Hey everybody, how's it going? I'm Chase Jarvis. Welcome to another episode of Chase Jarvis Live, here on Creative Live. You're tuned in specifically to the 30 Days of Genius series, and that is where I sit down with the world's top creatives, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders, and extract actionable insights from them that you can apply to your day-to-day and help you live your dreams in career, hobby, and life. If you're new to Creative Live or this series just go to CreativeLive.com/30DaysofGenius. All you gotta do is press that blue button there, and then you'll get one of these badass interviews in your inbox every day for 30 days. My guest today, wow. She is many, many things. She's a painter. She is a designer. She's an author. As a designer she worked for IDEO where she worked on brands like Medium, Mailbox, and Uber, and she is the author of a book that took the creative world by storm, called The Crossroads of Should and Must. My guest is none other than Ella Luna, yay.
I'm here. (upbeat music) (clapping)
They love you! Thank you. Do we shake hands? That's kind of, yes, yes, yes. So, this is many months in the making. I'm very excited to have you on the show.
I am thrilled to be here.
We were talking, before the cameras roll we do that occasionally, I have to confess, about living in the woods. I was like how have you been? The last time we talked you were at the height of your book launch. You just spoke at the... We sat next to you there at a VIP dinner in New York and I was just full of questions. I had to defer most of those questions 'til a year later. And then you said after all that hype, you moved out into the woods. Tell me, that's amazing. I wanna know about it. You were like, literally, traveling around the world speaking, sharing your book, which did so well, congratulations, huge,
Thank you, thank you.
very inspirational to so many that I know. Give me the, what's the scoop there? That was a fascinating move.
Yeah, we met at just the height. It's like the roller coaster was just like, click, click, click, up to the top, and then just went after that. Yeah, I went on tour, shared the book, just got to meet so many people who wanna talk about their creativity and how to make it work with money, and with time, and with kids, and a mortgage, and it's amazing.
Everyone's just trying to figure it out. That's really intense.
To talk to people about how to connect to their passion and find that river that flows through their life, and get on it, and not let go. After that--
It's amazing how resonant that is, like, I remember sitting next to you at the dinner. We were talking and so many people kept coming up, like, "Your book meant so much to me. "It really helped me understand the journey "that I was on myself." And it was just over and over and over. We really couldn't have a conversation. So it's super resonant. So, you're at the height of all that.
At the height, and I think it was like fate that we would sit next to each other, kindred spirits.
For sure, yes. And we dressed the same, but you wore it much better, for sure.
I don't know,
Maybe we can trade shoes, or something.
Yeah, I like your shoes. So, after New York, after all of that, after all the talking and the listening and just holding that space for months, I guess the tour was about six months, afterwards, I think it was June 1st, I like, put up an out of office email. You know, I kept talking about how important solitude is for your practice, and here I am, trying to get work done on airplane tray tables and hotel tops, desktops. So when I got back I just put up an out of office email, and I went into the woods for like two months.
Into the woods.
It was a bit like, have you see the movie Castaway ?
With Tom Hanks?
With the volleyball?
With the volleyball I felt a little like Castaway in the woods. So it was just a lot of solitude.
Good for the soul?
Yeah, just, I mean, when was the last time, I couldn't remember when the last time was that I really experienced the fullness of a day, just one day. Like, the temperature in the morning, and the way the morning smells, and, you know, there are flowers that close at night and then open in the morning, and different animals come out at different times of the day, and there's so many things in just one day, and I just felt like I was so busy, busy, busy, and this is a larger theme. I think we're at a really unique moment in time, culturally, where we're just addicted to being busy. Why?
Yeah, I've got a saying that busy isn't busy, busy's a lack of priority. And, clearly, you after some time felt that you had to prioritize simplicity, getting back to nature. Was that the creative side of you, or the human side? Is there any difference between those two sides? Are there many sides of the same coin?
I don't think there's a difference? Yeah, I think the creative side is probably the most potent part of the human piece. There's probably a lot of personas, and people, and voices going on in here, but the creative one is the one I would like driving the wheel of my life.
So, you're out in the woods. I'm picturing you, like there's this line, what is it, Caine from Kung Fu, who just goes and walks the earth,. Were you just, like, literally walking the earth? I mean, did you like, backpack, like, stick on the trail? So, I like the idea of, I can picture you waking up. You said you have a pop-top van.
I can picture you, but tell me more about your day-to-day. Did you spend time writing, drawing, creating, painting, or was it just observing?
Okay, so I've seen so many of your photographs. You are amazing at capturing adventure.
This is like the opposite. I wish I had some great story to tell you, that I was like, I don't know, hiking some great mountain. I just really stayed put.
I didn't go anywhere. You'd think with pop-top van I'd be cruising down to Mexico, or, I don't know. I literally just parked, and was like, I'm not moving.
And what did that do for you?
I think, hear that meditators talk about the reason they meditate is to find that still place within you where everything else falls away. And I'm not an avid meditator, but I think the practice is the same So, a typical day for me would be waking up with the sun. I would like waking up at sunrise. It would be the morning pages. Do you do morning pages or a practice like that?
I have a meditation practice and a gratitude practice that sort of usurps my morning pages, but I have experimented with morning pages. It's also quite powerful. So just three pages longhand, and then after that I would set a timer and I would write. And then I would do like a moving meditation is what I call it, so, either a hike, or a run, or yoga, something getting the body moving, really simple meals, painting.
Every day, all day?
Every day, every day, all day
For two months, that's amazing. I love it.
And a lot of sleeping I was just really tired. I don't know, it's just- I heard Julia Cameron once said that the more we treat ourselves like a precious object the stronger we become. And that seems a little backwards right? But I found that it was sort of like there was a bifurcation between everything above the neck and everything below. Everything up here was like we will go, we will go, we will do this, and we will be there, and we can do that talk and do that thing, and everything below the neck was saying slow down.
