Derek Sivers

Entrepreneur, programmer, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.

Long interview from Practical Personal Development Podcast.

This is a transcript of an interview done by Alex Shalman from AlexShalman.com. See his site for an overview, or here for the full version:

Alex:

Hello Derek Sivers, welcome to the Practical Personal Development podcast.

Derek:

Thanks. Hi!

Alex:

I heard an interview with you where you said an artist must be able to define the type of music that they play. I think it's important person for every person to define who they are. But sadly, most people don't have a mission in life that they can strive for on a daily basis. You, on the other hand, seem to be driven with a purpose and I'd love to know how you define yourself and advice for our listeners on what steps they can take in order to define themselves.

Derek:

This came up conversationally with a friend last week who asked if I had a dark side. She knows me really well so I was surprised she was asking this. I said, “What do you mean?” and she said, “Well, sometimes I get really pissed off and I get in a rage against such and such...” She was saying that her mom doesn't have that. Like almost anybody can screw her over and she'll say something like, “Oh well, I'm sure they meant well.” And she's like, “Come on mom, can't you get pissed sometimes?” And she's thinking it's okay to be positively driven and yet still have a dark side. She was saying, “I'm just wondering what's yours? Or do you have one? Or do you agree?”

So I thought about it and on one hand I kind of feel that I'm ridiculously positively driven. I see the bright side of everything. I'm just a ridiculous optimist. It's probably kind of frustrating to be around me sometimes because I'm always looking at the bright side of everything.

But on the other hand, because she asked a couple times and stayed on the subject, I realized that at the core of almost everything I've done since I was a little kid is a sense of rebellion. I've always rebelled against my surroundings. So a huge drive for me, especially starting in high school, was that as a musician I got to know some of my fellow musicians whose older brothers for example, that used to be like the rock star of the high school - the best guitarist in school or the best drummer in school - and now they've got a job laying plumbing for the Village of Hinsdale. They got married, and hey, you've got bills to pay - you've got to take care of the practical stuff - can't chase those rock star dreams forever. And man that would piss me off. I'd just say, “I can't believe you! You had so much potential. You could have been a great musician and you just blew it off in the name of mediocrity and getting some dumb day job to pay the bills.”

So I was so fiercely driven to never let that happen to me. That actually became the core of my personality. Became this never rest - never stop working - never settle - never relax - never watch TV - never hang out kind of guy. I just became so fiercely driven, all as like a rebellion against that possible future. This is what happens if you don't stay fiercely driven, you just fall into complacency and settle for some kind of compromise and pretty soon you're not doing anything.

In a way that's one of the ways that I define myself, because I've found since then that it's at the core of a lot of what drives me. Rebelling against something, pushing against my surroundings.

Other than that, the other core thing that drives me is a sense of experimentation - a challenge.

For example I was talking with another musician recently who asked me the interesting question of why do you make music. Her answer was that she just loves the totally intuitive, free flowing thing, where it's almost like she just puts her hand on the instrument and opens her mouth and just words start flowing through and chords start appearing on the guitar, melodies start singing. Almost just like a bird in a tree. Completely un-premeditated, just, you know, spontaneous flow.

Mine was the exact opposite. In all of my years of making music, I would give myself challenges. I would say, “Let's see if I can take this changing chord progression that I learned from a Dizzy Gillespie song, and mix it with this drum sound from Zeppelin with this kind of bassline, but then write lyrics from the second person point of view, telling a story about a crime that hasn't happened yet...”

I'd lay out all these challenges for myself and then I'd say “Okay, go.” I'd use that as my restriction and I'd take it as this mental challenge to see if I could achieve all that and still make a piece of music that I love.

So it's a completely opposite approach and I think I take that approach to business too. That it's not about making money to me, it's about seeing I can take some kind of challenge that I lay out for myself and make it happen.

Sorry, that was a really long answer.

Alex:

No, that gave us a really good idea of what you're all about. I love it.

Derek:

But there was a second half to your question...

Alex:

The second half was: what kind of advice do you have for other people to help them define themselves?

