On this week’s episode, I have author, Joshua Fields Millburn of “The Minimalists”. Tune in as we talk about how he left corporate America and why he chose to live “The Minimalists” lifestyle.

Show Notes

Joshua Fields Millburn Website: https://joshuafieldsmillburn.com/

Joshua Fields Millburn on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/joshuafieldsmillburn/

Joshua Fields Millburn on IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm6576362/

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Autogenerated Transcript

Joshua Fields Millburn:
What happens is, oh, I’m going to leave and I’m just going to be a writer. And I had one boss that I had at the time said, look, if anyone could just quit their job and become a writer, then everyone would do it. And I looked at him and I said, well, I don’t think everyone wants to do that first off, but second off, you’re acting like I’m the first person in the history of the world who’s decided to become

Michael Jamin:
A writer. You’re listening to, what the hell is Michael Jamin talking about? I’ll tell you what I’m talking about. I’m talking about creativity, I’m talking about writing, and I’m talking about reinventing yourself through the arts.

Michael Jamin:
Hey everyone, it’s Michael Jamin. I got a very special guest today. So today, this guy, I’ve been a fan of his work for a long time, and I discovered him a couple of years ago. It’s Joshua Fields, Millburn, he’s half of the minimalist. And these guys did a documentary, I’m going to give ’em a nice proper introduction. They did a documentary that I discovered which, and the message was so important. It’s on minimalism and it’s basically how you can live with more by having less, how you were richer by having less. And I just found that not only did I find the message so important, but I found their journey that these two guys put them on, put themselves on to be so inspiring. Just to give you a little bit of backstory before I finally let this guy get a word in edgewise, is that, so Joshua grew up, poor parents suffer, struggled with alcoholism. He decided, I’m speaking for him now, but this is what I picked up from the documentary, that he didn’t want to be poor when he was an adult. I’m not going through that. So he managed to get jobs in management where he is actually making a good living, he’s making money. And then at some point he realized, wait, this is not making me happy. And then he did a complete about face and reinvented himself. So Joshua, thank you so much for joining me. Let’s, let’s hear you talk now.

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Oh, Michael, thanks so much for having me. Yeah, it’s funny, I did grow up really poor and I thought the reason we were so unhappy when I was growing up is we didn’t have money and not knowing that all these other things that were actually chaotic in my life, some of the things you mentioned, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, physical abuse and violence in the home, and extreme poverty was a part of it, right? It was a part of that milieu of discontent. And I just hyper-focused on that one component. So when I turned 18, I went out and I got that entry level corporate job, and I spent the next dozen years sort of climbing the corporate ladder. And by age 30, I had achieved everything I ever wanted, the six figure salary, luxury cars, big house in the suburbs with more toilets than people.
I really had all the stuff right? And all the stuff that you would consider to be the American dream, more closets full of designer clothes and all the nicest furniture and the status and the job title. And yet, as you mentioned, it wasn’t making me happy. In fact, the closer I got to the pinnacle of success, it seemed to further away from happiness I got, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. And then two things happened to me. My mother died, my marriage ended both in the same month. And we talked about those in the last documentary on Netflix. And really those two events forced me to look around and start to question everything in my life, not just the stuff, but the career and the relationships and all of these other types of clutter that I began to uncover.

Michael Jamin:
But it seems to me though, when you reinvented yourself, and we’ll get to that part, you were kind of at bottom. You had, like you said, you lost your marriage, you lost your mom. Is it easier to reinvent? Where do you get the balls to do this? Is it easier to do that when you’re at the bottom than as opposed if you were, I don’t know, happy enough in life?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
In a weird way, I think it’s simultaneously easier and more difficult. And I’ll try to explain that. I think it’s easier in the sense that if you’ve lost a lot of the comfort and the certainty that you have in life, now all of a sudden you are willing to make a change because you’re experiencing enough pain that leads to a change. The outverse of that was my successful corporate life. It was never 10 out of 10, awesome. It was constantly between a four and a five on a one to 10 scale. It was just comfortable enough to not make a change, but not comfortable enough or not uncomfortable enough maybe to have any sort of meaningful experiences. And so there was a weird level of perpetual anxiety and discomfort that undergirded all of it, but at the same time, it wasn’t enough pain to make a significant change. So why was it easier? Well, because once you have enough pain, you start questioning everything. Why have I been so discontented? Why have I given so much material meaning to all these material possessions? Who’s the person I want to become because I don’t like the person I have become so far? And how am I going to redefine success? Because this level of success, the so-called success that I’ve achieved, if I’m miserable, is it really success? Well, success with misery, that seems like failure to me.

Michael Jamin:
But what was the final moment that you said, screw it, I’m quitting my job and I’m trying something else. Now,

Joshua Fields Millburn:
When I got closer and closer to the executives I wanted to be like, I had this whole career mapped out that by age 32, I’m going to be a vice president by age 35, I’m going to be a senior VP by age 40, I’m going to be a C-level executive, ideally ACOO of this corporation that I’d worked for since I was 18. And I’d climbed the corporate ladder. I was the youngest director in my company’s 140 year history. I was responsible for 150 retail stores, which I know with the whole minimalism thing is really ironic. But I climbed the ladder and I got closer to these guys who I really aspired to be like. And I realized, well, wait a minute. As I got closer to them, the illusion, the mirage began to sort of dissipate. And I saw them for what they were. They weren’t evil or bad guys.
But I had one boss who was on his third divorce and second heart attack, and he was 50 years old. I’m 42 now. And I realized like, well, wait a minute. If I work really hard for the next 20 years, I can be just as miserable as these guys that I aspire to be like. But of course, what do we tell ourselves? We say, I’m going to be different. How am I going to be different if I follow the same exact recipe that all of these other guys are? And by the way, I’ve been following their recipe. If I continue to follow that recipe, I’m going to bake the same cake. And it became easy when I realized the fear of staying was actually more crippling than the fear of walking away. But

Michael Jamin:
Did you bounce this off at anybody? Hey, listen, I’m going to quit my job and to do, what was your plan?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Right? I was just going to write. I mean, my honest plan at the time was we had started the minimalist.com. I was making no money from it whatsoever. I was going to work. I paired down my bills to literally next to nothing. I mean, when I walked away from the corporate world, eventually in 2011, I made $23,000 that first year. So I took a 90% pay cut. Strangely, I was more financially free that year than I had been the last decade. It was the least amount of money I made in my entire adult life, but I was more free that year because I got rid of all of those expenses. I used to tell myself I need these things, or the truth is there were things I wanted. But you know what? I wanted more than that. I wanted freedom. So you asked, did I talk to other people about it?
Heck yeah. I did it first. I learned what a mistake that was. Really? Yeah, because what happens is, oh, I’m going to leave and I’m just going to be a writer. And I had one boss that I had at the time said, well, if anyone could just quit their job, become a writer, then everyone would do it. And I looked at him and I said, well, I don’t think everyone wants to do that first off, but second off, you’re acting like I’m the first person in the history of the world who’s decided to become a writer. And my plan was, I’m going to work in this coffee shop in my local neighborhood, make enough just to pay my rent. I was living in Dayton, Ohio. My expenses were really, really low. I spent two years paying off all of my debt because I knew as long as I was tethered to debt, I was going to be tethered to this job, which means I was tethered to this lifestyle. And in a weird way, I was financing a car that would take me to work so I could pay the car payment for the car that would take me to work. I needed to get rid of all of those things that I wanted but weren’t serving my freedom. I had to let go of those things so I could embrace the life I actually wanted to live.

