The Jay Kim Show #71: Charlie Hoehn (Transcript)
This week’s show guest is Charlie Hoehn. Charlie is an author, a marketer, and has worked with some of the greatest authors in the world including Tim Ferriss, Seth Godin, Ramit Sethi, and Tucker Max. He has a really interesting story about the power of free work and how he used this to land him paid job opportunities when he graduated in the middle of the financial crisis. He also talks about hitting a low point in his life where he was overworked and burnt out, which led him to realize the thing that he was missing the most in life was simply play. I think you guys are going to enjoy this one. Let’s get on to the show.
Jay: Charlie, how are you doing?
Charlie: Good, Jay. Good to be talking to you.
Jay: Yeah, thanks so much. Welcome to the show. Pretty excited to have you on, man. It’s been a while since we’ve spoken, so I’m pretty excited to catch up and hear about all the good stuff you’re working on.
Charlie: Me too.
Jay: So I guess let’s just begin. You have a very unique background. So maybe you could give our audience a little bit of background on you and how you came up and what you do for a living.
Charlie: Sure. So I am an author of a few books that just help people with difficult pain points quickly and easily. For instance with Play it Away, I help you overcome anxiety naturally very quickly. Same with Recession Proof Graduate. I help you get into a great job without having to blast out your resume to a million different places and sort of design your career. I speak on those topics as well. And right now, currently I am also head of Author Marketing for Book in a Box. It’s a publishing company in Austin that helps people with great idea turn them into books in about seven months without having to write anything.
Jay: Yeah, and that’s a pretty cool concept. I went through that process as well with your company, and I had a really, really good experience. So for audience members that are interested, head on over to Book in a Box, or you could also listen to… I had Tucker on my show as well, and we went through the whole process there, so you guys can listen to that. And also you do a podcast there too. Right, Charlie?
Charlie: Yeah, so I do another podcast called Author Hour where I interview authors and distill the best parts of their book in a conversation. So I just ask them, “What are the best ideas and stories from your book, in case I don’t have time to read it.” Yeah, that’s what that podcast is.
Jay: That’s actually pretty cool. It’s like…have you heard of Blinkest?
Jay: It kind of reminds me of that. So also, for the audience listening, I owe Charlie a large debt of gratitude because he was actually the one that helped me launch my podcast almost a year ago, I’d say.
Charlie: That’s right. That was actually my very first assignment at Book in a Book because they were like — I can’t even remember what the scenario was. But they basically just handed me as the very first thing to do. Yeah, we worked together for a while.
Jay: Yeah. I just still remember… I mean, everything from just even the name of my podcast all the way down to the concept. And then the actual execution, I just remember it was like the week leading up to the launch, and I was like, there’s no way we’re going to get done. And I was going back and forth with you, and you used your internet wizardry, and we got it out. So I was like, I can’t believe. Anyways, thanks, Charlie. I really appreciate that.
Charlie: Yeah, I mean it was fun. It was cool to do. I’d like to thank myself for being on this show, for setting up this show to begin with.
Jay: There you go. It’s very meta or whatever you want to call it. Here we go. It’s full circle. Great.
So, Charlie, maybe you could tell us a little bit about… I think of you as a problem solver, and not just because you solved my big pain point of trying to launch this podcast and did it extremely well, but, like you said, you’ve written a number of books that actually help people in a very unique pain point in their lives that they might encounter.
So the first one you wrote was Recession Proof Graduate. It was a byproduct of your experience having, I guess, graduated right in the middle of the financial crisis. Is that right? Maybe you can tell us a little bit about that.
Charlie: Sure. I, like you said, graduated during the recession in 2008 and spent months applying to jobs that I didn’t really want. I was just trying to get an entry-level job at somewhere, just to start getting experience, start being able to pay the bills and that sort of thing like every graduate does. And I applied to over a hundred positions, and no one really responded. I was ignored, and I was lucky if I got rejected. And it was really not at all what I expected, and all my friends were going through the same thing. We’re not stupid. We have some connections. We’re capable people, so it was really surprising that it just didn’t pan out.
So I kind of hit a breaking point where I just said, look, I’m going to do what I want to do for a while and just come up with my own job, my own projects and stuff, and I’m going to reach out to people that I like what they’re doing. I’m going to offer to help them for free for whatever they’re doing. Maybe they’ll yes and I can build a relationship or, worse case scenario, I’ll have a couple pieces to talk about in my portfolio because I just don’t have enough experience or anything notable to get the attention of these companies.
So I started doing that, and it worked really well. I started working with authors.
Jay: So what was your target? Did you have a dream job? For me, when I graduated, it was a little bit earlier than you. It was right during the tech bubble as well. And so I got really lucky because all I wanted to do, personally, was go work in finance on Wall Street and make a lot of money. So I slid through the cracks, literally. I think the class after me, no one was hiring. So I got really lucky. But did you have a dream job or a targeted job that you wanted to do?