Derek:

You could try to be all righteous and write some silly mission statement that you think you should be writing. But I think it's important to look at your past and see what has fueled you. What keeps you up all night? Or what keeps you up late? The kind of thing, whether it's a great book, or learning to program CSS style sheets for the web or hanging out with friends. Be honest. Look at the things that actually keep you up hours past your bedtime or get you bouncing out of bed first thing in the morning or that get you so intensely focused that hours fly by and you don't even notice. Take a look at what those things are, take just a real objective look at that, and be true to yourself. It's okay to admit that a core definition of who you are is a great friend and conversationalist.

Alex:

So basically you're saying look at what your addictions are and see which addiction is positive, and then go with that. For example, playing a video game up all night is not exactly the most productive, healthy thing that you could be doing, and it's not going to pay the bills. But if your passion is to stay up all night, playing music, writing that song, then you know you're on to something.

Derek:

Right. It's a little bit like what is, what is inside of that. Okay, the video games. Great example. So let's say you really do spend hours and hours playing video games. What's at the core of that? Maybe adrenaline is a main motivator for you. You don't even have to take the positive, take the realistic. I don't think my thing about rebellion is all that positive but I think it was really helpful when I realized that that was the core of so much of what's driven me over the year is rebelling against my surroundings. Sometimes it's straight up negative. I was living in San Francisco for a few months but had to leave because there was nothing for me to rebel against. I was actually too similar to my surroundings so that, I couldn't...

Alex:

You had it too good over there?

Derek:

Yeah I couldn't push off of anything! You know what I mean? Rebelling is a sense of kind of like propelling away from. Growing up in Hinsdale, Illinois, I was propelling away from the slacker ex-musicians that compromised and got a boring, dumb job. Then I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston and everybody was hanging out, wearing black, you know, staring at their feet. So I started wearing all white. I actually went out of my way and found like a white leather jacket and white jeans and started to just be a freak wearing all white and I was bouncing down the street where everybody else was sulking. Then I moved to New York City and everybody was going out all the time and going out to all the events and things like that, so I became a hermit, pushing against that, and spending all of my time intensely internally focused on practicing and writing and inventing and creating and recording. I went to Portland, Oregon which is a real kind of stoner slacker culture and I rebelled against that by getting ultra-ambitious in response. And then I got to San Francisco, and yeah, everybody was too much like me. So I couldn't really rebel against it as much. I wasn't about to, you know, go all of a sudden become some kind of arch-conservative in a liberal town or something like that. It just wasn't me. So I had to leave. I had to rebel...

Alex:

It's great that you figured this out about yourself because I can see someone with that same nature as you feeling really out of place and feeling bad about it because they don't fit in. But you, you just go with it and that's your driving force.

Derek:

I make a point of not fitting in. I love not fitting in. Which, I guess, you know, when I go to conferences, if I'm speaking on a panel, makes me always want to be the contrarian there. I'll just say the opposite of what everybody else is saying just for the fun of it. Just to try...

Alex:

You're the devil's advocate.

Derek:

Yep. But yeah, I'm sorry, going back to what you said a few minutes ago: You don't always have to find the positive. Just find the realistic, admit it and embrace it. There have been some amazingly successful people in history that really took what could have been labeled as a downside by others and turned up the volume on it and made it who they were. Think of great writers or artists who took their mad depression or twisted perspective on the world and made it their own thing. You know? So go with it. You don't have to spin everything positive.

Alex:

Just take a look at yourself, see what's authentic and real there and define yourself as that without trying to be anything else.

Derek:

Yeah.

Alex:

Great. Now, Derek. You sent me a link for something pretty special there. You are the founder and CEO of CD Baby, or at least you were.

Derek:

Yeah.

Alex:

Can you tell us a little bit about what this company is?

Derek:

Um, eh. I haven't been there in a year and a half. I sold it a few months ago. So it's kind of, I don't know what it is anymore. I'm gone. I started it ten years ago as a way of selling my own CD, and some of my friends asked if I could sell their CD and it accidentally, my little tiny hobby accidentally turned into a company, then that company accidentally turned into the largest seller of independent music on the web. By the time I sold it had something like a hundred million in sales and 85 employees which was far too big for my tastes so I got out.

Alex:

You had to rebel against that too right?