Michael Jamin:
But was there any moment where you’re even saying to yourself, I don’t know, I think I’m kidding myself. You had to have been checking yourself with doubt even while you were convinced, I’m going for it, right?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah. Now maybe I have an irrational confidence in a way. I never thought all the things that happened would happen, and we took a rather circuitous route. I didn’t know have a 10 year plan or anything like that. My confidence was like, man, I think I can make enough money to pay my rent working at a coffee shop, and then I can just write in my other hours. And that’s all I wanted. I found out what enough was for me because all those other things, they weren’t doing it for me anymore. I thought, if I just get the Lexus, then I’ll be happy I got the Lexus. Well, maybe the second Lexus will make me happy. That didn’t do it. Well, maybe the Range Rover will make me happy. That didn’t do it either. Okay. And by the way, I didn’t own any of those things.
I didn’t own the big house. I had these things were all finance. I made really good money, but I spent even more money. So I had tremendous amounts of debt, about half a million dollars worth of debt, and I had to get rid of all of it in order to untether from that. And I realized those things never got me to enough. Enough is not about getting more and our society, it’s actually about subtracting. And I knew I needed to subtract the things to get me down to enough. I already had enough peace, enough happiness, enough joy. Those things were simply covered up by all these external pursuits.

Michael Jamin:
I can understand Alexis not making you happy, but a Range Rover that surprises me Now, what kind of writing were you trying to do or were you doing that?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah, it was just fiction. I was really into fiction at the time. I thought that’s all I was going to do. The minimalist was this side project. My best friend Ryan, he and I, we grew up together. We grew up really poor. We’ve known each other since we were fat little fifth graders. And we climbed the corporate ladder together as well. And he actually came to me about eight months into my letting go, my simplifying. We were still both working in the corporate world together. And he came to me one day and he said, why the hell are you so happy? And I didn’t even go around saying, look at me. I’m a minimalist now. I got rid of my stuff. I didn’t say anything to anyone. I just started letting go of extra clothes that were in my closet or things that were getting in the way that weren’t serving me junk, that was non-essential and clutter basically.
And I noticed that those material possessions were, and I didn’t know this at the time, but they were at this physical manifestation of what was going on inside of me. And as I started letting go of this external clutter, I started clearing out some of this internal clutter, the relationship clutter, the mental clutter, the psychological clutter, the emotional clutter, the calendar clutter in my life. There was all these other types of clutter that I was not prepared for, didn’t even know that I was clinging onto. And then when Ryan comes to me and says, why the hell are you so happy? It opened up this door for me to talk about this simplifying I had been doing. And so he started simplifying as well, and he’s way more type A than I. And he’s like, that’s great. You’ve spent almost a year doing this. I need to do this right now.
And so we came up with this crazy idea called a packing party, which we made a film version of for our last film, less Is Now. And ultimately, that was the beginning of the minimalist.com. We were just going to write about that 21 day journey, and it was going to be a place for me to publish a few essays that I wanted to write about, but I just wanted to write fiction. And then what I realized is like, oh, wait a minute. A lot of people were finding value in these words. I remember the very first month we started the minimalist.com, 52 people, they visited the website, which sounds really unremarkable now, but at the time, I was so impressed by it. You got to think, throughout my twenties, I wrote fiction, and the only people who were reading my stuff were agents and publishers who were sending me rejection letters.
I had an inch thick stack of rejection letters of people telling me, no. Now, unbeknownst to me, a lot of the stuff was actually kind of garbage at the time. That’s any writer that realizes that the stuff that seems so precious and gold, everything that comes off of my quill must be perfect. No, it was nonsense. But it made me the writer that I am today. And so I started writing@theminimalist.com, and I realized once 52 people turned into 500 people, and then it turned into four or 5 million people over the years, what I realized was that, oh, when someone gets value from something, they tend to share it with their friends and their family and their loved ones. Adding value, sharing value is a basic human instinct. And this was before the TikTok and Instagram and all these great ways to share these different things. People were actually forwarding our blog to their sister or their aunt or their uncle, or whomever it might be in their family, just sending off to ’em an email or a text message. And it just really began to spread word of mouth. I said, oh, maybe we actually have something here. Let’s keep trying this out.

Michael Jamin:
Right? It’s so interesting because people often complain today, it’s so hard to go viral. You went viral before there was viral. It’s like, well, because you had interesting things to say, and that gets shared. It’s like, stop. People say it’s so hard. Well, yeah, it’s even harder when there’s no such thing as viral.

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah. And in fact, I don’t even know that we ever had anything until our Netflix film came out, which the first one is now on YouTube, and that thing has even taken off. It’s gotten a third life now. We did a theatrical release around it, and I could give you some really impressive stats around that. We had the number one documentary in 2016 in theaters, which sounds really impressive to you realize when in the hell have I seen a documentary in a theater. No one goes to theaters to see documentaries. So maybe 50,000 people saw it in a theater, but now 50,000 people see it in an hour or whatever. But before that, we never really had anything. And even now, we rarely have things that go viral. I think about when someone’s playing baseball, the much more impressive players on a long enough trajectory aren’t the people that are hitting grand slams and home runs occasionally.
Those are the viral moments. But we constantly had these singles or doubles. We were getting on base all the time. We were resonating with this core group of people, and there weren’t things that many, many tens of millions, hundreds of millions of people were seeing. But it was like, oh, wow, a hundred thousand people read that article. Oh, wow. 23,000 people shared this one thing, whatever it might be. And it built from there. We didn’t have anything that was just like, here’s this huge viral moment. It was just these repeated things over and over. Oh, this resonated. Let me send this to my sister because I think it’ll resonate with her too. But

Michael Jamin:
How did you go from the moment? How did you literally go from a very popular blog to getting a documentary on Netflix? What was that step?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah. Over the years, I became what I call vehicle agnostic. I remember when we first started the blog, Ryan came to me with the idea, we didn’t even have the name for it. He was like, Hey, do want to, we didn’t even know it was called a blog at the time. Do you want to start a website so we can share some of this story with other people? And I said, sure, we’ll write a few things and we’ll get that out there. It’d be great. It’d be a nice way for me to try my writing chops online. I’ve never done that before because all I really wanted to do was write books, specifically novels. I just wanted to write fiction, and I was rather married to that formula, that genre, that format, that vehicle to communicate my writing. And then I started realizing like, oh, that’s one way to do it.
But some people find value in the blog, and then other people find value in a tweet and other people find value in. Well, eventually we started the podcast, which has now been our main vehicle for communicating things. It’s even eclipsed what we’ve done with the blog in terms of listenership and then other people, they might get value from a YouTube video, and some people will get value from a long form documentary or a book. And so I’ve become vehicle agnostic. It’s meeting people where they are as opposed to dragging them toward, Nope, if you want to read about this, you have to read a 300 page book between bound covers. No, it’s meeting them where they are. We actually do a lot more audio books than we do print books now, because that is one way that people prefer to consume those materials. I prefer reading a physical book personally, but I’m not going to prescribe that to anyone else.

Michael Jamin:
Okay. So how did you wind up selling it to Netflix, though?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah, great question. So we were in 2014, our second book came out in January 1st, 2014. It was called Everything That Remains. Ryan and I moved to this cabin in the middle of nowhere. Literally in middle of nowhere, there was one traffic light in 3,400 square miles. And it’s sort of that romantic vision. You think we’re in Montana, right? It’s like, oh, wow. I say romantic, not like sexual romance, but romance in the sense like, oh, this little writer moves to the cabin. And man, when you’re in Montana in winter and it’s negative 26 degrees and it’s in October, you realize all you really have to do is quite literally chop wood for the fireplace. That kept us warm and and we wrote the second book called Everything That Remains. It was the story of these two suit and tie corporate guys who walk away from the corporate world become minimalist. It was our journey. We went on book tour that year with it. Now again, that sounds like a really romantic vision. Book tour for us was like, we set up the book tour ourselves, and we did a hundred cities in eight countries, 119 events, 10 months of our lives.

