Clint Willis

Clint Willis: Thinker. Writer. Surfer. (#29-30)

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Our Guest Today: Clint Willis

I had the pleasure of meeting Clint Willis five years ago. Clint authored and edited an impressive number of books (Good Reads). The most recent one is called: The Boys of Everest: The Tragic Story of Climbing’s Greatest Generation. Clint and I immediately sparked a conversation about spirituality, meditation and what it means to live a meaningful life.

When I was a little girl growing up in Beijing, I dreamed of living a Californian life. At the age of 27, I asked Clint: “What if I want to surf?” He responded, “You surf.”

The good news is that Clint’s answer didn’t just stop there. He painted a picture for me on how I (or anyone else) could pursue their dreams and build a life around their passions. Clint’s spirit awakened my own, inspiring me to start this podcast.

Before we get down to business, here are a few fun facts about Clint:

  • An avid surfer who discovered surfing at the age of 50
  • Worked as an editor at Money Magazine before founding The Writing Company, in 1993
  • Regularly practices meditation, Yoga and surfs as much as he can near his home in Portland, Maine

In Part 1 of our interview, Clint dissects the construction of his company, The Writing Company, and answers questions such as:

  1. How to create and sustain a collaborative environment?
  2. What is the process to promote and regularly practice collaboration among writers?
  3. How does Clint create an effective peer-review system?
  4. What is their hiring process?
  5. What does it take to continue his legacy and embrace the company’s unique culture?
  6. How does Clint recognize good vs. bad writing? What does “bad writing” mean to him?
  7. How did Clint come across surfing (at age 50!)?

In Part 2, we discover the answers to secret origin questions such as:

  1. Has Clint always been the kind of person he is today?
  2. What is Clint’s psychological makeup that contributes to his success and lifestyle?
  3. A Day in Clint’s Life (AM to PM) – what is his daily ritual?
  4. How does Clint practice yoga, meditation and mindfulness? Really, how does he get calm?
  5. How to be comfortable with change and uncertainty?

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Part 1

Clint Willis 0:00
was surfing for some reason, I was able to do it. And I think that’s where a lot of the joy came from. There was no plan and there was no outcome. And there was no like, goal because I’m never going to be like a world class surfer or make a living at it or anything. It’s just something I do, because I love it and, and it loves me back. You know, I think that’s kind of an incredible thing. And when you stumble on something like that in your life, you know, it’s like, you gotta, you gotta feel grateful. It’s like, wow, where I still ask myself, Where the hell did that come from? And it makes you wonder what, what else is around the corner? Like, what’s the next amazing thing you know?

Intro 0:39
Welcome to the FES world podcast, engaging conversations that crossed the boundaries between business, art, and the digital world.

Fei Wu 0:53
Hello, boys and girls. Welcome back to episode number 29 of the face world podcast. I had the pleasure to meet Clint Willis about five years ago, Clint authored and edited a number of books you can find on Goodreads, and the most recent one is called the boys of Everest. The tragic story of climbing is greatest generation. Glenn and I immediately sparked a conversation about spirituality, meditation and what it means to live a meaningful life. When I was a little girl growing up in Beijing, I dreamed of living a California life. So at the age of 27, when I first met Clint, I asked him, What if I want to serve? He responded, you serve. The good news is that cleanse answer didn’t just stop there. He painted a picture for me on how I or anyone else could pursue their dreams and build a life around to support their passions. Clint is a significant influencer to why started the face world podcasting. This conversation was recorded over Skype. And it was a learning experiment for me to figure out how to balance mono versus stereo tracks. And I was recording without the headset, so you might hear some background echoes, but I’ve done as much as I could to enhance the audio quality. Please forgive me. Quinn’s words and wisdom have been carried with me over the past four or five years, so I thought it would be selfish not to share them. In fact, I’m still seeking opportunities to be able to work with Clint one day because it will be awesome. Before we get down to business, here are a few fun facts about Clint. He’s an avid surfer who discovered surfing at the age of 50. He regularly practices meditation, yoga and serves as much as he can near his home. Guess where not in California but Portland, Maine. In part one of our interview, Clint dissects the construction of his company called the writing company, and answers questions such as how to create and sustain a collaborative environment. What is the process to promote and regularly practice collaboration among writers? How does Clint create an effective peer review system? What is the hiring process? What does it take to continue his legacy and embrace the company’s unique culture? How does Clint recognize good versus bad writing? So I promise you that this will be really interesting whether you are a writer or not. And thank you so much, again, for listening to the face world podcast. Oh, the show notes and other tools resources can be found on my website. FEISW rld. Without further ado, please welcome Clint Willis.

While on my way home, I was riding the Beeline of the MBTA in Boston. And, you know, I feel like I gathered a list of questions. I did a little bit more research on you. One thing I was so happy about was you know, I’m personally very intrigued by the book, the boys of Everest and and then I started researching more about you on good reads. And I found these 50 or so books with your name?

Clint Willis 4:31
Yeah, all right. Yeah, that’d be that’s it’s a bit of a an exaggeration. I mean, in the sense that they were all anthologies, except for the voiceovers. I was just doing collections of stories about stuff that interested me. It was fun though, because I got to write introductory essays to many of them. And that was part of how I kind of found my voice as a writer before I wrote the climbing book.

Unknown Speaker 4:57
Really? Yeah. Wow. Yeah.

Fei Wu 5:00
what your what year? Was that sort of finding your voice?

Clint Willis 5:04
I start I well, I started doing anthologies. I think the first one was epic. I mean, I know that was the first one, but I think it came out in 96. Probably.

Fei Wu 5:17
Were you a writer before? 96? I thought so.

Clint Willis 5:20
Oh, yeah, yeah. But I was more like magazine stuff, you know, things like that. And I spent a lot of my time as a financial writer. Because I worked at Money Magazine, for about, off and on for like, 10 years, we lived down in the city 10 or 12 years, I was kind of in and out of the time life building. And much of my work was that money. So I sort of learned to be a financial writer. And the scheme when I moved up here was that I would use financial writing to sort of support myself and then I would be able to branch out and do other kinds of work, which, you know, which worked actually took a while, but But yeah, actually, it worked. It worked.

Fei Wu 5:56
When you said the city, did you mean like New York City or? Yeah, yeah. Wow. So moving from what year? Did you move from New York to Portland?

Unknown Speaker 6:06

  1. Oh, wow. Nice. And you lived in New York for like, 10 years?

Clint Willis 6:12
Well, I think, yeah, I showed up in New York in like, 1980. After I dropped out of grad school, I was studying political science at Yale. And then I quit that program moved back to the city, because that’s where all my friends were, and moved down with a couple of pals. And then Jennifer and I took up with each other, and I moved in with her. And then we got married really quickly, like six months after we, the first time we went out, although I had known her for several years, because she was a friend of a friend. But, uh, anyway, so like, we fell, you know, head over heels in love. And I moved in, like, the day that I went home with from our first date, I went home with her and I never left and we married like six months later, and, and stayed in the city for like, 12 years. And then we had by then we had two young sons, and it was time to move on. I mean, we, we both wanted to get out of the city. So we could raise the kids somewhere where we could get outside, and they could get outside, you know, and also, I wanted to do my own writing, and I figured I could support myself doing some financial work, and then do other kinds of writing. And, yeah, so that’s what I did. And I ended up you know, I, because I had worked at time, life, or time, like they had a team approach to journalism. So I, I was really into that idea. I love delegating. And I love teaching people how to do stuff and, and, you know, moving on to new things. And so well, I hired a couple of researchers, when I came up here to work on stories I was doing. And then gradually, I trained those guys to be writers, and then they became editors and project managers and the business went through a bunch of different iterations, while I kind of figured out the model. And, and now the, the writing companies still, you know, it’s still around, it’s a lot bigger. Now, there’s four owners. I mean, I still on the majority of the company, but there’s I have three young, younger partners who all have worked with me for a long time. And then we have a bunch about a dozen people we work with on a regular basis as writers, and we do projects for different financial services and media companies providing editorial content, and I spend some time, you know, kind of my own, you know, the last few years, my real project has been trying to create a sustainable model so that I can continue without me. And you know, we’re getting there. So that’s kind of cool. Those guys are stepping up and running the company now. And they do all the hard work. Really, it’s it’s

Fei Wu 8:48
how big how many people together, I try to quickly do the math for partners. And then

Clint Willis 8:54
well, there’s like a dozen of us who are kind of on the team, I guess is, you know, is what we call it, like just people who the writing company is their main gig, you know, some of them are on staff, some of them are freelancers, but everybody’s, you know, pretty committed to the community and to what we’re trying to do. And, and then we have, you know, a half a dozen or so writers we work with, as we call them role players, just freelancers, we’re not their main gig, but we’re, but they know how to do some of the stuff we know how to do and we work well with them. So we call them in for certain projects. Nice. Just like, you know, dozen 15 Something like that.

Fei Wu 9:29
The company has been around for a long time, I think was 20 or so years altogether.

Clint Willis 9:33
Yeah. Well, you know, we opened our doors like the day I got here, you know, July 4 1993. I think we moved up here and you know, that Monday, I think I went and found an office space and hired a couple of kids that you know, that month so yeah, it’s like 2021 years. Yeah.

