THIRD WAVE PODCAST
Burnout, Rebirth, and Going Beyond Coffee
James Beshara, an angel investor, founder, podcaster, and general startup-helper, joins host Paul Austin to discuss burnout as a founder and what tools James discovered beyond coffee to feel his best.
Burnout has become increasingly common in the workplace. It is particularly insidious in the start-up world. In this week’s episode, we talked about James’s new book “Beyond Coffee: A Sustainable Guide to Nootropics, Adaptogens, and Mushrooms” and why doing more as a founder is not equivalent to living a life of meaning and purpose.
James is an angel investor, founder, podcaster, and general startup-helper from San Francisco.
Inc, Forbes, and Time Magazine included him in their “30 Under 30” lists, and over the years, he has been featured in The NY Times, Forbes, CNN, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, and the Guardian.
He started a few companies, sold one (Tilt; acquired by Airbnb), invested in a few multi-billion dollar ones, and advised even more. He also hosts a podcast focused on the inner journey of founding, leading, and creating called “Below the Line with James Beshara”.
James recently published “Beyond Coffee: A Sustainable Guide to Nootropics, Adaptogens, and Mushrooms.” You can get the first two chapters for free by clicking the link in the show notes below.
- Why moving forward is not always progress – and the key to determining which direction to go
- The role Alan Watts played in helping James reframe success – and why the desires of the ego only serve a very small part of us
- The one thing we must “quiet” to be in service to the world around us
0:00:31 Paul Austin: Listeners, welcome back to the podcast. I’m your host, Paul Austin and this week, I interviewed my friend and an informal advisor to Third Wave, James Beshara. James is an angel investor, founder of Tilt, a payments platform, podcaster at Below the Line and a general startup helper from Texas who now lives in San Francisco, California. Inc, Forbes, and Time Magazine included James in their 30 Under 30 lists and over the years, he’s been featured in the New York Times, Forbes, CNN, Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal and has spoken at places like Harvard Business School, Stanford, Y Combinator, TechCrunch Disrupt and South by Southwest. James has invested in a few multi-billion dollar companies, has advised even more and, now, hosts a podcast focused on the inner journey of founding, leading, and creating, called Below the Line with James Beshara that New York Times bestselling author, Eric Ries has called the most exciting new podcast in the startup world.
0:01:30 PA: But that’s not why we interview James today. I got James on the podcast to talk about his new book, Beyond Coffee: A Sustainable Guide to Nootropics, Adaptogens, and Mushrooms. And in this episode, we started off by talking about James’ journey with burnout and what role coffee played in that and why that inspired him to write a book about going beyond coffee, how we define productivity in today’s day and age, how Alan Watts, yes, that famous philosopher, kickstarted James’ journey into a deeper sense of self-knowledge and why being honest at all times is often the best thing that we can do. So, without further ado, I bring you James Beshara.
0:02:10 PA: James Beshara, welcome, author of Beyond Coffee: A Sustainable Guide to Nootropics, Adaptogens, and Mushrooms. I just wanna thank you for joining us on the show today, man.
0:02:20 James Beshara: Thank you for having me, Paul.
0:02:21 PA: I’m really excited to do this. We’re here in your little nook.
0:02:26 JB: My wife’s art studio that we recorded our episode. A great episode where the focus was really you and Third Wave and everything psychedelics, maybe three or four weeks ago, so this is cool.
0:02:38 PA: But now, we get to turn the tables and I get to inquire about you and where you come from and what your story is and what led you to starting your podcast, Below the Line, and we’re gonna talk about the Vedantas and nootropics and fintech and this is just gonna be like…
0:02:54 JB: Let’s do it.
0:02:55 PA: It’s gonna be like one of those conversations that just goes all over the place and I’m really excited to dig in.
0:03:00 JB: Let’s do it. It’s mind, body, spirit, all three in one episode. I hope we touch on it all.
0:03:05 PA: So one story that you’ve told me a few times, and we were just talking about it before we started the podcast, was sort of this breaking point that you had back in 2013. Could you just tell our listeners, just what happened, how you burned out and what role coffee played in that?
0:03:19 JB: Sure, yeah, and that’s where the book starts with me talking about in 2013, I was 26 and I was running a company here in San Francisco. And we had about 60, 70 employees at that point and I had to go to the ER. I had to go visit my doctor and he’s the one that said, “We need to go across the street to the ER.” Right after the visit, I went to go see my doctor because, for about three weeks straight, I felt shallow breathing and felt like my heartbeat was just at a constant elevated rate and it’s kind of like the feeling of kind of butterflies in your stomach but for three straight weeks. Long story short, I had an irregular heartbeat and a condition called atrial fibrillation at 26, which is super rare. And in all of the questions that the doctor is asking about my habits, my exercise regimens and he said, “And James, how many cups of coffee do you drink a day?” And I said, “Somewhere between five to six.” And he just nodded. He didn’t… There was no emotional reaction. He was just like… It was like confirming something in his mind and…
0:04:16 PA: Like he basically already sort of got that sense.
0:04:18 JB: Right, right. And he… ‘Cause everything else checked out. I exercised. I slept well, ate well. Yeah, it was really interesting that I just thought, “This is some elevated stress that would go away,” or really during those three weeks, I just thought, “Oh, there’s some nervousness going on, but it will go away.” But what was interesting was me knowing that the nervousness just kept staying day after day made me even more nervous. It made me even more just… I think on a bio-physiological level, like it was just spiking my cortisone, making me really stressed out about being stressed. Long story short, my doctor was like, “Yeah, you really should limit your caffeine intake to about 80 milligrams a day.” And I was like, “Okay, what is… How many is that? What is that? Three cups of coffee? Four cups of coffee?” And he was like, “No, that’s about a tenth of what you’re doing right now.” I was like, “There’s no… I mean, freaking way that I can operate a 70-person company on a half a cup of coffee.” And he said to me, “Well, have you ever tried green tea? It has this stuff in it called L-Theanine, which will help calm you down and it gets rid of the stress hormone that your caffeine is building up that’s contributing to this heart condition.”
0:05:29 JB: So long story medium, I was… Just… I’d say the most impactful thing from that day was hearing that you could have this other ingredient that would work with caffeine in a very different way than just drinking coffee. And it was so interesting. From then until now, I went from thinking, “Well, if there is anything better than coffee, then we’d know, but it would be obvious. Everybody would talk about it. Everyone would know about it and that would be obvious.” To now, fast forward five and a half, six years later and the opposite is true. It’s, now, I’m of the mind where it’s like, “Are we gonna find a better concoction for our productivity than this thing we’ve been drinking for 300, 400 years?” To me, now, it’s much more obvious that we’re gonna do better than this thing that we’ve been drinking for 400 years and especially now in the heels of five and a half years of research, it’s clear that we can go beyond just coffee for our morning rituals for productivity. And also, this world we live in that is just collectively encouraged to just over-caffeinate, over-caffeinate, over-caffeinate. It’s just as obvious that that is… It’s really terrible for physical and our mental health.
0:06:30 PA: Why was that case for you? Why were you over-caffeinating, over-caffeinating, over-caffeinating?
