Today, my guest is Colin Beavan, author of No Impact Man, the Adventures of a Guilty Liberal who Attempts to Save the Planet and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process. Colin has also written a book called How To Be Alive. Now, I found Colins’s book used at a second-hand bookstore. This book is printed on post-consumer waste paper printed with soy ink. It’s very environmentally friendly, which is no surprise given that it contains the stories and experiences of a man who lived a year without producing any trash except for compost. Purchasing no goods except for food and that food had to be grown within a 250 mile radius. He used no carbon-emitting transportation, no airplanes, no buses, no cars for a year. He didn’t even use elevators, taking the stairs. Now, all of that with a family living in New York City. Oh, and no paper products either including no toilet paper. He’s appeared on the Colbert Report, Good Morning America, Nightline, just about every morning show in the country. He holds a PhD from the University of Liverpool and he’s an all-around good guy.
00:02:21 What is life about?
00:03:53 Daughter Bella’s purpose of life.
00:14:34 Criticism surrounding the documentary.
00:28:15 Building literal bridges.
00:30:11 A model for changing a persons life.
00:51:04 What Colin would have changed with No Impact Man.
00:54:56 Lightening round.
01:10:16 Specific questions about writing.
01:33:14 Qualities of a great sentance.
Colin Beavan’s website
How to Be Alive by Colin Beavan
No Impact Man by Colin Beavan
Operation Jedburgh by Colin Beavan
Fingerprints by Colin Beavan
No Impact Man documentary
Bryan: 00:00:35 Today, my guest is Colin Beavan, author of No Impact Man, the adventures of a guilty liberal who attempts to save the planet and the discoveries he makes about himself and our way of life in the process. Colin has also written a book called How To Be Alive. Now I found Colins’s book, I think he is very pleased to know this, used at a second hand bookstore. This book is printed on post consumer waste paper printed with soy ink. It’s very environmentally friendly, which is no surprise given that it contains the stories and experiences of a man who lived a year without producing any trash except for compost. Purchasing no goods except for food and that food had to be grown within a 250 mile radius. He used no carbon emitting transportation, no airplanes, no buses, no cars for a year. He didn’t even use elevators, taking the stairs. Now, all of that with a family living in New York City. Oh, and no paper products either including no toilet paper. One of the things that Colin says that I love, he says that heeding the call of our higher selves can be like trying to hear a whisper in a hurricane. His book is not a self help book. It’s an each other help book because as we know, we’re all in this together. No surprise. He’s appeared on the Colbert Report, Good Morning America, Nightline, just about every morning show in the country. He holds a PhD from the University of Liverpool and he’s an all around good guy. My opinion. I think you’ll really like him. So with nothing further for me. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Colin Beavan, No Impact Man. Colin, welcome to the school for good living.
Colin: 00:02:13 Thank you for having me. It’s nice to be with you.
Bryan: 00:02:16 It’s a pleasure. So what’s life about?
Colin: 00:02:21 What’s life about? Life is about sitting here talking to you.
Bryan: 00:02:26 Well, thank you. I feel honored that that’s your answer.
Colin: 00:02:31 You want me to expand?
Bryan: 00:02:33 Well, here’s what I’d like. If you’re willing, um, in your, in your book that we’ll talk about in just a minute or two. You, you share about kind of, I don’t want to say a party trick, but, but a way that you and your daughter Bella would interact with people when you go to parties. And I wonder if you’d talk about this back when she was six years old and you would ask her to talk about what’s the purpose of life. You’d asked her to basically answer that same question.
Colin: 00:02:58 Oh, I wrote about that and I know that. I remember that. I can’t remember what she would say.
Bryan: 00:03:04 I know, that was a little while. So let me see if, if you’d ask what is the purpose of life? And then six years old, Bella would answer
Colin: 00:03:11 To laugh, to laugh.
Bryan: 00:03:13 And then you would ask.
Colin: 00:03:15 Yeah. Uh, and what’s our response Bella, okay, sorry, yes. Yeah. I love that story too. Here’s the thing about like, Bella is now 14. This is my daughter. I have one daughter. She’s not quite 14. I keep saying that because she’ll be 14 in the end of February. Uh, and, and, but when she was, and she definitely has a mind of her own, but when she was sick she was programmable, like it’s great. You could teach them, you could get to say things. And so I would say at parties I got, I would say to her at parties in front of other people, I would say “Bella what’s the purpose of life” and she and she knew what to say because I had programmed her.
Bryan: 00:03:52 You coached her.
Colin: 00:03:53 I coach, coaching isn’t. Coaching is more like what I do now with her, not that she listens anyway. So I would say “Bella the purpose of life?” And she would say “to laugh” and I would say, “and what’s our responsibility?” And she would say “to make sure other people can laugh too.” Um, and, and in truth, I’m so glad you reminded me of that because I had forgotten about that. Um, and uh, I kind of believe that, you know, that that. What I said to you about the purpose of life before is another thing that we can talk about. But, but, but, but to laugh, to have fun, to be in play. You know, to be in play, um, it’s really interesting because the definition of play, by the play experts is to act without expectation of result. It’s just to be, to play, to act without expectation of result, which is the same as being in the moment, right? So being in the moment and playing are the same and those are all closely related to laughing of course. So the purpose of life is to be able to act without expectation of result. To be safe, to be able to expand yourself, to be able to move forward in your life in a way that feels appropriate to who you are as a person and therefore to laugh. Um, but paradoxically, the only way that feels satisfying to us is if we’re actually working on making sure that other people can do the same. Like meaning and purpose comes from, are expressing ourselves, expressing our true natures in ways that have a positive and meaningful impact on other people. So, so that business about till, you know, what, what, what’s the purpose of life to laugh. What’s our responsibility to make sure other people can laugh too is um, you know, kind of sums it up for me in truth.
Bryan: 00:05:39 I think that’s such a beautiful way to express that. And it would be one thing if somebody just said that, right? It’s like, that sounds nice. That’s a great theory, right? But what I love is that you’ve arrived at that through a very unique life experience that I think makes you an authority. You know, when you say that it’s not like your page a day calendar, right? And, and so, you, you can maybe shed some light on that fact or whatever else you’d like when I ask you to answer this, please. Is when somebody asks you who you are and what you do, what do you say? Typically?
Colin: 00:06:17 I mean it’s, it’s, it’s actually a difficult. I mean, if you’re asking me about career, I can tell you in general when people ask me, I try to remember to answer first that I’m a dad. You know, um, I’m. I would be one of the things that I often, and when I, when I give talks on stages, a lot of times people introduced me by listing off my accomplishments. He’s written this book, he’s been on this TV show, Blah. Um, not so interested in what makes us separate from each other, are more interested in what joins us together, you know, so I often will say, you know, first of all, I’m a dad. Um, and uh, the dad of Isabella. Work wise, what I’ll say is I find it very hard because I, I’m, I have a sprawling career. I’m involved in a lot of things. I find it very hard when somebody says, what do you do? Because I could say I’m an author, but that’s not all of it, what I do. So what I do is I talk about my mission, my mission in life. My mission is in life is, is to help people live authentically that is true to themselves in a way that has a meaningful impact on the world. And I do that. I do that through writing. I write a lot. I’ve written four books. Um, a through speaking, through teaching, through coaching, I do a lot of coaching. Um, running workshops, uh, and um, and also, uh, through various forms of activism and thought leadership. Because um, I’m interested in helping people on an individual level to be able to live authentically in a way that has a meaningful impact on the world, but I’m also interested in creating a society that facilitates that happening for all people. Hence making sure other people can laugh too.
Bryan: 00:08:01 And I love that. And what you’ve added there about activism, you know, I, that’s a term that I myself have shied away from. Um, I think perhaps because of the, the psychological insecurity it can bring about, right? It’s oh, does activism come with confrontation. Does it come with making other people wrong? Does it even make a difference? Right. This, this kind of thing. And I, I know in some of what you’ve talked about, um, one of the things I’ve heard you talk about is finding and using your own voice. Like that being one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of the work you’ve done. Will you talk with me a little bit about what that has been like?
Colin: 00:08:44 So Bryan, I’m gonna. What I’m gonna do is I’m actually going to, for the sake of our listeners, I’m going to talk about that while also letting them know, like kind of my background because I think so far I’m spouting off a lot of words but people don’t know, you know, people like a context. So I’m going to do both at the same time. It’s a convenient way to answer your question. So,
Bryan: 00:09:04 Thank you.
Colin: 00:09:05 Um, I, um, I began life by getting a PhD, my professional life, by getting a PhD in engineering because I thought it would be a way to get rich and then when, as I tried to pursue getting rich, I found that the things that I, that, that, that getting rich wasn’t actually a worthwhile goal for me and the tasks that I had to do didn’t fulfill me. Um, and I didn’t really understand what it meant to be rich. I thought that was a number in your bank account because I am fabulously rich right now. And not necessarily with a big number in my bank account, but fabulously rich in terms of meaning and purpose and trust. Um, and then, uh, but eventually found out I wanted it to be a writer and I wrote two history books. Um, and then, uh, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars happened in news of climate change happened. And I, I was in New York living in New York as a literary person, on the literary scene, really cool and fun, but feeling like the literary scene, what did the literary scene to have to do with the fact that we were kind of wrecking the world as a species, you know. Wrecking the world and wrecking each other. Not really being kind to each other, not living out our purpose. Like actually I think kindness, when we’re kind, we’re actually happier. So, so, so, um, I decided that I wanted to turn my writing career over to um, uh, helping to promote the conversation about how we should actually live. And I developed this project called No Impact Man, which was a year I spent living is environmentally as possible. Um, and, uh, here in New York City, um, with my then wife who’s now no longer my wife, but my co-parent. Um, and my daughter Isabella, um, and our dog Frankie, who sadly passed away a couple of years ago. And um, that, that project was about, uh, became about asking this question like how is it possible to first of all, is it possible to do more good than harm in the world? And what actually makes us happy? And then the next book after that was How to Be Alive. Um, and it’s called How to Be Alive, a guide to the kind of happiness that, um, uh, helps the world. And that book is about how do we find a life where we live at the intersection of our own happiness and service to the world more or less. Um, and um, I, I know that I was heading towards an answer to your question by giving all that background and then now I’ve forgotten what your question was.
Bryan: 00:11:36 So it was, um, no, and thank you for that background. That’s very, very valuable. The question was about in this life journey finding, developing, using your voice.
Colin: 00:11:49 Right. So, so there is this interaction. It’s, it’s, it’s, so I say sometimes that my twenties, my, in some ways my, the early twenties was about material accomplishment, you know, how do I get secure? Then my, then my thirties was about my passions. How do I express myself in the way that feels appropriate to me, that’s becoming a writer. And then my forties moved towards how do I address concerns in the world. So, so I try to live. It’s interesting to me like the work that I do is in helping people live at this intersection between our passions. That’s what’s true to ourselves and our concerns in the world. You know, what are we, what are we supposed to be helping with in the world? So, so first of all was moving towards that intersection for myself. Then when I did No Impact Man, No Impact Man was definitely living at that intersection. My passion was to write. My concern was environmental and human quality of life. And so how could I use what I cared about, which was my voice, actually my written voice in service of those things. And um, what happened to me was, and it was a big surprise to me was this project No Impact Man got a gigantic, huge amount of press attention. This is back in 2009. I mean, I literally went on a world tour. The book has been published in something like 20 languages and I’ve been interviewed by, you know, I was on Good Morning America six times. I was on the Colbert Report twice, that this isn’t to brag though I’m a little bit proud of it, but it’s not to brag. It’s just.
