David speaks with Kyle Kowalski, a thoughtful entrepreneur, adult learner, and proponent of slow living.
Kyle describes himself as a synthesiser and solopreneur so we got to unpack what that means.
This was a very introspective episode.
They talked about:
- The philosophy of slow living and how it can influence our ambitions and choices
- Some of the lessons he learned from going through a personal crisis
- The importance of finding purpose and of cultivating a spirit of lifelong learning
- Challenging life assumptions, prioritizing needs and wants, and structuring time and work for personal growth
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📹 Watch on Youtube
👤 Connect with [Guest]:
eBook: Ikigai 2.0 | https://www.sloww.co/shop/ikigai-ebook/
Website: Sloww.co | http://sloww.co/
📄 Show notes:
0:00 | Intro
4:55 | Slow living and its philosophy
10:17 | Parental influence on ambitions
14:05 | Traditional path vs. Compelling choices
16:59 | Self-characterization and description
20:12 | Disentangling true self from reflection
25:22 | Tangible vs. Spiritual/existential things
30:20 | Individual vs. Collective actions
32:57 | Importance and finding of purpose
38:43 | Environment's influence on societies
42:58 | Robert Sapolsky's work on behaviour
44:25 | Six-week existential crisis
51:06 | Creating distance in new environments
56:23 | Overcoming fear of money
1:00:13 | Impact of language on thinking
1:07:03 | Challenging life assumptions
1:09:29 | Prioritizing needs and wants
1:11:25 | Scrutinizing mental time and energy
1:15:32 | Cultivating the spirit of adult learning
1:17:54 | Growing as an adult learner
1:22:14 | Improving synthesis skills
1:24:22 | Choosing projects as an entrepreneur
1:29:25 | Structuring time and work
1:34:57 | Avoiding unintentional meme adoption
🗣 Mentioned in the show:
How to Live on 24 Hours a Day | https://amzn.to/425wAE0
Lottery of Birth | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lottery_of_birth
Paul Millerd | https://think-boundless.com/
The Pathless Path | https://amzn.to/3LAO7yH
Ramana Maharshi | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramana_Maharshi
Self-inquiry | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-enquiry_(Ramana_Maharshi)
René Girard | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/René_Girard
Theory of mimetic desire | https://www.theknowledge.io/mimesis/
Mortimer J. Adler | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mortimer_J._Adler
How to Read a Book | https://amzn.to/3LAz5sM
Suzanne Cook Reuter | http://wikibin.org/articles/susanne-cook-greuter.html
Ego Development Theory | https://www.sloww.co/ego-development-theory-cook-greuter/
Ken Wilber | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Wilber
Abraham Maslow | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abraham_Maslow
Hierarchy of Needs | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs
Robert Kegan | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Kegan
Theory of Adult Development | https://www.contextprofessionals.com/en/adult-development-theory-how-can-leaders-grow-as-adults-1/
Joseph Campbell | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Campbell
Hero's Journey | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hero's_journey
Transformative Learning | https://www.valamis.com/hub/transformative-learning
Disorienting dilemma | https://www.valamis.com/hub/transformative-learning#:~:text=1.-,Disorienting
Creating Freedom | https://amzn.to/3HeVBor
Raoul Martinez | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raoul_Martinez
Charles C. Mann | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_C._Mann
The Wizard and the Prophet | https://amzn.to/3Va8g1A
Robert Sapolsky | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Sapolsky
Behave | https://amzn.to/4423HKV
Dan Buttner | https://www.bluezones.com/dan-buettner/
Maria Popova | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Popova
Jacob Lund Fisker | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacob_Lund_Fisker
Early Retirement Extreme | http://earlyretirementextreme.com/
Vicki Robin | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vicki_Robin
Your Money or Your Life | https://amzn.to/40FSxsd
Essentialism | https://amzn.to/44b8hq4
Greg McKeown | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greg_McKeown_(author)
One Thing | https://amzn.to/3HeYqWj
Gary W. Keller | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_W._Keller
Jay Papasan | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jay_Papasan
Four Thousand Weeks | https://amzn.to/3n7LRFw
Oliver Burkeman | https://www.oliverburkeman.com/about
Joshua Becker | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joshua_Becker
Ramit Sethi | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramit_Sethi
I Will Teach You to Be Rich | https://amzn.to/3n2uG8x
Daniel Kahneman | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_Kahneman
The Psychology of Money | https://amzn.to/3Lbdzt2
Morgan Housel | https://www.morganhousel.com/
Alan Watts | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Watts
Naval Ravikant | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naval_Ravikant
Read What You Love Until You Love to Read | https://nav.al/love-read
Michael Alan Singer | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Alan_Singer
The Surrender Experiment | https://amzn.to/3n6OJ5y
Living Untethered | https://amzn.to/3nh443v
The Untethered Soul | https://amzn.to/3HhB5n7
David Eagleman | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Eagleman
Livewired | https://amzn.to/44aKZ3w
The Great Mental Models | https://amzn.to/3V8qT6d
Shane Parrish | https://fs.blog/about/
Super Thinking |https://amzn.to/3NAr1tl
Gabriel Weinberg | https://twitter.com/yegg
The Art of Thinking Clearly |https://amzn.to/42b2e38
Rolf Dobelli | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rolf_Dobelli
Memetic immune system | https://www.lesswrong.com/tag/memetic-immune-system
👨🏾💻 About David Elikwu:
David Elikwu FRSA is a serial entrepreneur, strategist, and writer. David is the founder of The Knowledge, a platform helping people think deeper and work smarter.
🌐 Website: https://www.davidelikwu.com
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Kyle Kowalski: my self-worth was directly attached to my work. And that is why I was never primarily motivated by money. That was always an extrinsic like byproduct for me. I was primarily motivated by, if I do really quality work, then I can feel worthy as a human and all that stuff, like titling and better jobs and better pay and money and all that stuff will come as a byproduct. But first and foremost for me it was do good work so you can be worthwhile as a person.
David Elikwu: Hey, I'm David Elikwu. And this is The Knowledge. A podcast for anyone looking to think deeper and work smarter. In every episode I speak with makers, thinkers, and innovators to help you get more out of life.
This week I'm speaking with Kyle Kowalski. Kyle is a thoughtful entrepreneur and adult learner and a proponent of slow living.
Kyle describes himself as a synthesizer and solopreneur. So you're gonna hear us unpacking exactly what those mean.
A bit of backstory on this episode is that, I first came across Kyle's work on Sloww.co maybe four or five years ago, and it was actually part of what inspired me to start writing my own newsletter. So there are now over 10,000 people that subscribe to my newsletter that partly have Kyle to thank for giving me the inspiration in the first place. So he does a lot of really interesting work that I'd highly recommend reading.
You're gonna hear us in this very introspective episode talking about some of the lessons that Kyle learned from going through a personal crisis, as well as the idea, this philosophy that he's encountered and developed of slow living, what that means, how it can influence our choices and our ambitions.
Then we talked about the importance of finding your purpose and also the importance of cultivating a spirit of lifelong learning and some of the knock-on benefits that that can have.
Finally, we talked about this idea of challenging your life assumptions, challenging the creep of memetic desires, and being able to actively prioritize the things that you want versus the things that you need.
We talked about a lot of the hype that can come to surround ideas like slow living or minimalism, et cetera, and really what it means to be able to disentangle. The things that are true to you from the things that are maybe part of a hype or part of a movement.
And then we talked about how to best use our time spending the precious time that we have, the quote that just came to mind, which is from a book called How to Live on 24 Hours a Day, which I'd also recommend reading. I'll actually add the link to the description here, and I think I wrote a newsletter about it, so I'll leave the link.
But it's really just about this idea that we have finite time. How can we make the best use of it? How can we not spend it frivolously?
But one of the things that we'll discuss is, is it possible to spend it frivolously? Is wasted time really just a reflection of your priorities and What is important to you?
So I think maybe there's a balance to find between whether or not the way you see yourself spending your time reflects the values that you actually have and reflects what you want to get from your time.
So all in all, this was a really interesting conversation. I think if you are looking to gain a deeper understanding of yourself and the world around you, then this is gonna be the episode for you.
You can find the full show notes, the transcript, and read my newsletter at theknowledge.io.
Every week, I share some of the best tools, ideas, and frameworks that I come across from business psychology, philosophy and productivity. So if you want the best that I have to share, you can get that in the newsletter at theknowledge.io.
You can connect with Kyle on Twitter @kykow and read all of his work on Sloww.co, and you can also get his book Ikigai 2.0 there as well. I'll have all the links. If you're watching this on YouTube, the links will be in the description. If you're listening to this in your favorite podcast player, then the links will be in the description, but you can also go to the knowledge.io/kylekowalski and find everything there.
So if you love this episode, please do share it with a friend, and don't forget to leave a review wherever you listen to podcasts because it helps us tremendously to find other listeners just like you.
A lot of the philosophy that you talk about is really interesting to me. This idea of slow living as a concept in general, and you've obviously written about it for a long time and there's a lot that you talk about, but I think there's a lot of different parts of it that would be really good to unpack, not just for the sake of being able to better understand it, but also as you've mentioned, the fact that it is slightly underrated by some people.
And I think one thing I've seen you talking about is this intersection between science and spirituality and the fact that some people often seem to disregard this spirituality aspect. You hear Tim Ferris, you hear a lot of people talking about, oh, you know, I don't wanna sound like woowoo or whatever. And I think that is a part of things that you seem to embrace.
So I'd love if you could maybe give us a framing of what you see as slow living being, and what you see as, I guess, this underlying philosophy.
Kyle Kowalski: Yeah, let's start. I guess let's start at the beginning. So, slow living as a concept is something that I had no awareness of whatsoever until maybe late 2015 or sometime in 2016. And the reason for that timing was because in late 2015, I had a massive self-diagnosed existential crisis. So my background professionally is a decade in the marketing and advertising industry, primarily digital marketing.
And for the first eight years of my 10 or 11 year career, I didn't question anything. I was just part of the system, my socialization and conditioning was just playing out and there were no questions whatsoever. It was just kind of going about life and everything was just happening as it did.
But in late 2015, that's when I had this existential crisis and I started asking myself all the deep questions. And the reason why I think this was prompted was because in my marketing and advertising career, I didn't have, I didn't feel like I had purpose. And that wasn't something that I, you know, went to.
I wasn't thinking about purpose when I went to college or when, even when I started my career, I kind of stumbled into the marketing industry. I thought I was gonna go into graphic design, but sure enough ended up in the marketing industry, kind of stumbled my way into it. And then you wake up, you know, eight to 10 years later and you wonder how you ever got there in the first place.
But for me it was kind of this non questioning, kind of just going down a certain path and direction. And then in 2015, the reason why that was different from the prior eight years in my career was, I was working 60 to 80 hour weeks, every single week for six months straight. And it's not uncommon to have these highs and lows and ebbs and flows of hours in the marketing industry, but it was a first for me to do it for six months straight, where I just, you know, it finally broke me, I would say. Before that I would consider myself unbreakable and it was a source of pride and things like that, of course. But it finally broke me and that's when all the questions started. So, I started asking myself all those deep questions of who am I, what is my purpose, what is purpose? And that kind of set me down this path of the last really coming up on this year, eight years now since that crisis.