Slow down, I mean, that's interesting because I did one of these shows with Arianna Huffington, who's just dropped a new book on sleep. Sleep was a newfound thing for me. I was one of those people who thought I was somehow different or really didn't identify with sleep. Sleep was like that time you did between doing awesome stuff called life. And it was a time like you had to pull my car into the garage and turn it off. And what I didn't realize is that actually, sleep is when all kinds of great stuff happens, like when your body repairs itself, and when those juices that propel your creativity are sort of getting back into the right places in the body. And so, sleep was incredibly new to me, and Arianna just was, she dropped a knowledge bomb on me. It's like, people take better care of, you talked about an object of preciousness. She talked about people taking better care of their phones, which is not an object of preciousness, it's an arguably disposable piece of technology. And she's like, "Just think of how you treat your phone. "You bring it out. "You recharge it all the time. "You're careful, you don't want it to die, "so you bring the ability "to resuscitate it anywhere with you." You shine it, you know, it's like, by contrast, how do we take care of ourselves? We drive ourselves crazy until we can't go anymore and we either get sick, or get disease, or you know, basically break down. What a sad world that is. So it's interesting to hear that taking care of your physical body, how you talk about the neck down, was a priority.
And it took a while. One of the unexpected side effects is that my dreams have become really strong. Do you dream?
I do, yeah. And when I'm in my best mode of taking care of myself, I remember all of my dreams, not all of my dreams. I remember dreams daily when I'm taking care of my, you named many things that are on my morning sort of routine, like moving your body, quiet time, either meditation or morning pages, eat a good simple meal, and when I'm in that mode of really taking care of those things that are sort of on my list for wellness, my dreams are vivid. They're potent. I have the ability to connect real, like, my life with their meaning in a way that I don't if I'm not in that state. How about you? Contrast book release, book launch craziness with van life, for your dreaming and your sleeping world.
Well one day I called my mother, really really sad, and I said, "Mom, I haven't dreamed in 10 days." And she said, "Oh no, this is really bad."
We've gotta do something about this.
And it just made me wonder, it made me wonder why I was so busy and so out of touch that I was actually keeping myself from dreaming. So, similarly, my dreams are really vivid and potent. I dream in color, and there's even smells. There's whole worlds.
Wow, smells, that's next level.
And they, similarly, I feel like they are sort of modern day myths, right? Like, myths, I think our myths are changing. We're at a time right now when our myths are seriously changing. Religious myths are at a point of upheaval, globally. We're at a place where technology and the myths that that's going to be creating is really up for who knows? We're at a really unique moment. So for me, the dream is almost like the myth. And within the dreams, like if you can relate? So what I'm working on is, how do I relate what's happening in my dream world with what's happening in my real world? So, one trick I've been working on is every single aspect within the dream is actually like a fractalized version of you, the dreamer. So every person, every other person's actually just a mirror image of some component of me.
I think that about daily life, in general, not just in my dreams.
Well, there you go.
Yeah, no, keep going.
There you go.
Keep going, keep going,
So you can just, when you wake up, so I have a voice recorder that I keep next to the bed, because I couldn't quite go to, like, writing them down, so while I'm still kind of half asleep I just grab the voice recorder and I hit record. I say the day, you know, the date, and I just babble. And sometimes I fall asleep while I'm talking into the recorder, but I record my dreams audibly, and then, you know, when I wake up sometimes I'll forget all about it, and then, you know it'll be lunch time and I'll be like, oh I had a dream and I recorded it but I don't even remember what it was. And I'll go back and I'll listen to it. Then I'll transcribe it, and then go through and unpack, kind of move the camera around into the different. You can move into people. So you can kind of shift the point of view from the dream into someone else's eyes. You can also become the inanimate objects, so like, the floors, the surface areas, or the light, or like the environment that you're in. Like if you're in a jungle, what does that mean? And I prescribe to the belief that you're the, just because maybe there's a global metaphor for a dream doesn't necessarily mean that that's the meaning that we prescribe to it.
So, and then you kind of have this like, this sort of choiceless. It's like, isn't it wild that there's this thing inside of us that's serving up choiceless, totally unmediated images, without any logic or any conscious, you know, mediation? It's just dropping them, and saying like, will you deal with me? Will you deal with me? Will you make sense of me? Here you go. Isn't that wild?
It is. It's like, gosh, it's a conveyor belt of stuff you should look at, like, look at this, look at this. It's interesting that I haven't ever thought about the unmediated aspect of it, but, isn't it certainly mediated by, without getting too woowooy here,
I think I don't really agree with the mind-body dualism. I think that so much of who we know and what we feel up here is actually our body speaking. And it's not some sort of separate thing. And so, the idea of something unmediated seems a bit foreign to me, like, everything is mediated but it's mediated, it could show you X or it could show you Y, and so the reason that you're seeing Y has a reason, like you said, "Deal with me." I don't know. Riff on that for a little bit.
Well I think it's interesting you said, the mind-body connection, and then you said "so much," but I thought you said soma, and soma is Sanskrit for body.
So I was like, he's talking about the soma.
Yes, the soma.
Of course So, I don't know. I don't know.
Well you said something earlier. It was a very logical jump that I wanted to make. You said, I think you said the word intersection, or, basically it's crossroads. And I would like to, for the benefit of the folks who are on the other side of these cameras. The book was so powerful. Your talk, you like leapt on the scene as like, the most professional speaker of all time. I don't know if you practice your ass off or whatever, but you like, the very first time I saw you deliver that talk, I don't even remember what it was or where it was, but I was like, incredible speaker. Was the book in here for a long time first, then you created the narrative, or did it all come out at the same time? And maybe you could start off, well, answer that question first. So, was the book inside of you for a long time before you let it out, or did you start to let it out and you realized that it was all there?
Did you mean to just, like, perfectly tie this together?
I am a professional interviewer.
So, the book in some ways was delivered on the conveyor belt, because the book started off as a dream.
About your studio, right?
Yeah, so, I had this recurring dream about a space. And I would dismiss my dreams You know, just wake up in the morning, alarm goes off, like, boom, I'm already panicked, already behind.
Already grabbing for your phone.
Already grabbing for the phone, so dreams didn't really stand a chance with me for quite a while. And then one day I thought, I wonder if there might be greater intelligence to these images that continue to surface. And so, I shared that I was having this dream over and over again with a friend. And she basically asked the question that sent me on my way, in the way that really good questions do. And she said, "Have you ever thought about "looking for this dream in real life?" She's a very wise friend.
