Permission to Live an Interesting Life: Sometimes We are All that Stands in Our Way
Tristan MacHale had a big year in 2017 — dropped out of the business school, became an Art History major, published his first book and landed his dream job in a Nicaraguan ecolodge. In many ways it seems like a huge set of changes, but the reality was Tristan just needed to give himself permission to follow his own trail.
Signal Class (Eric Koester): Introduce yourself and your book.
My name is Tristan MacHale. I’m the author of Green Homes: Every Man’s Guide to Energy Efficient Design and Renewable Technologies.
Did you ever think you’d write a book?
I always imagined as being like a badge of honor after you’ve completed, I never imagined that as the precursor to something bigger. I think that’s the whole point of why we did it was that it hits you from the blindside and it’s a big move that no one else is taking. I always imaged that just being a cherry on top of a long career which is a background now.
How have you grown from writing a book?
I think I want to say is that I’ve realized that I am able to commit something when I thought I wasn’t able to. I found this one topic Sustainable Architecture. I’ve always enjoyed architecture, walking around neighborhoods looking at houses and stuff. But I never really imagined myself being an architecture student in that sense.
And then I just found this one little area and I just found it really important. I thought that it is something special for everyone to learn a little more about which is why I ended up writing it.
What did you think when you heard “you’re going to write a book”?
I actually wasn’t there the first day.
I was missing a class on my roster and a friend of mine Gabe, he’s saying, “Yeah, I took Strat280 last semester and then I’m taking 295 right now and maybe you can get into class without taking the first one.” I went for it and emailed you like, yeah just come in. It’s a huge class.
I came the next day and I don’t really think anyone really knew what was going to happen. We had the ideation process for a couple of classes. The one thing I liked was that we framed it as finding a problem rather than finding a solution on random things. Also, picking your audience was kind of helpful because I went back and looked at it again and it’s so true. It’s all the same things like you said.
How did you pick your book topic?
I started my first idea was a way to combat food waste. I thought there would be a market for second vendor for perishable foods. I did some phone interviews with people and talked to Nathaniel Ru from Sweet Greens. He was like, “Yeah, it’s a nice idea but there’s nothing really behind it.” I really appreciated that feedback because I didn’t pursue it much on that.
After that, when we had to come up with three big ideas, my three were the food waste thing and a platform for artists to collaborate and the last one was something as I walk into class was, “What if there’s a way like a consulting thing to help new homeowners to design a more sustainable energy efficient home?” And when you’re having discussion, I think I was meeting with Druva. It was like, that’s the one that really got it. That’s what I came in the last minute with and turn it to something a lot bigger.
Why did you pick your book topic?
Well, the way that I see is the reason I wrote this book is that it’s something that everyone should value. I don’t think you need to be particularly arts centered in anyway or technology centered. We all live in houses, we’re all going to live in houses.
In one classes where we’re talking about entrepreneurship and when people find their ideas, it needs to be something that’s logical to them and other paths illogical doesn’t make sense. For me what’s sustainable architecture is. I don’t see a future in which our houses are built at the same standards as they are now. I think there will be some shift and I’m trying to get the ball rolling for the general, I guess.
How does it feel to publish your book?
I’ve gotten to the point where I put a lot of work in it longer than any semester I have done here. At this point, I’m waiting for it to finally come to be.
Are you proud of this accomplishment?
Yeah. I read through it. I read a couple of chapters recently and it feels like it wasn’t me. There’s a lot of stuff in there that I’m surprised by — I think it’s a good thing. I put down so much information I can’t even remember it all of it off the top of my head. I need to think back a little bit.
Are you nervous to have anyone read your book?
There were two people I interviewed. They’re very close family friends. One was Drew who I reached out to and he gave me a tour of his house which was beautiful. It’s perfect. It’s exactly the house that I didn’t think at the time, but it’s the house that made me drove me to this book. He’s going to see a lot of his input into what came out.
The other one is John McWilliams who works at the Department of Energy, another close family friend. I got to go into the Department of Energy, interviewed him for an hour just talking about beach and hanging out. We started talking about legislation and energy on macro scale. It was really, really helpful.
I think those are the two people that if they’re happy with it, that’s when I’ll be satisfied.
How did you get motivated to continue through the manuscript revision process?
I got this weird thing where I never look at my grades until it’s too late. I saw your feedback on it, the written stuff without the numerical grade on it. I was like, maybe I’m like in the B area and it just needs these couple of things. I thought that way you’ll suggest where the couple things are needed.
I went through that. It’s a much longer process but I already started it so I kept going. I ended up finishing midnight of the day before Christmas Eve and got that in. A couple days later, I actually looked at my grade and got a C on it or something which kind of sucks but I deserved it. It wasn’t great.
I think if I looked at the grades first, I would have probably been, “This is way too much. I’ll have to rewrite this entire thing,” which I ended up doing. I guess being “ignorance is bliss”.
How have you grown from writing a book?
