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On September 1st, I was laid off from my job of two years. When I lose jobs, I see it as an opportunity and a blessing in disguise. Personally, I’ve never been wired to work for people, and my dream has always been to be my own boss. I’m also a realist and realize that this is not only a very difficult thing to achieve, but then there are all sorts of other challenges such as healthcare and all that other stuff that America makes difficult.
Also, I’m the father of a 12-year-old son, so aside from my sobriety, my top priority is to make sure that this kid has everything he needs. And this is much different than everything he wants. As a father, I need to make sure that he has a stable life that includes a roof over his head, food on the table, healthcare, an education, and all that good stuff.
So, for those of us who are parents who also want to accomplish our goals that are difficult to achieve, we must find a balance between the two.
Fortunately, two things I have going for me is an insane work ethic and persistence. Unfortunately, in order to avoid being annoying and/or a creeper, these waters can be difficult to navigate. And although they’re difficult to navigate, it must be a priority because as much as I hate it, we survive off of our reputation.
Well, when I’m someone who works hard and is persistent, I’ve found that whether someone perceives you as a hard worker or annoying is one of my biggest challenges. I want to succeed on my own while also providing for my son, and I’m sure there are others who have this challenge, so I thought I’d share my experience and thoughts based on my experience.
The Need for Work Ethic
For anyone who has followed my writing, YouTube videos, or podcast, you have a good idea of my views. In my perfect world, everyone would have true equality of opportunity. In this world, when we do the John Rawls veil of ignorance thought experiment, it doesn’t matter what situation you’re born into because you’ll have a fighting chance no matter what.
But even though this is what I hope for as an ideal, again, I’m a realist. In this capitalist society we live in that glorifies hard work and individualism, we have to work our asses off.
Unless things change, I’ll go to my grave screaming that meritocracy is a myth. And to be clear, this next part isn’t me whining, I’ve learned to accept the world we live in. But I’m going to use my personal experience as an example that hard work doesn’t equal success.
I’ve made over 1,500 YouTube videos and am nowhere near a full-time living. This is more work than most of the YouTubers making more money than you can imagine. Many of these wealthy YouTubers also work a fraction as often as most creators.
The podcast launched in May, and I’m almost at 80 episodes. The podcast is doing extremely well for how new it is, but it’s not doing nearly as well compared to others.
Between the podcast, Substack, and YouTube, I create and publish content 7 days a week. For that much work, the meritocratic system would mean I’d be well off.
Again, this isn’t meant to be a whiner, it’s to make a point. If I were to remove myself out of the equation, I hope you realize that if two people work equally as hard, they can have completely different outcomes. Whether it’s working their way up the corporate ladder after starting at McDonald’s or they’re some sort of creator, someone is going to benefit from luck.
For a great conversation about this, check out my podcast episode with economist and author Robert Frank about his book Success and Luck.
Due to the fact that I accept things as they are, I (as well as many others) try to make up for the bullshit idea of a meritocracy by working harder than the average person. The most valuable lesson I’ve learned about success and luck is that although there’s a lot out of your control, you play the game by being persistent and taking more shots than anyone else.
One of my favorite books is The Luck Factor: The Scientific Study of the Lucky Mind by Richard Wiseman. Although we have no control over luck, we can adopt a mindset that can (hopefully) make luck work in our favor. When I taught this to my son, I told him about a study from Wiseman’s book.
In this study, they gave people an impossible puzzle. Before the study, they had the participants fill out a questionnaire to see if they perceived themselves as lucky or unlucky. Although the puzzle was impossible, they found those who perceived themselves as lucky didn’t give up as easily and just tried to solve the puzzle for a longer period of time on average.
So, since the meritocracy is nonsense, you better not give up so easily, but you have to make sure you’re not an annoying creeper.
Persistence and Success
One of the difficult decisions I made this year that took me way too long to make was to pretty much abandon the brand I built on YouTube to start this podcast. I built a very specific audience on YouTube of over 80,000 subscribers and decided that I wanted to do this podcast and build a new audience of people who love to read, learn, and have conversations.
There’s a common saying for creators, which is, “We all start at 0 followers.” This is exactly what I was doing with the podcast. Nobody in this world knew who I was. I wanted to get authors I love on my podcast to chat with them about the topics of their books. Being a nobody, I had to rely on my work ethic and persistence to get guests on the podcast, but I was worried.
Luckily, even though we’re evolutionarily wired to care what people think about us, I’ve trained myself to let it go as much as possible. I’ve also learned how to deal with rejection, so if an author says no, I respect it and move on.
I’ve had massive authors on my podcast or are upcoming guests on the podcast. I get people who are new creators to ask how I do it, and I tell them that I work hard and am persistent. But I worry because although many people see these as great qualities, others don’t see it the same way.