Is this a sage friend of yours, that uses words like soma?
Totally, so in the dream, it's basically, actually it has a bit of a feel of this space, just like a really big, cavernous, open space. And in the dream I would walk in, and it was all white. It was just the purest white. And it seemed to just almost glow. It was like an ethereal white light. And I would go, and I would sit on the floor, and I would be filled with the most unbelievable sense of peace. And, I would sit there for the duration of the dream until I woke up. And that was it. That was it.
So, how does one go looking for this space, If you take the advice of your friend?
Well, I felt really ridiculous thinking, you know, I've had this dream now. Let me go to try to find it. At first I thought the whole thing was silly, and just dismissed it. But eventually I just started looking on Craigslist. Because I knew exactly what the room looked like. I knew it intimately. And at some moment, I don't know if you've ever had this experience. Have you ever had a memory that actually you haven't experienced yet? It's like a memory that you're going to have in the future. It's something you know is going to happen, but it hasn't happened yet.
Yeah, I think about those, like those are visions of a future, for sure, like I think about them. You described it in a really interesting way, but yes, I visualize the future. Sometimes intentionally, like visualization and gratitude is a practice that I have, and I have done that on occasion, believed that oh, I was daydreaming, but I know that's going to happen in the future. I can just like put a check box by that, like, yep, that's soon to be.
Okay, how do you know? Where does that come from?
It's very fleeting for me, but it's like a cellular level awareness that's just like, oh, that'll take care of itself. And then I'm sort of on to the next thing. But knowing is very intuitive. I'm a huge intuition guy, so, but keep going. You're searching for your white room, and you'd seen this in your future and you knew it was gonna happen.
Yes, which is so strange, because I knew, and yet at the same time, I think, how does that work? (laughing) And yet I've experienced it.
It's crazy. So I knew I was gonna find this white room, and so I just kept looking on Craigslist. I just kept looking and looking and looking. I didn't tell anybody, but I was just looking for--
Were you literally just searching white room?
I was searching just apartments for rent in San Francisco, and it was everything from like, warehouse, to garage, to industrial space, to house. It was everything. And then one day I'm scrolling through Craigslist, and ju-ju-ju-ju-juum, it just goes right on by, and I was like, that's it. That's the room. It was literally, the warehouse windows were in the same places. It was a concrete floor, tall white walls, you know, two story tall ceiling. And, of course, there was an open house the very next day. Why not? So, I went to the open house, and there were all these other people there. And I just was so calm. I was like, it's already mine. And I just walked up, and gave the woman my application, and I left. And I got the apartment. Two weeks later I moved in, and on my very first night there I like replayed this dream, right? Because the only thing cooler than having the dream would be then
To live it?
Living the dream, yes.
So I walk into the room. And I sit down on the floor, in like, my appointed place, you know, I might have done something cool with my hands, and I'm sitting there like waiting for this pervasive sense of peace to wash over me. And instead of peace I got panic. Total panic. You know, I'm thinking, what did I just do? And, why am I here? And, I didn't even, like, really look at the closets that well. And I didn't look at the bathroom. And I began to panic, like, what have I done? And so, all of my kind of lizard brain things all start coming on, and now I'm up and pacing around the room. And so, I just decided that I would ask the room. Like if the room had come to me in my dream, well then maybe the room had some sort of answer for me. And so I said out loud, "Why am I here?" And as clear as day, the room said back to me, "It's time to paint."
Wow. I went to sleep. The next morning, I got up. I had painted all the time as a little kid. I painted all through high school, all through college. But I don't know, just somewhere along the way I stopped painting. I just started doing other things. I got busy. And so I went to the art supply store. And I, you know, rounded up the gang, got everything into the cart. I got home, and I just started making with an energy that was just enormous. It was just enormous. And I think that same energy must have carried me all the way to the dinner where we met.
Wow. So the story, as you told it just now, is very similar to how you've given in many talks that I've watched online and heard from you personally. And, bring in for us, if you will, the should and must components. Because listening to the take away is like, oh, you listen to your sort of inner voice. I call it intuition, and I think that's the strongest thing we have as people. And we get punished when we go against it. And we thrive when we lean into it. Sometimes it's things that we can't explain. But talk to me about the should and must, because to me, that is the part that unlocked for the creatives, for people that identify as creatives, and many times people who are seeking to identify as creatives, but they're stuck based on convention or societal pressure, or whatever. The people I've talked to about your book, I've recommended it hundreds of times, and they always come back to me and say wow, that was powerful medicine. Bring in the should and must components.
You got it. So, the basic principle is that there is a crossroads every time we make a decision, every time. And sometimes it's little. Sometimes it's big. But every time we make a decision, we get to choose between should and must. So should is all of the expectations and obligations that others put on us. So that could be at a parental level. That could be at a community level. It could be, and this is at its most insidious, when it's at a cultural level, when it's maybe the whole planet, right? And when we choose should, and you just put your finger on it, it just feels awful, right? Like, it comes back to haunt us. And I feel almost like the kinesthetic experience of should is just like, ugh, you can just feel everything. It's like this heaviness, and you can feel everything like, tighten and constrict. And yet, we choose it. Yet, we choose it. And when we choose to live large portions of our life in should, we're essentially choosing to live our life for someone or something other than ourselves. And the other option is must. Now must is who we are, like, who were are here. It's like, what we believe. It is what we know to be true. And everything else falls away. It is like that river of knowing, that, we just, we get on it, and when we are aligned with it, it carries us. And it's our convictions. It's our knowings. It's our longings, which you know, come from nowhere, our dreams, or somewhere. And when we choose must, we are honoring who we are and why we're here.
So, as someone who literally wrote the book, are you always able to choose must? Or do you still feel trapped sometimes by convention, cultural, familial, personal, societal? Tell us about your struggles.