0:06:34 JB: Yeah, that is a good question. The background in running a 60, 70-person company is I was just really stressed. And I think I fell into this cycle that I think a lot of people fall into where I was overworked on by my own doing. I can become pretty fanatical and I was working seven days a week, probably 90, 100 hours a week every week at that point for about two years on my startup. I think I just fell into this cycle where, because I was so stressed, because I was so overworked, my antidote to that wasn’t healthy choices. It was more caffeine. It was… I was prescribed Adderall in college and so it was caffeine, Adderall and… I actually, I’ve only taken Adderall maybe 40 times in my life ’cause I, really actually, I get a bad headache. It’s very… It’s diminishing returns after about two hours. But it certainly was an openness to trying as much of a coffee, caffeine stimulant as I could. I mean it was a joke around the office that I was just chugging so much caffeine. I’d say the darkest observation about that point in time, wasn’t that I was consuming so much caffeine, just chugging so much coffee, it was that it was so normal to do that. It was that it was a joke around the office, rather than, “Hey, you have an addiction to this incredibly strong stimulant and your way around all of the negative effects that it’s causing you is to have more of it.”
0:07:57 PA: Interesting, right? The way that we can rationalize that.
0:08:00 JB: It’s kinda like… That’s sort of inherent in working culture. It’s like, we sacrifice longevity and sustainability for immediate gratification for what we need in the here and now, particularly in startup culture when it’s like, “Look, we gotta hustle. We gotta work our asses off. We gotta make this happen.” We don’t think think about…
0:08:16 PA: We gotta hit this month’s goals.
0:08:18 JB: And then, boom, burnout happens.
0:08:20 PA: Right. What was burnout like for you when that did eventually happen?
0:08:26 JB: So there was the physical, the very strong physical symptoms of elevated heart rate, shallow breathing for three straight weeks. And for atrial fibrillation, many people can’t feel it, but I could feel it. And so, it was easy for me to go into the doctor and get it diagnosed and that also made it really easy to recognize what I was doing was really unsustainable. I think for many people, if you don’t have that really bright flashing check engine light going off, then you don’t know that what you’re doing is unsustainable. You don’t know that you’re burning out your physiology and, I’d say, mental health just as much. They’re both combined. And when we get into kind of just the culture of over-caffeination, it is affecting our mental health as much as it’s affecting our physical health. The very easy tie between those things is cortisol stress hormone. You chug a coffee, and the caffeine intake from coffee will be the exact same cortisol response as acute stress. You could be on a beach and chug two espressos and it will be as if you’re under a stressful situation and your body doesn’t know the difference. And so, that will then trigger the mental health side of things of just… I was not only chasing each week’s goals, each month’s goals because I felt like, “Oh, we need to chase the here and now. This is our opportunity as a startup.”
0:09:41 JB: I also was chasing the here and now because I was so worried and anxious at all times, and it is this non-virtuous cycle because it’s… I was worried and anxious because of the elevated cortisol. And then it leads to insomnia, so then you’re drinking more caffeine and having even more elevated cortisol. But yeah, it was this non-virtuous cycle. Then I was anxious that we weren’t gonna hit our goals and that made me more anxious. And it’s so… Now that I’m a few years removed from it, it’s so easy to spot how unhealthy it was, but it’s also just as easy for me to get back in that doctor’s office and get back into that feeling of thinking, “Half a cup? There’s no way.” It’s really fascinating just as I think back to how easy it should have been to spot that I was burning out and how hard it would have been to pry that fourth, fifth, sixth cup of coffee out of my hands because I felt like I truly needed it each day.
0:10:34 PA: So now, six years later, you’ve written this entire book. You’ve done extensive research on what are things that are beyond coffee. In your research, what have you found to be some of the most effective substances or drinks or whatever else it might be that are useful for productivity? And within that, how do we define and how do you define productivity nowadays?
0:10:58 JB: Yeah, that’s a great question. And as you can see, I’m drinking matcha right now, matcha latte.
0:11:02 PA: Matcha is great.
0:11:03 JB: And I love matcha. Matcha is just a form of green tea. It’s powdered green tea. It’s the whole leaf powdered up and grinded down and put into a drink. And it has a lot of L-Theanine as well as catechins, which are great antioxidants, along with the caffeine and lower amounts of caffeine, so that it just can be spaced out on two or three cups of matcha throughout the day, would equal about one and a half cups of coffee. And so, I’ll just say that right off the bat, I love matcha. I think you’ve heard me talk about matcha. And it also has the difference between grinding up the actual leaf versus just green tea is the difference of, I think it’s around 130 times as many antioxidants as a cup of green tea. It’s really healthy for you. And really for me, it also, I get to have the something to sip on, something to drink, but it’s spacing out the caffeine throughout the day. Zooming out to your question of what is productivity, it’s a really, really great question because I think one of the things that we do collectively, societally, is confuse alertness, wakefulness, something from coffee with productivity.
0:12:08 JB: And we can get into the actual compounds. And if you go to beyondcoffeebook.com, you can get the first two chapters free as well as see what I take every morning, based on this research around sustainable approaches to these things. Zooming out, I’ll answer your question on productivity and then also just talk about the different buckets of these compounds. On productivity, productivity is really… It’s not just wakefulness, alertness, because anyone can go back to a time in their life where they’ve had four cups of coffee and they’re jittery. They’re actually…
0:12:41 PA: I think that’s like anxiety.
0:12:43 JB: Anxiety, right.
0:12:43 PA: It’s more anxiety, yeah.
0:12:45 JB: And you can be awake and completely alert but terribly unproductive because you’re anxious. So productivity is really in my… Zooming out, first principles thinking when I approached all of the different compounds, productivity was… It was energy plus cognition plus direction. And so energy would be wakefulness, alertness, something that caffeine can provide for you. And then cognition would be focus, clarity, memory, creativity, lateral thinking. And then direction is… It was just pointed in the right direction. Think of it like energy as the fuel, you’ve got cognition as the engine, and then direction is the steering wheel. You need all three. And if you only have energy, but you have no clear way of directing it, then you’re anxious. So you have energy but you’re putting it on some pretty unproductive thoughts, or the engine isn’t really there and you’re freaking ready to go because you just popped two Adderall, but you’re on 24 hours of no sleep. You’re not gonna be very productive even if you’re… You’re not gonna… And you’re cognitively not gonna be really there. So it’s energy, cognition and direction.
0:13:55 JB: And when I think about my own approach each morning… And I love a morning coffee, but I’ll also add in certain routines like, one, switching to Matcha after that first cup of coffee. I’ll also add in things like Omega-3s for cognitive performance. It’s not just about energy, it’s about cognition. And then direction. I’ll add in immuno-supportive things like Echinacea, Vitamin C because you might have energy from adenosine-receptor-blocking caffeine, but you’re catching a cold and it’s gonna sap your energy. So immuno-supportive things like Echinacea, Vitamin C. And then also things like anti-inflammatories and turmeric. And the book obviously, as you can imagine, explains this stuff much more linearly than a podcast can. But things like anti-inflammatories like turmeric, cumin, your body can waste 10%-15% of its energy just on inflammation. And let’s say you… It’s inflammation in the gut because you’re slightly allergic to something that you consumed that morning, or it’s inflammation from a twisted ankle from exercise the day before, and a sore back, whatever it is, you’re wasting energy on that. And that’s energy that you have but it’s being spent in the wrong direction. So that’s my definition and our definition, for the book, of productivity.
0:15:12 PA: So one thing that comes up for me as we’re talking about this concept of productivity… You had a background in fintech, so you… Actually, let’s talk about that because I wanna take that and I wanna talk about where the future of work is going, as more and more people transition from coffee to these other substances that… Essentially, the focus isn’t as much on, “I need to get as much done as possible, but I wanna be in a really great state of mind.”
0:15:37 JB: I wanna be in flow.
0:15:39 PA: I wanna be in flow.
0:15:40 JB: In the groove of productivity, right?