Charlie: Yeah. It’s interesting. Before I answer that, Jay, I’m curious. Why did that matter to you? Did you grow up having a lot of money or no?
Jay: No, not at all. I think that might have been part of it. I didn’t grow up poor, per se. But my dad was an immigrant to the US. He came over. He started off making like two bucks an hour as a janitor. He worked for Levi Strauss, the jean company in San Fran. So he kind of worked his way up. I didn’t grow up poor. We always had food on the table. It wasn’t anything like that. I think for me, I just was thrilled with high finance. I had sort of grown up watching movies like Wall Street and all the cliché finance-y movies. And it was just something that I had to tick off the box. I had to go up to New York. I had to work on Wall Street. And so I targeted 100% of my job efforts to moving up there. So I wouldn’t even consider a job if it wasn’t based in New York and on Wall Street.
But I’m curious… I think some people don’t really know what they want to do, which is fine. And so they and of do the spray and pray resume thing.
Charlie: I would argue that people kind of know who they are, though. You may not know exactly what you want to do, but you know what you value, and you often know what your strengths are. You just tend to forget because you get put in a schooling system that tells you to focus so much on your weakness or your weaknesses or things that you just don’t really care about. And it kind of conditions you into thinking this is just how my life has to be. I just have to do stuff that other people give to me, even if I don’t care about it or even if I’m not that great at it.
So I think everybody, assuming they’ve been given ample time to figure out who they are on some level when they’re growing up, has those things that they realize, hey, I feel strong when I do that. I feel confident when I do that. For me, I had a number of those things. Most of them were centered around ideas, taking an idea the turning it into its first iteration and kind of running with it. So that’s a lot of marketing. I was really good at communication, whether it was written or through video or spoken. So I remember distinctly giving a speech at a funeral when I was 15 years old. And I was supposed to feel very sad. I felt great. I was like, how can I keep doing that? That was amazing. That was so much fun.
There was a lot of stuff like that where I was like, I love editing video. I love speaking. I love communicating and talking about ideas. So the notion of going into marketing was appealing to me. And then I really loved reading books. I was drawn to these people who had these powerful ideas of… And at that time, one of my favorite movies was Fight Club and Office Space, and American Beauty had just won an Academy Award recently. It was that kind of cultural moment where everybody was fantasizing about escaping from the rat race and corporate jobs, and all those movies are about that. They just play out differently.
So I kind of had that as a fear of, if I get a corporate job, I’m not going to be able to do what I’m good at. I’m going to be shut down. I am a very I-have-to-scratch-my-own-itch type person, and I just didn’t see any corporate job offering that. So it was really frustrating to think that I was probably going to have to get that type of a job. So in a way, it was a big relief.
Jay: What role did your parents play? Growing up, were they very supportive? Were they educators? Were they authors themselves? How do you feel that they shaped you from a young age, if at all? Or did you kind of just…
Charlie: Yeah. They definitely shaped me. They were really supportive. They played a big role, mostly by being there and just being good people, to sort of guide me. And they offered guidance when I would feel lost or make a mistake and stuff. We just didn’t see… I didn’t see eye to eye with them on some of the career stuff. So for instance, during the recession, when I hit that breaking point, I thought, “Why don’t I go work for free for people that I want to work with and do projects and stuff?”
And my parents were like, “Have you considered getting your MBA? You might never go back and get it, and this is an optimal time to do it,” blah, blah, blah.
And I was like, no. I’m not. It’s not about stopping learning. It’s about not relying on a degree to get me to where I want to go. Clearly that didn’t work.
And then I believed that the money would come eventually, but if it started from a place of… What do I enjoy doing? What activities get me in a state of flow or that feel really good doing it so that the reward can be intrinsic rather than extrinsic. So I think that was kind of the main difference.
And that’s common with all parents, I think, or older generations. They were like, “What worked for our generation will probably work for you.” In our case, with it being the recession and also us having gone through the internet disrupting so many things and globalization and all this stuff, there were some massive differences in how you could potentially get a job that they hadn’t really understood or experienced. And it wasn’t being taught in schools at the time.
Jay: Yeah, I think it’s a little bit… There’s a certain level of maturity where you have to realize that going down your path… To this day, I think for me, I don’t know if I would be able to take that leap of faith and be like, “Oh, the money will come as long as I’m following the path that I think I should follow and doing…”
Charlie: To be honest, or to be clear, I should say, “the money will come” is a naive and stupid phrase if there’s no money where you’re working.
Jay: True. True.
