How A Book About Pursuing Your Passion Has Made Me More Practical Than Ever Before (“Overlap” Book Review)

“You have, inside of you, everything it takes to do whatever you want in this life, but being able to do what you want will require sacrifice. “
– Overlap, Chapter 2

“You have, inside of you, everything it takes to do whatever you want in this life, but being able to do what you want will require sacrifice. “

– Overlap, Chapter 2, 01:40

This book left a profound impact on me.

(And the audiobook version is free for another 8 days, by the way).

In it, Sean McCabe balanced the paradoxes of success advice. Follow your passion… and be pragmatic about it!

Be a Pragmatic Dreamer

All the fruity advice you hear (visualisation, follow your passion, provide value) is true.

All the earthy, pragmatic stuff you hear (S.M.A.R.T goals, keep half a year of savings in your bank, don’t leave your job before your side hustle can comfortably cover you) is also true.

Overlap has a chapter called “Find Your Passion”, right next to a chapter called “Audit Your Passion”.

It’s not enough to just pick a passion. Turns out, we tend to be really bad at guessing what would make us happy. So we need to test our dreams, first and foremost.

Instead of diving in like a labrador, step forward like a scientist.

Pick a thing, and test whether you actually like the doing of it.

It’s not easy.

You risk having your assumptions and hopes crushed by your own investigation. It can be genuinely painful. But this book is for people who are willing to bear the pain of true self-awareness because they believe in what it can do for them to know the truth.

According to professor of psychology (and general legend) Jordan Peterson, the “follow your passion” idea rolled out of the work of Carl Jung (buddy to Freud). It was not a common idea back then. The problem is that Jung’s original wisdom has been butchered.

Jordan Peterson explaining the true (and less-rosy) origins of “follow your passion” advice.
“Follow what grips and compels you, and it will take you into the underworld where you will encounter your shadow and the dragon.”

My 5 Biggest Takeaways from Overlap:

1. Use Materialism

It’s okay to want things. In truth, they are not what you want. If you were given them all by a magical genie tomorrow, in a week you’d be bored of them. What you really want is the heroic journey of becoming someone who “deserves” to have them. If you attain the possessions you want by courageous action and fear-facing, you will be proud of who you have become.

But it’s hard to wrap your head around something like that.

It’s much easier to “embody” the concept of becoming the hero of your own story in the possessions or experiences that represent success for you.

Like Sean’s lambo-goal.

In chapter 5, Sean said he feels as though his future Lamborghini is already sitting in his garage. He’s just working too hard to drive it right now.

I’ve heard something like that before.

Jim Carrey describing a visualisation technique he used just to make himself feel better when he was struggling.

About an income goal Sean set for himself at the age of 21, he said this:

“I believed I had it. In my mind it was already done. I was already there. Once I believed I had achieved it, it was just a matter of having reality align with my mindset.”

2. Reset Your Zero

Louis C.K. spitting wisdom on a man stuck in a hateful marriage. He’s trying to help the guy get past his silly excuses not to file for divorce.

I have struggled financially for a long time. I know the problem is entirely in my head. I have all the knowledge and skill I need to make a great income, but I keep dancing with my broke-line for some reason.

I dance with my “zero”.

What if my zero changed?

Chapter 15 is titled, Get To Your New Zero.

Sean suggests that your actual zero is much too low. Reset your zero to 6 months of expenses saved. Whatever your expenses are, timesed by 6, that’s your new zero. If you have less than that, you’re in the red.

It’s similar to a principle Sean talks about in his generously free course on building an audience. In the lesson on keeping a content buffer in your editorial calendar, he said:

“…and for weekly output, I recommend six to eight weeks of completely finished content ready to go. Does that sound crazy? It’s really not. All it takes is a mental shift.”

And what is that mental shift?

“On time is LATE.
EARLY is on time.”

This “new zero” concept is exactly the same thing, only applied to money, rather than time.

3. Pick Your Pigeon-Hole

People will put you in a box.

You can’t do anything about that.

But you get to choose the box.

Reminds me of a line (I can’t remember from where), that goes something like this:

“In life, you will suffer pain. But you get to choose the pain. Either the pain of discipline, or the pain of regret.”

For me, being put in a box feels like pain. Only because I’m such a special snowflake, right?

Who knows why it’s so hard for some of us. No doubt it’s based on wiring that solved a hunter-gatherer problem which is nowadays irrelevant!