And kind of just trying to figure out how and why to live? And that's really kind of been the essence of everything I've done with Sloww. But in terms of slow living, one of the first things that I discovered in my crisis was the concept of slow living, simple living, a kind of umbrella all of this concepts under kind of a high level macro holistic umbrella of intentional living. Cause that's kind of the broadest term that I use to encapsulate everything. But under intentional living, I consider things like slow living, simple living, minimalism, decluttering, downshifting, voluntary simplicity, now, digital minimalism. All of these kinds of concepts kind of are related and adjacent to each other and overlapping, to a certain degree.
So, I had no idea that people were intentionally living like this for me up to this point in 2015, it had always been the lifestyle inflation game or the hedonic adaptation or hedonic treadmill game of, you know, you get the job, you get the better job, you get the higher paying job, you get the car, you get the nicer car, you get the house, you get the bigger house. Like that whole game of quote unquote the American Dream. From that perspective, that's just what I had been living and I hadn't questioned anything up until that point.
So when I discovered all these intentional living concepts, it was really eye-opening for me, and I saw it initially as an escape. It was like, you know, at that point I was kind of trying to figure out purpose in my career and what purpose meant to me. And I saw that, you know, if I could embrace some of these concepts, then maybe this was a way that I could exit my career. Maybe this was a way I could get out, maybe I could find something more purposeful.
Whether that had to do with, you know, in my career at a different job or different job title or something completely different professionally. Trying to figure out what that looked like. So the way that I describe slow living though, is in simplest terms, is what simple living is for your things. Slow living is for your time. And I always kind of, that always kind of stuck with me because you kind of have your time and your space aspect. People are pretty familiar when you say simple living or minimalism or decluttering, you know, that has to do with your physical stuff or your environmental space that you live in. But slow living to me is more about the, if simple living is the space, then slow living is the pace. So you have those space and time aspects in terms of how you, how you relate to your physical things. Of course, Marie Kondo and that whole decluttering phase was big, but I don't feel like slow living, like you said, to start this out. Slow living seems to still be an underrated concept in terms of how people relate to their time. So that's kind of how I got started and it just kind of blossomed from there. But everything started with intentional living.
David Elikwu: Awesome. That makes a lot of sense. I'm really interested to dig into various parts of that story, but maybe let's start at the beginning because I think the way that you frame it, it very much reminds me of like the Road to Damascus moment, where you have the pre-crisis life, you have the post-crisis life, you have the time where you were a Gentile, there was the way that you lived in the before times, and then you have this one pivotal moment and your mind is forever changed afterwards.
But I'd love to dig into maybe starting with that before time. You've mentioned in the past that I think your dad was an entrepreneur. I'd love to know maybe from both of your parents or from the people, the sphere of influence that you grew up in. How did that shape some of your initial ambitions and your initial view of life?
Kyle Kowalski: Yeah, I'm glad you asked that question. Because a lot of people seem to skip over the childhood aspect of a person's story. But after you start reflecting on your own life and asking these deeper questions and get into the whole know thy self process and getting to know yourself psychologically and beyond psychology and all these different things.
You start to realize how pivotal your childhood experience is and there's a concept that I've been digging to for the last years, so I called the Lottery of Birth, and we can maybe get into that later. But that has really just rocked my world in terms of opening my eyes and expanding my mind in terms of why I am the way I am. But like you said, there is a, it's funny you said this too, because I refer to periods in my life as pre-crisis and post-crisis because it was that pivotal, at least in terms of planting a seed and really kind of getting started in terms of setting a new course or planting a seed in terms of a new direction.
But in terms of childhood, yeah, I mean, I can't complain. I feel like I totally got lucky in the lottery of birth, I have amazing parents, had a great childhood. My mom has been a nurse her whole career. So she's definitely the loving caregiving, open type. And then my dad's the most creative person that I think I've ever met. Both, just imagination wise as well as physically artistically gifted. So a lot of my childhood was raised in kind of that environment, and he's an industrial designer by trade or by profession, and has been doing that for decades. Mostly in the robotics, like physical robotics space. But in terms of how that shaped me, the design side was something that was kind of nurtured into me from a very young age. So my dad's mom, my grandma actually was a watercolor artist. Two of my dad's siblings are watercolor artists. So I would go over, get babysat by my grandma and she would teach me, you know, how to do watercolor paintings and things from a young age. So that was kind of, something that was really important to me growing up.
And that's why I thought I was gonna go into graphic design, right? Because I had done all of these artistic things, my whole life. But in high school I was up until two or 3:00 AM doing art projects and I realized, you know, this wasn't a sustainable thing in terms of moving forward. It was kind of one of those perfectionism problems where you just couldn't let the project be done or let it go. And so I was just up all night doing art projects and I was like, maybe I need to do something different in college and whatever. But I think that eye for design has kind of stuck with me, whether it's a right hemisphere brain thing or whatever it may be. But that kind of aesthetic and eye for design is something that has stuck with me throughout even what I'm doing today in terms of, I describe it differently today.
I'm not a graphic designer, but maybe you could call me like an information artist or a life artist or something like that in terms of you know, I do a lot of infographics of my content. Everything you see on Sloww is truly a solopreneur or endeavor. So, whatever you see is something that my only my hands touched, up to this point. So yeah, it's definitely been an important part of the journey.
David Elikwu: So I love the watercolor aspect, but this is an interesting part. So, you know, you grew up with this kind of embedded in this milieu of intentionality in some respects, in terms of like design, in terms of painting, watercolor takes time, it takes some patience, it takes some artistry. And so I guess there was already some of those seeds there for you, but you still ended up in a marketing career for a decade or so, kind of doing the 60 to 80 hour weeks. What drove that? Was that just something that you, obviously all of us, you're kind of, the analogy is almost like a conveyor belt where you have to go through school, you go through university, you are just thrown onto this path.
Paul Millerd, who was a guest, actually I think he spoke with you also, he talks about the pathless path, right? There's this conveyor belt of the traditional path and the things that you were expected to do. Was that something that you found compelling at that time? Or did you also see some allure in what you saw, I guess, your aunts and uncles and your grandmother doing in terms of this slowness and intentionality that comes with making art and making design work?
Kyle Kowalski: Yeah, that's a great question. And it's funny you bring up Paul Millerd because, I actually just finished his book, The Pathless Path and I did a premium post on the Sloww website where I go through over a hundred different key points of how his story compares to my story. Obviously there are tons of similarities, but then there are obviously, you know, a handful of differences too in terms of how we ever got to this point, the realizations that we had along the way and even what we're kind of seeking now.
But yeah, in terms of intentionality along the way, you're right. I mean, in terms of all the design work, there is obviously a lot of intentionality and slowness and pacing and things there, patience, creating a space for yourself to be able to get in the right mindset or a flow state and things like that. It does make me wonder though, it's a little bit of a chicken and egg situation of, you know, I have an introverted personality type. You know, I've done all, every type of self-assessment you can do and things like that. So it was it one of those things where the design work came before the personality type or the personality type is what embraced the design work. I'm not sure. Yeah, a lot of it has influenced me.
And then in terms of a Pathless Path perspective, so how I ever got into marketing in the first place. I don't actually have a conscious memory of how I ever picked marketing as a career or business administration or, you know, whatever, in college, I think it was probably a process of elimination thing. I actually picked the college that I went to because I got a partial scholarship to run cross-country and track in college, which only lasted a couple years. Because it was more like a job in college than the fun of high school. And I realized I didn't love it, which is actually, you know, a really important realization in terms of figuring out what you wanna do is equally as important as figuring out what you definitely don't want to do anymore.
I kind of call that good quitting in terms of, okay, you've tried this, you've given it your all and you've done it for a long enough period of time where you've exhausted all options and you realize you don't love it anymore, and you want to move on to something you do love. I think that's a really important realization. Quitting has kind of turned into a dirty word, but it's super important to figure out, these are the things I wanna quit so I can go try x, y, z, you know, new thing. So I call that good quitting. As opposed to just quitting when it gets tough. That would be bad quitting.
But yeah, so I kinda stumbled into marketing because I think it was a process of elimination thing. It was probably like, well, I know I don't wanna do that, I don't wanna do this, I don't wanna do that over there. And then it was kind of like, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. Okay, well, I guess business administration and marketing is what it is. And maybe I'll figure it out along the way or something. But I don't have a conscious memory of intentionally choosing marketing. Which is why I think it probably, on the back end of my career is one of the reasons why I think it was easier for me to leave that career because, I don't really know how I got into it in the first place.
David Elikwu: Fair. There's a few things that you mentioned that just remind me of the gravity of this idea of self characterization and how we define ourselves and how we describe ourselves. And I guess this question will probably straddle, I guess the pre-crisis and the post-crisis in terms of, like, the question that I want to ask is, do you have a process for being able to accurately define yourself and figure out like, which parts of your belief system are true and honest and real?
So not long ago I had a conversation with my partner and she was saying something along the lines of she basically said that I should get tested and see if I have adhd. And it's the first time it had come up in our conversations and my initial response was obviously one of shock and horror because it's something that I had always in the back of my mind, assumed that I probably do have, but just never actually, I can't be bothered to do any testing and I don't know somebody embrace it as part of my identity or anything like that. But I was looking at some questions earlier today and I was just, did a little Google search, oh, you know, ADHD testing, and you see the kind of questions that people ask, and they all seem to be incredibly leading questions because as I was reading them, I was like, how could the answer not be yes, of course the answer, well, at least for me, it's gonna be absolutely yes to all of these questions. But what I also noticed was that it's strange how in some ways I, I might have answered no. So for example, one of the questions was, do you frequently forget meetings and appointments or things like that? And okay, on one hand, absolutely, yes.
Like I'm never gonna remember anything. However, and this is where we get to the character decision, but part of my identity is that I feel like, oh, I'm good at developing systems for things and I feel like I'm good at organizing things in a sense, but what those questions made me consider is that actually a large part of the reasons I have needed to rely on systems. Like, making sure if someone wants to have a meeting, it has to be in my calendar. There's no way, cause I'm not gonna be there. Like it's not going to happen if this thing is not in my calendar. And I hadn't necessarily done some of the internal work to think about, okay, why have I developed these systems for things to be in this way? It's actually because if these things don't exist then my mind is gonna be completely cluttered and all of these negative externalities will come about. Like, you know, I'm gonna miss things, I'm not gonna see things. I check my calendar probably at least 20 times a day just to know when the next thing is coming. Cause if I'm just looking at the time, somehow, you know, you'll forget or time will fly.
And so it's this interesting thing going back to what you said about the chicken and the egg. Oh, do I embrace this personality because, oh, this is how I am. Or am I only this way because this is me compensating for this other side of me that potentially also could exist? So am I the messy one, or am I the organized one? Like I'm organized to compensate from the fact that I'm naturally quite messy. And René Girard talks about this idea of memetic ideals and mimetic desires, right? And so there were a lot of things, just like you talked about, you never had a conscious moment where you first thought, I want to become a marketer, but you definitely had a model for it. And in fact, that probably proves that you had some kind of model for it somewhere. Not necessarily in the form of a person, but at least the idea was modeled to you because it wasn't in your family, it wasn't in your natural environment. There's nothing you can remember seeing that modeled this idea for you and yet you found yourself going down that path. And so my question is like, how do you disentangle your true self from the self that's reflected back to you through your actions or through the desires that you find yourself falling into?
