The Penguin Latte Podcast #10: Salman Ansari on The Lost Art of Having Fun

Every idea you have, every concept, every word, every utterance, every tone…all of that is influenced by those around you anyway. You’ve got to acknowledge that and embrace that and ask, ‘how can I mix those together?’ Each of us is a completely different combination.

Listen on Spotify | Apple Podcasts | YouTube

Salman Ansari (Salman.io) is an illustrator, animator, and author of The Quick Brown Fox Newsletter.

Salman has a heart of gold. I promise that you’ll finish this podcast with more inspiration than you had when you started. He’s one of those rare souls who knows how to do what matters in life without taking himself so seriously. Every time I interact with him, I feel a radiant golden energy enveloping me in a reassurance that it’s okay to be myself. I hope you feel the same way after listening to our conversation. Please enjoy!

Talking Points

  • Giving advice on Twitter (3:00)
  • “Insecurity work” (5:00)
  • Layers in writing (8:00)
  • “The hardest part of writing is talking about myself” (13:00)
  • Aren’t we all polymaths? (20:00)
  • “Being yourself isn’t the most effective growth strategy” (26:00)
  • Salman’s experience with teaching (31:00)
  • Monetization for content creators (35:00)
  • Platforms, communities (41:00)
  • DJ Salman (44:00)
  • “What am I doing right now that would be fun to explore in a new way?” (49:00)
  • Getting inspiration from animation teams and comics (51:00)
  • On web-comics (55:00)
  • Creative constraints (58:00)
  • The benefits of reading older books instead of newer books (1:01:00)
  • Influential video games (1:05:00)
  • Authenticity as a buzzword/ Permission to be yourself (1:10:00)
  • Learning to be comfortable with questions, not answers (1:17:00)
  • Using tools in the right context (1:25:00)
  • Play (1:28:00)
  • Is it irrational to make art? (1:32:00)
  • “What do you mean why?” (1:38:00)
  • Leisure: The Basis of Culture (1:40:00)
  • Meditation (1:45:00)
  • Start with “I don’t know” (1:55:00)
  • Parting thoughts (2:07:00)

Mentions

The Courage to Be Disliked

Don Hertzfeldt

The Polymath Playbook

Status Regulation and Anxious Underconfidence

Spirited Away

Teenage Engineering

Studio MDHR

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art

SHEN COMIX

Studio Rare and The Making of Goldeneye 64

Undertale

VVVVVV

Intimations by Zadie Smith

Elizabeth Gilbert

Aldous Huxley

Leisure: The Basis of Culture

Carl Jung

Gifts with no wrapping paper

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook is Gary Vaynerchuk’s best book.

Here’s the whole book in a sentence. Give more than you ask.

Pair that with Essentialism by Greg McKeown. In a sentence: stop doing things that aren’t helping you do what’s important to you.

Combine those two ideas, and you get this: use only the tools, platforms, and mediums that work with the gifts you want to share.

Consider Dr. Jordan Peterson’s lectures. His popular rule, “Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today” is short enough to be a tweet. But that wouldn’t be as valuable and entertaining as his lengthy yet cohesive explanation of the idea.

Dr. Peterson didn’t come out first by saying, “I’m a clinical psychologist. Here’s what I know. If you want to know more, here’s what you’ll need to pay me.” Instead, he put all his lectures on YouTube so that anyone could watch them for free. This is why Peterson is now a household name (in houses with clean rooms).

Know which tools work best with your gifts. Give your gifts. And then ask people for something in return. If you ask before you give, you’re giving them a reason to ignore you.

Nobody is “gifted.” But everyone has gifts. You know things that I don’t – until you teach me what you know. You’ve experienced things that I’ll never experience – until you share those experiences with me.

What are your gifts? Your gifts are the things you know, the feelings you want to spread, the changes you want to make.

You already have a wheel. No need to reinvent it.

Solve or signal?

Are we building to signal how many bricks we’ve laid?

Or are we building because we see a problem that needs solving?

Measurements are necessary, of course. The architect needs to know the proper amount of all the materials and the cost of each.

But we always have the option of turning measurements into signals of our influence.

A friend of mine pointed out that we shake our heads at anyone who flaunts their income. But when we see people we like signaling how much they’ve earned off of their products, we let it slide. We become enablers of the behaviors we shake our heads at. Because they’re doing it “holistically.” They’re sharing their secrets to success in under 280 characters. To us, we feel like we’re part of their journey. Because if they can build something with only a few viral messages, so can we, right?