Fei Wu 9:51
Nice. You know, we started this conversation four years ago and one of I’ve been telling A lot of my co workers, you know, for me, switching my career from sapien nitrile than to Digital Influence Group and now at Arnold, worldwide, I’m not sure how familiar you are with some of these brands. You know, I have been consistently telling people about your company, and I’m so glad I can actually do this podcast so they could hear it from you. And there is no better person to tell the story. Yeah, cool. Yeah, really excited. Thank you. It’s funny when we started talking about writing, I’m so interested, I’ve always been interested in your company. One is not the most significant reason is the fact that I do. I’ve always worked with copywriters, and just so you know, they’re no longer with some of our still call, call the copywriters. But very, in the past couple of years, a lot of advertising agencies have really changed their approach and started hiring writers and journalists. And so

Clint Willis 11:02
that’s interesting. Yeah, it makes a lot of sense to me. I mean, I’ve always felt like there was, you know, there was a place in the kind of work we do for people who are really committed to writing. And, and I mean, that’s what I was into. And that’s what I knew how to do. And so when I hired people, I hired people who either were or wanting to be writers, and we never were really communications people. And we were never marketing people. But we find ourselves increasingly working with people, you know, where that’s their, that’s their primary training, and their primary orientation, you know, they’re trying to do some sort of marketing or some sort of communications, but they don’t necessarily always come from a background that, you know, stresses writing and editorial skills. And I really love the idea of bringing people who are first and foremost writers into these kinds of conversations about creating content. Because a lot of times the people who are having those conversations and who are funding those conversations, actually aren’t really connected to that tradition, you know, the tradition of writing, which, in journalism, that, you know, that I sort of came out of where you took that stuff very seriously, you know, you, you know, when I started my career, I was a fact checker at Time, Inc. and, you know, I was a young fellow with a lowly lowly job in that building, but I felt this enormous responsibility, you know, because at the end of the month, you know, we were a monthly magazine, I was responsible for the facts and several stories, and not only the facts, but the, how it wasn’t just a matter of factual stuff, it was a matter of how the stuff read, and I don’t mean in terms of style, but in terms of whether it actually said, what it thought it was saying, you know, because of a reader called in with an interpretation of the writing that was legitimate. And that was, in some way introduced some, you know, problem into the story, or identified some problem with the story that was on me, you know, I was the youngest least experienced person there, but it was my responsibility. And if you blew, let you know, just if you made this, you know, what would now be considered to be like, just forgettable mistakes? That was a big deal, you know, in two or three of those in a year, and you were out of the building, and it was a tough gig to get. So it was serious, man, it was, I remember being up, you know, two in the morning poring over some story, just like, to make absolutely sure that there was nothing in there that did wasn’t exactly clear. You know, it was fabulous training. And I, you know, I think, I mean, every generation says this, but I don’t think the guys coming up now, get that kind of training, right? It’s really hard to come by, but, and I wouldn’t even I would say that at our company, we have a tradition where every interaction is a learning and teaching interaction, you’re either teaching or you’re learning, you’re both ideally, so that when something happens, you know, we always use it as an opportunity. Like, if something doesn’t go well, or someone has a question, or just some interaction isn’t quite right, we have these really cool conversations about why that’s the case and what we can learn from it, and how we can move forward. And when you do that, consistently, you know, day after day, it’s amazing, you know, how good people get at their work, and how seriously they take stuff. And that I think, is a huge competitive advantage, you know, in an environment where sometimes content feels a little bit like a commodity, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s some content is a commodity, you know, it’s like, it’s, you know, it’s a commodity, it’s just something that you can get, right, but, but our ambition, you know, is to do writing, that’s, you know, that’s adds value that’s actually worth something and that stands out, and to do that you just have to take it seriously, which of course is way more fun than the other thing.

Fei Wu 14:58
I’m so fun. Something about this peer review system that you created for your company. And I’m saying that because, yeah, yeah, you know, because I’m, you know, I’ve been working in advertising agency for a long time, perhaps too long is, you know, it’s very easy to create conflicts and, and when we talk about collective wisdom, and collaboration, actually, even before collective wisdom, collaboration, we mean, project manager, technologist, creative copywriter, and when we come together, we oftentimes are very, very different opinions, and I noticed symptom of people kind of are interested in sort of what they know. And, you know, there’s probably many ways that describe the situation, I’m sure you’re aware of what aware of this, and I’m just so intrigued by having writers come together and and actually critique and share feedback for one another. And how does that how do you create a system? How do you kind of like, you know, moderate that facilitator?

Clint Willis 16:09
Interesting? No, you know, you talk about it a lot, right. I mean, I, first of all, I had the advantage in the early going, that I was the guy, I was the boss, I was the guy who knew stuff, right? So the guys I was the people I was hiring had no experience, really, they were young, and they were green, and they were awesome, you know, so they wanted to learn, and I wanted to teach. And so it was really, you know, it’s kind of a win win thing on both sides. And over time, we kind of developed a culture where it was partly because we’re a self selected group, you know, we’re super careful about who we work with. And then when we, when we do choose to work with someone, by that time, we’ve tried them out. And we know that there’s somebody who really values collaboration, who’s really open to other people’s ideas, especially ours at any rate, and you know, who, who will value that experience of collaboration that’s constructive, you know, so it’s, some of it is about that, you know, choosing the right people, people who are oriented that way, and then talking about it a lot, you know, at every opportunity bringing it up. I mean, we had a conversation Monday we meet, there are half a dozen assumed meet once a week, and every month at our weekly meeting. One of those meetings each month is dedicated, in part to going over the list of people, we work with everybody on our team and our community, and talking about their situation. And people talk about interactions they’ve had and how they handled it. And, you know, this is this is the kind of stuff we talk about, you know, someone said that what was it happened this week, a young writer had, oh, I know, had handed in a piece. And there was she’s very, very strong young writer, I mean, very impressive. We love her. And so it was it was interesting, because the piece had some problems. And when the editor went back, the writer said, Yeah, you know, I know, I wasn’t too clear about a couple of things. And, you know, we all sort of jumped on that. And we’re like, alright, that’s a great opportunity to remind her how we work and what our culture is, like, if you have a question about a piece, you don’t go forward and write it, you call your editor, and you talk to them about it. You know, we, we also talk a lot about how the editing process happens, you know, the standard thing I grew up with was you, someone would give you an assignment, it might be a paragraph, you might have a phone conversation, then you’d go off and report and write the story. And you might be off doing it for a month, you know, and then you’d come back with a draft, and months work, right? And they would read it and say, Well, here’s the problem, here’s the problem, here’s the problem. And then you’d go off and have lunch with one of your friends and complain that they hadn’t told you that in the first place, right. And then you’d go revise the story. And, you know, it was like on a scale of one to 10, it could be a one to a 10. You know, it could be really a drag, or it could be just sort of a pain, or it could or it could go smoothly. But it rarely went as smoothly as it could was my feeling. And it seemed pretty obvious to me that the biggest problem was that the collaboration happened at the end of the story, and not at the beginning, which seemed insane to me. So we don’t do that we make sure the collaboration with the client, between our editor and our writer, and then the client, we make that we move all that to the front or as much as we possibly can. So that before we start working on the story, everybody knows where we are right now and where we hope to be what we know what we don’t know, and how we’re going to find it out. And then the writer is launched, you know, in the story, but so much learning goes on in that early part when you’re thinking about how to plan and structure your work on a piece, which is, of course, you know, the crux of it, because how many times does young writers sit down and go like, Well, what do I do now? You know, well, our writers don’t do that. They sit down and they know what they’re going to do now. They do it and then if something comes up along the way, and they don’t know they have someone they can talk to who’s more experienced than they are and honestly one of the reasons we do it that way is because of my own personal psychological makeup. You know, when I was sort of an anxious kid, you know, when I was a young guy was sort of an anxious young guy,

Fei Wu 20:10
never imagined that thanks for bringing it up.

Clint Willis 20:14
Oh, I hated it, I hated that feeling of anxiety, you know, so I look for ways to manage it. And for me writing a story without proper guidance, that made me crazy, you know, and I’m also a reasonably empathic person. And I didn’t want the young writers who worked for me to experience that any more than was healthy or necessary, right. So I hated the idea of sending some poor young writer out to do something they weren’t equipped to do, and not giving them the guidance they needed. So we structured this thing. So people would be able to do this job without any unnecessary stress. You know, I mean, of course, there’s going to be some stress and some setbacks and some confusion. But it’s amazing how much of the bad feeling that can happen in a collaboration on a piece of editorial work doesn’t arise when you do the work up front, to make sure that that process that everyone’s has, you know, has bought into the process in the early going with clients, it can be more difficult, you know, because they’re not working for us. So we don’t get to tell them what to do, or when to listen to us, or, you know, but there are lots of things we can do with a client, especially once a client comes to trust us. To get them involved with us in that early process, we can ask questions, we can offer ideas, and, you know, create opportunities for that collaboration to occur. Whereas I think a lot of times writers, they get an assignment and they just bolt because they want to get it, they want to get go. And you know, and and sometimes I think they don’t trust the clients enough to, you know, in the sense that a lot of times clients are, they have things to offer that, that, you know, that that writers don’t give them credit for, you know, that they sort of think, you know, they don’t know what they’re doing, or, you know, whatever, or they haven’t articulated something well, so there’s this sort of tendency to jump to the conclusion that they can’t, whereas we give our, we tend to be super open to the idea that our clients are collaborators as well. And it’s tends to be a self fulfilling prophecy, when we make that space available. clients tend to tend to, you know, enter it with us. And it’s really, it’s cool, you know, then the collaboration is, you know, broader. And, I mean, that’s a huge, big deal when you’re working with your client, as a collaborator. I really

Fei Wu 22:27
like your, where you’re going with this. And if I may ask a nerdy question. In terms of collaboration, what are some of the tools? You know, for instance, like I use Google Doc, a lot. And people can comment and share.

