Seth Godin on The Game of Life, The Value of Hacks, and Overcoming Anxiety (#476)

Illustration via 99designs

“Perfectionism has nothing to do with perfect.”

— Seth Godin

Seth Godin (@ThisIsSethsBlog) is the author of 19 international bestsellers translated into more than 35 languages, including Tribes, Purple Cow, Linchpin, The Dip, and This Is Marketing. He writes daily at, which is one of the most popular blogs in the world. He’s also the founder of the altMBA and The Akimbo Workshops, online seminars that have transformed the work of thousands of people. He writes about the post-industrial revolution, the way ideas spread, marketing, quitting, leadership, and most of all, changing everything. His newest book is The Practice: Shipping Creative Work.

In this episode, we explore many topics, including:

  • The value of hacks
  • The magic of Hamilton
  • What learning to juggle and cultivating creativity have in common
  • The myth of quality
  • What Seth means by “Don’t steal the revelation.”
  • Focusing on generosity instead of anxiety
  • Choosing the ruleset of your own game of life
  • How Joni Mitchell eschewed the safety of the sinecure
  • What you would do if you knew you would fail?

Please enjoy!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.

Brought to you by Athletic Greens all-in-one supplement, Four Sigmatic mushroom coffee, and Tonal smart home gym.

The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#476: Seth Godin on The Game of Life, The Value of Hacks, and Overcoming Anxiety

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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to hear the last time Seth was on the show? Click here to listen to our conversation in which we discussed how Seth deals with overwhelm, saying “no” and setting boundaries, long work vs. hard work, how to find your smallest viable audience, crafting April Fool’s jokes, and much more.

#343: Seth Godin on How to Say “No,” Market Like a Professional, and Win at Life


  • Connect with Seth Godin:

Website | Seth’s Blog | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook | altMBA | The Akimbo Workshops

Seth’s previous appearances on the podcast: 402, 343177138


  • What’s the etymology of the word “hack,” and how does it relate to Seth’s new book, The Practice? [07:35]
  • What is the specific definition of the word “quality,” and how does it differ from its generally accepted meaning? [09:21]
  • What makes Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway blockbuster Hamilton more “magical,” in Seth’s estimation, than West Side Story? Perhaps the real question: what is magic, and what does it take to make it? [12:40]
  • Why hiding behind words like “quality” or “perfection” as a means of postponing action to avoid risk is a cop-out — especially these days. [16:49]
  • What Isaac Asimov and Gary Gilmore can teach us about writer’s block and other common procrastinations. [19:18]
  • Examining what we mean when we tell ourselves our work isn’t “good enough,” weighing the real reasons we might opt to take a less challenging path, what it sometimes takes to get us back on the right path, and why generosity doesn’t mean free. [24:59]
  • “Process saves us from the poverty of our intentions.” -Elizabeth King [33:21]
  • On the selfishness of authenticity, and why Seth believes the way we act determines how we feel way more often than the way we feel determines how we act. [35:08]
  • If attitudes are skills, how do we sharpen them? [36:32]
  • Skills with a disproportionate return on investment that entrepreneurs and creatives should consider cultivating. [40:47]
  • On anxiety and the futility of reassurance. [43:15]
  • One of the biggest mistakes ineffective teachers make, and what we should remember if we want to be effective learners. [45:58]
  • The importance of applying constraints and boundaries to the learning process, and understanding the gift that tension gives. [50:06]
  • How do you not steal the revelation as a teacher, but create tension so that people will plow ahead with developing a skill or learning something? [53:14]
  • Examples of how the power of positive constraints have had an impact on Seth — and how they went from being a source of frustration to the core of his useful working life. [57:46]
  • How would Seth usher a prospective entrepreneur through the process of deciding on constraints before they embark on creating some darling that they’re not willing to kill? [1:00:27]
  • How can an entrepreneur or freelancer apply constraints when their plans are already in motion? [1:03:15]
  • A nugget from The Practice: Seek joy. But how does one do this? [1:06:09]
  • As someone who’s succeeded in zigging where others have zagged, How has Seth chosen the games he has played, and in what ways has this changed over time? [1:08:04]
  • What provided Seth with a template to understand the difference between doing fulfilling work and simply training for the outcome? For that matter, what’s so bad about training for the outcome? [1:11:07]
  • The Practice is Seth’s 20th book. What is he saying in this one that he didn’t get around to in the 20 before, and what should prospective readers hope to get from it? [1:16:14]
  • How would Seth suggest someone literally learn how to juggle, and how does this process figuratively encapsulate the building of resilience necessary for thriving in an ever-changing world? [1:19:06]
  • How the way I learned to swim — in my 30s — was similarly counterintuitive but completely effective (and by coincidence, the technique Seth uses to swim every day). [1:21:32]
  • In what ways is cultivating creativity similar to learning how to juggle? [1:25:13]
  • How does Seth separate genre from generic, and who was Earl Stanley Gardner? [1:26:49]
  • With 230 chapters in less than 230 pages, which ones does Seth hope most resonate with readers? [1:29:40]
  • How Joni Mitchell alienated her mainstream audience in order to find her smallest viable audience and, ultimately, do better work that didn’t train for the outcome. [1:33:01]
  • What would you do even if you knew you would fail? [1:34:47]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:35:54]


