How I Design My Life


Hey friends,

This is going to be a long email.

As promised, I’m sharing my results of doing the Odyssey Plan exercise that I talked about last week.

In case you missed it, it’s a life-design exercise from Stanford Business School. You’re supposed to think and write about the following prompts.

  1. Write out, in detail, what your life would look like 5 years from now if you continued down your current path.
  2. Write out, in detail, what your life would look like 5 years from now if you took a completely different path.
  3. Write out, in detail, what your life would look like 5 years from now if money, social obligations, and what people would think, were irrelevant.

⚠️ Warning – the following is pretty self-indulgent. If that’s going to make you vomit, please don’t read, or take some sort of pill beforehand. I’ll share a few reflections afterwards.

🛣 Current Path – 5 years from now

  • I’m 33 years old. Married, with 2 kids.
  • I’ve been doing YouTube for 10 years at this point. The podcast’s been going on for 6 years now, and we’re several hundred episodes in. The main channel has around 10 million subscribers, and I make videos about whatever I want, whenever I want. I don’t feel the pressure of an upload schedule, because my career has moved quite far away from being a “YouTuber”. The first book was a commercial success, we hit the NYT list after some cool marketing stuff, and it continues to sell. People really like it.
  • I’m currently working on the second book, about happiness or purpose or something like that. Still trying to figure it out. While the first book was a “here’s a guide to being super productive and doing lots of stuff while having fun and without burning out”, the second book is “how to figure out what to do with your life, once you’ve got the basics covered”. Through research for that, I’m exploring philosophy, Buddhism, and a bunch of other interesting things to try and answer the question.
  • The business is doing really well, as a lifestyle business. We’ve got a bunch of courses and digital products that continue to sell daily, without any input from me. The team runs the marketing, the ads etc. Anytime I do a video or a podcast, we plug some of the stuff, and it sells on autopilot. People love our courses and products, and the passive income they generate means that the business is very profitable and sustainable, and I can live the lifestyle of “do what I want” without having to worry about money, within reason.
  • X and I are married, with 2 kids. We started a couples vlog channel when we got engaged, which has been a fun little passion project. We deliberately don’t upload consistently, and actively avoid caring about the numbers. Despite this (or maybe because of it), the channel’s grown to 1M+ subscribers and we get inundated with stuff like free hotel and resort stays, free parent/child products and other stuff like that. We’ve got a small team that manages that stuff. The way we make videos is that if we feel like vlogging on a particular day, both of us will film some footage on our phone / GoPro / whatever camera we have with us, maybe we’ll include a voiceover, and then we’ll send all that to our editor who deals with it. We’ve included our kids in some of the vlogs, but something about that feels a little off, so we avoid doing it too much, still gotta figure out how we feel about this.
  • My work day is approx 4 hours long. Each day is either a writing day or a filming day. On writing days, I write for 4 hours and aim to write 2,000 words for whatever project. On filming days, I film whatever video I want, or record a podcast interview with someone cool, either in person or remotely. I spend the rest of my time hanging with the fam, reading stuff, occasionally playing video games and dabbling with streaming just for the bants.
  • The team in the business has stayed small, at approx 15 people. Angus is the general manager, and we’ve had some turnover, but we’ve got a lot of people who’ve been with the business for 5+ years. They like the lifestyle, the profit-sharing, and the fact that things are pretty chill and non-metricified. We managed to get a sponsorship deal with a coworking space, so we’ve got a sick central London office that we don’t need to pay any money for.
  • After the success of the first book, I get invited to do keynotes and talks at conferences all around the world. We’ve got a speaking agent who handles all that stuff. These are outrageously lucrative, and they’re a good excuse to visit different countries, sometimes with the fam, sometimes without. I mostly speak about sustainable productivity, intentional life design, finding purpose, and sometimes creator economy and entrepreneurship type stuff. These are really fun events, and I love hanging out with people afterwards, and I’d totally do this for free. On that note, “would I do this for free?” is a filter that I put all my work decisions through – I decided 5 years ago that I’d already achieved my wildest financial dreams, and chasing more money was never leading to more happiness, and so now life’s about doing what I intrinsically want to do, rather than doing what pays.