Michael Jamin:
I have to interrupt. So much good stuff here. Yeah. You said this was, your book was traditionally published, or was it indie published?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
It was independently published, but we started, it’s a long story. We started our own publishing company. We had a handful of employees there as well, and then it was traditionally published overseas. So we did a sort of hybrid model of it. Not self-published, but independently published and then picked up by other publishers.

Michael Jamin:
Right. Okay. So then you set up this book tour. You were side all this work. I have to point this out. Some people think, oh, you see the publisher made it happen. No, no, no. No one made any of this happen except you two guys, because you wanted it to happen. So tell me, so then, how did this book tour come about?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Well, thankfully, we had some experience in the business world. We knew how to run a business. We started our own business with a third person named Colin Wright, who’s a prolific author by age 30, I think. He had written 32 books and independently published quite a few of them and gone the traditional route with some other things and had some things optioned by Hollywood. And we realized we had come up with this formula, oh, what is possible to do independent publishing, which is different from a big traditional publisher, and it’s also different from Vanity Publishing or self-publishing. I kind of liken it to indie music. You have big acts who are huge mega stars, the Taylor Swifts and the Miley Cyrus of the world, and they thrive in that giant recording industry system. And then you have people who just are garage bands and they have fun jamming in their garage.
That’s sort of self-publishing. But there’s, in music, there’s this whole other world of independent publishing or independent music, independent artists, especially now with the things we’ve gotten so easy. But even since the eighties and nineties, you’ve had independent artists who don’t fall into the big label system, but aren’t just garage bands aren’t just jamming. They actually make a living. And we said, what if we model ourselves after independent musicians, people who are able to fill a 200 cap room, they can’t fill up an arena or whatever. What if we did that? But we did it with book publishing, and eventually with that publishing company, we ended up signing nine different authors and showed them how to fail with us and took some of them out on tours. We did our own version of independent publishing for those authors, poets and fiction writers, all of that.
And we learned a lot along the way. So when we booked our own tour, it was literally us and a few employees and interns that we had there in Montana. We eventually moved our operations to the big city of Missoula, Montana, 70,000 people there. It was a writing school there at the University of Montana. In fact, our office was at the university. They had a startup incubator there. And so we decided, Hey, we’re going to go on this book tour. We had been on a few before, smaller ones, but we want to do it right. We really believed in this book. We believed in this message. So what we did is we set up a hundred different cities, 119 events, and the message really began spreading. We did 400 media interviews that year, traditional media and non-traditional media, but everything from, we’d be on the morning news at 5:20 AM in Albuquerque now, I don’t know, maybe 14 people are watching that.
But it allowed us really to develop our interviewing chops, and it allowed us to see what resonates with different people while we go out on these tour stops. Now, it wasn’t sexy. Our business plan that year was, if we sell enough books tonight, we can stay in a hotel. If we don’t, we’re going to sleep in Ryan’s Toyota Corolla. And then occasionally, sometimes listeners or they weren’t listeners at the time, they were audience members, viewers, readers. They would let us stay at their spare bedroom or in their guest house, or sometimes we’d just sleep on the floor, we’d sleep at rest stops, whatever made sense. And it was quite literally living in the moment. We’re going tonight, we’re going to be in Des Moines, and then we have a tour stop tomorrow in Omaha, and eventually we’ll work our way around to Halifax, Canada. And we’re just driving around in Ryan’s Toyota Corolla making that happen. And what I realized is that, yeah, early on, eight people would show up at a tour stop, but as the message began to continue, it really, it increased exponentially. By the end of that tour, thousands of people were showing up at tour stops, and we would have,

Michael Jamin:
Tell me about these tour stops though. Are you at indie bookstores or are you booking venues for yourself?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah, initially we booked indie bookstores. In fact, all hundred cities. We did indie book shops except for two or three cities that just don’t have an indie bookstore at all anymore, which is really sad. Las Vegas was a good example of that. I think Dallas didn’t have an indie bookshop at the time. That’s actually been fixed recently. But what we did is we’d book these with indie bookstores, and then when the crowds became too large for those bookstores, then they would find a local theater or a local public yoga studio or some open space that we could have these tour stops. We partner with these indie bookstores, and then they would help us with the space and these tour stops. So

Michael Jamin:
Who’s paying for the space though? Or you guys

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Usually the bookstore would, they’d have some sort of arrangement with a local, they’d have a theater across the street. I remember we showed up in Indianapolis and 80 people R RSVP’d for that event, which you never know, because they’re free events. Sometimes 80 people, r rss, VP and maybe 40 people actually show up because it’s free. We had 80 people, RSVP, and we knew the bookstore only held about 60 people. You could maybe cram an extra 20 in there, but we had 400 people show up at the Indianapolis Book tour stop. And that’s when I kind of knew like, oh, this is bigger than I thought it was ever going to be. And they had to find, they had a local theater across the street that was abandoned, but had recently been acquired by a friend of theirs, and they just let us use it. I mean, we had no plan. We were just kind of showing up and figuring out what would happen, holding court in the theater with no microphones, no electricity. We just found a way to make it happen. And it wasn’t always pretty, but man, I think if we were trying to wait for everything to be perfect, we’d still be waiting.

Michael Jamin:
That’s exactly right, because this is what I’m always yelling at people, stop asking for permission, put the energy in and then see you make it happen. That’s what I find so inspiring. By what I mean, Jesus. I mean, you’ve literally reinvented yourself and none of it was easy, but you did it anyway. And now, do you still go back on tour?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah, we’ve done 10 tours in the last 12 years, and they’re appreciably different. The reason I brought that up is because while we were on the road, we didn’t have any extra money to film a documentary, but we had our friend, Matt Vela, who is huge now, has a huge YouTube channel, huge following. But at the time, he was just a young filmmaker who was looking to do something meaningful, and he had reached out to us and we started talking, and he was doing commercials at the time. In fact, he filmed the book trailer for that book I talked about. I was like, well, we don’t have a ton of money, but I can pay you. We’re going to be doing a media event in New York. Why don’t you come out film that and do a book trailer for everything that remains? And so we paid him to do that, and we said, Hey, do you want to come on the road with us for a few weeks during this long tour that we’re doing, and we’ll set up some interviews along the way, and that way we don’t have to fly to all these different cities.
And so part of that tour, about six to eight weeks of that tour was just Matt in the back of the Corolla with all his gear and lighting set up. And while we go to a city, we say, oh, there are these great people we want to interview in San Francisco, or there’s someone in Los Angeles you want to interview, or, oh, we’re going to be doing a tour stop in Salt Lake City. I know we want to talk to these two people while we’re in Salt Lake City, or we’re going to be in Austin, Texas. Make sure we interview these people while we’re there. We’re going to be in Philadelphia. I know there’s someone we want to talk to there. And so we just went around while we were in the city, we’d make time with any downtime. We had to film some interviews.
And at the end of it, Michael, I got to tell you, we had a thousand hours of footage. We didn’t know what the hell we were doing. We had a thousand hours of footage. Now the first documentary is 79 minutes long. And I remember at the end of that tour, we just looked at Matt and said, okay, good luck with all the footage. Now, a lot of the interviews we didn’t use, a lot of it was road footage and other things, and he pieced together something really special. We went through nine different iterations of that film, and eventually we pitched it to Netflix and they were like, not for us. And they were really the only streaming game at town at the time. This is back in 2015 when we were finishing up the film. There were a few other smaller services then that don’t even exist anymore.
But Netflix was pretty much the only game in town, but I’ve always been the, all right, that’s fine. You don’t want it. We’ll put it out on our own. Let’s do a theatrical release, which I would never, ever do again. It’s crazy. And we submitted the film festivals. We did a theatrical release, 400 theaters, us, Canada, Australia, and didn’t get anyone’s permission. We just figured out a way to do it. We found a distributor who was willing to work with us to get it into select theaters around the country. And so it was wildly successful in theaters for a documentary. And so we went back to Netflix and we were like, Hey, look how great it did. And they’re like, yeah, still not for us. Sorry. Okay, no problem. Let’s go ahead and put this online on our own transactional video, on demand, get it up on iTunes and Amazon and Vimeo. And we did that. And because we had already cultivated this audience through our blog and eventually through the podcast, which we had just started to help promote the film, ironically, the film ended up promoting the podcast way more than we anticipated, but we had built this audience. They sent it to number one on iTunes, and now Netflix came back to us and they were like, Hey, you know that film that you came to us with?