0:15:41 PA: Yeah. And so I think that reframing and doing it within… Your story would be fantastic. So I’d love if you could just tell our listeners like a little bit about your business background in particular in terms of what you built, what you’re involved with and then we can transition into [unclear speech].
0:15:55 JB: Yeah, absolutely. And I do wanna touch on, just to slightly correct something that I think is the predominant conception of productivity or especially with something like this book is that, “Okay, you add in supplements, you add in compounds and you’re a better version of yourself.” But the book is very… I make sure to say this is fifth in the list of things to really focus on. And these are things you and I’ve chatted about before as well. But if you wanna get into flow… This is the contrast to where I was in 2013, where I was like, “I’ve got this awesome crutch and it’s caffeine.” Or, “An awesome crutch, and it’s these exogenous compounds.” And the truth is that should be fifth on the list of… First being great sleep, two hours of sleep no matter how much caffeine and L-Theanine you have, you’re not gonna be productive with only two hours of sleep.
0:16:44 JB: Next would be exercise. Exercise has been shown over and over again as being just as cognitive enhancing as any supplement out there. So three times a week… So sleep, I get eight hours of sleep every night. And one of the best pieces of advice I ever got from a sleep doctor, when I was looking into this as I was approaching my CEO/founder role in an unsustainable way, she said, “Wake up every morning the same time. And do it for eight days and see how quickly you can get into a creative flow.” After eight days of waking up the same time every morning. After sleep, exercise three times a week of pretty strenuous 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, and the research on that is also, like I said, pretty clear that it’s just as effective as any cognitive enhancing supplement.
0:17:30 JB: Third would be diet, and it’s everything in moderation. I don’t really drink and that’s mainly because it really disturbs, number one, for me, sleep. So if I have two, three drinks, I’m gonna have worse sleep. And then fourth is stress management. So meditation. Practicing the art of under-committing, committing to fewer and fewer things. Mindfulness. I practice TM, transcendental meditation, which is breathing, and mantra-driven meditation. And then, fifth would be these exogenous compounds, which the book focuses on. I’m not an expert on the other four, but I know from all of the research, that the other four are foundational before you get to that fifth. So I just wanted to call that out. Going to my background, yeah, so I’ve been a startup founder. This is such a weird book for me to write because my background for the last 10 years has been all startups. I guess, about 11 years now, it’s just been focused on startups and technology companies. And that’s what I started doing right out of college. And I’ve built three companies. And that’s my main focus. That’s what all of my friends know me for.
0:18:35 JB: But, yeah, there was this parallel thread that started about six years ago of researching these things for my own productivity, creativity, my own desire to get into flow. And then what started at the end of last year with a blog post, a long blog post, became a five-part blog post. Then it was like, “Alright, I might as well just do all of the research and put this into a short little book.” So, that’s a little background on the book. But yeah, the background me is startup guy and was building a payments company in 2013 when I… During that ER stint. And yeah, what would you like to know about that founder background?
0:19:10 PA: I think talking a little bit, you have this podcast now, Below the Line, so how did that work that you did in building those startups really inform the sort of reframing of work that you have now, where you’re not in the trenches working, but you now have the flexibility to take a step back, and you’re focused on more creative pursuits, like the podcast, writing the book, angel investing. I’d just love to hear you talk about that sort of shift in perspective, and how it basically influenced you to start this podcast and what the podcast is about.
0:19:42 JB: It’s somewhat related to the book, but I’d say it’s kind of in these buckets of body, mind, spirit. And all three really need to be working together but also independently focused on and maintained. And so the podcast, Below the Line, is really an outgrowth of when I was going through a really tough time at the end of Tilt. And ultimately, Tilt, it just failed, did not meet any of our expectations. It was, at one point, valued at just under $400 million, private valuation, and we can talk about how just limited those private valuations are, and they’re not what it kind of sounds like, for all intents and purposes. We were flying really high, and you fast forward, 18 months later, and we’re selling for a fire sale, a fraction of that to Airbnb, and it was… It was as painful as acquisitions can go. During those 18 months, and probably maybe a year or two before that, but definitely during those 18 months of things really just kind of crumbling in our hands, of having this major opportunity to build this social network around money and missing that opportunity, and the above the line version, or my podcast called Below the Line. For listeners, it’s a metaphor of the iceberg in the water where 10% is above the waterline and 90% is below. And ultimately, the real substance is below the line, beneath the surface, what you can’t see.
0:21:11 JB: And for me, the above-the-line version of that experience was… And we really struggled to hit, to find a revenue model. We were growing virally, we were growing pretty fast, even as we sold, but we couldn’t hit a real revenue model similar to something like Venmo struggled with as well and why they sold. But the below-the-line version was, it was just… And I was caught up in trying to build this world-changing company, 50% to change the world and 50% financial engineering, ego engineering, identity engineering, build something, and I’ll be the face of it and I’ll be right at the tip of the spear of this change. And it was a really short-sighted and pretty dysfunctional way to start something, to build something. And I noticed in the last 18 months, it was… We were struggling because of a lot of the decisions that my co-founder and I had made that were trying to optimize for the business, but it’s just as honest to say, it was trying to optimize for ego, for financial engineering, for identity engineering, and setting these wild expectations, externally, and crumbling under those expectations, internally. And it was such a trying experience. For me, it was so stressful, so emotional, and even all of the right nutritional supplementation, diet and exercise.
0:22:31 JB: And those are really important, but getting all of those things right wasn’t gonna change the fact that I was probably going through the most stressful career or stressful professional experience that I’ll ever go through. And during that experience, I said, “Okay, on the other side of this, I don’t really care how it goes. Even if it is a complete wash, I’ll go write about my experiences. I’ll move to South Africa where I’d lived before, and I was like, “I’ll just live there and write about my experiences, be completely broken, and just share my experiences to the world.” And I think that was… Yeah, that was an outgrowth of this desire to wanna talk about what it’s really like to be a founder and add to this pretty strong dearth of literature around the psychological side of being a founder. So that was the beginning of it. And then, after we sold, that thought never went away and I said, “Okay, I wanna write about the psychological side of creation, something that no one ever talks about. And if I’m gonna write about it, I’d better interview some of the best creators, leaders, researchers on the topic of the psychology of creation.” And then one of my friends, Eric Ries from Lean Startup, a best-selling author, he said, “Dude, okay cool, book sounds really cool, but you should start it as a podcast,” and that’s what kicked it off.
0:23:52 PA: What have been some of the best lessons that you’ve learned so far from doing that podcast?
0:23:57 JB: It is… I try to catalog them as the episodes go by. It’s gonna require… I’ve so much. It is phenomenal. From the perspective of… And also, right after we sold, after we went through this just really painful experience, that’s when I would hear from some of my favorite entrepreneurs, investors. I would hear from them that they had similar experiences, or I’d be getting dinner with them, and they would tell me their below-the-line version of what their experience in their last company was really like. Or a company that I had read about that would have this amazing kind of veneer polish to their story and then I would hear the real version and I was like, “Why the hell didn’t you tell me this stuff when I was going through it? And why aren’t these stories, the real versions of these people’s stories, why aren’t those more known?” Is it always just this polished, perfectly packaged version out there? And I found it so comforting just to hear that I wasn’t alone to go through my experience that I went through, and the way that we did, we weren’t alone. And that was… Not only is it helpful to know you can go on, recover from it, and learn a lot from it, and actually get to focus on the change that you wanna effect in the world, more than that, it’s so commonplace to have that type of entrepreneurial experience.