Clint Willis 22:41
I love Google Doc. Yeah. Love it. We I love that as a collaborative vehicle, like, we don’t all use it. But at that very Monday meeting I mentioned a few minutes ago, I mentioned it again, as a as a great tool to work with writers on a draft. I use it like, I’m actually helping one of my friend’s son’s with his college essay, well, essays, he’s got like, 20 of them. It’s insane. That’s a whole nother topic, the whole college admissions process, because over the years, I sort of found myself helping kids with their college essays. What am I get

Unknown Speaker 23:19
to know you before?

Fei Wu 23:22
I was barely I just dragging my feet through English in college. And if you didn’t, I probably probably talked about this briefly. But the funny thing is, as I came to this country, when I was 1617, some people didn’t know that. And I was already pretty much all the way through high school education in China. You know, and then I had the choice. Well, this is like a, sorry to derive a story. But I decided to study regular English versus ESL were like English as a second language in college and instantly, instantly hit me. I just, I couldn’t read as fast. I couldn’t write as fast. I didn’t get good grades. And, oh, man, that’s a struggle.

Clint Willis 24:08
That’s so hard, right? I mean, I remember being a young writer, like I grew up in Louisiana, in South Louisiana, and I went to public schools, and they weren’t very good schools, you know, by the standards of the people I met when I came up east to go to college. And so I was, you know, kind of behind I was I was a big reader growing up, so I had that, you know, on my side, and, but I, but I didn’t know how to write a paper for you know, I knew nothing about how to write and it took me years to learn how to write a decent piece of prose, like, you know, that had some well with any confidence, you know, that sense you have when you go to write a piece, and it’s kind of easy, and it’s fun, you know, I didn’t have that feeling until I was, you know, at least 30. I love that. Maybe older and it’s really hard to learn to write it is my feeling unless you’re super lucky and you have a certain kind of edge occasion, you know, growing up and you do a lot of writing, like our kids went to a school up here in Portland that’s called a Wainfleet. School and they did a really good job helping them become writers. But but you know, I’ve seen, like, so many writing teachers who don’t know how to write, and it’s not their fault. Like, they’re teachers, they’re not writers, but they’re teaching kids how to write and they don’t really know how to write well, I mean, they have rudimentary skills of a certain kind. And it’s a different deal when you’re actually trying to write for publication or trying to, you know, write prose, you know, any kind of a, well, I don’t know, it’s just hard to write. And it’s hard to learn. But it can be taught. I mean, I think it’s hard to learn because people don’t teach it. And they don’t add, or if they try to, they don’t know how, I mean, I didn’t run into good writing teachers. You know, when I was learning to be a journalist, I ran into some good journalists, but not many of them really knew how to teach teacher how to write. And so I had to teach myself, you know,

Fei Wu 25:57
how did you teach yourself? How did you go about it?

Clint Willis 26:00
I just kept trying to write pieces, and then people would tell me what was wrong with them? And I would try again, and they would tell me what was, you know, they would offer criticism, but they wouldn’t say, they wouldn’t tell me what was wrong in the sense. They’d say, Well, look, here’s how you do it. Instead, they just say, I don’t like this. I don’t like that. I don’t like that. And they offer criticisms, but no one ever and there were one or two people who I learned watching them and listening to them talk about stories. One guy was a guy named Michael Sivvi. Actually, he was a financial writer. And he was a very kind of, he was sort of an intellectual type, you know, he was super well read. And he took, you know, he looked at the markets from a sort of intellectual point of view. And he’d read all the literature and was interested in other stuff, too. I think he was a classic student, you know. And anyway, Michael was a great help to make he edited my work the last couple of years, I was at timing. And I just remember learning from him. But honestly, I think I learned by just, I just kept trying to write pieces and failing. And eventually, I figured it out, you know, what else helped was editing other people, like at one point, I left timing briefly or work on a startup magazine, and I was editing all these freelance writers and men, their presence, their copy was really terrible, by and large. And so I had to rewrite a bunch of stuff really fast. And honestly, I don’t think the stuff I ended up, you know, the drafts that I ended up with were, were awesome pieces of journalism, but, but they were, you know, they were better than the stuff that came in to me. And one thing I’ve noticed again, and again, is that editing, other people’s copy seems to help people get over that hump, to where they’re comfortable writing.

Fei Wu 27:40
Yeah, that’s a kind of a counterintuitive approach, in my, in my opinion, because I think, you know, most of us, like bite our nails, and we stare at a blank piece of paper hoping something will come out. Right. You know, it’s almost like editing other people’s work, there was already a starting

Clint Willis 27:56
point. That’s right. That’s right, it really helps, you know, and the other thing is, they’ve done a lot of, even if the piece is bad, they’ve done some of the thinking, you know, to get it sort of going, and that frees you up to focus. I mean, and actually, if you get decent drafts, it’s it’s it’s different. You know, like, if you get a decent draft, you can start thinking about the kinds of judgments that editors make, because your mind is freed from the kind of organizational structural stuff that are a bunch of it that a writer has to do, there’s so many decisions you have to make when you have a blank piece of paper, right? You have to make like a million decisions. And when you have a draft, you still have lots of decisions, but a lot of them have been made for you. Or at least someone’s taking a shot at it. It’s just easier. And then and so you get to make a lot of these sort of higher end decisions. Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, for me, in terms of my own writing, too, you know, for many years, I thought, like I started out thinking, you know, I want to write stories, and I want to write about this and that and I ended up doing all this financial writing. And I thought, man, I’ve kind of blown it here, you know, I’ve sort of missed my chance to be a real writer, you know, is how I thought of it. And what happened was, I found that after I’ve been writing about all this other stuff, like just grinding out many, many stories on just pieces of expository writing, you know, and after I’d done a ton of that I always used to say to people was like, I was a musician who just played like a million like gigs. And you know, and then, like, I was a drummer who played like, 1000 weddings. And then I got stuff that I just totally had it down like the basics were so nailed that I could start improvising and then suddenly I was doing like jazz improv, you know, it’s like, really fun and free, you know, and liberating So getting those basics down, I think, to some extent is is a matter of like, just continuing to try and it was super important to me that I was a really, really big reader. Like I read a lot. You know, I was one of those kids who like had my nose in a book all the time. So I I had my you know, I just had a lot of good perros in my head, like, and I had sort of models that I had sort of internalized to some degree, you know,

Unknown Speaker 30:09
who are some of the writers you really enjoy reading? I mean, growing up versus now, you know, have they changed over time? Yeah, you

Clint Willis 30:18
know, yes. And no, it’s funny. I mean, like, when I was a little kid, I just kind of read whatever came my way. You know, when I didn’t have a ton of guidance. My dad was a big reader, too. But he was kind of a, I mean, he had gone to college and law school and stuff, but he wasn’t like a hugely, you know, what I want to say, you know, it was a different time and a different place. Right. So, he didn’t know world literature, really. But he had read a lot of classics, you know, he really had and so they were kind of lying around the house. So I would, you know, I picked up sort of stuff like he was a big fan of Oh, Henry, you know, it was a short story writer back in the, I don’t know, early part of the 20th century. And I remember, he asked a friend of his when I was like, 12, or 13. Hey, my kid is really into reading. What should I tell him to read? And his friend who was I think a college professor at the local college, said, Sherlock Holmes and Mutiny on the Bounty. And what else? Those two I think were the big ones, you know, so I read. Oh, and Hornblower, the Hornblower novels, you know about a English sea captain. So those were really I remember laughing. Those are, those are amazing. And then, over the years, you know, I went, I ate, I went up to college, and I got introduced to a lot of the sort of more kind of contemporary classics at the time, right? This is a while back, but like Hemingway and Faulkner and people like that. But I always had a big thing for English writers. You know, like, I was a huge fan of Joseph Conrad, as a young man, I really loved that. And I loved all this stuff set on the, on the ocean, because my dad had been in the Navy. So I had sort of ideas in my head around that. Yeah, anyway, like, Conrad was a big, big influence on me, you know, because Conrad wrote about what it meant to be a virtuous person, you know, there was a lot of that in his stuff. And so I used to say, I got some of my ideas about what kind of person you should be from people like Joseph Conrad and Charles Dickens, you know, and Tolstoy and people like that, many of whom I read without really understanding that they were a big deal, and just kind of came across him. So that’s kind of cool, you know, to have that sort of innocence when you encounter these things.

Fei Wu 32:43
How do you identify good writing? Do you you know, I feel like I’ve over the past month or so since I started podcasts, I’ve overused the word of this role reaction, and, you know, sort of instead of an engaging, just intellectually, feeling, is it?

