We are here to learn and do something. And what are we here to learn and do? We are here to practice. And what are we practicing? We’re practicing living.
This is one of the most important conversations I’ve had on the podcast.
This is a conversation about tea.
It’s almost 2 and a half hours long because we had to cover restroom clams, tea that tastes like compost, isolation, loneliness, the meaning of life, J-rock, happiness, nootropics, chemicals, bodies, hurry, anxiety, wine, coffee, God, sake, beer, seasons, anime, overwork, stillness, books — everything you’d expect when two perfect strangers meet. This conversation summarizes everything I love about podcasting.
How can a simple warm beverage be so profound, so elusive, beautiful, subtle, and wise? Is there anything useful we can learn from such an unassuming liquid? Those are the questions I asked myself as I went into this conversation with Mike Newton (@thetealetter), creator of The Tea Letter, a blognewsletterYouTubechannelPodcast about tea culture.
Does The Penguin Latte Podcast remind you of fresh presents on Christmas morning? If so, please consider leaving a review on Apple Podcasts/iTunes. It takes all of 60 seconds (61 if you’re feeling extra spicy). Reviews make the podcast 1% better. If 500 of you leave reviews, the podcast gets 500% better. Plus, I love reading all of your juicy comments. Thanks!
This episode is brought to you (and powered) by Flow State Coffee!
My buddy Greg Frontiero started a company that sells products designed to put you in that groovy sensation called Flow. His first product, Flow State Coffee, is some of the best coffee I’ve tasted. Plus, it doesn’t make you feel like you’re about to have a heart attack after drinking 6 cups of it (I’ve tried).
Use this link to buy a bag with code PAUL automatically applied for a discount.
If you’re making something everyday, yeah, it won’t be as good as if you dedicated a year of your life to perfecting it. Stanley Kubrick never made a movie in a day. Nobody can whip up a storyboard on Sunday and turn it into a masterpiece on Monday (if you’re the exception, please let me know.)
The point of making something everyday is to fix your posture. We hear of athletes who train everyday, professors who write everyday, chefs who cook everyday…but what about creators? We’re too busy floundering around waiting for divine inspiration. We go to sleep hoping we’ll dream about our next Big Idea. Luck is our discipline.
Making something everyday means getting your form right. Stretching. Correcting your posture. It means avoiding injury. Athletes train carefully to avoid injury. Avoid injury and you get to play tomorrow. Creators should do the same. Avoid injury and you get to create. Over and over and over like a monkey with a miniature cymbal.
What is the most important tool that every creator needs?
Is it diligence? The perfect cup of coffee? The silence of dawn before the family wakes up? Is it sight? A brain full of magical ideas? A handy-dandy notebook to write down those magical ideas? Ambition? A network of High Class Connections?
Nope. None of that.
The most important tool is restraint.
I understand that this is paradoxical. How can you hold back, while simultaneously pouring every gallon of your genius into the work? Like all paradoxes, the answer is in the balance of two seemingly opposite forces.
Restraint equals taste. Taste means knowing that if you add more to this, you’ll end up making it worse. Worse is not better than good. Nobody wants a worse chair than the one they’re sitting in now.
Creative people love having the freedom to come up with ideas. It’s what creative people are do: come up with ideas. The C in creativity means Comesupwithideas. It’s fun to come up with ideas. I’m sure you know someone who (whether they know it or not) identifies as an Idea Guy. Creativity? Psh. Easy. Just slap on some more Ideas. Boom. Better.
But what about maximalism? What about the awe of complexity? Some of my favorite works of art and music feature many moving parts. Complex systems in art and machinery are beautiful because complexity is hard to manage. How does one manage complexity? With intent. With care. With restraint. Complexity does not mean cacophony. Complexity does not mean chaos for the hell of it. Complexity only appears chaotic. And then we get used to it. Complexity and restraint are like yin and yang. Can’t have one without the other.
Creators must choose between making something stellar, or making something mediocre. If they tell you that you should have added more to it, they might be right. More gusto, only if the actor is too timid. More dissonance, only if the violinists sound too clean. More sauce, only if the chicken is too dry. Simply adding more ‘ideas’ does not make something better. Artists that know when and what to hold back are artists that care.
