Comedy for Confidence

I struggle with not having a full-time job. The struggle is mental, not financial. I don’t really want a full-time job and I enjoy working on a variety of things with a wide spectrum of inspiring people. The societal norm is to have what amounts to one main job, so in that sense I feel like a weirdo. Even when I was running my last company, working at all hours of the day, I still felt this pull towards “normal employment.”

For the last 10 weeks I’ve been living in Las Vegas. My girlfriend had a great opportunity out here, so we packed up, moved here temporarily, and rented a Chevy Cruze and an Airbnb for a few months. I’ve been driving a lot since nothing in Nevada is too close to anything else and I’ve found myself getting really into a few podcasts.

The comedians, musicians, entrepreneurs, generally creative people that inspire me the most are the ones who keep pushing on a project until they figure out what their own thing is really about. The self-doubt and desire to pull the plug on anything comes up frequently, pushing that down and continuing to move forward is admirable.

With Built in Public, there are days where I go, “I’m not really doing anything here, time to move onto something new.” I know that’s not true. I love getting emails from people with similar project ideas, people who are stuck creatively and have a question, people who say this inspires them to start making. That’s incredible, something I never thought would happen. This is also a year-long project and quitting is not how it’s going to go.

As I do this more, I feel like I’m learning about what Built in Public itself is. You guys loved the last post on Sit, the process behind it, and where we are with it right now. Over 100 people signed up to beta test Sit. The StopCoin launch went really well, users are continuing to grow steadily. I touched a nerve with Fear and Creativity, about how we get more people to move forward with ideas without second-guessing them before they even start. And RSS, Pocket, and how I’d change reading online, laid out a template for something I’ve been thinking about for years and now am starting to build. Ryan Hoover would call that a blog-first startup, if the reading thing turns into a startup.

Those posts were all over the place. A process piece, a launch piece and the history behind the product, an abstract exploration, and a blueprint of something that I’m probably going to build. I learned something new from writing each of them.

Part of the confidence that I’ve gained through doing Built in Public so far is partially due to me pushing myself, partially due to the audience and community that continues to build around this project, and partially due to the inspiring stories of comedians and creators that I listen to in the car on the way from here to there.

A common theme that comes up in a lot of these episodes is how someone had a number of projects going on, taking stabs at what they thought they wanted in life, and the unexpected things that come from just showing up.

Early in Chris Rock’s career, after getting fired from Saturday Night Live and “middling,” as he describes it, with a bunch of projects, he realized how much he enjoyed being a standup and he focused solely on that. An amazing career emerged which gave him the opportunities to write, direct, and do a number of other things.

Bob Odenkirk, who many will know as Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad, had a quirky sketch comedy show with David Cross on HBO for years called Mr. Show which didn’t get very good ratings but inspired a generation of sketch comedy writers and comedians. When Vince Gilligan cast him for Breaking Bad, he cast Odenkirk from his work on Mr. Show. Odenkirk was shocked.

My favorite comedy story is Louis CK’s. He was doing the same hour of comedy for 15 years and his career wasn’t going anywhere. He was listening to a George Carlin interview in his car after he performed to a begrudging audience at Chinese restaurant in Boston, and Carlin talked about how every year he’d throw out the previous year’s material and just start over. And it blew his mind. So CK tried that and it started to change everything for him. Multiple standup specials, his own show with complete creative control on FX, countless opportunities. The courage to try new material when it seemed like his sunk costs were far too high to ever consider that was one of the biggest inflection points of his career. It’s why you know him today.

It’s been really inspiring for me, as someone in my mid-20s thinking about my life and career and what I want both to look like, to have these comedians’ stories playing in my head throughout the day. They give me the confidence to keep going, keep building, keep trying, keep sharing, and keep showing up, in the hope of getting closer to the answers.

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Zack Shapiro is the creator of Built in Public, a project studio and year-long experiment in creativity and transparency. StopCoin is the first project to come out of Built in Public. The next project is called Sit, a beautiful, simple meditation timer for the iPhone. Zack also founded Luna, a nighttime delivery company based in San Francisco, which was acquired in early 2014.

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