Well, this is a great question, and this is something I haven't talked about a whole lot. And I think it's really important. When I wrote the book, I talk, you know, part of the book is about should, and part of the book is about must. And then when I went out and talked about it with people, we all, myself included, did this thing that was like, shoulds, no good, so bad. Put them in a little box. Put them away. Let's focus on must. Let's just follow the must, follow the passion. Let's just go there. And what I've learned is that if we don't deal with those shoulds, they just stick around like these invisible weights connected to our body. If we don't actually bring them into awareness, they linger. So paradoxically, the more we're able to bring awareness to our shoulds, the more it catapults us into must. It's like, are you familiar with this thing called The Alexander Technique?
I don't know. I'm sure I must be familiar with it, but, maybe I don't know the name, but enlighten me.
Well, there's this cool technique. It's a bodywork technique called The Alexander Technique. And a friend of mine works with it and I didn't know what it was. So I Googled it. And this little quote came up. And it said, this is like the essence of The Alexander Technique, which, this should be the essence, should, I just said should, could, or would be cool if it was applied to more things. Isn't that great?
I love when we can catch ourselves.
I was about to put The Alexander Technique on all of humanity. Basically it says that when we stop doing the wrong thing, the right thing does itself. Go Alexander Technique.
Yeah, that's powerful too.
Isn't that amazing?
Yeah, yeah, that is, say it one more time.
When you stop doing the wrong thing, the right thing will do itself.
It's sort of effortless to, what I immediately went to, this is a weird connection but I'm going to say it because we're going there,
That you don't actually have to breathe in. By literally breathing out, the body has a vaccuum there. You breathe out. There's no effort. Like, you're not going like, (inhales) to capture air. But you breathe out. That's your diaphragm constricting. And then the relaxation automatically, when you relax, that is when you fill your lungs with air.
Yes, it makes me think of like the cycles of the moon, and how you're most guaranteed to get light when you're most in the darkness. (laughing)
I hadn't thought about that either.
So, the more you stop doing should, must has no other option but to happen. Can we write the next book together?
I think this is it.
Yes, well, speaking of the next book, I don't wanna go, we have to go back to should and must, but, it's true that you already have one underway, or almost completed. Complete?
Another, it's a collaborative book with a friend of mine, and it's complete. It's sitting in New York. We'll be announcing it soon.
It's hot. It's glowing somewhere in New York right now. Okay, more on that later. So, well keep talking, because I just wanna hear you talk more about should and must, because that's the thing that I feel like it awakened so many people. Should and must are powerful words. You caught yourself just a second ago. We throw those around a lot. How important were those specific words when you chose the title and when you were formulating the idea? Could you substitute a lot of words? Or are those the words?
I think those are the words. So, we're dealing with translation now, right? The book in other languages, and so I'm getting these really marvelous emails about translating it into other languages. And there's some languages, like Portuguese, they do not have a should and a must in their language. Isn't that phenomenal?
Yeah, no wonder those people are so happy.
Ah, just samba. That's the only word they have. (laughing) It's like in Bahasa, in Indonesia, they have no past tense or future tense, only present tense.
Wow. So, shoulds, I believe, so long as we're human and here, shoulds exist. I believe they just change. Or at least that's how I feel about them right now. Hopefully we're graduating and the shoulds are shifting. The shoulds... Sometimes in my morning pages I'll say, you know, what are the shoulds that I'm kind of wanting to bring awareness to? You know, what's got its grip on me? And I'll make a list. And I'll start at the top. So, where my work is heading now, is looking about what shoulds are like more as a woman. Now whether you're a woman, or a man, whether you're Latino, or African-American, we all have shoulds that keep up confined to these roles that we have inherited through thousands of years of other people living. And so, I'll give you an example of one that I'm thinking about right now. So, a should right now is, you should never age. So, advertising, mass media culture, as a woman, has got a lot to say about keeping me like, maybe 20 years old and like a size two forever. And it's this cool thing where I realize that I begin to fall into just this, there's this entire media world that's set up for me to move my way through it, through all the years of my life, in products, and all kinds of things that support that. And the more I can realize that that's happening, I can say, okay, well, how do I feel about it? What do I wanna do? Which parts of this game do I actually want to participate in? And that's what it is.
There's an intention behind it, so there's awareness, intention, those words often get thrown around together.
I would like to use the lense of should and must around... So, again, so many people on the other end of these cameras I have very conveniently, but, for simplicity, put folks into sort of two categories. There's a category of folks who identify as creative and I call that group sort of going from one to 10, or, 11, we'll use the Spinal Tap reference, going from one to 11. And then there's the group that have not yet sort of felt comfortable identifying as that, or they're in a job because they should. And, that's not to say that you can't have a great job and then exercise all your creativity outside of your nine to five, but I identify that group as the sort of zero to one, that sort of yet hasn't really identified as wanting to pursue their passions. Yeah, I think about them around just being a very creative spirit. But, for both of those groups, I feel like there are a bunch of shoulds. So, in the group that the, the zero to one group, oh, you should make sure to be able to provide for your family, because if you're an artist, the term starving artist is there for a reason, to remind you that most artists don't make enough money to feed their family, and x, y, z, so you should take care of all these other things and that part of you that really is being ignored right now is being ignored for a good reason. And then the should for folks who are trying to go, say, from one to 10, and we'll just use someone who wants to become a professional, a designer, or something like that, but, you can understand all kinds of different permutations there, but, I should go to design school, I should go to RISD, or I should start an internship, because working your way up through the ranks is how you learn, I should. And then there's a whole bunch of shoulds in both camps. Can you talk to me about how folks in those worlds might consider bringing awareness to those shoulds?
Complicated question, I realize, and that took me about three and a half minutes to get out, but, I feel like that would be so valuable. And what that does, is that brings your book, your thinking, your work, straight into the hearts of two different groups of people who are paying attention to this interview right now.
I would say it's less about which group you're in, and more about are you happy?
Just, mic drop right there, bam. Okay, keep going, keep going. Let it flow.
Are you deeply content in your life? Maybe being able to support your family is a lifelong honor. Maybe being able to get into RISD is a dream. Maybe being able to move to a new place or have a job at all is a dream. I think the tricky spot is when we're unhappy, is when we're really dissatisfied, is when it feels like everything's breaking, nothing's making sense, the rug's been pulled out from underneath you, and then you get a phone call that just rocks your world. Maybe you've lost your job. Maybe it's a family member's ill. Maybe it's just that you feel like you have no way forward. And in those moments I would say yes. Because discontent is the most amazing catalyst for something new. I don't know anybody who, you know, is drinking pina coladas and hanging out saying like, I'm gonna create great change in my life. I'm gonna really go for that thing that terrifies me. 'Cause I think when we're really happy and when things are going well, we're pretty happy.