As creatives, as builders of remarkable things, we have a choice: solve or signal?

Some fundamentals of personal branding

I used to believe that personal branding is personal.

It’s not.

Personal branding is tailored. It’s tailored to the subjective experience of whoever engages with your work.

Everyone perceives the world in their own way. And your audience experiences your work in their own way, as well.

Alice reads a blog on productivity because she wants to learn how to get more work done. But Joshua reads the same blog as Alice because he’s a productivity fiend. Not only is Joshua looking for ways to be more productive, he’s seeking the hottest productivity tricks to share with his friends. Same product, different experience.

Personal branding isn’t exclusive to the entrepreneur, or the YouTube star. Personal branding is the feeling you get after eating your favorite meal. It’s not about the actual work while it’s happening to or around you. Because that’s when you’re actually in the thick of it, and you’re not aware that there’s magic happening. But afterwards? After you’ve complimented the chef? After you’ve left an unusually generous tip? That’s when you know you’ve experienced something remarkable.

And as an artist, or an academic, or a well-groomed professional, you have a personal brand. You have a stamp. You have a footprint to leave behind. “This is the work I’ve done for you. I’m proud enough of this work to put my name on it.”

You can do personal branding even if you don’t leave your name on it. Consider the work of an anonymous Japanese chef. Anyone who eats this chef’s curry udon, without knowing the chef’s name, knows who cooked it. The branding is in the hard-work of delighting the customers after they’ve finished their meal.

Do you think about an actor’s performance after the credits roll? That’s personal branding.

Do you think about the taste of the first sip of your morning coffee, when there’s no more coffee left? That’s personal branding.

Personal branding is how your readers think about your blog while they’re daydreaming.

It’s how your audience geeks out about your work behind your back.

It’s how they’re spreading messages (good or bad) about your work through social media and emails.

But you don’t “create” a personal brand. When you lean into yourself, you create a body of work which becomes an obsession for your fans. This is why artists sometimes respond with, “I don’t know, it just sort of happened” when asked how they got the ideas for their best work.

No great works of art are made by force. They “just sort of happen.”

Your true fans are those who obsess over the work that “just sort of happened.” And when you have thousands of those kinds of fans, that’s when you know you’re good at personal branding.


Personal branding is about showing up, uncensored, unfiltered. But that isn’t the same as offensive or rude. It’s about adopting the mindset of the professional who doesn’t take themselves too seriously.

If you’re dealing with impostor syndrome, or self-doubt, please consider scheduling a chat with me. I’d love to help you get unstuck so you can make work you’re proud of, and share it with folks who care.

How to be afraid

When I started this blog, I was afraid. I didn’t use hashtags on my posts because I didn’t want to draw much attention to my writing. And for that reason, I didn’t comment on anybody else’s blog, or share anybody else’s work, either.

But every burst of progress that I’ve experienced came from a source of fear. I was afraid of networking, so I started reaching out to writers on Twitter. I was afraid of rejection, so I started asking some of those writers if they’d like to be a guest on my podcast.

And by acting on my fear, I’ve learned a lesson. Whatever it is you’re putting off because you’re afraid of doing it, do it.

You don’t need to do it all day. Your body and your mind can’t sustain that level of stress.

But for an hour a day? You can manage that. An hour a day to answer the questions: what am I most afraid of doing right now, and what do I need to do about that?

In Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M. Pirsig tells us that the top of the mountain defines the sides of the mountain. The top of the mountain is your goal. Your goal is what signals to you what’s worth your attention as you climb to the top of the mountain. Your goal is what gives value to the actions you’re afraid of taking.

The higher up the mountain we climb, the more we need to focus with each step. And that’s exhausting. So we ask, “well, I started this climb, and that was difficult enough. What more do you want from me?”

A lot more.

You might believe that who you were yesterday is 100 times braver than who you were a week ago. And you’re right. But who you’ll become after you do what’s scaring you today is 1,000 times braver than who you are now.

You aren’t the person who started this climb. You’re the person who keeps climbing.

So, for an hour, do what you’re afraid of doing. Send that cold email. Promote your work. Sit in front of the camera, and speak to us.