0:25:11 JB: And I’d say that sharing of other people’s stories on a podcast, of other people’s real versions of their stories, that, ironically, instead of the actual tactics that they talk about, I’ve learned that just sharing and airing those stories have been so valuable to other entrepreneurs ’cause they write in all of the time. It is probably the number one thing that people write in about, saying that they’re just really appreciative that they got to hear Person X’s real story. Justin Kan, in the first episode talks about how they sold Twitch, a company for about a billion dollars to Amazon. And within a few months, he couldn’t get out of bed for four days because he was in a really dark place, mentally, and he realized how little this thing that he’d chased for 10 years, a massive entrepreneurial exit, how little it actually mattered to his mental health. That’s powerful shit. That’s crazy powerful to hear, that the thing that you’re chasing might not actually be the solution to your problems. So you… It’s at least worth the curiosity that maybe the solution to your problems are elsewhere. Yeah. That’s just one small anecdote of powerful stuff entrepreneurs share.
0:26:27 PA: But this is like a recurring story that I’ve heard time and time again when, back in December, I hosted a panel here in San Francisco with a friend of mine who exited and had a seven-figure exit, another friend of mine who was a VP at LegalZoom and quit, and then a friend of mine who’s an executive coach, an Ayahuasca executive coach, Michael Costuros, who has been in this before. What both the two former startup, the VP and the friend of mine, what they both emphasized was I wish I had that perspective that doing all that work, and making all that money, and doing the big exit wouldn’t actually “fix” or address a lot of the underlying core reasons why I was unhappy or dissatisfied, or continuing to seek for that external goal. And I think this is what I was hinting at before, with this over-emphasis on coffee and needing to get things done, it’s like we kinda continue to wanna put fuel on our rocket-ship to go somewhere and get somewhere and be somewhere, without having the context and the understanding that, at the end of the day, what matters most is what we have right now, in terms of what we can be present with, what we can be grateful for.
0:27:34 PA: And this is obviously a hotter and hotter topic, particularly ’cause this is a psychedelic podcast within the emerging psychedelic space, and entrepreneurs like yourself who are now becoming interested in psychedelics, we’re having this reframe and understanding there’s something deeper that we really need to understand about ourselves. And this is what gets into, for example, what you’ve now been exploring with the Vedantas and what’s there. So I’d love to… I think this is an excellent transition point to go into, kind of from a spiritual perspective, what has been your path, and where are you at, either currently or where have you been… What have you been processing that’s helped you to get perspective on some of these larger questions, these larger existential questions of, what do I wanna pursue, what’s meaningful to me, what do I believe is true? I’d love just hear a little bit about your perspective and your story on that.
0:28:30 JB: Well, I’d say three things come to mind with that question. And I think as a backdrop, moving forward is not always progress. Ten feet forward in the wrong direction can feel good because you’re moving forward, if that’s your measurement. But if it’s in the wrong direction, it’s the exact opposite of what you need. And it’s… I think that that is… It’s like a road trip. If you feel like this professional pursuit and achieving this professional milestone is the end-all-be-all of, it is the solution to what’s missing or what’s wrong in your life, you better hope that that’s right. Because if you’re wrong, and you went on a road trip a thousand miles in the wrong direction, well, you just made your path that much harder to get to the place that you wanna be in.
0:29:27 JB: And I’d say that that is the first thing that comes to mind is just moving forward is not always progress. And I think entrepreneurially, career, professionally, that’s… You just get told moving forward is progress. I can’t tell you how many founders I know that will burn bridges, burn relationships, they will work through familial relationships that are now destroyed and get to the other side. And they’re in a situation like Justin’s, where it’s like, “Oh shit, this wasn’t what I thought it was going to be.” And being in an irreparable situation, having burned those relationships. I mean, you hear about it, or at least I heard about it and grew up in a neighborhood where you would know someone really, really professionally successful lived in that big mansion. And yet their family was really, really messed up. And, yeah, that’s territory that’s… It’s irreparable in many ways.
0:30:31 JB: The second thing that comes to mind is, well, in as… I would mention this on any podcast, but specifically for yours, I think it was… I probably saw three years in, two, three years in, that the professional side, professional pursuit was not checking that box for… It was not the destination I really wanted to be in. I definitely struggled with the ego side of things, wanting to engineer this identity of this really… In some ways, it’s innocuous. In some ways, it’s pretty… It’s just super, incredibly vain. Incredibly vain version would be, I wanna be that guy that’s seen as the creator of this world-dominating company. I would see a movie at 24, and say, “Oh, I wanna be that character that everybody is cheering about, and everybody is showing these obviously, just visceral reactions of how awesome they are, how great they are.
0:31:38 JB: That’s the vain way of putting it. I think the innocuous way, or potentially less selfish but still misguided viewpoint, is I just wanna be useful and I would settle for signs of being useful. You can wanna be on the cover of a magazine because you want the vanity of people to know who you are. You can want to be on the cover of a magazine because that’s a sign that, “Oh, that person’s doing something useful that this magazine is putting on the cover of it. I want to be really useful.” And I think my entire purpose in life boils down to, and I think all of ours, but mine, the articulation is really simple, it’s just to be useful to those around me, and I think that that professional pursuit, that side of it, there was the ego kind of engineering identity, engineering in that direction, but I also knew it was pretty… That was going to be an insatiable pursuit, probably two or three years in, I could see, notice in my own mind, it’s like, “Oh no, we only want to go further and further and further. So whatever we accomplish here, it’s going to be kind of a futile pursuit, ’cause I’m only gonna wanna go further, so let me look elsewhere.”
0:32:45 JB: And I got really addicted to Alan Watts’ lectures on YouTube and I had grown up… My dad taught us to meditate when we were about eight years old and so I grew up with a religious and meditative practice around me. We also grew up Catholic. And so my dad was this unique character, meditating every single day at 2:00 PM and us going to church every Sunday. And so, having that exposure to Buddhism and Catholicism at an early age was really formative, but I’d say it really sunk in when I was going through the really trying time of building something outside of the acquisition experience, just creating something from scratch is extremely stressful. And I think in that mind-body-spirit formula, there was the body side of things, of the regimen that I would start to adopt after that conversation with my doctor and that ER visit. And then the mind side of things of meditation of just, honestly, a gratitude journal, so freaking powerful, just writing down every morning what you’re grateful for. And then, third, kind of that spiritual practice of being really receptive to the messages of people way smarter than myself on purpose of life and how to be effective in that purpose so I’m being useful.
0:34:07 JB: I loved Alan Watts’ lectures because in my pursuit of all kinds of trying to be useful, this insanely articulate philosopher from the 20th century. For those that don’t know, he’s one of the… He’s British but he’s one of the people most responsible for introducing the West to Eastern philosophies. He lived in Sausalito.
0:34:27 PA: On a houseboat.
0:34:28 JB: On a houseboat, of all places, and so he lived nearby where we are right now. He’s this extremely articulate philosopher that also happened to record everything. He just happened to be a philosopher in a time where he could record everything, in ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, that he was laying down. So you go on YouTube and you can just look up his lectures and many of which now have been put to really cool melodic kind of soundtracks.
0:34:52 PA: Those are some of my favorite soundtracks to put in my Psilocybin playlist. So when we started Synthesis last year, we would throw in a couple Alan Watts soundtracks. You can find them all over Spotify, they’re really easy and just dropping one of those in there when you’re out in like 4 grams of mushrooms, it’s just like. It’s just boom, it hits you, because it’s so real and there’s so much truth in it and it’s grounded in something that this lineage, this wisdom that’s thousands and thousands and thousands of years old.