Charlie: If you went into an industry or you were working with an individual who’s broke, don’t expect money to come. But if you’re going to stand underneath a waterfall, you’re going to, eventually, get drenched. If you’re working with people who have money, a lot of money, coming in or in an industry where a lot of money is flowing, you’re bound to earn money. It’s just a matter of what type of work are you going to be doing before you earn it.
Jay: Right. So Recession Proof Graduate was essentially you detailing that, your tactics that you used, I guess, coming out of college?
Jay: Okay. So maybe you can tell us what exactly you did to get a job. I feel like because you’re talking about doing free work and this sort of thing, the concepts are still very relevant today. It doesn’t matter if we’re in a recession or not. Right?
Charlie: Right. Exactly. The apprentice model has been around for centuries, and it’s worked very, very well. It’s much more popular in Europe, but it’s the model of how can we generate more craftsmen in our economy because craftsmen produce phenomenal work. And they’re not simply just interested in the money. They’re interested in doing great stuff. And so I think there’s always going to be a need for people who care about learning from other master craftsmen or whatever.
You asked what was I doing to get those jobs?
Jay: Yeah. Just for the audience that is maybe curious, what are some tactics? Or how does one go about to harness the power of free work, if you will, to maybe land a job where they’re working with someone that they want to or further their career path, whether it pays or not.
Charlie: Yeah. I’ll tell you right now — and I don’t think I’ve ever explicitly said it this way, but it’s the truth. Start with who you want to become, even from an occupational standpoint. Who do you want to become? Not just who do you aspire to be like, but what kind of work do you want to be doing and producing and work with that person. Because I never intended to be an author. Even after writing a book, I was not like, “Oh, I get to be an author now.” It was purely because I was working with other authors, and I saw that it was an effective way to communicate important ideas that you wanted to get out there.
I think you become… I think Jim Rohn said you become the average of the five people you associate the most closely with. And I was working other authors, and so that behavior came naturally.
So initially, I did a virtual internship with Seth Godin. He’d opened that up to hundreds of people. And then I stuck with it for the summer, and myself and about a dozen others, he promoted on his blog. And I started getting job offers that way, and I reached out to Ramit Sethi, the author and founder of I Will Teach You to be Rich. He was also an intern with Seth Godin at one point, so we were able to connect on that. He offered to do some stuff with me, if I wanted, and I came back to him, and I recommended that he do some video stuff for his site because he was really good on video, but he never did it. And it’s because video, at the time, especially, was super cumbersome and tedious to edit and upload. And it was just a pain. But I loved video, and I had a background in editing. So I offered to do some of that. I gave him a free speaking demo reel, just to show I can add value. And then we started doing more and more stuff together. We worked on marketing his book together, and then we did a bunch of other videos together. And then we did an app together.
Jay: Now this was all for free.
Charlie: No. No, no, no. At some point, I transitioned to either partnerships or getting paid for the work, for all of them. And this is kind of a natural thing to have happened. I never said, “I want to work for you for free indefinitely,” but I was like, “I’d love to do it for a month,” or “through this project, see it through to completion. And then after that, I want to talk about a more formal role where I’m getting paid. If it doesn’t work out though, if, for some reason, we decide we don’t like working with each other, that’s fine. And we’ll part ways on good terms. No hard feelings from me. And you can scrap any work that I do.”
Just because I don’t them to have any excuse to not work with me. And I truly wanted to give myself that out too because maybe they were… I didn’t know what they’d be like to work with.
So it worked out really well. Remit — I did the same thing with Tucker Max, who I’m obviously still working with today. But I ended up doing some marketing work for his movie for free, and then he offered me later on a paid job traveling around the country shooting funny videos for a month to promote his movie. That was a super fun job, and it also gave me, again, more connections, a portfolio of work that I thought was really fun.
And then both of those guys actually recommended me to Tim Ferriss. And with Tim, I made the same offer, and he and I did some basic work, entry-level type work for about a month or two. And I offered to do it for free, and then he quickly was like, “Let’s get you on an hourly.” And then he was paying me hourly. And then a few months of that led to him flying me out to San Francisco to hang out for a few days. While I was there, we kind of felt each other out to make sure we got along and everything and that I was… He probably just flew me out to make sure I was normal.
He made me an offer to work for him full time to help him edit and launch The 4-Hour Body. And I took that. And we ended up working together for three years. And again, all of these relationships that lasted many years or are still ongoing were the result of starting for free and me coming to them saying, “This is what I want to do for you. This is how it’s going to help your business, and I know this because I’ve researched your business.”
You contrast that with how the average person gets a job now. They apply. They say, “Here’s my resume with all of my accomplishments and my GPA,” which no boss cares about. No employer even cares that you got a degree. And they just say, “If you have an opening, I will work for you when you give me my first paycheck, and you tell me what to do.” So it’s not proactive at all. It’s spam. It’s not personal. It’s not really valuable.
