Ryan Holiday is one of the world’s bestselling living philosophers. His books like The Obstacle Is the Way, Ego Is the Enemy, The Daily Stoic, and the #1 New York Times bestseller Stillness Is the Key appear in more than 40 languages and have sold more than 4 million copies. Together, they’ve spent over 300 weeks on the bestseller lists.
His new book, COURAGE IS CALLING is available now!
He lives outside Austin with his wife and two boys…and a small herd of cows and donkeys and goats. His bookstore, The Painted Porch, sits on historic Main St in Bastrop, Texas.
John Shegerian: This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy. It’s the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit ERIdirect.com.
John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast. My name is John Shegerian, and I’m so honored to have with us today, Ryan Holiday. He is one of the best-selling authors that we have today in the United States. This is his 12th book we’re gonna be talking about today, Courage Is Calling. Ryan, welcome to the Impact Podcast.
Ryan Holiday: Yeah. Thank you for having me.
John: You know, I’m not only a huge fan. I read your daily stoic and you already have at 34 years old, a huge body of work behind you. The obstacles away. Ego is the enemy, daily stoic, stillness is the key. I mean, for million-plus copies New York Times bestseller. Before we get talking about church-going, where did you grow up? How did you even get on this journey of being this prolific writer?
Ryan: I grew up in beautiful Sacramento, California. Not a child of writers or really anyone involved in anything sort of like this. My dad is a police officer. My mom’s a school principal. Sort of ordinary civil servants kind of a family and, I just felt I fell in love with books. I knew I wanted to do something around books. I wasn’t sure if I could be a writer. I just knew that I loved reading and I wanted to do something very different, then how my parents lives were. I didn’t wanna go to an office. I didn’t wanna have a job and, ended up here through a variety of a strange twists and turns but I wrote my first book when I was 24, I think. So, I do have a body of work behind it but I also got started earlier than most. So it’s somewhat unfair advantage.
John: Right. What informed you? What made you such a bibliophile growing up and what books informed you to say, this is maybe a path I’m interested and taking?
Ryan: Yeah. I really loved the books and I love reading, but I didn’t really get turned on to the kinds of books that I like now and so much later probably, 18 or 19 years old. I just was a prolific reader of anything. The Hardy Boys Books and then my sister would have Nancy Drew and I’d read that too. I read literally and anything that was between two covers. So I think, I started just loving the printed word. I loved the experience of reading. It wasn’t until a little bit later on that I really got sort of exposed to philosophy and, even this sort of genre of self of. I remember what I graduated from high school. My aunt gave me a copy of man’s search for meaning, which was probably the first book in this kind of genre that, I guess, I’m in now. That sort of exposed me to, that a book could be more than entertainment, that a book could really not just teach you about a specific thing. Like, book about gardening or book about how to use a computer but a book about how to sort of actualize as a human being. That was probably the book that sort of opened my eyes the most or at least at first.
John: When you wrote your first book when you are how old?
Ryan: 24. I wrote an expose of the marketing industry, which I had been in for several years, after college. I started writing on this 24 I think came out right after I turned 25.
John: Got in. So, you have all these books behind you. You’re a New York Times bestselling author. You’re also seen as one of the top philosophers out there right now. I enjoy your daily stoicing. For those who want to find you there, they can go to www.dailystoic.com. Sign up, get his daily, get Ryan’s daily newsletter. It’s so informative and actually really inspirational to get that every day. What prompted you then to now go into this, what is gonna be, I believe, the series that you’re gonna be writing, the four cardinal virtues you started with Courage Is Calling, what then prompted you to take on these four virtues now and start with Courage?
Ryan: So, my first book of philosophy was this book I wrote called The Obstacle Is The Way. Which I didn’t really have much in the way of plans for. I thought, I wanted to talk about this sort of very specific way of thinking about stoic philosophy aimed at a very specific thing, which is sort of the obstacles that life arose in our path. It was my sort of first, I’m may said my breakthrough book. I followed it shortly thereafter with another book, which I had been thinking about before Obstacle came out, but ended up becoming more of a sequel to Obstacle than I had intended. Or at least that I had planned for. So, one book became two books and then the third book in that trilogy which came out in 2019 was called, Stillness Is The Key. So I sort of backed in unintentionally to this three book series. Although none of it was planned as far as what follows each book. So there’s sort of three independent but related books. So as I was thinking about what I wanted to do next, I was thinking about doing a book on Courage. I was interested in the topic. Then, the fact that Courage is the first of the four cardinal virtues really excited me. Not just because that goes to the core of what stoic philosophy is about. But, I like the challenge of having to try to do a series. So, as obviously, philosophically very interested in the sort of the idea of courage and it’s relation to the other virtues. As a writer, I was also excited by the challenge of tackling something as complex as of four book series.
John: So when you were going into this, you took on Courage first because you believe it’s central to the stoic virtues or…?