Yeah, that's the thing that we're focused on, not some sort of change.
So if everything feels like it's falling apart, I'd say, amen, frickin' go for it, like, grab it. See where it's gonna take you. It's like, Leonard Cohen said, "The cracks let the light in," right? Like in painting, sometimes if I get really stuck with a piece, and I have no idea what to do next, so I really dislike this like dark, forest green color. Now, there's a lot of theories that say if you dislike a color then you should use that, should. Josef Albers says, you know, when you dislike a color, you ought to use that color, because it just means you don't understand it yet. And so, I took this advice, and when I had a piece, I didn't really know what to do with it. I had no way forward. I took a color I knew I disliked, and I just splattered it all over the piece. I was like, well at least I have something to do tomorrow. Right? Just, like, clean up that. So, any way that you can find a, look at a situation and say how do I just flip this on its head, or how do I? It's like, you know, when you think you're falling, dive. How do you change the narrative of your life, if you're in a moment where everything's falling apart? Maybe this is a moment that had to happen. Am I answering your question?
Yeah. It's beautiful. It's like poetry spilling out all over the place. Can you keep talking?
Sure, I guess it's just how to, like, just step into it. If you feel shame, if you feel anger, if you feel trapped, if you feel, like, step into it and move into it, because on the other side of all of that fear, on the other side of all of that stuckness, if you keep going and you keep going and you just stay with it, is freedom I think.
When you started paying attention to your dream and when your friend clued you into that, at what point of life were you in at that moment? Were you, had you been prepared to make this change? Were you discontent? (laughing)
I was working a really demanding job. I was the design lead at Mailbox, and we were building a revolutionary new product that was going to revolutionize email for the iPhone, and I was part of this team that wanted to take an idea from a post-it note all the way to something in the app store. And, from the outside, you know, I had a great job, I was able to pay my rent in San Francisco. I was able to be part of an incredible, world-class team. I was building brands and doing a lot of things that I'd been trained to do, and I felt really good at. And yet, something inside was just really missing. And it's, I think it's a hard moment, when you sort of feel like you got everything that you asked for, and you're there,
And you're twiddling your thumbs, like...
Totally. And I just, it was around this time that I came across this idea that there's different modes of work. Stefan Sagmeister calls them, you know, you can have jobs, you can have careers, and you can have callings. And it really set up this idea for me that how I thought about money and what I did, I could design that. So some people, you know, work a X number of hour week job, and they get paid, and they pursue their callings on nights and weekends. Other people, you know, like I think of some of the great artists throughout time, found a way to have incredible careers making art and pay all their bills. And then there's other people who say, hey art, I'm never, ever, ever, going to ask you to pay the rent. And that's pretty cool too.
And as I began thinking about that I was like, oh, you mean I get to design this? I get to, like, figure out how I feel about it? I don't just have to, you know, get my ticket and stand in line?
Wow. You mentioned Sagmesiter. Stefan is in this series of videos on the show, incredible guy, super super talented. One of the things that we talked about was a way of thinking of creativity such that it can motivate creativity on the spot. Now there are all kinds of philosophies or thoughts about art and you mentioned, I'll just reference the camps that you just talked about. So, as part of my career, a long part of it, is basically creativity on demand. I wake up in the morning. If I'm not feeling that motivated or creative, but I've got to go shoot this particular campaign, and there's, you know, 80 people outside my door depending on it, you don't really go like, ah, not feeling it today, and roll over, and hit snooze.
You gotta get up, and you gotta do it on command. And that's part of being a professional. And yet, there's a, you know, you referenced the other camps, but there are a handful of useful tools in those moments that I would go to, and I'm wondering if you have sort of go-to secrets or lenses that you put on in your world or your work that sort of help inspire you in moments where you're not inspired. Or do you only create when the inspiration strikes, then you go wild, and wake up, and grab your canvas and start painting?
Wouldn't that be great?
(laughs) It would be. It sounds very luxurious but also very distant from reality for me, personally.
I was blessed with the, just, need to create for some sustained period of time. And then after that the reality of I don't want to do this and there's 50 people outside the door arrived. And that happens now a lot more frequently. And so, what I learned is that there's a difference between kind of the mountain in the distance, of like, where I'm trying to go, where I want to go, that I can identify very clearly. Then the day to day that gets me there is sometimes, you know, glorious, and sometimes super bumpy. And, but every day, you have to do it, because you believe in where you're going. So for me the trick has been accountability. If someone, and that's tied to a person, if someone who I love is counting on me to deliver something, I won't let them down. So, I need to have accountability. So, a couple years ago, we started basically an accountability project online. It's called The 100 Day Project.
I love it.
And The 100 Day Project is pretty simple. It was a class started by Michael Bierut at Yale. And I wanted to go to Yale's Masters program so I could take this class with Michael. And I ended up not going to Yale, and years later I was in the middle of Mexico with friends, and it just dawned on me. I was walking down this, like, little street in San Miguel de Allende. I don't have to go to Yale to do the class.
(laughing) I love it.
I'm on this tiny, little, dusty street. And I was like, eureka, we could just do the project. I looked at my friends, I was like, we could do the project. They're like, what are you talking about? I was like, we just have to do something for 100 days. And we could do it together, 'cause there's 12 of us here. So, it was wonderful. It was great. It was a great moment of, like, a team of people coming together and saying, like, okay, yeah. We're all in. Let's do this. So we got on Instagram and we said, you know, for the next 100 days we're gonna be repeating a design action, like writing every day, or painting a painting, or drawing your left hand. And we're gonna do it every day and we're gonna share every instance of 100. So we did that. The first year I did 100 self-portraits, because a friend of mine said, like, "That's what makes a real artist, "that they can draw a self-portrait."