But before I tell you about those who may perceive this as annoying or creepy, I’ll tell you some success stories.
If you don’t know who Susannah Cahalan is, she’s a journalist, but she gained fame from her memoir Brain on Fire. This book became a bestseller because of her extraordinary story of being misdiagnosed with having some form of psychosis, but it was actually an extremely rare brain disorder. Recently, her story was turned into a movie with an insanely good cast. Chloë Grace Moretz plays Susannah, and the film also stars Tyler Perry, Carrie-Anne Moss, Thomas Mann, Jenny Slate, and more.
My girlfriend introduced me to Susannah’s story, but she hooked me with her new book The Great Pretender, which is about the famous Rosenhan study “On Being Sane in Insane Places.” This study is probably one of my favorite pieces of psychological research, and Cahalan was drawn to it because she now speaks and advocates about the misdiagnosis of mental illness. Being the amazing investigative journalist she is, she killed it with this book and exposes some issues with the stories about the study as well as some private aspects of Rosenhan.
As you can tell, Susannah is kind of a big deal. Since The Great Pretender is one of my favorite books, I thought I’d reach out. She’s not really active on social media, so I ended up finding her email and reached out. She didn’t reply, and I could have given up and just taken it as a silent “no”, but I didn’t. I gave it some time and followed up one or two more times.
Recently, she replied apologizing because my email went to her spam folder, and she said she’d love to be a guest. She let me know she’s currently busy, but we’re touching base soon to set something up.
If you’re even somewhat interested in the trans debates, you’ve heard about Carole Hooven and her new book T: The Story of Testosterone, the Hormone that Dominates and Divides Us. As a humble professor of evolutionary biology at Harvard, Carole probably isn’t used to the limelight, but her book blew up instantly. Since it’s launched, she’s been on some of the biggest podcasts in the world such as Honestly with Bari Weiss and The Joe Rogan Experience. Not only that, but she’s been interviewed for some of the biggest news outlets in the world to discuss trans issues.
Although I’m pro-trans, I’m all for having nuanced conversations around the debates around the subject such as trans athletes. I know nuance rather than outrage can get my liberal card revoked, but I like to live dangerously, so I grabbed her book. I loved it, so I thought it’d be cool to have her on the podcast.
Well, being a nobody, why the hell would Carole come on my podcast? She’s a Harvard professor being interviewed by some of the biggest names on the planet, so why would she waste her time with me?
As you’ve probably guessed, I asked anyways. I follow her on Twitter, so I did what I usually do, which is reply to a tweet inviting her on. Since I know that people with a ton of followers get a million notifications, I didn’t get butt hurt when she didn’t reply, I just did it a few more times.
Like Susannah, there was a chance Carole was giving me a silent “no”, but after multiple tries, she DMed me so we could set something up because she’s awesome.
I emailed, and since she’s a busy woman, it’s been difficult to schedule something. I’ve connected with her and her publicist, and it’s been a challenge, and sometimes I have to follow up if I don’t hear back.
I could have easily assumed the worse and that Carole just gave me her email to shut me up on Twitter and now she was just blowing me off. But Carole seemed like a cool person, so I didn’t think this was the case, and I continued to follow up.
After a couple months of email tag, Carole asked if we could hop on a call. I gave her my number, and she took the time to call me. The first thing she did was apologize for her hectic schedule and she wanted to schedule a time to chat right then and there. She apologized multiple times, and I told her I get it and not to worry about it. Now, we have a time set up for later this month to chat.
When I told my girlfriend this story, she was like, “Whoa. She seems like a really good person.” And I agreed.
I’ll keep this one short, but it’s similar to my story with Carole.
Michael Shermer is one of my favorite authors, and I’ve read almost all his books and have taken many of his audio courses. He’s taught me about skepticism, critical thinking, and how to think like a scientist. In a world of conspiracy theories and whacky beliefs, I find his work extremely important.
Like the others, Shermer is a very busy guy. He writes, hosts his own podcast, runs Skeptic Magazine, speaks, and does so much more. So, when I tweeted to him that I wanted him on the podcast, it didn’t bother me that he didn’t answer. I honestly must’ve done this to him a dozen times to break through the noise.
I really wanted Shermer on so I tried every strategy. I tweeted complimenting his work to see if an ego fluff would work, I tried humor because making people laugh is always a good strategy, and I tried more. After all these tries, he DMs me out of nowhere and is like “Let’s do it.” And next thing you knew, we’re talking via email, and he says, “Let’s do it tomorrow.”
Michael Shermer, as big as he is, ended up being one of my first guests and it was amazing. If you haven’t listened to the episode, you need to by clicking here.