The employer is thinking, “I have to invest all this time and energy into figuring out how the hell… I gotta train this person and get them to create value for the company and be an exchange value, a return on my investment.” And I took all those barriers away.
Jay: I feel like if you’re working or aspiring to apprentice under any sort of normal human being, after a first free project, they would immediately turn around and be like, okay — and you did good work — they would be like, “Okay, now how can I pay you.” That’s just normal. Right?
Charlie: Exactly. It’s a psychological principle that’s proven, is human beings, if you do something nice and generous for another human being, 90% of the recipient of that gesture is going to reciprocate and want to pay you back, whether it’s through… I remember Remit offered to introduce me to… He was like, there’s this author. He’s going to be huge one day. You guys should connect. But he was like, “Only take it if it makes sense.” And I started reading his stuff, and I was like, “I kind of get it. I don’t fully understand it, so maybe let’s hold off.” It was Eric Reese before he published The Lean Startup.
There was a lot of stuff like that, where these guys would go out of their way to introduce me to somebody or to introduce me to a new experience or a cool opportunity. And I gained all these fringe benefits that don’t necessarily come from when you expect a paycheck right away.
Jay: That’s right. And you can’t put a price on that sort of stuff. You couldn’t pay for an introduction to Eric Reese at that point.
Cool. Awesome story. I feel like it’s difficult, though. I think that you probably were advantaged going into this whole scenario because you weren’t just, “Oh, I just want to chase the money and get whatever job pays me the most.” You actually were more focused fulfilling your inner, sort of scratching your creative itches and entrepreneurial itches, perhaps. And that helped you have a more open mind of “Oh, I’ll work for free first, open doors, and eventually get paid for it or be successful.”
But I think there’s lessons there for everyone, for anyone listening in on just business. I think a lot of people, just when they conduct business, are too afraid to leave any money on the table, and nothing gets done. That’s detrimental.
Charlie: I agree. Two things to this point. I love that you brought this up, Jay. One, I want to be clear. I wasn’t being supported entirely financially by my parents at the time. I was doing paid work on the side to make sure I could pay the bills and get some financial… My parents were helpful, very helpful, but I was doing paid work so that I could get going in that realm and support myself on level.
The big thing that you said is that this applies to business, and I completely agree. I’ve seen free work be used, these same strategies be used by the biggest VC firms in the world. I’ve seen them be used by Jack Dorsey. I’ve seen them be used by Kevin Rose. Kevin Rose actually was able to invest in Square because he did so much free work. He tried to get in on the series A round of funding — it may have even been the seed round — and he wasn’t able to get in. And he was like, oh gosh. He reached out to Jack Dorsey, and was like, “Is there any way I could get in?”
He was like, “No. I’m sorry, man. We had to close it.”
So Kevin shot a video on i—, or not on his iPhone. It was like a high-definition video of him using Square and showing people how cool it was. This was when Square just came out, and he posted it, and he sent it over to Jack Dorsey, and Dorsey said, “You know what? I really appreciate what you did. Why don’t we get you in on this round? We can find room for you because this is really valuable.”
That ended up being his biggest investment to date. Square is worth ten and tens of billions of dollars now. It’s just stuff like that.
If you really want to make something happen, the best way to do it is to provide so much value for free that they can’t help but keep the relationship going. This is not a crazy notion either. A lot of people bristle at the notion of working for free. They’re like, “Oh, it’s slavery. You’re servitude…”
I’m choosing to work for free. It’s not like I’m asking this person to pay me. This is to build a relationship of trust first, which is far more scarey than people, I guess, realize. And the most successful apps in the store, what is their business model?
Jay: It’s the freemium.
Charlie: Yeah. Exactly. So you’re giving them a sample. And you are deciding for yourself, is this a relationship I want to have? Because if I apply for a job for a company, and I get through the interview, and I’m feeling good, — like, “I made it through the interview. Awesome” — and then I get to the job itself, and I hate the job, what am I suppo— I just have to panic quit now? And then all of that work is just undone?
This is a less commit. It’s like dating. It’s a little bit less committed effort, and you do a great job, and it works out. I’ve heard from so many people who have used this to do the exact same thing.
Jay: It’s very powerful, actually, if you do it. I didn’t know that story at Square, so thanks for sharing that. So let’s move on a little bit in your very interesting life story. While you were working for Tim, you worked for him for three years, obviously did a lot of really cool stuff with him. But at a certain point, you kind of hit a low point, I guess, which led you to writing or discovering the topic of your next book — I guess your subsequent next two books. Maybe you can talk a little bit about your dark days there, and what you were experiencing and how you came upon the realization that play was important in life.