I feel more self-credibility. It takes the wizard behind the screen out of it. It’s like authors of books aren’t just people that write books, which is special. I realized people can put out bad books and people can put out great books and they’ll get recognized but it’s not a minuscule process. You take a risk with it.
You put out something that has your name on it and hold up to your, associated with your credibility. I would have called it off if I was embarrassed by what I put out. I don’t think I should be embarrassed by it, at least for a couple of months or years.
How has creating your book taught you entrepreneurship?
I understood entrepreneurship classes to generally be partner up with a team, come up with an idea, pitch it and you get a grade and that’s it. I saw the guidelines between that and this course. I understood the ideation process. I understood when you talked about pitching a little bit.
I have the framework of what we’re doing but then we — I would say the move to the book was more of recognizing the problem which I think is the most important. We’re not providing the service yet. I think some students are. It was more identifying places that need improvement and change. I think that’s a pretty cool way to think about it.
How has your college experience changed?
I don’t think that I have the same trajectory as the other students. I’m not trying to launch a business out of this. I think it’s more general knowledge and awareness. I think it’s more — this sounds pretentious — but I can give to everyone else. I’m not trying to get a job out of it. I don’t know if I want to get into architecture or the solar industry or something but I just think that it’s important information that people should be aware of.
How has your book changed your career path?
I don’t know if it’s entirely because of this book but it’s definitely a big part of it that I am transferring from MSB this semester into college to study art history.
I think that was a lot of the “you can do whatever you want”. I realized I didn’t even know what international business was and I was just doing it because it was the security of having an income and being able to travel hopefully.
Now, I realized I can study what I want. I can do what I want. I can write a book on what I want. I might not have made the right choice but I’m enjoying it a lot more right now.
Do people view you differently after writing your book?
I get the double take a lot. People will say, “What do you mean a book?” I’m like, “Yeah, it’s part of the class. And the manuscript wasn’t strong enough. They’ve got these other publishers as part of the process. I don’t know but he made this deal with us that if it’s good enough, we’ll publish it for free.” They’re like, “Oh my god. What’s the name of this class? I want to take it.” I actually recommended it to a bunch of people and they’re all excited about it.
I honestly think that people don’t really expect it to be a book until it actually comes out and they can hold it in their hands like the same way with me. It doesn’t really — it feels a little too surreal at the moment. But then when I see it in print and I can hold it [0:08:18.9] it’s going to be much different, I think.
What’s your next book going to be about?
I really don’t know. I guess it would be another introductory guide to inviting people into what construction and art is. I think people get really turned off when they can’t understand something.
Sitting in classrooms for years and years, you figure it out and you realize there’s so much more than the visual. They call it the cerebral art where it’s all about how you think about it and how you react to it. I think people will really appreciate it if they have a little understanding about it. I think that’s my next book.
How did you feel when you first saw your book cover?
A bunch of kids in the class they were asking around, “Have you got your covers back yet?” I did get mine back eventually. I got five of them in the first round. I loved two of them. Three of them were pretty terrible. We spoke with Jeremy and he’s really helpful. He listened to our feedback and recommended stuff from the artists and some things. So, they’ve got their perspective on why they think certain things.
It was really productive when I recognized that I was wrong on some things. I appreciate that. Seeing it really changed it. It’s more than just a really long Word document.
What advice would you give to someone starting out this process?
:I honestly think I was better not knowing that we were writing a book because it was just like another assignment, another assignment and you look back and you realize how it all built on each other. But I had no idea it was going on until pretty late in the game once we had it pretty established. I think it would have been too monstrous to think about from the beginning, at least for me. Maybe someone is goal-oriented in that sense but it’s not mine.
I think if you get comfortable with cold calls. I think that was really helpful for me, just reaching out and just going for it, putting all your cards out. I didn’t think that I’d be able to do it but it’s much easier once you get to hear someone, when you get to hear them rather than see what they’re typing. I think that breaks a lot of boundaries and you realize that they’re just like people too and they want to help out.
Give us the quick pitch for your book.
My name is Tristan MacHale. I’m the author of Green Homes, a book that teachers everyone about sustainable design on residential scale and how it is going to reshape American homes.
What will a reader learn from your book?
The point of the book is to introduce everyone to the ideas of sustainability on residential design because it’s going to happen. It’s going to be a part of our landscape moving forward. I just want to give everyone a head’s up for what’s to come.
The reason I would give is that this is all going to happen. Being ahead of the curve or at least having an understanding of what’s going to happen, what to be aware of and what to look out for, that’s the most important thing.
Although if energy and technology, the prices always fall. Being an early adapter is not the best idea. I mean, you’re cool, you’re green and all that but I think just understanding what’s going to happen is always important and not being surprised by something.
Who should read your book?
The original audience is for people who are in the process of designing a home. Obviously that means they have to be wealthy enough to be in the market to build their own home but also just anyone who has an interest in technology or sustainability. I think it’s applicable to most people.
To listen to Tristan’s full interview, watch this video: