James Clear on Writing, Business, and Travel

Today’s interview is with James Clear. We talk about writing, entrepreneurship, being backstage at a Sting concert in Russia, and running down trains in Northern Hungary. Check out his website at jamesclear.com.

Hey, James! Thank you for taking the time to speak with us today.

You’re welcome. Thank you for having me!

On your website, you cover many topics, including entrepreneurship, self-improvement, weightlifting, and travel photography. What is the link between all of these topics, and why do you write about them?

The unifying theme is behavioral science and how we can apply behavioral science to live healthy lives. In my view, living a healthy life is not just about fitness or nutrition or lifting weights, but also about building something of value and contributing to the world around you.

I also try to write about topics that I know. Many times the theory is very different from practice, and when I write about topics that I know, I have a better vision and more to offer my readers.

One theme that you discuss often is entrepreneurship. What does entrepreneurship mean to you, and how can individuals in more “traditional” career paths apply the lessons of entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurship can be an occupation, but I believe that it is also a state of mind. At its core, entrepreneurship comes down to creating opportunity and taking responsibility. When you consider “entrepreneurship” in that light, anyone can be an entrepreneur, whether you have a corporate job, teach schoolchildren, or run a tech startup.

What are some of the lessons that you’ve learned in your own entrepreneurial journey?

There are two lessons that stick out.

One of the best pieces of advices that I received when I was first starting out was: “Try things until something comes easily.” Within my first couple of years as an entrepreneur, I probably tried 10 different ideas. Most of them didn’t work at all, but eventually, I came across some that were easier than the rest.

Many people believe that you need the perfect idea to start a business. In reality, it’s more important to test several different ideas. Eventually, the market will tell you which ideas are good.

What role does strategy play?

There is certainly a lot of planning and strategy involved in starting a business, but it’s an ongoing process. I am constantly reassessing and adjusting my plan for growing the business. At a certain point, though, you have to let go of planning and embrace execution.

The second lesson is: “The words that you use matter.” That sounds relatively simple, but the ability to write in a way that can incite people to take action is extremely valuable. If you can understand how to do this well, you can apply it to anything.

Those are great lessons! I’d like to transition to a topic that you write about often – and which is central to our mission at Virtuali – travel. What is it that you love about travel?

I think that there’s magic and serendipity that happen when you choose to adventure and explore the world around you.

One time I was in St. Petersburg, and I was out with a group of people whom I’d met over the previous few days at a conference. We were walking down Nevsky Prospekt, and there was a Sting concert going on in the square.

We were all wearing badges from the conference, and one of the police officers noticed as we were trying to cross a barricaded street. He must have mistaken us for another group because he let us pass, and we went through a series of checkpoints until we ended up backstage.

At that point, the only options we had were to walk on stage with Sting or to walk around the corner to the VIP section. So we walked around the corner and watched the whole concert from the front row. Then, after the concert, we were escorted to a private after party.

It ended up being an amazing night. For those 5 hours, one crazy thing after another happened, and it was one of the most “in-the-moment” experiences that I’ve ever had.

That is one of the things I love most about travel. There was no rhyme or reason to why we ended up there, and we certainly couldn’t have planned it. It was just one of those extraordinary things that happen when you explore and are open to new experiences.

Wow! Awesome story! Do we have time for one more?

Sure! I can tell you another story that relates nicely to entrepreneurship and the other topics we’ve been discussing.

I was traveling in Budapest, and I decided to take the night train to Krakow, which is about 12- or 14-hour ride. I should have known that something was wrong when I bought my ticket because the ticket agent didn’t speak English, and I don’t speak Hungarian. But I assumed everything was OK, and I boarded the train. I quickly realized that I didn’t have a ticket for a sleeper car, so I went to a normal car and fell asleep on a couch.

A couple of hours into the ride, the conductor woke me up, started screaming at me in Hungarian to get out, and threw me off the train. It was the middle of the night, I was somewhere in Northern Hungary, and I didn’t know what to do. So I decided to run down the train James Bond-style and jump back on. Once I was back on the train, I went back to my room and went to sleep. A couple of hours later, the conductor found me. Then he really threw me off!

That sounds like a sticky situation! What happened next?

Now it was 4 AM, and I was at another train station. I looked across the tracks to the other side, and asked if anyone spoke English. Luckily, there was an Austrian conductor who did, and he offered to take me to Krakow. At that moment, I felt like that conductor was an angel. In the end, I got to Krakow 20 minutes later than planned, and everything worked out OK.

I think the lesson behind all of this is that in the moment things are never easy but they tend to work out. Travel is often like that, and entrepreneurship is almost always like that. The day-to-day struggle can be so difficult that you can feel as helpless as I did when I was in a foreign country and couldn’t speak the language. Eventually, though, if you keep with it and keep trying and ask for help, something will work out.

Another great story! Before we go, is there any advice do you want to leave our readers?

I came across this quote the other day: “The way you spend your days is the way you spend your life.” That seems very basic on the surface, but then you start to think about it… How do I spend my time? What am I actually doing? For many people, that’s not how they want to spend their whole life.

Entrepreneurship has allowed me to spend my days doing things that I would want to spend my life doing – whether that’s creating a new product or writing a helpful article.

Not everyone has to be an entrepreneur, but we can all make small changes everyday that can have a big impact on the way we live our lives.

Great advice! Thank you again for taking the time to speak with us.

Thank you, and best of luck!