0:35:20 JB: I remember listening to one lecture a few months into being exposed to him and the lecture just said, “What do you want? Can you sit down and write 250 words of what you want in life?” And it’s a powerful exercise because you’ll realize you can say maybe eight words, 10 words of what you want in life, but try to write out 250 words to describe exactly what you want and you quickly realize 100-150 words in and it’s like “I am describing total bullshit. I have no idea what any of this stuff means.” You end up describing some fictional, kind of like medieval version of heaven, and then you’re like, “Oh shit, I have no idea what any of this stuff is or… ”
0:35:58 PA: It’s just a platitude or like this is…
0:36:00 JB: It’s platitude, right, so…
0:36:00 PA: It’s so basic or this is very superficial or…
0:36:04 JB: Exactly. Someone else’s words. Oh my god. And it’s… That’s all it takes. You could do that in 10-15 minutes, try to describe what you want in life in 250 words, he basically just says, “You don’t know what you want.” And you don’t know what you want for two potential reasons. One is… And at that point in the lecture, I’m like, “Yeah, I don’t know what I want.” He’s right.
0:36:26 PA: I’m clueless.
0:36:27 JB: I literally want these things that I think I want just so that I can pursue what I really want. It’s like, I wanna hit these professional career milestones so that I can have infinite options to pursue whatever I want. I mean it takes 30 seconds to realize how ridiculous that is. Of like, I wanna hit this milestone, so that I can do whatever I want. It’s like, well, if you can’t answer that question of whatever you want in that milestone, one, how do you know that that milestone is gonna get you there? But so, I was already at this kind of arrested place of, “Okay, Mr. Watts, I’ve no idea what I want. I agree with you.” And then he basically said, “You don’t know what you want for two reasons: One, maybe it’s you don’t know what you want because there is no you. You’re changing every 10 years, so the thing that you thought you wanted 10 years ago has now changed. And if you’re changing every 10 years, then you’re changing every five, and if you’re changing every five you’re changing every one. So if you’re changing every year you’re basically changing every second. So there is no you, static you, to want something. Maybe that’s a reason you don’t know what you want.”
0:37:30 JB: And then he said the second reason that perhaps you don’t know what you want is maybe you already have it, maybe this idea that you don’t know what you want, you don’t have what you want. The implicitness of the question of what do you want basically saying you don’t have it, so what is it is completely wrong, maybe you don’t know what you want because you have everything that you want deep down. And so that hit me like a ton of bricks, and I’d had, I was softened up for a thousand hours before I got to that point in one of his lectures, but totally re-arranged kind of my thinking and I was like, “Oh shit, I have… Maybe, maybe, let me just entertain this for a little bit, maybe I have everything that I want, the reason I don’t know what I want career, life, personal, whatever it is, because I already have everything that I want” and that in conjunction with this gratitude journaling that I’d been doing, it just, it really resonated.
0:38:26 JB: And I was so fascinated by why I had never heard that before, that, just that concept and then I became equally fascinated why do we societally just jump straight to you don’t have what you want, you are missing something critical. Why do we just collectively take that for granted? Why is that so in the water of the world we live in? And then three, is this his concept or is this somewhere deeper? And all of those things took me to this philosophy. It’s not a religion. And in fact, it’s actually worth pointing out, Eastern philosophy in many ways, it’s Buddhism, Daoism, Hinduism, Vedanta. They’re more philosophies than they are religion. There’s no like should, shouldn’t in Vedanta. There is no dogma, what you needed, attend X on this day, you need to celebrate Y on this day. There’s no real traditions to it. There’s a few, but it’s more of a philosophy than a religion, and truthfully, I think it’s more of a psychotherapy than a religion. And so, I think that I was just in a place where I was so eager to learn where all of this came from, that single kind of inflection point that Alan Watts talked about of why you don’t know what you want and I just kept finding more and more wisdom when I searched in that area of Vedanta. It was like just pulling… I always think about it kind of like the magician pulling the handkerchief that just never stops out of his hand.
0:40:02 JB: When I pull at Vedanta as a kind of psychological foundation for my day each morning, I could just pull at it over and over and over again. It’s a really rich tradition and a little bit of background for listeners on Vedanta is the adage about Buddhism is that it’s Buddhism is Hinduism made for export, simplified as it went from India to China. Zen is an evolution as it goes from China to Japan. Hinduism underpins Buddhism and Vedanta underpins Hinduism. Vedanta literally translates to end of knowledge and it’s the end of the Vedic scriptures. It is this 3000, 4000-year-old philosophy that underpins pretty much all of Eastern philosophy.
0:40:42 PA: And as we were talking about before, it’s the text that Mahatma Gandhi relied on for his path towards self-realization.
0:40:51 JB: Vedanta and the Bhagavad-Gita were the two things that he loved more than any other spiritual scriptural type of philosophical or foundation. And Alan Watts, interestingly, he never subscribed to anything in particular. He never labeled himself. It’s kind of similar to someone like J. Krishnamurti just kind of saying, “Hey,” And he took it even further, he just said, “Look, I’m a philosophical entertainer. I’m just gonna talk about these things up on this stage and if you find it interesting like someone playing Mozart, then great. Stick around and come to the next one.” It was very difficult to discern what he… Which tradition or philosophy he really subscribed to, but now after years and years of listening and reading his stuff, it’s probably more Vedantic than anything else.
0:41:46 PA: Wow, that was a lot that we just went through. I wanna take a step back, have a little perspective. This is good to especially contextualize it in the larger conversation that we were having around coffee and nootropics and purpose in work and burning out, and one thing for me that continues to give me perspective is ritual with particularly psychedelics. Earlier last week that I did mushrooms by myself for the first time and I’m in Oakland, so what’s great in Oakland now is all plant medicines are decriminalized, mushrooms, Ayahuasca, San Pedro, Iboga. That’s, A, amazing. I feel comfortable doing that in my own home and talking about it publicly.
0:42:27 JB: And what do you mean by your first time?
0:42:29 PA: I’ve done mushrooms probably 20-25 times by this point, microdosing even more, but almost always when I’ve done mushrooms, it’s been with friends outside hiking. The exception to that was last year I went to Synthesis, the retreat center that we set up and did it within a ceremonial context with 12 other people. We had guides and facilitators and did a really high-dose at that point, but I’d never done the whole Terence McKenna eat five grams of dried Psilocybin mushrooms in the dark and just see what comes up.
0:42:58 JB: Heroic dose.
0:43:00 PA: Heroic dose, just like go right in. In the last couple of years, I’ve been doing a lot of public stuff with microdosing. It’s been… Microdosing has been more of my practice, but I also have these high-dose experiences. I was like, “Let’s go ahead and let’s do this.” And one thing that I noticed is talking about who we are, talking about what we want or what the you wants in us, whenever I have those experiences, they’re always a fantastic ability just to remember what actually matters. And oftentimes, what comes up is at the very, very high level, it’s this connection to source. Some people say that that’s truth. Some people see that as God. Some people see that as the earth. Some people see that as all those things, but it’s…
0:43:40 JB: In Vedanta, you call it imperishable. In Christianity, you call it God. Check out Vedanta Treatise is a great book as an introduction to Vedanta. I do wanna plug that, I think it’s… There is so much profoundity in the great religious teachers that you can look into Buddhism. You can look into JC, Jesus Christ is probably the… I think it’s probably the peak of the ideal. That’s my ideal that I kind of ascribe to of, “Alright, where am I not measuring up?” Okay, that’s the ideal that I think about ’cause I also, I think philosophically, spiritually, it’s really important to have an ideal that you almost by definition won’t live up to. By definition, just to show you where you’re not living it up to. Yeah, I’d take JC and it’s the… Yeah, I just wanted to plug that because I think it’s much more beneficial to be observant of what is around you rather than just seeking for what’s foreign, what’s exotic, what’s crazy because there is, in my view, there is source. There is truth. There is God all around us, and that’s the “kind of mystical experience” is experiencing God around you, but it’s a…
0:44:51 JB: But I think it’s worth noting that whether it’s Vedanta or whether it’s psychedelics, I can’t wait to chat about this side of things, just the perpetual seeking, is like that road trip where it’s like, “Oh shit, 10 feet forward might actually not be progress.” What is right here, right now, right around me?