🚐 Alternative

  • I’m 33 years old, married with 1 kid. We’re currently living in a van, travelling through the US. After getting married (Jul 2023), X and I decided to spend a year travelling the world, and because we loved it so much, we decided to continue for as long as it continued to be enjoyable and enriching.
  • We started a couples vlog channel when we got engaged (Jan 2023), and we’ve been documenting our journey and travels ever since, with occasional sit-down nerdy videos reviewing books, podcasts, products, mental models etc. I’ve stopped uploading consistently on the main channel – I’ll occasionally make a book or tech or Q&A video on there, but the couples channel is the passion project that’s remained a passion project because we’ve been careful not to over-monetise it.
  • The sales of the first book, keynote fees, and funnels into courses, easily fund our lifestyle, and we’ve got plenty in investments, so I’m not concerned about making videos for any reason other than because I want to.
  • We spent a year slow-travelling through SE Asia, Australia and NZ. Then another year going through Europe. We stayed in London for a year when we had the kid, but then afterwards decided that we wanted to try out the van life thing and travel across the US.
  • The van is pretty sick – we’ve both really gotten into the DIY side of things, and we enjoy upgrading the van, learning about design, engineering, electricals etc. I’ve got a sick desk setup within the van, with a gaming rig that I can play PC games on when I feel like it.
  • The podcast is continuing, but we host it from the van these days. We do it as a couple mostly, rather than just me being the interviewer. It’s been pretty fun travelling through the US and interviewing people we meet along the way. For example, when we went through Utah, we interviewed Brandon Sanderson and hung out with his team. When we passed through Denver, we hung out with Thomas Frank. We’re passing through Austin soon, where there’ll be loads of creator, entrepreneur and author friends that we’ll bring into the van for a chat about life.

🎸 Future – No Money, No Social Status

  • I’m 33 years old, married with 2 kids. I’ve decided that I like a chill life, so I’ve unofficially ‘retired’, in that I don’t do any paid work anymore. The family and I live off the income from our rental properties, and the YouTube channel and associated courses (Skillshare etc) still make enough money that as long as we live frugally, we don’t need to worry about paying the bills. This won’t last forever, but while the kids are young, I want to not worry about paid employment, and I’m sure I can find a job or do something to make money if I need to further down the line.
  • Anyway, life is good. I’ve decided to explore my interests in music and philosophy and dive deep into those. I spend a few hours a day reading and writing philosophy-type stuff, and another few hours working on music stuff. I’ve gotten pretty sick at guitar and music theory, through dabbling with singing and songwriting. I have singing lessons 3 times a week and I upload covers + originals to Spotify and to YouTube + socials just for fun. It’s not making much money, but it’s cool that it’s getting a few dozen views and streams each day.
  • On the philosophy front, I’ve started an email newsletter, which is completely non-monetised. Each week, I write about interesting stuff I’ve learned from my reading and studying that week. I share this stuff on Twitter as well. People from around the world engage with it.
  • In the house, I’ve got a study that’s a cross between a library and a music studio. I’ve got my bookshelf which has a bunch of philosophy and religion books, a corner desk that’s half for studying stuff (iMac) and the other half is the music production corner – keyboard, audio interface etc. There’s a full-size keyboard in the corner of the room, a few guitars, cajon and microphones. Friends often come over for jam sessions, which we record and post on YouTube just for fun and for memories.
  • X has completed GP training and is working as a salaried GP 3-4 days a week depending on the week. I tend to stay at home and look after the kids. We have a cleaner who comes over occasionally, but in my newfound zen approach to life, I actually quite enjoy cooking, cleaning, laundry, ironing etc. It’s become a mindful activity rather than an annoyance that must be outsourced away.
  • One of the kids is starting at the local primary school in a few months.

🤔 Reflections on this

  1. Okay, so I definitely could’ve fleshed these out more, but after writing for an hour, I got the main gist of my 3 life paths. I was also thinking about other career options, like “become a chef at a restaurant”, “open my own kebab and burger van”, “go back to medicine”, and “become a monk” etc. But decided to go down these 3 routes instead.
  2. I wonder if my imagination is pretty limited. Obviously, the first path is a continuation of my current life (in an optimistic sense). But the second, which was supposed to be completely different, ended up going down the “creating content on the internet” route as well. And the third also tended towards “I’ve got a substack where I write about philosophy, and I post music videos on YouTube”. Either this is a severe lack of imagination, or I just love the idea of sharing stuff online, even if I’m not being paid for it. I like the narrative of the latter, personally. Sharing stuff online is just great 🙂
  3. All 3 life paths seemed to have the common thread of “stop worrying about numbers, views, revenue” etc. This is something I need to keep reminding myself of, to combat my natural capitalist tendency to focus on more, more, more. My brother and I recently discussed the idea of “When is enough, enough?” in our latest episode of Not Overthinking.
  4. All 3 life paths also involve me being married with 2 kids. Wonder how that’ll play out.
  5. All 3 life paths (although I didn’t flesh this out in no2) involve me spending my ‘work’ time reading, writing, and making videos about stuff I enjoy. Again, either a total failure of imagination or as I’ve been doing this ‘content’ thing for 5 years, I’ve realised that I love the craft and want to continue doing it for the foreseeable future.

