In this episode, David shares some of the unique ways he’s earning a full time income as an author and loving what he does. For instance, he’s earned several thousand dollars with his writing on the blockchain by using a network called Steemit.
In this episode, you will learn about:
- The future of publishing
- How to admit to ourselves what we really want to do in our careers
- The most important lessons David has learned about doing work you love
David Kadavy: I was doing that soul searching, and I was really concerned with the state of media. I worked in Silicon Valley as a product designer, so had gotten to understand what shapes technology products.
The way the economics were set up, technology products were just going to continue causing distraction and continue inciting people’s worst emotions. Everything was like attract eyeballs, sell eyeballs as advertising.
I was really concerned about that, and I wasn’t really sure of a good way around that. But at that time I was still doing a pretty similar to what I’m doing right now.
I’ve got a book, I had courses, and I still do sell those courses. But my whole process, my whole business for the last 10 years, I’ve been on my own, it’s really just been to follow my curiosity and then try to figure out ways to make money based on that curiosity.
This was after, I don’t know, eight years of being on my own and really getting a taste for a lot of different things. It takes that long for me to decide. I actually really enjoy the process of writing books, of having the podcast conversations, of learning about the world and then trying to synthesize that into something that helps people with something, something like a book or a podcast.
“It wasn’t that I was naturally doing something that different, it was just that I was doubling down on the things that were important to me.”
Part of that was a little bit of a pivot in terms of personal brand.
If somebody is aware of me, it’s because of the first book that I wrote, Design for Hackers. I had a reputation as a designer. I don’t really design a lot anymore, I design my own books now.
Part of it was, well, what else is important to me, what other sort of change do I want to affect in people. Initially, coming out of that conversation or that whole week of soul searching, it was almost like, difficult to admit to myself.
“What if you didn’t have to worry about money at all, what would you do?”
It was hard to admit it to myself. I would just read books all day and I would learn about things and synthesize what I learned and write about it and try to teach people what I was learning, as I was learning those things.
Coming to that realization was the turning point in this process. Initially, I was very concerned about technology, I was very concerned about distraction. I was very concerned about the way that technology and media shape people’s behavior in bad ways, which I think that people are really starting to wake up to. Getting addicted to social media and the way that it’s influencing their mood. People are really starting to pick up.
I left Silicon Valley in 2008. It was at least looking at what I had done during the day and thinking, “Did I make the world better in some way?” I didn’t see a clear answer there.
I really wanted to explore what was in my own brain, and that’s when I started this model of follow my curiosity, trying to figure out ways to make money based on that, using that as my main compass.
Courage to Be Creative
Charlie Hoehn: Why did you have that inner reservation to admit that?
David Kadavy: I think that I was afraid of it because of what I knew about technology and what I knew about the economics of media, I didn’t really see a clear path to having success and living a comfortable life with that plan in mind.
I think that’s why I was reluctant but it was one of these things where I know, people have different ways of discovering things about themselves but it’s one of these things where as I said it, I could feel this change in my physiology of like “Oh crap. Now that I’ve said it, I have to do this.”
Charlie Hoehn: How did you overcome the inner war?
David Kadavy: A lot of people feel deep down inside, they want to be creative and then they’re not really able to find the courage to pursue it. There’s no question why.
Look at the way that the world is set up. You go to school for however many years, you take however many standardized tests, everything is about following these instructions.
Obey these instructions, take this path, you’ll get a job and it will be secure and you’ll have health insurance and there will be a retirement plan everything and everything will work out well.
The world doesn’t work that way anymore.
Overcoming Old Mentalities
Charlie Hoehn: By the way, do all the work yourself, never delegate it to anybody else, don’t cheat, AKA don’t work with other people. The way school is structured, like you said, it’s nothing like the real world if you want to be successful on the real world.
David Kadavy: I was just at a family member’s house for the holidays recently and in the children’s play room, there was one of these pictures that you put up that has words on it like has different life philosophies on it to guide the children who are playing in the play room and it had all these things like share and play and be nice and one of the things that said was, “Share everything except bad ideas.”
I just thought, that’s terrible. It made me realize that’s the environment that I grew up in, I grew up in the cul-de-sac in Omaha, Nebraska.
“People around me weren’t authors, they weren’t entrepreneurs, they weren’t doing their own thing.”
They were just living their secure middle class lifestyle, you know, working at the insurance company or starting a business, removing snow or what have you.
The books that I was reading, the movies I was watching, the video games I was playing…it didn’t occur to me that people made those. It was like, those might as well just be like fruit growing on the tree in the backyard or something, they’re just part of the natural environment.