Ryan: The cardinal virtues are the cardinal virtues of both stoicism and Christianity.
Ryan: ‘Cause our way back, thousands of years, courage, temperance, justice, wisdom, these are the sort of the– Cardinal comes from the Latin cardo, just means hinge. So these are sort of pivotal virtues. I’ve written about the many times before I just had never written a book about them. So, there, could you do one book on all four virtues like a four-part book on all four virtues? Or would you decide to tackle it as four distinct books? I was excited about doing that. Then, I started with courage, what it tends to be what is listed first? When you list them, we move the order around but typically courage comes first. I think it’s the most essential of all the virtues in that you cannot have temperance, or justice, or wisdom, without courage. You really can’t have any of the virtues without each other, but I think courage is sort of the buy-in on all of the virtues. So, it just felt like the right place to start.
A lot of this stuff is kind of an intuition, right? When someone says, “Oh, why did you decide to write a book about this or what?” You just sort of learn as an artist who trust what is interesting to you? What you’re thinking about? What you cannot think about. That’s really what it is. I mean, honestly, my first book came from the fact that I kept talking about it and I finally thought I’m just gonna write a book about this and then I won’t have to talk about it anymore. Which is never really how it works, but you’re just motivated by this itch that you can’t seem to not scratch.
John: When you decided you’re gonna do this series, before you started writing a word on Courage. Did you already have in your mind which book you thought? You thought hasn’t, you haven’t done while yet. It was gonna be the more difficult challenge, right?
Ryan: Certainly. I mean, I thought courage would probably be the easiest. Courage is right down the middle as far as what it is, how you illustrate it, and why people care about it. There’s no society on Earth, past or present that does not hold up courage as an admirable thing. There’s no society, the ancient culture of X that celebrated it’s cowards. That doesn’t exist. So courage felt the most red meat of all of them. I’m in the middle of the self-discipline book right now or temperance, which is proven to be trickier than I thought. But it also sort of straight down the middle. I think Justice will probably be the hardest book. One because it veers the closest into politics, right? It’s the most clearly based on a sense of right and wrong which obviously, there’s a lot of disagreement about.
So that’s probably the book that I am most intimidated by. Then the one that I have the most reservations about is the Wisdom book. In that writing a book about wisdom, all the books have this, but writing a book about wisdom, it still feels a tad presumptuous to be writing about that topic. So the Wisdom book has it’s perils for different reasons.
John: You know, in your book, and again, for our listeners and viewers out there, Courage Is Calling: Fortune Favors The Brave. Ryan Holiday, his with us today. This is gonna be actually our Thanksgiving edition of the Impact Podcast because I think this is really a real special call to action and Ryan, you really written, as you could tell book that I’ve enjoyed tremendously and gotten a lot out of after my 59 years, a lot that I never even learned or even understood before. You’ve explained it simply and really clearly here with illustrative stories. In the book, you talk about, you mentioned that we price courage maybe the most but this courage is in absolute short supply. What’s your definition of courage? What you want your readers, listeners to come away with from this great book?
Ryan: With the definition that I have in the book, first stipulating that we tend to see there– there being two types of courage. We call moral courage and physical courage. Physical courage, pretty obvious, that’s the courage of a soldier, or a fireman, or something. Moral courage is more of the courage of a whistleblower, or a scientist, or a groundbreaking artist, or some.
Ryan: But I think what both those forms of courage share is willingness to put one’s self on the line for something or someone. So, I think at the core of courage is obviously the idea of risk. If there is no risk, if the outcome is guaranteed, courage is obviously not in play. Risk is, courage is predicated on. There being some form of danger. Reputationally to your actual health, whatever it is. If the company is guaranteed to succeed, it’s not courageous to go started.
John: Right. One of my favorite things that you did in the book is you give all these illustrative examples of courage. You mention, and quoted so many great people. I made a little game of it. I started writing down just like a, my list of.
Ryan: Oh, wow.
John: Of everyone that you gave some great stories and quotes from. One of my favorite stories that I relate to the times that we’re living in right now is you. You brilliantly explain the Kitty Genovese story. Kitty Genovese as you explained it, and the neighbor that came to her rescue, put herself on the line, when no one else was doing anything. Is so relatable to what we just went through in 2020 with George Floyd and just two weeks back on that train in Philadelphia with the woman who was brutally attacked. Unfortunately, as you pointed out, history will repeat itself unless we learn from those mistakes. When you hear about, or read, or watch the news about these, those kind of recent things, you just shake your head and just, you know, when people say, say something, why not say something, do something?
