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Unmarketable Thoughts

One of the most common questions I’m asked — during magazine interviews, on podcasts, by strangers while I’m on tour — is what ‘success’ means to me.

It’s a simple question, but also a big and unwieldy one. Success can be a goal, or a set of goals, or it can be a feeling; a vibe. Success to some people is a milestone. To me, it’s a journey.

I have a lot of goals. Tangible things that I’ll someday accomplish and cross off a mental list.

But the bigger picture, the umbrella under which my lifestyle goals all fall can be summed up as such:

I want to do unmarketable things and think unmarketable thoughts. I want to explore and learn and live and enjoy, unburdened by whether or not the things I geek-out about are appealing to anyone but me, or price-tag-able and popular in the global economic system.

In some ways, this is a bigger ask than wanting to own a yacht or sell a million copies of a book. To enjoy rewards that fall outside of the dominant reward-divvying system is tricky, not because it’s wildly difficult to achieve, but because it requires a bit of meta-presupposing. It requires thinking about rewards beyond those of the sort we’re told we can work toward.

It’s like walking into a hardware store and demanding to see a ballet performance: it’s off-menu and inappropriate. It’s really asking very little, but situationally, it’s asking way too much.

I have nothing against earning money. Earning enough money to pay the bills and keep a roof over my head and pay for plane tickets is a necessary component of my happiness. I even enjoy the challenge of presenting the fruits of my intellectual labors as sellable objects: writing books, speaking to crowds, producing beautiful and hopefully valuable media of all flavors.

But success, to me, is being able to focus primarily on my own enjoyment of these things. To prioritize personal happiness and fulfillment and growth, and to use the byproducts of those acts as an economic support system.

This is the antithesis of how I once operated, at which point product was paramount and my own development, secondary.

After flipping that polarity, life has been…different. Richer. Success is a part of everything I do, from the moment I wake up, to the moment I go to sleep. I feel that I’ve already arrived, am already there, enjoying the benefits of an end-goal, without that success stifling my desire to keep creating, continue learning, always be growing and sharing what I can along the way with those who want to do the same and feel the same.

Those milestones — those to-do list goals — have become cobblestones on an everlasting path. Rather than destinations, they’re each a single step, a wonderful moment in time, which helps me reach the next one, then the next, then the next.

Seeing success as a state of being, rather than a destination, gives us permission to think unmarketable thoughts, consider unpopular perspectives, and soak up unsharable moments.

It doesn’t mean that we can’t also prosper economically, it just means that whatever monetary rewards we receive will be on top of the satisfaction we already enjoy.