It didn’t occur to me people make those things and those people have to have a certain type of attribute. There’s lot of people who grow up in that kind of life where there is that structure and there isn’t that respect or understanding of what it really takes to create something and then as a result, they have all these false beliefs like don’t share bad ideas.
“The idea that you could have a good idea without first having a bad idea is insane.”
Anybody who creates anything knows that it’s not how it works. I think that a lot of people in your standard, mainstream lifestyle, they picture that there’s just a magic wand that you go down to the career center in your high school and you say, “Yeah, I want to be a professional basketball player,” and they’re like, “Okay, fill out this application and there’s this class that’s going to teach you how to be a professional basketball player.” You go to that school for four years and then the next thing you know, you’re a professional basketball player.
It doesn’t work that way. You’ve got to figure things out for yourself. I think as our world is changing, it’s becoming more and more important for us to be able to connect with our humanity, connect with the thing that only we can do. That’s part of what I wanted to put into The Heart to Start.
It’s a constant fight, deprogramming the decades and decades and lifetime of programming of thinking that things work some other way when they don’t work that way.
Highlights of The Heart to Start
Charlie Hoehn: People love this book. What are the parts of The Heart to Start that seem to resonate the most with your readers?
David Kadavy: I’m trying to think of the most popular highlights there in the book. I think one of them is from Jon Bokencamp who is the creator of the NBC’s hit series called The Black List. James Spader plays this jet-setting professional criminal and he’s basically talking about how you have to find your own voice.
“Even if it’s weird, your voice is the one thing that you have that nobody else has.”
When you said that on my podcast, I was thinking that is absolute gold. Of course I put it in the book and it became one of the most popular highlights in the book.
That’s what I want to drive home, not just with The Heart to Start but with my work in general. Understand that you have something that nobody else has. I think that’s something, if I look at the Amazon reviews, I’ve been very pleased by them. I, of course sent a review request to people who are on my list but I just never expected it to be that heavily five star reviews.
Not only that ,but the reviews are very specific. People are talking about very specific ways that the book helped them, that maybe they were a little depressed because they just weren’t creatively fulfilled. And that somehow my work helped them connect with that and make it a bigger part of their lives.
“Now they’re pursuing their creative endeavors and they’re finding more satisfaction in their life.”
That’s what I hope is why people were likening it so much. Looking at the reviews, I think that that is probably the reason. And that’s fantastic because that’s exactly what I wanted from the book, you know? I’m thinking of my 25 year old self and what I wish I could have told him.
Charlie Hoehn: The way I like to remind myself in that is no one steps up to a blank canvas and says, “Every landscape has been done already, what do I have to offer?” You know, they just get up there and paint. We can all create stuff from our perspective and it comes from you. Therefore, it’s unique.
David Kadavy: Knowing me, I would step up to that canvas and think, “All the landscapes have been painted,” but you know, this is something that happens when I’m writing as well. You have to trust in yourself.
Actually, there was a feeling that I had when I was writing this book and releasing this book and it was very familiar to a story that I had heard. I heard a story about who is the abstract expressionless painter who did all the drip paste, Jackson Pollock, right?
Jackson Pollock, there’s this story, he was working on a painting, he’s standing in front of the painting and he turns to his wife and he asks, “Is this a painting?”
“He didn’t want to know if it was a good painting, he wanted to know, is this a painting.”
He had, I guess, gone through all this experimentation and kind of come up with his own way of doing things, and he was wondering, is this a painting.
Before writing The Heart to Start, I had made a couple of attempts at doing the traditionally published thing where you do a book proposal, you approach a few agents and stuff.
Something about it just felt really off to me. I felt like I kind of – wasn’t good enough for it in a way or that – Really, it turned out that I think I just had different values. I kept feeling this pressure to say that I was a professor at Stanford University or that I worked for this Fortune 500 company and I’m a journalist at this big newspaper. I guess it took me a while to realize not only have I not done those things, those aren’t important to me at all.They aren’t signals to me.
“I mean, those are great accomplishments, but with what I value, those aren’t signals to me of accomplishment really.”
So, I eventually let go of all of that and really just tried to write the book that felt very natural. And that was The Heart to Start.
You know, I was very nervous putting the book out because I’m thinking that was so natural to me. But does it even makes sense, is it just gibberish, I don’t even know. I had been sharing the book with my followers for months, I have it written, and they read the first draft for free while I was writing it and everything. Had decent feedback. I’m thinking, is this a book?