Anyway, that’s it for this one. I had a few replies to last week’s email from various people saying they’re going to try this out. If you’ve tried out the exercise for yourself, I’d love if you could hit <reply> to this and share it + some reflections on what you learned about yourself from doing the exercise. Might be fun to share those.

Have a great week!

Ali xx

⏳ 80,000 Hours – Find a High-Impact Career

Did you know you’ll have, on average, 80,000 hours in your career? That’s almost half your waking life. So choosing a career is a massive deal, and probably your biggest chance to make a positive difference in the world.

If you want to have a big, positive impact but aren’t sure where to begin, then my friends at 80,000 Hours can help. They’re a nonprofit dedicated to helping you find a fulfilling and impactful career. They’ve spent the last 10 years doing research alongside academics at Oxford University to figure out exactly which careers have the biggest and best impact on the world.

Everything they provide is totally free, and incredibly well researched, like this amazing article about imposter syndrome can hold you back, or this one collecting evidence-based advice on how to be successful.

They also have their own podcast with super in-depth expert interviews (eg with Will MacAskillCal Newport, and Vitalik Buterin), a job board, and a newsletter. And if you like, they’ll send you their in-depth career guide for free.

It’s definitely worth a read, take a look here.

♥️ My Favourite Things

🧠 Shortform Summary – Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. The seminal book on the ‘flow’ state, why it’s good, and how to enter it.

🎙️Podcast – Dive Dive episode with Tiago Forte. We discussed productivity systems, Tiago’s news book Building a Second Brain, and why starting a business is often the best way of having a positive impact on the world.

📝 Article – Writing One Sentence Per Line by Derek Sivers. Fantastic writing advice: if you want to improve your writing, try writing one sentence per line. “New sentence? Hit [Enter]. New line.” You’ll judge each sentence on its own merits, vary your sentence length, and cut a lot of waffle.

📝 Article – Not Caring Lets Us Perform Better by Michael Ashcroft. Why ‘caring too much’ about achieving something (asking someone out on a date, catching a ball, writing an article, etc) can actually make you worse at doing the thing.

📱 App – Readwise. I recently got alpha access to Readwise’s new read-it-later app (a bit like Instapaper), and it’s perfect. I can read articles in the app, and the highlights go straight to my Roam database. I might switch from Roam to Obsidian soon – shoutout to Danny Hatcher for giving me a tutorial.

🎬 My New Videos

☠️ This Book Changed How I Save Money. My video summary of Die With Zero by Bill Perkins. Bill argues that we should aim to spend all of our money before we die.

✍️ Quote of the Week

Fleeting notes are only useful if you review them within a day or so and turn them into proper notes you can use later. Permanent notes, on the other hand, are written in a way that can still be understood even when you have forgotten the context they are taken from..

From How to Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens. Resurfaced using Readwise.

🏗️ What You’re Working On

Two weeks ago I asked what projects you were working on. Thanks to everyone for writing in, here are some of the results:

Tayyibah: Complete my tax assignment worth 25% of the grade.

Kulsum: Complete writing a blog for my website, Complete 2 lessons from the digital marketing course.

Sigmundur: I want to finalize chapter 2, 3, and 4 of my article that I’m due to send in.

Karan: Draft proposal for my PhD application.

Arda: I’m trying to gauge interest of prominent productivity experts to see if they’d be interested in investing in Scrintal [sounds cool Arda, but I’m converting to Obsidian atm].

Sumukh: Building the best Indian F1 community/page

Kaushik: Shifting to a new flat and sending it all up to be a productivity hotspot.

Anon: Selenium contamination in ground water.

Ahmed: Finishing the website of my marketing agency

Florian: I wanna start planing out my TikTok Channel and be consistent with it.

Johanna: Start and finish planning lecture #1 of my Korean for Beginners course.

Aishwarya: Finalise and submit abstracts for conference

Aakansha: Setting up a portfolio website for my freelance work. Should be fun!

Xuan: My aim is to revise for my Physics Paper 1 exam!

Cosob: Publish two videos and do some reading.

Laura: Working on my first ebook: A Beginners Fiction Writing Guide.

Belmin: A list of vocabulary based of my different courses at University.

Maaz: Make good progress in my freelance content writing journey.

Jing: Finish a school research paper on ADHD to finish by Monday, after procrastinating due to COVID!

Sumit: To finish the syllabus for my upcoming medical exams on 17th july

Mukundakrishnan: Writing a proposal and specifications design for my MSC dissertation.

Magdeline: I am making my first digital garden aka dev blog using Hugo, a static site generator! It’s where I will document all my learnings as a junior software engineer!

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