed it. We will be back with another episode two weeks from now on April 9th. Hope you join us for that till next time. Have a wonderful day ahead. Bye-bye.