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Communitizing

The longer I spend on the road, the more opportunity I have to become socially withdrawn. It’s the nature of the beast: when you’re always somewhere else, society moves on, and although people may keep up with your words, and you with their work, your lifestyle and theirs no longer sync up very well, and meetups tends to be isolated events rather than habits.

I have no problem with this, actually. It allows me to choose my friends carefully, and my habits even more so. I’ve also come to realize that having an online community of friends and comrades-at-arms can be just as satisfying as having a real life version of the same, so long as that community is made up of the right people, and given the appropriate amount of attention.

Building communities from scratch is a far different creature. When you’re simply juggling the responsibilities of keeping in touch with friends, family, colleagues, and a core audience, the construction and maintenance of said groups comes second nature; instead of being a good friend on the playground, you’re being a good friend via email, or in 140 character chunks. Most of us have plenty of practice with this.

Starting up something new requires a great deal more than that; you can’t just sit and wait for your social gravity to pull others into a convenient orbit, you actually have to build a new planet and hope someone else shows up.

I had an idea for a business model the first few months of 2012, and I bought myself an LLC for that business model (as a birthday present) in April. I thought long and hard about who I should ask to help me build the thing, and thankfully all three people I asked (Joshua Millburn, Ryan Nicodemus, and Thom Chambers) were just as excited about it as I was. Just like that, Asymmetrical was born.

In our minds, at least. The foundational level of the business involved building a community of publishers that would allow us to hone and focus our ideas while locking down exactly what modern publishers need so we could be serve that audience with our intended future offerings. It wouldn’t be enough for just the four of us to get excited and be active members of the community: we’d have to present the idea in such a way that other people would do the same.

And so we built the planet (with the help of code-wizard Andrew Elkins), and invited people in. A few days ago we invited folks who had signed up early to join us and be part of our first round of community members. I was nervous at first — having lived in LA, one of my more frequent nightmares is still the social suicide that follows throwing a party and having no one show up — but the community has flourished from day one, and enjoys active involvement from people all over the publishing map. Poets and nonfiction writers. Bloggers and novelists. Journalists and screenwriters. People who are actively looking for agents and folks who have decided to self-publish. Authors looking to make writing their full-time gig, and part-time hobbyists. It’s a well-rounded community already and I couldn’t be happier about that.

I’d like to invite you to come check out the Asymmetrical Community at your leisure. It’s an online home — one that can be a periodic port in the storm, or your full time crash pad — and it’s full of people looking to up their publishing game, learn from each other, and share what they already know. I personally have made socializing there a big part of my day, so if you want to chat, that’s the digital coffeehouse I’ll be working from. I’ll save you a seat.

My next blog post will be an excerpt from my new book, Iceland India Interstate, which goes on sale Monday, June 4. I really can’t wait for you to read it; I’m truly proud about how it’s turned out. If you want more info, to see the cover, or to get an email reminder when it’s released, click the book title for sweet satisfaction.

Blog

Committing to No Commitments

A few years ago, I made a decision to stop committing. Long-term, at least.

Think of how many commitments you have in your life. Agreements and contracts and relationships that will be with you for years into the future.

Now imagine what life would be like without those commitments.

These days, monetary commitments are a big part of what make large purchases viable. An iPhone would cost upwards of $600 off-contract and not locked into any particular phone company. Commit for two years, though, and you get it for a fraction of that cost.

Unfortunately, these are the types of commitments that are harmful long-term. Not only are you locked into using a particular network for two years, you’re also committed to paying a certain amount of money every month for that amount of time. Your overhead has increased, and will stay increased, regardless of how your life changes in that time period.

Similarly, most people rent apartments for a year or more at a time. This is the kind of decision that impacts everything: you are stuck in that apartment for at least a year, and short of breaking the contract (which can be tricky to do), you have no way out. You owe a certain amount of money each month for at least a year, you will live in the same place for at least a year. Your year is pre-planned, and nothing that happens during that year can change that.

If you want to scale down — make less money for a bit, but take more time for yourself — you can’t, because you’ve got a set amount of money you’ve committed to paying every month.

Commitments can be positive things, of course — it’s nice to know how long you’ll be living someplace so that you can plan ahead — but they do limit your options significantly, and perhaps more than most people even realize.