Ryan: Yeah. I think it in the, as it pertains to that expression, the idea of saying something is doing something right. I think it’s interesting when you look at the Kitty Genovese story, it is this sort of shameful story that we’ve told ourselves about, the indifference of neighbors particularly in the sort of the modern city, which it was in some ways. Then in other ways, she was held by a neighbor as she died. A neighbor, who she knew quite well, who had left her apartment and her small child inside to go answer these screams and finds her dying sort of neighbor there. Then asks for zero credit or recognition for this sort of this experience even as she is implicated for a generation as being part of this horrible tale of indifference to and inhumanity. I don’t know. I don’t know why that happens. I mean, you think abut the girl who won the Pulitzer Prize for taking the video, George Floyd. I mean, it wasn’t just that she took the video. I mean, she stood there filming the police who may, you know, clearly were not wonderful human beings or they wouldn’t have been in the middle of murdering this man. As you said, it’s more than just sort of seeing something but doing something about it, trying to take some active step towards solving a problem. I think what’s interesting about that the George Floyd thing is you have– the woman filming into obviously sees something wrong. But you have the two other officers just standing there, or kneeling there, as their boss does this horrible thing right in front of them.
There’s a line from Marcus Aurelius where he says, you can commit injustice by doing nothing also. It’s, of course, easy to say this isn’t my problem. This isn’t my fight. This is an up to me. I don’t care about this, but you are complicit in the outcome of what happens.
John: What makes it worse to me is in that situation, the recent Philadelphia train attack situation is back in the Kitty Genovese days, Genovese days, people could have said, “Well, I didn’t hear her. I wasn’t at home that night.” This is now a world of we’re all become sort of democratize reporting, and that people have cell phones.
John: So the fact, we know people were there and people were watching, they were filming it. So that can even compounds the complicity like you said of an action.
Ryan: Yeah. I think that’s right. Maybe that should remind you that like, hey, people are always watching and that run ought to go through the world acting as if someone is watching. So you mentioned Daily Stoic Email. The email today that we sent out to the list. Obviously, I write them in advance. The point of today’s email was talking about how your children and your grandchildren are gonna ask you about what you did and what the pandemic was like. So, just in the same way that I asked my grandfather about D-Day and I asked my grandmother about the depression. You’re gonna ask them about, they’re gonna ask you about this historical event. What are you gonna be able to say, are you gonna say, “Well, I posted a lot of misinformation on Facebook about it.” Right?
Ryan: Or are you gonna say, “Hey, I volunteered in a vaccine clinic, or we did X, Y, or Z. We kept you guys home. Bob, what are you gonna be able to say?” When your kids ask you and you start to describe your experiences in this time, are you gonna seem like you were part of the problem. Or you gonna seem like you’re part of the solution. Or you’re gonna seem sort of wildly out of touch. There’s a famous exchange with John F. Kennedy, where John F. Kennedy sort of admits that he’d learned about the great depression in Harvard. He was rich and his life was so sheltered that he missed the great depression. He wasn’t 5. He was 15 during the great depression.
So you’re like, oh, wow. Okay. So this person, they were part of the problem, but they were also part of the problem, right? This is exactly the kind of out of touchness that probably cause the great depression to begin with. So, as we kind of think about how history is going to judge us. Like, the larger scale of history but just also your future self. Where you gonna think about yourself in 10 years? Hopefully society will have progressed in 10 years. Hopefully will be kinder, and gentler, and more equitable, all these things. When you look back at where you were, you’re gonna be like, oh. You know what I mean? I didn’t do everything that I could.
John: You talk about in the book, you give some great examples, and of course, you mentioned one of my heroes, Pat Tillman.
John: How we’re all gonna be call.
John: Different times in our lives. But we have to be ready to answer that calling, and the calling could be as you pointed out. You gave so many brilliant examples throughout the book. One of the great examples was the six second example with our brave troops that prevented many people from dying over in the other side of the planet, but with Pat Tillman. He answered his calling and he said, you know when you get called, you can feel it. Can you explain to our listeners and readers, what do you mean by that? How can we get better in tune with ourselves? So when we know we have to make, we have to exhibit courage, we could actually get over our fear and over ourselves?
Ryan: So everyone gets the call, but almost everyone refuses the call. If you’re familiar with the idea of the hero’s journey, which Joseph Campbell puts forth.
Ryan: One of the steps in the hero’s journey is the refusal of the call. So this is part of it. We have this sense, or we hear this voice, or we see this inspiration that calls us to do something. Almost invariably, we come up with reasons why we can’t do it, or we can’t do it right now. Steven Pressfield call this the resistance.
We don’t say, “I never gonna do it.” We say, “I’ll start tomorrow.” So I think understanding that this sort of tension. If it was obvious, everyone would do it. It’s not obvious. It’s hard, and we wrestle with it. For me when I dropped out of college to become a writer, when I decided to go from writing book, writing marketing books to philosophy books. These were not easy or obvious decisions. I went back and forth about them. I had a lot of doubts about them. But you sort of have to go towards that scarier thing.