Bryan: 00:13:32 Your documentary at Sundance.
Colin: 00:13:34 Yes. I had a documentary about the project at Sundance. So, so was it. What it is to say is that somebody, somehow some people were paying attention to what I said suddenly and which was really scary. You know, most writers, we sit in our underpants at our dining table type, typing things away and we never really actually expect anybody to listen to us, you know.
Bryan: 00:13:56 We are grateful when our family or friends will read what we’ve written.
Colin: 00:13:58 Totally. And, and, uh, and with that amount of attention also came a lot of criticism, right? So, so, um, so I had to learn to, to speak and say what I believe to be true for me in the face of a lot of attention. So that was one thing about, you know, learning to speak and trust my voice. So people sometimes say about No Impact Man, what was your real learning? And for me it was about learning to, I grew a backbone. I actually learned to be able to speak.
Bryan: 00:14:34 What kind of criticism did, did, came up for you and how much of that was specific to what you were writing about versus is to be expected for anyone who starts using their voice?
Colin: 00:14:45 First of all, I, we get criticized for using our voice at all. You know, I remember very early on in my career, my, my working life, I said that I wanted to do something to a person who is more. I had some professional aspirations, not important when it was, but in the too. And I said this to a person who is more senior than me, said you know I’d really like to do that. And he said, what on Earth makes you think you could? And what was interesting to me about that is that what it was, is that, that my aspiration it threatened him, I believe. Because he probably had, maybe I’m assuming, that he had a similar aspiration, but had squashed it. Similarly when we use our voices, when we live out of our truth, um, when we embrace our values, people around us who have scratched their truths find it challenging. Because you’re living according to your values actually activates the desire to live according, need to live according to my values. And if I have deliberately or unconsciously chosen not to do that, it’s very threatening. Because to live according to your values changes your life. And you know, if you’ve decided you want something and what you want feels like it’s in opposition to where, living according to your values will lead you. That’s scary. Um, so, uh, so, so for one thing to, to, to, to just use your voice, it’s challenging for people. For another, for another, um, especially during No Impact Man, what I was questioning was consumerism, you know, really this idea that the way to the way towards happiness is to earn as much money as you can and then buy as much stuff as you can.
Bryan: 00:16:31 It’s a big thing to challenge. I mean, you’ve got George Bush saying the answer to 9-11 is to go shopping.
Colin: 00:16:36 That’s exactly right.
Bryan: 00:16:37 And you’re the lone voice here, right? Yeah. And, and, and, and just to show, to help listeners understand the, the, I would use the word extreme. I mean, it is extreme by comparison to how we’re living, but the rules of your experiment, right? Included producing no trash except for compost, purchasing no goods except for food. No, no goods except for food grown within 250 miles. No carbon based transportation. No paper products including toilet paper and you know, and then you put it all under a microscope by sharing it very intimately, you know, with the world. And I can imagine that in that circumstance that one of two things is going to happen. You either will do what you said you’ll grow backbone or you will just kind of retreat into the hole you might’ve been in, you know, before you, before you started speaking out.
Colin: 00:17:22 Well, and so let’s, let’s talk about why that, why that would cause criticism on a kind of psychological level that so many of us, our, our field trapped, we’re trapped in this machine, this nine to, if we’re lucky, nine to five. That’s, that’s very old fashioned, nine to five. You know, we used to say we were trapped into. Yeah, that’s right. We’re trapped into lives. We feel trapped anyway. We feel trapped by our economic and social and family circumstances and we feel trapped into these lives and we. There’s very few degrees of freedom. There isn’t much we can do to feel expressed like we’re expressing ourselves and whatnot, but we feel trapped. And the one thing we feel that we can do is go shopping on Saturday, right? That’s, by the way, that’s it’s an America second biggest pastime. First is television. And then the next thing is shopping.
Bryan: 00:18:14 I thought it was opioids.
Colin: 00:18:17 Yeah. Well, yeah, you know, so um, when somebody comes along and they were like, this consumerist way of life that we have may not be so suitable. And the only thing you feel you can do to give yourself happiness is to go shopping, then you’re going to be like, shut up dude. Like that’s all I got. So I, you know, I feel like that is where a lot of the backlash that project came from and I understand that. Yeah. Yeah. It feels like that’s the way to have. The only happiness I can have is doing this and you’re telling me I can’t do even do that.
Bryan: 00:18:54 I’m sensitive of how personal I get, you know, sometimes. But I’m. And I don’t want to get too deep into your personal life or anything you don’t want to share.
Colin: 00:19:02 I don’t believe you. I think you want to ask me where you want to ask me. That sounds like you’re starting off a question to ask me something personal.
Bryan: 00:19:09 I want you to like me, at the end of the interview right? So I’ll ask this and you can answer or not, but how much of what you’re describing now in the transformation that you, that you’re saying you went through from your security in your twenties to your passions and your thirties to your concerns, the world in your forties combined with. I mean because that’s. We all evolve hopefully. Right? But we all definitely, you know, go through changes in life and so those natural changes that we all have combined with this kind of maybe push back that you might be getting from the society that you’re maybe challenging in some way. How much did all of those factors contribute to. And now I understand you’re still have a great relationship with the mother, with Isabelle’s mom. I understand that. But how much did it, all of that contribute to you choosing to no longer be married?
Colin: 00:20:02 Huh? You know, people often ask like, oh, did you did no, No Impact Man, like, cause your marriage to break up, but um, and, and. I mean I think part of the reason for that question comes to because the way that the filmmakers made the movie about us was to actually make it look like we were at odds with each other. I mean, sometimes people think that a documentary because the camera’s there, it must be true and there’s truths, but you know, they, they, they filmed 200 hours with us and then cut it down to an hour and a half. And like the good storytellers that they are, um, they, they included a lot of conflict to make it, you know, to make an interesting story. So in fact, Michelle and I, we’re way more on the same page during No Impact Man than we were on opposite pages. We were different people that came from it from different views. What I do think is that No Impact Man kind of taught both of us. Well, two things. It taught both of us that actually to live a life according to your values is okay. Even if it causes relationships to change form, right? You know, that, that, that, that to stick to the form of things wasn’t necessarily always the most important. Um, two um, when you start questioning how you live, it’s like pulling on a ball of string. So sometimes you discover things that aren’t, aren’t working in there. So, so I did, did that experience. Um, and, and, and three, I kind of do believe what they, you know, they say a lot that our life expectancy is now exceeded our relationship expectancy. I don’t know if you read much about that, that we used to only live to be 40, so marriages could last the whole time, but we, we change a lot as people and we grow. So, so all of that is by way of saying, I suppose that, that the project and the work that both of us did doing during it, um, uh, caused us to change and grow as people. And to that extent, yes, but not not the environmental living part.
Bryan: 00:22:14 Not for reasons maybe people would’ve thought that’s right. Yeah, that makes sense. So one thing I really love about how to be.
Colin: 00:22:21 Bryan I want to say something about that though. Can I say one more thing about it?
Bryan: 00:22:26 Absolutely.
Colin: 00:22:26 Cause I think it’s important. I think. I think all of us, all of us, I mean, as a divorced person, I can tell you that I felt a lot of shame when, when we broke up. And I think that’s true for a lot of us. Like we feel. Oh, you did? Okay. Good. So, so, so not good that you felt shame.
Bryan: 00:22:45 Not for you, I didn’t feel shame about.
Colin: 00:22:48 I assume that’s what you meant. Yeah. Yeah. So, I mean, I think that we kind of imagined that we’re supposed to stick to certain ways of being and we feel as though, you know, as our psyches progress and things change that, you know, we’re wrong or bad if we don’t make things work. One time I was on a radio interview, the uh, uh, uh, uh, it was an evangelical radio show and the, which is fine. I don’t have any, you know, I embrace spirituality and religions of all forms. It’s, so that’s not the thing except that this person, the host came, I think with a certain prejudice. She said, why should any of us listen to you? You’re divorced, you’ve abandoned your, your wife and daughter, which is.
Bryan: 00:23:34 Ouch
Colin: 00:23:34 Kind of a. Yeah. Ouch is right. Yeah. She said, whereas me, I’ve stick, stuck with it through thick and thin. I’ve been with my husband for 40 years. I said, I said, I said to her, I said, you know, I really admire that you stuck with your husband and all of that. That’s great. You know, congratulations. It’s wonderful. But, but I wonder if there’s another way to look at this. I wonder if there is a. The fact that Michelle and I have been through so much hardship together, right? That we’ve actually divorced and yet we’re still completely committed to each other as friends and as people and committed to each other’s growth and committed to raising our child together in spite of the hardship of having been through divorce. I wonder, I said whether our commitment might be comparable to yours and your husbands. And the reason why I say that is because I think it’s, I think being married or not married is, can be. I’m riffing, but, but I, I think the form of things we can get committed to the form of things instead of the spirit of things. Right. You know, so anyway, since you asked, I wanted to say that. I’m, I’m Michelle and I are, are, and, and Bella to my daughter, we’re really proud of our family, you know. And um, in fact sometimes the teachers at school will say that they wish that their married parents could be as much on the same page as me and Michelle are, uh, when it comes to raising her daughter. Yeah. So I just, I dunno, I just wanted to say that like, like the, the important thing is love and care and support and compassion.
Bryan: 00:25:11 Kindness
Colin: 00:25:11 Above form. Yeah.
Bryan: 00:25:14 Which a lot of people who divorce don’t, don’t have, you know, choose not to express. But I really admire that in the way that, that you, you know, have managed, you know, that you’ve done that. And um, I think there’s something there. I mean my experience is intimate relationships. Relationships are hard, intimate relationships are really hard, hard, hard, and, and as we know all of life is in relationship. So if this is not something that we, we learn, you know, how to do in a way that satisfies us or at least doesn’t cause us undue suffering, then we’ll just continue to suffer. So let me ask you this. Um, so you talk in your book about a bridge in, in a town where you grew up and use it as a metaphor for the world we’re living in and the world we’re moving toward. And I love that because in How To Be Alive, you know, if people read this book. And first of all, I never really paid attention to the length of books until I really started studying, you know, publishing and writing and you know, this kind of thing. And I see, you know, most books today, 200, 230 words people read. I heard a statistic, the average reader reads 18 pages of a book before they just set it aside. And I’m sure most of you know, most people never even open, really get through the first chapter. But with your book, if people really get through it, I mean all the way to parenting toward the end and you know, things and they take it on, answer the questions, do the exercises that they really will be living an examined life right at the end of it. And, and I love that metaphor of the bridges where you talk about there’s an old bridge and a new bridge is under construction. And I wonder if you, if that’s calling to mind what you meant when you wrote it, if you’d be willing to talk about how that seems to be an experience that we’re having individually or we’re having a society. It’s like we don’t just jump the chasm and live in a new future, you know, like before lunch today or even tomorrow. But it’s, it is some way a process that we, that we construct. Um, I wonder if you can elaborate if you remember still this thing about the bridges, if that, if that makes sense. If you’ll talk about that a little bit.
