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Creators' Corner #28: embracing the spirit of the fool and setting anti-goals

John Nicholas
John Nicholas
6 min read
Creators' Corner #28: embracing the spirit of the fool and setting anti-goals
Photo of the week: Lily meets the Lion.

Hey everyone 👋. Greetings from Cape Town!

Welcome to the 8 new subscribers, which brings us to 222 creators. Here's the previous edition of the newsletter for those of you who missed it.

Thanks so much for being here. Please reach out if you have any thoughts or ideas. I would love to hear from you.


Small talk:

  • Jess and I are in Cape Town for the next three months. Home. The city I grew up in. I'll miss Munich and its people, but for now, it's time to braai, hike and enjoy the waves.
  • My first Write of Passage mentor session took place last Tuesday. The nerves were high and my heart was racing (a good sign), but the feedback was awesome. I opened up about my writing journey and the challenges beginner writers face. We also discussed strategies to form a consistent writing habit, which I share below. Round 2 happens tonight.

Line-up this week:

  1. Mental tools that have kept me going: the spirit of the fool and anti-goals
  2. I made my first internet money!
  3. Things you might like

1. Mental tools that have kept me going

One of my favourite writing compliments came from my friend Michael Sklar:

"John – your writing pisses me off. When you started out, you wrote all the basic pieces beginner writers write... curation articles about your favourite writers, essays about your job as an actuary and so on. What pissed me off was that you kept going. You didn't give up. You wrote about these unoriginal topics and eventually you became original."

So... what kept me writing? Two things:

  • embracing the spirit of the fool
  • setting up anti-goals

A. Embracing the Spirit of the Fool 🐛

Pakalu gets it.

We all have to start somewhere. Even Paul Graham (one of the great essayists of our time) didn't start off being brilliant:

“Before college[...] I wrote what beginning writers were supposed to write then, and probably still are: short stories. My stories were awful. They had hardly any plot, just characters with strong feelings, which I imagined made them deep.”

But starting is tough. Since we have high expectations of ourselves, odds are our first attempts will fall short of our lofty standards.

One way I tricked myself into starting was by embracing the spirit of the fool or beginner's mind.

By looking at everything as a learning opportunity, I lowered my expectations. By saying everything is an experiment, I removed the pressure.

This mindset has helped me overcome imposter syndrome. By definition, I am an imposter, a fool trying my hand against the pro writers and creatives. And I wear this tag with a smile.

I've happily looked naive and inexperienced, while trying to figure out how to build a website, draw visuals (like the one below) and put my ideas into words.

I posted this messy image about controlling the controllables in an essay. Still proud of it.

If I waited until I had all the answers, I would never have started. Waiting for the perfect conditions "one day" would have left me at square one.

The funny thing is, in many respects, I'm still starting out. I still have a lot to learn. I'm just a little bit above the bottom. I'll always be the young caterpillar.

B. The Power of Anti-goals 🦹

"People focus on role models; it is more effective to find antimodels - people you don't want to resemble when you grow up."
— Nassim Nicholas Taleb

People often ask us what our goals are. What do you want to achieve? What is your 5-, 10-, 20-year plan?

For me, it is more important to ask what our anti-goals are. By defining what you are scared of becoming, you get closer to figuring out what you stand for. By pointing out what you want to avoid, you get closer to where you want to go.

This has been a major driving force for me.

My anti-goal is becoming a gray suit in the corporate office sucked dry of joy. A caged animal going through the motions and not expressing my ideas.

A year ago, I was on this route. I was chasing temporary highs to avoid facing the fact that I wasn't having an impact through my career. I blamed others, instead of looking within. I was restless. I spent weekends partying. I trained for endurance events to distract myself. The 'villain me' had a lot of questions, but few answers.

My friend Louie Bacaj has his own anti-goal. He walked away from a high-paying job in big tech to pursue a career as an entrepreneur. He knows he can go back to his old position if his small bets don't come off, but going back to corporate America would be a big failure to him.

My anti-goal has kept me going. Writing has been the antidote to my restlessness. I've created artifacts I can point back to. I've helped people in small, but meaningful ways. I'm having more of an impact by publishing my ideas.

Who's the antimodel or villain you're trying to avoid becoming?


2. I made my first internet money!

🤑🤑🤑

I'm proud to say I made my first $ on the internet. $60 to be exact!

Thanks to all of you who downloaded the Notion worksheet last week. And a special thanks to those of you who paid an amount towards it.

If you want to get your hands on my Content Management System, you can grab it here:

Content Management System
“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” - James ClearGrab my content management system so you can:Capture your best ideas and the best content you consume.Publish week in and week out, despite what life may throw at you.Avoid creator panic (not knowing wh…

The amount may sound insignificant, but it builds conviction that there is a little entrepreneur inside me. It gives me belief that I can create a viable side hustle one day.

The best part is you can do it too. You also have personal assets (hours of experience doing something), which you can productize and sell.

Via Visualize Value.

3. Things you might like

  1. 💬 Quote of the week: “The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” – Mary Oliver. A strong anti-goal if I've seen one.
  2. 📖 Book of the week: Klara and the Sun by one of my favourite authors, Kazuo Ishiguro. Solid 4 out of 5. Similar in some respects to his previous work, Never Let Me Go, the story is set in a future world where kids get Artificial Friends (robots that care for them). An interesting thought experiment by the Nobel prize winner.
  3. 🌶️ Contrarian view of the week: being naive beats being an expert sometimes. "It works to be slightly naive not just about motives but also, believe it or not, about the problems you're working on. Naive optimism can compensate for the bit rot that rapid change causes in established beliefs. You plunge into some problem saying "How hard can it be?", and then after solving it you learn that it was till recently insoluble." – Paul Graham, in his essay on Earnestness. A good lesson in beginner's mind.

See you next week. Here's to playing the fool.

– John


P.S. you can respond directly to this email or drop a comment below.

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John Nicholas Twitter

Actuary and creator.

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