The call is there. The call is usually a, we’re coming up on Halloween here, the call is coming from inside the house. But you have to answer, you have to decide to act on it. Because what would a world look like without the Pat Tillman’s, or the Florence Nightingale, or the Winston Churchill, or the Martin Luther King. Martin Luther King is just a ordinary pastor in Birmingham. No, in Montgomery. He doesn’t have to get involved. There were other black preachers and major black churches that didn’t step forward. There were some that just step forward but not as far as king did. To think, I think he’s 25 years old. Like, we often think, you think of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington as old men, but they were in their early 20’s and 30’s when this happened. They weren’t certain about it. It was scary as hell, but they proceeded anyway, they answer the call.
John: They answer the call. You talk in the book about your own fear. As you just pointed out, switching from the marketing guy to a philosopher, dropping out of college, dropped out of law school. It wasn’t an easy decision. Of course, you always, the abyss is always scarier on where you are today. What do you want? So many amazing quotes in this book, and as you can see I’ve marked it up. But anyone who can quote both Martin Luther King and Frank Serpico book is someone that I’m a huge fan of.
I took out so many quotes. I wrote down so many. What would be your favorite two or three quotes in the whole book that you want people to see her in there, to see her in their brain and keep front of their brain every day as they work through their journey?
Ryan: So one of the ones I love it’s often attributed to Andrew Jackson, although he probably didn’t actually say. But, it’s this idea that one person with courage makes a majority. The whole world depends on people who stood alone on a certain issue and brought other people around. Again, to go to Martin Luther King. Martin Luther King was, I think at a 60 or so percent disapproval, disfavorable opinion at the time of his death, not even a majority of African-Americans were a fan of Martin Luther King. But this is what happens when you are ahead of your time. Is that you often upset people or your hard to wrap your head around? So the idea that that it’s gonna require standing alone. It’s not always as high stakes as civil rights. It might just be, hey, this is the direction that I think my industry is going to go in. Everyone on your team might be convinced you are completely wrong. That maybe why you have to break out on your own, or why you have to put in more of your own money on it, or whatever it is. But the point is, being okay standing alone, having the courage to do that, and the perseverance to understand that this is how change happens from person who takes a position and convinces other people to come along with them. One of my favorite ones though and I think we’re in the middle of this right now is, although courage is rare. Even amongst people who think they understand courage. We have trouble understanding what it’s about. So there’s a quote from the poet Lord Byron that I have towards the end of the book. He says, tease the cause makes all that hallows or degrades courage and its fall.
Is it courageous that Kyrie Irving is willing to risk for $400,000 in game to not get vaccinated? Because he’s protesting vaccine mandates or whatever. I mean, it’s certainly risky. I certainly a scary thing to do. You’re betting millions of dollars on a thing you believe. The problem is, when we’re talking about courage as a virtue. It has to be in the pursuit of what the stoic would call the right.
Courageously, protect your right to be a victor of a deadly virus, is not what we’re talking about when we’re talking about courage. Was it courageous for Robert E. Lee to break with the country that he had served honorably for years to side with the State of Virginia? Was he courageous under fire many times? Of course, but we also understand and this is why we’re having this debate now about these statues.
That there’s something empty and a hollow, not hallow. Hollow about discouraged because it was in the pursuit of a monstrous injustice, on monstrously incorrect cause. So when we think about the virtues, we have to understand that they’re related to each other. Not only discourage have to be balanced by justice. It also has to be balanced by wisdom. So if you’ve courageously decided to jump off a cliff, that everyone told you you’re gonna die when you hit the ground. This were wisdom comes in. The wisdom to accept information and integrate it. Is really, really important and so, yes, you can courageously resist vaccines as much as you want. But if you’re the reason you’re doing that is because, you’re also, again, to go to Kyrie Irving, a person who believes the world is flat. You’re an idiot. You’re not great. That’s an important decision.
John: The book came down on the Kyrie Irving story to me is Muhammad Ali. He was a hero because, he have the courage to push back against the war that he didn’t believe in.
John: It turned out that history was on his side and he lost a lot of his career because of that.
Ryan: Yes. Look, there’s also, even if he was wrong. There were conscientious objectors in the Second World War. I think we go like, look, the cause itself was not bad, but we understand there’s a severe– sorry, a sincere religious conviction behind the resistance. So, even if Vietnam was not a travesty or a tragedy, and Muhammad Ali, there is a sincere religious conviction. That is motivating the decision that he’s making. It’s just important to say that courage is truth-telling. But if you’re just rudely telling truths to hurt people’s feelings, that’s not what we’re talking about.
John: Right. Again, we’ve got Ryan Holiday with us. This is the Thanksgiving special. We all should give thanks for Ryan and his new book, Courage Is Calling: Fortune Favors The Brave. We could all use wisdom on how to be more courageous in our lives. Every one of us. Ryan, one of the things I love about the book is you talk a lot about the stoics. Obviously, which you’re a philosopher. What do you think if the stoics were here today? They came down for just two days here on this planet. So everything that was going on. What would they be intrigued about and be fascinated by? What would they be totally turned off about what’s going on right now?
Ryan: Let’s say you dropped a Marcus Aurelius into 2020.
