Episode 4: Paul Jarvis discusses skills vs. passion and proposes a more Zen-like approach to growth and success

In Paul Jarvis’ new book, Company of One, it’s not business as usual. We discuss the importance of building skills versus blindly following your passion, and rethinking ideas around growth and success.

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Jon Henshaw: Welcome to the 4th episode of the Coywolf Digital Marketing Podcast. I’m your host, Jon Henshaw. In this episode, I’m sharing a couple excerpts from my interview with Paul Jarvis. Paul is the author of a new book Company of One. His book is about a new way of approaching entrepreneurship in an age where every company is obsessed with growth at all cost. You can listen to the full 50-minute interview on Coywolf at coywolf.io/jarvis, J-A-R-V-I-S. The first excerpt picks up on our discussion about passion, and how pursuing your passion without experience and skill will mostly likely result in failure.

Interview Begins

There’s another reality that comes to mind and it has to do with … So, I’m in my 40s. I existed for the internet. I was entrepreneur early on in the internet, that’s why I’m doing what I do now. There’s a period of time, for I think probably … I don’t know, from the 2000s to 2010 or whatever in particular where everybody was a CEO. Everybody and their brother was starting a company and they were CEO of it, and it was like everybody was like-

Paul Jarvis: They get some cards.

JH: … Pour Water on it, CEO.

PJ: Yeah.

JH: The reason why I bring that up is because I’m thinking about maybe some people who are early into their career, meaning they’re younger. They either haven’t or have maybe once thought about being an entrepreneur or doing their own thing. You covered this a little bit which I really appreciated, which was that it’s not simply about being autonomous. It’s not about a certain mindset or practicing these things. It’s also about being a master at your core skill set, and that you can’t just become something that you wish you were because you’re passionate about it, but that it’s a combination of skill and purpose. I love to hear what you have to say about that.

PJ: I think that a lot of times, I mean even … I definitely, I’ve worked for myself for 20 years as well, so I could definitely saw that in the early, I guess we call the [OTTs], which I hate saying. It just sound silly, but in the early 2000s when everybody was that. I don’t think that’s gone away. I just think that instead of business cards, everybody has a Wix or Squarespace site that says they’re the president of their company. I think that it’s okay to spend some time learning and developing a skill whether that’s school, if that works for you, whether that’s at a job.

I wish that there was still more master and apprentice relationships in work where you could take the time to learn over the course of years and not necessarily over the course of reading two medium articles to really understand the nuance of wisdom, where there’s a lot of things especially in business where there’s really no absolutes that you just have to get a feel for to get better at them and that takes time. If you can learn that with somebody else’s help or working somewhere else, that is easier in some ways.

I’m not saying everybody shouldn’t just go out and be an entrepreneur, but I do think that there are easier ways to do it. I think that a lot of times, you speak to your point about passion. I think that a lot of times we’re misguided in that idea, or we read too many quotes on Instagram where it’s not enough to just … We’re talking about business here. If I’m passionate about playing ukulele, I can go learn how to play ukulele and that’s awesome. I think hobbies are great.

If we’re talking about a business, a business is serving others for money and it needs to be valuable, and therefore it needs to be a skill that you’ve honed and worked on for a little bit of time. Maybe not 10, 15 years, but maybe it’s some amount of time that’s more than a day or two. I mean, we live in a society of instant gratification, so that’s a bit of a downer of a message. I think it’s valid, and I think there’s really two kinds of passion here. I think that there’s one that’s just like a fickle flame where it’s like you find some new thing and you get super excited about it, and you wanted to consume your life or it could be a person.

That kind of passion that burns super strong in the beginning can burn out. I mean, most people had been in more than one relationship in their life and I’ve seen that, or have had more than one hobby in their life and maybe have a garage full of stand up paddle boards and tennis rackets. I think the point of that sort of passion to work is such a detriment because I think that we want to work for a long period of time.

So I think that for a lot of things, real passion like long burning passion comes from mastery and experience. I wasn’t passionate about being a writer until I work at writing all the time. I didn’t even want to be a writer, which I’m sure pisses so many writers off or like, “I didn’t dream of being a writer when I was a kid. I think I dreamt of being a dinosaur.” Since that wasn’t available to me, except maybe at an amusement park.