So I was like, ooh, I bit that bullet. And then last year I did 100 days of drawing my dreams. And then this year I'm doing 100 days of future memories. So, just the other night, oh gosh, it's like 11:30, and I'm, you know, hop into bed, pull up the covers, Lights are out. I'm ready to go to sleep. And I'm so tired, and I was like, oh, I forgot my post. I didn't do it yet. And I thought of all these people, I mean, I don't know, who are counting on me to do a post. You know, just one post every day, for 100 days. And so I got out of bed, and I went and I did it. Now if those people hadn't been there, I would have been so asleep.
If 150,000 people on Instagram weren't there, you would've been like, (snores) (laughing)
So, accountability, and putting things on a schedule. I have, like, a physical planner. I have like, I'm old school. And everything goes on the planner. And there's checkboxes and everything has to be checked. So there's a lot of structure. And sometimes I find, I use a kitchen timer from Ikea, like a tiny little Ikea kitchen timer with a loud buzzer, and I set it in 17 minute increments. I don't know why 17. And when I do something, I'm not allowed to leave the canvas, or move from the chair, or get up from the table for 17 minutes.
Can you say how you thought of 17? It came to you?
I don't know. I just, that's what I'm working with, 17. If it was 20, I think I would kind of know what 20 minutes feels like, and if it was five, I'd, but 17 is sort of an odd number.
Definitely. It's a prime number.
Oh, interesting. So, now I'm cultivating, because I find that I can get distracted really easily, another thing I'm really working on in addition to accountability, is getting to know my boredom. When I'm in the middle of something, sometimes I can, you know, my mind begins to trail off, or I'm thinking of something else. I just have to suddenly stand up and go find that book and read that chapter, you know? And it's like, nope, stay, stay. And maybe meditation helps with this as well. But just, you know, want to go make lunch? Stay. Want to go for a walk? Stay. Just stay. And cultivating that, or when I'm getting bored, and I want to switch tasks, realizing that, like, that's a doorway right there. If I can work through boredom, it's gold. But, you know, boredom, when you can sit with things, you actually get, I was joking before we met about how, the more I got close to my boredom, it was like, I learned how to cook because I was so bored. I did all my taxes on time. I planted a garden, all these things. Incredible creative output comes from this moment where you are ready to just bolt.
Like, I'm gonna do something instead of nothing.
So, let's talk a little bit more about structure, because I believe, and early in my career of making, I looked at schedules and constraints as the man trying to keep me down, like, no, I had the courage, the balls to step away from all this shit that everybody else wanted me to do, and now I'm free. I'm gonna, like, whatever I wanna do, and no schedule. And I actually kept that up for a painfully long time. And I thought the pain was painful because I was doing hard, good work, and then what I did is I said, well, that was the same thing I did yesterday, which was the same thing I did the day before, which is like, maybe creating some systems around this stuff would be really helpful. And I started with the mentality of creating some systems, and whether that was a daily habit or storing things in the same way on my computer, or whatever banal task, I just basically started using frameworks and systems, and it was like all this sort of tension just went, ah, and within these constraints, and within these systems and schedules that you're talking about, like your timer and, I suddenly found all kinds of freedom. And I'm wondering if you can talk about your experience with that structure that you just talked about, driving creativity, driving productivity.
Can you tell me about that?
Well, one of the things that really was tricky was when I was at Mailbox, just how busy everything was. Busy, busy, busy. And I think maybe that would be a word that would categorize all of my years working, like, in a structured work environment. And I just, you know, it was like, there were so many meetings. And there were so many meetings about meetings. And it was, there were so many goals, and these kinds of graphs, and I just felt like I needed to just step away from all of that so that I could try to have a restful mind. And it felt like if I could find that resting spot in my mind, I could re-approach all of the busy-ness with a new perspective. And so, now, now things are, they're doing this, and they're happening in life. But it feels different, and this is why. My friend Susie has this saying. She says, "When we have more fun, we get more done." And I just loved that when she said it. And it was, like, how can I make sure that throughout the day, I'm eating well, I'm checking off all the boxes, that I'm getting all of my accountabilities finished, I'm able to move my body, that I'm able to meditate or have some sort of private, more solitude practice. And I'm able to go to sleep early and have great dreams. And there's this book, called The Kin of Ata, it's The Kin of Ata or Waiting for You is the name of the book It's this, like, super trippy, great book about how their entire society is organized about their dreams. So I'm really into dreams right now.
Can you break those down into words for me? The Kin of Ata? Kin, as in.
Kin of Ata.
Those of use who are kin, of Ata, A-T-T-A-H?
A-T-A. The Kin of Ata Are Waiting For You is the name of this book. And it's a utopian novel. It's beautiful. And in it, someone from our time goes to Ata, and meets the kin. And there's this scene where he says, "How much do I work?" And one of the Atans says to him, "Work so much, "work enough that you have good dreams, "but not so much that you don't dream at all." And there's, that really rocked me, because you wanna work enough where your mind is healthy, where your body is moving, where you're participating,
You're invigorated, yeah, but not enough where you're collapsing. And I think that was the thing about, you know, not dreaming for 10 days, when I didn't dream for 10 days. I was like, I'm overworking. I'm, you know, I don't even have space to dream I'm so busy. So I thought that was really cool. And maybe it varies for each one of us. And as we get more settled into like a work flow and a schedule, I think, like, keep checking in from here down, like, how's it feeling? How's this feeling? Do I need to switch it up? Maybe I need to go swim on my lunch break or maybe I need to make sure I get, like, yoga in at least once a month, or once a week, or whatever it might be.
I think know thyself is such a powerful statement. And it has been a recurring theme in this show and in my life, especially in the last year or two. I feel like I'm reasonably self-aware, and just this concept of knowing thyself just continues to smash me in the face, like, every other day for really some unapparent but clearly apparent reason. And when you said know how much you work, and 40 hours is totally arbitrary, some people get a lot of energy from working more, some people fatigue after less than that, and just being able to listen to your body. So let's talk about that a little bit. Intuition is something that, you know, I have, when people have asked me about both my successes and failures, it's pretty unanimous for me that my answers are, I can always reflect them against the backdrop of was I listening to my intuition? For my failures, I was not listening to my intuition. For my successes, I was. Can you talk to me about your intuition and about the intuition of the people you admire and respect and when you've been sort of in authenticity and out of it?