One of the most common complaints I hear from people who tell me about what they want to do with their lives is that they’re locked into a certain lifestyle. They have a job, they have an apartment or house, they have a phone plan, they have loans, they have pets and relationships and gym memberships.

There is nothing wrong with having these things, but it’s important to realize that having them limits your options. It may make sense to spend $100 and take on a new two-year contract so that you can enjoy an iPhone now, but doing so results in your paying more over the spend of the next two years, and results in you being stuck with that phone, and that plan, for the same amount of time.

Think back to who you were and what you were doing with your life two years ago. Are you the same person with the same needs? Were the technologies at the time the same as they are now? Were the variables in your life that guided your decisions the same as they are now?

Probably not.

The decision that I made a few years ago was not to eliminate commitment completely, but to put a ceiling on how long my commitments would last: six months.

Six months is the maximum amount of time I will commit to anything. In work, in relationships, in subscriptions or services, the most I’ll be locked into is six months. After that time, I can reassess my life and my needs and decide whether or not to continue working with that company, dating that person, or living in that apartment, but giving myself the opportunity to check-in and make that assessment has made all the difference in the level of freedom I enjoy.

There are things I’ve had to give up as a result of this rule, but generally it’s not too big an issue. If I want to rent an apartment, I have to look a little harder for someone who will rent for a shorter term. If I want to have a mobile phone plan, I choose the monthly option and only use unlocked phones. If I want to date someone, I take the time to explain the philosophy behind this concept. Adapting this kind of lifestyle comes with limits, but they are far less invasive than the limits you remove.

This approach isn’t right for everyone, but for people like me, who value freedom over convenience, it’s the best I’m found so far. If you want to give it a shot, do what you can to eliminate existing commitments from your life, and accept no new ones beyond a certain span of time. It’s that simple.

At the end of the day, this is a lifestyle experiment like so many others that I’ve tried, but it’s stuck around longer than most I’ve undertaken. Thankfully, like everything else, this experiment is called into question every six months, as well, so if it ever ceases to suit me and the lifestyle I want to lead, I can easily cast it away, once again enjoying long-term gym memberships and discounted smart phones.

Blog

You Should See My Car

There’s a guy that everyone knows. Let’s call him Car Guy. Hi Car Guy!

Car Guy is the guy who has a great car. The thing is really slick; he’s been working on it for years. Rims bigger than his neighbor’s rims. A big ol’ fin on the back. There’s a massive muffler that makes it really loud, annoying everyone for miles, but it sounds heavenly to Car Guy.

The thing I’ve always wondered about Car Guy is this: when he’s not with his car, who is he? He’s invested everything of himself into a thing, so what’s left when that thing isn’t around?

Car Guy goes on a date, and what does he say? “You should see my car.” Until then, he does his best to pass the time, just a regular Guy.

It was about 8 years ago that I decided I never wanted to be ‘just a Guy;’ a super-hero with all kinds of fancy equipment but no powers, and all my gear just out of reach. Instead, I wanted to BE the gear. A Car Guy without a car is just a Guy, but a Guy who is an Awesome Guy is always an Awesome Guy, no matter what he’s driving, where he is, or what kind of date he’s on. He has super-powers, not a losable, breakable, stealable, unwearable-on-dates utility belt.

You shouldn’t depend on something else to make you whole. You shouldn’t be defined by your car,  your online avatar, your fancy clothes, or your slick new gadget. You should, solo and naked in the woods, be just as epic and impressive as you are fully tricked-out with all the accoutrements of modern society.

And you do this by learning. By taking in new knowledge and becoming more self-aware. Over time, you become more confident, and over more time, you start to define your personal philosophy and a strong set of ethics. These are the things that make someone epic in any situation. A car is just a tool, and any tool works better in the hands of someone who sees it as an accessory to their life, not as a necessary component of making them whole.

 

FYI: I’ve started up a new business with some people whose work I respect greatly: Josh and Ryan from The Minimalists, and Thom from Mountain & Pacific (which publishes The Micropublisher and In Treehouses). We’ll be releasing more details soon, but it’s a bit like a community for independent publishers, along with a record label of sorts for authors of all flavors and all kinds of published materials.

Sign up to receive more details — and get in on the ground level of things — at asymmetrical.co.