Michael Jamin:
See, I just had a long talk about this a couple days ago when people are begging to get into Hollywood, I go, if you want Hollywood to want, you got to smell like money, which is what you guys did. You stunk of money, which is because you had created this thing which people wanted. Now, Netflix, that’s how you sell something. Netflix comes to you.

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah, and they did. And what they did is, ironically, they paid us less than we made from any other platform, so we made less money from Netflix. But they did something really great for us. They got us into so many more homes. They got us into, in fact, they only did the US rights initially or the English rights, but then it did so well for them on the platform. They licensed the worldwide rights for a three year period, and they re-upped those rights for another three years. So we spent about seven years on Netflix with that first film, and eventually just this year, we got the rights back and we put it up on YouTube on our own, and millions of other people that have seen it on YouTube now. But Netflix got us in front of about 80 million people. And so that changed everything.
It brought a lot of people into the podcast, and it also made them want to work with us on a second film. So they worked with us on our second film, less Is Now, and it became a Netflix, which ended up getting nominated for an Emmy, which I thought was a joke. When I got the email, I had to check the, I was like, oh, this must be some sort of spam nonsense. And what I realized is I wasn’t pursuing any of these things specifically. It was just like these things were a great byproduct. Let’s just sit down and create something that we really want to create, and hopefully everything else works out.

Michael Jamin:
Tell me about, so your friend, Matt, because I have so many questions here. When he came along on the ride with you, was he getting paid or was he doing this just to hustle himself to make his own projects happen?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah, more of the latter. We just said, Hey, man, we want to make sure we give you a disproportionately generous portion of this film because I don’t have money to pay you for this right now. And so you are also an owner of the film as the director. He was also the editor. That’s actually his true talent. I mean, he’s a phenomenal director, but he is a savant of an editor. So he just came on the road with us and owns a major chunk of the film as a result. Had we just paid him, I mean, sure he would own less, but what I like about this is making sure that we always take money off the table with any of these things. Anyone who works with the minimalists now, it’s like, okay, I’m probably not going to make you a millionaire, but what I’m going to do is provide a atmosphere for creative work that you’ll enjoy and find meaning in.
And also make sure you’re compensated well enough for it, that you’re not worried about money. And so, hey, this is a project we’re going to work on together. We didn’t know if anything was going to happen. Honestly, I didn’t even know if it was going to be turned when you have a thousand hours worth of footage. I don’t even know if you can turn that into a documentary, but if so, great. I mean, there’s so many other projects we’ve started. That’s the problem with the iceberg. You see only what’s above the water. But we’ve worked on other films, we’ve worked on other books, we’ve worked on blog posts, podcast episodes, whatever, that never see the light of day. But that’s just the way things, a lot of things hit the cutting room floor that aren’t meant to be shown to the public.

Michael Jamin:
Are you worried about running out of things to say, because your message is simple, it’s the less you have, the less fewer problems you have, but are you worried about, okay, what do I say now?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah, what a thoughtful question. I think that’s an important question too, because it’s not about just continuing to regurgitate the 16 rules for living with less or whatever. Those things are helpful for people, but they’re out there already. What I’ve learned is as I’ve uncovered that external clutter, I really found all of these other forms of clutter. So recently we’ve been talking a lot more about these other types of clutter that are creating dread or anxiety in our lives. Calendar clutter is a big one that comes up a lot. I didn’t even realize how much calendar clutter I had because I was saying yes to all of these things. It sounded good opportunities on their own. But when I say yes to this, and I say yes to this, I say yes to this inadvertently after saying a thousand yeses, now I’m saying no to the things that are actually most important to me.
Everyone else’s emergency is now becoming urgent for me. But just because something is urgent for you doesn’t mean I have to take it on or I have to say yes to it. And what I realized is that calendar clutter is a type of consumerism. It’s thinking that if I just say yes to all the right things, then my life will be complete. But it ends up stressing us out, and it’s become culturally acceptable. In fact, it’s become praised, right? Oh, what are you up to lately? I’m just so busy. Look how important I am. I’m so busy. Right, right.

Michael Jamin:
Please, I didn’t interrupt you. Well,

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Busy is just a four letter word. It just means my life’s out of control whenever I go around saying I’m busy, I’m busy, I’m busy. It means I don’t have control of my own life.

Michael Jamin:
So what’s interesting is you made this step, which is to forsake all these trappings to become minimalist. And as you became more successful, the trappings somehow find a way to encroach back in. Absolutely. And you have to keep checking that

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Consumerism takes many forms, and for me, it was the material because I thought that was going to make me happy or whole or complete, but then you replace that with other things. I remember when we first became unquote famous, people started recognizing us in public. It wasn’t about like, is this enough? It’s like, how do I get more of this? Right? But then you realize really quickly, it took me about six months, so maybe it wasn’t that quick. It took me about six months to realize like, oh, this isn’t why you’re doing this, man. If you’re chasing happiness, you’re never going to find it. You were chasing it over here with the Range Rover or the big house or whatever. You didn’t get it there. You’re not going to get it from applause or veneration either. And what I realized over time is what enough for me is zero.
I don’t need the applause. I don’t need the praise. Those things are nice, and I’m not allergic to them, and I’m not shunning them either. Anthony Dello talks about as soon as you denounce a thing, you’re forever tethered it to it. And I find that to be true. I’m not denouncing material possessions. I own stuff. I’m talking to you in a microphone. I’m wearing a shirt. I’m wearing pants. I’m wearing shoes, whatever it is, I own some stuff. I don’t denounce things, but I also don’t need things to be hold or complete. I am complete in an empty room, and I don’t need material possessions. I don’t need your praise. I don’t need a specific relationship in order to make me happy. I can have those things. I can enjoy those things, but as soon as I need them, that’s the type of prism.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah, it’s just so interesting because you’ve created the success for yourself, and yet it still has a way of sneaking back in, and you have to constantly check it. So it’s a journey now. You’re never there.

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah. Yeah. I would say success doesn’t exist because it’s almost like it’s a mirage, right? You see the successful person. I do this at some of our tour stops or live events sometimes, and I was asked the crowd, shout out one thing that you associate with a successful person. If I show you a picture of a successful person, what does that person look like? And it’s almost always like an ad from a magazine almost. It’s like it’s a guy wearing a suit, so it’s an expensive suit. There’s some sort of expensive jewelry or watch if it’s a woman, she has a nice dress and a nice handbag, and it’s always the accoutrements of success, but it’s never about the person’s interstate. It’s never like, oh, yeah, they’re really at peace, or they don’t really need for much. Now you can redefine what success is, but culturally, when we talk about success, there’s a portrait of success that we’re identifying. And now it’s so absurd. It’s like it’s not just the nice suit. It has to be the Louis Vuitton shoes, or it has to be the Gucci wallet, or it has to be the Balenciaga, whatever. And these become the markers of success, but they’re just trinkets. And even those things I’m not against necessarily, but they’re not going to make you happy.