But then I put it out there and then the Amazon reviews came in as something like, “Okay, this is a book. Cool.” That was way less painful than my first book. It was a nice feeling.
Creators Have Different Credentials
Charlie Hoehn: Break out, you can be an artist, you can create new things.
David Kadavy: You know, it’s interesting. I hope that that’s crumbling, the authority triggers that have been so tried and true for the last several decades. I think those are starting to go away.
One, people are becoming increasingly more skeptical of the establishment of, “Okay, you are a professor at this Ivy League University or you work for this big newspaper or you’ve worked for these big companies.”
I think there’s increasingly more people who are maybe skeptical of that. Good case in point might be the success of Mark Manson and his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck.
His bio is basically, he’s a star blogger, he has millions of readers, but he’s a blogger. He’s a guy who liked travel around, he learned some stuff, he wrote a fantastic book about it, he sold more than two million copies.
Charlie: In like a year.
David: Yeah, incredible.
David Kadavy’s Take on Publishing
Charlie Hoehn: Talk to me about the state of publishing right now. What excites you? What do you think is on the rise? What do you think is going away?
David Kadavy: The idea is to get eyeballs. So to get eyeballs, you’ve got to get clicks. To get clicks, you can write whatever headline you want.
Once you have those eyeballs, you can sell them off to advertisers. It doesn’t matter if you upset the people who are reading, in fact, it might even be better because that makes them share it, that makes them pay more attention to it.
“I have a problem with that model.”
Now, I think that that’s going away, and there’s a few different ways that will be going away. One is block chain. I’m not going to try to use this just like a buzzword, I’m going to try to explain it as best I can because I’ve taken a lot of time myself trying to understand it. The idea is that when you are using Facebook, you are working for Facebook.
Facebook has no value without what you contribute to your comments, your posts, the relationship that you maintain on Facebook. None of that has any value without the network effect, without everybody using it.
Now, Facebook in order to fund the platform, then has to sell advertising, it’s not really easy for them to distribute or compensate you for your contribution besides of what I call ego capital. Just that you are getting enjoyment out of the platform somehow and that is your payment.
Block chain technology is a irrefutable ledger. It’s not a database that sits on Facebook’s server. It’s this sort of shared database that a bunch of computers around the world all kind of check with each other and okay, did this transaction happen? Okay, cool.
It can’t really be tampered with. Because of that, you can distribute little bits of tokens, so it could be that this person published a blog post and then this person shared the blog post so that person who shared the blog post will get a little bit of any future rewards that that blog post gets, comments, can earn tokens.
Another Platform for Content
David Kadavy: This happens on a network called Steemit. There’s one iteration of this idea. The most promising right now but hopefully there will be more.
I’ve been writing on Steemit for about a year now. Just syndicate my content to Steemit. I earn this Steem tokens for the writing that I do there and these tokens have value because one, they have value within the net worth.
“The more tokens you have, the more influence you have to earn more tokens.”
If you cash those tokens out, there is also this market of people who are trading these crypto tokens off Steem and they’ve assigned a value to those tokens. I’ve cashed out so far around $4,000 from my Steemit account, and my account’s currently worth around $8,000, $9,000.
Again, I’m holding on to that because the more that I hold on to it, the more I can earn when I cash out. I take the money out but then I have less potential to earn when I cash out. That’s part of what gives the tokens value.
Now, for me to cash those tokens out, currently, I still have to convert them to bitcoin first. What I do is I cash out the tokens, I convert them to bitcoin, and then I convert the bitcoin into dollars, right away. It hits my bank account and it’s income.
Learning a New, Complex Thing
Charlie Hoehn: Kind of explain a little bit because this is really interesting.
David Kadavy: It’s extremely confusing. Anybody who is listening should know that it’s extremely confusing, and that’s usually like the first dismissal of it.
Now, I think this is important to understand that humans, as a group have learned all sorts of complicated, confusing things such that they’re now second nature, right?
If you watch an old video of the good morning America hosts trying to understand what the internet is from, I don’t know if it’s from 1992 or something like that. You will see that humans can as a group learn to understand extremely complex things.
With that in mind, how do they pay? I will post something on there, people will up vote it and when they up vote it, basically, it is tracking all these up votes. At the end of a week, it collects all the up votes and the amount of Steem power or how much influence there was of all the people who up voted it.
There’s some people with a ton of influence. They’re called Whales, they have a ton of steem. So every time they up vote something, that person earns a lot of money. Then, they earn curation tokens as well.
“Part of what makes a network like Steemit or like Facebook valuable is because people up vote things and provide these signals of valuable content.”
Yeah, maybe at the end of that week, then it will split it up and I have a post where I broke it down, I don’t know if it’s like, maybe 75% of the earnings go to the author and then 25 to curators, I’m not exactly sure.
But if you up vote a post that ends up doing very well, I believe the earlier you up vote it, the more of the share you get.
It’s kind of like, I haven’t looked into this much but I’ve heard stories about how tribes they would go hunting would divide up the meat of a kill and it’s based on you know, who made the shot, who had the assist and then maybe it’s by some other hierarchy within the tribe.
Getting the Most Out of Content
Charlie Hoehn: Do you recycle some of your old hit articles on here or do you only post new content?
David Kadavy: This is something that I’ve just started doing a lot. I syndicate stuff like crazy now. I mean because when you think about it, content, people don’t really care where they are getting content.
There are people who like to read on Steemit, there’s people who are reading on Medium, there’s people who read through RSS, there’s people who read on Kindle.
“So I am just trying to do my best to syndicate my content through all of those platforms.”
So yeah, I have a process that I set up where I mostly write on Medium first and then I will use a tool to convert the Medium post to Markdown, which is how you post on Steemit.
It is a little cumbersome to post because you have to do the Markdown, you have to do a little bit of coding. Then I will use a tool called Streemian to schedule posts. Then and I will schedule the post.
So there will be a steady stream of them going in that way. I’m not constantly having to update and look at it, but yeah, it is extremely compelling. When I use something like Facebook or Twitter, I really feel like, “Wow this is in the stone ages as far as the compensation.”
“When I say that Facebook is in the stone ages, I am not saying that Steemit is going to totally up-end Facebook anytime soon.”
I am saying that if Facebook does not respond to this new technology and find some way to distribute compensation accordingly for the efforts for all the people in the network, things are going to change very, very, very fast at some point. The whole earth could fall from underneath them, and since they are a publicly traded company, I don’t see how they could respond if something really picks up.
Creatives and Reimbursement
Charlie Hoehn: Do you know how many posts that I’ve done that have gotten hundreds of likes over the years and never made a cent? They’ve been free and they’ve added nothing to my bottom line and that’s writing the people genuinely value.
David Kadavy: Right and this gets into – I mean you really just triggered me on this other thing that I think is really interesting about it. You put in that effort, you made something that people genuinely enjoyed, but this is one of the problems with the economics of being a creator. This is one of the things that I was thinking about and agonizing over during that trip to Mexico.
I call it the four dollar Tim Ferriss effect, okay?
“So I read the 4-Hour Work Week in 2007, and it completely changed my life.”
I live in Colombia, I travel the world, I created passive income streams based upon the things I learned in that book.
It made me hundreds of thousands of dollars from the things that I have learned in that book. And I borrowed it from a friend. I have bought maybe one of Tim Ferriss’s other books. Knowing how publishing works, he got maybe three or four dollars from me over the course of 10 years. I’ve listened to his podcast a bunch, all of this stuff, and this is huge, huge impact.
Now, if someone were to have come up to me in 2007 and told me like, “Hey I’ve got this book for you, it’s going to re-architect your brain. You are never going to see the world in the same way. It is going to help you make hundreds of thousands of dollars.” I would have told them to fuck off.
So, there’s this weird thing with creation and with books is that the impact is not commensurate with the pay.
“Books take some work.”
What most creators do who have platforms online is they create online courses. Online courses are a little more specific. It is a little easier to say, “I’m going to teach you how to be a freelance designer and you are going to earn your money back in six months.” Or something like that or more common is, “I am going to sell you an online course teaching you how to create online courses to sell online.” It is creating a self-referential thing.
It is making it harder for fringe ideas to really have a life. So this is where I see things like the block chain, or I might be able to talk about Kindle or Patreon even. Creating more opportunities for creators to get creative, to get compensated for the value that they create in people’s lives.
On Passion on Loving What You Do
Charlie Hoehn: I’d like to talk a bit about your podcast, Love Your Work. So tell me, why is it important to love your work?
David Kadavy: I think it comes from my origin story and my upbringing. Being surrounded by those people who are going through the traditional template and working the nine to five and such, which is totally fine. There are perfectly valid reasons to do that.
My dad worked the same job for 37 years. He wasn’t somebody who was passionate about his work. He didn’t come home and talk about his work at all. So when it came time to go to college and start finding a career and people are telling me about different career directions, they are talking about how much money this makes or how much money that makes.