Charlie: Sure. We ended up working together for three years for a reason. We were having a lot of fun, and we were doing great work together. It hit a point where I was put in charge of handling a big event. My responsibilities had slowly, gradually escalated over the course of those three years. And then I was just charge of handling this big event that all these A-list people in the media world were attending and had paid top dollar for. So five figures per person to attend.
And so I was freaked out that they were going to feel really let down by the event. I was feeling probably how Ja Rule felt after the Fyre Festival fiasco went down. That’s what I was anticipating in my mind. This is going to be horrible if I mess this up. And so I really pushed myself for the months leading up to it. I was drinking five cups of coffee a day. I was waking up at six, heading down to the cafe, my neighborhood cafe where I’d work all day. I’d leave that night after a couple of drinks, come home, do more, go to sleep at like midnight.
Jay: And you were working remote. You weren’t in San Fran working with Tim. Right? You were working at home remotely?
Charlie: I was working remotely, yeah. So I was in San Francisco, but Tim was, at that time, often having to travel the speaking gigs and stuff like that. And so I was working pretty hard on my own. My roommates and stuff, one of them was in the financial world, so he was pushing himself even harder. He was getting home at 1:30 in the morning and waking up at five.
So it was just kind of normal. What happened was, a week before the event, I ordered some pills that are designed to keep you awake for multiple days at the time. This was originally developed for military fighter pilots and now given to people with narcolepsy. So I took those pills for four days during the event, secretly, without telling anybody. And the event went great, but over the course of those four days, I’d only slept six hours, which is… Your body is designed for one hour of sleep per two hours awake. And I was sleeping one hour for every 16 hours awake.
Charlie: That was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back because after that event, my body just started freaking out. It just became rough to go through the day to day. And I ended up having to quit because I felt to fragile, and there was just other stuff going on in my personal life that had me kind of freaked out.
I go into the details of what this feels like in the book and also online. If you google “cure anxiety,” you can read the posts that I wrote. It will show up on Google. What it feels like during that phase…it was crushing. It was exhausting. It was constant dread and worry. It was a rapid heart rate. It was shallow breathing. It was panic attacks. It was this feeling of paranoia. It was just awful. I struggled with this for a long time and just kept it quiet. I don’t think anybody really knew except for a couple of people who were super close to me. I never outright said anything or asked for help or anything. But I remember my girlfriend at the time said to me, she just said one night, she was like, “Charlie, what happened to you? You’re not the guy that I met long ago.”
I remember just kind of trying to avoid the question and then finally I just blurted out, “I just feel dead inside all of the time, and I have no idea how to fix it.”
I remember she started crying, and I was envious that she could cry, because I just felt so emotionally blocked and hollow. It just went on for longer than I wanted, and I tried everything to get out of it, everything that, you know, your doctor would tell you to do or a book about getting out of anxiety or a therapist or whatever. Everything that you can list, I tried. Didn’t work. It would work of a couple of hours or maybe even a couple of days if I was lucky. Then it would go back to normal. It sucked.
Jay: It must have been… For someone, especially like you who pretty much… You’re a bright guy, and you probably have never been faced with something where you couldn’t figure it out, even time after time and research and doing all of the normal things that science tells you you’re supposed to do when you encounter a problem. I think, for most guys like us, we feel like at some point I’ll someone or I’ll figure this out. I just have to get through it. I can’t imagine what that must have felt like, to feel so helpless like.
Charlie: Yeah. It felt very frustrating. Ironically, I eventually learned it was more of the approach, how you approach resolving a problem, an emotional problem, is important. It can’t be done the same way as you might approach starting a project or running a business where you encounter and you’re like, I can ram my head through the wall and beat this problem into submission or be strategic and take it down. It was different. You had to emotionally reconnect and get in a healthier place with yourself before you could make any real progress. And that’s kind of what I discovered.
I was at my friend’s apartment, and I looked at his bookshelf and found a book called Play by Stuart Brown. I thought, “This will be fun and interesting.” I started laughing as I read it, and I read the whole book in a sitting. It was like, “Oh my god. This is the answer that I’ve been look for this whole time. And I didn’t see it because it’s so plain as day.” And the book is not about how to get yourself into a mentally healthier place. The book is about the biological reasons that humans play so much and what it does to our creativity and why we evolved to play when it’s this seemingly childish or this activity that doesn’t seem necessary on the surface, to our survival, but it’s actually the most critical thing, probably, apart from sleep and breathing.