Kyle Kowalski: Yeah, that's a big question and a super important one, and probably one that I'm gonna ramble off on and go on a million tangents. But let's, let's give it a shot. So, I think the biggest thing is just, if you boil it all down, it starts with asking questions and your questions at the very beginning, at least my questions at the very beginning were driven by my crisis in terms of, I mean, I remember sitting in bed at 2 or 3:00 AM staring at the ceilings saying, am I really here on this planet for the short period of time to sell people more stuff they don't need?
And that was like my initial question. It was like I couldn't find purpose at the time I was a senior brand manager at a global apparel company and doing brand marketing and things like that. And so that was my first question was, I was killing myself, I was literally killing myself with all these hours at work. And I think it was a combination of the high hours, which led to burnout plus, but it wasn't just the high hours alone. It was the high hours plus the lack of purpose. That was like a deadly combo and what finally broke me because, the high hours alone, like if anyone observed me now in my day-to-day life now they would say, wow, you still work a lot, you're still working those like 60 to 80 hour a weeks. And I'm like, well, I'm actually just playing for the vast majority of those hours. I'm actually just playing. It's not work to me at all. It might look like work to you, but it feels like play to me. So that's why I think in my career it was a combination of the high hours plus the lack of purpose, which led to that initial question.
But the reason why I say, I think it all starts with questioning is because my questions back then, which is seven or eight years ago, and my questions five years ago, and my questions three years ago and one year ago, and my questions today have all evolved. And have gotten deeper and deeper and deeper. And this kind of circles back to what you brought up at the beginning in terms of like the balance between science and spirituality and psychology and philosophy and all of these different things is you kind of see over time, if you start pulling on any of these threads or any of these subjects, you start to see how they are all interdisciplinary, they all interconnect. One leads to the other, it doesn't matter what your on-ramp for learning is. It all leads to this kind of lifelong learning, interdisciplinary study of all those deep questions. Ultimately getting to the deepest of the deep question, at least in spiritual terms, which is who am I?
However, when you first start that process, you know, when I was asking who am I? During my crisis, that was a question that led me to my psychology. It didn't lead to spirituality at the time because I just wasn't in that mindset. I hadn't psychologically developed to that point yet to even understand what that meant from like, if you reference someone like Ramana Maharshi or The direct path of self-inquiry or things like that, that wasn't even on my radar whatsoever. You know, when I first got started, the who am I? Question was the question that got me into my psychology and that's where you go through a phase of doing all those self-assessments in terms of MBTI Enneagram and Disc and Clifton strengths, I think it used to be called Strengths Finder, you name it. You start to get to know thyself on the level of your psychology, which I think is an important phase. I don't think it should necessarily be skipped, even though so many people, you know, talk about personality typing, being equivalent to astrology and things like that. Because it's, it suffers from self bias and narrative bias and how you want to be perceived versus how you honestly are and things like that. But I do think it's an important phase because you get to know yourself on the level of your psychology, and then that ultimately leads to deeper questions like you had mentioned, René Girard and the theory of mimetic desire.
So asking questions like, How did I get my desires? Why do I have this desire instead of that desire? How did I get all the ideas in my head? What are ideas ? So you start asking all of those questions, which are at the level of your psychology, but start taking you to that edge of psychology and the edge of your mind, which naturally lead to the, the spiritual side and all those deeper questions. But all of those questions, especially around desire and things like that, I consider part of like your socialization and your conditioning. And this gets back into the lottery birth concept in terms of like why do you have the mind that you have in the first place? How are you programmed in a way? That all becomes a really fascinating phase once you go through that. And then I feel like that just naturally leads to all the, what I call quote unquote beyond mind stuff of what other people would call spirituality.
David Elikwu: Sure. I think we've mentioned a few times this idea that there is some level of stigma around this concept of spirituality. I wonder why you think it exists? And I think just to frame it, I think it's very much like a post-enlightenment thing, where now science is the ideal and rationality is the ideal, and the closer you can get to being able to prove concretely everything that you know and believe, the more you are seen to be seeking, I guess, like truth and that is what is right and that is what is honest and that those are the only things that exist. And in many ways, the things that are less tangible and are less easy to conceptualize or bring into hard science in some way are seen as, I guess like soft that we talk about hard sciences and soft sciences, right? And I think in general is a really interesting idea and I'd love to know why you think we make such a strong distinction and what you think we might be missing by only favoring, I guess the things that seem really tangible in the form of science versus some of these spiritual and more existential things, which don't always seem to provide immediate answers because they require so much internal work.
Kyle Kowalski: Yeah, that's a great question and I guess I'll try to break it down into three different things. The first piece is just to offer some context and background is that I was raised Catholic, but I wasn't indoctrinated super deeply. And I think that's really important because I think there's a big difference in terms of adult life, and you can see it in a child's socialization in terms of conditioning whether or not someone was super indoctrinated or not. And actually even sometimes those who are super indoctrinated end up asking all the questions that lead them beyond how they were conditioned. I wish I knew what it was, you know, that flipped a switch for someone to be able to start asking those questions. But it's different for everybody right? There can like I said, there are a million different on-ramps to the highway of lifelong learning, but that's a little bit background for me. I even went to a Jesuit high school. But for me, by the time I got to college, I was no longer actively involved in religion in any way, shape or form. So it wasn't something that was, I mean, in grade school we went to church every week, in some cases twice a week because I went once for school and then once with my parents on the weekend. But that was part of my childhood growing up and then through high school and then by college it kind of had just not even been a part of my life. So that's a little bit of background context in terms of spirituality being kind of like a Woo woo type word or, it definitely has a lot of baggage these days and I think a lot of that maybe comes from a lot of like the new age spirituality stuff or even like the pseudoscience type stuff and things like that.
But, you know, it's funny too, if you had asked me in, you know, 2014 or something or told me, you're gonna be involved in like, spirituality stuff and learning all about that and like, whatever, like, I have no idea what you're talking about that, I mean, that couldn't have been further from my life at the time. But now that I'm kind of in this lifelong learning phase, like I said, everything interconnects. So for me it's less about adding new beliefs to my mind, and it's more about what I try to do is I try to butt everything up against my own lived experience. So the things that I'm learning, I try to say, does that jive with my lived experience? And if it does, maybe it does because it gives me new words to articulate something that I already had an intuitive felt sense or knowing of. And if it doesn't, that's equally important because it's like, why is that person describing something that's so different from my lived experience? Am I the anomaly or Are they the anomaly? Is this what most people think? So that kind of takes you down an equally interesting rabbit hole of trying to figure out, you know, are most people like this are not.
But in terms of spirituality versus religion, what I've kind of boiled that down to is, there's a phrase called the finger pointing at the moon. And the idea is that religion is supposed to be the finger. It's supposed to be the guide. It's supposed to be what gets you to the moon or helps you see the moon is a better way of putting it. Because a lot of this is really about seeing in realizations, it's not about adding more content to your mind or labels to your mind, or puffing up your self-identity on like a spiritual ego or anything like that. Like that's what they call spiritual materialism or spiritual narcissism. And then equally important, it's not about using spirituality as a way to get out of just living life. That's called spiritual bypassing.
So it's one of those things where what I've tried to do is now almost figure out. If you read across a lot of different, even like religious or spiritual texts or even like indigenous culture texts and things like that, it's almost like the writers or authors are using different words to point to the same thing. And Mortimer Adler in his book How to Read a Book, talks about coming to terms with various authors. So if you're studying a subject, you're gonna read widely across it. You're gonna read a lot of different authors, they're gonna have different vocabularies. And at you as the reader, it's on you to figure out, Are they actually saying the same thing in different terms? Are they using the same term in different ways? And so you have to synthesize everything as the reader to figure out, okay, here's how they agree, here's how they disagree. You kind of create your own vocabulary and keywords where you bring all of other authors to your terms.
And I think that's what a lot of religious and spiritual texts are. It's like all these different fingers. There's like a infinite multitude of fingers all pointing at the moon. And so it's just most important to not get stuck on the finger and use the finger as the guide that it's intended to be, to see the moon.
David Elikwu: That's a really interesting framing. I love what you were just saying about the, the religious aspect to it as well. And I was just thinking just before this actually, I was just listening to a podcast about the evolution of apologies. And again, this comes back to this grander idea of how frequently we've run into some of these issues that religion used to solve. There's a ton of things like in terms of how we socialize and the extent to which we act as individuals compared to the way we might act collectively and the way we might take care of each other collectively, the way we might support each other in communities, et cetera. And some of what we've lost by being so individualistic.
Similarly, apologies. In so many different texts. Obviously there's Christian texts, Hindu texts, lots of religious text from around the world, just like you say, fingers pointing to the moon, which used to talk about this idea so far before our current society of penance and repentance and you do something wrong and you have to repent and you are repenting for the higher power or for something else. And you are dealing with your immortal soul and that's what you're trying to save.
And it's so interesting how, I guess we've removed that layer and now we have this really weird thing in our current society where, people don't know what they're apologizing for. And we want people to apologize in very much the same way someone does something wrong. You see this, you know, people talk about cancel culture. We want people to apologize. We want people to pay some penance, but we don't actually know what actions they should take. And these are the things that used to be written down. And it used to be that you know exactly what you're doing it for and who you're doing it to. But now we're having to, I guess, figure out some new traditions and new ways of arriving at similar outcomes.
And I think, using apologies is just one analog, but there's loads of other examples of this where. There were framings for certain things that we used to have that now we no longer have. And I guess in this world of, you know, we talk about the rationality and the hard science. We have to figure out new ways from a societal and cultural framing to figure out what we're supposed to be doing and where we're supposed to be going.
Maybe part of this leads to the question of purpose, because I think this is the other thing, people talk a lot about this idea of schools, and I think you talked about your schooling experience, but people say, okay, back in the day, schools used to be to prepare people to work in factories, and now people don't have to work in factories anymore. So what is the purpose of schooling? What are we preparing kids for? It seems like people are coming out on the other side. They're very unprepared for the world of life. People come out of college, they just try and find a job. And then once you figure out what the job is, you go into a career, you're in that career for 10 plus years or for however long, obviously, you know, in total it's a grand amount of time, but there is very little intentional, that there's no signposts at which you can intentionally step back and figure out, okay, what am I actually supposed to be doing? A lot of the deep questions that you suggest.
So I guess it's two part questions I want to ask. One is, What do you feel is the importance of purpose and Two, How do we go about actively finding it without having to go through an existential crisis or without having to have a big a pivotal moment in our lives?
Kyle Kowalski: Yeah, that's a great question too. And I think your point about education and schooling is a big one. And I've been going down a little bit of a rabbit hole over the last, well, actually since the beginning of the year. So the last three months or so on lifelong learning and adult learning and adult development and psychological development, and they kind of go hand in hand.