Colin: 00:27:30 I, I, I do remember about the bridges because I remember when it happened in the town in my hometown. So there’s a bridge, there’s a barrier beach in my town. I come from the town of Westport, Massachusetts, which is a coastal town just south of Cape Cod. And a barrier beach, I don’t know if you know, this is you have the mainland and then the, a barrier beaches almost like an island off the mainland and there tends to be, there’s an. In my town, there’s an enclosure, the harbor and whatnot, and between the mainland and the barrier beach and the bridge went from the mainland to the barrier beach.
Bryan: 00:28:03 Is the barrier beach, is it manmade or is it naturally occurring?
Colin: 00:28:05 No, no, no, it’s naturally occurring. I mean I think I’m more or less like a sandbar. That over thousands of years became a really big sandbar.
Bryan: 00:28:13 So it’s going to be underwater pretty soon.
Colin: 00:28:15 Well from. Yeah. Yeah. So, um, so, so, um, and there is this bridge that went across and we used to jump off the bridge to go swimming. And um, and then um, the bridge rested and got old and they started to build a new bridge, but in building the new bridge they didn’t be like, okay, the old bridge is done in over and we’re just gonna build a new bridge. They used the old bridge to build the new bridge, you know, they had to travel across the bridge with the cement trucks and whatnot to get to the other side and build on both sides. You know what I mean? So, so, and people continue to use the old bridges in new bridge was built. And what I’m talking about when I write about that is that it’s the same with our kind of, our economies. Like it’s not necessarily that we have to completely withdraw from our economy or we can’t. We have to use the existing economy to build the new economy. And similarly in our lives, you know, as we transition in our lives, we don’t necessarily have to be like, you know, make precipitous changes, but use what we have already in our life to build the new thing in our life. I think that’s what you’re talking about.
Bryan: 00:29:28 Yeah, that’s right. And I think they’re, that. I mean it’s a, obviously it’s a concept, it’s a metaphor, but I hope for anyone listening who’s looking to live a life more congruent with their values or their deepest desires, that they see something of value in that and understand, you know. A: there is a path from here to there from here who you are, who you want to be, right. And, and you don’t need to, you don’t need to destroy your life to get there. You just, you keep in some way living by taking, you know, the old bridge, but you’re very cognizant that there’s a new version of yourself or a new future that you want to live into and, and you do that. So I just, I love that image when I read it.
Colin: 00:30:11 Can I talk about my model for changing a person’s life? Like
Bryan: 00:30:15 Please.
Colin: 00:30:16 So, so, um, so a lot of us get stopped by, you know, we, we think, um, yeah, I’d like to live in according to my values and the way that I have to do that is to completely change my career. Um, quit my job and, you know, therefore lose my mortgage or lose my ability to support my children or whatever it is, you know, we imagine that it has to start with some big and gigantic precipitous change, like blowing up the old bridge, right? Um, in my own coaching practice, the way that I work with clients is I ask them to begin manifesting their values in their daily life as it stands at the moment. Um, so let’s say they say they want to spend more. Let’s, somebody says, I want to be spending more time with my children. I feel overwhelmed and I’m working my rear end off. I’m a, you know, I need to find a new career so that I’m not, okay. And uh, so I work with them to help them find a new career. But I also be like, okay, what can we do today, right where you’ll spend, it doesn’t, you may not spend three hours more with your kids today, but what can we do today? You know, a lot of times, you know, it might mean like, well, what would happen if you didn’t watch television? Could we not? Could we just cut out a little television and give that to spending more time? Like how can we actually do that? So I as people to begin building. This is kind of like building the new bridge. The old bridge exists, right? I asked the people to begin building the values they want to work towards, into their life at the moment. Now I tell the story and how to be alive about a person who, um, she, she, uh, wants to build, she wants a new career and everything and it all feels precipitous. And she, so she stopped. She’s not living her new value, her values out at all. And she stopped because she, she imagined she has to make precipitous change. But, but what she does is she ends up joining a community garden. That’s small thing that she can do on Saturday, go and help grow vegetables, a community garden, but by, by becoming a member of the community gardens, she becomes part of a community of people who were caring about things and embracing the values that she wants. She finds herself going to different dinner parties and meeting different people and her life starts to change. Um, I call it changing from the outside in instead of from the inside out, like not changing the necessarily biggest core of our life, but changing at the know at the, at the, at the outer boundaries, you know, just little things like what you do on a Saturday morning. And, and in that story, what happens is slowly but surely she starts to meet people and find people and then eventually she actually is able to change her career because she’s through her what she’s done on a Saturday morning. She’s networked her way into it, into a new job that embraces the values that she wants. As opposed to, I just need to quit everything and go back to school. Which feels so big and daunting.
Bryan: 00:33:11 That, that never works ultimately, right?
Colin: 00:33:13 No, no, because the other thing about that is because we quit, we do this big gigantic precipitous change without ever having tested whether the new thing is going to make us happier or not. Right. So the nice thing about this kind of changing from the outside in is that you actually get to test and experiment, like if she hadn’t liked community gardening, well that would have been a good thing to know before she became a farmer for example. You know? Yeah.
Bryan: 00:33:38 See, I think that’s so practical and that’s exactly what I’m talking about with a. If people read this, um, you know, and, and what I found is that although I felt like in the moment, there were parts of it that didn’t really resonate with me, I found myself thinking, man, I wish I had this book 15 years ago, you know. And, and so while not every chapter might be, you know, totally resonant with someone in that moment, um taken as a whole, I really do look at it like a powerful blueprint for life, you know?
Colin: 00:34:11 Awesome, thanks.
Bryan: 00:34:12 So yeah. And I love that you describe it as, it’s not a self help book and you’re very clear. It’s not a career book per say. I love this term you use that it’s, uh, it is, uh, uh, help each other book.
Colin: 00:34:27 It’s not a self help book, it’s in each other help book.
Bryan: 00:34:30 Each other help book. That’s right. I love that term. I’ve never heard that before. Will you tell me how you like how, I mean, I imagine that arose organically from the process of writing and what your intention was, but will you say more about that.
Colin: 00:34:43 Yeah, sure, I mean. So I, I kinda think that the time of self help is dead in a certain way. Um, we can, we can work towards our own psychological development and work towards getting better careers and all of that. But it’s like that will, you know, how we started off with, what’s the purpose of life to laugh or, you know, to be happy, whatever you wanna call it. The thing about it is that it’s, it’s not fun to laugh by yourself and it’s not fun to be happy by yourself. Um, and it turns out it’s not even possible to laugh for a long time by yourself or to be happy for a long time by yourself. Um, in, in, in, um, I, I’m a teacher in a zen Buddhist tradition and one of the ways we think about this is that, um, I think about it as, you know, we think about like looking for peace or nirvana and with this idea that I will achieve, achieve nirvana, right? This, that I will find peace. Um, and then sometimes I think of it is imagine if we’re all like standing in a pond and we just want it to be peaceful, right? So we stay in stand really still in the hopes that we don’t cause ripples, like looking for peace. The problem is everybody else’s agitated and moving around and causing lots of ripples. So until, so we cannot have peace while they were moving around. The ripples keep coming. They, they, it needs, requires for everybody else to have peace too.
Bryan: 00:36:06 So they just didn’t get out of the pool. Right. I mean, and then it will be peaceful.
Colin: 00:36:10 That’s one way to put it. That’s one way to imagine, right? That’s one way to think about it. Um, but unfortunately we can’t force them to, to carry the metaphor to a ridiculous conclusion. We can’t force them to get out of the pool. So what we can do, right, what we can do is help them to find peace and calm too. So, you know, I don’t believe in Nirvana or heaven on earth until. There’s no way for me to be as peaceful and as happy as I want to be until you are as peaceful and happy as you want to be too. Um, and um, you know, uh, we are, as it turns out, both on a practical level and I think on an esoteric level, intricately connected. And so, um, so, so, and not to mention the fact also that the planet is, is can’t sustain the way with that way we’re living. So the ship is sinking. So self help is something like looking for the best deck chair on the Titanic, right? You can find it, it might be, have a nice view, but you’re going to sink. Each other help is where we actually work together to keep the boat afloat for all of us. Um, and it turns out to be a, uh, it turns out to work better and to be more practically true.
Bryan: 00:37:23 I just want to know where the boat’s going. You know. I’m okay right now with the mystery, but some days I really want to know.
Colin: 00:37:31 But here’s the thing, here’s the thing about that, right? I’m like, where did I come from? Where was I before I was in my mommy’s tummy, you know, where am I going to go after I die? Where am I going to be next week? And then I’m like, you know what, I’m having enough trouble understanding where I am right here right now. Like, what is happening right here, right now. And, and, and I, I, you know, that’s why if you remember when we first started talking, you said before I was, I, you wanted me to refer to the quote from Bella and you said, what’s the purpose of life? And I said, sitting here talking to you, you know, so, so you know where we’re going. Of course I have that natural curiosity to, but, but where are we right now? Like, you know, that’s, how do we find, move away from our fears of the future and actually just take care of this present, you know. You and I talking to each other, a listener, just listening, hearing the sound of my voice, hearing the sound of your voice, paying attention to whatever they’re doing. Like if we can actually bring our attention to this moment, right, then, then maybe you know, a one moment well attended to becomes another moment, well attended to, becomes a whole life well attended to. And then maybe that will lead to kindness to ourselves and to the people around us in the planet in which we live.
Bryan: 00:38:43 Well, I’m committed to it. I like to think I’m doing my part.
Colin: 00:38:47 You are! You’re smiling a lot while we talk. The readers, listeners can’t, listeners don’t know this, but you and I can see each other because we also have a video connection. Then I can see your lovely smile, which is frequent and bright.
Bryan: 00:38:58 So, okay, man, I’m really loving this conversation and I’m getting the sense I’m, I’m going to pace myself out of time to ask you writing questions and I want to do that, but I want to ask you about. I want to ask you these three things and honestly I think we could spend an hour on these three and I don’t want to do that to our listeners because I want to make sure we get to the writing. But let me bring up three things, you can say anything you want about any of the three. So in, in How To Be Alive, you talk about standard life approaches. You talk about the term life quester, what it means, how someone can do it. And then you also talk about paralyzing stories that keep us stuck. And I thought those were also rich. Um, is there something come up for you when I kind of remind you of these three things? Standard life approaches, the idea of being a life quester and paralyzing stories that feels like it might be worth sharing right now.