Derek:

Yeah... well, no. I think it's important to always challenge yourself. Whenever you find that you're just doing something that you can do in your sleep and you've been doing it for a while, you've got to challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone and do something new. I really try to avoid my comfort zone at all times. I hate being comfortable.

So CD Baby - I'd been doing it for ten years. I probably should have gotten out five years ago because really the last five years I was just doing stuff I already knew how to do, and that's not where the learning-growing experience is. I wanted to get out and throw myself into something scary and challenging. That meant starting a new company from scratch, which in itself has some challenges and limitations I've set.

So I'm starting this new company called Muckwork, and my challenge for this is it's going to be an international decentralized company that's going to provide personal assistants - eventually for other small business owners - an actual team of assistants spread out around the world that are willing and able to help musicians do the boring uncreative dirty work, hence the term Muckwork, that they need doing.

But the challenge to this one for me is that I want to do it with no employees. Just really have it be a loose collection of independent contractors around the world - not have it be US centric. As a reminder of that, when it was time for me to set up the company, I decided to incorporate in Hong Kong instead of the US. So Muckwork is a Hong Kong corporation with its official home base in Hong Kong. Even though the guy who founded it happens to be American.

Alex:

So, what's the key ingredient to your success with your former company and the new one that you're starting?

Derek:

CD Baby was an accident. I was making my full time living as a musician. Last time I had a job was 1992. I quit my job in 1992 and I haven't had one since.

Alex:

I'm sorry, that's just too funny, that your baby was an accident. That's great.

Derek:

I just did this little thing as a hobby. I just started a website. Then a few people said, “Hey can you sell my CD?” And I said, “Yeah, sure, I guess.” Then a few of their friends called me up and started saying things like, “Hey man, my friend Dave said you could sell my CD.” I was like, “Yeah, sure, no problem.”

The only reason I created this business is because there was a huge demand for it. The idea is to grow reluctantly - to not try to grow. But almost to try not to grow and only grow when there's such a demand that the world is saying, “We really want you to do this thing! Please do this! We will pay you money to do this thing.” Then you finally say, “Okay, alright, I'll do it.”

I contrast to that with a lot of businesses I meet that are starting something that nobody wants. Six months after they start, it's not huge and they come crying about how nobody is signing up for their business, and I can't help but think “Well, if nobody wants it why did you start it? I mean, wait until there's a demand.”

Seth Godin: his books definitely have a theme. The last few that he has written had a really interesting theme that he called the purple cow. Which is: forget marketing an ordinary product or service. Don't even do it. Don't spend a dime marketing something until the product or service itself is so remarkable that everybody is going and telling their friends about it not as a favor to you but as a favor to their friends. Saying, “Oh my God! You have to check out this company, this podcast, this album, this theatre production.” They're telling everybody they know about it. Then you know you're onto something. Because now what you're doing is truly remarkable in the literal definition of the word. And then you start spending some energy marketing it. He's saying until you've got something that is blowing people's minds just stay on the drawing board and keep working on it until it's blowing people's minds. Don't spend any time trying to launch or market or advertise until you hit that point.

I really like that. I think there's a good message in there about keeping the focus on the development and the creativity of improving your business instead of just trying to market something that the world isn't begging for.

So I guess if you ask what was the key to my success so far, it's been that I was completely reluctant about CD Baby. I didn't even want to start a business and I did it anyway because everybody was asking me and so I said “Okay, fine.” That turned out to be an incredibly useful approach, because I knew I was onto something.

I had done other businesses before that had failed. I'd run a booking agency for a little while, I'd tried starting a record label. None of that stuff went well, and then CD Baby was something that just everybody seemed to want.

So it's the same thing with Muckwork where for years I've been talking with musicians who all say something like, “I know all the stuff I should be doing but I just don't have time!” It's kind of the side effect the DIY movement, which stands for, you know, Do It Yourself. All musicians are in the middle of this DIY revolution. You can do it yourself. You can be your own booking agent, be your own record label, be your own promoter, be your own engineer, be your own producer, be your own graphic designer, be your own web designer, etc. Great. So now all the power is in your hands but damn - you don't have any time to get all this stuff done! So I saw Muckwork as something that everybody was asking if I could help them with this and help them with that. I thought, well, maybe I could actually make a system with hundreds of workers spread around the world in every language that are able to help any musicians with all that kind of boring monotonous dirty work that they need help with.

Alex:

See, what I'd like to know is how do you stay focused with all this stuff going on? What is your key to focus?

Derek:

Ooh! I am a focus junkie. I am the opposite of information junkie. For the most part, on my laptop all day, I don't even use WiFi. I plug in the Ethernet cable for the main reason that I unplug it a lot. I completely disconnect from the internet so I can just sit here and focus on the programming. I turn off my cell phone. Even my cell phone number is unlisted, and I don't use my cell phone for business. Only about 20 friends know my cell phone number. I turn it off when I'm focused. I unsubscribe from all mailing lists. For the most part I don't read news or blogs.

If you read Tim Ferriss's book the 4-Hour Workweek, I loved his chapter called the Low Information Diet. Somewhere on his blog he showed this picture of this 500 pound obese man on the couch, and said, “If most of us took in calories the way we took in information we'd all look like this.” I thought that made a really good point. He put it really succinctly in the book saying, “Unless you're planning to act immediately on some bit of information don't even take it in.

You know those people who read the newspaper every morning for an hour? They get their Boston Globe or New York Times or whatever and they pour over it for an hour over breakfast, and I can't help but thinking, “Okay, great. So you learned about all of the terrible things going on in the world. What are you doing about it today?” If the answer is nothing then why did you just spend that hour of your morning that could have been spent doing something else besides passively reading about tragedies worldwide if you're not going to do something about it?”

So I'm, yeah, I'm a focus junkie. I really think that's key. But you asked how I keep focused. Yeah, so I guess I just filter out all distractions. I'm really always kind of looking out for distractions and making sure to eliminate them.

Other than that, it really has to come from something actually exciting you. Your very first question about where does your definition of who you are come from. Noticing what really excites you. I think a lot of musicians I know are kind of going through the motions, doing stuff that they don't really want to do, but somebody's told them they should do. You know, somebody tells them they should read this big, giant book about social networking by Clay Shirky and they so start to read through it but the whole time they're really just kind of wishing that they had their headphones on in the recording studio and they were singing. For somebody like that I'd say, “Well then, you know, don't try to read this book about the culture of social networking. Get in the studio with your headphones on and start singing. Whatever the thing is that excites you the most is what you should be doing. Even if somebody has told you otherwise.”

For me I found the hard way that it was programming. After starting the company I thought that I was supposed to be doing all this kind of business schmoozing, networking, business development, talking deals with other companies - but I just found I hated all of that stuff. What I really wanted to do was be sitting in solitude on a Linux terminal programming in SQL, PHP, Ruby. That was my favorite stuff. So I organized the company around that need, and I made myself the main technology guy, and I hired other people to do the bizdev stuff that you would ordinarily assume that the owner of the company should be doing.

So, how to stay focused? First eliminate all the other distractions, and all of a sudden you'll just have this crazy amount of open undistracted free time. It might even freak you out to not be connected to the Internet for example. I really love unplugging that cable. When I find myself thinking, “But what if I got some emails?” - that's when I'm really glad that my Ethernet cable is unplugged. That I don't even have the ability to go check my email at that moment.

Alex:

So, that gets me curious. When I emailed you to request an interview I made the assumption that you're a very busy guy and you jokingly replied that you aren't busy at all. You linked me to your Wired Magazine interview that said that you just sold your company for $22 million and said that you'd love to be on the show after Hawaii. So, it sounds like you're a really laid back guy nowadays. So what I would want to know is how does your day to day look now compared to when you were running this big company?

Derek:

Well, it's actually been the same for years. A lot of people use the word busy to mean I'm doing a bunch of stuff I have to do. Now it just feels like everything I'm doing after selling my company is just whatever I want to do.

So here's an example. I 'm going to be setting up a new project that does a lot of success story interviews with independent musicians who have had a recent success. And so I announced to some people that I was going to be doing this and said that I would be looking for subjects to interview and this one woman, who was a manager of a band, asked if I could interview her band and I said “Yeah that sounds like it might be good.” Then she emailed me back like a week later saying, “Okay can we do the interview in December because their new album is coming out in January and it would be really good for our schedule if such and such.” My first instinct was to say, “Yeah sure, I could probably make that happen.” Then I thought about it and I was like well, hold on a second. I don't want to promise anything. Because, what if I don't feel like doing it in December? I don't have to! So I ended up telling her no. I said, “Well, I get your point but I'll do it when I feel like doing it.” I really don't feel like making any kind of deadline. I'm not doing this for money. There will be no profit for anybody. This is just something I feel like doing so I guess I'll do it when I feel like doing it. And I'm trying to keep that same dogged commitment to just keeping things on my own terms.