0:45:10 PA: And I think that’s the point that I was getting to. It’s psychedelics have that tremendous ability to bring us into the value of the present moment. As Alan Watts says, “There is no past, there is no future, there is only now.” And to understand who we are becoming and how psychedelics, this connection to source, helps us to become this ideal self. So this is the whole process of integration after we have these peak experiences with mushrooms, after we completely open up and come to realize, “Oh, I have everything that I need within me.” Then there’s this old sort of, I don’t know if it’s a conspiracy theory, but it’s a borderline conspiracy theory that Jesus was a mushroom because the…
0:45:49 JB: Yeah, I’ve heard that.
0:45:50 PA: The way that we talk about mythical figures like Jesus is often when we have these deep experiences with psychedelics, these mystical experiences, we come to realize that we are God and that we are the manifestors of our own reality.
0:46:03 JB: It’s like anything historical. You’re taking this carbon copy of a carbon copy of a carbon copy of a carbon copy of what actually happened. It’s just an opinion of selection of which facts to stitch together. So we’ll never know what history really contained. But I’ve also heard that the apple from the tree of knowledge wasn’t an apple, but it was the Psilocybin mushroom that is red in nature, that grows on the trunks of trees and that is what gave us vision and the story of Genesis wasn’t an apple. It was just through thousands of years of… I don’t know how the conspiracy theory goes, ’cause this really could just be a conspiracy theory as well. Thousands of years of us basically through climate change that was happening around that time period, not seeing the fungus growing on the trunks of the trees. So we just thought, “Oh, the red thing from the tree, that must be a fruit. That must be… Oh, it’s an apple.” Maybe what actually gave us knowledge, vision was, at least I’ve heard this theory, that it was actually magic mushrooms, not an apple.
0:47:07 PA: One this is Terence McKenna, Food of the Gods, how basically early consumption of mushrooms, pre-neolithic time, pre-agriculture, helped to facilitate this jump in consciousness where we then were painting on walls and coming up with stories to understand. And this is metaphorically then represented in the Bible as the fall from grace, as the disconnection from God. Because then we have these cognitive faculties that separate us. This is what we’re now coming back to, and even talking about this conversation is how this push towards cognitive faculties and the emphasis on cognitive faculties and the monotony of cognitive faculties. It’s very one-dimensional and that if we really are to be well and if we are to create great work that’s in service to the world around us, then we need to be mindful of not only the mind, but the body, sleep, food, exercise, and spirit. The rituals and the traditions that we’ve cultivated over thousands of years about how we reconnect to really what is the energetic source for true well-being.
0:48:09 JB: Right. Well, in the metaphor of the Below The Line Podcast, the way that I think about it is, below the line, what’s… Observing what’s really there. And it’s not just this bifurcation of “This is the 10% that that you tell the world and this is the 90% that’s the reality of your story.” It’s actually the exact same for what we tell ourselves. I am in continual pursuit of this below-the-line work of understanding the 90% of shit that I probably would have just spun some different way. Put into that 10% version that I’m not even aware of the 90% that’s really behind, whether it’s the unconscious mind directing me to do X, Y, Z, or whether it’s Carl Jung’s shadow and it’s an un-integrated force that is pushing me to do X, Y, Z. Whatever it is, it’s a lot of work for me to figure out, “Okay, what are my real intentions?” What if that whole time that I was talking about affecting change, changing the world, 50% of it was… I think that’s how I’m wired. I really do want to improve the world around me. 50% of it was absolutely, “Oh, this is a shortcut to financial engineering” or “This a shortcut to ego engineering,” and stuff that I touched on a few minutes ago.
0:49:20 JB: I’m a pretty egoistic creature. And then you go a layer below that and it’s actually through my own macrodosing experiences with Ayahuasca that I went a layer deeper and just realized, “Oh my God. Everything that I… This is full circle to the Alan Watts exercise that I probably did five years ago.” After an Ayahuasca experience a year ago, I was like, “Oh my God. It was there the whole time.” It was this phrase that just kept coming up over and over again of, “It was there the whole time.” And I would think about childhood or adolescence or just right now and I’d be like, “Oh, there is not enough time to try to explain and unpack this fully,” but this phrase just kept coming out over and over again. It’s like, “It was there the whole old time.” This big, similar to right now, this ear-to-ear grin.
0:50:15 PA: You just have a huge smile right now.
0:50:17 JB: Yeah. Just like this…
0:50:18 PA: You’re just… You’re glowing.
0:50:19 JB: And that’s exactly what the Ayahuasca experience was like, where I just kept saying, ear-to-ear grin, just like, “Oh my God, it was there the whole time.” And it’s again, I won’t be able to unpack that fully but…
0:50:32 PA: But it is a little bit… It’s like these stories that we tell ourselves of ego, of financial success, of thinking that we can pursue things in an external way. A lot of that is for love. A lot of that is because we think if we do X, Y and Z, if… Like you were saying, if I portray myself as useful, my thing is if I portray myself as cool. ‘Cause that’s my kind of thing from my early adolescence, that I wasn’t cool. So now I wanna be cool. That’s the thing.
0:50:58 JB: Yeah. I definitely have… Certainly have threads of that.
0:51:02 PA: And so it’s like… Then we realize when we have these experiences, whether it’s through psychedelics or deep meditation or through reading something like the Vedanta, we realize that that love is inside us and has been inside us because that true love comes from this relationship to source and this relationship to family. There’s all the… But it’s really like connecting back to that knowledge and that wisdom that goes back thousands and tens of thousands of years. It’s like that’s where it is.
0:51:29 JB: Well, and I think it’s also getting to a meditative practice or a spiritual practice. Even the term psychology is the study of the soul. That’s the Greek etymology of psychology, the study of the soul. So psychology, psychotherapy, whatever term you give it, whether it’s like… I don’t like the word spirituality but, “Oh, psychology. Oh, interesting. I’ll listen to this.” Whatever the word is, it’s all the same stuff. And that’s what you touched on as well with source, divinity, God, universe. It’s imperishable. It’s all the same thing, and we’re just getting caught up in different words. But we’re all attracted to it. We’re all attracted to understanding the soul.
0:52:09 JB: I didn’t wanna stop the conspiracy theory of Jesus being a mushroom, ’cause I gotta hear more about that. I’ve heard that, but I wanna hear you talk about it a little bit more, but the… I think there is something to be said for within psychology, or for me it’s psychotherapy of quieting the ego. Probably the most psychotherapeutic beneficial thing, the most spiritual beneficial thing, the most community beneficial thing, the most self-beneficial thing that I do it’s all the same thing. And it is quieting the ego, and trying to listen where I can be most useful. And the reason I bring that up is because the exact opposite of that is what we’re told 2800 times a day.