Which is it just has been an amazing thing for me to realize, because I've been big into the psychological development space for a couple years now. But the adult learning space has been really interesting because it's like two people shaking hands. It just fits together perfectly in terms of like, the whole point of adult learning is to develop as an adult and lead to perspective transformation and deeper, more holistic perspective taking and things like that. So in terms of the school system, that is kind of a key piece in terms of, it still seems like it's a relic from the industrial revolution, like you mentioned. And so I think that one of the biggest things, there's a term called the meta crisis, which is in a nutshell, it's kind of like a crisis of crises. Where you've got climate change and all this environmental stuff and exponential technology and AI now, and education. You've got all these different things kind of, you know, converging at the same time in human history.
But to me it seems like the ultimate problem is, whether you wanna call it a problem or challenge or root cause. So if you do like the five why's question of just keep asking why and trying to answer the question, take any of those and try to get down to the root cause or what Daniel Schmachtenberger calls A Generator Function.
To me it all comes down to our relationship with our minds. And the solution seems to be further psychological development. But in terms of how that relates to purpose, let's just take one framework, like, Susanne Cook-Greuter has a framework called Ego Development Theory, and you can map her stages of ego development theory directly to, the reason why I go to that one as a default, just because I haven't come across, there are a hundred or more of these types of things.
You know, you've got Ken Wilber, Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, Robert Kegan's Theory of Adult Development. There are tons of them and a lot of them or at least a handful or a dozen of which are pretty famous these days. But Susanne Cook-Greuter seems like an underrated one, but once I found that, I realized that everything she outlines maps almost directly to my experience over the last, definitely eight years, but even if you go further back to 10 years, 15 years ago and that kind of trajectory of what I've gone through so, it almost seems like getting all the way back to purpose now.
It almost seems like this is a purpose becomes something at a certain stage of psychological development that people seem to be looking for. And yeah, it would definitely be great to, you know, not have to go through a dark night of the soul or existential crisis or identity crisis or quarter life crisis or any type of crisis.
There's another one called Spiritual Emergency. It'd be great to skip that, that whole phase. But I do wonder, you know, is it an important part of, whether it's Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey or there's a concept called Transformative Learning, and the first part of a like 10 step phase in transformative learning is a Disorienting dilemma. And it can be something like an existential crisis or it can just be a slow incremental compounding of something that happens over time. So I think there are a ton of different ways to kind of get to the point of figuring out purpose. It probably correlates to something like in Robert Kegan's theory, like a self authoring phase of life. The interesting part, and this goes into a whole deeper tangent rabbit hole, is figuring out once you get to the point where you figure out that you aren't self-created and you know everything from your genes to your and your nurture, your parents, your environment you know, the education that you received, at least as a, as a young kid. All of these were decisions and choices that were made outside of your control, and those all shaped the brain and the mind that developed to get to the point of even asking the question of, what is my purpose? Right?
So it's just like, it goes back to the chicken and egg kind of thing. There's a great book called actually I've only read part one of the book it's called Creating Freedom by Raoul Martinez that gets into all the lottery of birth stuff and everything like that. But he talks about the paradox of you don't realize you have an identity until you already have an identity
And like, you don't realize your conditioning until you've already been conditioned. And so it's kind of one of those things where it's like, you're created by all these factors outside of yourself, but then it gives you in some cases the ability to ask the questions of how did I ever become what I consider me in the first place.
But that's a little bit of a tangent, but the whole part about purpose, is that, I think it's just a part of psychological development that I think more and more people are getting to that stage in modern times now. So I think, obviously there are more humans than have ever been on the planet. Whether or not this is in higher prevalence percentage wise today than in the past, I'm not sure. But it seems like more and more people are starting to look for purpose. Obviously you see it in the corporate world where every company left and right is trying to bolt on purpose, whether it's natural to the company or not, or do some type of cost marketing or something.
But, it seems like it's become a hotter subject these days than it ever has been before.
David Elikwu: Sure. I love the tangent that you went on, and I think this is one of my current hobby horses as well, is just this idea of, it's almost like a matrix sense that so much of the societal and cultural fabric that we're embedded in is completely made up. And so much of it, well not made up, but you know, it preexist us. And so many things exist for reasons either that we don't know or we don't fully understand or we don't fully appreciate and we are just affected by, so, I was talking with Charles Mann a few weeks ago and he, in his book, The Wizard and the Prophet, and he has a few other books that are really interesting, but he talks about this idea of how the environment has shaped a lot of the societies that we have and how due to environmental constraints. So for example, actually, this is not from his book, but this is from other sources. But there are, if you grew up in a society that hundreds of years ago, people used to herd cattle instead of growing plants. Then those kinds of people have different cultural habits, and those people might be more, slightly more prone to violence. Not prone to violence, but there is more violence in some of those societies simply because, when you are herding cattle, you actually have to protect it. It can actually walk, people can steal that in the night. When you're growing rice, you know someone's not gonna come and steal your rice in the night if it hasn't actually grown.
And so, depending on what you needed to do in the past or what your ancestors needed to do that can cultivate different sets of societal habits. Like, people that had to grow rices very hard, particularly growing it in some way like China, where there's actually no water in vast parts of China that you have to develop lots of different ways to grow certain crops, you have to be a lot more patient in order to do certain things, and that can manifest in loads of different behaviors.
So by the time you are born, you are born into this fabric of, this goes to the, birth lottery part that you're talking about. So many of the parts of your personality not only come from your parents, but come from levels before that in your ancestral lineage where people had to undergo certain types of climates. People had to do certain types of behaviors. I think Garret Jones referenced, I can't remember whose work it is, but someone produced some work which was looking at egalitarian societies and how much they correlate to how long women used to plow fields. And there's a strong correlation. So again, there's some really weird things that make up the fabric of our societies.
And I think the other part of it is just how often there are things that we take for granted. So I wrote a while ago about a few different ideas, but one of them being, for example, like things that seem cultural, like long lunches in France or in parts of Europe. That was a completely made up thing. It actually happened during the industrial revolution because people used to work all day in factories. So during the Industrial Revolution, people were coming into the towns from the countryside, and everyone used to work in the factory the whole day and stay in the factory. And suddenly loads of people were dying from lead poisoning, asbestos, all these kinds of things. And so many people were dying that the government created a law that says everyone has to go outside at lunchtime. At least for one hour so they can air out the factory and now it's turned into this cultural artifact where people are like, ah, French people like to go outside and have long lunches. And it's like, I mean, I guess on one level, yes, but also on another level. This was a random arbitrary law from a few hundred years ago that now has become the gospel.
And so I guess, this is a long meandering way of getting into this concept of Ikigai and Ikigai 2.0. First of all, maybe if you could frame, I guess, the concept of Ikigai in the first place and how you have extrapolated on this idea.
Kyle Kowalski: Yeah. real quick before we get into Ikigai, I'd love to just build off of what you were talking about in terms of the hour long lunch and things like that and all these cultural artifacts and relics that we seem to have. This kind of goes back to that key point of just starting with a question, you know, why do we take an hour lunch? One of the ones that I asked I think in back in 2017 or 18 is, why do we have a 40 hour work week? Where did that come from? So, you know, it is just, it all starts with a question, and that question leads you to some new information or some new knowledge that goes into your mind and interconnects. I just read a book on lifelong learning that talked about how all learning builds on prior learning.
So if you view your mind like this just interconnected knowledge network. The more nodes that you put in it, and the more that you can interconnect all those nodes, almost like neurons connecting to each other in your brain, but on a psychological level. Then the more holistic you're going to have of a perspective on just your life, the world, how you interact with others, just all of it.
It's just like a mutually reinforcing, beneficial thing to do. But in terms of your ancestral influence, that's something that so few people seem to think about, but everything that you covered is exactly what Robert Sapolsky covers and his work too. So there's a book called Behave. He has a new book on free will coming out later this year called Determined. And he's got a bunch of videos on YouTube and TED talk and things like that. And they're all amazing in from like a biological perspective. It'll give you such a profound respect for just life and how like the biology of life and that this is one of those things, right, where it's like, I got started. I would say I probably got started in psychology because in marketing you have to understand a certain amount of human psychology and why people do what they do and buy what they buy and how brand awareness works and conversion and like, all that type of stuff. And then psychology probably took me into philosophy, which took me into spirituality, which somehow has brought me back to biology
So it's like, you just start somewhere and it all interconnects along the way. But definitely check out Robert Sapolsky's work on the Biology of Behavior because it goes back from, if you perform an action right now, his work will take you to, well, what happened a second ago to lead to that action? And what happened 10 minutes ago? What happened an hour ago, a month ago, a year ago, 10 years ago, a hundred years ago, all the way back to your ancestors that, you know, if you grew up in, I think he says, if you grew up in like a culture of honor, that's going to have downstream influences and consequences to get to how people act today.
So everything is like this interconnected web. So anyway, thanks for letting me go on a tangent on that, on that piece.
But in terms of Ikigai, so for Ikigai I discovered that concept when I'm not sure if it was when I was in my existential crisis or the year after. So my, acute portion of my existential crisis was six weeks and that was the last six weeks of 2015. And then all of 2016 in my free time, cause I was still working full-time for two and a half years after my crisis, but all of 2016 and my free time was trying to figure out my purpose. And so I had like whiteboard paint on my office walls and they were completely all four walls were covered in notes I was taking about myself and concepts I was learning and things like that. And I had the original four circle Ikigai diagram printed out and taped up to my wall. And I was trying to figure out, you know, all those four circles for me. But the idea if people have heard of the Ikigai four circle Venn diagram is that the first circle is what you love. The second circle is what you're good at. The third circle is what the world needs, and the fourth is what you can be paid for. And the idea is if you can find what those four circles mean for you, the overlapping intersection of all four is your Ikigai. And so once I, I found that I was trying to figure mine out and all of that, and then of course, just with the synthesizing mind that I seem to have, I seem to just find myself down in these rabbit holes of searching about, once I figure out a concept that sounds interesting, I exhaust everything I possibly can about the concept in terms of, well, What's the reality of it? What's the truth? What are the myths? How do I almost like play devil's advocate or steel man it? Basically like you said at the beginning, like how do you make sure a concept is truthful or at least less wrong than what you thought before? How do you keep moving at least in a direction that feels right and more truthful?
So it led me down this path of, well, what is Ikigai? How did this concept get created? Who created it? What, you know, all those types of questions. And what I found out was it was actually a guy who took an existing Spanish concept for purpose, which was the exact same four circles I just walked through. And then he combined it with Dan Buttner's Ted Talk on the Blue Zones. The blue zones are where you have the highest percentage of centenarians people that live to be over a hundred years old on Earth. And there are five or six different blue zones and I believe the one in Okinawa is the one where Ikigai comes from.
And so, this person, I actually think he's done the world a favor, I say because he's put the Ikigai four circle meme out into the world. And now you've got people that are starting to figure out, you know, okay, maybe there's something beyond this. Once they start trying to figure it out for themselves. And that's how I think they discover some of my work. But the idea is that he just combined both of them together. And instead of the Spanish concept where it said purpose in the middle, he just had it say Ikigai. But when I did my deep dive and this was off and on over the course of five years, I tried to exhaust everything that I could about the concept. And what I figured out was the fourth circle viral meme isn't actually Ikigai in terms of what it means in Japan. And so I tried to figure out, well, What does it mean? What's wrong about it? How do we kind of course correct to try to make it more truthful and closer to match the reality of how the term is actually used in Japan?