I think anybody can try to do that wherever possible. To realize what kind of things you are agreeing to that you really didn't need to agree to. Whether it's guilt or some social norms that you accepted, or at some point told you that you should be saying yes to, your friends who want, the person who you were barely know from high school who's getting married in Alaska and wants you to spend four days of your time, you know, going up there to be one of the 600 people in the crowd at the wedding. You know, maybe, it's learning to say no to those things that don't actually excite you, and all of a sudden find that if you say no to everything that doesn't actually excite, to let go of some of those social expectations, you have a lot more free time.

Alex:

So basically you just live every day on your terms. So I'd like to know, what do you do on a daily basis for personal growth. How do you improve yourself? Is that something you feel like doing?

Derek:

Yeah I do live every day on my terms. The last couple years I've been a little too moment-to-moment whimsical for my tastes. I wake up each day and just kind of follow my interests and maybe I have some kind of grand plan for something I'd like to make such as, you know, programming Muckwork. But sometimes I'll just wake up and I'll just turn on the computer and I'll do a couple things and I'll let the day just kind of sweep me away. You know, somebody will tell me about scuba diving in Iceland and all of a sudden I'll get all fascinated and I'll spend half a day looking into scuba diving in Iceland or something. You know what I mean?

I think that's kind of dangerous, to have too much free time. Depends how you look at it. I imagine two philosophies could put a little angel on each shoulder and tell you that that's a great way to live your life is to only just follow your whims at all moments. But I found that months had gone by and I hadn't done as much as I wanted to. There are some things that I wanted to complete and achieve such as the programming behind Muckwork that I hadn't gotten done because I'd been following my whims.

So actually just really recently, like two weeks ago, I set up this schedule where I decided what my top five priorities were in life, right now. And in order they were programming, exercise, creative writing, business communication then personal social hang out time. And so when it came time to start scheduling my day, the impulse was to start doing something like, “Okay, well, when I first wake up I'll check email and then I'll exercise and then I'll do this.” And I thought, “Hold on a second. If I'm just being purely logical about this, I should organize my day in order of priority.” So whatever I said is my top priority, that's what I should do first. And then do my second priority and then do my third. Because that way if the day takes a twist and turn and something explodes and throws my day off at least I've probably got my top two priorities done. So that's what I've started doing lately. Is I wake up each morning at 7-ish and don't check email or anything. I throw myself immediately into programming, unconnected. I make sure I get in at least a good four hours of programming. And as soon as I'm done with that I get on my bike and I bike about 30 miles a day, which is about two hours of biking.

Alex:

That's pretty far.

Derek:

Yeah. It's because, for ten years I had my priorities wrong. I would say that exercise was important to me but then I'd just end up checking email or getting distracted all day and each night, you know, nighttime would roll around and I hadn't done any exercise and I'd say, “I'll do it tomorrow.” Ten years of that got me in pretty bad shape. So I wanted to make sure it stays top priority and comes before checking email or before returning phone calls. So, yeah, I do programming for four hours. Exercise for a couple hours. Then do some creative writing, and then I plug in my Ethernet and start checking email. I try to even keep that limited to a couple hours and then go out with friends for dinner or for the evening.

Alex:

That answers my question, yeah. Also, I wanted to know how you define success and if you see yourself as a successful person.

Derek:

I think success is doing what you set out to do or what makes you happy. No, not what you set out to do because that could change. I think success is being happy. Right? Because, even say if you are a Donald Trump that your definition of success is you need to make a billion dollars, then that's what makes you happy. But I mean really happiness is the ultimate goal. If somebody else has the goal of they want to be a great first grade teacher. Or they want to be even just a good first grade teacher and see their kids, you know, finishing the year, learning a lot more than they did when they came in. And if that's what makes you happy, then I guess you are successful if you are doing that. So I like the idea of just everybody has their own definition of success which just leads me to think that it's just about what makes them happy.