What was interesting is reading about what happens to people and mammals when you deprive them of play. Even if you give them food, water, shelter, space, and love, if you deprive them of play or stop them from playing when they start to play, they develop emotional and social handicaps. They grow fearful of the world, of their environment, of their peers. If their peers get too close to them, they’ll start lashing out violently at them. Play is like this hidden language where we learn, that we can use. It’s this tool that we can use to say to other mammals, “Hey, I’m safe. I’m not a threat.” And you can see this in other mammals. Mammals will play with each other. If you’ve played with a dog…
There are stories in the book about bears playing with wolves. This bear who was hungry and hadn’t eaten in over a week, it initially saw this dog, and he was going to eat the dog, and then the dog saw him and got into a playful stance and started playing with him. And the bear returned every day for the next week just to play with the dog and not to eat it. It’s this release from stress. It’s this way that we bond with each other. It brings so much joy into your life. And all of us play, but a lot of us stop once we reach a certain age, and we don’t really know why life just feels so stale and hollow.
So I started introducing play into my routine. What I mean by that is initially, instead of going to get coffee for a business meeting, I would go play catch at the park or go on a hike with the person. Then it became more like, how much can I add into my daily and weekly routine? So I was signing up for basketball. I took improv lessons, which was really impactful. I know a lot of people have resistance to doing improv, especially anybody who is struggling with anxiety, but it was really transformative because it taught me and reminded me that being playful isn’t about being the best. It’s not about doing everything right. It’s not about making the most money or being the most productive or getting to a next level. Being playful is like saying yes to whatever is going on in that moment.
There is this huge mindfulness and meditation movement going on right now, which is great, because it’s encouraging people to be okay with whatever is going on in the moment and not to be agitated by anything that’s going on. But that’s what improv was for me. It was training me to do that, and it was more fun because I got to do it with other people and laugh.
Within a month of just dedicating about 15 to 30 minutes of play every day, I was back to normal. And I didn’t really feel any acute symptoms of anxiety. It just kind of disappeared, and I almost forgot. I almost didn’t notice. I was like, what’s going on in my life? Why are things easy and enjoyable? That was really the breakthrough.
Jay: That’s amazing, and thank you for sharing that story. I know it’s a personal story, but I think that… I feel like there’s a lot of people that are maybe teetering on the edge that just don’t realize it. When you were saying all this stuff, I was thinking about my own life because I’m on the other extreme where I’m too much focused on work a lot of times. I hate spontaneity because I plan every minute of my day out. And I feel like when you were talking about play, now I have three kids. Some of the happiest and least stressful times of my week are on the weekends when I can just play with my kids and not think about anything and not have an agenda and just go with whatever their spontaneously playing with at the time.
I definitely know that it makes me feel a lot better after even just 45 minutes of playing with my kids and consciously putting the cell phone in the next room and just being with them. And it’s hard to disconnect like that from the digital world. But I think that it’s better for you. And I think feel like it’s one of these things where people resist it because they don’t believe it. But once you do it, you kind of realize the power of it.
I guess there’s many ways to play, like you were saying — improv or even playing basketball or recreational sports, I guess, is a good way to get involved.
Charlie: Or even video games. This is the thing that I really want to emphasize. Everybody’s play history is different. Looking back on your childhood and what you did with friends when you had this free time that no one was judging you and no one was grading you, no one was paying you to do these things. Adults weren’t telling you you need to put on this professional uniform and go play sports on this manicured field while we sit on the sidelines and film everything you’re doing. No. The types of play where you were in charge and you got to decide what were those things. What were the things that you enjoyed the most?
This is an exercise that’s worthwhile for anybody to do at any point in their life because that tells you who you are. It’s not about status. It’s not about being more impressive or making more money or all of this stuff that doesn’t really matter when you’re looking at a happier, healthier life. It’s who you are.
For me, it was those things. And for you, it could be totally different. And you’re talking about your relationships with your kids. If your kids love to play video games, the best thing you could do is to play those games with them and to not judge them or tell them it’s a waste of their life or anything like that. Everybody’s got different ways that they play, and they’re all okay.
Jay: Do you make an active effort every day or is it every week that you set aside time to incorporate play in your life?
Charlie: It’s a really good question. I think, what I do now, what my wife and I do, every week we have a “marriage” meeting where we just talk about some of the bigger picture stuff and figure out how we can improve our relationship and how we can support each other in any way. One of the questions we always ask is what do we have planned this week for our individual social lives. If we don’t have something on the calendar, we put it on the calendar right there. So each of us ensure that we’re doing something fun with our friends. So that’s pretty intentional.
Jay, you warned me this would happen, but I have a baby daughter now who, some of the most playful parts of my day are just interacting with her and just trying to get her to laugh. I was telling somebody recently, “I never thought I’d say this. But one of the best parts of my day is changing my daughter’s diaper at 6 AM when she’s woken me up. But it is so much fun, and I didn’t expect it to be. And, of course, I’ve got a dog who is extremely playful and has crazy amounts of energy. And after this call, I’m actually going to meet up with a friend to the park.
Jay: Awesome. That’s awesome, man. It’s good to sort of have that scheduling. It’s kind of ironic because I have to schedule play but I think, again, that people are better for it.