0:52:47 JB: The average American is exposed to 2800 advertisements every single day. If you feel like, “Oh, I don’t need any of that stuff,” psychology or spirituality or meditative practice, whatever it is, well, you’re just subjecting yourself to the way the world that we live in today, is 2800 advertisements on average a day. You are being hypnotized either passively, or you can self-hypnotize on the things that you’re selectively choosing to reinforce the messages that you wanna reinforce. Whether the message is, “It’s been here the whole time.” Or the message is, “Oh yeah, I’m not happy, because yeah, I don’t have that car, that ad, that commercial.” Or, “Oh yeah, I do need that watch, that commercial. Or I need that phone, that commercial.” It’s choose your… Choose the messages that you wanna reinforce. And I think where psychedelics are really powerful, it’s not just this… It not like we’re born in this static world where everybody is on this baseline and you choose your path.
0:53:41 JB: We are the expressions of everything around us. And we’re born on level negative 12 in terms of you, by the time you’re 22, you have been hypnotized into this messaging, this commercial messaging that you are not happy because of this, you lack this, this, this, this, this, this, this. Maybe you are born in the baseline of zero, but by the time you reach adolescence or the ability to go pursue something, you have been hypnotized into thinking you lack so much. And that question of what do you want? I mean, shit, you’re asked that question, “What do you want in life,” a thousand times. Deliberately asked a thousand times by the time you’re 22, and much less like implicitly told a hundred thousand times. You really do have to take a participatory role in undoing that or counteracting that. I think, macrodose… I’ve never done microdosing. But I know for me, a macrodose of psychedelics is a pretty powerful way to counteract that. But just like I list out in the book, exogenous compounds, I’d say our fifth on the list. I think that it is… I think it’s integrative work with many different things to get to that other side.
0:55:01 JB: And I think meditative work is extremely powerful. I think introspective, reflective spiritual work, something like Vedanta Treatise or Reading the Gospels. Reflecting on an ideal that you put above yourself that it just… It’s like if you wanna play basketball, you measure yourself to the best basketball player that ever played on any of your teams or the best basketball player from your state or the best basketball player ever. You see what Steph Curry is doing, ’cause you wanna use that ideal. I think it’s the exact same… We should all take the same tact for life. And for me that’s… You know, Jesus and the Gospels are just such a powerful ideal. But it’s integrative work beyond just one of these things, because I also think that’s not enough. You can’t just ruminate on Jesus, or Buddha, or Muhammed, meditatively. I think you need to go out in the world and you need to create, realize where… That’s the…
0:56:03 PA: It’s the work.
0:56:04 JB: That’s the work, and if you measure yourself against Steph Curry theoretically, but you never take a three-point shot, then you have no idea where you actually need to refine, polish, improve and practice. So anyway it’s a little bit of a touching on my psychedelic experience, but also integrating that into the other things that I think a lot about.
0:56:22 PA: And this is why I found myself studying people like Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Who are these figures in the 20th century who have stood up for something, who have been in service to a greater good, and who have significantly changed the world in a dramatically positive way to overcome injustice, and to help create freedom and liberation for many, many people? So having those as role models is critical. And this dovetails with a question that came up for me as we were talking about this. We’re talking about the soul, psychology, the soul. You’re talking about your own path in terms of really healing the soul, and coming back to who you are, and what it is that you really want after the burnout, and after the fintech stuff, and after all the coffee.
0:57:06 PA: And I’ve even experienced this in getting to know you the last, what, six, seven months now. We talked about this process, and talked about just where you’re at and where I’m at. And it’s been a really beautiful thing. And as an angel investor and as someone who is a founder, and as someone who’s really involved in Silicon Valley and tech scene and the startup world, I would just love to hear you talk about… Based on some of your experience with psychedelics and what you understand about it, based on the work that you’ve done with the Vedantas, how do you see this work overlapping with business and entrepreneurship and founder mentality over the next 10 to 15 and 20 years? In other words, as more and more people wake up to the truth of who they are through psychedelic use and through Alan Watts and Vedanta, how will that change the way that startups and businesses and entrepreneurs actually run their companies and their organizations?
0:57:57 JB: As you ask the question, what goes through my mind is the social conventions. Career’s a 20th century convention, or just never… You go back 2000 years, and you’d have apprenticeship and you’d have livelihoods, you would have vocations. But careers… So business, exact same thing. Business is just a social convention. I don’t really think about those things. I think it’s a… Those are the names we give to certain pursuits. And that is the above-the-line [chuckle] in every podcast episode about the podcast or about the book. I’ll just go back to that above-the-line and below-the-line. I think when you go deeper as I’ve gone deeper, and I’m still an inch deep, I’m still like… As I talk about these things I’m just continually reminding myself like, “James, you have no idea what… You’re just learning. You have really have no idea what you’re talking about and you can have the experience and have the fruits of the experience and still have no idea.”
0:58:53 JB: It’s just like psychedelics or it’s just like nootropics where it’s you’ve no idea the mechanism of action. I’ve no idea why lion’s mane mushrooms will make you more alert and improve your mood. No one does. The research on this has no idea why Ayahuasca’s going to have this profound effect. But I can say the fruits, the initial scratching of the surface and the fruits of these pursuits have led to things like not caring about “business.” What I really care about is just at the core, the nuclear core, of what I really care about is being useful.
0:59:33 JB: Those two words, being useful to those around me, and that is concentric circles of my family, my community, and humanity at large. So within those things, to answer your question, most pointedly, I think I went from thinking about, “Alright. How do I choose the right business path or the right business idea to work on?” Which is like you can go on the entire map and you’re like, “Alright. I’m gonna take… Which highway do I take?” It’s like, “Well if you zoom out on the entire globe, it’s you get to choose wherever you want to go, wherever you want to be, and just skip the road trip all together. You can just point.” But in many ways, five, 10 years ago, I was like, “No, no. Which highway do I take towards the thing that I want?”
1:00:27 JB: So zooming out, getting rid of the idea of business, it’s just like, “Oh, I want to be most useful. And where can I be most useful?” And that’s a lot of internal reflection, a lot of work. And what I’ve got, the answer that I’ve gotten to now is to now is literally just being honest at all times. It’s so mind numbingly simple. But the response is like, “Oh, I don’t need to be anything other than who I am. And the more that I pull on this thread, of be honest, be honest, be candid, be frank, the more I realize, “Holy shit. That’s the useful thing.” So the entirety of the podcast is literally just the honest conversation of my own paths in creation and entrepreneurship and asking the honest version of the guest. I don’t always get it.
1:01:21 JB: But the more honest I am even in that very direct sense, the more honest the guest becomes. The more honest that I am, the more people find the podcast interesting, the more they listen. The more honest I am, the more I realize where I’m lacking. And the more honest I am with myself, the more honest I get to be about how much further I need to go. But it’s so… Every time I articulate this and say it out loud, it blows my mind. It’s like whoa, to be most useful, it’s not this 30-year trek through whether it’s professional training or whether it’s a monk in a monastery for 30 years reflecting. It’s like “Oh, I kinda know the answers, at least for right now and all we have is the now.” Just be honest and that’s the most useful thing. And maybe that is a sign of the times in a world that’s just filled with filters and polished versions of bullshit. Being honest, people find it…
1:02:22 PA: Refreshing.
1:02:22 JB: Refreshing and useful.
1:02:25 PA: It’s like The Four Agreements. Are you familiar with The Four Agreements? Agreement number one is to keep your word.
1:02:31 JB: Is that in Buddhism?
1:02:33 PA: This is a book by Don Carrillo, maybe is his name? So it’s a recent book.
1:02:40 JB: Does sound familiar, but I’m not…
1:02:41 PA: So there’s four agreements. To be honest, I don’t remember the other three offhand, but I do know the one is to keep your word because what you’re talking about essentially is integrity.
1:02:51 JB: Right.
