Imagine building a business you enjoy without setting goals and believing in motivation. Picture becoming an author and creating a great community without ever having a Facebook or LinkedIn account.
Does it sound impossible?
You may be inclined to think so Paul Jarvis is proof that it can be done.
Not only is Paul a skilled writer and a good teacher but he’s also one of the best people on the internet (and the awesome guest of this podcast episode!). Here are some of the things I learned from our conversation and his work.
Nothing is absolute. Do your thing and learn along the way
In a newsletter he sent on November 7, Paul wrote:
“If I hadn’t realized that nothing in business (or life) is absolute, I’d have never written any books, created products, become a designer or started a newsletter. We collectively assume that most things are absolutes in our work because we simply haven’t questioned them enough.”
In the podcast, Paul mentions that writing his latest book, Company of One, is one of the best decisions he ever made.
He did it in spite of the challenge of writing a book for a crowded niche (business books) and touching on topics that other authors have touched on.
This decision not only benefited him and everyone who read his book, which goes to show how far-reaching the impact of such a choice can have.
Now people can explore a different perspective on building and growing a business that contradicts conventional knowledge and provides a viable alternative to work and enjoy life. His writing is an invaluable help to gain clarity when working as others expect you to leads to burnout instead of fulfillment.
Paul told me that doing projects like his latest book is one of the ways he leaves himself open to possibility (which reminds me of one of my favorite books). He experiments a lot and rejects restrictions in the form of goals or plans. He prefers not to set any.
“Business is an experiment. If it wasn’t, everyone’s businesses would be profitable all the time. And experimenting implies an outcome is unknown. Even when it comes to how you “feel” about something in business. It’s hard to absolutely say “Well, I would never do that” or “that’s not how I run my business” since things change. Minds change. Your stance on what’s good or bad changes. Not because you’re a wishy-washy rubber band of a human being, but because as a business owner, you evolve, learn, adapt, grow and play with ideas.”
Paul prefers to use these 4 simple rules to run his business and do his work. As someone who’s read his articles, books, listened to his podcasts and had the opportunity to talk to him for an hour, I can confirm that he applies these rules consistently.
You can build a business on your own terms
When he started writing Company of One, Paul felt like he was the only one who wanted to run a business the way he does (small, lean, with no employees). However, that changed when he wrote about his ideas in his newsletter. The people in his community who felt the same responded with overwhelming support and interest.
That’s when he decided his message deserved to be shared widely.
His message gained traction in his community and beyond. Revered authors, such as Cal Newport, and founders, such as Ben Chestnut, MailChimp’s founder, and CEO, hold his book in high praise.
Hearing Paul speak about his vision of alternative paths to building and growing a business is galvanizing. It’s so different from what you read about on tech websites. It’s real, unfiltered, and, most of all, human.
“Start small and don’t beat yourself up”, he advocates.
Here’s a truth that his freelancing career spanning over 20 years proves: “social media is not required for business”, emphasizes Paul, because “business was possible before all of it”.
We tend to forget that sometimes, don’t we?
Paul’s never been on Facebook and you can’t find him on LinkedIn either. He told me his Instagram account made him feel bad about himself so he quit that too.
Digital minimalism may only now begin to be valued for its positive impact on productivity and mental health, but Paul found that out years ago.
3 or 4 things that help Paul make better decisions
- Internalize that “we don’t have control over the things we think we do”.
- Remember that a sense of purpose pulls you through bad days.
- Cultivate your ability to adapt because resilience is everything.
Trusting your guts, as Eric Moeller also mentions in the first episode of the podcast, is also something worth paying attention to.
“We all come wired to make better decisions if we will just shut up and listen to our guts.”
As a keen seeker of questions that help us make better choices (I gathered 100 of them so far), I was thrilled to learn 3 new ones from Paul. When making an important decision, Paul defines success by asking himself:
- How much is enough?
- How will I know I have reached it?
- What will change when I do?
Sit with these questions for a while. They may prove more helpful than you anticipate.
The core value that guides Paul’s choices
During our conversation, Paul told me he never wants to be in the position of saying “I have to do this”.
This is why he doesn’t grow his business more or hire employees.
The central value to his choices is freedom and it consistently guides his decisions.
Paul is intent on living as lean as possible so he’s not compelled to make that much more money. What he truly wants is to make his own choices and not be forced into them so he acts accordingly on every occasion.
“The business world thinks that after success comes growth” but Paul believes that “after success comes freedom.”
You may feel that reaching this level of clarity and focus is challenging which is true. But it is 100% attainable.
Cultivating self-awareness is how you get there.
In the episode, Paul highlights that “introspection is one of the most important things we have to do”, even more so since it’s “a constant and difficult work which is why people avoid it.”
One way he went about was to move from the city, where he and his wife were plagued by “a cacophony of interruption and distraction”, and settle in a quiet Canadian town in the woods.
Many people fantasize about this (myself included) but very few of them do it. Studies show that removing stimulus from your life may be so scary that people would rather shock themselves than be alone.
However, the only way is through. Rebuilding our focus and making an effort to get to know ourselves deeply are fundamental to self-awareness and figuring out what we really need to be content and lead a meaningful life.
How to deal with imposter syndrome
Paul inspired me to finally publish an article about handling imposter syndrome that I’d been thinking about for a while.
“Imposter syndrome doesn’t go away.”
This idea stuck with me because I couldn’t find a permanent antidote myself.
Paul says he became comfortable to be afraid and act at the same time, allowing these two separate thoughts to coexist in his mind.
Another of his ideas, this time from the Creative Class podcast (which I love!), makes this challenge a lot more approachable:
“People fear the things they haven’t already done.”
Paul insists that all it takes to get better is to iterate and I tend to agree.
“I even assumed I couldn’t be a writer because I wasn’t a writer (but then I wrote 5 books). I also assumed that I was an awful speaker, and now I host a couple podcasts that people actually listen to (which I still find freaky).”
Looking back at my personal projects, the articles I wrote 10 years ago were crap but I slowly got better by writing more and more.
The thing about imposter syndrome is that it tends to go away when you focus on acting on your ideas and following through on your decisions. Do the work to get motivated by the work instead of being motivated to do the work.
By now you can probably tell that I really enjoyed talking to Paul and tried to make the most of this opportunity in spite of being nervous (which is why I tend to ask long-winded questions). Before I wrap up, I really want to highlight how good Company of One is.
Here’s what Paul says about it:
“The book is more about the mindset required to define your own version of success in business, and work towards it.”
“It helps clarify what we can consider as success internally.”
“The book delves into how to make the right decisions about growth, and how to figure out when it makes sense to grow and when it doesn’t.”
Enjoy the episode and rate it on iTunes if you find it helpful and believe others might as well.
PS: You can find Paul’s favorite book in the list of resources below.
Resources mentioned in the podcast:
- Paul’s website
- Paul’s products
- Paul’s newsletter (sign up!)
- His State of the Union year articles: 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019
- The problem with thought leadership and the dark side of building expertise
- Does anyone remember laughter?
- An awesome Twitter thread about swearing online and off
- Growth without growth
- Everything you wanted to know about creating a $100k online course
- His interview on IndieHackers
- My complete book launch strategy for Company of One
- Company of One
- The Million-Dollar, One-Person Business
- It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work
- Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big
- What Got You Here Won’t Get You There
- his favorite book: 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos
- his favorite fiction book: We are Bob