Charlie: Yeah. And to that point…that’s a great point. If you don’t schedule it, it’s probably not going to happen. If you find yourself scheduling it, and it’s still not happening, or it’s really tough for you to sync up with your friends to do stuff — let’s say, some people are like, my friends don’t really get into this stuff like I do — pay to be in a group that is dedicated to play. It may not be the ideal, but if you pay, then you’re committed to it, and you’ll actually show up.
Jay: I want to talk about your latest book which is called Play for a Living, which is beautiful, beautiful coffee table-type book, which you crowdfunded, actually, and it did extremely well.
Charlie: Thank you for your support.
Jay: Absolutely. It’s available for anyone to buy now?
Charlie: Yeah, it just got it up on Amazon within the last few weeks, I think.
Jay: That’s fantastic. I just want to say that actually my favorite part, Charlie, of the book is at the end where it’s kind of like a mini table of contents or index of all the pictures of the famous people. And you actually put their net worth at the end. For me, that was really… It hit me hard. It was like, okay, all these guys that you have these beautiful pictures and quotes about playing, they’re all super, super, super successful by any metric. So I thought that was really cool. So maybe you could talk about what the motivation behind this book was. And it’s a little bit different than your other two books.
Charlie: Yeah. I’m so glad you said that, by the way, Jay, because there were a couple of artists who were involved with the book who pushed back on that. They were like, “Why are you putting the net worth?”
It was like, “You gotta understand, it’s really important for people who are bottom-line driven to see that the bottom line can be so much bigger. And they don’t have to do it doing stuff that they hate.”
This book, what it was, was I wanted to make an art book with the people who changed the world, the people who have really innovated and shaped our cultures — everybody from Thomas Edison to Bob Dylan to J.K. Rowling to Plato. I wanted to have a huge array of people who embodied what it means to play for a living, not to work for a living, which is a very Protestant mindset of “we have to show up; we have to do these things; we have to…” It’s people who “get to” do these things. They chose to do these things because it gave them energy, and it gave them… It’s what they love to do.
Because you hear a lot of, obviously a lot of people say, “You’ve got to find what you’re passionate about, passionate about.” And that advice always kind of confused me because that word is… I’m passionate about movie trivia. I don’t really know… I’ll get fired up telling somebody about all this trivia about some of their favorite movies. That’s what I used to do when I was younger. I would just spend hours reading about movies and how they were made. I don’t necessarily… It was different. For Play for a Living, I wanted to make it clear that these are people who treated their work as a game, as a source of amusement. And they did it for the intrinsic motivation. They started with intrinsic motivation.
So most people work for external reasons. Most of us work for pressure. We have to pay the bills. We have to have a job. We have to be an upstanding member of our family. Some people who are lucky, they get to have a purpose. They get to work because they have a goal. They have a thing that they want to accomplish. They want to put a dent in the universe. They have a mission. So that’s people who are like, “I work for Tesla, and I get to work on helping the world save itself from us,” and that kind of thing.
I believe that the best work actually comes from doing it for its own sake, doing it because you just wanted to do it. And I think that’s the root of all great work. Those are the things that we end up valuing the most, whether it’s music and comedy and the arts to even philosophy. These are all things that are rooted in individual’s games, and they all start from an early age. You can see these things in kids, the activities that they’re drawn to, that they’re compelled to do on their own because they just want to. It’s fun to show their work to others and give their work as a gift to others because then they feel connected and recognized, and then they can go do it again. And it’s fun to master that skill and get even better at it.
That was kind of my hope with the book is just to show this different perspective that you don’t need to — I don’t know — live a life of hating your job always and just waiting to get to retirement and basically waiting to… You’re always waiting. The people who live in normal jobs are always waiting for the weekend, always waiting for vacation, always waiting for retirement.
I hated that. I hate that. I just knew that was not honest for a long time. And so I wanted to have a reminder that life doesn’t have to be that way.
Jay: It’s a great reminder. There is a bunch of different artists that… How did you even find these people, to agree to doing the various sketches or art pieces for the book?
Charlie: It was a really time-consuming project to make happen. There were 75 quotes. So 75 individuals that we had to get portraits for. And we wanted to have it be… At first, I was like, what if we just got Creative Commons photos and dropped them in there, and then we could crank this things out. But it was just like, for one, it just didn’t feel right to do the book that way. But two, creative commons photos are terrible for celebrities and public figures. So we decided we’re going to make each portrait.
Jay: Do it the hard way.
Charlie: We’re going to do it the hard way. And we corralled all these people. We looked on Behance. We looked on Dribbble. I think Dribbble’s one of them. We looked on Instagram. We just found these artists who were doing work that were in that spirit, and we encouraged them to participate, and we said right up front, “We don’t have money to pay you to be part of this project. If that’s important to you, if that’s the number one thing, please close this email. The rest is not going to be of interest. But if you are interested, here’s what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.” Most of the artists loved that. Because most of the time, people try and finagle artists into doing free work, but they’re not honest about it. They’re like, “Once this thing works out…” Or worse, they’ll be like, “I’ll get you a bunch of exposure.”
