#5: Steph Smith โ€“ Building an intentional career

March 10, 2021

On the show with me today is Steph Smith. She leads the content team over at Trends, and also writes on her own personal blog on topics like remote work, productivity, writing and learning. On top of all that, she also has a few side projects on the go, including a book that she self published late last year in 2020 on how to go about creating and distributing content online.


  • Being intentional with career choices
  • Being a polymath vs. specializing in your career
  • The benefits of building in the open and publicly sharing your goals
  • How to approach learning and doing things for the first time
  • What playing chess can teach you about other life areas
  • How to design your week for maximum productivity
  • Finding topics and inspirations to write about


๐Ÿ“š Doing Content Right

๐Ÿ“š Man's Search for Meaning

๐Ÿ“š When Breath Becomes Air

๐Ÿ“š Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success

Follow Steph




You need to embrace uncertainty. You don't know where you're going to be in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, or even three years. I kind of live by this principle. You can have long term goals that are kind of lofty of like, I want to be successful, or whatever that means to you. But you have no idea how you're going to get there in terms of tangible planning. I don't really plan out much further than six months or so ahead. Because the way I like to view it is your brain is an AI. And it functions off of information that it gets consistently. It's a very advanced AI, but it functions off of information and it grows. And so why would you make decisions about something so far into the future, knowing that your brain will encounter information that will help you make decisions in the future more effectively?

You know, life is just like a bunch of hills or mountains. And some of them are small, some of them are big. But you can't really connect the top of two mountains. But in order to get to the highest mountain, whatever the highest mountain means to you, you need to explore a bunch of different mountains. And what I find that a lot of people do is, they choose a mountain first, and they go up it, and then they just continue going up this mountain, because there's like a sunk cost of going back down that mountain. They don't want to become a beginner. Again, they put all this effort into exploring one thing. But, remember, you chose to go up that mountain based on the information that your brain, your AI, had at that time.

There are so many paths in life. And there's not one right or wrong, but you should explore enough so that you can find ones that are better for you. Explore a bunch of things, then find one that's pretty good, not perfect, but pretty good for you.

So there's two analogies that I like to give for building in the open. The first one is you're working in your garage anyway. So you're working on a project, you just open your garage door, that's what you're doing. You're allowing people to see the whole process and be a part of it. And then the second is this idea of people are more likely toโ€”if your car breaks downโ€”help you push your car if you're already pushing it. People are more likely to come help you if you're sharing what you're doing. And I've seen that personally where the whole reason I started building the open in the first place was because my very first project that I launched on Product Hunt was this thing called Nomad Hub. And I launched it and it really wasn't that great of a project. But I tweeted about it. And it got a bunch of attention because Product Hunt retweeted it. And none of the comments I noticed were about Nomad Hub, none of them. Because the text of the tweet was like, "just spent the last six months learning to code and launch this project", all of them were about "Oh, I want to learn to code or like, how did you do this? Or can you help me learn to code as well? What courses Did you take?" They were all interested in the journey to launching this product, not necessarily the product itself. And so ever since then, I've just really recognized and benefited from this realization that if you share in the open, people are more likely to want to be part of that story. Because they can be part of it before it's over. And so I've just continued to do it.

A lot of people are afraid to build in the open for two reasons. One is because they think that no one's gonna pay attention. And I think that's fine. Sometimes they don't pay attention. The second reason that people sometimes go wrong with building the open is that they think that by sharing things, especially if you're sharing your journey, that people may steal your ideas, or there will be copycats, or you're basically hindering your chance of success. And I think that that certainly has some merit. But I think you can get past that mentality by just recognizing that the world can be a positive sum game. Ideas are worth almost nothing, and execution is worth everything, or almost everything.

The amazing thing about chess is that you not only are judged by purely your your game, but you can very, very easily see the the investment that you put in and how that relates to your game. So a lot of people don't realize unless they've played competitive chess. You have a coach, you read books about chess, after a game, you study your games with your coach. After you play tons of games throughout many years, like hundreds or thousands of games, that slowly you can see your effort and investment resulting in something that is tangible, because not just your wins and losses, or what you track in chess, you have a rating, you can see your rating go up and down with every game that you play. And so it's a very, very close loop, which is great, where you can see the work that you put in over a long period of time, and that how that results in your betterment or your success in the game.

No matter where you start, if you invest a lot of time, a lot of effort into mastering something, you can do that. And I really think that mentality has carried through where, for example, with coding, it was something that a lot of people maybe would shy away from or say I'm not technical, but as soon as I decided I was going to learn to code, I just did it. I was like, I know I can do this if I just put enough time and effort into that. So I think that's something that stuck around with me.

One thing that's true across people I've encountered is that we tend to think we want certain things. And in reality, there are very simple things that every human wants. So for example, when you start nomadic, that you want a life of adventure, in that you want to like go see everything that there is in the world and constantly meet new people. But I think as humans, there are certain things that really drive us and make us happy. Things like routine. And when I say routine, it's not necessarily like a strict routine where you're like I do this at 9am. But things that are familiar, right, we actually all like things that are familiar to us.

Join 1,000+ other curious minds who get my newsletter every week

A concise digest of ideas to help get 1% better every day.