Michael Jamin:
Do you find yourself slipping into judgment though of people who have it?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
I used to, yeah, because I would pathologize needing those things, but now I don’t judge. I identify because that’s just me, man. Yes, I want to be accepted, or at least I wanted to be accepted. And I thought that those things were a shortcut. And so if anything, I have empathy for my former self who thought that was going to make people. And here’s the perverse thing about it. Let’s say that buying the right car or the right wallet or the right belt or the right shoes or whatever, does get you acceptance from a particular peer group. Well, man, you’re being accepted for things that aren’t even you. So are they accepting you or are they accepting the status symbols? But

Michael Jamin:
Let me get your help on something. I wrote a story about this in my book where it’s like when I walk by, my wife and I go by, we take walks in these very expensive neighborhoods. It’s pleasant to walk around in, and you look at a big house and a big, and you go, man, and my instinct is, yeah, but they’re miserable. And she goes, you don’t know that. I hope what they have to be do they have to be? Can’t they be happy and have a big house and all that stuff?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Tell me. Yeah, absolutely. It’s unlikely. It’s

Michael Jamin:
Unlikely. Go on.

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah, it’s unlikely because the constant need for more does not stop when you get the big house. What do you want? I mean, I live up in Ojai, California, and a lot of people live there in their third home. Their third home is in, I used to live in Missoula, Montana, and man, a lot of people have their second or third home in Missoula, and I’m not against that even, right? But when is it enough? What amount of square footage is enough? Here’s a question. We never were stopped to ask how much money is enough?
Because more always sounds like it’s better, which fine if someone comes in here and hands me bags of money, I’m not going to object to that, but that’s not how capitalism works. What happens with capitalism? I’m not against capitalism either, but the ugly side of capitalism is now you’re tethered to something. Someone shows up with a bag full of a million dollars. It’s not no strings attached. There are definitely strings attached, and those strings are attached. It’s taken away from my freedom. There’s this essay that was in the New York Times a few years ago called Power. No, thanks, I’m good. And in that essay, they posit that the least free person in America is the president in the United States, the most powerful person in America as the least free person. Well, why is that? It’s because to have dominion over everyone comes with a whole lot of strings. You’re tethered to obligations, and by untethering from obligations, you may not be able to have the big house, but you might have something that you want a whole lot more, some tranquility, some peace, some equanimity,

Michael Jamin:
Right? I just wonder, does that take convincing of your stick? Do you have to convince yourself of that, or you just go, no, I’m in. I’m in.

Joshua Fields Millburn:
No, I think you just have to see it. You have to see it. Yeah, because I don’t think any level of convincing ever works. I think it was Dale Carnegie who said, A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion. Still.
I love that because yeah, you can convince me that Michael Jordan’s the greatest basketball player of all time, but if I don’t actually believe that, I’m going to go back to my defaults. Kapil Gupta says, everyone defaults to their defaults. And so, yeah, you can convince me for a period of time, but unless I actually see it, and that’s what happened when I walked away from the corporate world, I actually saw it. It wasn’t just this hypothetical or cerebral exercise. It was feeling it viscerally. And then you don’t need any convincing, no level of convincing is required. That’s what love is, by the way. To love someone is to see them for who they are without trying to convince them of your love, without trying to manipulate them or coerce them, actually seeing them. And I think that’s true with our material possessions, with our calendar, with that big house that you see in Beverly Hills or wherever. You know what, yes, you see it for what it is. You see the tethers that are attached to it, and if you want those tethers fine, but if you don’t want what is attached to those tethers, realize that you don’t actually want the house either.

Michael Jamin:
Hey, it’s Michael Jamin. If you like my content, and I know you do because you’re listening to me, I will email it to you for free. Just join my watch list. Every Friday I send out my top three videos of the week. These are for writers, actors, creative types, people like you can unsubscribe whenever you want. I’m not going to spam you, and the price is free. You got no excuse to join. Go to michaeljamin.com. And now back to, what the hell is Michael Jamin talking about?

Michael Jamin:
See, to me, what you’re saying is you literally, I don’t know, you took a leap. You took a leap of faith. I believe that this is not going to make me happy, and I believe this will make me happy. And you’re someone who continues to make leaps. This is a little bit of a segue here, but you took a leap from being management into a writer, into a performer. Now you’re on stage. Where do you get the balls to say that I’m a performer now? You know what I’m saying? It’s a leap.

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah. I don’t ever think of it that way. I guess I just started doing these events because was happy that I remember once we did a tour stop in Knoxville in 2011. It was our first book, which is called Minimalism, and no one showed up, and we were at this little bookstore slash cafe. So Ryan and I are just there. It’s a random Thursday night and we’re drinking coffee, waiting on it. Is anyone going to show up? Oh man, no one showed up. And it’s like, we’ll give it 10 more minutes. We start walking out, it’s half hour into the event, and we’re walking out, and as we’re walking out, there’s this guy who and his girlfriend who are walking in, they say, Hey, you’re the minimalists. And I’m like, yes, yes, we are. And they’re like, we don’t

Michael Jamin:
Even have an audience. That’s how minimal you’re yes.

Joshua Fields Millburn:
And they’re like, we’re here to see you. I’m like, that’s great. You’re the only people who showed up and well, so let’s sit down, pull up a chair. Let’s have a conversation. So we had a tour stop with two people, show up, and to me, that was one of the most meaningful experiences we’ve had. I didn’t look at it as a performer. I’ve kind of been like, water. We just fit the vessel that we’re in, and if two people show up, we’ll have a great two person conversation,

Michael Jamin:
But surely

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Thousand people show up. We’ll have a different conversation.

Michael Jamin:
But you must have some kind of pressure to feel like I have to entertain here. Not just educate, but entertain. No,

Joshua Fields Millburn:
I enjoy entertaining. I don’t know that I have to. That would also feel like a prison, but I enjoy entertainment. I like shows that are actually shows, right? Conversations are cool, but I really like when people put the effort and get really obsessed about something, whether it’s set design or it is audio, or it is the way the words look on a page in the type setting, whatever it is. I really appreciate the obsession. And yeah, I do like entertainment. I don’t know. That’s the point of doing what I do, but I don’t think that it hurts. I mean, it’s to be entertaining in a way is to be courteous to an audience. No one goes to the beach with a calculus textbook and says like, oh, I’m really looking forward to diving because there’s no entertainment there at all. It’s not delightful. And so I do enjoy delighting an audience, and I think it makes it what we’re talking about a lot more compelling.

Michael Jamin:
But was there a moment there had to be of imposter syndrome. Who am I to be standing here? Who am I to be writing this book? Who am I to be? Was there ever that,

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah, yeah. I guess that I never felt like an imposter. I just always felt like I was exploring. You’re exploring. Yeah, because I’m not prescribing anything to anyone. Anytime I do, then I’ll start to feel like an imposter isn’t. Here are the three things that you should do to be happy. In fact, happiness doesn’t even work like that. There’s nothing you can do to be happy. Happiness can’t be acquired. It can’t be attained. It is already there. It’s preexisting. We never go to a baby and say, well, here are three things you should do to be happy. You just see ’em smile and coup and laugh, and it’s like, oh, well, why can’t I do that? Well, I’ve covered it up with all the damn prescriptions, right? So I’m not prescribing anything. Anytime I do, then yeah, I start to feel like an imposter because who knows what. But people often call into our podcast and they’ll say, do you have any advice about this? And the first thing I always say is, I don’t have any advice, but I have some observations because I can’t tell you what to do, but I can tell you what I see.

Michael Jamin:
So it’s really just about you maintaining your authenticity and speaking what your truth is and take it or leave it. It’s whatever someone else’s truth is, that’s for them to decide.

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah, if I see a truth, I can observe it. I can put it out there on the table, and whether or not someone else picks it up, that’s up to them. By the way, my beliefs don’t really matter at all anyway. My beliefs don’t matter. The listener’s beliefs don’t matter. The truth is the only thing that does matter. I was just talking to someone earlier today about this. If I told you I believe the earth is flat, does that matter? Does it change anything? No, but I think the adverse of that also doesn’t change it. What do I tell you? I believe the earth is round. Well, so what? Congratulations. Right? The earth is round regardless of whether or not I believe it, and no amount of belief or clinging to a belief or changing a belief or convincing someone else that my belief is right is going to change what the truth is

Michael Jamin:
Right now. I’m jumping a little bit, but I feel like part of what your journey was, I wonder was it made a lot easier because you went on it with your best friend. It seems to me like I’m not sure if I could do this alone.