Clint Willis 33:01
Oh, I mean, I, you know, that’s a great question. And the answer, like just leaps up for me, like, I believe it, it’s true, there’s no lies, and, you know, is the way it feels to me, and sometimes you can tell that, like, you can see the lies, because there’ll be a sentence that says one thing, and then and there’ll be evidence within the document, you know, that you’re reading that, that on some level tells you that can’t possibly be true, you know, or the writer will be making some emotional claim, or, or something that happened, and you just say, that’s just not that’s not valid, either. You’re either deceiving me in yourself, you know, and, or yourself, or you’re just incompetent to make this kind of judgment. So I’m not interested in your writing anymore. You know, I mean, I say this to I send it to this young man I’m working with on his college essay the other day, you know, every sentence, that the reader, you know, encounters is an is an opportunity for you to to be truthful and to earn their trust, or to lose their trust, either because you overreach, or because you make a mistake, that suggests that you’re not trustworthy, you know, like, any little thing that you say that’s verifiably untrue. And there’s a million like ways to write a sentence that seems to describe what’s going on, or something real. But when you actually break down the sentence, you see that it’s, it’s literally not true. There’s no way it’s true. Like you write one sentence and another sentence, you say, Well, that’s true, then that can’t be true. It happens if it happens all the time in pieces, I can’t call an example to mind, you know, because it’s one of those things. But, you know, it’s happens all the time. You see it in prose all the time. And as soon as that kind of contradiction arises, the writer, the reader doesn’t have to analyze it, they sense it, they feel it, start on some level, they’re aware of it and it’s not mystical. It’s just the way the brain works, right? You’re making all kinds of judgments that aren’t on a conscious level. And they know they can’t trust you and they lose interest, you know, and the more sophisticated The reader is, the more they’ve read, the more practice they have at making these evaluations, of course, the easier it is to lose them. And at this point, I’m a sophisticated reader, because I’ve read so much. And I think being a writer also, or having done a lot of writing makes you, you know, it also means you’re more sophisticated about this stuff, because you’re making those decisions yourself, you know it from the inside. And so you encounter this sense. I mean, it’s, I can pick up something generally and tell if I trust the writer really quickly. And if I’m interested or not, and they’re, and they’re totally correlated, if I don’t trust them, I’m not interested. Because why do I need to sit here and have somebody basically make claims that they can’t verify our backup? You know,

Fei Wu 35:38
you know, that’s funny, I, one of the questions I didn’t get a chance to ask was when you said, you guys hire very carefully, and you know, you hire like minded people. So I was thinking, what, what is the hiring process? What is the interview process? So I bet you probably will request a piece of paper or a few pieces of work? And

Clint Willis 35:59
oh, yeah. Well, actually, what we do we have this really cool system that we’ve evolved over the years, and it’s, it seems to be working really well, for us. We have we have, we will identify people who we think of as prospects, and we will have them on our list of writers we want to try to work with, and we’ll try them out on pieces, and see how they do. And, and at every stage, We’ll reevaluate how’s it going? How’s it going? And a lot of it has to do with, you know, the, what, what they’re like to work with what they’re like to collaborate with? Are they fun? Are they nice? Are they interested in, you know, what we have to say? Do they, you know, are they are they, I don’t know, are they able to engage in a collaboration in a way that feels, you know, comfortable and, and fun, really, and, and, you know, in terms of their skill set, it’s cool, you know, if their skill set is, is still, you know, on the early part of the learning curve, that’s fine, we just pay them less. Yeah, and if they really know what they’re doing, you know, you know, to some degree, then we pay them that much more, but we’re still working with them to get them to where ultimately we’d like to get people to where they know how to do everything that we know how to do. And then they’re potentially can be involved in all kinds of projects in all kinds of roles and so on. But that process takes takes place over time. So it’s, it’s not so much what someone’s skill set it is it a given moment, they may be making a mess of their copy, you know, still to some degree, I mean, that’s overstating it, but But you know, they can still be definitely got a lot to learn, you know, and, but if they have the right attitude, and the right feeling and the right, sort of, and honestly, you know, failure, I think it comes down to, are they? Are they a person who’s interested in telling the truth? You know, Are they someone who’s interested in being straight about stuff, you know, because those kinds of people are really cool to work with, because they don’t, they don’t try to manipulate you. They don’t try to deceive you, they don’t try to manipulate or deceive themselves. They’re interested in what’s really going on here. And that’s a really important characteristic and someone who wants to write prose, I think, that sort of prose, because it’s all about truth telling, it’s all about reporting the news, you know, in a way, that’s super clear.

Unknown Speaker 38:20
I think this as you’re describing

Fei Wu 38:21
the process, because I think it’s not only a reflection of your employees and your partners, but also truly of who you are. And, you know, you won’t be able to avoid this topic. Now. We’re on this podcast, and let’s talk about you for a second and that’s okay.

Clint Willis 38:41
Sure, sir. So,

Fei Wu 38:43
um, I, you know, I mentioned this before, and I think we’ve only met two or three times and the first time for me to recall, the experience was at Eli’s Bar Mitzvah, and, you know, I remembered just meeting you for the first time I realized I could I could easily listen to you talk all day.

Unknown Speaker 39:03
And thank you. That’s pretty nice. You’re welcome. And I

Clint Willis 39:08
could listen to me talk all day to

Fei Wu 39:12
ask them to ask for your employees feedback on that’d be pretty Yeah,

Clint Willis 39:16
exactly. They have listened to me talk quite a lot. And honestly, I think sometimes they’ve had about an you know, there are moments when they’ve had plenty of it, you know, and in fact, you know, just to go on about the writing company for another minute. I mean, part of my job at this point in my career is learning to shut up and let them and let them talk and, and figure stuff out themselves and, and make choices themselves because they’ve acquired quite a lot of wisdom themselves at this point. In many cases, they’re in a better place to make the decision because they’re on the ground and away I’m not and it’s, it’s you know, I’m talking quite a lot here because I guess that’s the idea of this thing, but I do find that at some saw I said I’m it’s I subside into silence more readily than I once did. Good. Yeah.

Fei Wu 40:02
You know, I think that the that approach compared to the one of the reasons why I respect Richard Branson so much is because, you know, he runs, I mean, he owns these dozens of companies. And one of the things he comment on on Steve Jobs was that Steve didn’t really delegate all that much that Steve only trusted his own instinct. And I know that this is very controversial, like being on a podcast versus, versus Richard Branson, truly trusted. The people he appointed to be in those positions instead of overriding their decisions, disapproving them. So really interesting, I think, one of the, you know, we met four years ago, but there’s one thing that you said to me, that kept echoing in my, you know, in my mind, not only my mind, I actually kept repeating it verbally as well, sharing with others. And it’s, it’s almost it sounds funny, comical, but it’s very true was knowing that you’re a surfer and I had been dreaming of the, you know, California lifestyle and all that. And since I was a little kid in Beijing, we come you know, we start talking about it. And then I asked a very simple questions like, What should I do if I want to serve? And your answer is you serve. I remember I’d like everybody at the table was cracking up and it was really true. And of course, you follow up with actually how you do that. And for you, it’s really build a life, I’ll never forget your answers, build a life around your passion, your dream actually make it work. So it’s not about you know, then now start to speaking, on your behalf. It’s not really about being lazy or complaining about the things you want to do, but you don’t get to do is you love writing you love surfing, yoga, many other sports and you know, meditation, and you were able to do all of that. And, and it just, it’s amazing. It’s amazing to me, but it seems very straightforward and very simple to you, I guess.

Clint Willis 42:07
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, what can I say? I think you know, you know, as I said, earlier, I was I, you know, I mentioned, I was an anxious young man, and, and an anxious kid, and not all that happy, you know, I was, I was pretty stressed out a lot of the time when I was younger. And so it was super important to me, like, to feel better. You know, that was my main goal, I think, really was to feel better. And so I did a lot of work. You know, I started seeing a psychotherapist, when I was about 30, when it became clear to me that I just was, you know, that my life was gonna get worse if I didn’t, and it wasn’t going to get better. And, you know, my wife, Jennifer was really the one who kind of nudged me that direction, pretty hard. And it just seemed like a great idea. You know, it’s like, okay, so I started doing that work. And that really helped me sort of get to a place where I could start thinking about, you know, just being more skillful about how I tried to be happy. Because in the end, you know, ultimately, I think that’s what people want, right? They want to be happy. And so the question becomes, well, how do you get happy? And the answer is, I don’t know. It’s, it’s, it’s, it’s, but it’s, it’s central, you know, it’s, it’s the central problem, right. And so, like, when I started my business, it was really clear to me that I did not want to spend, you know, all of my time, like writing financial stories, because I had done that already, for quite a while, I know, it’s gonna be doing a fair amount of it for a while, but I wanted to do other stuff. And a lot of that other stuff had to do with just figuring out how to be more happy. Like, you know, I think for some people, that’s totally cool, you start a career you really enjoy what you’re doing is do that all the time, I had this really strong sense that I needed to clear some space to do some work to get out from under or whatever it was, it was bugging me, you know, about being a human being. And so I worked, I just every decision I made, was trying to clear some space to do things that I thought would help me feel better. And so, you know, I needed to make a living because I felt I had two children and my wife and adults, like, for whatever reason, it just seems to me really important to just, you know, take care of them on some level, like to make sure I made a living and that that freaked me out, too. So I don’t know. So I was really motivated to carve out some space for myself and get some freedom in my life. Just so I could sort of tackle these issues. I felt like I needed to tackle so I made like, every decision I made was like how do I how do I get free? How do I get free? And then once I was free and had some space, it was like what do I do with this space? And the two those two questions were like How do I get free? And then what do I do with my freedom, they kind of informed almost every choice I made for a while. And I worked super hard to cram it all in, you know, starting a business. So I had kids that I wanted to spend time with. And, you know, I had, I was, you know, interested in like, I got a, you know, a lot of stuff I got interested in as a kid and then didn’t do in my early adulthood, I was really interested in climbing and being outdoors and stuff like that. So it was kind of cramming that in there. And, you know, I’d get up, I got into yoga, and that made me feel better. And then I got a meditation practice going, that made me feel better. So I was sort of getting up earlier and staying up later, to cram it all in. And that was sort of intense. And it taught me a lot, too. I don’t know if you know, it’s like,