School taught us that the one thousand word essay is the benchmark. It’s easy to get cynical about this somewhat arbitrary standard. I used to repeat myself so that I’d have enough words on the page. But, stringing together a thousand words is not the point. The one thousand word essay is a test of exploration. It’s about depth, nuance, connecting the dots. It’s about seeing the invisible, and adding your perspective. If you can write that many words without backtracking, without regurgitating (not restating), without copying what you said before, then you understand restraint.
If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.
Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of my daily blog. I knew I’d make it this far, but I didn’t think I’d come out alive.
But I’m still alive. I’m still writing. And I’m only a little less terrified of showing up to serve you.
Writing a blog a day is the best decision that I make. It is the most spooky, gut-churning, I Want My Mommy thing that I do. I Want My Mommy because it’s a commitment. And commitments offer no place to hide.
There’s a billion blogs, but very few commitments.
We can take that statement and apply it to any medium.
A billion podcasts. Few commitments.
A billion newsletters. Few commitments.
A billion books. A billion workshops. A billion Chrome extensions.
The world does not lack good ideas. Everyone has at least one or two good ideas. Everyone has ideas that would launch them into a new life, a life bigger and better than any life imaginable — ideas that would launch them to the moon!
Ideas are like rocket fuel. But you can’t send a rocket to the moon without a launchpad. And you certainly can’t launch a rocket to the moon without brave, responsible individuals willing to take a risk, willing to bear criticism, willing to fall flat on their face.
Choosing to write in public everyday means choosing to fall flat on your face. Again and again.
But eventually, you will get used to the bruises.
If you’re new here, here’s some posts that people seem to like.
Fifteen months after A Tribe Called Quest released Low End Theory, Dr. Dre finished The Chronic.
Billions of hip hop records soon followed.
6 months after The Beatles released Please Please Me, The Beach Boys came out with Surfer Girl.
Billions more rock records since.
Billions of records. Billions of books. Billions of everything imaginable.
But who’s counting?
We will never run out of music to play or words to write or podcasts to create. Though artists are bound by mathematics, though only a few notes harmonize well enough to write about, we will never run out of poetry. Because taste – the element constantly in flux – changes. Taste morphs, transforms, and births itself anew like a phoenix rising from the ashes. From generation to generation, artist to artist. Taste is the stopgap preventing us from running out of things to say.
When you were born, you brought with you from your journey out of the abyss a set of beliefs, perspectives, assertions. You brought a flare, a kind of pizazz that no one else has. It’s this pizazz, this flare, these assertions and beliefs that set you apart and parallel to the others that came before.
Apart because whatever you create is unique, even if it’s garbage. (At least it’s your garbage.)
And parallel because The Beatles had their assertions.
This post is a small part of my quest to share everything I know.
[Update: Prefer to listen to this post? Are you more of an audio gal? Got you. Here’s the link.]
BORED is bad.
If you’re bored, it’s because you have boring goals.
If you’re bored, it’s because your brain is waiting for someone to kick off the dance party.
If you’re bored, tired, unmotivated, frustrated, annoyed that they have “it” and you don’t, it’s because your goals aren’t ridiculous enough, ludicrous enough, and aren’t making your parents ask, “where the hell did we go wrong?”
LIVE in your world.
All my favorite artists live in their world.
Bjork lives in Bjork world. Andy Jenkinson lives in Andy Jenkinson world. Thom Yorke lives in Thom Yorke world. Four Tet lives in Four Tet world. What world do you live in?
All my favorite artists have a soundtrack, an aesthetic, a vibe — a world. They paint. They draw. They record. They design every aspect of their life down to the smallest details. My favorite artists do this, selfishly, as if Mother Nature herself isn’t pretty enough.
DON’T be a jerk.
Be nice. To everyone. Even the people you don’t like. If you don’t like them, you can choose not to interact with them. Better to not interact with the people you don’t like than to direct a scene nobody that wants to watch.
If you can’t remove yourself from people you don’t like, fight like hell to do so. Your happiness depends on it.
YOUR idols sucked.