1:02:51 PA: And in Buddhism they’ve got the four noble truths, noble speech.
1:02:55 JB: Exactly.
1:02:56 PA: And the more that you’re honest, we’re honest externally the better relationship we have with ourselves because we know that we can trust ourselves and I think that is at the core of it. It’s like sometimes there are difficult things you have to be honest about. Sometimes there are difficult truths that you have to say. Sometimes when you’re saying those truths there’s that anxiety that comes up and that nervousness that comes up about, “What’s this person gonna think of me if I say X, Y and Z.” But…
1:03:22 JB: Right. The average American, I think it’s the average, at least in the study. And I’ll try to look it up and send it to you so can include it in the notes. But I think it was something like, will lie once every six minutes in conversation. The average person will lie once every six minutes. I find it so funny when people think that it’s like, “Oh yeah. Well, everybody is honest. Everyone tells the truth.” I’m like, “No, actually the research does not support that at all. Everyone lies and lies pretty often.” I definitely still lie in conversation in… Out of courtesy, out of just…
1:04:01 PA: Sometimes laziness?
1:04:03 JB: Laziness, path of least resistance or out of selfish gain, to where it’s just like, “Oh, in this situation, it’s just easier and I can just smooth this over.” But yeah, it physically pains me when I… And I think about it for hours, when I tell a mistruth, but… So yeah, it is the baseline is that you’re most likely lying 30 times a day.
1:04:31 PA: And it’s the simplest thing, just to keep your word and to be honest. But it’s also the practice of actually executing that is that’s what the path is, that’s what this path towards self-realization is. And that’s even what psychedelics and meditation and all these other things help us to understand is what is our truth and how can we have that perspective to know what it is, how we can just be honest about our situation, about the way that we treat people, about the way that we do work in the world, about our relationship to ourself. Just having that clarity is so powerful, because it creates this internal sense of stability and security which can’t be created by pursuing external things. It is a deeply internal process.
1:05:22 JB: It definitely is and, I think, and your question of, “How has it shifted my business pursuits or my professional path?” It’s kind of like going from, “All right, what’s the highway between Pittsburgh and Philly that I need to get on?” And zooming out and just saying, “Oh. I actually wanna chill over here, and I wanna just stay in this part of the Joshua Tree,” or something. “I just wanna stay here in the map. I just wanna stay here in the valley of honesty, and I don’t wanna go anywhere else. And if I’m pulled places, great. But that’s where I wanna be, that’s where I wanna reside, and put a microphone in front of my face and that’s what you’ll get.” And that’s… And in doing that, like with the podcast, and in trying to reveal my path as a founder. And then, trying to reveal other people’s paths as founders, creators. There are Grammy award-winning musicians, there are street artists on the podcast. Podcasters, like yourself, on the podcast. Founders like yourself. And I think there is so much insight to be gained, tactical insight to be gained, but the biggest insight has been just being honest. It’s been so revelatory for so many listeners, that are just like, “Holy shit. I read all of these tech blogs, I read all of these creative stories, all of these productivity books.”
1:06:54 JB: And it’s like this is what was most soul-nourishing. Was just hearing someone else’s version that I thought was epically flawless, was actually a lot like mine. Or got to the other side of what I would have thought would have been an epic destination, and it did not solve… It did not fill that hole within them. Maybe I should start looking elsewhere.” Everything is kind of coming from… At least in my life as an angel investor, as a… Which is basically just professional encourager of founders or podcaster. A professional encourager of creation. Or writing this book, Beyond Coffee. It’s professional encouragement of productivity, of usefulness through just one of those three pillars, mind, body, spirit. The book happens to be focused on the body, but it is just sharing what I have experienced and being really honest about it, and then continually being pleasantly surprised by people finding value in that.
1:07:58 PA: Great. Well, James, this has been a phenomenal conversation.
1:08:01 JB: God. Yeah, this is one of the rare ones that gets to touch on all, mind, body, spirit. So thank you, Paul.
1:08:06 PA: And I just wanna give you a little bit of a chance to tell our listeners a little bit more about Beyond Coffee, the book that we’ve been talking about. I know that it’s being released, or it will be out by the time this podcast comes out.
1:08:17 JB: November 12th. So it won’t be out by the time the podcast comes out, but you can go to beyondcoffeebook.com, beyondcoffeebook.com. And you can sign up to learn when it will come out. It’ll be around the middle of November, and it is… You can also get the first two chapters free, as well as just learn what I take every morning by going to that site. And it’s really exciting to get it out there. It’s been a fun, productive, but stressful process of getting a book out there.
1:08:44 PA: How was that process for you? Was it…
1:08:46 JB: It was… I’m thankful that it started, in my mind, very small. As… Alright, everyone keeps asking me and friends have asked me for years about all of this, just the nootropics adaptogens. Nutritional mushrooms, not medicinal mushrooms, nutritional mushrooms kind of space. And they’re really is no… There aren’t many experts on this space. And I just kept finding when I would search for the expert I was like, “Oh, I guess I’m kind of compiling this part of it on my own.” And just after many years of doing it piecemeal, I was like, “Alright. I’m gonna write one blog post, one essay that shares everything that I know.” And then it became five… A five-part essay, and then it was like, “Okay, this thing is like… This is a 100-page book.”
1:09:30 JB: And so, that is… Luckily, that’s where it started, was this small project of a blog post that then became the book. And so, it was very… Just it evolved… Just pulled at the thread, and it just evolved into it. Definitely stressful, and so many things, it’s just like one-way doors of once it’s out there, it’s out there, and getting every citation. There’s over 240 scientific citations throughout the book, and just getting everything right and trying to do it in a really responsible way for anyone that reads it. Just taking that advice for what they take. It’s a lot, kind of on the shoulders. But yeah, all in all I’d say the easiest thing was it started with a small nugget of an idea, and then just pulled at the thread and evolved. Had I started with, “I’m gonna write a book on this topic.” I think it would have been much more stressful.
1:10:19 PA: And that’s a great lesson right there, one step at a time, right?
1:10:21 JB: Exactly. Start small. One step at a time.
1:10:24 JB: Well, James, and Below The Line podcast is your podcast, right?
1:10:27 PA: Yeah, Below The Line podcast. And it’s on every podcast app, you can also follow us on Twitter @gobelowtheline, or you can follow me on Twitter, James Beshara. Yeah, you can get all of the information for the podcast and the book on Twitter.
1:10:39 JB: Perfect. Well again, thank you so much for everything that you’ve done. For everything that you’re doing for this new book that you’ve created, and for your work with angel investing with some fantastic companies. It’s been an honor to know you these past few months, and I just can’t wait to continue this.
1:10:53 JB: Likewise, Paul. I can’t commend your courage enough in going in this. You’re a pioneer in a space that I think is, especially for my background… And I talk about mental health throughout the podcast. It’s kind of a through-line about mental health for founders. I’ve had multiple family members hospitalized with mental health issues, and my sister took her own life when I was 15 because of major depression. And it is… We haven’t had, really, any progress to speak of in the mental health realms, especially pharmacology solutions to mental health in the last 20 years. Psychedelics seem to be one of the most encouraging avenues for treatment for mental health issues, and it was through really hard-core courageous pioneering work that you… I put you right up there with everyone else that is pushing the envelope on this exciting new realm for us to take it really seriously, in a world where, just five years ago, it was laughably dismissed. And now, five years… Which is a snap of the fingers… Five years later, it’s now being seen as perhaps the most encouraging area for treatment for mental health. So, thank you so much for the courageous work you’re doing.
1:12:11 PA: Thank you.