Now, don’t these stories just give you a warm and fuzzy feeling? A little no-name like my being persistent and these people who could have easily turned me down ended up agreeing to be guests is amazing, right? And these are only some of the heart-warming stories. I have a ton of them. And I truly appreciate all the guests who have come on because I know how valuable their time can be.
But now, let’s talk about the beauty of perception and how it can make you come off as an annoying creeper.
The Eye of the Beholder
I think perception is one of the most interesting aspects of life. It alters our personal reality, and that’s pretty neat. The problem is that not everyone thinks it’s as neat as I do, and most people don’t even realize that their perception is different than someone else’s.
One of my favorite examples of this through the Taoist story of the farmer’s luck:
There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.
“Maybe,” the farmer replied.
The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.
“Maybe,” replied the old man.
The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy for what they called his “misfortune.”
“Maybe,” answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.
“Maybe,” said the farmer.
Was I unlucky that my mom was an alcoholic until I was 20? Maybe. She got sober and helped me get sober when I was 27. Was my addiction unlucky? Maybe. Had it not been for my addiction, I wouldn’t have the meaning and purpose I’ve found in helping others, and I sure as hell wouldn’t be as resilient. Was my recent job lost unlucky? Maybe. But there’s a chance I can do work that I love and make a living from it.
The other curious part about perception is our interactions with others.
Was that guy hitting on you at the bar flattering or creepy? Well, research (and common sense) shows that it all depends on what that guy looks like. This is actually something I chatted about with evolutionary sex psychologist David Buss in a recent podcast.
Joe Keohane is an upcoming guest on the podcast who wrote the book The Power of Strangers. His book is a glimpse of light during these dark times where everyone realizes we’re more disconnected than ever. Through research and personal experience, he shows how beneficial it is to talk to strangers. But in our conversation, I ask him how he navigates this as a man if the stranger is a woman. Although there are many shitty dudes out there, some of us realize the reputation men have, so we want to try our best not to be creepy when talking to women.
I don’t worry about this as much when reaching out to male authors because if they don’t perceive me as persistent and hard-working, they’ll probably just think I’m annoying. But with women, I worry I’ll be perceived as creepy. As you saw from the success stories, two of the three examples were women, so that worked out. This isn’t always how it works out though.
Recently, I had a fellow podcaster reach out, and he’s a veteran in the space who I respect a ton. I thought Bari Weiss would be an awesome guest, and I know she’s flooded with notifications, so I’ve reached out quite a few times to break through the noise of her notifications like I always do. This podcaster reached out with good intentions to say that may not be the best route.
As someone who worries about coming off as creepy, I’m glad he reached out. I explained my thought process behind this as I have in this post, and he got it. I appreciate the feedback, and he’s an awesome guy. I’m just using this as a prime example of an outsider who may perceive this in a different way, which I must take into account as I walk that fine line of persistence and creepy.
Then, there’s another instance that wasn’t so appreciated but stick with me because I’m going to give the author the benefit of the doubt even though our interaction bothered me. I’m leaving this author anonymous because my life’s a lot better when I use tricks I’ve been taught in therapy to challenge my beliefs, so I choose to believe she’s not intentionally being a jerk.
This author wrote a book that I not only loved, but I think it’s an extremely important book that more people should know about. I’ve recommended her book many times, and as I read it and finished it, I regularly tweeted its praises. I’d love to have her as a guest, but she has a massive following so my expectations weren’t high. Because her following is massive, I’ve tweeted her multiple times to break through the noise, and I tried through email as well.
Remember the stories about Susannah Cahalan and Carole Hooven? They could have been giving me a silent “no”, but that wasn’t the case. This particular author and I have interacted a few times on Twitter and she’s even retweeted me, so when gauging the probability, I figured there was a good chance she’d be down to come on. And if she couldn’t or didn’t want to, I figured she’d at least let me know.
Well, after multiple attempts, she replies to me and says she’s not doing podcasts for the foreseeable future. I totally get that and respect that response. So, for me, it was done. Now that I had an answer, I was good.
But then she DMs me…She DMed me to say that it’s “getting creepy”.
And there it is. Now I’ve gone from worried to, “Oh shit.” This author has a massive following and knows a lot of other people. I was legitimately sorry, so I apologized profusely. I’ve learned that even if something isn’t my intention, right or wrong, it’s good to apologize. It’s never my intention to make anyone feel uncomfortable. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that part of that apology was to protect my reputation.
I’m a new podcast that has entered this new realm of authors, their connections, and their audiences. All it would take is for this author with a ton of status and a ton of influence to A) tell other authors that I’m a creeper B) publicly call me a creeper or C) both.