“I am thinking, “Well but you are going to do this thing all day, don’t you want to enjoy that?”
It is such an important part of your life. For myself, I just can’t be motivated to do something that I don’t enjoy doing. So when I did finally go on my own 10 years ago, I woke up that first morning…I just remember cowering under the covers because I am thinking:
“Okay, I’ve wanted to be on my own for so long and now is my chance but I’m scared out of my mind. I have an entire day in front of me and that is just vastness that needs to be filled. How can I fill that time with something that I enjoy so that I can actually won’t let go down the hallway and play guitar hero all day? I need to rediscover my curiosity.”
So when I started Love Your Work, I think it was really because that’s what I am looking for.
“I do get up every morning and I do love what I do and I look forward to doing all of it, but I am still on that journey myself. I am still trying to figure it out.”
Sometimes I wonder if it is even possible or if it is practical. Like maybe I should do something that just makes me a lot of money and that I don’t love. So I still wonder that sometimes. But that is the question, that’s the journey that I am on throughout the podcast, interviewing people on there and pontificating about it through my articles and such.
I am not one of these people who is like, “Follow your passion!” Because just like you said, when you love what you do then you are willing to go through the inevitable discomfort, the inevitable painful parts of making it work.
I say passion is not a destination, it is a weapon in your arsenal.
David Kadavy’s “Love Your Work”
Charlie Hoehn: For people who listen to this podcast, they want to go check out Love Your Work, what’s the episode they should start with?
David Kadavy: I love the episode with Seth Godin. That is a huge one for people. I think it’s episode 77. I do this podcast very selfishly. I am looking to get super powers from my guests. That conversation with Seth Godin, you can actually probably hear me coming to the realization that I need to rethink my approach to publishing.
That was when Seth told me that basically if you want to write a book you’re going to have to be the head of marketing for your book anyway. So you should be self-publishing. He was saying write a book on Kindle every week, and then you learn about marketing and you learn about putting your book out there.
It really got me to stop treating my writing and my work as if it were drops of liquid gold that had to be salvaged.
“You aren’t just holding onto it like it’s this caged bird that you just can’t let go.”
You have the attitude instead, “Okay I am creating this thing and there is a lot more where that came from, and I can keep going.” So that was a great conversation with Seth Godin.
Anybody who’s familiar with Jason Freed, I had a wonderful conversation with him. That was the first episode. James Altucher is another great one on there. Dan Ariely, the behavioral scientist and a former colleague of mine as well.
Feedback from The Heart to Start
Charlie Hoehn: David, do you have any success stories or listener emails that come to mind of people who have listened to Love Your Work and it has changed their life in some way?
David Kadavy: Yeah, I do get those emails sometimes, and I can’t even say I put my finger on it because sometimes I don’t really approach Love Your Work with the sense of “I am trying to do this specific thing for people.”
I wanted it to be useful for people, and I try to make it useful. But I don’t really necessarily have an exact result in mind, because for me, it’s a process in itself.
“It’s not so much a product as it is a process in itself.”
So yeah, I get these emails of people saying that they were just feeling very unfulfilled and unmotivated and they are wasting their time watching Netflix and scrolling through Facebook.
But the idea of loving their work made them see things differently, so they started pursuing things that they were curious about. Sort of reading more using that curiosity and using that passion as fuel to find engagement in their life and to move forward that way. So that seems to be the feedback that I hear the most.
When somebody does message me to tell me that the podcast is really doing something for them, that is a fantastic feeling because that is something that I could have used 15 years ago.
A Challenge from David Kadavy
Charlie Hoehn: Do you have a challenge that listeners can maybe do this week that can change their life in some way whether significant or small?
David Kadavy: I have a challenge in mind, but I am afraid that it is going to come off as too much of a noob challenge. It depends on how experienced people are. But if you are somebody out there who does think about writing a book and you aren’t writing a whole bunch, I would say to start building a very small habit of writing.
Now most people, when they say to build a habit of writing they say, “Oh you just write 500 words a day. Write a 1,000 words a day.”
“I am going to say write 50 words a day, write a 100 words a day.”
The same time every day, you sit down, you write that 100 words and you just keep that up, because something magical starts to happen. This is the way that I ended up writing this last book. It was through a daily writing habit.
Something magical starts to happen. You might for very many days in a row get up and dread doing your writing habit, dread getting started. But then eventually it just gets easier, and eventually, you magically get better at it. It’s really an incredible thing, and it takes time.
So I would say just start with that, or just try it for a week if you don’t already have some kind of writing habit, and pick something well below your skill level.