Well at the end of traveling around for the book, I felt really out of touch with my intuition. I felt, I was exhausted. I felt really tired. So I guess, before I answer, how do you get back in touch with your intuition if you feel like you, if it feels far away? What do you do?
This sounds dangerously cliche, but it is the thing that I actually know works for me, and that is, I go to this very simple list. It's a list that I've learned to make for myself, such that, there isn't a moment where if I'm doing the things on this list, for a series of just a matter of days in a row, that I can't actually not fall back into authenticity. And it's a very simple list of, like, spend eight hours in bed. I don't require that I get eight hours of sleep but I spend eight hours in bed, exercise every day, meditate for 20 minutes in the morning and the evening, eat a certain. It's very body centric, like, if you do these things, there is some mental practice in there, I have not found a time where that hasn't rescued me. And in my darkest moments, as a human on this planet, I have come to realize that, oh shit, I'm not doing this set of things that I know is my prescription for good. Even in a very depressed state. I have really never been depressed or struggled deeply, deeply, when I have, since I have made, figured out this list for myself. So it's a very simple, it's a very programmatic sort of approach, that, if I do these things, I am me. And that's not to say I don't have good and bad days in there. But good and bad days, they are part of, they're the contrast of what it means to be human. So that's what I do. I go to this sort of a prescription. And the prescription, it's a reasonably new, it's just a couple years new, I'd say three years new to me, and it took me a long time to develop, but I knew certain parts of it as a young person, different parts as an adult, and I've only recently been able to put them together, and it's been, knock on wood, pretty bomb-proof. Now back to you. What do you do?
That's probably what I do. I think when I feel far away from my intuition, I have to, I have to just be alone for, if I could have three days that would be ideal, but somewhere between one and three days of solitude. And it invites, you know, whenever you create those empty spaces, it invites everything in. And it allows anything that I haven't taken responsibility for, to have a conversation with, it invites it in. Sort of like saying, alright everyone,
Let's get our shit on the table
You can come out now. This is a safe place. Let's have this conversation because I wanna, I have a lot of important things I wanna do. So, that space, and it's harrowing, right? There are moments when, there were moments this summer, being in the woods, just, you know, you're having conversations with yourself, right? Like, maybe one part of myself that I'm less in touch with, I'm having the more knowledgeable part of me that's talking to that person, and then there's another observer that's coming in, and there's all these different voices and people even within me. And I've learned, it was a writer's technique which was about how important it was to name the different, like, personalities and personas within you. So I have a phobic side, that can just get, you know, everything is just about to teeter on the edge, you know, everything wrong is about to happen. Actually it already happened. And that voice is always there, and it's just really afraid. And so I have to, you know, figure out how to calm that one down, and make sure that decisions aren't coming from that place. Because if that part, if the phobic part of me is making decisions, then that's definitely gonna take me away from my intuition. What I know about my intuition is that it's really joyful. And that it just knows what it wants. I know that it's full of love. That part of me is just deeply happy and is a big believer in sharing and a big believer in community, and dialogue, and openness, and utopian books, and it's like that's, that's the part of me that, that's like the sacred part that I want to make sure everything else is in check so I can be buoyed. But it's not always that way, right?
It's not. (laughing) You mentioned books many times. So, maybe let's call this a speed round. Let's talk about a couple things that you love or a couple things that you could recommend or help some folks that are, like, sometimes I find that when we have, you know, heady conversations about very, sort of, dynamic and very personal things, that people who are listening or watching might be able to get in touch with those. And on the flip side of that same coin, what are some books that you love? What are some movies? Or what are some things that you like to do that, if you could prescribe them to someone who's listening, what would some of those things be? Do you have some favorites?
Yes, cool. Oh this is fun. Siddharta by Herman Hesse would be probably number one. Do I need to say anything about why?
Just do it.
Yeah, that's a great one.
But that's not a should. That's an offering. Ursula Le Guin, she is amazing. I would say The Wizard of Earth Sea is a fairly easy read. I almost think that should be a foundational book for all people.
Wow, that's a pretty ringing endorsement. Foundational book for humans.
I think that would be a great, like, ninth grade mandatory reading in like, public schools. Children's books are phenomenal. The Little Prince is a favorite. Another favorite is Frederick the Field Mouse. Um, let's see, what else. I would say, there's a great book called The Power of Myth. It's conversations between Bill Moyers and Joseph Campbell.
Joseph Campbell really, really got it. I would say there's a whole other category of books around if you're feeling stuck, or if you're feeling this sort of grumblings in your life, I would say dive into the Enneagram. Do you know what the Enneagram is?
Do you know your number?
I don't know it by heart, but I've, myself and my executive team here have done it and we all sort of go back and do it every once in a while. But I'm not into it enough to memorize my numbers.
It's so cool.
It is super cool.
So there's nine numbers and they represent the nine different personality typologies. And it's the basis, I didn't know this, it's the basis for Myers-Briggs.
I just had experienced it as different from Myers-Briggs, and seemingly more powerful and effective. Because, you know, Myers-Briggs I'm an ENFJ, or, I'm not that but that's a thing that some people might be. And I can read my Enneagram and go, wow, that's like nailed it, scary. So it's a basic personality test that it's sometimes fun to do and sometimes not so fun. My wife Kate is really good at them. My wife Kate, also, she once a year does a somewhere between a five and a seven day no talking retreat, like a Zen retreat, and she talks very clearly and fluidly about the things that come up for you when you are not, like when you don't talk to anyone for nine days. Anyway, the Enneagram, I like it. So Enneagram, you think, awareness, like, self-awarenes, know thyself.
Yes. The Wisdom of the Enneagram is a great one. The Enneagram in Love and Work, so can basically look at your Enneagram number and then look at another person's Enneagram number, whether it's a romantic relationship or a coworking relationship, and you can figure out how those numbers are gonna interact, which is very cool. Um, oh my gosh...
Any other stuck? I liked when you said if you're stuck.
The War of Art.
The War of Art is terrific. I was making sure I didn't flip those.