Same with design, I was a designer for clients at least for about 15, 16 years. That was never my passion. I didn’t grow up wanting to do that, but as I did it, I started to learn like, “Okay.” I started to learn how much I enjoyed it, and how much I enjoyed the day to day of it where I could be in it and doing the thing all the time every single day, and still enjoyed, and still see like, “Oh my gosh, I’m just scratching the surface for what I know about this. I’m just scratching the surface for how I can make this valuable enough for people to pay me.”

I think that’s just the idea of following our passion is difficult to swallow, and I also think it makes people feel bad about themselves because a lot of people like, “Well, I don’t know my passion is,” and they beat themselves up about it. I was like, “It doesn’t matter where your passion is. Let’s just try a bunch of stuff. See what works. See what sticks. See what you want to get better of? What you want to learn more about?” Then, maybe that’s going to get passionate for you eventually.

JH: This next excerpt is about rethinking ideas around growth and success. It’s a long excerpt, but it’s my favorite moment of the entire interview. I hope you enjoy it.

Part of this approach is to always be looking at everything, kind of where everything is and then asking yourself, “Is this enough? Should I stay where I am and actually focused on just making what I have better? Am I making enough? Do I really need more, and do I prefer to be able to maintain open lines of communication with my customers like you just described? Am I willing to be like, “This isn’t enough for me, and I understand that I’m going to lose that.” I may lost that aspect if I go any further, and of course I think from your perspective, you’re pushing for don’t … Pause, consider pausing-

PJ: Yeah, exactly.

JH: … and being happy with what you have.

PJ: Yeah. At least because I think too often, it’s just the next logical step. At least if we’re talking about business, it’s like, “If we’re successful, we should grow. If this is working, then let’s double up on that.” It’s like, “That’s fine sometimes,” like that totally works. I would never say growth is bad, but I just think like you said. There just needs to be a pause first, like consider it. Consider whether or not it makes sense for things like how it will affect the responsibilities in your life or how you want to spend your day? How it will affect your happiness? How it might affect your profit because more revenue rarely means more profit as a blanket statement?

Maybe more means not serving or helping your existing customers as much, which could be a non-starter for you. Maybe more just means it’s serving your ego or your social standings more than something you actually want in life. I think like you said, considering enough is probably one of the most important things we could do with our work. It’s like how much is enough, how will I know when I reach it, and what will change when I do reach it?

JH: I think for a lot of people, perhaps most people that’s actually a profound statement. I’m serious. I mean, I think that it is not how you do it. That’s again, why I really like this concept in this book is and it’s not hippie. I don’t think it’s hippie. I think it is-

PJ: I just had been accused of that, which is why.

JH: No, I get it. I get it. Maybe you are a hippie, but I’m saying that this is not hippie me. This is about quality of life. That’s what’s about to me. It’s funny because a lot of these things are very consistent with how you said you are, and your personality, and how you change it like 19 or whatever, which is, “Wait a second, I don’t have to be this way. This is not how it has to be. I don’t have to live my life the way everybody has been told to have to and they are. I can choose my own destiny and even degree of happiness versus just doing what you’re supposed to be doing.” I think that’s throughout this.

I think it could potentially … I don’t know. Maybe I’m sounding too theory or whatever, but I mean I think this could be sort of a really good awakening for a lot of people who are just doing what everybody has told them up to this point, and they’re not happy. They want more and they wish they could be doing more, but they don’t know that there’s options because a lot of this is about being mindful.

PJ: Yeah. I mean, I hope that, that’s the case. I hope that is an awakening for some people because I think that we’re shown that success looks like this one thing. I honestly, I don’t think that it does. I think the problem we’re chasing success that somebody else has defined. So, one of two things will happen, spoiler alert, neither are good. I think we chase somebody else’s version of success and we achieve it. We better hope that we are happy, and content with their version because it could not. It may not be ours, and if it’s not ours, then we just wasted our time chasing somebody else’s version.

If we don’t win at achieving that version of success that we’ve seen on TV, or on the internet, or on social media, or in other business books, then we’ll probably beat ourselves up because we feel like we failed. We failed, but wait a minute. We failed at something we didn’t actually want. So, who are we beating ourselves up for? So it’s like a lose, lose, so either way. So I think that like you said, I think that there’s a little bit of introspection which is definitely difficult to do. I’m not saying otherwise.

I think it’s required, like what is success to you? It’s different for you Jon. It’s different for people. The same, it’s different for me. It’s different for everybody, but it’s worth considering. I think that we’re so adverse in society to introspection and self-reflection that is really damaging. I think this is funny. I think, pretty sure I wrote about it in the book.