Ryan: Here you have a guy who was head of state during the beginning of the decline of the Roman Empire. Who’s also the majority of his reign is made up of what we now refer to as the Antonine Plague. So I feel like he’d have looked around and accepting some of the technology been like, this is very familiar to me. He would understand. Actually that’s one of my favorite quotes and meditations. It certainly became more so over time, but he talks about how during a plague. He says, there’s two types of plagues. He says there’s the pestilence that destroys your life and he said there’s another that affects your character. I think we’ve seen this also during the pandemic where people who, whether they got COVID or not, also got some sort of character infection. That made them sort of deeply selfish, or susceptible to conspiracies, or we’re just, when you watch a video of some lady screaming at a supermarket clerk, who asked them to put on a mask. You’re like, you might not have COVID, but I pretty sure you got something worse. You caught something. So, the Marcus was familiar with that 2000 years ago, I find to be really interesting. I said accepting the technology. I do think they would be appalled by our dependency on these devices. That are our inability to focus for 5 minutes on the simplest of tasks.
I think they would struggle to comprehend that. I mean, obviously, human beings have always struggled with attention and focus and whatever. I think they look at at our dependency on these devices and ask why we’re doing this to ourselves.
John: Got it. One of the things I love about your journey and your only 34 which, my two children are above me here in this and this was up on my walls four years before this pandemic ever hit, but it turned out to a nice background for all my Zoom calls.
John: My daughter’s 34 and she’s a lawyer and I’m so proud of her. I mean, she’s 35. I think, oh, my gosh. I mean, that’s such a young age, you’ve done so much and now during the pandemic, you are called again. When all of retail shut down or virtually all of retail, you decide to go counter to the absolute trends that are existing in 2020, which was literally a silence that I’ve never seen in my 59 years in the United States and around the world. You opened up a bookstore called “The Painted Porch” in your hometown now, where you live in Bastrop, Texas. Explain, what, where that calling came from? Why you decided that 2023 is the big Debi [?] was the right time to answer the call. How’s it going on since you launched this? I’ve been online. I’ve seen the books for all the photos, and it looks just gorgeous and beautiful and something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Why?
Ryan: So to be fair. I started before the pandemic. I just decided not to quit during the pandemic. I think, if you had told me, I didn’t decide in March, the opening of books were not be a good idea. But I did stand in the empty bookstore in March and go, “I can’t believe we have to do this now.” It was a long journey. It was an exhausting. It was an expensive and terrifying journey in many ways. But it was a really good experience. So the weird thing, I love books, you can see books behind me. I love physical books most of all, that’s how I read. But now even as an author, something like 60% of my book sales are digital. Either ebooks or audiobooks. Obviously, I’m very grateful for that but something about the physical experience really means something to me and as we were looking for some office space for our company. We sort of came up with this hybrid idea of office space plus, there was a storefront involved. So it worked out at someone accidentally as an opportunity to do both. It’s turned out to be very cool and fun. It was harder and took longer than expected, but it’s been a really cool experience and there’s something about being part of a community, doing something in the real world. I can hear right now like little kids running around.
Ryan: Excited. There’s something I love about that.
John: Hey, listen. I love it. I grew up in New York City and one of my favorite places of peace and enjoyment was Fifth Avenue in 18th Street, the big Barnes & Noble, their flagship store. So opening up a bookstore sounds wonderful. Just during a pandemic, maybe not so much, but how it was call…
Ryan: It was not the best business decision, but it’s been a fun personal experience to say the least.
John: Talking about personal experiences. You’re married with two boys.
John: I know you take that seriously. I’ve read what you’ve written about fatherhood and being a husband. Yeah. I know you really lean into it. How do you find time? Even how busy you are, how much you loved to read? Also, you’re writing, you’re already writing the second of this four series the book on Temperance. Where do you find time to get into your flow and actually still continue to to be at the peak of your abilities?
Ryan: I mean, it’s kind of an unfair profession. I mean, if I was a professional baseball player, I would be away a lot more. I would be dependent on other. What are the benefits? Part probably why I chose it, but you sort of a lone wolf as a writer as far as doing your actual thing. So you’re able to kind of squeeze it in into different pockets, but I’m a big creature of habit. Part of the reason we did the bookstore, part of the reason we live where we live, was kind of setting up a system to optimize for those things that allow all of them to be possible. If I had a 90 minute commute or something, obviously that would eat up large chunks of the time. So I try to sort of design my life around the things that are important to me, but it also means, saying no to sort of stuff that maybe would ordinarily be perks of the profession to a single, rider my age, or something. I’m not experiencing but that hasn’t been something I’ve particularly missed.
John: Right. One of my favorite quotes in your book is the world is a narrow bridge and the important thing is not to be afraid.
John: Explain why you put that in the book and what that means to you and why that was so important to put that?
