Living For An Impact Greater Than Numbers: An Interview With Leo Babauta

Hey readers, I have a special treat for you today: I’m interviewing Leo Babauta of the wildly popular Zen Habits!

Leo’s blog gives practical advice to its readers on how to bring more simplicity, peace, and joy into their everyday lives. Zen Habits has been named one of The Top 50 Websites in the world by Time Magazine and these days you can’t go a week without coming across Leo’s name somewhere in the blogosphere.

Leo has really reached “legendary” status among bloggers and writers for also making a living off of his blog and helping others do the same through other great sites he’s founded like Write To Done and A-List Blogging Bootcamps.

Leo’s blog has impacted many lives around the world, including mine, and that’s why I thought he’d be the perfect person to talk to about how writers can make a real, positive impact on their readers.

So, without further ado, here you go:

The Interview

Ollin: First of all, thank you so much for doing this interview. I’m ecstatic to have possibly the most popular self-help blogger on the Internet today on the C2C.

Leo: Thanks for doing the interview.

Ollin: So let’s get right to it: Because of your huge popularity in the blogging world, everyone always asks you how to get more subscribers for their blogs, or how to make money from blogging. But what I want to know is this:  How have you’ve managed to change people’s lives on a daily basis? What’s the formula that writers can follow if they want to have a deeper impact on their readers? (An impact that you can’t easily measure with numbers?)

Leo: There’s no way to ensure you’re going to change anyone’s life. There’s no telling what will happen if you put your best writing out there: it can have an amazing impact on thousands of people, it might change one or two people, or it might dissolve like a whisper on the wind.

What I find more important is help yourself. Find ways to address the things you face in life, the problems you need solving. Then share how you’ve done that with the world, and see what happens. Often others will find use in your solutions.

Ollin: Many writers today are trying to achieve various “end goals,” like trying to secure the publishing contract, or trying to earn millions of dollars, or trying to get the most subscribers for their author blog. Do you think that this is the right approach, or do you think writers should set out to achieve something more meaningful at first, and then wait for the rewards to manifest later?

Leo: You cannot control those outcomes. You can do your best to get a publishing contract, or make a million dollars, or get 100K subscribers, but in the end they are all in the hands of others. You are tying your happiness, then, on something you don’t control and cannot know you will achieve.

Instead, focus on the things you can do: you can write amazing things, you can find your voice, you can share the things that have changed your life, you can enjoy the process of writing. If you focus on these things, you will find satisfaction. The results are then irrelevant.

Ollin: Do you think our culture’s obsession with “end goals” (acquiring wealth, status, titles, and popularity) is part of what is hurting us?

Leo: Our obsession with attaining prevents us from finding contentment. We strive to attain wealth and status and possessions, but there is no end to that desire to attain. It never ends. We’re never content. And so we strive for more, and never find enough. This has led to huge waste, huge inequalities, bad health, and a culture where we look out for ourselves and not for each other.

Ollin: I’m curious:  what do you think is the difference between an act of good motivated by achieving and acquiring “things” versus an act of good motivated by the simple desire to do good in this world?

Leo: Both have good effects on the world. The difference is in the doer–if his mindset is in acquiring things, then that will carry on beyond the act of good. That will carry on to other parts of his life, and lead to unhappiness. That ends up hurting the world when people are never content.

Ollin: Do you think wealth, status, and fame guarantee happiness? And if not, then why do you think so many of us try desperately to achieve these things?

Leo: No, they don’t lead to happiness, because the same mindset that led to acquiring those things doesn’t go away once you have them. You are never satisfied. The billionaire doesn’t stop trying to make money, the politician doesn’t stop trying to run for office, the celebrity doesn’t stop trying to get more acclaim.

Why we try to achieve these things is tied into our very real human social needs to look good in the eyes of our peers. This is real, and we cannot ignore this need–we need to do good in the eyes of the social group. But this need has been twisted in our culture into weird ways to achieve this status–we achieve this “status” through earning lots of money or acquiring possessions or big houses or cars or achieving powerful positions … instead of doing good things for society. This is backwards.

