Paul Jarvis: The Power of Wanting Less and Staying Small

These are cliff notes from an episode of The Unmistakable Creative Podcast

‘Go big or go home’ is the advice that makes most of us feel frustrated and inadequate. Paul Jarvis proposes a different approach: pursuing success that is intentionally small. He joined Srini for the conversation about the key principles that may be considered as counter-intuitive, but that he found incredibly powerful. My favorite takeaways are summarized as follows.

1. Following conventional paths did not work well for Paul. His parents had conventional careers and he ended up as a self-employed web designer and following his intuition about his career choices served him well. He shared the story about how he dropped out of college and the chair told him that he will come back regretting his choice to leave but that did not happen. If anything, it cemented Paul’s conviction only his own choices.

2. When thinking about success, many people focus on the wrong metrics. Instead of the content and value, they are creating, people get obsessed with website themes, small design tweaks, and similar minor activities that provide a sense of progress, which is not real.

3. The key premise of Paul’s work and the book is the idea that small is fine. Resisting the urge to scale up everything we do can be a very good strategy. Unlimited growth is unsustainable and unhealthy. Becoming massive is not a business model that works for everyone.

4. Another big principle of Paul’s work is to focus on serving people who are already members of his platform. A big focus of many is expanding their fan base which can be counterproductive. People who are already there are the people who are willing to listen and whose lives you can impact substantially.

5. Our victories, even small ones, deserve to be celebrated. Paul gives a great example of a successful business that received investments that came with high expectations regarding profit. Although they earned millions, it was below the expectations and it felt like a failure. Big lesson: don’t treat success as a failure if it’s not grandiose.

6. We often think of opportunities are great. It’s important to keep in mind that every opportunity has an obligation on the back end. Good questions to ask yourself when considering a new opportunity is ‘How does this impact my freedom?’ and ‘What will I have to say ‘no’ to if I say ‘yes’ to this?’

7. Internet metrics we are obsessing with are abstract. When you imagine real people behind the computers all in one room, you will change your perspective on what is ‘a lot’ or ‘a little’.

8. The internet makes us compare our insides to other people’s outsides. That often makes us think that we have to achieve massive success to be happy, even when a massive success may not be the best for us. We are measuring self-worth based on how many people are paying attention to us, which is a recipe for discontent. Our self-worth, as the word suggests, has to come from the self.

9. One good skill to foster is the ability to appreciate the success of others. Life is not a zero-sum game and somebody’s success does not mean your failure.

10. To be unmistakable according to Paul, you should find your own definition of success, even if it makes sense to only one person. Remember that changing one person’s life is important and momentous.



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Srinivas Rao

Srinivas Rao

Candidate Conversations with Insanely Interesting People: Listen to the @Unmistakable Creative podcast in iTunes