Fei Wu 45:46
I think, you know, I think a lot of I think a lot of us feel that way. And perhaps we can argue, I think some people don’t need that much space. Not much freedom. But ultimately, you know, there’s an article on LinkedIn, front and center got like, probably 50,000 views. You know, it’s like, why you know, how to be happy when everybody else is angry and cranky at work is kind of funny. And I think there’s so many of us, myself included, I hope I didn’t let you down by not surfing every day for years later. I’m still working on the plan.

Clint Willis 46:24
You know, surfing, the cool thing about surfing is like, I you know, I started like years ago, I was almost 50. And I was a really good swimmer. Yeah, yeah, no, I was a super, I was a competitive swimmer growing up. And so I was really, I was really happy in the water. I love the water, and I love the ocean. But I had never surfed and I took a surfing lesson just because I, I knew there were people surf around here. And I thought, oh, that that’s something really cool. I got to try that, you know, I was always just trying stuff. And it was sort of on my list, you know, and I went surfing and I was just like, oh, wow, wow, I really, really liked this. And I became, you know, it just something just shifted for me. And it became kind of like, the main thing I was interested in doing, you know, apart from making a living and you know, stuff like that, I just wanted to surf So, and what I found about it, one of the things I found about surfing was that, like, I never took a I took one lesson and then I just served and I got better. And it was because just being in the water paddling around, letting the waves come and just trying to get up on the board and surf. I learned all this stuff in this kind of, like unconscious way, you know, you have all these implicit, like memory, parts of your brain that hold implicit memory and stuff. I have all this implicit knowledge of surfing in my brain, but I could not articulate it, I have no idea what I’m doing now differently from eight years ago, that makes me a lot better surfer than I was, you know, it’s and I love that or sort of just, I don’t know if organics right, wherever I just love that kind of way that happened. You know, because I was always a very earnest sort of learner, you know, I’d be like, I’m going to read all the books, talk to all the people get myself prepared. And then I’m going to do it, you know, which was a big problem for me as a mountaineer, like, got it, you got to be more like free and you just got to, like, kind of go for it. And I was not great at that. But with surfing for some reason, I was able to do it. And I think that’s where a lot of the joy came from. There was no plan and there was no outcome. And there was no like, goal because I’m never gonna be like a world class surfer or make a living at it or anything. It’s just something I do, because I love it and, and it loves me back. You know, I think that’s kind of an incredible thing. And when you stumble on something like that in your life, you know, it’s like, you gotta, you gotta feel grateful. It’s like, wow, where I still ask myself, Where the hell did that come from? And it makes you wonder what else is around the corner? Like, what’s the next amazing thing you know?

Fei Wu 48:52
So that concludes part one of my conversation with Clint. In part two, Clint delves into his decision process and making his life a reality. We also cover Secret Origin questions such as has good always been this way, the kind of person he is today. And what is Clint psychological makeup that contributes to success and lifestyle? Let’s also walk through a day in cleanse life from am to pm. You know, what does it really look like? How does Quint practice yoga, meditation and mindfulness? Really, how do we get calm? Last but not least, how not to live a life in narrative and just be comfortable with change and uncertainties.

To listen to more episodes of the face world podcast, please subscribe on iTunes where visit FES that is f e i s wo rld where you can find show notes links or other tools and resources Oh You can also follow me on Twitter at face world until next time thanks for listening

Transcribed by

Part 2

Intro 0:00
Welcome to the phase world podcast, engaging conversations that crossed the boundaries between business, art, and the digital world.

Fei Wu 0:19
Welcome to the face world podcast, this is your host Faye Woo. Clint is a really interesting guy who is a thinker writer and surfer. At the end of part, one of our conversation could revealed that he discovered surfing and the age of 50. He said that every decision I made was to clear some space, get some creatives in my life and be free. Once I am free. I asked myself, What do I do with my freedom? So this questions is exactly what part two will answer for you. In part two, we talk about the daily ritual and mindfulness meditation that Clint practices every day, he also talks about learning how not to live in a narrative, and really just live his life as it was happening without constantly putting a narrative frame around it. We also talked about the lovely book called Buddhist brain. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend the fact that we’re constantly biased towards negative interpretations, because that was what kept us alive. We needed to be alert at all times. But that’s not the situation any more often than not, we over assess and over identify, which prevents us from living the life we want. If you liked this episode, please check out my other episodes on the face world podcast. They can be easily access via iTunes, Stitcher, or an podcasts RSS feed of your choice, you can go to my website at FaZe, F e i s wo rld, for shownotes tools and resources. Sometimes I include really cool videos of these people, companies as well. So the best thing you could give me is a review on iTunes, if you enjoy the show, and recommend to your family and friends. I love telling stories. And perhaps the next story will be your story. So feel free to connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, I am everywhere. Without further ado, please welcome your very special guest today Clint Willis.

You and I talked back and like dinner table and really influenced my personal life, my career in the past four years. And, you know, even though to be quite honest, I’m not quite there yet. I’m not surfing every day doing what I love every day, but I’m really, really building a life around it. And I’m actively taking actions and podcasting. You know, it’s certainly one of them. They’re difficult days as well, you know, like taking on a project at the size, editing, writing, which is something I’m always hesitant about. You know, there are a lot of late nights they’re cancelling plans over the weekend, but nothing has ever felt this rewarding to me. And so, thanks to you, I’ve always thought about this. And of course, in the process of talking to my mom to my friends about your one of the reasons why I’m doing this. And of course, it’s like why not interview Clint?

Clint Willis 3:49
That’s so nice, fam. Well, that’s, um, I’m, I’m, I’m really glad anything I said has been useful to you. But honestly, I really think whatever you’re doing is really just a reflection of your energy. You know, it’s really cool. It’s really cool.

Fei Wu 4:03
I’ll never forget the book you recommended wherever you go. There you are. Oh, yeah. You know, I bought the book, the I think about an hour after we had the conversation.

Clint Willis 4:12
Yeah. Well, I mean, that, you know, in that sense, it reminds me of myself, you know, I was I was really motivated, like, I was super motivated to feel better. And so if somebody offered me advice that seemed, you know, or some kind of a resource that seemed like it might be abused. I was all over that. And you know, clearly you’re like that too. I mean, some people I think are really motivated to, to figure this stuff out. And I can really relate to that. So yeah, good good for you.

Fei Wu 4:42
You know one of my favorite questions to ask, though not all interviewees will be able to answer that because is don’t worry it’s not a scary one is that’s cool. Is your daily ritual because have the most interesting daily ritual I like waking up at three and go surfing or something. But you know, one of my interviews that I can’t answer that question because I don’t have a ritual either. So,

Clint Willis 5:07
wow, that’s a, that’s a great question to ask me. It’s not an easy one to answer. I mean, I used to be governed by, by, you know, I’d have lists and schedules, you know, and I used to try to simplify my schedule, like, but for a long time, you know, I always tried to make sure that every day I meditated, did yoga, did some exercise, and then did some work that I, you know, cared about. And, and I would try to like, and that are did some work, and that they’re usually two kinds of the work, you know, around my company, which I, you know, really cared about. And then other kinds of work that I wanted to be doing. So I was trying to cram in a whole bunch of stuff. And if I couldn’t do it, I used to feel sort of bad about it, you know, and, you know, so I’d get up super early, and I’d be just, my day would just be full of activities, you know, and when I was working on the anthologies, you know, of course, I was always reading, reading, reading, and, and then when I was writing my book I was that was that just, it just filled up all this extra space. You know, after I did my, you know, I tried to meditate and do yoga and exercise, or I wouldn’t feel good. And that was sort of necessary. But then I had all this work I needed to do to make a living. And I also had all this other stuff I needed to do around my own writing. So I was a busy guy, you know, and I, you know, so my ritual would be like, I’d get up at, for a while I was on a swim team, where I’d get up at 430 in the morning and swim to get my exercise done. And then I’d come home and meditate and do yoga. And then I would start my workday. I go into the office, when we had an office, we have one again, but for a while we didn’t. And I had right in the morning, you know, I was doing lots of writing in those days, I’d write all morning. And then in the afternoon, I would meet with people in you know, that was when people would, I’d have my office hours, basically, people would come in and talk to me about their pieces that they were working on or whatever. And then, and then an evening, I come home and I’d be reading for the anthologies, you know, so it was a busy guy. And I’d see the kids when I got home. And sometimes I drove to school. And then on the weekend, I tried to go climbing a couple times a month, you know, so it was kind of nuts today the truth. These days, my ritual is way, way more like loosey goosey. Like I there’s some things like I really like to do like if there’s good surfer, you know, wherever I happen to be if I’m here if I’m like, we spent some time in Costa Rica in the winters. And so I surf when I’m down there, I surf every morning, you know, try to surf every morning, first thing and depending on the tide, and here, I tried to surf in the mornings, if there’s anything at all. But some days there was no surfing, how early do you surf these days? Oh, not particularly early. Because you know, around here, it’s sort of cold and dark, especially this time of year. So I wait till the sun’s up, you know, but usually you need to get out before the wind comes up. And it’s it really varies with the time of the year and stuff like that. But But generally speaking, by late morning, sometimes the wind will have turned in a direction and it’s not great for the surf. So you know, you just tried to get out in the morning. But sometimes, and then sometimes in the evening, you know, so if there’s stuff I tried to do that I have a lot of my work for the company is just meetings, like regular meetings with people where we kind of go over what’s at issue, what do we need to do about it. So I meet with my, my sort of most senior partner, we meet once a week and go over stuff. And then so I try to do some work every day to sort of chip away at whatever the sort of big picture issues for the company are. And I’ll typically do that in the afternoon. And, you know, late morning into the afternoon, and then I have a yoga teacher who I really love here in Portland and I go to a couple of her classes a week. And so some days I have yoga some days, I’m surfing on Sundays, and then you know, but um, it’s way not it’s not a ritual anymore. And then of course I try to I try to meditate every day. But I do it and like sometimes I’ll sit for a while. I used to sit for like, you know, an hour every day on my cushion. Now I’ll I’ll meditate in bed or meditate, you know, pretend minutes, I’ll meditate, you know, maybe half hour, two times a week. But

Fei Wu 9:29
what type of meditation do you do?

Clint Willis 9:32
That’s, that’s cool. You know, I could talk about that for a while. You know, I started doing you know Vipassana meditation, mindfulness meditation, that kind of Jon Kabat Zinn sort of thing. Just, you just watch your breath in and out of your body. You’re aware of your body, you know, and various feelings in your body sounds, things like that, you know? And then, over the years, you know, I’ve had some exposure to different traditions. You know, I’ve done some Zen meditation Session, although not real seriously, in the sense that people mean that, but seriously, in my sense in the sense that I was seriously interested in what it had to teach me. And so my practice now is. And then I’ve also studied with a really cool yoga teacher named Eric Schiffman, Sch, IFF, ma n n, who’s just an amazing, kind of, you know, he’s well known in certain circles, but he’s, he’s not super, super famous, like, he would be if people had any sense. But anyway, he’s such a cool guy. And he, he has, he uses meditation, as you know, his main practice as a yoga teacher. And and so, you know, I mean, how would I describe his thing, is has a lot to do with just relaxing, like getting super, super relaxed, and then listening, you know, and in the end, it feels like all these traditions, you know, including psychotherapy, you know, as I did that for like, 25 years, right, that they all sort of feel like these little like, tributaries, and they all flow into the same river. And the river is saying the same things, you know, and it’s saying, I mean, what Eric says, and his his his way of summing it up as as good as any, his message is relaxed, as much as you possibly can. Listen, and then dare to do as your deepest feelings tell you, so you get super relaxed, so that the noise dies down. And then you listen, and you see what actually comes up and feels true for you, whether it’s, you know, it’s not necessarily a message in language, it’s usually gonna be a feeling like, and that and that may come that may evolve into an idea, you know what to do, and then have the courage to do it, even if it may feel a little bit like, well, that’s not exactly practical, or, you know, there are a lot of fears that may arise around it. But if you’re super relaxed, and super clear, then you just go and do it. And that’s kind of what I feel like, a lot of these traditions are telling us and these techniques, and these, you know, and what they’re learning with brain science, and all the rest of it is you just kind of get super relaxed, and then you kind of know what to do, you know, but as long as you’re feeling really tense and worried and freaked out, you’re gonna make less skillful decisions, you know, that are going to lead to less happy outcomes, you know, for you and other people,

Fei Wu 12:18
is very true. And the good news is, you know, at a company like ours, where I work right now, you know, there’s yoga classes running all the time, and there are free mats, and there’s, you know, all these props, you know, kind of stacked up and very accessible to people. And I know, a lot of other companies are practicing creating meditation rooms to invite employees, giving them a think it’s really interesting because someone like myself, and we practice taekwondo yoga multiple times a week, and, and I, you know, basically understand and sympathize, that there are parents, you know, who commute from really far out, and don’t have the privilege to do that. And having that at work makes me think that maybe in sort of, in modern age at work life, and the companies have taken a slightly different approach to understand what you described as an in order to make better decisions to work better. We all need a life balance, you know, ya

Clint Willis 13:21
know, it’s super important. Like, we just need to get calm, you know, we’ve actually Jennifer went to this training for yoga teachers who work with veterans who have post traumatic stress, and I went with her and it was really cool weekend really interesting. And one of the things, you know, it was a reminder that we all have, you know, all this stuff going on in our body, you know, like our sympathetic nervous system and our parasympathetic nervous system, and, you know, all that other stuff that I, I’m not educated, you know, I don’t, I don’t have that stuff figured out or word, you know, I don’t, I don’t have all the terminology and stuff. And I don’t really know that much about it. But it’s pretty clear, basically, that when we get in a difficult spot, it’s usually there’s something physical going on something biological going on. And a lot of these practices are basically just about getting ahead of that, you know, and getting to a place where we are, where we’re not inappropriately activated, you know, where we’re not in fight or flight over something that really doesn’t threaten our existence. It just, it’s an echo of some memory, or it’s some minor thing that we’re turning into a story. I mean, all this mindfulness stuff is like it is it’s about, it’s interesting for me, because I mean, one of the reasons I’m not writing these days, really I’m not writing, you know, books or anything like that. One of the reasons is that I, I came to a decision that it wasn’t a great idea for me as a person to spend all my times in a narrative that I had gotten super good at that over the years. It’s something that a lot of us are good at, and I was too good at it that I wanted to be. I wanted to actually live my life, the way it was actually happening without constantly putting a frame around it. That was a narrative frame, you know, this is where it’s leading this is where it’s been, I don’t think that’s very interesting to me anymore. It was, it was a way to structure my life in a way that gave it some kind of pseudo meaning, I guess, and maybe even some genuine meaning or whatever. But I do a lot less of that these days. And I think when I was writing, you know, trying to write books and things, I did a lot more of it. Because it was, it just came naturally to me. And you know, when you practice something, you the more you do it, the better you get at it, the more you do it, right. And I needed to take a break from storytelling. And I think that’s true for all of us on some level. And a lot of these practices are about that, quit making up stories about that person who’s given you a hard time. But you know, like, and what’s going to happen next, and because they put you in a place where you’re basically, you know, you’re like a caveman ready to, like, hit someone on the club with on the head with a club, you know, if they come near you, because you figure they’re gonna kill you and take all your stuff. I mean, that’s just not gonna happen to us, generally speaking, you know?

Fei Wu 15:58
It is so true. I love that example. You know, and I feel like, a lot of times, and less often than not, we don’t see things better than they are. Many of us see things worse than they are.

Clint Willis 16:10
Oh, yeah. Oh, that’s totally the way we’re biased. I mean, this, you know, there’s this book that sort of you probably heard of it, Buddha’s Brain. Yeah, I’ve heard of it. Once again, Jennifer was reading it. So I like, picked it up and started reading it, too. And it’s like, yeah, that’s exactly one of the points they make early in the book is that we are biased towards negative interpretations and stuff, because that’s what kept us alive, you know, out on the Serengeti, you know, 2 million years ago, when our brains were like, half as big as they are now. Like, we we were, we needed to be alert to every possible threat. Because if you missed one, that can be it for us, you know, and that’s not really the situation anymore, but we’ve gotten great at it, create it. I was gonna say at assessing threats. I think we over assess threats and over identifying. I mean, that’s what the literature seems to say. And that’s been my experience. I’ve spent my whole life worrying about stuff that never happened. You know, it’s ridiculous. What a bad use of your, you know, of your time on the planet to be like, afraid all the time. Stuff that never comes true.

Fei Wu 17:11
I can’t wait to meet the 20 year old Clint Novia, like, what did you do that?

Clint Willis 17:16
I don’t think you would have known then either. You know, I was I seem like this, like, kind of laid back kind of slightly. I don’t know. Not that bright. 20 You know, southern boy. But I mean, my first girlfriend in college when I saw her like, years and years later, she said, You know, I didn’t even I didn’t think you were smart, man. I just thought you’re a good looking. Anyway, do

Fei Wu 17:42
we need a picture of you for the podcast?

Clint Willis 17:45
Right? No, I was. No, I was a handsome kid. But I, I was afraid, I think I was afraid of I think what I was really afraid of, I don’t know, I’m gonna I’m gonna give it a try. Right? I think I was afraid that if I didn’t get things, right, that I would be abandoned and alone, you know, that I would be alone in this really difficult situation that I couldn’t manage, you know, just the human condition, you know, that I would just that I was afraid that I would get to a place where I’d be even more afraid, you know, that, that I was afraid of being afraid, actually, you know, just being terrified.

Fei Wu 18:27
Like, all the time, you know, sometimes I it’s like, when you’re not in somebody’s brain, you don’t quite understand how it works and how to connect the dots. But you know, was it? What were some of the downstream impact, like actions you took or didn’t take?

Clint Willis 18:45
Oh, yeah, no, really good question, too. I mean, I think I didn’t, I didn’t look at the world and say, Well, what do I want to do? I looked at the world and said, Well, what do I need to do? What do I need to do to protect myself? You know, so I mean, everything from like, it never occurred to me, you know, the various kinds of, I don’t know, careers I might have had, like, the kind of work I might have done. You know, that I could just say, well, I’ll just go do that, you know, because I probably could have, you know, I was like, not everyone has that luxury. But I sort of did, you know, if I was willing to make certain whatever choices and I just didn’t know that I could just go out into the world and navigate, you know, my, towards the direction I wanted to go and just do whatever the hell I wanted. On some level. Like there, we have a lot of freedom in this country. And I don’t mean, not talking about what people usually talk about, although that’s certainly part of it. You know, we don’t live in a dictatorship or something. We don’t live in a perfect democracy, I realized that but some of us have a lot of freedom. And we have, you know, even if we don’t have tons of money, what we think it takes to be financially independent is way way more than it really takes if you’re willing to make certain choices. And I think I was afraid to make those kinds of choices I needed. some kind of security and I needed I just, you know, honestly, I think I just worried I don’t I don’t think it was like, that was the worst part I just spent a lot of time worrying, just feeling anxious and trying to deal with that. So it was a distraction from the possibilities that lay all around me to just enjoy life as it unfolds. It was more that than not doing particular things.

Fei Wu 20:24
That was probably something you know, I syndrome, I asked a question of what would you say to your 20 year old self? So the sounds like that. Well, you just said now.

Clint Willis 20:32
Yeah, yeah, I definitely would have said, you know, dude, it’s okay. Don’t be so scared. It’s gonna be okay. You know, just, just like, GIK I wouldn’t give it him the advice Eric gives the students you know, try to relax, man. Here’s how to do. Yeah, yeah, you got your looks gear you’re like, you know, you’re, you know, I think I really try to relax, man, then listen, and do you know, and then dare to do whatever comes up what you really, really want to do. And I think, for me, in my life, the things that I’ve worked out have been when I’ve been willing to take certain risks, you know, it, that’s worked out really well.

Fei Wu 21:11
Okay, let me ask a question. Again, if you were ugly guy, what would you say

Clint Willis 21:16
to me? I’d say who cares? It doesn’t really matter at all. It’s just a, it’s like, a social kind of historical point in time that people think this is a disagreeable, you know, set of features. But that changes all the time. It’s just completely meaningless. And, you know, it just doesn’t matter. Doesn’t matter. It’s just, you know, I mean, I was, I think I sort of was vain about it when, well, here’s what happened to me. And my dad told me when I was young, that I wasn’t good looking. So I didn’t know that I was a decent looking kid. Until, like, years and years of why did he lie to you? I don’t think he I don’t think he thought I was a good looking kid. Because I think the conventions of his time were different. And then I think, you know, those conventions continue to change like it, you know, like, it’s, it’s just continues to evolve. So the idea of unattractive is sort of, I also think that it’s, it’s, a lot of someone being good looking actually has to do with, you know, what’s going on behind their eyeballs, you know, like, and you, you know, I think one of the reasons I was an attractive kid was because I was sad. And it was, and it showed, you know, I mean, you couldn’t, and people are drawn to that, like, to sadness. And then, and there was a period where I really used that, like, without meaning to, I use it, you know, I was super sad. I was like, alright, that’s my thing. I’m really sad. People seem to like it. So I would, I would, I would just be sad. And what I found was that the only flaw with that was it meant you really had to be sad all the time. Which, in fact, you can get pretty attached to, yeah, you can get really attached to that. But but in the end, it’s it closes so many other possibilities that are better, that I decided to give it up.

Fei Wu 23:06
No, this is actually I know, this is sensitive. And I don’t mean to be, oh, no, it’s hilarious. It is hilarious. Because I remember, when I was being forced to go to a Tony Robbins seminar, when I was like, 1819, I don’t regret it. But one of the things he said I thought was very true is, you know, he went to talk with this woman, like, live. And she was very depressed. She talked about how depressed she was, and she had all the reasons and you know, she was it just very sad life. And then he shook her and surprise all of us. And, you know, he said, it takes a lot of energy, your posture, your expression to be sad. And it’s a lot of work. And she said, You’re right, it’s a lot of work to maintain this.

Clint Willis 23:55
Yeah, it is a lot of work, it was just it, I knew how to do it, I was good at it, you know, that’s the other you, you get good at certain ways of managing your life. But in the end, you’re sort of stuck in those ways, you know, and giving up your strategies and letting go your strategies is a huge part of I think growing up and, and getting happy and, and you need help to do that. Like I like I said, I had 25 years of therapy, like talk therapy with an amazing therapist, like, I mean, I really was hanging on you know, and, and the hell it was her idea to stop to write. So I was I was perfectly willing to keep doing that forever. It’s hard to let go, you know, we get our patterns set and, and then we’re stuck in them. And we, and they make us unhappy ultimately, and, and we got to figure out ways to get safe enough that we can let go of those patterns. You know, so I mean, the first thing I think is to find, find ways to feel safe, to feel as safe as we actually are because we are safe. I mean, once we realize that we’re connected to everything else and that the picture is much bigger. or then we think it is. And that, you know, I mean, the whole thing of Buddhism is there is no, no permanent, unchanging Self that persists forever, you know, or even more than a moment. And once you start to actually feel that a little bit, it is pretty liberating, because you’re, you don’t have anything to protect anymore, you know, or at least you have this clue that maybe there’s not so much to protect. And just even that clue, I think, really can help. Just knowing it as, even as a conceptual possibility, it’s comforting.

Fei Wu 25:30
And I feel like the more you need to protect, the less you can hold on to, you know, and it just really, it’s really fascinating. And I remember when we met the first time, four years ago, we sat down and we start talking about, you know, sort of seeing this is interesting, I, I actually, I lost my father just about two, three months ago, and I made a choice that my my mom didn’t even know at the time was to actually go see a shrink and partially is because the company was working at the time offer these, like five to six shrink sessions, and I knew they were expensive. So I was hoping that they would benefit from it. And a bit, you know, from, from my culture where I grew up, and I remember, especially when my dad was suffering, towards the end of his life, I was encouraging him to even consider that. And he was really turned off by it. And, and then I encouraged my mom who was his caretaker, and she immediately refused the option as well. And there I was, you know, I couldn’t I couldn’t tell you how much I benefit from that. And we start talking about it, the dinner table, and I feel very supported. And, you know, you’re a gift to me, to reassure me that I made the right decision. And, you know, I’m not seeing anyone right now. Seeing any shrink right now. But I feel like to your point, if I do need that, and I know, not just an outlet, I have I have a strategy have a path? And yeah, yeah, it’s very powerful.

Clint Willis 27:04
Very, I mean, it’s so important to, it’s so important to connect to people and who have some wisdom and some clarity, it’s so important. And so much of what we encounter in our day to day life is not, is not supportive, you know. And if we’re in a certain place, a lot of what we encounter in life is supportive, but we aren’t in a position to appreciate or notice it even. So, I don’t know, it’s hard. It’s hard being human, it really is hard. Yeah. And I, you know, I mean, you’ve been very sweet talking about, you know, you know, what I said benefited you and how I seem to have certain things figured out, but believe me, you know, I’m still working. I’m still working. It’s there’s a lot that I am clear about intermittently. But I don’t always feel that clear. You know, and I think that’s okay. You know, it’s the way it is apparently.

Fei Wu 28:02
Yeah. I’ve taken up a lot of your time and begin to think that this will be a perfect two part interview. And I you know, I really think two parts of that this two part thing is magical, because people not necessarily I don’t mean, you know, but there are people who are not as comfortable talking about things when you create a two part, the second part almost guaranteed to be better than part one. Interesting. Yeah, for variety reasons. I might my last question, I promise you, I’ll let you into speaking. Yeah, I’m just so intrigued. I met you’re both of your sons a few years ago, and but very, very briefly, they’re already possibly, you know, 1820 21. And I wondered, and that’s after we had this very heartfelt conversations, and it intrigued me to think what it’s like to be your kids or vice versa, like, what is what what type of parent you are, I would imagine, you have two boys, I would imagine that have to be even if they’re not the best behaved kids, but I’m sure they are. They’re, you know, very welcoming. They’re very kind, but I feel like you must have been like a friend or buddy, you know, what were you like, and what did you get into conflicts? How do you resolve that?