Joshua Fields Millburn:
In some ways it was easier, but a lot of times it was way harder. I are so different people. I mean, we’re exact opposites in many ways. I’m super introverted. He’s super extrovert. He’s the most extroverted person I know. I’m the most introverted person I know. So if you look at us on a Myers-Briggs personality test, I am an ISTJ, he’s an ENFP. We’re literally exact opposite person. Excuse me, exact opposite personalities. But when we interact with each other, we’re both mentors and mentees to each other. And I found that was really helpful to have someone there to help maybe keep me accountable. But other times it was, oh, man, it’s hard to not want to change this person to pick up my beliefs. And then what happens is we start battering each other with our own beliefs or our own opinions, and we’ve moralized everything, right? Oh, you like cappuccinos more than lattes? Clearly you’re wrong. I have a preference. And so it was harder, but it also allowed me to let go of a lot of that belief clutter that I was holding onto

Michael Jamin:
Belief clutter. Interesting. Yeah. I mean, that’s what I picked up from your last special. It’s not just about letting go of stuff. It’s about letting go of preconceived notions. It’s about letting go of. Yeah. I mean, that’s what I found so inspiring by what you guys are doing, but I don’t know, it seems to me, because you still have a business here, you have a creative business, you’ve reinvented themselves as creative people, and you’re going on, I don’t know, at the end of the day, you still got to pay the bills. You’re taking a big risk. So to me, it feels like, does having that partner there put you at ease a little bit?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah. I mean, the weird thing is I still make less money than I did in the corporate world, and in fact, they even took a pay cut this year to make sure that everyone is being paid well, and I’m totally fine with that. There are a lot of things I could do that I don’t want to do.

Michael Jamin:
You mean opportunities don’t

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Do ads? On our podcast, for example,

Michael Jamin:
You don’t do ads on your podcast?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
No, I don’t like ’em. I like going to museums, and I can only imagine if I went to the LACMA and I went to the Picasso room and all of a sudden they were painting McDonald’s arches onto his paintings. I wouldn’t feel as good about the art.

Michael Jamin:
It’s funny. I don’t monetize either, but to me it’s about something. What’s the end goal then? What’s the monetization process? Promote your other projects.

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah, I mean, that’s part of it. I just enjoy doing it. We didn’t monetize the podcast at all for years, and now we just supported on Patreon. So we do a private version of the podcast for patrons who want to support us, but frankly, that’s a very small sliver of the audience. Everything else we do for free, completely ad free. We don’t monetize our YouTube channel. I just don’t like advertisers, and that’s not a moral stance, and it’s not a judgment on anyone else. It’s just a personal preference to me. There’s some people who just really don’t like cilantro, and I’m not going to convince them that they should like cilantro or that, oh, you’re morally wrong because you dislike cilantro. It’s kind of gross to them. And advertisements on my podcast are just kind of gross to me. I

Michael Jamin:
Understand that. But it seems to me it almost like you’re bi minimalism and then someone puts an ad to buy sneakers that you don’t eat or whatever. I could see the disconnect, but also, you’re entitled to have a business and you’re entitled to make a living. And what you offer has value. I mean,

Joshua Fields Millburn:
I don’t think I’m entitled to anything, but I can do any of those. There are no shoulds. There are endless possibilities. Endless coulds so I could do ads. There are a bunch of things I could do, but I just choose not to because rather not. And to me, I would rather just go work at a coffee shop than put ads on. I’ll do the podcast for free and just go work at a coffee shop than put ads on. We have enough listeners that I could make seven figures a year from putting ads on the thing. So put my preferences where my mouth is, and again, it is not a moral stance and it’s not me standing on a pedestal. I just simply dislike ads and I’m not willing to say yes to something that grosses me out.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Well, good for you. Who can’t respect that, but what is it then that gives you joy? What is it that you’re working towards? What are your other ambitions with the minimalist? What do you want to do?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah, I don’t look at success if I do look at success at all. I don’t look at it as the big accomplishments. Those things can be fun as a byproduct, whether it’s being a bestselling author or being nominated for an Emmy or whatever it might be. I don’t shoot for those things. I try to map out my life to see what I want to do on a random Wednesday. What do you want your average Wednesday to look like?

Michael Jamin:
Okay. What do you want your average Wednesday to look like?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah, yeah. Usually I want to get up, I want to exercise, I want to read. I want to write those three things I do first thing in the morning. I really enjoy those things. I’ll get some sun. I’ll go for a hike. I’ll do some grounding. I might have a conversation like this or two, I limit the conversations that I have just because I don’t want to keep saying yes to a bunch of things, because if I’m saying yes to this, I want to be present with you. This is a hell yes for me. We’re having this conversation right now. Why distract myself with something else I have going on this afternoon or tomorrow or whatever? My point is that if you solve for Wednesday, there’s nothing grandiose. I don’t want, what do you want your average Wednesday to look like? Oh, well, I want to win an Oscar and I want to become a number one New York Times bestselling author, whatever it is. Those things can happen, but that’s not going to happen. Your average Wednesday, what if I’m taking my daughter to, she doesn’t go to, we homeschool her, but we take her to this, and so what if I spend an hour reading to my daughter? What do I want my average Wednesday to look like? Is appreciably different from the giant peaks that we often see on the success roadmap?

Michael Jamin:
I mean, you’re so grounded. You use the word yourself, grounding exercise, and yeah, I just have so much. First of all, I’m honored that I get this conversation because I don’t know. I just think it’s so interesting to hear you’re a very successful, I think you can be measured as a successful person in many different ways, but obviously the most important one is your happiness quotient and what gives you peace and joy.

Joshua Fields Millburn:
And if I find myself chasing it, then I know that I’m, I’ve been misled or I’ve misled myself. Really, the happiness is out there. The joy is not out there. Everything else that we seek is already

Michael Jamin:
Here. It’s almost like a spiritual journey you put yourself on.

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. It’s really just identifying what enough is and letting go of anything that gets in the way of enough.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Yeah. That’s so interesting. Now, do you also though, now that you have a child, I don’t know, do you also worry about that? Do you worry for her?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
No. No. I mean, because I know that she’s going to go, just last week, this is timely, but her boyfriend, I mean, the boy she holds hands with occasionally, she’s 10 years old, okay. And he called to break up with her, and he asked her, can we just be friends? This is her first boyfriend. I mean, I didn’t want to correct her and be like, Hey, Ella, you know what? You were just friends. You

Michael Jamin:
Were just friends.

Joshua Fields Millburn:
I have a big problem if you weren’t just friends at age 10. But anyway, and so she’s going through all this heartache and instead of pathologizing it and saying, don’t cry, yeah, I felt the heartache for her as well, but real joy, real peace makes room for that. I could still be at peace at it and experience those. So-called negative emotions. I can feel the sadness for her. And she looks up at me and she says, I’m so sad, and I don’t even know why I’m sad. Why am I sad? And oh, my heart was just broken. And then instead of me preaching to her, she asked a question, and that opened up the door for conversation. And I was able to explain to her, well, we get sad or we get upset. We get angry, we get frustrated whenever our expectations of the world, our worldview doesn’t map onto reality. And right now you want things to be one way and they are another way, and being sad isn’t wrong or bad, you’re going to experience this. And by the way, by her experiencing it, that’s how she moves on from it. And she moved on so much quicker than I would have. And that’s what the beautiful thing about kids. When you have a kid, you learn so much about letting go. She has far less to learn from me than I had to learn from her.