Ollin: Do you agree with me that more attention should be paid to the good writers do that cannot be measured in page views, tweets, and dollar signs? And if you do agree with me, how do you propose we change a writer’s initial motivations when they set out to become successful in this world?

Leo: I agree completely.

You cannot change another writer’s motivations, but you can create a counterculture by joining together with other writers who feel the same way. Lead by example, praise those who are also motivated by their impact and not their numbers, and encourage others to do the same.

Ollin: I always like to end with this question:  what do you do to keep your head up when the going gets tough? Any last words of encouragement or inspiration you can give my readers as they pursue their dreams—writing dreams or otherwise?

Leo: I try to stay in the moment. In the moment, there is nothing but you and what is happening right now, and every moment can contain happiness. For those pursuing their dreams: focus on enjoying what you’re doing, every moment, and you’ve already accomplished something great.

Ollin: Thank you so much Leo.

Leo Babauta is a simplicity blogger & author. He created Zen Habits, a Top 25 blog (according to TIME magazine) with 200,000 subscribers, mnmlist.com, and the best-selling books focus, The Power of Less, and Zen To Done.

Do you agree with me and Leo that writers should write for an impact greater than numbers? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

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33 comments on “Living For An Impact Greater Than Numbers: An Interview With Leo Babauta

  1. inkspeare says:

    Ollin thank you for this super treat!

  2. Ollin says:

    Thanks for the great interview Leo! Your responses made me think a lot, especially your last one. Who knew that overcoming life’s biggest difficulties was as simple as being present. You’re awesome, as always.

  3. Christina says:

    Thanks for such inspiring and stress-relieving words, Leo!

    “you can write amazing things, you can find your voice, you can share the things that have changed your life, you can enjoy the process of writing. If you focus on these things, you will find satisfaction. The results are then irrelevant.”

    I needed to hear that, especially this week, as I’ve been suffering from writer’s terror (not writer’s block) lately, trying to keep in mind everything my writing should be and ending up paralyzed by the expectations of what it should look like before I even write one word.

    I love your interviews, Ollin:) Keep up this feature of the blog along with all your great articles:))

    • Ollin says:

      Thanks Christina! I will. Since they’re popular I’ve decided to try two interviews this month. We’ll see how it ends up working out.

  4. …you can create a counterculture by joining together with other writers who feel the same way…
    Like it🙂

  5. Leo says:

    Thank you, Ollin, for the interview. It was one of my favorites yet.

  6. Jade says:

    Excellent interview from beginning to end!
    Straight to the point, yet the message goes beyond the surface advice: “just be happy.”

    Thank you for this.

  7. Wow. I know I shouldn’t have expected any less from Leo, but that interview was one of the best (of his, or anybody else’s) I’ve read in a long while.

    Leo’s line “Our obsession with attaining prevents us from finding contentment” especially resonated with me. It made me think back over the riots here in London last month, and moreover the culture of ‘want’ that has been created across the western world.

    Nice work Leo, and thank you for the interview Ollin!

    – Benjamin

  8. Connor says:

    Leo has been a thorn in my side and a comforting voice in my head. The things he writes about, the ideas he has – they’re subversive to my current way of life. They’re very hard for me to apply, especially the concept of having no goals. It’s truly psychologically disturbing to just … let go of that stuff.

    But when I’m done reading his posts, for the first few moments when I’m not thinking about how the hell I’m going to apply these things, I feel so good. It’s like letting down the dumbbells for just a moment and letting my anxiety burst from my pores. I’m left with peace and breathing, and it’s really nice.

    I feel like I’ve calmed down more since finding Leo, but I know I have a long way to go. Baby steps, painful as they are, are what I think I need to do for the time being. But interviews like these, seeing other people interact with him and asking questions that I feel I would ask him, too, shows me I’m not alone in this.