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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17 Replies to “Seth Godin on The Game of Life, The Value of Hacks, and Overcoming Anxiety (#476)”

  1. I remember Squidoo. Never realized it was him. The Palm Beach Post had a purple cow and was a big fan of his book.

  2. Love Seth! And, love your podcast. Big fan. If you’re looking to expand your stable of portrait illustrators, I would love to collaborate. Thanking you in advance for actually reading this and double thanks for taking the time to check out my work. It means the world!

  3. Thanks for this gift Tim. You two have been an incredible inspiration. And I hope the conversation made you want to publish more of your imperfect writing on the blog, because I for one, love reading it. Stay well.

  4. Hey Tim. I hear you with the frustration and lack of momentum around writing. Have you considered working with a ghostwriter or book coach? Maybe all you need is a dance partner to help you dig out the brilliance that’s stuck in your head!

  5. This is what I wrote in morning pages today. (it’s really a kind of miracle that I can just read it aloud and my ipad turns it into text.)

    The turning point for me was Seth saying attitudes are habits. It really stopped my intellect for a second. I heard, if you aren’t thinking habitually in the direction of the attitude you intend, it will weaken.
    So finally, this morning, something got that, and said, stop the intellect. The intellect is supposed to be pessimistic, but only when that’s helpful. When everything is going well – helpful circumstances, lots of resources—the intellect can do its thing and it will be balanced by optimism of the will, because there will be so much feeding that optimism.
    But when the will is weakened – whether by circumstances or lack of resources or undermining habits or whatever – the intellect becomes your enemy. Once it gets the upper hand, once it becomes the master, you will keep shooting yourself in the foot. If only with a mess of sticky crap that still makes it impossible to move. And then the past and the future become your enemy as well, because the phenomenology of depression sets in.
    The intellect, by nature, looks at the past and remembers the bad things. That’s the evolutionary advantage of having an intellect. But when it looks into the future, if it has hope, it’s hope for the wrong thing. T. S. Eliot was both right and wrong. I don’t have to say it to my soul. I have to say it to my intellect: “be still, and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing.” Wait without passion – the intellect has passions, not love—for passion would be passion for the wrong thing.

    Writing that, a weight lifted off my chest. Wait without wish. I wish I could share this with someone who would really get it. Stop wishing now. “Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought.” We’re in the middle of something too much like the Blitz!

    Dear intellect, you are not equipped to deal with this. Our circumstances suck. That’s enough thinking. Our resources are seriously depleted. Thank you for pointing that out. That’s what I need you to keep reminding me. Forget about the rest, or shut up. Just say, “I must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” That’s all I want to hear from you. Just get to “I’ll go on” and then hush. Wait. Let something else do the thinking.

    And something else did. It said, very slowly: at a time like this, the past becomes your enemy, because the intellect is morbid. Unless you hush the intellect, the vicious dialectic continues. But if you say, be still, then you can turn to my voice, which can say: you have resources in your memories. There may be people who don’t. But I would bet most people, if they put their minds to it, could find resources in their memories. At a time like this, at the edge of what Eliot called a grimpen—and even though this isn’t really the Blitz, it’s still pretty scary – you can draw on memory. Carefully.