Alex:

Do you think that happiness is the number one goal? Because the reason I ask is because the way I look at happiness is that it has the potential to be something amazing and on the other hand it could be something really terrible, something you should be afraid of. Because think of your childhood dream. Pretty much any child, it's to eat a lot of candy. So what if you carry your childhood dream into adulthood and all you do is eat a lot of candy and cake and you this is generally making you happy, you're happy every day. You don't even care how you look, you're one of those obese guys and you die at the age of 40. Your body just didn't take it. But you died happy. Is that someone that you would describe as successful?

Derek:

Maybe. It's funny, I think most people in that situation would reach a point where they don't want to be 500 pounds anymore. They would like to eat the candy, but they don't want to be 500 pounds and so then what would make them happy is to be thin and fit again and so in that case they'd only be successful if they get thin and fit again. But you know, it's kind of like that argument of, I know this is kind of a 70s reference, but Yul Brynner and Jim Fixx. Jim Fixx was this author who wrote this incredibly popular book in the mid-70s about jogging and kind of re-launched the jogging revolution in the way that Lance Armstrong got people interested in biking again. Tons of people started jogging because of him, but the funny thing is Jim Fixx dropped dead young on the same day as Yul Brynner who was a notorious cad for, you know, always having a cigar and many drinks and a woman on each arm and whatever. And I love the fact that I remember, I think it was like a standup comic once pointed this out. Like, okay great, Mr. Jogging Man, lean and fit, drops dead of whatever he died of at the same time as Yul Brynner. He said, “I don't know about you man, I'd rather be Yul Brynner. I'd rather be the guy that smoked and drank and philandered his way through life and died in his coffin with a smile on his face then Jim Fixx who might have had a tense, furrowed brow as he was fiercely jogging his last mile before a heart attack.” So that's kind of funny, that value of system of like, well, you know, if you ate sweets your whole life and there are some people that are truly fat and happy and, sincerely, not just saying that, so...

Alex:

So, I happen to think that failure and the way that we handle is a key ingredient to our success. What are some of the biggest ways that you failed and how did you handle it and what do you learn from it?

Derek:

Failure. Alright, sorry to sound like a page out of a self help book but I really don't believe in it. I just think that there is no such thing. If you start to look at life as, “Let's see what happens if....” then there is no such thing as failure.

Let's see what happens if I start a company with no employees - and oh my God it goes terribly. Okay, well, hmm. What went wrong? How can I fix that? Let's see what happens if I change my mind and decide it's going to have employees now. Okay. Let's see what happens if I decide to start a circus. Let's see what happens if I try to get a job at Google. That way, you know, anything that happens it's kind of like - let's not judge anybody's accomplishments until they die. Because up until the day they die everything could reverse fortunes. The most successful person on Earth could become horribly destitute and miserable, and the most destitute and miserable person could turn out to be incredibly successful. So don't judge anybody until they die. And so it's kind of the same thing with failure. That it's just a matter of timeline.

You know, if there's something that you want to do and you've set out to do it and it's not working well just correct your course and keep trying or just do new experiments.

I was speaking at a music conference years ago and it was really funny that there were a bunch of musicians in the crowd asking me very musician specific questions. You know, how do I trademark my band name? What booking agent do you recommend? And then from the back of the room there was this man with a very, kind of, intense focused look on his face and he raised his hand and he asked a question. And he said, “What are the biggest setbacks or road blocks, the hardest times you've had in the building and running of CD Baby?” And I seriously thought about it for a minute and I said, “None. There have been no road blocks. No obstacles. No tough times. It's just been easy.” And he came up to me after the talk that day. And he said, “It's your attitude that makes you think that. I'll bet that you actually have had things that other people would call road blocks or hurdles or tough times but you either just have one of those brains that selectively forgets - or you just seriously didn't even look at it as a road block.” When he really said that, I thought about it later and realized there are probably are some things that happened in my past that would have gotten people down and I think I do kind of selectively forget. I guess I was pretty upset about that little thing seven years ago. But in hindsight that was nothing. And you know there was this big challenge where, you know, the VP of my company stole a bunch of money from the company and you know we had this big horrible thing and oh, you're right. I'd even forgotten about that. Because, whatever. You make up for it and it's fine. So I don't know. There's my ridiculously positive attitude toward failure.