Ryan: Yeah. It’s a little Hebrew prayer. There’s actually a great novel called “The World Is A Narrow Bridge” by a guy named Aaron Thier, which I love as well. But to me what the wisdom of that prayer is it’s like, when you’re walking you’ve ever been on like an narrow rope bridge or something over some canyon. It’s just like, just keep walking, don’t look down, don’t look over the edge. Don’t stop. Don’t look behind you, just get across the bridge. Any of those other things as tempting as they might be, are very dangerous. ‘Cause you slow down, you lose your heart to continue, suddenly get really nervous. You just got to get across.
John: Got it. A lot of your writings that I’ve read before, before even Courage Is Calling. You talk about stoics virtue of controlling their response, how all learn to be better at controlling our response. What do you want people to learn when you write about controlling their response and how the stoics held that in high esteem? How we can all get better at practicing that and actually exhibiting that kind of behavior?
Ryan: I think look at the core of stoicism is the idea that we don’t control what happens, we control how we respond. That’s life. Right?
Ryan: So I think if you think about justice as a resource allocation issue. Are you gonna spend time on the things you don’t control, or you’re gonna put all of that energy towards the parts of it that you do control. So I think stoic just tries to say, what part of this is up to me? What can I do? Where can I move the ball forward? I’m not saying, I’m perfect at it. On the contrary, I just know. Sometimes you get all worked up in something and you’re like, what am I really saying here? What you’re really saying is, I wish that it hadn’t happened to this way. But it did. So are you gonna spend time litigating that? Or you gonna focus on what comes after?
John: Yeah. You made a point in the book where you said, or in your book or somewhere else when I read one of your passages. You said, “Really, do you ever feel excited, or do you look back favorably on a time where you got mad or got it exploded at somebody or something?
John: You never, it’s not fun to look back at those moments.
Ryan: Yeah. I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever lost my temper and then been proud of myself after. Are there certain moments where I’m glad I stood up for myself? Yeah, but even in those moments, I say, I wish I’d done that without saying X, Y, or Z. Right?
John: Right. You get to meet a lot of people like you said because of your, over four million copies you’ve sold Ryan. You’re a New York Times bestseller, many times over. Athletes, entertainers, and so many leaders, military leaders around the world read your books. So you have great access to so many people, but I’d love to know is if tonight and tomorrow night, you had two chances at dinner. One tonight with someone who is still living, not a family member.
John: Go to dinner with somebody and tomorrow night with someone who’s passed. Anyone who’s passed. Who will be there your two favorite people to have dinner with, past and still alive?
Ryan: Yeah. I mean, I’d love to meet General Mattis. I’m a big fan of and I know a little bit, but we’ve never met in person. So if I had to pick a living, maybe I’d go there. I mean, I feel like I would lose my stoic credentials if I didn’t choose Marcus Aurelius. But if I had to pick, let’s say you’re limiting it to an American, I think Lincoln probably.
John: It could be anyone. No. [inaudible].
Ryan: No, I’m just saying. If I can choose two, I’d say Marcus Aurelius number one.
John: You’ve got a bonus one [inaudible].
John: Yourself limited it. I got it. Again, Courage Is Calling, you can buy this book not only at the Painted Porch but at Barnes & Noble Amazon and every other place you can buy great books. This is just really one of the favorite books that I’ve read in 10 years. You can see how much I’ve marked it up. You talked about David Brooks in the book. You talked about The Second Mountain. Can you share a little bit about what you mean about the Brooks? What Brooks meant by The Second Mountain?
Ryan: Yeah. The Second Mountain is, he said sort of once you climbed the top of the first mountain, that’s your career success. What is the second mountain for you? What do you sort of giving back? What is the other thing that you’re doing? It’s a great book. The title and anything, it gets up there. Anyways, I’m gonna talk about that more probably in the Justice book but, to me the second mountain, the bookstore was part of the second mountain. Was like, hey, I’ve had this success. This is the thing I’m good at. What is a cool thing I could do in a place that I live? What’s another project to tackle that might not be as financially lucrative, but might be richer in meaning or purpose? It’s certainly been that. So I think the second mountain is sort of what is it that you are doing, after you have achieved the thing that you wanted most in the world.
John: Got it. I love that you’ve talked about and, well, first of all, you talk, you share some stories that I’ve never heard. I mean, I love the story that you shared. If you wanna just hit the high notes on it. I think it would be fun for our listeners and viewers on the relationship between Martin Luther King and Richard Nixon, which I had never read that or heard that anywhere, and relationship between JFK and Martin Luther King and how to phone calls could have probably turned that whole election.
Ryan: Yeah. So Nixon and King were actually friends because Nixon was in charge of Eisenhower’s civil rights platform. So they met each other many, many times. Then, Kennedy did not really know King until the 1960 election and King is arrested in Georgia, on these sort of trumped-up charges. There’s real concern that he’s either gonna do a long prison sentence or he’s gonna mysteriously disappear while in police custody. It’s gonna be murder or lynched.