Colin: 00:39:52 I mean, I think it’s just a standard life approaches. Um, you, you, you, you go to school, you get good grades, you go to college, um, you, you get a job, you get a mortgage, you form a partnership of some kind, you have children, you work your rear end off, um, hopefully get a nest egg and you, you get to retire if you’re lucky and uh, go around you’ll travel around. You know, and it’s, it’s that, it’s that standard life approach has changed, has changed. It’s, it’s the approach that I grew up with. The problem is it doesn’t fit all people doesn’t fit all of us. It’s not really what all of us want to do. And it used to be, but that used to be that the rewards of trying to live according to that life were so great. That is to say that if you did those things, you would get the money, you would have the house, you would, all of this stuff, right? Turns out that, that, that, those promises, I call it, you know, it’s the failure of the American dream at the moment, right? The failure of the American middle class dream. Those promises are no longer kept, like even if you try to do all that, there’s no guarantee that you will ever for certain have a retirement. Um so, so, so.
Bryan: 00:41:05 Or healthcare.
Colin: 00:41:06 Or healthcare. Yeah. So, so, so but in a certain way. You could turn that on its head and say that in a certain way that frees us, that frees us from having to fit in the mold and to be a life quester. A life quester is a person who is questing after the life that’s right for them. Um, I have a nice definition of the life quester in the book, but it’s a um, which unfortunately I can’t. I don’t have. So I can’t read it to you, but.
Bryan: 00:41:35 May I, may I read a couple.
Colin: 00:41:37 I’d love it. Yeah.
Bryan: 00:41:37 So, so, uh, a life quester is someone who breaks away from the cultural stories to discover who she really is and what makes her truly happy and fulfilled and uses those discoveries to help the world. Yes. So that was one. And then later you say you talk about life questing ultimately happening in community, which goes back to, uh, other help book saying there really is no life quest without community because the life quest is about becoming yourself in relation to the world.
Colin: 00:42:04 That’s right. Yeah. So, so the other thing about the standard life approach is that when I was growing up, I was totally, if I paid my taxes, that would pay for the police force and in social services and the fire department and that just by connecting the dots, I was automatically helping the world. I was doing what was necessary in life. But now we see that all of those things are being dismantled. There’s nothing to say that if I pay my taxes, the right thing will happen in the world. The idea was that we were supposed to leave the good things that happened to the world, to other people. If as long as we just did our thing, we did our job and went shopping, the wheels of industry would turn and all the right things would happen. But I think a lot of us are waking up to the fact that all the right things aren’t happening, you know, um, the, the world doesn’t seem fair and we’re destroying the world’s ability to support us as a species too. So a life quester is somebody who actually realizes that the standard life approach doesn’t work. And they actually say, well, what’s my approach to life? And Joseph Campbell, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Joseph Campbell.
Bryan: 00:43:03 Love Joseph Campbell.
Colin: 00:43:05 Okay. So you know, so basically what he talked about was following your bliss. Like what actually because the, the modern myths have all failed. We don’t know. There, there is no path laid down for us yet about how to live like to replace the standard life approach, which is why we have to quest after the path. Campbell said, follow your bliss. I’d take it a step further. Follow your bliss, bliss and follow your, your world concern. Like what makes me feel good when I do it for the benefit of others. And the last thing that you talked about was the paralyzing stories that we tell ourselves. And we were just, you know, we’re, we’re stuck in these stories, like I can’t do it. My voice doesn’t matter. I’m, you know, I’m not allowed to be myself if I be myself, I’ll be poor and broke. All sorts of things I, you know, that, that keep us stuck, right? That, for example, keep us stuck. Remember when we talked about, um, when we talked about a building, the new bridge or changing the ways that we live at the perimeter of our lives instead of at the center of our lives. So the stories, the negative stories we tell ourselves about how we can’t change, definitely stop us from doing things like changing our careers. But by doing a small thing like say a joining a community garden or volunteering somewhere or helping somebody in the way that or, or learning to sing or learning to play guitar, whatever it is, or Ukulele. Um, um, by making these small changes, we start to see that we do have the power to change and that actually moves us away from the negative limiting stories. As we build that experience of seeing that we can change in small ways that give us the courage to change in big ways.
Bryan: 00:44:44 And I love that you connect that to the fact that when we change, the world really does change, right? Like you have this statement that I read two or three times and it’s where it says “your family is the world, your food is the world, your friends are the world, your car is the world.” And on and on. And I know I forget that frequently as much as I want. I want to be important. I want people to like me. I want to make a difference in the world. You know, I want my life to matter. But I often lose sight of the fact that these, these little things which really are not so little are in fact the very world I’m wishing I could impact. And then I am.
Colin: 00:45:24 So that’s. I mean, I was thinking as you were saying that like, that’s uh, I’m, I’m sitting here looking at my cell phone. Not, not, not. I don’t mean I’m reading our texts while I’m talking, but I mean I see the physical device here. And this thing has something in it called coltan, which is a mineral that’s required in the capacitors, which is one of the electronic elements, um, to, to make the cell phone work in other, other electronics too. Coltan it turns out is the only, can only be found in parts of the world that are in, um, lots of conflict, particularly in the Congo and other places. Right? Um, and it turns out that there are, uh, uh, many wars and battles and, and, and whatnot, uh, uh, for control of the, the coltan mines. Right? So, so, um, so the world is here in my hand, like, if, you know, how. So I tried to buy my electronic secondhand it, you know, it’s not perfect, but by buying, hopefully by, by extending the life of, of electronics. It means that I’m contributing less wars that are happening in Congo and the, the, the eating, you know, it turns out that even that affects the wars that are happening in the Congo. Cause, the, the, the soldiers that are in these wars eat bush meat, I eat gorillas which are endangered. So the actual use of our cellphones is connected to the endangerment of gorillas. Like and who wants to live in a world without gorillas? Like, dude. Gorillas are cool, you know, so, so, so how can I. So, so the world is, the world is in my cell phone, you know, and how do I choose my cell phone now? This is not intended to be like guilt and shame inducing it’s to say let’s make sure that we’re not wasting our resources. You know, that we’re not. If we’re, if you’re going to have a cell phone, can you not keep hold of it for three years instead of the average year and a half.
Bryan: 00:47:25 Apple releases a new one every year.
Colin: 00:47:26 I know.
Bryan: 00:47:28 Yeah, yeah. Well, and speaking of cell phones, in No Impact Man, toward the end you said something that I thought was really amazing. And by the way um, the way I found this book is I do love to shop for books, secondhand books. And we have, um, we actually have a, a number of what are called Deseret Industries. They’re run by the LDS church, formerly known as the Mormons, right? And so people rather than, and sometimes they give to Goodwill or Salvation Army, but they give to all of these Deseret Industries. So my wife and I will go there on a Saturday. We’ll spend an hour two browsing the books, will spend, you know, a nice afternoon, maybe go into two or three locations. And I came across your book. I bought it for a dollar, which I was really, really grateful for it. It’s in great condition. And in the back you say an epilogue. You write, “Here’s the big question I have about progress. If we can have better and better cell phones, but they’re not accompanied by better and better understanding of ourselves and our place in this universe. Can we really say that we’ve progressed if we are born and then spend our lives moving from one toy to the next without ever answering the big questions. Have we progressed? Or have we simply been distracted?” Like, oh, I imagine. I imagine like if I had heard that five years ago, I’d have been like, eh, you know. I wouldn’t have had ears to hear, you know, and I’m not sure I still. That really goes into these questions that you’re asking. You’re inviting us to answer, you know, for ourselves about how, you know, who am I, how should I live and what difference does my life make? I think they’re really, they’re really powerful. And even to the point you talk, you make a note in the back of this book that I thought was really cool actually. Where you talk about choosing the paper that this book was printed on and you know, I think many people don’t ever think about what was the ink of that book? How did it end up on this shelf? You know, that kind of thing. But all the way down to this little. And you talk, it sounds a little bit, I don’t want to say withdrawal, but after the project ended, um, and, and you had licensed to go, you be free from your own self imposed rules. Um, and how challenging it still was to make decisions like choosing paper for the book. Will you talk a little bit about that one in particular and what that was like and why you ended up with what you did.
Colin: 00:49:46 What actually happened there was when, when I contracted to publish the book with a publisher, I, there was a clause in the contract that just required the publisher to look for the most environmental way to publish the book. So I didn’t actually choose the paper. There was your production manager, but they call it production manager, the production director who is in charge of actually moving the book from words into a physical, you know, typed out words to a physical object. And that production manager at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, the publisher went around doing that. And why and, and, and the book is made that it’s printed on 100 percent post consumer recycled paper and uses soy inks and the printer offsets the carbon of the electricity used to print it, etc. And distribute it and all that kind of stuff. Why that’s important is that each and every author, if they’re able to insist that the publishers print in that way, um, moves the industry closer and closer to making it a standard.
Bryan: 00:50:50 What, if anything, have you learned since completing No Impact Man, and How To Be Alive that you would’ve included in either of those books that you didn’t? Is there something that you’re like, oh, that could’ve been its own chapter or anything like that?
Colin: 00:51:04 Actually, there’s a scene in the movie No Impact Man, where I’m on Good morning America talking to Diane Sawyer. And um, she’s interviewing me and there’s like, some of, there are some in the studio is also like some of they had let a bunch of the public in to actually observe the interview. And um, she, she, she’s asking me about the No Impact Man project and she, she turns to the audience and the camera pans to the audience and she says, could any of you do this? And they all like, oh no, no. And I say, well, the point is you don’t have to do what I’m doing, the point is we all just need to do one little thing. And at the time, the reason why I was fond of saying we just all need to do one little thing is because I, uh, I felt like actually asking us, people to examine them their lives and ask what actually is important, how do we live in a way that’s good for ourselves and good for each other? Um, I felt it was a too big an ask. And if, if I had that project to do over again, I wouldn’t say we just all need to do one little thing because it’s not true. It’s not true that all of us just continuing to go on as we go on. But we change one, you know, we carry cloth bags instead of plastic bags or you know, we carry reusable bottle instead of using throw away coffee cups. All those are important. But, but they’re not enough on their own. What’s really required is that we reorient our lives in a way that where we ask ourselves like, what’s, what’s truly important, what truly is progress. What would be progress in my life? Is it just the next cell phone? In fact, for most people, true progress and if we can be safe, if we can feel relatively safe and secure, right? Which means we have a roof over our head and food is coming and you know, a hopefully we can get some treatment if we’re sick, right? We can feel relatively safe. Progress for most of us means finding a way to give my gifts to the world in a way that as a meaningful impact. Right? And, and that means that means examining how I live and it means I asking what do I do in the world that’s actually causing big problems for the world. What do we do? How do I get involved in my communities and my democracy in my corporations and other institutions to cause them to change? Like actually the job ahead is big. It’s a big job. Um, and so, so I wish I hadn’t said all we have to do is just one little thing, you know, that’s, um. Since How To Be Alive, I think maybe um, more about how to be involved in change our institutions as opposed to just changing our own lives, although there are sections about that in How To Be Alive. I think more about that. And did this, the big, big area to be discovered is how do we, there are big forces that are arrayed against our society changes. Big, big. Like for example, that will just take the fossil fuel industry which, you know, wrecked, you know, tanks, the electric car for example, and um, and which lobbies against the movement towards renewable energy. Now, renewable energy would be better for everybody. Um, it makes our air cleaner. It means that we don’t have climate emissions, um, but there are entrenched economic interest in the fossil fuel industry that would lose out. So, so how do we, how do we actually as people, how do we, how do we change these institutions that were all part of and connected to. This is a big area of research, especially when so many big economic interest are arrayed against those kinds of changes.
