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Who Is David Perell?

David Perell (@david_perell) is a writer, teacher, and podcaster. David’s online course, Write of Passage, has been taken by more than 500 students from more than 40 countries and from companies like Intel, Google, and Twitter. The five-week course draws on David’s experience writing online, building an audience, and his interviews with more than 100 people on his North Star Podcast. Each interview explores the methods and principles of successful creators, artists, and entrepreneurs. His podcast guests include astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, author Seth Godin, and economist Tyler Cowen.

Podcast Summary

Paul Millerd and David Perell discuss childhood obsessions, growing as a person, challenging cultural norms, earning a living as an online creator, writing online, the act of creation and much more.

Key Takeaways

  • The education system does not reward curiosity. The education system optimizes for obedience and turning things in on time
  • We can’t change the fact that we are going to die, but we can transcend it by becoming the hero of our own story
  • The ultimate act of rebellion is to care in a world that doesn’t want you to care
  • If you don’t have God, everything in your life is a public relations campaign
  • With a lack of heroes, the act of creating is the ultimate heroic act
  • David told his parents “I’ve got the worst plan for two years, but the best plan for ten
  • One of the biggest secrets of the world – people are disproportionally willing to help young people who are curious, have agency, and are willing to learn
  • The fundamental script of our education system is that you will do well if you become good at doing things you don’t want to do. Why do we spend so much time doing things we don’t want to do?
  • Successful people are not nearly as busy as people would expect
  • We shouldn’t run away from wealth and go back in time, but we need to ask hard questions about the modern world that is so soul-crushing
  • Money is only as useful as the things you do with it

Challenging Society’s Stories & Scripts

  • David’s internalized scripts for himself were that he was destined for failure, and would grow up with lots of anxiety
  • David grew up in Silicon Valley. One morning, his best friend came to school in a limousine. He turned to his father and said “Dad, are we poor?”
  • This experience created a script of needing money
  • As a teenager and young college student, David wasn’t a great student, nor was he dedicated to improving himself. After college, he changed how he viewed himself
  • James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, articulated the importance of changing one’s perception of themselves in order to become who they want to be
  • However, one thing that David had going for him was a desire to learn, and an innate curiosity
  • Unfortunately, the education system does not reward curiosity. The education system optimizes for obedience and turning things in on time.
  • As kids, both David and Paul would get very curious at very niche subjects. Both are highly interested in sports, among other topics
  • However, Paul’s curiosities were more “acceptable” because he was a better student at the time
  • David’s physics teacher told David that in twenty years of teaching, they never had parents that were more concerned about their child’s future than with David
  • Ultimately, David’s parents were supportive of his interests and were very pleasantly surprised with David’s ability to leverage his passions to create his own pathless path

Pursuing Knowledge & Personal Growth

  • Paul didn’t start reading until his senior year of college. He was inspired by storytelling that used data
  • During the first week of a New York City college summer internship, David had the sudden realization “This week I realized I know nothing“.
  • David realized his college professors were not helping him to learn. He began to pursue alternative methods to learn (blogs, podcasts, etc.)
  • David felt like he was sleepwalking for the first twenty years of his life. Ultimately, he realized that he had agency over his decisions and outcomes
  • Jocko Willink recently discussed this topic on the Huberman Lab Podcastdeveloping our sense of self is partially the realization that we can have some form of impact on the world”
  • David read Denial of Death and realized he needed to take himself and his life seriously
  • We can’t change the fact that we are going to die, but we can transcend it by becoming the hero of our own story
  • The ultimate act of rebellion is to care in a world that doesn’t want you to care

Caring in a world that doesn’t want you to care

  • Once you start to care, there is no turning back
  • Why are people so afraid to say that they care?
  • Religion: Having a God is like having something stable in your life
  • If you don’t have God, everything in your life is a public relations campaign
  • SBF leaked texts: ESG and morality is all a performance for others
SBF Leaked Texts
  • In the world of social media, critique of others has increased
  • People who are cynical know the cost of everything and the value of nothing
  • Peter Thiel: there is a decline of heroes
  • We used to have heroes to look up to. Our heroes today are people like Elon Musk, who are very polarizing
  • It is interesting to note that superhero movies from Marvel and DC have become so popular amid these trends
  • The act of creation is the ultimate heroic act

Write of Passage Helps People Become Citizens Of The Internet

  • Many people start writing to improve their resume for their traditional career path
  • Many times, people end of pursuing a pathless path by writing online
  • What is happening is that the things that we think we care about are not the things that we truly care about
  • Writing is torturous when moving against the instinctual brain, but blissful when moving with it

David’s Pathless Path Started With Getting Laid Off and Ended up With Him Telling His Dad, “I have the worst plan for two years, best plan for ten”

  • David previously worked in Sales, where he was laid off
  • David’s boss told him “I need you to stop thinking about Jeff Bezos and start focusing on your job
  • David cared about the evolving level trends of communications and how to reinvent how we communicate in the digital age
  • David sulked the first two weeks after being laid off. But then he found the famous Youtuber Casey Neistat
  • David began to make a 4-6 minute YouTube video every single day for 114 days straight
  • By day 70, David realized that all the time he spent editing videos he should spend reading so that he could learn more. Ultimately, David realized he wanted to be a writer versus a YouTuber
  • David told his parents “I’ve got the worst plan for two years, but the best plan for ten