Ryan: So Coretta Scott King, who’s pregnant I think with their third child at the time, calls both campaigns and says, “You guys got to do something. You can’t let my husband die.” Both parties had some civil rights planks in their campaign. Nixon decides not to get involved. She doesn’t want to be seen as grandstanding. He wants to wait until after the election. He also doesn’t wanna lose some of the southern vote. It’s a razor-thin there anyway, doesn’t wanna lose the southern vote. So he doesn’t get involved. Kennedy on the other hand decides mostly at the prompting of his brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, to place a phone call. One to Coretta Scott King and then his brother both called the judge in Georgia and they ultimately sort of apply enough pressure that King is released.
Martin Luther King, when he gets out of jail, he’s like stun. He would have sworn that it would have been Nixon who would have helped him, not Kennedy, who’s a democrat, who is more dependent on southern democratic support. He’s just puts out there. What happened? He’d been planning to vote for Nixon, and he changes his mind. I think Kennedy goes on to win the presidential election by like 30,000 votes across three states. Almost entirely people think due to the swing in the black vote, due to this two phone calls that he makes. So, I think it’s an important example of how a single but 30 second bursts of courage can change one’s life. Conversely that a momentary lapse of courage. A moment of cowardice can change your life for the negative as well.
Nixon doesn’t get involved ‘cause he doesn’t wanna hurt his re-election prospects and ends up costing himself the election. When we have these moments, when our conscience is telling us what to do, we feel that pit in her stomach, you just gotta do it.
John: You gotta answer the call.
John: You’re very self-reflective, Ryan. I really enjoyed the after forward. I have to tell you, the afterward was really interesting to me. I never heard that story, never read all that. I had just seen the business side of that story. Never understood the underpinnings. It’s the American peril, your involvement with American peril, and as you said, you’ve already pointed out during this interview and other places. Complicity is just as bad as [inaudible].
John: But I love when you write about yourself. Like 34 mistakes on the way to 34 years old. It’s that do you enjoy the process of being so self reflective and on varnish? Is it a cathartic experience for you? Or do you find it informative to the platform that you’ve created? Or is it a duality of both?
Ryan: I think it’s both. I mean, I do think as far as counter-programming goes. Most people celebrate their successes and talk only to a very selected picture of sort of who they are and how things are going.
Ryan: I certainly understand is for branding purposes, but it’s also kind of boring. Because everything’s positive, everything’s going well. Nothing feels particularly real. So I do try to sort of consciously make an effort to sort of show how things actually are, and I think people appreciate that. But I also feel like, it’s just really easy to buy into your own crop. I try to sort of consciously, like look at things, like I did in this story. I could have told some sort of narrative that presented myself as a particularly courageous person, or I could have shown all the things all, but I don’t know. It just didn’t feel right. I talked earlier about intuition. There’s just a part of me that said, the best way to wrap up this book would be with a story of cowardice, or as a failure of courage as opposed to somehow trying to coast ride on the coattails of these people whose stories you’ve just told. So it just felt right. I certainly benefited from the experience of reflecting on it as well, but part of it also, it just felt like the honest thing to do.
John: Before we let you go today Ryan, I wanna talk about two fascinating shows that really hit a big during this pandemic. One was the last dance with Michael Jordan. The ten parts, right. I believe it was episode 8. The last part of it, the last 45 minutes was the only time he got emotional during the whole interview. He had a quote. This is when he literally started breaking. We have to see him break. He said at the end of episode 8, “Leadership has a price and winning has a price.”
John: If we replace the words leadership and winning with the words courage, do you find that that analogy is absolute spot-on?
Ryan: Yeah. I mean, when you look at whistleblowers. I had, what’s his name? Who’s the whistleblower? Oh, Lieutenant Colonel Vindman on my podcast. The white house whistleblower. You look at what that decision cost that got. It cost him, not only him, his military career, but it cost his brother, his career as well. So these things don’t come for free. They come at a cost. I think that’s right. But that’s what makes it so impressive. Again, if it was free. It was easy. Everyone would do it and there’d be a lot more Michael Jordan’s and as there’d be no Michael Jordan’s.
John: You know, we all grew up, especially during this pandemic. Moderna became one of the great brands now that we all know about because they have breakthrough technology with Pfizer, to come up with this, the great vaccination. But we all look back then to Jonas Salk, and you mentioned Jonas Salk in the book. I always knew him for, of course, creating the polio vaccine. I never knew until I read your book that he didn’t patent it and he didn’t, again, personally take advantage of that great breakthrough.
Ryan: But there’s another woman, her name is Dr. Katalin Kariko. She had been working on MRNA vax research for 30 years. She came to America as an immigrant from Hungary with $900 in her pocket. She never made more than $60,000 a year. She constantly had to fight for funding. She was constantly having to fight for her job. Everyone thought this was this sort of scientific dead end and then lo and behold 2020 comes around and suddenly it’s the ticket and it’s the invention of a lifetime or the breakthrough of a lifetime. It wasn’t easy for her. I’m sure it took a lot out of her, and I’m sure it took a lot out of her family, but we need people like that. Where would we be without people like that, right?