Alex:

So you're obviously a big music guy. I understand that you've been a pro musician since the age of 18? So what about music inspires you?

Derek:

It's the act of creation. I've never been a huge music fan. A lot of people start out as music fans. They love music so much they wait in line overnight for tickets. They drive hours to go see their favorite band play. Whatever. I've never been like that.

To me, my favorite thing is I always liked the creative act of making music. I liked that it was half left brain, half right brain - an interesting combination of creativity within restrictions. It's kind of like haiku where you're not just free form writing, blathering whatever words come to your mind. With haiku you're forced to fit into this five-seven-five syllable scheme. And music's kind of like that. It's a nice balance of being creative but doing it within certain restrictions of a four-four time signature and certain beats and rhythms and lyrics that rhyme every second or fourth or eighth line and fit the melody that you want it to fit. I like those restrictions. I like what it brings out in you. It's an incredibly enlightening pursuit. Especially to do the incredibly vulnerable thing of putting yourself out there as an independent musician trying to make a living or even just sell some music doing it. It's an incredibly vulnerable thing to do. To put yourself out there and it involves a lot of self reflection to, you know, to even to write your bio is a really tough thing! You know, I had some friends who do, like, the online dating or something like that and all of a sudden you have to like write a profile about yourself. And you see a lot of people just freeze. They're like, “Um, I don't know what to say about me.” It's the same thing with musicians putting themselves out there, having to promote themselves, and learn what I call like the Tao of Promotion. Which is sometimes the best promotion you can do is the least promotion. That the people who try to promote too hard end up working against themselves and becoming that guy that you don't want to invite to your house next time you're having people over. So I think it's a fascinating learning growing experience of making music and putting it out there for the world.

Alex:

Alright. So one of my Twitter followers actually asked, I feel bad asking this question after you gave such a great response, but do you have a lot of groupies Derek?

Derek:

No, just one.

Alex:

Just one, okay. Alright. So I wanted to know if there are any books that have really inspired your philosophy on life?

Derek:

Yeah.

Alex:

What's the top one?

Derek:

I read a lot. For every book I read, I write down notes afterwards, then I share those notes online like my kind of Cliff notes or my favorite things. So if you go to sivers.org/book, there's a list of the books that I've read recently and a link to the ones that I think are the most important ones to start with. So if I'm recommending books I just tell people to go to this list and there's a link and a little description of each one - why I would recommend this book. So it's different for everybody.

Some of the books that have made a huge difference in my life were actually written just for other small business owners. So unless you're a small business owner you won't get a lot out of this book. But if you are, it will change your life. So for me there's this book called E-Myth Revisited that totally changed my life and the way that I approach business, but wouldn't mean anything to somebody who's not a small business owner themselves.

So the philosophy of life? For me it was probably Tony Robbins. I started devouring his books and audio stuff when I was 19 years old. I read and re-read, and listened to and re-listened to his stuff so much that it became completely internalized by the time I was 23. To the point of where I picked up a book again when I was 24 and I tried to read through it, but I practically knew what every word. It's almost like listening to a song where you know all of the words. I was reading ...

Alex:

You were singing along, huh?

Derek:

Yeah. I knew what every line was gonna say, what every sentence was gonna say next. I had really retained everything I read because I was so into it. So that really shaped my philosophy a lot.

Alex:

It is definitely a good choice. He's one of my favorite self-improvement gurus also.

Derek:

What I found interesting is that the core message that I loved the most was repeated in many other people's books. One of my favorite bits was the approach to life where everything is neutral and your thoughts, everything is just about how you choose to react to something. That we can choose our reaction.

It's kind of alienating for me when I have friends who declare every event as incredibly good news or incredibly bad news. Everything is a tragedy or a huge celebration. And I kind of have a flat line approach to most things. It's just like, well we'll see. It's all what you make it to be. I mean you talk about failure. It's like, okay so you just got fired today. Congratulations! Anything, you can just choose how you want to react to it and you can choose the reaction that suits you best or is the best for you. I don't believe that thing where people say, “I can't help the way I feel.” Because you can.