Listen to your favorite musician’s first record. It sucked.
Watch your favorite YouTuber’s first video. It sucked.
Listen to the first episode of your favorite podcast. It sucked.
Read your favorite blogger’s first post. It sucked.
I don’t care how ‘avant-garde’ they were at the beginning. I don’t care how ‘it was supposed to sound lo-fi, they had no budget.’ I’m sure the music sucked too.
Good equipment =/= good music.
Do I need to explain this? Appreciate everything. Your circumstances could always be worse. You could always be scrubbing shit stained toilets in the back of some 7-11 restroom in the middle of bumfuck nowhere.
If you have a working brain and a cellphone, you’re rich beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.
Nobody enjoys being interrupted. Don’t interject. Hold your tongue while they finish speaking.
HARD MODE: Keep holding your tongue 3-5 seconds after they’ve finished speaking. This gives you time to think about what they just said.
Even if you really are an idiot, holding your tongue will give off the illusion of intelligence.
IF you don’t know how, copy.
But don’t steal.
I copy from Tim Ferriss. I title the episodes of my podcast almost exactly how he does.
I copy from Seth Godin. I write everyday because he does. Some people even tell me I write exactly like him.
I copy from everyone who inspires me. But I never steal.
Never apologize for having a high standard. Having a high standard means that you don’t know what to do about that high standard. The best way to get over not knowing how is to copy someone who does.
DON’T be a Viacom.Share.
Viacom Inc, the company behind Spongebob (and nothing else), is notorious for taking down videos on YouTube. Their reason? SpongeBob SquarePants is owned by Viacom, not PepeFrogYouTubePooper420.
Viacom owns intellectual property. You don’t. You’re not Viacom.
Sure, get a patent or a copyright so that nobody claims ownership of what you made. But don’t hoard your ideas.
Give away e v e r y t h i n g.
CONTENT sucks. Make art.
Content is boring. Bland. Banal. Anyone can make content. Everyone wants to be the next Big YouTube Content Star (and anyone can.)
Instead, ask yourself…
Can you make a podcast as good as In Rainbows? Can you make a YouTube show as good as a Wes Anderson film?
Literally, no. You can’t. But figuratively, yes. Yes you can.
Wes Anderson and Thom Yorke make art, not content.
Content is what they will make.
Art is what you will make.
This is my favorite moment in all of music. Listen from 2:45 to 2:55. Blink and you’ll miss it.
It’s tempting to start over from square one. The drawing board is as seductive as maple syrup. When faced with setbacks and deadlines and overwhelm, the most immediate solution is to throw away all our progress and press the Reset button.
If you’re in a rut, please don’t stop the music.
TAKE advantage of yourself.
Hold yourself hostage. Tie your arms and legs to a chair and force yourself to make something. I don’t care what. I don’t care how bad it turns out. You have gifts. You have talent. You have hustle and drive and ambition and Jesus Christ I am not going to let you convince yourself that you don’t. You do. Do you understand?
You need to extract every drop of energy, every microcosm of creativity from the depths of your soul.
We need you.
ADAPT to the best circumstances imaginable.
Some people can swim in shivering cold. Others can run in sweltering heat. Some people go for days without eating, and when they break fast, they eat nothing but rice and beans. Human beings are very good at adapting. We can even adapt to the worst circumstances imaginable.
But what about the best circumstances imaginable?
Why do we always sell ourselves short? Talk down to ourselves and our work? Why do we stall? Why do we neglect to take care of the job before us, procrastinate, and set ourselves up for failure?
It’s because our brains are overpowered. We’re too good at adapting. We’re so good at adapting that we adapt automatically. And it’s because we adapt automatically that we need to be careful of what we adapt to.
I want you to tell yourself a lie. A useful lie. A deceit. This is the way around your brain’s glitchy adaptation system.
Tell yourself: I am making the best / working for the best / working to become the best.
By repeating these useful lies to yourself, they become useful truths.
It won’t feel natural. But that’s okay. You learned to walk, right?