Clint Willis 29:21
That’s interesting, you know, it’s really hard to look back on your past self and know what was really going on, I think is what I experienced when I think about myself as a father to them when they were younger. I know that you know, as I said to you earlier I was when I was younger when they were small I was I was still pretty anxious pretty worried about stuff so there was some fear you know, that I carried and I and some of it had to do with them would they be okay would things go right for them? You know, that sort of thing. And I I wasn’t a conventionally fearful parent like worried about oh, are you going to do well in school and get you know, the right into the right college on one level, but I think deeper down I was, you know, there was a lot of a lot of a little bit of self deception around that stuff, you know, I was kind of pretending to be cooler about stuff than I was, I was worried, you know, and so that kind of fear, you know, in a parent, I think is kind of a drag, you know, it’s not ideal, probably, but at the same time, I always, always just loved having them as kids, you know, and that was really nice. You know, it’s just so fun to have them as kids and to be around them and like, you know, at different times, like there would be conflict, for sure, you know, and, you know, it’s always a bumpy ride, growing up and having kids and families it’s it’s somewhat bumpy. But essentially, I think we were a really happy family unit, the four of us, we had a great time, and I miss them a lot, you know, but at the same time, I’m super, just, like, super happy about who they are becoming, you know, they’re these amazing grownups now. And as you say, they are both very kind people like they have. And that’s, and they’re doing work that they love, you know, they’re both opera is that sound engineer and a producer. And he does, he’s also like a guitarist, so he does some performing. And Abner is really into film, he makes videos for like, retail and fashion and music type of clients. And he’s also a musician. So he still does some of that. And they have really wonderful girlfriends, and they’re having a great time, you know, and just being cool people and finding their way and fill up being with him and really miss him, you know, but we had a good time when they were growing up, you know, all of us and Jennifer loved, loved, loved, you know, Mom, you know, she just loved having the two boys to raise. And, yeah,

Fei Wu 31:56
because I’m not yet a parent. And I realized that when I interview people, and you know, parenthood is such an interesting topic, and, you know, for me, I feel like, I’ve been thinking about how, when I’m a parent one day, what would I like to be? And what have I learned from my own upbringing, my experience, what I loved about my parents, and I feel like we’re the disconnects. Why did this connects? Were as well. So it’s interesting, and it’s a it’s a tough job to have a very tough one. So it’s a tough question.

Clint Willis 32:37
It’s a tough job is a really cool job, actually, I think I mean, I, I never thought of it as a tough job. I just really thought, at times, there was stuff that was hard, but a lot of it was self imposed, you know, and again, it comes back to fear, like, to me, like fear was always gotten between me and, and, and really fully. Well, having a better time, let’s put it that way. You know, when you’re afraid, it’s hard to have fun. And so I was always managing my fear on some level, and I was very aware of it. And, you know, that was one helpful thing over the years, I became more aware. I mean, sometimes I think you live in fear, and you don’t even know it. Worse, you just think that’s the way it is, right? So you’re just afraid all the time. I think that’s terrible. But I learned so much from the, you know, the difficulties that I had were so they taught me a lot. And one of the things they taught me is what I was saying before, and I’m super aware of that, as I talk to you tonight, like so much gratitude for people who actually have, you know, figured some stuff out and then are able to be present for people who are still working on it, you know, I have immense admiration for people, like therapists and teachers and social workers and doctors, and just people who are out there just helping other people deal with the stuff that people have to deal with. Yeah, there’s a lot of them. Like, and I’m, you know, it kind of makes me it’s very, I guess, I can never think of a better word like humbling. When you encounter those people and the work they do, I mean, I thought it was a big deal to be a certain kind of writer, you know, and I spent a lot of my career trying to get to a place where I can do certain kinds of writing and, and in the end, it really, I realized that, you know, that’s a fine thing to do. And it can be really cool. And you can make a contribution, but it’s, it’s certainly no, no more impressive and, and, in fact, one could make the case that it’s, it’s not impressive at all compared to the work that people do every day. Just to help other people directly with the kind of hard stuff people have to deal with.

Fei Wu 34:41
This is very meaningful, and I think this is I couldn’t find a better ending to the podcast is to feel to be grateful. You know, people talk about the moment you start thinking only in terms of expectation. That’s when the disappointments and the satisfaction cuz

Clint Willis 35:00
that’s so true. So true. Interesting. Well Faye, thank you so much I really enjoyed, you know talking about all this stuff and you’re so generous in the way you talked about me

Fei Wu 35:18
to listen to more episodes of the face world podcast, please subscribe on iTunes where visit face that is f e i s wo rld where you can find show notes, links or other tools and resources. You can also follow me on Twitter at face world. Until next time, thanks for listening

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Favorite Quotes from Clint: 

On The Writing Company:

“When I worked at Times, I loved delegating and teaching other people how to do stuff.  After I founded The Writing Company, we hired a few researchers for the stories I was working on. Then they became editors, writers, and project mangers.”

“At The Writing Company, every interaction is a training opportunity. You are either teaching or learning, ideally both. When things happen, we have these cool conversations. If you do this consistently, it becomes a huge competitive advantage. Sometimes content feels like commodity. Our rendition is to provide writing that adds value and stands out.”

“Over time we built a culture. We are a self selective group.  We hire people who value the experience and are generally oriented that the way we are. We have a meeting each month to go through a list of work and have people talk about situations and interactions they had, and how they handled them. “

On the roles of writers in the creative process:

“I really love the idea of bringing people who are first and foremost writers into conversations with client about creating content. Collaboration should not happen at the end of the story but at the beginning.”

On collaboration vehicle:

“I love Google Doc. Love it!” (Google Drive)

On trusting and building a relationship with your client:

“Get client involved early on will create opportunities. Sometimes writers don’t trust the client enough. A lot of times, clients offer crucial information writers don’t give enough credits for. Don’t jump to conclusions. We treat clients as collaborators. We make that space available. “

On being a young journalist at Times Magazine:

“Journalism was a serious job and I started off my career as a fact checker. I felt enormous responsibility. If a reader called in about the legitimacy of a story, that was on me. I was the youngest guy there with the least experience. Two or three those (calls) a year, you are out of the building. But it was fabulous training very few writers could have today.”

On learning to write:

It took Clint a long time to be able to write the way he does today. “Writing teachers are often not writers, and journalists often don’t know how to teach. I had to learn much of the skills on my own.”

“Editing others’ work is a great way to learn how to write. Your mind is free from organizational structure. There are so many decisions you have make when you stare at a blank piece of paper. When you have a draft, you still have decisions to make but many have been made for you.

“Editing others’ drafts is a lot like playing music. Once you have the basics down so well, you begin to improvise.

On identifying good writing / what is good vs. bad writing?

“I have to believe it, it has to feel true. Every sentence is an opportunity for you to earn the reader’s trust, or to loose it. The reader doesn’t have to analyze it, she feels it. The more sophisticated the readers are, the easier it is for them to more quickly make these decisions and loose interest.”

On building a lifestyle around your passion:

“Every decision I made was to clear some space, get some creatives in my life, be free. Once I’m free, I asked myself: ‘what do I do with my freedom’? They informed how I make decisions.”

On surfing:

“I learned surfing at the age of 50. I’m typically an earnest learner. Through surfing, I learned to be more free, and just go for it. Surfing shifted something in me. I do because I love it, and it loves me back. When you stumble on something like that in your life, you gotta feel grateful. It makes you wonder where that comes from, and makes you wonder what’s around the corner. “

On daily ritual and mindfulness meditation:

“I usually surf in the morning, work late morning through afternoon, a few yoga classes a week, and I medicate everyday. I practice Jon Kabat-Zin’s and Erich Schiffmann’s guided meditation. If you are not familiar with Schiffmann, it’s about being super relaxed and listening to what’s around you, and dare to do what the deepest feeling tells you.”

On learning to NOT live in a narrative:

“I wanted to live my life as it was happening, without constantly putting a narrative frame around it. It’s not interesting to me anymore. It was a way to structure my life. ‘Quit making a story about how that person is giving you a hard time’.”

On reading the book Buddhist Brain and learning that:

“We are biased toward negative interpretations because that was what kept us alive. We needed to be alert to every possible threat. But that’s not the situation anymore. We over-assess and over-identify which prevents us from living the life we want.”

On feeling afraid as a 20-year old:

“I was afraid if I didn’t get things right, I would be abandoned and alone and couldn’t manage. I was afraid of being afraid.

On getting happy:

“It’s hard to let go. We get our patterns set and we are stuck in them. We need to get safe enough o let go those patterns. Step 1, find a way to feel safe. Once we realize that we are connected to everyone. The picture is much bigger than we think it is. There’s no permanent unchanging self that persists forever (or even more than a moment). Once you feel it, it is pretty liberating. You realize that there isn’t so much to protect anymore. Even that clue can help, even as a conceptual possibility is really comforting.”

On parenting:

“I wasn’t a conventional parent but deeper down I was. I was pretending to be cooler than I was. At the same time, I always loved having them as kids and to be around them.”

On having immense amount of admiration for people who help others:

“I’m still working on it. There’s a lot I’m clear about intermittently. But I don’t always feel that clear. The difficulties taught me a lot. I have so much gratitude for people who have figured things out and are present for people who are still figuring it out. I have immense amount of admiration for therapists, teachers, social workers and doctors. It’s humbling when you encounter people doing what they do.”

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