To get over it, I’m trying the following thought experiment:

  1. Ask yourself, “What would I do if [X] were my only option to accomplish [Y]?”
  2. Define that plan in detail.
  3. How long would it likely take to get the results you want?
  4. Could you bear to commit to twice that length of time, so long as you could then stop and try something else?

An example of X, for me, is “specialising in lead magnets”. An example of [Y] is, “comfortably cover the cost of living in London”.

I’m running that sequence on all my options. Then I’m going to pick one. I’m painfully aware of my potential if I were to focus 100%.

It’s painful because my inability to pigeon-hole myself has continually destroyed that potential.

There are levels of success and fulfilment I will never reach because of my desire to be seen as a special and complicated snowflake, and because I don’t want to commit.

I must draw a line under that, and carry on.

4. Imagine Your Timeline

It will take a LONG time to build a profitable business or lucrative freelance career. Every day you must show up.

And you must show up in your box.

You mustn’t share anything if it can’t fit in the box you’ve chosen.

For me, if I choose sales page copywriting, I can’t share anything that doesn’t contribute to that label. No instagrams of food (unless I can somehow claim that the energy it’s going to give me will make me a better copywriter!).

Ok — so that’s terrifying.

But maybe it’s not so bad, if you give yourself a deathbed perspective.

Imagine your life as a timeline. On the left is your birth and on the right is your death. Your present moment is a dot somewhere in the middle.

Each “season” of your life and career is on your timeline. Maybe this season you’re about to embark on will last 2 years. Maybe 5, or 10. Pick a number you can “handle”, and see it in the context of the whole timeline.

This thing you’re about to do is not forever.

So you might as well do it properly while you’re in it.

Sacrifice your present urge to scatter your attention, and become a laser beam drilling down into this one thing you’ve chosen to define the current chapter of your life.

Here’s Jordan Peterson again. This time he’s spitting truth bombs about sacrifice.

In another of his videos, he summarises delayed gratification perfectly — “The greatest human discovery is that you can sacrifice present pleasure for future advantage.” (paraphrase)

That’s exactly what we’re talking about here. Sacrifice the pleasure of novelty-seeking and commit to one, focused direction. One day you will reap massive advantage from that sacrifice.

5. Compel The World To Help You

Everyone talks about reciprocity these days, (thanks a lot Cialdini!).

Sean added something powerful to it.

Think of reciprocity as a loop.

The reciprocity loop is closed when the person you helped helps you back.

Just like a TV show might end an episode on an “open loop” cliffhanger to compel you to watch the next one, so does an open reciprocity loop compel reciprocal behaviour.

And here’s the kicker — People can close that loop in a massive variety of ways.

Someone might donate just £5 to your site, and feel the reciprocity loop has been sufficiently closed for all the life-changing knowledge they’ve gained from your content.

That same person may have been happy to pay you £50, or even £500 for a product on your website to close the exact same loop.

How weird is that? Reciprocity doesn’t really have a dollar value attached to it.

So, to get the most out of reciprocity, don’t focus on doing massive things for people, or things that are highly costly. Instead, open as many loops as you can.

Recently, I’ve been thinking of specialising on lead magnets (one of many potential pigeon-holes). I emailed someone a free content upgrade, and I almost asked for feedback in return. I stopped myself. Giving feedback might feel like closing the reciprocity loop for him. What if I kept it wide open? What if I left it as a 100% gift and allowed his own mind to invent a way to reciprocate? He might decide to connect me with someone in his network, or offer to buy some more upgrades from me. Who knows?

What if I did that 100 times — opened 100 reciprocity loops in the world?

Do you think good things would come to you if you lived that way?

Hell, even this blog post is a reciprocity thing. I got Sean’s book for free, and now I feel compelled to do something in return — to tell others about this book.

My Next Move

There’s so much more to say on the topics above. Luckily, Sean has said it all in the book!

For me, the most important takeaway is to choose my own box, label it, make it look great, and live there for a couple of years.

Again, it’s painful how much potential and time I have wasted by being scattered and by refusing to commit.

I haven’t poured the last five years down the drain completely, but let me tell you, I’ve left so much potential on the table, it’s enough to make me weep. And all because I became used to the “pleasure” of novelty.

In Grit, Angela Duckworth talks about how determined, committed, “gritty” people find pleasure from nuance, rather than novelty. Instead of moving on to another pursuit, they find pleasure in uncovering finer and finer detail in the skill they’re committed to.

Expressed more artily-fartily, Beethoven said:
“Don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine.”

Credit to The Piano Guys for teaching me that quote through this amazing piece:


Drop some claps if you liked this article and please add a private note to me for any mistakes or corrections I should know about.

Peace out!