Just like that, her perception could potentially ruin all of my hard work. I was cancelled in 2019, and I have no plans on going through that nightmare again that drove me to the edge of relapse and suicidal ideation.
Before wrapping this up with my charitable conclusion of what may have been going through her mind, I want to tell you one of my biggest pet peeves: Not replying is a dick move.
Just take two seconds and say “no thanks”. It takes two seconds and completely avoids all of this as long as the person on the other end is mentally stable. Without any type of response, there are far too many variables that I’ve clearly stated like accidentally going in spam, getting lost in notifications, or absent-mindedness.
I think what bothers me the most is that I have had people 5-10x bigger reply. For example, here’s an email from an international bestseller with hundreds of thousands of followers:
I must decline.
Ok, thanks for letting me know.
Have a great week!
And that was it. So, don’t be a dick. Reply.
As I mentioned in my previous post titled How to Think Better, I do my best to not be a hypocrite or to do the things that other people do to piss me off. I get flooded with crappy sponsorship emails, authors wanting me to review their books, fans just wanting to talk, and those random fans who want favors. To not be a dick, I reply to all of them to decline. Sometimes, it takes me a while to reply because we all get busy, but I make it a priority so I don’t leave them hanging and put them in the weird position of wondering if they’ll be perceived as annoying or creepy.
Professor Vanessa Bohns recently released her amazing book You Have More Influence Than You Think, and I was fortunate enough to interview her for an upcoming episode of the podcast. She covers so many great topics that will help you have the confidence to ask for things and to recognize how you influence others without realizing it. In a section of the book, she discusses the #MeToo movement, and I was able to ask her how to navigate some of the tricky situations I’ve discussed here. Without telling her this exact story, it’s what I had in mind while asking, and Vanessa gave me a great answer to do some perspective-taking.
For those of you who don’t know, back in my addiction and early sobriety, I had terrible anger issues. In my book, Rewire Your Anger (shameless plug), I discuss one of my strategies, which is to lie to myself. In therapy, they just call this challenging your beliefs, but regardless of what you call it, it works.
The attribution bias gets us all, which is why we have to recognize it and lie to ourselves or challenge our beliefs. The Wiki definition of the attribution bias is:
In psychology, an attribution bias or attributional bias is a cognitive bias that refers to the systematic errors made when people evaluate or try to find reasons for their own and others' behaviors. People constantly make attributions—judgements and assumptions about why people behave in certain ways.
For example, you get pissed because you think that guy cut you off while driving because he’s an asshole, but when you cut someone off, there’s a much better reason. So, to balance this, I’ll tell myself, “Maybe that guy just got the call that his wife is in labor with their first baby and he’s rushing to the hospital” or “Maybe he’s a single dad, and it was hard to get his kids ready for school, and if he’s late one more time for work, he’ll get fired and lose everything.”
See? Pretty useful (so get my book lol)
So, I’m not mad at this author. Although I think it’s a dick move not to reply, it’s extremely possible that she’s recently had a situation where she declined, and someone snapped on her. Based on what she writes, I know for a fact that she gets threats regularly from strangers online, so maybe the best way she knows how to deal with this is to avoid saying “no” and to just not reply. If that’s the case, I get it because I used to have a huge issue with avoiding any type of confrontation, and I didn’t like telling people “no”, so I’d just avoid it.
Another possibility is that she’s had some greasy ass men stalking her online. This happens to women all the time, so that wouldn’t shock me either. Some of my best friends are women, and it happens to them all the time, so I’ve seen it happen.
This author doesn’t know me, either. She has no clue that I handle rejection well and don’t care if an author shuts me down. And she also doesn’t know that I have a girlfriend of almost 5 years who I’m madly in love with and am definitely not looking for anything aside from podcast guests and professional relationships.
So, my final thoughts? Well, at the end of the day, I just like being open and honest and writing about things I have on my mind. As I mentioned in the intro, there are probably people who can relate to my experience, and maybe this helped. There are also people who may read this that need to broaden their perspective.
A lot of us are just well aware that the idea of a meritocracy is complete bullshit, so we have to work harder, take more shots, and be persistent. And even though there are whack-a-doos out there, I think the best practice is to reply with a simple “no” rather than playing this guessing game.
And I’ll make you a deal, if that person doesn’t take rejection well, give me their email, and I’ll give them a stern talking to.
I’ve been working on organizing all the books I’ve read, and I have multiple lists of books on becoming a better thinker. There are lists for education, social issues, critical thinking, self-deception, and biases. For the rest of the categories, click here.
I’m always open for a conversation and to be shown what I might be missing or where I may be wrong, so feel free to email me at TheRewiredSoul@gmail.com