Michael Jamin:
But I sound very obviously very zen and very at balance. But when you were starting this minimalism journey to get the word out there to do these shows and book tours and all, there must’ve been disappointments along the way and would frustrated the hell out of you, or no,

Joshua Fields Millburn:
All the disappointments happened later way after the success. What Really? Absolutely, man, it was all just a beautiful accident early on. I remember the first time we had an amazing tour stop where it was 2012, December, 2012. This was our second tour. Yeah, we call it the Holiday Happiness Tour. We did 10 cities over the course of maybe three weeks, and us and Canada, just 10 major markets. And we had people actually show up to these. I remember we had 70 people show up in San Francisco, and we had maybe 25 people show up in Washington, DC and 40 people in Boston. And all of a sudden we had people who were actually showing up to these things. And then we had this event in Toronto. It was at this co-working space that we had. Someone found it for us. They let us use it for free, and we show up.
And it was the first time I absolutely knew that, oh, our lives are going to be different after this. We showed up and there was another event going on. It totally blocked off our event. And this other event that was going on, there was all these people waiting to get in. I’m like, oh, they’re totally going to screw up the small event that we have planned. And so I look at the organizer, her name was Melissa. I said, Melissa, what event are they here for? And she looked at me and she said, they’re for you, dummy. And it was like a thousand people who showed up at this event.

Michael Jamin:
And this space was big enough to accommodate

Joshua Fields Millburn:
It? No, not at all. And they actually let us use the basement. And even then there were people, it was like sardines at a rock concert or something, and it was all gravy, man, I would’ve been just as thrilled if 15 people showed up that night, and it’s easy to say as a Monday morning quarterback, but what happened is that started to build up these expectations in the future. Oh yeah, yeah. Now we need 2000 people to show up, whatever it is. And it’s like, well, no. In fact, recently we just started doing these smaller events here in Los Angeles. We did five of them over the course of, I dunno, six months or so. We called them Sunday symposiums, and we made them intentionally small where only 200 people could show up. It was 200 seat theater downtown, and that was it. If you showed up for that, great. And every single one of ’em sold out. Let’s do something intentionally small, and I’d love to do some events with 12 people, because to me, having the expectation totally ruins the thing. Whoever shows up shows up. If I need them to start showing up,

Michael Jamin:
Oh man,

Joshua Fields Millburn:
What’s going to happen?

Michael Jamin:
So it was, once you hit that success, like you’re saying, that’s when you have disappointment, more expectations. So were there others? Man, this is just so interesting to me. So what do you do then, other than keep yourself in check? Because your natural inclination is to get more success, more followers, more fans and all that?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah, yeah. I mean, for me, it was about identifying what enough is. But yeah, there’ll be some disappointments along the way. There was this film series that were working on. Netflix actually encouraged it. And so I go to pitch them on it. I do all my own pitching. I don’t have an agent do it. I just show up and I’ll have them book the appointment, and it’s just me in a room with whatever executives, and that’s how it’s worked. And then I show up and best pitch of my life. It went amazing. It was this project, a six part series, and it could not have gone better. The only way it could have gone better is they bought it in the room, which happens from time to time. I said, great, we’ll get back to you next week. This is a Friday. And on Monday, my agent calls me, and this is a few years ago, and it was right when Netflix stock tanked. And he called me and he said, Hey, they let go of 75% of that team that you pitched,
And so you’re going to have to put this on hold for a while. And so that’s what I’ve done. I set it on the shelf, and it’s unfortunate because I’ve spent more money on that project and more time on that than I’d care to admit. But the real reward is an action, and this sounds like a cliche, but in doing the work, and if it gets out there, great. If not, I got to enjoy the process of it. It only becomes a punishment when I need a particular outcome. And as soon as I need that outcome, man, then it doesn’t make room for any spontaneity. Imagine if you are in New York City and you need to drive to la, but then what if halfway there, some amazing opportunity happens in Seattle or in Bismarck, North Dakota? You’re not allowed to do it now because I have to be in Los Angeles. But if I’m in New York and I’m like, you know what, I’m just going to drive West and see what happens. And that’s really what this journey has been for us. Let’s just kind of go that direction and see what happens. We might end up in la, but we also might end up in Fargo, and that’s okay too. But

Michael Jamin:
Given that your history of these guys, of bootstrapping everything, why not just do this project yourself?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah, and I think we probably will. It’s just it’ll change the dynamics of it. We needed some money to do the big theatrical, delightful, entertaining things that we were going to do. And so that’s great. And we’ll probably end up doing the project on our own anyway. It’ll just change the way that it looks. And I’m totally fine with that. I’m not married to a particular mold. I’m always willing to let go of this, so I can pick that up.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah, I say that as well, that success doesn’t really look like what you think it looks like. And so interesting that your pitch stories for Netflix. So I don’t know. This has been such a, I don’t know. I feel like this has been a good interview just for me to hear, just for me to hear. I need to convince of this stuff. And by the way, I’ve thrown, I went on a purge getting rid of stuff as well, but I always wonder, shouldn’t I throw up more? Isn’t there more I can get rid of? What do you do when you have to bring stuff? What do you do? I don’t know. How do you decide what you’re going to bring into your home?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah, that is a simple question I asked, will this add value to my life? And I think we can only determine that truly if we’ve deprived ourselves for a period of time. I’m not a deprivation. I’m not an aesthetic. I don’t live like a monk in a monastery. I certainly don’t live like an aesthetic in a cave, but I will temporarily remove things from my life to see if I got any true value from those things. I wish there was a list I could hand you and say, here are the hundred things you should own, and then you’ll be happy. That’d be great. And it’d be real simple. It’d be super easy too. Wow, here’s the formula. But the truth is, the things that I’ve valued in my life, they might get in your way and vice versa.

Michael Jamin:
But do you feel like just looking around your house like, eh, I can get rid of this.

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Oh, I do it all the time. Yeah. My wife and I are constantly interrogating the things that we own, because the truth is something that added value yesterday may not add value tomorrow. Certainly some of that added value a decade ago may not add value today. You don’t get down to those a hundred items or a thousand items or 10,000 items that you own, and now you’re complete. No, it’s continuing to interrogate those because, oh, yeah, I really enjoyed this during that chapter, but it’s time to graduate. It’s like when you left high school, you graduated from it. If not, you end up getting divorced from an item. You’re like, oh, this is causing so much pain and misery. I want get rid of it. Why not just graduate when I’m done with it, I’m done with it.

Michael Jamin:
But is there ever a moment where six months later or a year or two years later, damn, I wish I had those shoes?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah, no. Yeah, it doesn’t really work that way. I mean, regret is usually the story that we tell ourselves about the way things could have been had I done something differently. But the truth is that I’ve gotten rid of all of my things. I even did an experiment once where I got rid of all of my favorite things,

Michael Jamin:
Really,

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Really difficult because I told myself, well, here’s my favorite shirt, my favorite shoes, my favorite pair of pants. Someone asked me in an interview one time very early on, what’s your favorite shirt? What’s your favorite shoes? What’s your favorite pair of pants? And I gave ’em the answer. And I said, but you know what? They’re just my favorites. I say, they’re my favorites. I can let go of anything. I can let go of these. And it was difficult because, oh, I really like that there’s some sentimentality tied up in it. But letting go of that prove to me, I can let go of anything else that’s in my closet. If I got rid of my favorite things, guess what happens? Something else steps up and becomes your favorite. And they’re just material possessions. Oh, interesting. If I hold onto it, you know what? Then eventually it’s no longer going to be my favorite. If I let it go in advance, then that’s fine too.

Michael Jamin:
A couple of years ago, more than a couple of years ago, my father, my in-laws, lost their home in a fire, lost everything. And my mother-in-law’s upset by it. My father-in-law’s like, I’m free. He goes, I had never felt freer.