It’s almost unfathomable.
John: My last question for today, and then I’m gonna leave you, of course, ‘cause you’ve been so generous is about our new hero of the world, Ted Lasso.
John: So Jason Sudeikis, he was being interviewed the other day and he said, “Listen. How did you come up with such an amazing an idea or to execute into the series when your life was sort of falling apart? You and your wife had split. You were separated from your children and stuff.” He talked about. He said, “Listen, you have a choice.” You talk about this choice in the book. He said, “You have a choice.” You can either become when the world crushes you, and it’s going to crush you. All of us are gonna somewhere somehow getting knocked down, or beat up, or crushed. He goes, “You can become a pile of 206 bones.” Broken bones, which means he goes it’s, “All your bones are broken. If we all have 206 bones, he goes that means you’re a pile of 400-plus bones, or you can put yourself back together, get up, and move forward every day. If you do it right, the bones have come together and healed even stronger then when you started.” You talked about the Japanese are called kintsugi I think. It’s K-I-N-T-S-U-G-I. Can you talk a little bit about how all of us in some way, shape, or form were broken? How we can either decide that death is the option or where we’re gonna come back stronger and smarter?
Ryan: So what I love about Ted Lasso is the show and I sort of talked about this a little bit in the book is I love just earnestness. It’s like a positive show. He actually sincerely tries to be a decent human being instead of this sort of action hero, or anti-hero, or whatever you want. I love that. I think hope is probably the most courageous thing that there is, or just earnestly trying. ‘Cause you know one of the most courageous things you can do in this life. So I love that. The art form you’re talking about it’s a Japanese form of art, where let’s say a piece of pottery breaks. Instead of gluing it back together, they attach it either via gold or silver. So the thin becomes, not just more valuable as a result, but it becomes more beautiful as a result. It’s a fascinating form of art. I think it’s a good metaphor for the human experience, right?
You can break and become stronger as you heal in the broken places, or you can become weaker and more vulnerable in those places, but that’s your choice. I think, look, the last year is has been really hard. Last year and a half has been really hard. Some of us are gonna emerge from this better, and some of us are gonna emerge from this broken shells of human being. Again, you look at some of the ways that people being [?] now. The things they say, you understand where it comes from, it’s been a rough year and a half. But, the choices are we gonna be made better, more kind, more loving, more connected, more appreciative, more generous, as a result of what’s happening and we’re gonna become bitter, and angry, and aggressive, and anti-social, as a result of what’s happened. That’s ultimately to go back to the question about, what do you control? That choice is on you.
You didn’t choose what happened the last year and a half. No one would have chosen it. If they did, but it did happen. So, what are you gonna emerge looking like. That’s the question.
John: Got it. That’s why you’re here with us today on this Thanksgiving special. We want people to emerge better with more courage. Ryan, my lifelong friends since I’m 5 years old. So that’s 54, 55 years now. Greg Saffer, first told me about you and he’s still, of course, my good friend. He told me about your coins and this coin…
Ryan: Oh, lovely.
John: This coin sits underneath my speaker here. So when I do all these interviews and at my business desk, I’m always able to remember but, can you just share with our listeners why Memento mori, and you could live life right now means so much is something that we all should keep in mind as we move through this journey?
Ryan: Well, I think the point about the pandemic stands. Is it, it sort of, it put and stoic relief, how fragile life is. How you really can’t take anything for granted? How things can change in an instant? The stoic wanted us never to lose sight of that. To remember that we’re mortal, to remember that we’re not in control, to remember that life has a definite end. Every single person who’s born will die. When that is? Is an open question, but it could be five minutes from now, it could be 50 years from now. But how are you gonna spend that time? Who were you gonna be? What decisions are you gonna make while you’re still in control? Again, those are the important questions.
John: For our listeners and viewers who wanna buy these coins, you can go to the dailystoic.com. Sign up for Ryan’s newsletter. You can buy this book. You can buy it, of course, at the Painted Porch, or you can buy it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all great rip bookstores, both physical bookstores and online in the United States and around the world. Courage Is Calling: Fortune Favors The Brave. Ryan was kind enough to sign a bunch of copies for us. We’re gonna be giving them out during our Thanksgiving special. Thank you, Ryan Holiday. You are making a huge impact on this planet. You also made a huge impact on me and my family. Thank you for this time. We’re really grateful for all that you’re doing.
Ryan: John, thank you so much.
John: Thanks, Ryan. This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Engage. Engage is a digital booking platform, revolutionizing the talent booking industry. With thousands of athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs, and business leaders, Engage is the go-to spot for booking talent, for speeches, custom experiences, livestreams, and much more. For more information on Engage or to book talent today, visit let’s engage.com.