David Aimed High With His Podcast, The North Star

  • David aimed high from the inception of his podcast – hoping to get the best guests
  • One of the biggest secrets of the world – people are disproportionally willing to help young people who are curious, have agency, and are willing to learn
  • If you are young, hungry, curious, and willing to learn people will help you
  • Robert Greene in The Art of Seduction – people want to be part of a great story
  • Part of the reason that David loved golf was so that he could spend more time with established and successful people – it was a shortcut to wisdom
  • Half of success in life is who you know
  • David would ask people to go out for coffee or lunch and was told no. But when he invited people onto his podcast, he was successful
  • Once he got Neil DeGrasse Tyson on his podcast, he was able to get other famous guests
  • After every interview, ask for an introduction to other people

Handling Finances on a Pathless Path

  • Paul did not expect to be so afraid of money and expenses when he left the corporate world
  • David started doing consulting work and had some financial help from his family
  • David knew he had a good plan, it would just take some time

Building momentum (Speed vs Force)

  • If you have a penny, it needs to go incredibly fast to impact anything
  • But if you have something large like a train, it can move slowly and still have a large impact
  • Through acceleration and continuous work, David created mass. It takes time to build up momentum
  • Paul found it difficult to communicate his progress to his friends and family “I’m broke, I’m not making money, I can’t prove anything, but I think I’m onto something
  • Having faith and intuition is so important. Yet, many people don’t lean into their intuition
  • You may be wrong about the details, but correct about the long-term vision
  • From the beginning, Steve Jobs always wanted to remove fans from inside computers so that they would run quietly and look sleek and simplistic
  • Early on, these intuitions hurt him. Later on, the sleek view became popular

Role Models

  • Seth Godin
  • Ryan Holiday has a relentless pursuit of doing the work
  • Ryan Holiday’s book, Discipline is Destiny, was a number two bestseller. He immediately got back to work on his new book
  • Tyler Cowen is very aligned with his career and interests – he truly cares about what he is doing
  • When you start making progress in something you truly care about, further progress becomes effortless and fluid
  • The Cultural Tutor is an anonymous Twitter account. It turns out, the owner of the account was working sweeping the floors of Mcdonald’s and as a part-time security guard
  • The account has been growing incredibly quickly. David told the owner to continue to work diligently “The winds of the stream will not always be at your back

Doing things you are good at

  • The fundamental script of our education system is that you will do well if you become good at doing things you don’t want to do
  • The fundamental script of The Pathless Path is that you will do well by pursuing things that interest you
  • Why do we spend so much time doing things that we don’t like doing?
  • Liking things at different levels:
  • This work is easy to me and makes me come alive
  • This work brings me meaning and satisfaction
  • I am on a quest to make this happen – it is my destiny
  • We must identify the things that truly bring us alive

David’s Priorities

  • Marketing: Podcasting, YouTube Videos, Content Creation, Writing
  • By writing, David is expanding the frontier of his company and actively creating new ideas
  • Recruiting: Given recent layoffs, this is one of the best times to recruit new people
  • David stays extremely close to his direct reports in order to learn and stay close to the daily operations
  • With the help of a Chief of Staff, David wants to get very good at communicating with his company
  • The point of running a company is to do the things that you care about and delegate the rest

Talent Organization Passion (TOP)

  • David looks for competency in all three components: Talent, Organization, and Passion
  • Without passion, people get burnt out and leave
  • The more narrowly you can define talent and passion, the better off everyone is
  • It is surprising that many people get excited about things that they may not care about
  • For example, some people get excited about budget and financing. Others might be more interested in marketing and SEO

Work of the Future

  • Remote work is a return to intentional communication and culture
  • David constantly thinks in 3-5 years in the future
  • From there, David has his team break the vision into actionable plans
  • Running a company brings lots of imposter syndrome
  • Founders are both underrated and overrated
  • Many times, successful people are not nearly as busy as people would expect
  • Paul is obsessive about protecting his time
  • It is impossible to generate ideas while you are constantly busy
  • Every morning, David has strict writing time
  • David has a profile for his computer that only gives access to writing tools – no notifications. It is essentially a digital typewriter
  • People behave how you train them – David wants to be removed from decision making
  • Jeff Bezos type 1/type 2 decisions
  • The vast majority of decisions are reversible
  • David prefers a bias for action

Society as a company

  • People are constantly looking for approval
  • We are moving to a world that is run by bureaucrats
  • Humans go crazy when they don’t feel valued or needed
  • Society is inundated with bullshit jobs
  • There is something about large companies with all the perks that is entirely soul crushing
  • We shouldn’t run away from wealth and go back in time, but we need to ask hard questions about the modern world that is so soul-crushing

Thoughts on Money

  • Money is both the most and least real thing
  • It is the baseline of how we survive; as well as totally meaningless after a certain point
  • The most greedy thing is to make a bunch of money and do nothing with it
  • Money is only as useful as the things you do with it
  • David doesn’t understand multi-company entrepreneurs. Building more won’t make them happy
  • David wants to build one entity that is both the means and the end
  • David wants Write of Passage to make a lot of money so that he can invest it back into the company
  • In order to make Write of Passage the best it can be, it needs to make money
  • Money, if used properly, can create and impact the real world
  • Paul didn’t realize that he had shame around money
  • The person making 6 figures at a big bank defrauding consumers is seen as a success
  • Meanwhile, someone who is working on their own project on the internet is met with skepticism
  • After seeing an old overweight corporate executive in New York City, David made the conscious decision to never be that way
  • Marvin Bower – if we charge the most, we will have the most and best clients
  • Steve Jobs “We can’t just be a great product organization. We have to become a great marketing organization”.

Just published! The Pathless Path is Paul's book about walking away from a "perfect" job with a promising future and starting over again. Through painstaking experiments, living in different countries, and a deep dive into the history of our work beliefs, Paul pieces together a set of ideas and principles that guide him from unfulfilled and burned out to what he calls "the pathless path" - a new story for thinking about work in our lives. Learn More & Buy The Book Here



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