And one of the biggest things that I found was that money is just not a factor in terms of how it is. So, and immediately the first thing you gotta do is remove that fourth circle and make that at least what I call an optional byproduct because I think you can. And the other thing is like, you don't just have one purpose or one Ikigai. You can have many, it can change over the course of your lifetime. So there are all these different like little nuances that really make a big difference once you start to figure it out for yourself.
But my Ikigai 2.0 concept has three circles. And instead of having them all equally sized or equally weighted, it goes through a very specific process of making sure you do this one first, this one second, this one third, because each step is a checks and balances on the prior step.
So the first one is it's still what you love or what you're passionate about, deeply passionate about. I describe it almost as like what you can't not do and that intentional double negative of, cause a lot of people are multi-passionate or, it's like, how do I choose from all these different things that I love? I seem to love equally. And once you frame it in a way of like, well, What's the one thing you can't not do? And it's almost the thing, it seems to come pretty easily to people because once you think about it like that, you're, it's usually the thing that you're already just naturally doing. It's where your energy just naturally flows on a day-to-day basis. So that's the first step.
And then the second one is, I describe it as How you're wired or How you're encoded. And so this gets into some of the things we were talking about in terms of self-assessments and personality typing and things in terms of how you're wired on your psychological level. Things that come innate to you can be talents and gifts. This is different from skillsets because you can develop skillsets. And you might be, and this is different from what you're good at because what you're good at is not necessarily what you love. I'm sure we all have experiences of that, right? Where it's like, I'm good at this, I could keep going. I think that's how I ended up spending a decade in marketing is I found out that I was pretty good at it and I just kept doing it. But then I realized I didn't love it. So that's why it goes with what you love first, to how you're wired, and then finally what the world and or humanity needs.
And that's a key piece too, because you can imagine if even the things I was doing on Sloww. If I only did the first two circles, I could be doing all the same stuff I do on a day-to-day basis, but just keeping everything I learn up in my head individually and not sharing anything with the world. And then it just doesn't come full circle in terms of like the hero's journey of coming back to society and figuring out who you are can benefit everybody else in the world at large.
And so with that, if you find all those three circles, the middle is what I call your Ikigai 2.0, and the flywheel of that process in action can have an optional byproduct of making money. So I describe it, or actually Maria Popova of brain pickings or the marginality and describes it as personal development first, business development as a byproduct. And I'd say like, meaning before money. So as long as you figure out your purpose or meaning first, then the money side might just be a natural byproduct of what you're doing. It might be for one of your purposes, but not others. So there are a lot of different ways to do it, but this seems to get the concept at least closer to the Japanese concept of Ikigai.
David Elikwu: Okay, that makes a lot of sense. So I guess maybe just to double tap on that, because obviously it sounds all well and good to say, oh, don't worry about the money, worry about that later. That can be a natural byproduct of finding yourself and all of the great things. But I think that's something a concept that a lot of people might struggle with or find tough. It is very natural that, that is the part people will find tough. People still have to eat every day, this is what people will be thinking, you know, I still have to feed my family. I still have to do all of these things. How do we create the intentional separation from the day-to-day churn of, okay, these are certain things I just have to do in order to continue living. But if you continue to do things the way you've always done things, then you're not ever gonna be able to separate yourself and put yourself onto a new track. So how do you create that mental and emotional distance that allows you to kind of transplant yourself into this new place?
Kyle Kowalski: That's probably along the lines of one of the questions that I get most frequently because you have a lot of people, obviously, who want to go down the entrepreneurial path or solopreneur path. But it usually comes down to money. It's like how do I make sure that I have enough money to survive? And whether they're supporting themselves or a spouse or partner or a family even they wanna make sure that they're not gonna run outta money, right? So you have that piece. The other piece is you know, some people might go through this process of figuring out purpose and then they might realize that they just don't want to, it is either not a natural thing or they don't wanna be an entrepreneur, or they don't even want to monetize what their purpose at all. And in that case, they just want to say, work is work and purposeful stuff is over here. And so they actually intentionally create a division in terms of, I know I need to support myself. It's not gonna be through what I find most purposeful in life. But I'm okay with that and I have intentionally created a life where that separation is actually an intentional thing.
Of course once you go through the process, you might say, oh, my purpose is this, and however, my career is that. And so what I want to do is I actually wanna find a new job title or position or company within the same career or in a different career that is more purposeful for what I just figured out about myself in terms of what I feel like my purpose is. So you can change jobs, you can change careers but you continue working and that's how you primarily make your money.
Another one is called job crafting, which is probably maybe the lowest friction way to start incorporating this into someone's life, which is you go through the process, you figure out purpose, and then you actually stay at your current company and your current role, but you start figuring out ways to job craft your role to be more purposeful to what you feel like your purpose is. So that one's called job crafting, but like I said, there are a million different ways to kind of make this work. And it doesn't necessarily involve following an entrepreneurial path. I think what I figured out for myself was that I was an entrepreneur at heart that found myself trapped in a marketing career 10 years later, after doing it. And that wake up call was finally, you know, the trigger that I needed to pursue something entrepreneurial. But of course, that's not gonna apply to everybody. So I think there are ways to job craft your career to make it more purposeful for you. And then for those that do wanna make the leap into something entrepreneurial, I have something that I just call Entrepreneurial Math.
This is the benefit of just simple math in terms of finances and expenses and things like that where the less money that you need to live. In terms of your annual expenses, then the less money that you need to make to cover them, and the less money you need to make to cover your annual expenses, then the higher the likelihood that you can do whatever you want as an entrepreneur and make it right because you have less money that you need to make. If someone over here needs to make, you know, $150,000 a year to support their lifestyle, versus this person only needs 15 grand a year to support their lifestyle, well then that person's gonna have a higher likelihood of making it as an entrepreneur because they just have, it's just simple math. So I just call that Entrepreneurial Math in terms of, how I make it work. But I wanted to escape my marketing career so much that I was willing to take my lifestyle, if it required it. I was willing to take my lifestyle down to zero, you know, as close to zero expenses as possible. Because I had been influenced by that intentional living movement. I had discovered the fire movement. So financial independence retire early. I saw what people were, again, this was just something that I was like, I had no idea. People were intentionally trying to spend as little money as possible per year. And what some of those people in that community are doing are, it's just fascinating and amazing.
Like you've got Jacob Lund Fisker from Early Retirement Extreme, who lives on $7,000 a year, and that includes everything, all taxes, insurance every expense you can think of is $7,000 a year total. Whereas I think the average house, I think they call it like a, the average household unit, like the Bureau of labor and Statistics does this every year. The average household unit spends closer to like $70,000 a year in the US I think. So he's spending a 10th of what the average household spends. But you've got other people in the fire community who are spending $25,000 to $40,000 a year. And that's maybe with a family and kids also. So total household expenses are $25,000 to $40,000 a year.
And it's just one of those things where once you start my wife and I did this a couple years ago where we're like, okay, we're gonna get intentional about our expenses. We're gonna look at where every dollar went for an entire year and see where we can make some cuts and just get some clarity and awareness of things that maybe were unconscious before.
And sure enough, year over year, we cut our expenses, 30%, our total household annual expenses, 30%. And Vicki Robin, who is the co-author of Your Money or Your Life, says that it's very common that once someone starts basically making this an intentional process, it's very common that you see a reduction in annual expenses of 20% to 25% year over year. And so we're kind of a case study for Vicki Robin, I guess in terms of, yeah, like you can make some very significant cuts, which then obviously free up your time and energy and even money if you want to spend it differently. It frees you up to look at life differently.
David Elikwu: Yeah, it's a really interesting point, this idea of just reconsidering your defaults. And I guess it applies equally to money as it does to time, as it does to a few other things where it's only once you reconsider. So for example, just like we discussed, a lot of people have fears around money. What if I don't have enough? What if I can't pay my bills? What if I can't afford to have children, et cetera. But a lot of those fears are wrapped up in the underlying assumptions of what they need in order to be happy or what they need in order to live a comfortable life. And actually, it's only when you start in thinking intentionally about what do I actually need and what do I actually need to spend money on that you can actually start to untangle yourself from some of those assumptions. And the same goes for your clothes and your items, right? And this comes to the minimalism movement, where it's like, okay, the default assumption is everyone has a drawer in their kitchen, which is just full of a random assortment of things, and no one knows what these things are. And I think in, there's a great book called Subtract. One of the facts I came across in that book is that the average, well, American household, but you can extrapolate it to most of Europe, I'm sure the average American household has 250,000 items, like just counting all the tiny little random knickknacks lying around your house.
And you know, as I look around, I'm looking around at this room here, and that's absolutely true. We absolutely all have tons and tons of stuff that do you actually need it. There's a part of you that assumes that, of course you must have this backup thing or this extra thing. But actually, you know, once you actually start, like you say, asking the questions, trying to detangle yourself from some of these assumptions, you say, do I really need this extra thing? And I think you sold your house, the house you used to have, like a big house. I'm not sure if you sold the car as well. But, you know, there is this process and it's, interesting to ask the extent to which you need to become zealous about these things. But once you realize actually, I might not need this thing I've assumed I've had. You can easily give it away.
And maybe the last thing I'll add to that in my little ramble here is it also connects, again, going back to something we talked about at the beginning of the conversation, but I just find it interesting, this concept of slow living and what it made me think about as you were talking about it was.
Slow living presumes that you are having to make it distinct from some concept of fast living being the default. And I was talking to someone on, in another podcast episode recently about just the idea that when Colonialists came to Africa, they come to some of these countries and they see people lying around and they're like, ah, these Africans are so lazy. And actually part of what they just didn't understand is they had a very different conceptualization of time than some of these people that they were visiting did. And so if you look at in Swahili, at least in pre-colonial times, you look at the concepts that some of these people had of time and they talk about Sisa and Zamani I think, are the two concepts. And essentially they don't really map to like, past, present, future, the way that we think about it, there is Sisa, which is kind of somewhere between what's happening right now and what has just happened and what is about to happen. It's this like sphere of the time that's within touching distance. And then there's the Zamani which is the time that's not within touching distance, the time that is further away. And that could be the past, it could be the future. And so when they are thinking about how to plan their days, how to spend their time, they're like, okay, right now is the time you plant the crops and you do this. And then later is the time that you harvest the crops and you do that. And in between, you know, there's no need to fill that time with anything else. There's just the time that you need to deal with right now. And All the time is centered around the activities that they necessitate. And it's just very interesting when you have this industrialized nation that comes across these people and where they're coming from. Everything about time is regimented. It's 12 o'clock, you are supposed to meet someone, that person's not there. The world has fallen apart. And so, so much of these things that underlie our preconceptions just shape the way that we view the world. And I guess it's a following question from what I was just asking, but it's really about how we start cultivating this, this slow mindset and how we unwrap ourselves from a lot of these assumptions that we just carry with us just by virtue of being where we are.