Then, take a break. Look over the side of the mountain. Celebrate. It might not feel like it, but something happened. For an hour, you became less afraid.

The meditation continues

after you’ve opened your eyes. Because after you’ve opened your eyes, that’s when the real work begins.

Your most valuable asset isn’t your network. Or your portfolio.

It’s your sight.

We’re blind to what is (and isn’t) happening outside us until we can see what is (and isn’t) happening inside us.

To see what’s stopping you from moving forward, take out a pen and paper. Put your phone on airplane mode. Write down the three most important things that you need to do today. Only three. Putting more items on this list means that these three things aren’t as important as you thought. Then, write down all the ways in which you’re preventing yourself from doing those things.

For example, if your goal is to write 500 words of your next blog post, but you’re worried that it won’t be good, write that down. “I’m worried that it won’t be good.” You said your goal was to write 500 words. You didn’t say your goal was to stop worrying. So, write the 500 words.

Too often, what’s stopping us from doing what’s important is our own self-deception.

H/T to pages 190-191 of Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism. Highly recommended if you’re feeling overwhelmed today. It’s worth putting off your projects to read the book in its entirety.

YOU | How It’s Made

You are made from that’s immeasurable and invisible.

So we invented new stuff.

Stuff that you can see.

Stuff that you can measure.

Stuff that beeps.

Whoever convinced millions of people that being made from water and stardust isn’t as interesting as being made from likes and followers deserves a Nobel prize in physics.

The invention of new ways to measure our self-worth is a state-of-the-art technology that we take for granted.

But the stuff that matters is the stuff you can’t count.

And whoever convinces those millions of people that what they’re made from is more than enough deserves a Nobel prize in literature.

I redesigned my homepage

Here’s the before and after.

(Note: I don’t have a “before” photo. Just imagine a page full of text and hyperlinks.)

After:

rd 1rd 2rd 3rd 4

Thanks to the generous folks on Twitter who reached out to help me. To summarize their advice, say what you need to say in respect to the constraint of the viewer’s attention.

Not the constraint of their time. No, that’s a reversal of roles. Attention is the constraint. Attention signals to us what is and isn’t worth our time. Attention comes from the stories we tell ourselves. It’s easier to get someone’s attention when your messages already match their story.

Often, that story is, “I want (or, I want “this”) to be more (or less) _____” It’s easier to convince someone to eat a banana when they already believe that bananas are worth eating (being hungry helps, too).

By working on this (I still am), I’ve learned that design has two parts.

The first part is addition. What can I add? How can I use this tools to make something new?

The second part is subtraction. I made all these things, but now it’s overwhelming. What can I subtract, piece by piece, until only the essential is all that remains?

Whenever I work on something that matters to me, I’m always reminded of these words from T. S. Eliot.

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

 

Do you want this, or that?

Change is both big and small.

We’re only doing this for 20 minutes a day. But it’s 20 minutes a day. 7 days a week. That’s 140 minutes (2.3 hours) a week spent doing this.

Overtime, if you’re patient, small adjustments to your daily routine will lead to a big change. Instead of doing that for 20 minutes a day, try doing this.

And if it turns out that you’re not suited to doing this, no time wasted. Now you’re closer to discovering what you’d rather be doing. Perhaps it’s that.

Swimming downstream

 

Creativity is like a river. Everyone jumps into this river with a certain amount of skill.

Some of us jump into the river and land in the water, scratch free. It doesn’t matter how good I am. I’m going to create these things no matter what. Who can I serve? How can I improve my craft?

And some of us jump into the river and land on rocks. I’m not good enough. They’re better than I am. Who am I to make these assertions? Who am I to serve these people?

Some rocks are small enough for us to lift ourselves. Some rocks are so small that we can swim around them. I don’t know what the solution is, but I know that this is a problem. “A problem defined is a problem half solved.”

And some rocks are too heavy for us to deal with alone. For those rocks, we need the help of our cohort. The help of people who’ve dealt with those kinds of rocks before. Here, this is what I’ve done about impostor syndrome. Let me help you with that. Hey, I know what it’s like to think that you’re not good enough yet. Let me show you how I’ve dealt with those thoughts before.

As we swim down this river, we’re going to come up against more rocks. The good news is that the river is big enough to fit everyone who’s willing to help us to keep swimming downstream.

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