    So I did. I drew on the Alps. I drew on getting out of the train, and walking, and arriving in the mountain meadow, and on how incredibly beautiful the Matterhorn was, and how I felt so much Presence, so much conscious contact with a Higher Power. In part, because I came to believe i was there because she had a plan of goodness which included this experience, and that she had given me all the knowledge and power I needed to act in accordance with her intentions. And it was so worth it.

    Placing myself in that memory, I feel so open, so full, so sure that I had reached out and something had actually reached back.

    So, if that attitude, that sense, is not a habit, and is a major challenge to hold in my current circumstances and with my current resources, to hell with “be here now.” I know what works for me. I know what helps me dial down the drama.

    Yes, “under conditions that seem unpropitious,” dialing down the drama may be very hard, very full-time work. But you never know when doing that work may suddenly give you access to strengths others don’t have. You never know when you might be the one who can save the day. And, even if you can’t, remembering the times in the past, when you did, can keep you going. Because you never know.

    And anyway, even if you never help anyone else, you can have a higher power and you can serve her, and she is very clear about what she wants: dial down the drama, so that you can practice the attitude, and keep turning it into something like a habit, even if you never get all the way to habit. Even if, on your deathbed, it’s still work, still practice, rather than habit. Because you have her, “there is yet faith.”

    She says, you don’t know what I might be able to do with your weak measly practice that never seems to make it to habit. You don’t know what else you are cultivating at the same time. Maybe you will be faced with a heroic death can save the world and, because you have kept the faith, you will just know, and won’t hesitate. Who knows? Nobody knows. It isn’t over until it’s over. You may have one Yoda sentence in you and there may be one Luke Skywalker out there, and you may not meet her until the day before the revolution. If you die without this experience, there is also the possibility that you have already met Luke and spoken that sentence, and that may have been the moment that set off the chain reaction that eventually saves the world.

    PS: Along with the obvious references, I want to acknowledge the unattributed ones: Beckett, Gramsci, Binswanger, MacGilchrist, Wilson, and LeGuin. Sorry, but this is actually what happens when I write morning pages.

  6. HAHAHAHA. Porn Hub. Let me laugh for you since I know some people, the ones who get offended by EVERYTHING now, will freak out. Keep your panties on people…..humor is therapy and so is listening to Tim.

  7. My favorite part! Seth Godin: “Well, so the other one which is as big as that one is, I think authenticity is a crock, and I think authenticity is overrated and talked about far too much. The problem with authenticity is it’s selfish. Authenticity enables us to say whatever we want and if people don’t like it, well I was just being authentic. It is a ticket to self-absorbed inconsistency, and I don’t think anybody we serve wants that. I think what they want is consistency. I think they want us to make a promise and keep it, and the reason it’s called work, not my hobby is because I made a promise.
    I decided a really long time ago that I was going to be consistent, and it didn’t matter if in a moment, I felt like yelling at a customer service person, or going up on stage when I’m supposed to be adding energy and just taking energy instead. What I learned from that is the way we act determines how we feel way more often than the way we feel determines how we act.”

  8. Hey Tim
    Another great interview. No wonder, Seth is an all time favourite on the blog.

    I took a lot of notes and there is one thing that I cannot figure out. When talking about learning you mentioned „Patagocci“ a couple of times (not sure if I spelled that correctly.
    I could find any further reading on this way of learning and would appreciate any resource.
    Thanks from a fan of the first hour.


  9. Tim. I keep coming back to this episode but not just for the feelings of enchantment when I listen to you both interacting. This time around, this “season of my life” (as the people who like to say things like to say); I keep coming back because of a startling resonance I felt with YOUR vulnerability.

    I have questions.

    Too many to ask just one. I saw a thread and I have an impulse to follow it to see what it unravels. But I worry about what it may unravel in me.

    When I look at who I am, it makes no sense that I might have that fear. I am no one to you, but I know myself a recklessly, insatiably curious human being. And I have questions.

  10. Thanks for this great conversation Tim and Seth. Loved the Elizabeth King quote “Process saves us form the poverty of intention” and the insight that writer’s block is actually “fear of bad writing”! Both instantly actionable.