Kyle Kowalski: Yeah. And that's, that's a great point in terms of relationship to time because actually just recently re-watched a TED talk about human language and how it impacts the other language that we're, not that we're born with, but that we're primarily wired with first in terms of our conditioning and socialization, how that impacts the way that we think throughout life. And I'm sure it has a direct relationship too, in terms of our relationship with time, how we think about time. I know in the TED Talk she covers well, first of all, there are over 7,000 languages, human languages, which is fascinating to think about. Most people would never guess that there's 7,000. And they all have differences in terms of how we think to a certain degree. It's a great Ted talk and she talks about how your language makes you think in terms of even like direction, like directionality, like northeast, south, west, and all of that. And in terms of, I'm sure that directly relates to time, right? So we're back to the time and space concept of, you know, your language, which you didn't choose, your primary language, how that impacts the way that you're thinking in terms of your relationship with time. But for me, I mean, the way that I came across slow living, like I said, was I was a certified busy aholic at work in my career.
And so one of the first things that I did after going full-time on sloww was a deep dive on busyness. So same with asking, you know, why we have a 40 hour work week or why do we take an hour lunch? You start to pick apart and question those little things of, well, why are we so busy? And then that gets you into some of the realizations and research in terms of busyness as a status symbol. And it gets you into other things like the idea of bullshit jobs. And it gets you into the idea of performative busyness and it gets you into good busyness versus bad busyness. So it gets you into all these like additional concepts, but you start to realize what led to this idea really now of the glorification of busy and being able to say, I'm so busy as a badge of honor. And so that was a really big Aha! Moment in terms of realizing why we feel so busy today and are we actually busier than we were in the past or, you know, past generations of people. Were they less busy or is it just different kinds of busyness today? But they were just as busy. So I actually have a three part, well, actually it probably goes onto a four or five part post series all about busyness which pairs nicely with the post series on slow living in terms of a, kind of an antidote to the busy. So if you are someone who is super busy, I definitely know what you feel like and you can downshift into something that is, when people hear slow living there are a few myths that they immediately think about when one of them is, well, first of all, probably one of the big ones is the just, the general aesthetic of slow living. If you search hashtag slow living on Instagram, you're gonna get, you know, all these highly curated interior design spaces with neutral tones and muted colors and, perfectly placed photography and all that type of stuff, which isn't obviously not slow living at all.
I guess it could be considered slow living as an aesthetic, but that's completely different than what I'm talking about in terms of slow living and your relationship with your time.
The other one is that slow living means anti-technology. I mean, we wouldn't be doing this right now, you know, if that were the case. Another one, a big one obviously is just the nature of the word slow, right? Slow usually has a negative connotation to it. Everyone wants bigger, faster, better, stronger today, but slow is not the opposite of that in terms of like slow motion or doing everything as slowly as possible or even doing as little as possible. Like, it doesn't have anything to do with any of that. So in terms of like synonyms for slow living, it's almost like, mindfulness and pace and space and consciousness and intentionality and purpose and depth. There's a book called Essentialism by Greg McKeown which I read early on, which is great. It's kind of this idea of less but better. You're figuring out the things that you want to give up so you can go big on these other things, right? So it's not about doing as little as possible. It's not about going in slow motion. It's not about having a busy life, but it is about having a full life. And there's a big difference between a busy life and a full life. Who wouldn't want? No one wants a busy life, but everybody wants a full life where you feel like, at the end of every day you feel like it was purposeful and meaningful, and you feel fulfilled and you feel like you're giving exactly who you are to the world or a cause beyond yourself.
So everybody wants that and that's a key part of slow living in terms of giving you the space and relationship with time to be able to go deep on those things.
David Elikwu: Sure. I just wanted to add, so first of all, the book that I, the author whose book I mentioned earlier, subtract is written by Leidy Klotz and then Essentialism I loved and a great companion to that book is the One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. So I just wanted to add that there for anyone who wants to go and read those books. They're all really good books and I just love this idea of yeah, really being intentional about not just how you use your time, cuz I think that is cliche in some sense. Or at least, people talk about, oh, what's the best thing to spend your time on? But really having priority in your time, I think is probably the underrated part. And as much as people do sometimes think about it, they probably still don't think about it enough and that there's a dualism there. One part of it is to what extent should you prioritize certain things over other things in your life. There's the famous analogy of the teacher walks into the class and he has the big rocks and the medium size pebbles, and then the grains of sand. And he says, ah, why don't you fit all of these things into the jar? If you put the big rocks first, and then you try and put the pebbles in and the sand in, you know, there's a certain formula where it doesn't work. But actually if you do it the opposite way, it does work, ah, it's fantastic.
And then there was a really good book called 4,000 Weeks by Oliver Burkeman, and he challenges this idea and he says, well, actually, you know, who says you have to put that formula only works when you have the jar that actually fits all of the pebbles. Like you have to have intentionally planned to have the right size, number of rocks, the right number of medium rocks and the right number of sand. But in our realities, You can have a million rocks, right? You could have any number of big rocks. How do you actually choose which things to hold, which things to put in your jar, which things to make space for. And I think then the other side of it is just following on from that, this idea that you don't actually need to put all of the rocks in your jar.
And part of this idea of prioritization is also deciding that maybe some things, it's not just that you should elevate certain things that are more important than some of the other things, but actually maybe what if you didn't have some of the other things at all? And what if you just completely remove them. And I think that is the other part where people find it hard to square the circle where very often we're just trying to think of, okay, the idea of the better life is a way in which I still do everything that I want to do, and I just find a slightly different way of organizing it. And I just find a slightly better way of fitting it all in. So I can still have everything that I want, but it just makes me feel better and I'm less anxious and I'm less worried. And actually, maybe part of the answer is going back to what we said about like reconsidering your preconceptions. Like what are the assumptions that you're making about what life has to be shaped like? And just going back to the concept of essentialism, like it can be less but better. So it doesn't have to just be less, like you can actually improve things by taking things away.
Kyle Kowalski: Yeah. And I mean that pairs perfectly with the concept of minimalism for your stuff too, which is obviously often misconstrued as just extreme nothingness and you're subtracting your life to zero and there's no purpose to it or whatever else. But the whole point is if you look at Joshua Becker from becoming a minimalist or any of the other big players in the space, it's all about subtracting the things that you have figured out aren't those priorities, so that you can go big on what matters most to you.
And in essentialism, Greg McKeown actually he has a great quote about this, that I reference all the time about trade-offs. The reality is that life is a matter of trade offs and sure there are some things that are gonna be mutually reinforcing or whatever, but in a lot of cases you do have to make trade-offs, which means doing one thing at the expense of another thing, you're picking and choosing something over something else. But what he says is that essentialist don't deny the reality of trade-offs. They embrace it and use it as a way to figure out what is that thing that they want to go big on. This kind of goes back to what we were talking about earlier in terms of what are the things that you can't not do.
And kind of thinking through all of your priorities and passions and possible purposes that way to try to figure out what are those few big things in terms of, you know, what are the big rocks that need to be taken care of. There's a concept called the the four burners theory. And it kind of comes down to thinking through all the different life roles that you have. So you might be a parent, you might have this purpose over here, this purpose over here. You might also have a career that's separate from your purpose. You have all these different life roles. You might be a son or a daughter or a brother or a sister. So you have all these different life roles in life and the idea is that the burners don't have to be the same degree of heat at any given time. So maybe you've got one burner on high over here for a little bit, and then down here it's on low or even off. And then you can have different seasons of life where maybe the burners change, and this one's hot now and that one's cold. And so you're kind of rotating through different life roles and trying to figure things out that way. So, that's an interesting concept to think about too, just in terms of. Again, just get to know yourself on a deeper level and ask these questions and the Five Why's is just a great way to start digging into that, to figure out who you are and why you do what you do.
David Elikwu: How rigidly do you prioritize some of your needs and wants in life? The analog to that question is, do you have any rules for your life? And I was thinking of rules in the context that Ramit Sethi has a really good book actually called, I Will Teach You to Be Rich. As corny as the name might sound, it sounds like, one of those books from that era where everyone's trying to sell you something and you know, there's a lot of snake oil salesmen that write those books with those titles. But actually, funnily enough, so I didn't read it until very recently. I spent all this time, I worked in law in finance and banking. I did a lot of this stuff and you spend all this time learning all these things. And actually that book is probably the neatest summary of some of the most important things that if someone was just to ask, what do I need to know about money? It's actually a really good book, I think, in my personal opinion, that you could give to people at least just to understand a lot of the basics, or at least the very few things that are the most important, instead of wasting all your time learning all these other things.
But he talks about this idea of just having money rules. And his point is that, a lot of people spend so much time worrying about whether or not they should have the $3 cup of coffee and should I buy this tiny little thing? You have millionaires that are racking their brains over the price of grapes at the store. Oh my gosh, I should drive all the way to the other side of town to save 20 cents on some grapes when actually, you know, what he's saying is that you should spend most of your time on the $10,000 parts, which are like finding the right partner, choosing the right partner, choosing the right job. Some of these big things that have a much bigger impact on your overall life than the $3 cup of coffee, because if you marry the right partner, that's gonna have drastic impacts to all these other areas of your life and how you spend your money, et cetera. And so he has this series of money rules, like one of the rules that I stole was just never questioning the price of a book. If you find a book that you want to buy, you just buy it. I have a slightly different version of that. I kind of, I do have a price cap. But yeah, if it's below the price cap depending on the type of book, then I just buy it immediately and I never think about it again.
But so some of those things are useful for me and help me to prioritize, like what things should I really be scrutinizing and what things should I really be spending my mental time and energy on? I wondered if you have any rules for yourself.
Kyle Kowalski: That's a, that's a great question. Since we're on the, the topic of money real quick, I guess I'll mention just a couple insights that I've had recently about money. One of them comes from Daniel Kahneman, actually, I think I got this from Paul Millerd's Pathless Path book. But Daniel Kahneman says something along the lines of your satisfaction with your income at age 18 is directly correlated to your satisfaction with income as an adult.
Which is interesting to think about in terms of, again, this goes back to questioning, if you're someone who cares a lot about money and extrinsic motivations and things like that, asking why do I care so much about money? Where did my desire for money come from in the first place? How did I get conditioned that way? Another one that obviously pairs nicely with that is the Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel. The entire first chapter is about how people come from different upbringings that learn different lessons about money from different parents and different time periods and different geographic locations. But a lot of what you learn as a child and the economic period in which you were born and as a young adult, that those money views and your relationship with money is what carries through your adulthood. So this kind of all goes back hand in hand with what we've been talking about the whole time in terms of, Childhood isn't something that you just like leave behind when you're an adult and it's like, oh, I'm an adult now. Childhood was back then and it doesn't influence me anymore. So many things about how we do what we do and why we do what we do are directly related to how we were wired as a child or how we were nurtured.
But in terms of rules, that's a good question. And I'm not sure that I have any specifically that I could articulate. I guess my rules just generally just thinking out loud that I follow now are kind of like question everything and be open to anything. If reality is what it is, then it can't be wrong, right? So it's kind of like this idea of being open to whatever is, and the way that I kind of look at life now is that I seem to see very clearly now, I, I wouldn't have been able to say this when I first got started, but it seems now that life is just unfolding and happening. And so even dots that I've connected looking back and reflecting on the last eight years and things like that, or even childhood to go deeper. Those are dots that you can only connect looking back, but you have no idea how those dots are going to influence the future. This gets a little bit into a side tangent, but my entry level knowledge of that, like determinism and deterministic systems and things like that, is that, first of all, determinism is probably gonna be proven false at some point. It seems like, and even deterministic systems are unpredictable after a certain amount of time. Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but that's my entry level understanding. So it's like, even with all these influential factors and consequences and implications of everything that's happened up in your life, up to this exact moment of listening to this podcast we have no idea what's going to happen, you know, in a day or 10 days, or a year or 10 years from now. And that's kind of an amazing, fascinating thing, and it's a humbling kind of appreciation and gratitude for life of you're watching it unfold, just like everybody else's and just like life is.