    Thank you both for doing it. =)

    • Ollin says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Connor!

    • Adam says:

      You put my experience to words perfectly Connor. Very nicely stated. I envision a day when I look at Leo with great gratitude when I realize and apply that what is most important is happening right now. Goals are ridiculous and frustrating. We are truly happy when we do what we love and love whatever were doing. Good luck on your journey.

  9. Thank you Ollin and Leo from the bottom of my heart!
    I cannot believe that I am reading these words tonight as I prepare to launch my new-and-improved blog tomorrow!
    As I have been building my site I have been asking, and answering questions as to what I am doing, and why I am doing it… Ollin brings Leo Babauta to echo my own thoughts!
    It is pretty amazing to read someone as successful as Leo talk about what we can control and what we can’t control. This is what I have been thinking all along as I have been working. I write with the hope of making a difference and I have always assumed that this for me is the only important goal. The trying of it is a reward unto itself.
    It is so refreshing to hear Leo’s take on our culture and the obsession with obtaining. I have thought like this for a long time, and yet many around me struggle to understand why I would put so much into something, (writing) for which I do not get paid…
    You have both put a BIG smile on my face this evening for which I am very, very grateful!

  10. Ollin, Great to read your interview with Leo here. His was I think the very first blog I ever read, and he continues to be an amazing inspiration!
    I do agree with you and Leo that writers should write for impact rather than for numbers. At the end of the day, that’s about how much your writing helps people and provides value to your readers’ lives, as you’ve covered in those first two questions. The fact that Leo was so focused on doing that right from the beginnings of Zen Habits is no doubt one of the biggest reasons for his success as a blogger. Being a great writer and a whole lot of authenticity and integrity would have a lot to do with it as well!
    My own blogging efforts need some serious stepping-up, so I’m looking forward to digging through your archives of great content here. Thinking the first post I need to re-read is “Write First”!!!

    • Ollin says:

      Thanks Brigid! If you click on my “Just Get Me Started” page at the top of my website I think you’ll find just the kind of posts you are looking for. Good luck!

  11. Excellent interview. I think it all comes down to one question – why do you write? If you write for a positive reason and you really enjoy it, then all the rest (hits, followers etc) just doesn’t matter, you just do what you do and whatever happens happens. We can get too hung up on external acheivement when the real achievement is peace of mind.

  12. MB says:

    I soo loved that interview and draw a lot of inspiration from it. I use to be driven by the desire for power and wealth and then got really sick, sough counselling and this really changed my perspective. Leo’s makes great points in this article. I especially like where he suggests focus on adding value in ways you enjoy and do not focus so much on outcome.
    I’ve read everything Leo’s written as far as his zenhabits site and books (I also took his “How to change a habit course”). He is very talented.

  13. Linda C. says:

    Wow, two of my favorite bloggers/writers coming together in one post — I literally squealed when I read in your newsletter that you were interviewing Leo, Ollin! And Leo, you are very truly an inspiration. What I love about your site, more than anything, is that at the core of everything you write I still get the very deep sense that you are a human being, just like the rest of us, doing his best in this world. It’s a very different sort of fame I would say then maybe a movie celebrity might garner. Your fame is one that’s grown from the truth of who you are within, and that’s truly invaluable. What’s wonderful is that I feel the same about Ollin. There’s just something very awesome about having you both come together in this interview to bring us such inspiring food for thought.

    I subscribe to three blogs (I like to keep it simple ;): Yours, Ollin’s and Gail Brenner’s (which you brought into my life via a guest post). These three are sometimes all I need to feed my soul when it’s in need of nourishment.

    Thank you both!

  14. Sascha says:

    Thanks for this great interview, Ollin. Leo is a real a master of his craft!

  15. udet says:

    wow..thank ollin for sharing, regards from Jakarta🙂

  16. Great interview Ollin. I love hearing more from Leo. (Oh BTW a BIG wave to you after a while..)

  17. […] – Leo Babauta, author of Zen Habits in an interview […]

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