I was like, “Look. I’m going to promote the book and certainly I’m not going to mail that in. I can’t promise you any of that stuff. What this book is about is a manifesto.’
And a lot of the artists believed in the message of the book anyway because they were like, “I’m always having to tell my parents this is why I do what I do.” So a lot of them were really excited and happy to be a part of the project. Some of the art in there really speaks to that, where it’s just multi-layered, and it’s really captivating. So it turned out really great.
Jay: Yeah, you can tell the artists actually put a lot of work into creating each piece. It’s amazing. I highly recommend audience members listening in check it out. Play for a Living. You could probably see some examples of some of the great pieces online if you just google it or look on Amazon.
Charlie, man, it’s been so good catching up with you. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing your amazing stories and telling us about your books. What are you working on now, anything that you want to talk about? And where can people find you and connect with you, maybe learn a little bit more about the work that you’re doing.
Charlie: My pleasure, Jay. Thanks so much for having me. This was a lot of fun. What I am working on now… I’ve got a few things in the early developmental stages. The main thing that people can follow is Author Hour on iTunes, which is my podcast distilling those books. I guess I’ve started to give more thought to the realm of men’s emotional health. The reason is, is because after the Vegas mass shooting, I posted a piece on Medium that exploded, and I don’t say that to brag. I was truly surprised and almost shocked.
Jay: I read it. Yeah, it was great.
Charlie: Thank you. It just made such a… It went far and wide, and it made an impact on a lot of people. It sort of made me realize these guys just don’t have great support here. And it’s not enough to just call out these issues. I should be trying to solve these problems, these bigger problems. So I’m thinking more and more about that arena and just how to best go about it. And I don’t have any great answers yet. But I’m giving that a lot more thought.
Jay: That’s really cool. I’d love to stay in touch and follow what ends up happening with that. I absolutely think you should do something. The fact that you, after a tragedy like that, a lot of people threw up a lot of things online and social media, blah, blah, blah, but you actually took a significant amount of time and wrote quite a long piece that you obviously put a lot of thought into, and it went viral. So you obviously… People listened to what you had to say, and I think you could really make an impact there.
Charlie: Yeah. Thanks, man. Yeah, those are the big ones.
Jay: So Author Hour, are you on social at all?
Charlie: Yeah, a little bit. Just search Charlie Hoehn on any of the platforms. That’s where I am.
Jay: Cool. Also, man, thanks so much. Thanks again for your time. Appreciate it. And best of luck, man.
Charlie: Likewise. You too. I mean, it’s cool to see. It was funny when you first started this podcast because we were like, “Damn, how did he get this many great people on there?” But, you know, it was like we don’t know if he’ll want to stop doing this after 30 episodes or whatever. So it’s really cool that you’ve continued on with it and that it’s becoming a thing. So congrats, man.
Jay: Thanks, man. You know what’s funny? I don’t really consider it work, but the fact that I don’t get paid for the podcast, but it’s just opened so many doors for me, just doing the podcast and trying to add value. It just goes back to the free work thing that you said. You can’t quantify it. But I’ve just had so many opportunities, introductions and just my network has grown.
Charlie: Could you really quickly tell one of your favorite connections that you made that you’re comfortable talking about?
Jay: Yeah, sure. This is not really a connection, but this is a direct byproduct of the show. About three months into it, around April-ish, I was connected to the Forbes editor here in Asia who loved the show. And they agreed to have me come on as a contributor. And so I write weekly based on lessons learned from my podcast guests. It’s all sort of more entrepreneurial lessons but some investing. And that just kind of opened a further set of doors as far as authority building and trust building and credibility. So that’s a very sort of direct byproduct. And it would never have happened if I didn’t just one day set up a mic and say, “Hey, I want to start a podcast. Let’s do it.” That’s probably the clearest, immediate benefit, which again, it’s not monetized or getting paid or anything like that. But it’s just worked out.
Charlie: That’s awesome, man. And you’ve interviewed…gosh. I’m looking at it now. You’ve done 64… You interviewed Kevin Kelly. You’ve got an impressive lineup.
Jay: Yeah. I’ve been fortunate. Again, man, it all happened with you at the very beginning.
Charlie: Full circle.
Jay: Scrambling that last weekend. Yeah. Alright, man. Appreciate it. It’s been really fun catching up, man, best of luck.
Charlie: For sure.
Jay: Take care, man.
Charlie: Thanks, Jay.
Jay: Alright. Talk to you later. Bye.
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