Buy yourself some fancy business cards. Wear a nice shirt. Call yourself the Prime Minister. But don’t use this as an excuse to be an asshole. Stay humble. You are working for the best in the world (that’s you), which means that other people deserve the same level of respect that you are giving to yourself.
If you see the best in you, you see the best in others, and others see the best in you as well.
The best is all that matters.
YOU are not a god.
Eventually, people will notice you. You will have fans. Fans will call you their hero. Fans will tell you your work changed their lives, saved them, helped them reconnect with their father.
This is good.
But some people will compare themselves to you. Some people will put you on top the Empire State building, while they perceive themselves as no more than a sewer rat.
This is not good.
As a person of influence, you need to understand that you are no better than they are. You are still human. You are not a god. Remind your audience of this. Tell them that you are not better than they are. Tell them that you don’t have magical powers. Teach them how you did it, and how they can do it too.
If you’re ambitious and people don’t notice you yet, you’re not excused from being humble.
You are not the first person to be ambitious. You are not the first to have goals, dreams, aspirations. The world does not owe you anything just because you’ve got a head full of big ideas.
Schedule the impossible.
We get that you’re rebellious. All creative people are rebellious. But that’s no excuse to neglect the utility of discipline.
Use a calendar. A Google Calendar. A calendar from Target. Any calendar.
Setting goals and having dreams is good, but you need to make time in your calendar to make your dreams come true.
To be successful, there are only two things you need in your calendar.
Something you’re afraid of
Something you think you can’t do
THE hardest job: saying your name.
When they ask you for your name at the coffee shop, do you answer in a tone that implies a question mark at the end? Worse, do you answer with an “uh” at the beginning? As if giving your name to the kind lady behind the counter is more complicated than saying you’d like a Venti Upside Down Iced Caramel Macchiato with Oatmilk?
May I get your name?
She should charge you extra for such a lousy answer.
The hardest job you have is the work you need to do on yourself. The work of responding to the world in a dignified, confident, yet humble manner.
Thanks, we’ll have your drink out soon.
PRETEND you’re going to die tomorrow.
The reason I make so much stuff is because I don’t want to die without having shared everything I know. I sometimes criticize myself for publishing too much, too quickly. But I don’t want to die without having changed the lives of a million people. I don’t want to go a day without positively impacting somebody’s life. I don’t understand how some writers can go years without releasing a sentence. I can barely go a day without publishing a blog post or recording a podcast. This is probably a character flaw.
Look, you know you can’t play this game forever. One day you will be 94 years old and you won’t be able to wipe your own ass, let alone record a podcast with your favorite writer.
Pretend you are going to die tomorrow.
If that doesn’t work, pretend you died yesterday. You are in Heaven now. Your actions still have circumstances in Heaven, but if you act in pursuit of your north star, your most ludicrous dreams, you will be rewarded with endless milk and honey.
Make the most of yourself.
It doesn’t matter how bad your ideas are. What matters is how many bad ideas you allow yourself to see.
These are the garage band days. The early days.
Your limitations become your genre.
If it sucks, do it again. If it still sucks, try to make it cool.
Surround yourself with creative people.
Take a break.
Go for a walk.
QUOTES for further reading.
I’ve been using this Chrome extension called Momentum for like 3 years now. It replaces the default home screen of most visited links (distractions) with a beautiful photograph and an inspirational quote.
Here’s some of my favorites.
“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” Albert Einstein
“The best way to predict the future is to invent it. ”Alan Kay
“When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.” Elon Musk
“A champion is defined not by their wins, but by how many times they recover when they fall.” Serena Williams
“To escape criticism: do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.” Elbert Hubbard
“Do small things with great love.” Mother Teresa
“If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.” Booker T. Washington
“You always have to cultivate those skills, right? You always have to put in the time and learn. I wasn’t formally trained. I’m self-taught.” -Nate Kadlac
Nate Kadlac (@kadlac) is a designer and writer based in Los Angeles California. Nate started with humble beginnings photoshopping unfortunate exes from photos. Now he’s designing apps for real estate agencies, and websites for commercial and personal use. He’s well-versed in typeface, UI, UX, brand identity, video, photography, and illustration. Seriously, this guy can do everything and anything under the sun of design. (Side-note: I’ve consulted Nate about the design of my blog. His advice? Think about what you want your visitors to do.)