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yes, our last book, love People Use Things, which we did through a big traditional publisher, which I don’t think I would ever do again, by the way,

Michael Jamin:
Why? Go ahead. Why not?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
I’m just not good at working for people.

Michael Jamin:
Wait, you feel like you’re working for them? You wrote a book and you feel like you’re working for them?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
I just feel like subordinating myself to their ideas. And I think that industry, while it makes sense for some people, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for me. Ironically, it was our least selling book, even though it was a New York Times bestselling book, it was by far our least selling book, orders of magnitude less

Michael Jamin:
Really?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Not even close.

Michael Jamin:
Because you think they changed the content so much that it didn’t resonate anymore?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
No. I mean, I think it’s probably our best, technically best written book, technically. But when you do that, I think sometimes you can remove the heart from it. And I also think that I subordinated myself to them. They must know best how to publish this thing. And the truth is, no. I know best how to get my stuff. I intuitively know best what resonates with people, and I’ve learned what resonates because I’ve spent time in the trenches. I mean, this is the only thing that I’ve done for the last, I’ve done it for 12, 13 years now, and I’m connecting with people every day, and I figure out what resonates. I know what resonates with them. And someone in an ivory tower who is really smart and has the best of intentions, they may not know what’s going to resonate with an audience the way that I do.

Michael Jamin:
I’m so happy you said that, but is it also the marketing? Was it because they didn’t really market it the way you could market it, or?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, eventually I had to hire my own publicist to go out and market the book

Michael Jamin:
Right out of your own pocket, of course.

Joshua Fields Millburn:
And it’s like, well, I had already did that with my own stuff. When I started Independently Publishing, started my own publishing company. I can do that on my own. Now. They do a good job of distribution and stuff, but let’s be honest here, what’s the real distribution? Do I need my book to be in Target?

Michael Jamin:
Dude, you were just listening to my conversation. I did a podcast yesterday. I said the same exact thing. I said, it’s Barnes and Noble. Well, a lot of people don’t even go to Barnes and Noble. They get their books online. So what difference is it? Do I need my book in Target?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
I mean, I can get books in Barnes and Noble. That’s pretty easy. You can get books in Target. It’s a little bit more difficult. You can do that stuff on your own as well. It is not as easy as having someone else do it for you. But guess what? The lesson I learned from this is having someone else do it for me means it won’t be done the way that I want it done.

Michael Jamin:
But what is the difference between, you said this earlier, between starting your own publishing company and indie publishing on your own. What are the differences, really?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
I’m not sure I follow the question. The difference between

Michael Jamin:
What, well, you said you started your own independent publishing company. Yeah. What’s the difference between that and self-publishing on a platform?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah. Yeah. So the biggest difference I think is quality control. When you think about an indie band versus a garage band, the garage band’s having fun and it’s great. And you could even record that music. And it’s not meant for a mainstream release to the public. It’s maybe not even meant to be consumed by the public necessarily, maybe for a small group of friends or something like that. But it’s a waste of time. If you filled up a theater and you put a jam band up on stage, most people aren’t going to get the same amount of value they would from a really solid indie band. I mean, I think the pinnacle of that is someone like Radiohead who has all of the quality control of a major label, but they do things independently now. But you have so many other artists. I have a bunch of friends like my friend Griffin House or Matt Nathanson, who makes really great songs independently. They don’t require a major label, but all of the quality control is there, the distribution, the editing, the mixing, the mastering. And so we have a whole, you’re not

Michael Jamin:
Actually printing it yourself. In other words, you’re still using a platform to print it, but you’re just, when you say quality control, you mean of the written word quality control?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah. I mean, all the above. We’ve done both. We’ve done printing of our own books, but also, yeah, the tools are out there now that you can do print on demand, and how awesome is that as a tool? But the quality control in terms of like, okay, let’s hire an actual editor. Let’s have a cover designer. Let’s have someone do actual typeface layout, so you’re not doing it on your own. Someone who knows what they’re doing professional to do this. Let’s do proof readers and Alpha readers and beta readers having an actual quality control process as opposed to like, oh, you know what? I whip this up in Word. I’ll get my buddy to look at it, and once he’s looked at it, then I’m just going to throw it up on Amazon. No, let’s go through the same process that a major publishing company would go through. Why can’t we do that on our own? You realize that, oh, wait, I can do it on my

Michael Jamin:
Own. You can do it on, were you finding when you were working, when you did, and I’m keeping you along, and I promise, and I really appreciate all this. Every time you ask you say something, I’ll have one more question, but I won’t take you much longer. But do you find when you’re dealing with these publishers and you’re getting notes, part of me feels like they’re just frustrated writers. They wish they were you. In other words, do you find that or no?

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah, I mean, yeah, I have, but that’s probably just me projecting some of my own insecurities onto them. Right, because all writers are frustrated writers. Ultimately. Stephen King’s a frustrated writer.

Michael Jamin:
Yes, I agree with that.

Joshua Fields Millburn:
John Grisham is a frustrated writer, and I think this genders pretty significantly too. Strangely, most of my audience are women, and that was unintentional. But I found that when I talk to women writers, there’s a lot more joy and happiness and contentment there. When I talk to male writers, a lot of it is just frustration and pulling one’s hair out or trying to put one’s head through a wall. Yeah, I’ve found that for whatever reason, and that’s not a heuristic that I would live by. I mean, it’s not that all women writers are joyous, and all male writers are miserable, but it does seem to slope that way.

Michael Jamin:
So interesting. For what it’s worth, and one of the reasons for what it’s worth, so I am a TV writer. I’ve worked for the studios all my entire career, and I said recently, and people are surprised when I say this, that I don’t write what I want to write. I wrote what people pay me to write, and there’s a big difference. So when I want to write something on my own, I do it on my own with no expectations. But yeah, it’s a job. So I got to take the notes. That’s right.

Joshua Fields Millburn:
The publishing process with a major publisher was similar in that. Also, I don’t generally do deadlines, and that was one of the worst things ever happened to me was to have a deadline. I know some people’s really helpful for them. For me, it’s crippling and anxiety producing, and it strips all the joy out. I love writing. I write every day. But if you sit me down and say, you have to write, I’m like, oh, what do you mean? I have to. That’s why I never did well in school. You’re being told to read something or told to write something or told to do something. I just don’t like that.

Michael Jamin:
And is it mostly nonfiction, though? You’re writing now, now,

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Yeah. Yeah, for the most part.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. So interesting. Joshua, I’m so appreciative of you lending me all this time and just getting to know all about your story here. Honestly, I want everyone to go check out the minimalist, go to their website, check out, watch their, one of the most important things you’ll watch is how getting rid of stuff will make you feel freer and you’ll feel richer in the process. Go check ’em out. I can’t thank you enough for joining me here. Is there any other advice you have? Any parting words that last words

Joshua Fields Millburn:
Love people and use things. The opposite. Never works.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Wonderful. Joshua, thank you so much everyone, and thank you for joining me. What a great conversation.

Michael Jamin:
So now we all know what the hell Michael Jam’s talking about. If you’re interested in learning more about writing, make sure you register for my free monthly webinars @michaeljamin.com/ webinar. And if you found this podcast helpful or entertaining, please share it with a friend and consider leaving us a five star review on iTunes that really, really helps. For more of this, whatever the hell this is, follow Michael Jamin on social media @MichaelJaminwriter, and you can follow Phil Hudson on social media @PhilaHudson. This podcast was produced by Phil Hudson. It was edited by Dallas Crane and music was composed by Anthony Rizzo. And remember, you can have excuses or you can have a creative life, but you can’t have both. See you next week.

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Michael Jamin, Showrunner, TV Writer, Author

Michael Jamin

For the past 26 years, Michael Jamin has been a professional television writer/showrunner. His credits include King of the Hill, Beavis & Butthead, Wilfred, Maron, Just Shoot Me, Rules of Engagement, Brickleberry, Tacoma FD and many more.

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