There’s a study done. I think the guy’s name is Timothy Wilson. I can’t remember which school where they put participants of the study in the room. They didn’t say what the study was for. They said something that wasn’t true. They’re like, “Just sit in the room where you have nothing to do. There’s a button on the table. If you press it, you’ll get an electric shock. It’s not going to kill you, but it’s going to hurt.”

They’re like, “All you have to do is sit here. You don’t have to press the button. The button pressing is 100% optional. You can just sit there in silence if you want.” Most people press the button because most people just didn’t want to sit with their thoughts. They didn’t have their phones. They didn’t have social media to pull and refresh. So, they just wanted something to do because something to do is easier than just being introspective.

I mean, that comes back to the very beginning of the conversation that we had. Moving to the woods was the biggest mind [inaudible]. Honestly, it was so radically hard to deal with because the place that we had, we lived in a glass condo and we were across the road from an animated advertisement billboard. We had blackout curtains. We live right beside a stadium where Vancouver Canucks play, so every time they lost, which they did pretty much every game, you’ll have to listen to people.

We had a fan that basically was a white noise, a machine like … There’s so much stimulus, and there’s just so much stimulus in our lives constantly, and we’re all connected or tethered to this tiny pocket computers that it’s scary to be alone with our thoughts. It is 100% hard, and scary, and difficult sometimes, but I also think it’s the most important work that we can do in our lives or in our businesses.

JH: Do you think that being able to figure out how to do that because I think a lot of people don’t know how to do that is a requirement to sort of accomplishing the things that you’ve laid out?

PJ: Yeah, I would. So I think it’s difficult, but I think it’s doable. I mean, I don’t think we all start with being able to sit and meditate for an hour. I think that, that would be ridiculous. I think maybe, see if you can sit for 30 seconds and just not look at your computer, or your phone, or any notifications. Maybe it starts with that, and I mean a lot of people that I know meditate. I definitely do as well, but I don’t think meditation is a requirement. I just think being able to reflect.

I mean, even going for a walk without music or your phone is a meditation. Being at the gym without looking … Everybody’s on their phone everywhere. Be somewhere and don’t do anything for even just a tiny amount of time, see what happens. See that you have not died.

JH: Right.

PJ: Build on that skill, I think. You don’t have to move to the woods, on an island in the middle of nowhere to achieve that. It’s like, “I’m not the smartest person, so I had to do that,” but most people probably much smarter than that will be able to do it to whatever degree works for them in a much, much easier way.

JH: As you find ways or force yourself into I’ll just call it moments of silence in a sense, getting rid of the noise in your life. Like you’re saying, people don’t even know what to do with themselves in that. That’s actually the work. That’s the work. In other words, when you’re in there, you know what to do and you feel weird. You’re wondering, “I wonder what people are thinking about me because I’m just sitting here by myself, not on my phone.” That’s the beginning of the work.

That is the point. That is what you should think about, and then gradually over time, you will start to be comfortable with just yourself, and being alone in your thoughts, and then can hopefully be in a place where you can consider all of the things that I think you’ve presented in this book. How you can be successful we’ll say, even though that’s a loaded word, but also be content, and happy, and I’ll live it with purposeful.

PJ: Yeah. I mean, I’d like to tell people, “If you get the book looking for answers, there aren’t any.” It’s the worst sales pitch ever, but I think it’s important because there are no answers. Seth Godin even wrote on his blog a few days ago or doesn’t even matter because this is just being recorded and put out when it’s put out, but 90% of coaching is self-coaching. The point of the book is to give you a framework to make better decisions for your life and for your business, and I can’t give you what those decisions are. I can only help you develop tools to be able to make decisions so that you’re ultimately happy with the decisions that you make because you need to be able to think about things.

You need to be able to have introspection to decide what is right for you because I can’t tell you that. Nobody can tell you that. Anybody that says they can tell you that is going to sell you something next that is going to solve your problems or that they say is going to solve your problems, that is not going to solve your problems.

JH: You can listen to the full 50-minute interview on Coywolf at coywolf.io/jarvis. Thanks for listening.

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Jon Henshaw

Jon is the founder of Coywolf and the EIC and the primary author reporting for Coywolf News. He is an industry veteran with over 25 years of digital marketing and internet technologies experience. Follow @[email protected]