Every week, Nate writes Plan Your Next, a weekly newsletter where he shares thoughtful tips on creativity, life, and design.
He also co-hosts a podcast called It’s Gotta Be The Mic, featuring, “conversations on writing, knowledge management, startups, and design.”
This ended up being one of the most enjoyable conversations I’ve had on the show so far. I had so much fun hearing Nate talk about how designers learn how people think by observing their (erroneous) interactions with an app.
This conversation, as wide-ranging as you’d expect, explores movies, music, Nate’s inspirations, typeface, the craft of design, freelancing, creativity, and (of course) so much more.
This episode is brought to you by Flow State Coffee — a coffee designed to promote creativity and optimal mental functioning. Flow State Coffee is brewed with L-Theanine and Raw Cocoa to give you the alertness of an espresso shot minus the cardiac arrest. In other words, it does everything coffee is supposed to do without the counterproductive side-effects.
I was 12 years old when I had my first cup of coffee. (Actually it was a bowl of coffee flavored ice cream from 31 Flavors). I’ve tired a lot of coffee since then. I’ve had Cold brew. Nitro. Dark roast. Blonde roast. Coffee with sugar and without sugar. Coffee seltzer. Coffee beer. Instant coffee. Slow coffee. Coffee beans covered with chocolate. Coffee that tastes like sweet tomatoes. No, I’m not going to tell you that most coffee sucks. Most coffee is amazing. I love it. I’m addicted. But most of it raises my heartrate beyond the beats per minute of a raver on ecstasy. Enter: Flow State Coffee. Flow State Coffee is a coffee for creative people. It’s designed to wake you up without the jitters. And as a bonus, it’s fucking delicious. Seriously. It’s deadly delicious. I don’t understand how it’s this delicious.
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PS: Does The Penguin Latte Podcast remind you of the excitement of fresh presents on Christmas morning? If so, please consider leaving a review on Apple Podcasts/iTunes. It takes all of 60 seconds (or 120 seconds if you’re feeling extra spicy). By leaving a review, you’re making the podcast 1% better. So, if 500 of you leave reviews, the podcast gets 500% better (if I have my math right). Plus, I love reading all of your juicy comments. Thanks so much!
Sitting by, waiting for insight to strike – that’s rarely a reliable strategy.
Insight follows movement. Insight comes when we pick the pen, put down our excuses, and begin to work. Even if the first three drafts suck (they usually do). And even if we fail to meet our expectations (we usually do).
It’s rare for anything I make to turn out as great as I wanted it to. But I can at least try to meet my expectations. I can at least try to put in the reps.
The accountant who’s writing a novella behind their boss’s back feels “safe” behind a spreadsheet than on a call with a publishing house. “I’m not an accountant,” they say. And yet they show up everyday to keep being one.
We’re less fraudulent doing something we hate, and more fraudulent doing something we love.
I think people can get a bit too, kind of, serious sometimes. You know ‘this note is so important’…Have some fun, it’s fine, you know, don’t worry about it. Don’t get too stressed.
I love when musicians know they’re not as important as The Geneva Convention.
Why are we always told art needs to come from pain? That musicians must treat each chord as their magnum opus, the culmination of suffering that comes from a lifetime of indentured servitude to the muse of tortured creativity? Must we sob instead of dance?
Andy Jenkinson, aka Ceephax Acid Crew, is one of the most slapdash musicians out of the UK. For more than 20 years, he’s crafted everything in his world himself. From tunes to outfits – it’s all him. It’s all Andy.
You reach peak authenticity when your art reflects your personality. Ceephax is living proof.
He uses old synths because he loves to. He collects jumpers because he loves to. He makes music because he loves to. He loves his craft more than you love yours, and that’s why I love him. We must not sob when we listen to Ceephax. No. We must dance.
This 10 minute interview with Mr. Jenkinson is a goldmine of advice for creative people. (Also includes a shot of him throwing a synthesizer into a basketball hoop. There’s a metaphor somewhere.)
“If you do everything yourself, it just makes everything pure”