The art of war, 'cause there's a different book.
Yes, Jessica Hagy.
Oh, and Jessica Hagy too, yeah, yeah. And Jessica, and Michael, and all those guys are New York design Illuminati.
Um, let's see. If you're feeling stuck... Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon.
Love Austin. He's in this series as well.
He'll get you unstuck really fast.
He's so good.
I would just say, if you're feeling stuck, like, just take 10 minutes every day to do something that sounds fun. Something that like, the little kid in you wants to do.
That is one of the things that's on my list, my daily survival list, is play or make. And play can be like, literally goof off and do something wacky, or sit down with the intention of actually making a thing. And whether that thing is a picture, or a drawing, or whatever, those two things, it's not an accident that I put those things together. You said the word joy so many times. I loved it. Those things both bring me joy, being a knucklehead and goofing off, and making stuff.
It's really fun to make stuff if you tell yourself before you start, that no one is going to see this. That you're gonna throw this away, or, you know, it's just gonna go in that drawer. So, you might as well just have fun.
Okay, so, a whole bunch of books there, a whole bunch of ways for getting unstuck. Are there any other recommendations that you would like to make?
Any other recommendations...
Anything, literally, anything.
Yes, that's the kind of show this can be.
This isn't on T.V. because I wanted to be able to have it be whatever we wanted it to be, not what some other, what's DJ Khaled says, "They don't want us to win."
Wow, I, um...
If you could recommend something, a food, a book
Let's just say, like, oh, food, wow, my head's exploding.
I would just say, I feel, this is me.
For years I was craving nature. I was just craving it. I just felt, I was just here, like on this glass screen, and there was just something about nature that was really calling to me. And I would say that, share that with friends, and they would say, "Me too, me too" So I would put anything on that list, like, just go for a road trip, or go camping in your backyard, or, like, open up all the windows of your house, even if it's freezing. Turn off the heat, open up all the windows, and just know what it's like to be, like, chilly in your house and wake up in the cold and, like, smell the morning.
I like having bare feet on earth. That's a good feeling.
Wow, yeah. Go swimming naked. Just go feel the sun. Just, I don't know, just something.
(laughing) I love it. I would like to, before I ask you if you have any last words, I would like to have, there are two sort of other speed round things that I haven't got to. One is, what is something that people most likely don't know about you that if they knew, they would be surprised?
Well, probably my first big should must crossroads. The first big one. I got to the crossroads, and on one side it said you must be an artist, and on the other side it said, but you should go to law school. And I sat there looking at that and I thought, I really should go to law school. And so I applied to nine law schools. Like really trying to get in with that intention. And if I had gotten into one of them I would have gone, because I come from a long line of a really talented lineage of attorneys. And so I applied to all of them, and I think in my admissions essays I must have just said in, like, glaring all caps, bold, italic, like, please, don't accept me. Please, please, my life will be so much better And I got rejected from all nine, which at the time felt like, oh my gosh, I've failed the family. And looking back I see it as a huge gift from the Universe. Huge, I would have gone. I wouldn't be here.
That's for sure.
So, that is probably something that people don't know about me, is that I genuinely tried to be a lawyer.
Yeah, I don't even like small print.
(laughing) Or the backs of documents.
Can I confess something?
I did the same thing with medical school.
Except I went so far as doing the interviews and then freaked out, like, this is so real, 'cause I was basically pretending to do everything that everybody else wanted me to do. I was like, oh, if you're hard working and reasonably smart, you should be a doctor or a lawyer. And so, I was like okay. Because that's what I do, I don't want, you know, that's the societal pressure that I was talking about earlier. And I got to the point where I was like, okay, great, I'm gonna sign up for the next, like, X years of my life. Interestingly, I was on a podcast a couple days ago, that some physicians had reached out. This guy is, I forget the, gosh, what's the name of the podcast? Do you remember?
I forget now.
Oh, the something physician. Anyway, like, I was therapy guy, because I decided not to do it and there's so many physicians who go into it for the wrong reasons. I got this close and freaked out, ran the other way to pursue my calling of becoming a photographer.
And those are like secrets for both of us, sort of, yeah.
Okay, so I think we've just come up with another--
A book, a collaboration?
Another insight for how people can get unstuck, how they can follow their intuition.
Are you familiar with the scientist David Eagleman?
No, I don't want to be.
He studies the brain, and he's just really a smart dude, and he has this trick that he talks about, where he says, if you have a coin, so, law school on one side, artist on the other, photographer on one side, medical school on the other, and you flip it. And when you get it, so, you choose one, right? And then you look at the result. And however you feel about that result that's come up, actually shows, like, your true, more like intuitive tug.
If you're like, oh, damn,
Damn, I didn't get the artist side, And that's what happened to you in your interviews.
Yes it was.
Yeah, I freaked out, for sure.
Narrowly averted. So, that's a great thing people don't know about you. I liked your answer for that. You're E-L-L-E-L-U-N-A on everything, right?
What do you spend your most time on, if people want to follow you?
Instagram. That's also your website?
Dot com. You're painting. You're writing books.
What's the next big thing for you? Is that the book?
Book number two.
And book number three.
Are you an author now? Is that your profession from here forward?
Oh, no, I think I just write things. I write, I paint, I make a mess.
Are we all hyphens? Are we all many things now?
I hope so. It's more fun.
I don't know what else to add to that, other than I'm super grateful. Thank you so much for being here. Is there anything else? I think we covered a ton of ground. I've just been, I could talk to you for a long time and we'll probably keep talking after they turn the cameras over. Anything you want to tell the folks at home?
Can I close with a Joseph Campbell quote?
I would, I mean, there's no better way.
Who says no to that?
I'm gonna get out of the way, make sure all cameras on you.
So, Joseph Campbell says to Bill Moyers in this interview Power of Myth series, he says, "Follow your bliss, and don't be afraid, "and doors will open where you didn't even know "they were going to be."
And with that, I will leave you. There is another one of these interviews coming tomorrow if you're signed up with 30 Days of Genius. I'm Chase, and this is the amazing Elle Luna.
Thank you. Bye everybody, have a great day. (slow rock music)