There's that interesting question: What comes first: thoughts or feelings? Because I used to think that feelings come first and then you think. But then it's actually thoughts that created your value system that create your feelings. So you can have thoughts first that change the way you feel.

Alex:

I think it was the book As A Man Thinketh that said your emotions are what you get for thinking the way you do. Is that right?

Derek:

Ah, good one. I hadn't heard that. I like that.

Alex:

I think that's a direct quote. Might be wrong.

Derek:

Yeah I like that.

Alex:

So, before we go can you give our listeners one more tip for success?

Derek:

The other core philosophy that drives me is whatever scares you, go do it. Sorry, that's the twin brother to whatever excites you, go do it. So let's talk about that one first.

So whatever you find is naturally exciting you the most, earlier I gave the example of scuba diving in Iceland. All of a sudden I just found myself reading about Iceland, found myself fascinated about Iceland and then just decided I want to go. So I used some frequent flyer miles and I went to Iceland for a few weeks. And while I was there I saw this huge icy lake that was like two degrees Celsius, you know, whatever that would be 34, 36 degrees. And it was such clear water I was like, “I want to go in. I don't know how to scuba dive but I want to do that!” So it was just following whatever my passion was at the moment which at that point was I wanted to get in that freezing lake. So I quickly took a bunch of scuba diving lessons and I dove 60 feet deep into the continental fissure between the tectonic plates. Where it's like this 60 feet deep crack in this icy lake and I had my left hand on America and my right hand on Eur-Asia because that's where the big tectonic plates that make up the Earth meet at this arctic lake in Iceland in this crack. And my first scuba dive ever was deep into that crack. And I was like “Yes!” It felt so good. I just whimsically followed whatever was exciting me at the time.

Alex:

It's going to be hard to top that one.

Derek:

Yeah. So, but then you know, rewind ten years. I told you when CD Baby started I didn't mean to start a company. I was making my living producing people's records, playing gigs. I was just making my living as a musician. And then I started this website and found that I was actually getting really into it. I was up all night in a good way. Learning HTML and then learning about databases and then learning PHP and then learning SQL. I was fascinated. The girlfriend would be calling, “Come on, come to bed!” And I'd yell, “No, no. I'll be there soon. Go to sleep. Don't wait up.” I'd stay up every night until 3am, just furiously fascinated with this stuff. Typing as fast as I could.

So pretty soon I had to admit to myself that that's what was exciting me more than going off and doing another gig at some bar. So I just had to shift, and this is the important point, that realizing that I shifted my life accordingly. So I stopped doing the gigs at bars that I wasn't into and decided to start doing this website called CD Baby. And I think that by following what excites you the most doors just seem to naturally open for you. Especially if it's something that benefits others, not just yourself. If you're really doing something for other people and it's exciting you it just feels like the world will open its doors for you.

The twin brother to this is that whatever scares you go do it. You realize that the enemy is boredom. What you want to stop doing is whatever drains you. Being scared is actually a form of being excited. It's mixed in with some other stuff but whatever scares you is probably what you should be doing. Because you'll go do it and then it won't scare you anymore. And pretty soon, you know, the world becomes a less scary place and you start taking on bigger challenges.

If something scares you it means that you're probably in over your head and I think that's a really healthy place to be. It's how the learning and growing happens. It's just kind of a core philosophy that I try to live by. Whenever I find myself scared by the idea of doing something, something is really pulling me out of my comfort zone and seems impossible, just philosophically I try to make sure that that's what I do then. I just stay drawn to that uncomfortable zone and try to stay there. And I think my life's been more exciting because of it.

Alex:

It sounds like the theme of your life is when you're doing something love work isn't work, it's play.

Derek:

Yeah. I thought you were going to say when you're doing something you love, stop it.

Alex:

That would be rebelling.

Derek:

Yeah, no there would be a variation on that though. Like, yeah, if you're doing something that you're too good at, if you're doing something that you can do too easily stop it. Do something new.

Alex:

Alright. Thank you Derek Sivers for stopping by The Practical Personal Development podcast. You can read more about Derek on his personal website, sivers.org, and see you next week for another awesome show.