So I've kind of started to embrace more of that kind of go with the flow, watch life unfold, listen to life more approach versus trying to control or dictate things a certain way or have your wants or needs. Try to control or shape the world more. This kind of gets into like the concept of Wu Wei and the Tao Te Ching and, things like that. I have that top of mind because I just did a little bit of a dive into Alan Watts lately. But yeah, it's like almost following your curiosity and your energy is naturally leading you in certain directions. And so kind of being able to pay more attention to that, have more awareness of that. When you have awareness of something, it changes your relationship with that something so before something that was totally unconscious to you is now conscious. And that's kind of an interesting process to go through too. But so I guess in terms of rules, I'm just, I'm trying to be open and I guess any rule that I created today, I would probably say is outdated. you know, When we have round two of this podcast in a year or two. But yeah just being open to life, I guess..
David Elikwu: Sure. You've just been writing about this idea of adult learning. The question I wanted to ask is like, how do you cultivate this spirit of adult learning? Because it's really interesting to me how, I love the excerpt you just gave from Daniel Kahneman. I think it's, is it from Thinking Fast and Slow? I've definitely read it in one of his books where he talks about this idea that like you say, by the time you are 18, the money habits that you have then are the money habits that you have as an adult. There's another flavor of that, where it might actually be from the same book, but the music that you listen to from when you're 15 is pretty much the music that you listen to as an adult. Like people don't actually develop much musically past their teenage years. That's the music you're nostalgic about. That's the music that you always think of as, oh my gosh, these are your tunes right? And that's the music that people continue to listen to as adults. And they never really get into, well, most people never really get into music past that, which is another really interesting part.
And I think the other part of it that I would add this recurring concept that so much of the things that you think about and the things that you do when you're young, I mean, I guess it kind of links to the end of history effect, right? Where there was this study, you give people the choice of how much would you pay for a concert ticket to go and watch your favorite artist now? And everyone says, oh yeah, I pay loads of money. And then you say, how much would you pay to go and watch the artist that you used to like five years ago or x number of years ago? And the number changes, right? And we have this strange idea that the person that will be a few years from now in the future will be very similar to who we are right now. But actually in reality, the person who we end up being 3, 5, 7 years from now can be a completely different person. In the same way that we look back and we think, oh, how silly was I that I used to cry about this incident or this thing that at the time seemed life-changing and this event that seemed to make a huge difference to my life. Now that I look back, oh, you know, it wasn't the end of the world. I survived. Everything was fine. And so I guess it's this concept of time again where there's a lot of things that when you are looking forward, it seems one way when you look back, it seems another way. And I think that just relates quite neatly to, oh, there's another statistic. I think once you pass high school, most people never open a book again. That's the end of reading for the vast majority of adults. Not vast majority, but I think at least over 30 something percent of people, that's the last time they'll have touched a book is when they were ordered to read one in high school.
And so, yeah, I think that's the really interesting question that then comes up is like, how do you cultivate this spirit of wanting to learn and wanting to grow more as an adult?
Kyle Kowalski: Yeah, that's a, that's another great question. You have a, you've had a ton of great questions today. Really appreciate it. And I was, I was one of those non-readers, right? I mean, people may be surprised to hear this, but reading was my worst subject in school. Growing up like in grade school, I just read really slowly. Which now I call, oh, I wasn't actually why I am a slow reader, but I was actually more of a thorough reader. So I'd never finished time tests or exams on time and reading comprehension, I would never be able to finish on time and things like that. So that was always a perceived weakness that I had about myself my whole life, basically.
And I wasn't even a reader in my adult life until, I guess I did read a few books, but again, during my marketing career, it was all marketing and human psychology related. So it was all like, how can I be better at my job so I can go get a better job and go make more money and blah, blah, blah. That whole, you know, endless cycle. So it really wasn't until my existential crisis and over the last eight years or so where my mind almost like turned on in a way, where all of the questioning led me down a path to just a ton of reading and researching and consuming information, and making an attempt to answer all of my questions. And of course, you're not gonna be able to answer all the questions if you ask why enough, you very quickly get to an unanswerable question about anything. But you do start to learn more about life, and you get a newfound appreciation and reverence and awe for life that you didn't have necessarily before.
But in terms of lifelong learning and adult learning and things like that, I would say just start with whatever you're most interested in, whatever that subject is, whatever, even if it's a hard skill or whatever it may be. And then I think Naval Ravikant talks about this too in terms of, Read what you love until you love to read. And so you start with those things that are very specific and unique to you, whatever those interests may be. And then that gives you the on-ramp to just broad learning in general. Because one thing connects to another, connects to another, connects to another and you start figuring out, like, I would've never told you five or 10 years ago that I would be learning about this subject or that subject or spirituality or biology. I'd be reading biology books for fun, or now I'm at the point for some of these things where I'm buying textbooks. So we talked about the price of books, but now it's like, oh, I always gotta spend like, you know, a couple hundred bucks on a textbook. Who would've thought I would be buying textbooks? As a adult. How many years out of college am I now? Like 15 years outta college or something? And would've never thought I'd be buying textbooks again.
But sure enough, what I've figured out is that the best ideas are found in books still. You know, someone might spend a year writing a book. Someone might spend their entire life writing a book. So books have this just condensed knowledge that I've found hard to find in other places. And you as a reader are just trying to extract all those key insights and nuggets from books and then connect the dots between books and between authors and writers and things like that.
And that's really what I've been trying to do over the last eight years is just kind of this interdisciplinary dot connection of, Hey, this seems like what this person said over here, and then you start connecting things cross subject where it's like, this thing that I'm reading about in a spirituality book, let's make it very real and practical. I'm reading Michael Singers The Surrender Experiment and Living Untethered right now. I also, a couple years ago, read his book The Untethered Soul, which was great. But the things that he's talking about from a spiritual perspective, I'm relating back to the book that I just read, which is a neuroscience book by David Eagleman called Livewired. And then I'm relating that back to the books that I read prior to that most recently, which are all these lifelong learning books about transformative learning and interdisciplinary studies and how that works on your level of your psychology. So I'm connecting like how your biology and your neurons and your brain work with how learning and memory works on your level of your psychology and how that works in terms of spirituality. So it's like, you know, you just jump around and everything seems to interconnect, but of course it all has to interconnect, right? Because it's all an interconnected systems of systems of systems. So if something doesn't make sense to you and doesn't fit into the system of learning that you have, then that's worth investigating because it's like, okay, something in my knowledge system is off that I need to correct for, or I'm just interpreting it the wrong way or like it's something just worth looking into deeper.
But it's all a fascinating process and everything ends up interconnecting.
David Elikwu: Awesome. Do you have any tips for people on how to become a better synthesizer and being good, like how to improve at connecting dots between disparate ideas?
Kyle Kowalski: Yeah. So I'm actually currently in the process of making a course on this. So I will be doing online videos with screen sharing of exactly how I do everything that I do. So how I pick books, how I filter books, how I prioritize books, how I read books, how I take notes how I create a book summary, how I create a synthesis of multiple books and things like that. So it'll, it'll be a deep dive into every in and out of my exact personal process that I've created over the years.
But in terms of practical advice for today, this is one of those things where it is it's not a quantity versus quality game, it's a quality through quantity game. So the more you do it, the better you get at it. So, for instance, when I first got started slow, just recently crossed the 500th post on the site. But let's go back to like the first 50 posts. Those were all intentional living posts about like slow living books and simple living books and minimalism books and what I was learning and things I was experimenting with at the time. But those book summaries are not very good, to be honest, in comparison to what I'm doing today and partly is because even summarizing a book is a skill that you get better at over time. And back then I had less dots to connect, you know, in my mental model and my networked mind of how this relates to that and whatever, because I just hadn't read a lot by that point.
So it's one of those things where the more you do it, the better you get at it. So the more you read, the better you'll get at picking books in the first place and prioritizing books the more you read, the better you'll get to be as a reader. So you'll start to learn when to read fast, when to read slowly, when to skip portions, when to skim, when to quit a book, even. So you start to learn all of those skills over time in terms of note taking. You'll start to learn you know, what's worth saving versus what's not. Same with books summarizing and synthesizing. It's one of those things where quality is a byproduct of quantity, and the more you do it, the better you'll be at it.
David Elikwu: Okay, awesome. Before I let you go, I wanted to ask a few questions about your solo entrepreneurship journey, and I guess maybe the second to last question that I'll ask connects to just what you were talking about now, which is how do you pick the projects that you work on? Because when you are a solopreneur, when you work for yourself, technically you could do anything, right? You could work on anything. This goes back to the idea of how many rocks you put in your jar and choosing the right texture of the rock to put in your jar as well. So how do you pick what to work on and decide what to spend the time digging into?
Kyle Kowalski: So I've learned that it's kind of an emergent process of, again, like the whole quality through quantity game. It's one of those things where the projects seem to emerge from whatever I'm going deep on at that time. So a couple years ago, for instance, I went deep into the subject of happiness and tried to figure out like, What is happiness? Happiness, it seems like is one of those things like health where, you know when you're unhappy, just like, you know when you're unhealthy or sick. But then, happiness now isn't a concept that I've thought about in years because I feel very happy and purposeful and fulfilled and meaningful.
But obviously during my career, especially the tail end of it. I would consider myself very unhappy. So I went deep into happiness and that led me down a path of synthesizing a hundred different perspectives on happiness, whether it's about money or relationships or psychology or purpose or spirituality. You name it, I put all of them together into an ebook, but I could have never set out saying, I wanna create an ebook on happiness, right? It was just something that was like an emergent project from the process that I was in. And same with the Ikigai e-book. It was like, oh, I wanna figure out purpose. I found this concept called Ikigai, and then a deep dive down Ikigai led me to a bunch of posts on the site about Ikigai. And then it's like, oh, I should turn these into an e-book. So it's kind of an emergent thing where the projects seem to bubble up themselves. And then in terms of prioritizing them, I really try to take advantage of intrinsic motivation that is alive at that moment.
So last year for instance, I went deep into mental models and cognitive biases and fallacies and all of that, and did an exhaustive search on like five or 600 cognitive concepts. And I was like, how am I gonna teach myself all of these? How am I gonna like share these with others? This is gonna be really overwhelming.
