Neil Strauss is a ten-time New York Times best-selling author; a contributing editor at Rolling Stone; and a former music critic, cultural reporter, and columnist at The New York Times where he won the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for excellence in music journalism. Last year, he was honored with the Los Angeles Press Club’s Journalist Award for his Rolling Stone 50th anniversary cover story, “Elon Musk: The Architect of Tomorrow.”
His 12-episode podcast, To Live & Die in L.A., was number one on the iTunes charts for two weeks and spent four months in the top ten, where it was named one of the ten best podcasts of the year so far by Apple. It has racked up over 35 million downloads in just its first season. If not impressive enough, his deep thought provoking answers will inspire you to do more and get out of your comfort zone. As he instills wisdom and passion in all his endeavors.
What are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?
“Under Saturn’s Shadow” by James Hollis”
Written by a Jungian psychologist, about the wounding and healing of men, it’s especially relevant today, with the high rates of suicide and depression amongst men. And the fact that trains men not to talk about their problems and not to acknowledge vulnerability, and as Hollis says, “What we do not know, controls us.”
“On the Shortness of Life” by Seneca”
Though written some 2000 years ago, it’s just as relevant today. In fact, it seems like he could be talking about modern times. And the thesis of this short book (get the Penguin edition) is that people say life is short. But the truth is that it’s long…if you know how to use your time. Too often, we let other people, or our own impulses, desires, and fears, waste out time.
“Silently Seduced” by Kenneth A. Adams
This is a book I send to people who’ve read my book The Truth and realize for the first time that they were “enmeshed’ by a parent. Enmeshment is the opposite of abandonment. It’s when a parent is getting their emotional needs met through you instead of the opposite, and leads to avoidant behavior in relationships. This book is the classic on the subject.
Bonus Books:James Joyce “Ulysses”; John Fante, “Ask the Dust,” Celine, “Journey to the End of the Night,” Yuval Noah Harari “Sapiens,” Jerzy Kosinski “The Painted Bird,” Marcus Aurelius, “Meditations”; La Rochefoucauld, “Maxims”; Herman Hesse, “Siddhartha,” and “Strengthsfinders 2.0” (just for the coupon to take the online test).
What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)?
A Kitchen Safe, to lock my phone in when I write.
Freedom, a computer program to shut off the Internet when I write.
A Tile for my keys, so I don’t lose them.
How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
My entire career is thanks to failure. So many that I was too naive at the time to even see as failures. The growth was in trying. The cost of failure is obviously just learning. But only for those who:
1. Are not afraid to try in the first place.
2. Are able to see themselves, their work, and their results objectively enough to learn from them.
3. Believe learning and improvement are possible for them.. in all situations.
If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it — metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say ?
Learn more, know less.
What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?
My four year old son, Tenn. The key to a better world is through better parenting. I see so many people taking courses and books on self-improvement, but so few really commit themselves to learning healthy, functional parenting to raise a child with healthy EQ, boundaries, and self-esteem. Instead, they either raise a child in the way they were raised, or in the exact opposite way (which can be just as harmful).
What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?
Almost never wearing shoes. I carry them in the car and only put them on at the last minute when I absolutely have to.
In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
Since the Malibu fires (which stopped literally across the street from my home), I now I live in a place of acceptance of impermanence of all things that humans build and create. And the power of nature to create, destroy, and return, again and again.
What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?
To learn from experience, not interviews like these. Experiential learning wires in the knowledge on a deep neurological level. That, and these words from Toni Morrison:
“When you get these jobs that you’ve been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab bag candy game.”
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
A bad recommendation is any time someone says something is impossible that’s possible, and any time you make a choice out of fear instead of curiosity and excitement. People often tell kids, “Curiosity killed the cat,” but they never tell them the rest of the saying: “But satisfaction brought it back.”
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?
Always the same answer: Deeply connect–whether with your self, with nature, or with others. Some of the specific ways I do so include stepping outside and breathing, meditating (even if just for a minute), or surfing. What I don’t do is anything that disconnects, such as checking my phone or the Internet.