Bryan: 00:54:56 Yeah, absolutely. And they’re very sophisticated and they’re very well funded and they’re very well organized. Right? Absolutely. And yet every one of us is powerful, so. Okay, let’s transition to the lightning round. Okay. Are you ready? I’m ready. So please complete the following sentence with something other than the words. A box of chocolates. Okay. Life is like a
Colin: 00:55:24 Interview with you.
Bryan: 00:55:29 Okay. All right. Number two. I’m going to go with it. Number two, what is something at which you wish you were better?
Colin: 00:55:41 Oh, um singing and making music.
Bryan: 00:55:45 Okay. Uh, number three, what’s the best news you’ve heard lately?
Colin: 00:55:52 Mmm. I’m waiting to see what I, I haven’t heard this news, but I’m waiting to see what my daughter’s about to go to is as just applied to high schools and we’re just waiting to hear what high school she gets into. So I haven’t heard this news lately, but. But the best news I could hear is the news that makes her happy with regards to school.
Bryan: 00:56:15 Beautiful. All right. Number four. If you required everyday for the rest of your life to wear a tee shirt with a slogan on it or a phrase or a saying or a quote or a quip, what would the shirt say?
Colin: 00:56:28 It would say, mm? Something like you know, maybe how do we love each other better or some. Let’s love each other better or let’s have fun or something like that. Which kind of all point in the same direction.
Bryan: 00:56:46 Okay. Number five. What book other than your own have you gifted or recommended most often?
Colin: 00:56:54 Oh, um, it’s funny because it will, it will seem completely irrelevant to the work that I do, but I think the book that I’ve recommended and gifted to people most is a book called The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth. Vikram Seth, there was a big fuss about him a few years ago because he wrote a book called A Suitable Boy, which was huge, long novel, and it got a gigantic amount of press, but The Golden Gate is a novel written in sonnets. And um in verse, but it was about, um, uh, largely about a man who was an electrical engineer who was very rigid and a kind of depressed. And it’s the story of his kind of a thawing out, an awakening and it’s very moving and it is somewhat mirrors my own experience in life and I’ve recommended and given that book to many people.
Bryan: 00:57:52 Right on. Thank you. So when it comes to travel, what’s something you do or maybe something you take with you when you travel that makes your travel less painful or more enjoyable?
Colin: 00:58:03 I like to travel light. So having a, a good small backpack. Um, I do have one now. It has a little capsule in it so that you can fold your clothes and put it in the capsule and then put the capsule in the backpack and then you can take the capsule out. So. So it’s easy to access the clothes and then there’s like different, some different little pockets and stuff like that. It also looks good. It doesn’t, I don’t look like a backpacker when I use it. So professionally I can, I’m okay with, you know, it’s, it’s of a high enough standard to take into professional environments. And then another thing that I sometimes carry, um, uh, is my chanting bell. So a part of my, my morning practices, uh, to do a chant that in my tradition is called the morning bell, the morning bell chant. And uh, I liked, you can do it without the bell, but it’s nice to have the bell.
Bryan: 00:59:04 And you do it every morning.
Colin: 00:59:06 Not every morning, but I do it many mornings.
Bryan: 00:59:09 Enough that when you travel you’re sure to take the bell with you.
Colin: 00:59:12 Well, like I said, I don’t always carry the belt, but sometimes I do because you can do the chant without it, but enough so that I, you know. Enough so that I miss the bell when I don’t have it.
Bryan: 00:59:21 Yeah. Right on. What’s one thing you’ve started or stopped doing in order to live or age well?
Colin: 00:59:26 Oh, um, started ours, you know, exercise doesn’t really come naturally to me. I mean, I walk and I bike a lot but you know, going, running. So I have to, I have to do that in order to live well because I want my body to keep working for a long time. Um, I, I, uh, emphasize, I emphasize relationships a lot. Um, and don’t think of them as separate from it. So if my work is about helping people to live better lives that have a more authentic lives that have a meaningful impact on the world, um, it means I have to do it too. And so, um, like for example, recently I took a trip to the United Kingdom to see some old friends because I felt those friendships were in need of some servicing, um, in some ways it felt inconvenient. And I needed to do other, you know, there are other stuffs that would have been more productive. Um, so tending to my relationships, my parents are getting older, trying to tend to them.
Bryan: 01:00:33 That’s great. I’ve not yet had that answer in about 25 interviews, nobody said relationships. That’s great. So next question, um, what’s one thing you wish every american knew?
Colin: 01:00:48 Uh, that we’re going to die. We’re all going to die. And the things that we’re chasing after. There’s a, years ago I saw a cartoon in the New Yorker magazine and it was a man lying on a bed and he had tubes coming out of him and his wife was leaning over to hear him, you know, he’s struggling to speak and he says there’s a bubble. And it says, I just wish I would have bought more stuff. You know, it’s, it’s, it’s obviously a joke because when we’re on our deathbeds we’re not gonna wish that we bought more stuff. And yet we chase after things without reference to the fact that we’re going to die. That things, things and feelings and happiness. It’s impermanent. Like it all goes away. So just in this moment, what is actually important, this moment’s going to, you know, we’re going to die to this moment. We’re going to die to our bodies, to our lives. So. So just in this moment, what’s actually important, I wish, I wish we had. I wish we had the time and the space to be able to actually examine that question.
Bryan: 01:01:55 Yeah. I too wish every American knew that. What advice did your parents give you that has impacted you or stayed with you? Or what aspect of them was an example for you that stayed with you?
Colin: 01:02:08 Well, my entire family, my mom, my dad, my sister, my grandparents were involved in public service in various ways. Um, so one is to be of service to humanity is something that I learned from my family and um, and um, and the other thing was, you know, it’s funny because my parents weren’t taught this by their parents, but somehow or another my parents always have supported me in being the person that I am like in breaking away from that standard life path. So, I mean, I think, I think my parents would understand if they heard me say this, like my childhood was not an easy childhood. There were big problems, um, but, but one of the things that they really did give me as a certain acceptance of, of me embarking on my own path.
Bryan: 01:03:09 What a gift.
Colin: 01:03:10 Yeah, a great gift. I hope I’m able to do it for my daughter.
Bryan: 01:03:15 From all I’ve seen and read. I think you probably are.
Colin: 01:03:18 I hope so. Fingers crossed.
Bryan: 01:03:21 Um, what’s your favorite tarot card and why?
Colin: 01:03:26 Oh, the fool. Absolutely. The fool. The fool Is the, you know, when were the fool is the fool is the first of the major arcana. It’s zero. It’s zero. Zero. It’s amazing. Like…
Bryan: 01:03:42 Possibility.
Colin: 01:03:43 It’s possibility. It’s also, um, mystery. It’s also, um, you know, there’s, there’s, there’s, it’s interesting because the fool both represents ignorance and what I’m going to call a sacred agnosticism. Like agnostic means not knowing, which is ignore and ignorance. It’s also not knowing, but ignorance means, uh, means, uh, uh, actually ignorance in some ways, meaning doing stupid things because we think we know, right? That’s ignorance. Um, we think we know and we do it and it’s stupid when we don’t know. So it’s, it’s, uh, not knowing crowded by the fact that we think we do know. What I call sacred agnosticism is actually holding onto the fact, holding onto mystery and not knowing and it being holy, you know. Um, so the fool is all of that. So, so it’s, you know, the fool is about potential as you say, but also about, um, you know, the fool if in that in the writer white pack deck, the fool is depicted walking with a, uh, with like a, like a hobo. I don’t know what you call it, like a stick over his shoulder with the satchel with his stuff hanging on it, right?
Bryan: 01:05:06 The traditional hobo pack.
Colin: 01:05:08 Yeah, that’s right. Like a hobo pack and he’s walking through the mountains. There’s a little dog nipping at his feet kind of in warning. He could be stepping off a cliff at any moment. It’s just like he’s in and he’s, he’s the and he’s in and he’s looking up. He’s in awe. So that’s just an amazing state to be in. Yeah, it’s both, it’s both a warning and a and an aspiration.
Colin: 01:05:36 What’s your next big project?
Bryan: 01:05:39 My next big projects. I have a lot of projects. I’m working on a novel at the moment which it will explore some of the themes that No Impact Man and How To Be Alive, explorer and other themes too. So I’m working on that. Um, I’ve also been working a lot on, I’m really interested in how trauma affects our ability to be engaged in our lives and in the world. And so there’s all sorts of, like, there’s the trauma of a, of insecurity that’s the trauma of poverty. Um, and I believe that most of us on a very deep level want to expand to become the fullest people that we can, but that trauma causes us to get stuck in a cycle of constantly worrying about our security. So we, we, we keep, you know, I need, I’m not safe yet. I need more. The walls aren’t thick enough. Yeah. The walls of the castle or are not yet tall enough and high enough, I need more, you know, this car is not safe enough. I need a bigger one. Um, and uh, we get stuck in these cycles of, of needing security and in doing so, we become alienated from ourselves and from our fellows. Um, so I have a bunch of projects going where, um both in, in my coaching practice and in, in other ways where I’m trying to find a way to help us heal from trauma and become less alienated and therefore be of better service to each other, to ourselves and to each other.
Bryan: 01:07:24 That sounds like when you said, you know, you’re 40’s beyond where you know, the going beyond security, going beyond your passions and looking at your concerns and how you can share with the world that sounds really can go with that.
Colin: 01:07:37 I should say, I should say Bryan by the way, that I have a big, that I have a, a robust coaching practice. Um, which, um, which is also an important project to me. I help people to find ways to live more in line with their values and have it more meaningful impact on the world. People that are feeling sometimes as though they could live with more purpose tend to come in my direction and I help them.
Bryan: 01:08:00 No, that’s great. And um, I’m going to be, I want to ask this here to be sure I asked you and what you’ve said, I’m sure some people listening will be curious. If people do want to learn more from you or they want to connect with you, what’s the best way for them to do that?
Colin: 01:08:15 Go to my website. It’s colinbeavan.com. So that’s spelled C O L I N B E A V A N .com. And there’s plenty of blog posts there. Some links to my books and also a contact form. I’m always happy to hear from people. So
Bryan: 01:08:32 Yeah. And I see on there as well. You now are hosting the mastermind group.
Colin: 01:08:38 Yeah, I, um, I’m, I, there isn’t a mastermind group starting in the immediate future, but I do do these, I call them How To Be Alive mastermind groups. Um, a and as soon as I start them, as soon as there are enough people to make a time to start. Um, and, and what we do is we meet once a week for an hour and a half and we learn things together and talk about things together and basically support each other in moving our lives more towards a place of more alignment with our values.
Bryan: 01:09:09 Yeah. And is this online in person? A mixture of the two?
Colin: 01:09:12 I, we do it by Zoom. Okay. Yeah. Which is a, which is a video conferencing software.
Bryan: 01:09:18 That’s great. And then I’ll also share this with you here to make sure that I get it in and not try to leave it to the end or worse, forget it. Is that as a way of expressing my gratitude to you for making time to spend with me today and to share your knowledge and your experience with me and our listeners. Um, I’ve made a kiva loan on your behalf, a micro loan to an entrepreneur, a female entrepreneur in India. So I loaned $100 to a woman named Sheila who is a 43 year old woman. She’ll use this. She has a household of five members or monthly income is $136, but she’ll use this to buy shirts and blouses and, and to sell them in her community so she’ll improve the quality of life, not only for herself and her family, but people in our community.
Colin: 01:10:06 That’s lovely. Thanks.
Bryan: 01:10:09 Okay, well congratulations. You survived the lightning round. So we’re coming down the stretch.
Colin: 01:10:14 Did I win? Did I win?
Bryan: 01:10:16 You did. You won prizes and you still have your dignity. So this is a victory. Yeah, yeah, yeah, this is great. Okay, so now what I want to do is I want to ask you a few questions related to your creatIve process. And I want to start at a high level. I do want to get into some what I would call it, the more tactical, what are your habits and routines and if you have rituals and things like that. But I want to start with something that you wrote about in, I believe it was in a How To Be Alive. Which is you say the biggest struggle for me in writing is not the research or the synthesis of ideas. The biggest struggle for me is that my demons live at my desk. Will you say more about that?
Colin: 01:10:59 Yeah, I mean, I think it’s, it’s about, you know, it’s all very well to talk about writing a book and think about writing a book and having an idea or any creative project, but then once you sit down to actually make it happen, it doesn’t necessarily. Well, first of all, it doesn’t happen in line with your preconceptions. It doesn’t have it. You know, I imagine I’ll, I’ll, I’ll say this and I’ll say that um, I mean, I’m having this same thing with the novel that I’m working on at the moment. I imagine that it’s going to look like this, but then when I sit down and type that’s not what comes out. And, and so first of all, you’re like the fool, like the tarot card fool, you know, you’re just like, they’re walking Along and you have no idea where you’re going. And when you pretend you know where you’re going, you’re really in trouble. Like that’s like the ignorance. Um, and second of all, you’re, you’re, you, I find myself asking, you know, what’s somebody else going to think of this? And um of course, a lot of times when you’re writing your first draft, they’re gonna think this is a garbled mess because it is a garbled mess and you and, and, and, and I found myself thinking, well, how am I going to turn this, change this from not being a garbled mess. And when to and it just, all of the demons can, you know, and will I, will I, will I sell it? Will I earn money? Will people like me? Like the stuff just comes. The insecurities are just there? Um, yeah, and that’s the hard part for me, for me, the big challenge in writing is to move, to be like the fool and to be willing to not know what’s going to happen.
Bryan: 01:12:35 Why have you found that has helped you to not let those demons, so those insecurities kind of prevent you from actually completing. Because as you said, it’s easy to talk about. It’s easy to think about. But to actually, you know, what’s the saying? I think this was attributed to Steve Jobs, real artists ship, right? This idea that we actually, you know, you write, and you, you publish and we don’t publish because it’s perfect. We publish because maybe a deadline came right or honoring, uh, some other commitment. But what have you found that has allowed you to be, you know, one of the few quite honestly who do and not just talk. How do you push through those demons and that insecurity and actually get something into the world? What works for you?
Colin: 01:13:24 I mean, I guess it’s a certain that the truth, I would say you could say a certain discipline. I mean I’m a person who’s, because of my meditation practice, I’m very aware of my, uh, of my processes. So you could say, well, you just have to decide to do it and you just have to go to your computer and sit there. In my own case, I decide to do it a lot and then I don’t.
Bryan: 01:13:49 I’m familiar with that pattern.
Colin: 01:13:52 I decide, uh, also I hit, you know, to do lists. This goes for to do lists are good for me because they get the things that I think I have to do out of my head and onto a piece of paper. They’re bad for me because I then compare what I said I was going to do with what I actually did and then that makes me down. Um, so it’s a similar thing with the creative process. But what I find is that, so for example, the novel that I’m working on right now, I’ve actually put a lot of time in unto it lately. Um, but it was in my head for a long time and I kept telling myself I needed to sit down and write it and I didn’t and I didn’t. And then in my own process I just find that I’m doing it, you know, I just find that, you know, and that, that includes the willingness to sit down when I don’t know what I’m going to write or I’d sit down and look at a piece part of it that I don’t like and look at it and be like, oh, what do I do with this piece? And can I, could I just delete it or does it, is there a value in it? It’s the willingness to be uncomfortable with it. Um, so what, what I was gonna say is, you know, just force yourself to your desk a certain amount of hours to a day. But, but actually what I actually find is that I tend to force myself to the desk when at a certain point in the creative process. Which includes note taking and thinking about it and I say, I’ll say this. This is, this is an important thing that note taking, I find to be really important. Like which is so not writing formally, not necessarily sitting down at my computer and in detail, but carrying a notebook around and just writing down notes. It’s a, it’s a kind of research in a certain way. It’s like a research about what I want to say. And, and even though I sometimes don’t even refer to these notes that I’ve written, the internal research is eventually gets me to the stage where I’m willing to sit at my computer.
Bryan: 01:15:47 You’re one of the few authors I’ve talked to who writes, a who’s writing fiction and who’s written nonfiction. Most of my guests write nonfiction and I, although I do believe that all writing is creative to some degree. There’s a different quality to fiction from nonfiction. But what I wonder is if you’ll share how you approach like you first of all, if there’s a difference between your creative, what I would call your creative writing or fiction and your nonfiction. And then how you, you’ve talked a little bit about notes, but how you approach just the act of really, once you’ve settled on an idea how you go from concept to completion. If there is a kind of standard path from that, if that makes sense. But because you’ve talked about notes and then do you outline, do you create a book proposal do you, you know, at what point do you listen or like that whole thing if you’ll, if you’ll talk about that a little bit. The process.
Colin: 01:16:44 So the thing about writing is that you kind of think, well, first of all I should say that the books that I’ve written are all of my. So there are two history books are what we call narrative, narrative nonfiction. That is to say they use the techniques of fiction to tell a nonfiction story. So then No Impact Man is essentially a memoir. So again, it’s nonfiction story, but uses the storytelling techniques and then How To Be Alive finally, although like we’ve said, it sits in the self help aisles, but it’s an each other help book. But you’ve read it, it kind of muses. You know, it definitely presents information, but it kind of, there’s a certain muse to it. It didn’t, it wasn’t presenting like one way to do this, you know, as a nonfiction book. So in all cases, in other words, in all cases I, I, I had ideas for the complete book but there. But, but, uh, you said, how do I take an idea to completion? But the funny thing, the thing about writing a book is that a book contains within it many, many, many ideas. And so you’re, you’re in a cycle of taking ideas to completion. You have an idea for a paragraph or a section and you write it, something excites you, um, and, and you write it. Some, sometimes there’s a, like some piece of information that, that, you know, has to be in it. So it’s not just like following your inspiration so you write it. Um, so I guess I, I, I guess the way that I would say that I moved from idea to completion of a book is, is that I move from idea to completion of each of the small sections. Um, and it’s like a, let’s see if you can, it somehow or another, the metaphor that’s coming to me is, um, uh, like when you build a tower out of blocks, you put a piece here, but then if you put another piece in the same place, it’s going to be out of balance and it’s going to fall over. So you kind of look at the place. Where do you put the next piece so that it’s balanced. It’s, it’s not dis somehow creatively to me, it’s not dissimilar to that. You, you, you hit a note which feels sad and, but you don’t, it doesn’t feel good if, if the, if it continues to stay sad, so you need a bright note or like that kind of you. There is some sort of a balancing act that goes on as I move through the book. Um, and, and if I can just, instead of thinking about writing a book, if I can think about the sections and trust that I’ll come back and reorder and put the sections and the way together that makes a book later. Um, then the demons are not as strong. Like when I’m think when I’m thinking about writing a book, I’m kind of screwed.
Bryan: 01:19:40 It can be overwhelming, but I love what you’ve said about a book has many ideas and that it’s ultimately a process of bringing ideas to completion. Whether it’s in a paragraph or a section or a chapter or whatever. And that gives me hope. Right. And I see, I suppose I know at some level the macro always contains the micro, but when I chunk it project like this down it, it becomes way more doable. So I think, I think that’s a really beautiful and useful and eminently useful perspective. What I wonder is if you’ve ever found yourself stuck in a pattern, a limiting pattern. What I experience let me pattern like I have, which is this. That I’ve got a bunch of notes. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. I’ve even talked to many people about it. Right? I’ve done A lot of research, but then when it comes time to actually accept that the outline has crystallized. Okay. It’s solid enough for me to move into the work of drafting and not just keep playing with the sequencing or is this idea even in here. Like what’s your experience about. Does it at some point kind of want to use the word levin? Does it kind of settle or do you find. Do you ever find yourself in a pattern of where you’re like of indecision about what order do things go in? Does this even belong in there? You know what I’m saying?
Colin: 01:20:55 I do. I. I think so. When we talk about like I can get stuck in a pattern of planning and in kind of a where I’m familiar with it, I’m not sure I get stuck in it anymore because I, I know it doesn’t work for me, but I get into this. I’m like, I’ll do this and I’ll do this and then that will work in this will fit here. But the thing about it is what I’ve discovered is every time I plan to write a section or something, it never turns out the way that I planned it. It’s, it’s my, it’s like my, my something says again, we’re back to the fool tarot card. SomethIng, you know, ignorance come in by thinking that I know what’s going to happen and the, the, the, the agnostic part coming in by actually embracing the mystery, which is I’ll sit down to write something and it just doesn’t turn out the way that I thought it was going to. But it still has this value and, and it is what it. And so then the section that follows or whatever that I had planned for to follow it no longer works. And so I, I have to be careful about getting stuck in that planning process because it’s a, the planning processes, a planning for the planning process is the planning process and writing the book is writing the book. And they are two different things. yeah.
Bryan: 01:22:11 How do you think about it in terms of a production schedule? I mean obviously once you have a publishing deal that kind of puts a deadline, like a hard point in the future, but what, what’s your process of actually mapping out, you know, what is to be written by when and what tool do you use? Do you use a paper calendar, do you use Excel, do you use, you know, nothing. What, how do you manage that?
Colin: 01:22:33 So, so having said about really when I write books it being organic process. Generally I do have a sense of how many chapters it’s going to be or what the subjects of the chapters are going to be here or something like that. So, um, so, um, I’ll try to create deadlines, you know, I need to have the book done in 12 months and it’s 12 chapters or one chapter per month. I’ll try to create deadlines around that kind of stuff. In fact, what I would, I actually find. So I’ll try to do that and then what will happen is, you know, I just to give myself a hard time for not having done that. In fact what I’ve discovered is that writing a book is like a, it’s like rolling a boulder to the top of a hill and then you get to the top of the hill and it rolls down the other side. Increasingly building up speed. But the first half, the first part is shear torture and I can’t. And the, and the movement is really, really slow. And so it’s a little bit. It’s kind of a little bit harder. And then what happens for me is as deadline start to approach is I ice the, the, the, the mandatory nature of getting it done overwhelms my perfectionism. And I just start in like being like, good enough, good enough, good enough. Instead of like, well I could fix this up some more. Um so, so, so I do plan a schedule. I tend to find the schedules don’t work. Um, they, they may be, they motivate me to move forward. Um, but, but, but that a certain stage it takes on a momentum. Yeah. Generally when I have a good first draft, the first draft is very hard and then after that I can move forward quickly.
Bryan: 01:24:21 What tools do you use to write? Do you write in Word? Do you use Evernote? Do you use something else to keep your notes organized? Like what software and tools do you use?
Colin: 01:24:33 Yeah, I um, I use, I used to use Word and now I use Google Docs because I like that I can open it from my phone or my tablet and put thIngs in. I even when I’m on the subway or something or you know, I, I, so, so Word you know Word in Dropbox would be just the same or something like that. That the points not the, it’s not the, it’s not the form and the software, it’s just that it’s available wherever I go or I can sign in from somebody else’s computer. I like that. The portability of, of, of Google Docs, um, the organization of notes is it, that’s, that is the bane of my existence. I, I’ve, I’ve never yet found a way that actually works in isn’t painful. So. So for example, when I draft it’s very messy, like in the sense like I’ll be, I’ll be say that I’m drafting a scene, I’ll be writing the scene, but then I’ll suddenly think of an idea that has to do with the end of the book. Right? And I could spend like 15 minutes opening a new file that has to do with the end of the book, but by the time that happens, the idea will be gone. So I have to type the idea that has to do with the end of the book into the scene that’s at the beginning of the book. Right. And then it will occur to me, I’ll think of a joke that something that’s funny that I want and again I’ll type that in and then I’ll think of this and I don’t think so. So when you look at the first, like the first scene of the book, it’s this hodgepodge. That’s totally. And then, and then I’ll go back to rewrite the scene, right? Let’s say I go back to it then that’s fine. I rewrite the scene. But then all those ideas that were in the stew of the first draft, like I don’t know where they’re going to go in the book. I just know that they look like they’re a value and eventually I might want to use them. Now where do I put those? It’s very. So finally the. Wait. What I’ve, what I’ve settled on is more. And I wish I didn’t, I, I find it hard. What I’m about to say is that I find it hard to write without the use of paper. Like I can’t, I just don’t. You know, you can’t. I don’t know. You can’t flip through a computer file as quickly. You can’t put your finger on page 90 and be looking at page 19 at the same time so easily into the computer. There’s something about it. So now finally what I do is everything I write, I print out and it all goes into a pile and as I went, as I use things up, as I say, there’s these three paragraphs and I’ve used them. I put a line through them, they’re used. So now what there is is a big pile of paper, some, were, some of the material has been used and so there’s a line through it and then there is material that has no line through it and that’s kind of the material I have yet to use if I want to. But it still requires like lots of over and over again flipping through and flip it.
Bryan: 01:27:40 Yeah, that does sound laborious.
Colin: 01:27:43 I and I, I don’t, I’ve, you know, I know about Evernote and all that kind of stuff, but I have never been able to make any of that work.
Bryan: 01:27:49 Have you tried Trello?
Colin: 01:27:51 No, I’ve never tried Trello.
Bryan: 01:27:52 Oh my gosh. I love Trello. It’s crazy and it’s amazing that it’s free that somebody has made that and given it to the world. It’s awesome. I mean it’s amazing, Google too. But so it’s an, It’s an app and it’s also a website and what I love is that you can use it offline and it syncs in real time. You can collaborate so it’s a lot like a google doc, but what it does is it uses the system of boards, lists and carts. And so you can create a board for every project and you can create a list for every chapter or every subject and then what you can do is you just whip out your phone. When you have an idea, you drop it in a little card in that list and it’s. And they’re easy to drag. I actually love the user interface. It’s. I love the way the cards click to lists and it’s. It’s amazing. I used it to get a what turned out to be 108,000 word manuscript drafted and I literally was a part of. I mean it was a solution to a couple of years of being stuck. I wonder if you’d like it. I thought it was awesome.
Colin: 01:28:44 I’ll have a look. I’ve never, I’ve never found that any of those productivity tools actually helped me.
Bryan: 01:28:51 It’s so versatile, you know. So anyway, I, but I love it.
Colin: 01:28:55 You’re the second person that was recommended to me actually. And now I realize.
Bryan: 01:28:58 Great. But. Okay. So we’re from you. So I’m going to keep going with just a few more. We’re almost, yeah, we’re almost at time. Okay. So do you write every day?
Colin: 01:29:09 Um, I do write everyday. I don’t necessarily write on a particular project everyday. Writing is a thing for me. Like I write, um, you know, uh, I write love letters. I write into my novel, I write, um a little, you know. Yes. I’m, I’m, I’m always writing. It’s, it’s something that I’m always doing, but it’s not necessarily on the main project, if you see what I mean. Yeah, or I, you know, I journal. Um, but, but yes, I write everyday. In fact, if you looked at my word output, it’s probably way bigger than you think than than I think it is, but it’s just on in all sorts of. It’s scraps of my writing everywhere.
Bryan: 01:29:53 When you’re on a project and whether or not you’re on a deadline, do you use any kind of. What I, what I, I like to think of is mile markers, like a page count, a word count. You know that you strive for everyday.
Colin: 01:30:06 I do, but it doesn’t. It’s not that helpful. I do think to myself, all right, I’ll write 500 words a day. I mean it tells me something about, tell me something about. Sometimes it tells me, okay, it’s okay to take the rest of the day off or maybe I should work a bit more tonight, but a, it has to be something that I use very lightly because it’s very, it’s very easily becomes a whip. And I just don’t find, I don’t find that I can. I could write 300 words in a day or 500 words in a day, but I won’t necessarily like them. So I can force myself to write a certain number of words, but it doesn’t mean that they’re good.
Bryan: 01:30:47 Right. Do you like to write in the morning or at night? Does it matter to you?
Colin: 01:30:53 I try to arrange my meetings and my coaching clients for the afternoons when I can and use my mornings for writing.
Bryan: 01:31:02 Do you like to write a more privately? Like at home or in public?
Colin: 01:31:06 It depends on the mood. Sometimes other people can be distracting and sometimes solitude can be distracting. It depends on the day. So sometimes late, late lately I’ve been staying in, in writing, but there are times where I find solitude to be a distraction because I, I’m wanting to be amongst people so much that it’s hard to write. And so those are days I have to go to a cafe.
Bryan: 01:31:28 Caffeine or no caffeine.
Colin: 01:31:32 Oh, caffeine. Coffee is my drug of choice. So, um, but
Bryan: 01:31:40 It’s pretty special.
Colin: 01:31:42 But I’ve also found that, uh, my body, uh, would, won’t tolerate as much as it use to and that, that I really should only stick to three, three cups of coffee. Which I know for some people is a lot, but, you know, I, I, for a lot of my life was a pot of coffee a day man. Can’t do it anymore.
Bryan: 01:32:04 Do you have any special rituals that you engage in that you like to engage in? You know, do you light a candle? Do you, you know, where certain slippers, orient yourself in a certain position toward a window or anything? Anything like that before you settle down?
Colin: 01:32:18 Definitely always faced the window. Like I like to see the natural light. I like to see what’s going outside, going on outside. I don’t, I couldn’t. Um, I have a coaching client who is also a coach and his office is in the middle of a building that is to say not near window. There’s no windows in his room and I would never be able to do that. Um, and um, so I do orient my, I do always face a window when I’m writing, but I don’t really have so much of a routine. I mean, besides, for like putting my coffee on a coaster and a glass of water, I have to have water and coffee. Um, I wouldn’t say there’s a ritual. There’s rituals in my life, like when I wake up in the morning I do my, my meditation practice and my prayer practice and that type of thing and then, and then move on to writing from there, but not so much a, not so much writing rituals, I don’t think.
Bryan: 01:33:14 What are the qualities of a great sentence in your opinion and how can we write more of them?
Colin: 01:33:21 Um trying to get away from, uh, too many, uh, the use of the various conjugations of to be like is, was, that type of thing too. So, so another words instead of saying he is trying, he was trying, he tried. All right so I tried to get away from, to be a lot, uh, or uh, he is trying can be he tries. So, um, so, so, so that’s one thing I think to be is overused and the verbs are used as adverbs as opposed to verbs, so there’s less activity in the sentence. So active sentences are important, um, uh, uh, sentences need to come in the context of other sentences. So it’s like music and rhythm, so, so I don’t love very long sentences with lots of sub clauses, but every so often it’s like, um, yeah, every so often it’s, it’s great, you know, it’s great to have. But you have to see what the other. So rhythm is important in sentences and paragraphs should be short in my view, especially in the age of short attention spans. Like a paragraph that goes over a page, like I can’t stand it. Like to me as a reader, I can’t stand it as a writer I don’t like it. Because paragraphs also add a rhythm. So I think a lot to do with rhythm. I think for me there’s a lot to do with rhythm in the, in the choice of sentences and whatnot. Yeah, avoid a semi colons a, really you’re, you’re to me your, um, your punctuation of choices, the comma and the period and occasionally the em dash and occasionally the colon, but semicolons, semicolons are for academics.
Bryan: 01:35:33 How you feel about parentheses.
Colin: 01:35:35 Parentheses are difficult. They can be great, but um, a parenthetical comment breaks, breaks the flow and so sometimes it’s, it’s hard. Again speaking in terms of rhythm, a parenthetical comment is, is, is about, is it’s basically it’s a digression in some ways. Um, and it can be hard because it leads you, if it comes in so a parenthetical comment probably is best at the end of a paragraph when you’re going for an idea change anyway. So, but a parenthetical comment, they should be within a paragraph. It can take you away from what you’re talking about. And um, and if you are going to use a parenthetical comment within the body of a paragraph, it should be short. Who would’ve thought I
Bryan: 01:36:31 Professors would approve of your advice. I was an english major, what you’re saying really is congruent with a lot of the advice I received as an english major. Do you read your book reviews online, like on Amazon?
Colin: 01:36:47 Oh no, not really. Every so often I’ll look through. Um like, if I stumble across them I’ll, I’ll, I’ll look at a few of them. Not so much the, the, the, the, the cost of the bad ones is greater than the fulfillment from the good ones.
Bryan: 01:37:07 So it’s like a lot of things in life, isn’t it?
Colin: 01:37:10 Yeah, yeah, yeah. I do get a lot of reader email and um, and they, and I, and I read those and I like it.