And so that turned into a daily email, where I email one or two new cognitive concepts in just a very short like little snippet of what that concept is. And then it gives links to be able to dive deeper if you're interested in one of those. But again, that kind of just started with, oh, I read this book on, I think the books that I read were like General Thinking Concepts by Shane Parrish at Farnam Street, and Super Thinking by Weinberg and McCann and The Art of Thinking Clearly by, I think Rolf Dobelli. So I started just reading those books and then it's like, oh, now I'm gonna , you know, I could have never set out saying, I wanna create a daily email of new mental concept today. So it's this idea of exploring what you're interested in, and then as a natural byproduct a project might emerge out of that, and then tackling it. If it's something does emerge coming out of that, then tackling it while it's most alive for you, because I've noticed that it's tough to go back and backtrack once you have kind of moved beyond something. A lot of people, and this kind of goes back, there are just a lot of misconceptions like, passion is a dirty word these days and people say like, don't follow your motivation. They say like, just show up, grid it out, discipline every day, no matter how you're feeling, no matter how your energy is or whatever. But for me, I've found that my best work comes when that specific project or question is most alive.
So like if you told me today, go back and today write that Ikigai ebook or whatever, it'd be like, well that's not a concept that's super alive for me anymore because I already exhausted that in the past. That doesn't mean that I have moved beyond it, right? Because everything transcends and includes what was prior. Like I still use that as my primary model for purpose. And I haven't left any of the intentional living stuff behind, but it's almost like tackling the projects that are most alive for you and therefore most motivating for you, and therefore most energy giving to you at the time when they are most alive for you.
David Elikwu: Okay, a natural following question just on that is also about how you structure your time, particularly maybe like what that transition was like moving from. Okay, you go to work, time is very structured. Everyone tells you this is when you eat, this is when you work, this is when you go home, this is when you arrive, everything is laid out for you. And then when you go on a solopreneurship journey or any entrepreneurship journey, you're trying to start a business, you're trying to do something else, time is completely unstructured, it's up to you. And some people try and replicate the workday that they were used to.
And I think particularly during the pandemic, lots of people found it hard to, connect with this idea of working remotely. And I saw advice in the newspaper about, okay, leave your house and walk, go around the block and pretend you have a commute and come back and then sit down at your desk and start your day. And so there's also this idea that lots of people can find it hard to move from like a super structured time and a super structured framework to being unstructured. And just like you were talking about the different times at which you might connect or resonate more with different ideas, how do you structure the way in which you work and the way in which you use your time?
Kyle Kowalski: Yeah. So I guess in one sense, I might be a little bit different from other entrepreneurs or solopreneurs because my wife still works a normal nine to five job. And so in order to maximize our time together in the evenings and dinner and hang out at night and stuff, I still adopt the, you know, general eight to five or nine to five hours in a little bit more flexible. But in theory, that's kind of like a time block for any of my slow work that I do. I'm like you in the sense that I've gotta have it scheduled on the calendar or it's not happening in terms of what I'm working on. So I do use time blocking if there's any productivity hack that I can recommend, it's Time Blocking. Other people call it Time Boxing or Time Chunking. But I just use Google Calendar and make it simple. And literally any to-do list that you have, convert it into a time block on your calendar so that way you're making your, they say making your to-do list a to done list because it forces you to take your to-do list and prioritize it, first of all. And then it makes you think through how long a task is going to take. So then over time, you get better at like the planning fallacy and some of these other cognitive biases of thinking that you can knock something out in a much shorter period of time than it actually takes. You start to course correct through that feedback loop of figuring out, okay, last time I had to do this task, actually took me twice as long as I thought it was gonna take. So then you can time block on your calendar, the realistic amount of time that you now know that task is going to take. But in general, my day-to-day is pretty flexible in terms of like, I kind of have an idea of what projects I'm working on at the moment. I know I have to do a weekly newsletter each week. I shouldn't say have to, I get to, do a weekly newsletter each week. I usually have two or three books that I'm reading at any given time. And the reason for that is that if I'm not in the mood for one of them, I can jump to a different one. Or I might start with one and then realize, eh, I'm not really feeling this today. I'm gonna go back over to this one. So it gives you, instead of getting stuck on one book for months at a time, it gives you the ability to jump around and utilize your energy based on whatever you're feeling.
And then in terms of projects yeah, I usually just have big blocks of time blocked on my calendar. That's the biggest difference between a career, I would say. And solopreneurship so far is that during your career, and a lot of people, at least in marketing or maybe even the tech world at large, can relate to just meeting overload. I remember at one point I did an audit at my last job of how I was spending my weekly time. And I ran up by my boss, and I think I was working out of, of course, I was working way more than 40 hours a week, but I think 30 something hours out of the week were in like the typical eight to five range were spent in meetings. So if 30 hours a week are spent in meetings, then you only have, in theory, 10 hours left to do your actual work. And it just doesn't make any sense, so, I have had virtually no meetings, even calls or podcasts until recently over the last five years, as I've been doing this. I've really just been heads down in terms of asking all those questions, learning about life and myself and just kind of figuring it out along the way.
So, I definitely recommend time blocking though. And then, yeah, what you put in those blocks will just be dependent on, what's most alive for you at any given moment.
David Elikwu: I think the last question that I'll ask you is coming back a bit full circle to one of the first questions that I asked you. In many ways, it's gonna sound a bit like the same question, but it's a slightly different flavor of that question, which is essentially around this idea of there's a self-deception, right?
So we've talked about how important it is to ask the right questions and how asking yourself some of these questions can unlock so many other things. But then we've also talked about this idea of mimetic desires. And Luke Burgess writes about like shallow desires and deep desires and the shallow desires are accolades and wealth and some of the things that seem very easy to emulate and maybe deep desires are lasting ones that, people talk about, oh, you achieved some success, you have loads of rich people that achieved some success. And then they're like, oh, actually money didn't make me any happier. I just wanted to spend time with my family. And then if you're on the other side of that, people find that hard to believe. Cause if you don't have the money, it's hard to appreciate the family that you have and those things that you have.
The question is really just around like, how can we avoid deceiving ourselves in a sense? Because even when I think about the minimalism and a lot of these movements, right, they kind of become movements where in some sense a lot of them are quite mimetic, right? You see them on YouTube, you have people with the aesthetic backgrounds, you have, ah, the title is I've thrown away all my things. Or there has to be something catchy or memetic about it. Are you actually getting into it in the truest sense of it? If you are only getting into certain things because you see other people doing them, and there is some allure about doing certain things in a certain way, and particularly when you are a solopreneur and you've kind of removed yourself from, I guess, a very structured environment, it could be potentially easy to be like led astray.
So one of the things I've talked about recently is just, I think even during the pandemic, you saw a lot of people where almost every month of the year they were an expert on a different thing and whatever the topic of the day was, that was their new expertise. First, they're a crypto expert, then it's NFTs, then it's this, then it's that.
And it can be very easy to be blown about instead of focusing on maybe something that is deep and lasting and that can be whatever it means to you. So I'd just love to know how you cultivate that for yourself and maybe how you would recommend for other people. So that when they're asking these deep questions of themselves, they can make sure that they are asking like deep and lasting questions and they are able to focus on things that can actually stand the test of time.
Kyle Kowalski: Yeah. let's try to break this down to two different things. The first piece, I guess is How to not get sucked into a new meme without your intentional conscious approval of that meme? Let's say Daniel Schocken Berger has a concept called a memetic immune system or epistemic immune system. There's other concepts like this called like, psychological immunity or cognitive immunology and things like that. It's actually a subject I wanna do a deeper dive into eventually. But what's helped me the most is understanding that the frame that I now approach the world with, that I've found most helpful is psychological development. They're also called human development theories or vertical development theories and this frame, and it, it's kind of like choose your own flavor in terms of whether you wanna use like Ken Wilber or Maslow or Keegan, or Susanne Cook-Greuter, hers is my personal favorite just with Ego Development Theory because it just aligns with my life, my lived experience so closely. And I didn't find it until years into my journey. So it wasn't one of those things, like I found it and I was like, oh, here's a map. I'm gonna follow the map. You know, it wasn't like a self-fulfilling prophecy type of thing. But that gives you a new frame on just yourself and others in the world humanity at large, collective human development, if you will.
So I would say, look into those. I have a ton of summaries on the slow website about this subject, and I'm just gonna go deeper into it over time. But it's been the most beneficial frame or lens to take on the world for me because it just does a great job of explaining things in a way that you probably knew but didn't have the words to articulate until you, came across it. But one of the things that she talks about Sussane Cook-Greuter in this theory is that even your relationship with a meme, for instance, or an idea or your own desires you name it, your relationship with that is going to change as you vertically develop. So, for instance, she would call those things like any of your knowledge or skillsets or information in your mind, you could consider that like horizontal development. So you see horizontal development all the time. People are learning more, they're adding more content to their minds, you name it. That's all considered horizontal development but what's much rarer is vertical development, which means higher perspective taking, greater meaning making. You can almost think of the horizontal line as they call it, like translation, and then the vertical line as transformation.
So as you develop greater and greater, more holistic perspectives on yourself and the world, then you can take that horizontal knowledge and skills that you have and have a different relationship with them. And she even talks about like how you define the word truth and how you view reality and your lived experience. Like all of those things change as you vertically develop. So your relationship to a meme and your own desires and things like that are going to change. For instance, a lot of people, I've gone through this phase too, where, I didn't even have awareness of my desires, right? The reason probably why René Girard's memetic desire work resonates with so many people at large is because it makes you ask, oh yeah, how did I get my, well, it makes you first ask, well, what are my desires? And so you start to articulate, okay I'm intrinsically driven, or like in my case to make it real. I was driven by like a fear of disappointing my parents. I don't know where that came from, but, because they didn't say, you better not disappoint us or anything like that, but somehow I got this weird fear of disappointing my parents, which I think led to like, if you do the Enneagram work, this is why some of that can be beneficial. I'm either like a three or a five on Enneagram or whatever, but the fears are what's most interesting to me because it gave me words to articulate what I didn't realize before, which was my self-worth was directly attached to my work. And that is why I was never primarily motivated by money. That was always an extrinsic like byproduct for me. I was primarily motivated by, if I do really quality work, then I can feel worthy as a human and all that stuff, like titling and better jobs and better pay and money and all that stuff will come as a byproduct. But first and foremost for me it was do good work so you can be worthwhile as a person. But until you start to ask these questions about yourself, and some people maybe call the shadow work and things like that, until you start to ask, well, what are my desires? And how did I get my desires? And what are my fears? How did I get my fears? You start to get the words to articulate these things about yourself, and then that gives you a newfound perspective and relationship with those things that you didn't have before. Because before you were unconscious to them, right? You didn't have the words to articulate it. You weren't even aware of it. So you were just living it out without knowing that you were living it out. So once you are able to psychologically develop to a certain point, it allows you to have a newfound awareness and relationship with even your own mind and your thoughts and your thinking processes. So people would say your ego or your identity, it allows you to have a little bit more perspective on those things and therefore change your relationship with it.
David Elikwu: Awesome. wow, I feel like this has been, this has been so great for me. No, no, no.
Like this has been really great for me personally, but I'm sure so many people are gonna resonate with this and hopefully go down some rabbit holes of their own on Sloww.co and then going deep into your work. I think there's a few series, we'll put the links in the show notes that the people can go through and read.
But Kyle, this is awesome. Thanks so much for making the time.
Kyle Kowalski: Yeah. Thanks for having me, David. Let's do it again.
David Elikwu: Thank you so much for tuning in. Please do stay tuned for more. Don't forget to rate, review and subscribe. It really helps the podcast and follow me on Twitter feel free to shoot me any thoughts. See you next time.