Bryan: 01:37:19 That’s, I’m so glad you said that because that’s one thing I want to ask you about is to help writers understand the possibilities or the potential realities of the writing life, so to speak. You know, if they’re making this transition or they, you know, they want to. Um really getting a sense of what it’s like when you do put your heart and soul and thoughts onto a page and you send them out into the world and you never know who’s going to find them at a secondhand store and what their experience is going to be. I hoped you would share with me and our listeners a little bit about what that is like. What are the rewards and realities, you know, of the, the response you get. Um, and in particular, is there any single example that stands out, like a way that your writing has really made a difference for somebody that without being boastful, I know you, that’s not your style, but if you’d be willing to share with us about that so we could see, you know, what’s this kind of, what could this look like?
Colin: 01:38:15 There are definitely writers who, who the writing process is an ends in itself. They don’t really care aboUt the reader that much. They want to publish their work and they want to be paid for their work, but they’re not Interested in interacting with the readers and, and I totally understand that, but that’s not the kind of writer I am at all. I’ve always have an eye to my reader when I’m writing. It’s just the way that I am and um a. I’ve been so incredibly lucky in, in, in this regard that, um, my writing has appeared to influence a lot of people or to help a lot of people. One way to think about that is that, um, well, I mean in not only in terms of like sales of books or people that have read it, but of course the emails that I get from readers which are deep and meaningful and, but also, um, for awhile I had a program called No Impact Week. Where, uh, people, uh, on college campuses or in organizations lived as environmentally as possible over the course of a week. Um, and that was inspired by the book No Impact Man and over 70,000 people went through that program. And so that’s like a lot of people like changing the way they live for a whole week. Um, so to me that’s, I feel humbled by that actually, that those 70,000 people who are wIlling to try to do it, but it’s, it’s nice to be a small part of it. But there’s no guarantee, there’s no guarantee with anything that that’s where the demons come in. In the novel, that there’s no guarantee that there’s no guarantee you’ll even get published. So you have to have at least you’ll have to at least, you know, like the process of writing to some degree. It has to at least feel like it’s a real expression of yourself. Otherwise the risks are too great.
Bryan: 01:40:14 Well then you talk just there about the, always having the awareness of the reader in mind when you’re creating, you know, when you’re writing this. And I see evidence for that in the fact that you’ve created a conversation guide and a workbook and you know, things people can download online. Will you tell me a little bit about those things, how they came about, if that was a part of your intention from the beginning or maybe if that was the publisher looking for ways to make this stickier or, you know, how did all of that kind of, what I’d almost call addenda. It’s not, but it’s, you know, further path readers can follow. How did all that come about? How did you think of it?
Colin: 01:40:50 I mean, I think it’s both. I think, I think it’s added value is good for, for readers, um, but also as a writer, what you’re looking for and hoping for at least me that, that people that are goIng to truly engage in your work. Like, so to me, like you said earlier, like that the average reader reads 18 pages of a book and puts it down. That, that’s very, that’s very sad to me you know.
Bryan: 01:41:16 Sounds very America though. Let’s be honest.
Colin: 01:41:19 Yeah, you know, it does. Um, but um, you know, How To Be Alive is over 400 pages long, so, so 18 pages less than five percent. Um, so, so looking for ways. Also my career isn’t just as a writer as I’ve said, you know. I’m a speaker, I’m a coach, I’m a workshop leader, I’m a facilitator, I’m a buddhist teacher. So, so, um, uh, and a thought leader. And so, so, um, so for me those things interconnect. And so, so the things that I’ve done that the workbooks and whatnot to help people engage with my work aren’t just things that I’ve done as a writer, but, but they fall in line with the other things, the other aspects of my work
Bryan: 01:42:08 That makes, that makes a lot of sense. What’s the best money you’ve ever spent as a writer?
Colin: 01:42:16 Best money I’ve ever spent. Um, for me it’s important to live in the world and to have adventure. So probably travel, um, in terms of actual things. I work on a Macbook Air and uh, it’s been really, there’s no moving parts in a Macbook Air as you know, because the hard drive is not mechanical. Um, I mean, besides, for the keys, um, it’s been really reliable to me. Um, so that’s my main writers tool. Um, I, I eat books, I’m just, in fact I’m, I’m, I’m, I fell out of the habit of using the library and I’m about to go to the library and renew and get my card renewed because I, you know, I’m, I eat, you know, there’s just books everywhere, you know, I’m constantly purging them and um, that’s. And I never knew, you know, I never think of money that I spend as books as like, I never limit myself. I know.
Bryan: 01:43:22 It’s feeding yourself.
Colin: 01:43:23 Yeah, I don’t really, there’s no choice.
Bryan: 01:43:25 So one thing I think listeners and I myself would be curious to know is how you go about connecting with and working effectively with an editor, right? Because I think many people, and this has been true for me, that that’s like, man, that’s another level of trust and confidence to bring somebody in. That’s one way to look at it. You’re bringing somebody into your project, you’re trusting them with it, and then how do you, how much to, to really trust and rely on them versus honoring your own voice. Can you give some insight on what it’s like for you as a professional writer, somebody who actually gets paid for your writing to act, to know, like how an editor is a good fit and how to effectively work with one?
Colin: 01:44:09 Yeah. There’s, when you’re a professional writer, that question of whether an editor is a good fit or not is not a question you get to ask very often. Um, if you’re writing for short form publications, you just get, you know, oftentimes you get whatever editor has commissioned you to write. Um, so if you’re lucky in the long term you develop a relationship with an editor. Um, the, the, the editor who edited No Impact Man, also edited How To Be Alive and her name is Denise Oswald and she, she gets me, she gets my work. You know, so, so in that sense is a, is a good fit. Um, one thing that I learned as a, and you know about voice and all of that, um, I used to. Years ago I wrote a theater reviews for the, for a, for a morning paper. And, um, you, you went to the theater, you wrote your review and 45 minutes you phoned it in, this was before the era of computers, there would be somebody at the other end who would literally phone it in and they would say blah, blah, blah, comma, exclamation point, you know, initial cap and you would dictate it. And then the copy editor, the, the, the, the, the editor of the paper would change it whatever way they felt fit. And that would be that. And I think when you’re a professional writer, you learn to be a little bit less precious about your words. Um, and um, there are all sorts of reasons why people change your copy. It can, they can edit for space. Uh, they can edit according to the style book of, of this is they, they, they use a particular style book. And you know, for example, some style books, if you have a list of things and some style books, if the last item of the list always uses an and, right? So, you know, John, Fred, Harry and Sam, some places they use a comma before the and sometimes places they don’t use a comma before the and. So there’s all sorts of reasons why your copy can get changed, including that it’s not any good, you know.
Bryan: 01:46:27 Hopefully it’s not that.
Colin: 01:46:29 But sometimes it is, you know, um, uh, so I don’t know, I, I’ve learned not to be so precious with editors. Um, there are times where I’ll push back in changes and I’ll reject an editor’s comment about certain sorts of things. Including, you know, the use of comma, because sometimes you want, you don’t want to have that or John, Sam, Harry and Frank. Sometimes you wanted to say, John, Sam, Harry, Frank comma, comma, comma, comma, comma, with no and for whatever reason. You know, so, uh, and, and a copy editors in particular, they just go by the style book, they, they, they query you, they’ll say, well, the rule is this and you as the writer get to choose whether you reject the rule or not. So I think my overwhelming thing is to say like, I, you could, you kind of get what you get when it comes to editors. That’s my, that’s been my experience. Yeah. And it’s not, some of the battles aren’t worth fighting.
Bryan: 01:47:33 Yeah. Again, like many areas of life. Right. Okay. So last two questions. Um, the second to last question is what advice do you have related, like related to titles?
Colin: 01:47:49 To titles?
Bryan: 01:47:50 Yeah, to creating a title. I mean, and I think many people listening probably understand many works have a working title. And then of course the publisher has a lot of discretion, might totally obliterate that, but sometimes the working title makes it all the way through. What, what are your thoughts about, you know, what’s your experience with titles? What advice do you have for others about just creating titles?
Colin: 01:48:10 I think titles are a tricky. I mean, I think I like, um No Impact Man, I think was a spectacular title actually. Sorry. Even if I say so myself, it just worked. It attracted a lot of interest.
Bryan: 01:48:27 It’s a hell of a subtitle though,
Colin: 01:48:30 Actually it was waiting for people, it was way longer.
Bryan: 01:48:32 If I’m read right. No impact man. So that’s the title. Subtitle: the adventures of a guilty liberal who attempts to save the planet and the discoveries he makes about himself and our way of life in the process.
Colin: 01:48:43 Yeah.
Bryan: 01:48:44 Great rhythm.
Colin: 01:48:44 Thanks, yeah. So, so yeah, but they work together because of the title is very short and there’s something ironic and the whole thing. Um, there’s a, there’s a. I don’t know how to say that, that there’s an ironic, there’s irony in No Impact Man, because it plays on like Superman, Batman. There’s irony there. There’s irony in the, there’s irony in the subtitle. How To Be Alive, a guide to the kind of happiness elsewhere. I like how to be alive. I find I’ve always found titles to be very hard, but uh, they should be provocative, provocative, evocative is what I would say. But that, but the trick is finding, discovering what is provocative and evocative.
Bryan: 01:49:32 Yeah. Okay. And the final question is, what advice or encouragement do you offer anyone listening to this who is maybe in the middle of a project and is still pushing that boulder up the hill or they they want to be. Related to writing, or it could be anything but specific to writing.
Colin: 01:49:59 Um, let’s say it’s a big, a big project that they’re, I don’t. The litmus tests, tests for me is, uh, I think the big question for me all the time with the big project is, should I just quit? Right. And, and, and, um, the litmus test for me is if I die not having actually brought this to completion, will I be upset? And um, uh, so, uh, I guess so I guess I guess the, the, the advice, it’s kind of remember the why. Like what, why are you doing it? Right? Like, for me it’s just because I’ll feel like I’m saying, you know, I need to have done it a lot of times. I just, I need, I really need to have done it. Um, and uh, so remember the why, like why are you doing it in terms of it. Because for me that’s the challenge and the advice I’m offering is around motivation because it can, the motive it can be hard. I would rather do other things sometimes. So remembering the why is important.
Bryan: 01:51:04 That makes me thInk about something I’ve heard it attributed to Albert Camus about, the only real philosophical problem is whether or not to commit suicide. I mean it’s extreme, but it’s same with the project is, should I quit? Yeah. Right. It’s like a big, one of the essential question. yeah. So I think that’s great. Great insight. I want to again, thank you for being so generous with your time today, sharing your experience, your knowledge, your advice, insights with me and with everyone who’s listening. Uh, for everyone who’s listening. Thank you for tuning in. I hope that you enjoyed this conversation and especially if you made it through this two hour long conversation. I hope that you, if you haven’t already, that you definitely will check out Colins’s website, look at his work, pickup his books, apply principles that are contained within it and make the contribution that you can make. Understanding that you are actually powerful and not just waiting for technology or nature or God or something else to come along and save us because we, as has been said, we are the leaders we have been waiting for. Right? So with that. All right. Thank you very much. Talk to you real soon.
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