Hi this is Morty Lefkoe with another edition of the weekly podcast “Conversations with Top Personal Development Bloggers”. Every week we have conversation with a blogger with a slightly different take on personal development. There’s so much valuable material being offered by personal development bloggers. This is the best place to find out which ones might provide you with just what you’re looking for.
What’s unique about each blogger? Why did they start writing their blog? How did personal experiences inform their writing? Why you ought to be reading their blog, and more.
Today I have the pleasure to speak to Scott Young who writes a blog called Scott Young, interestingly enough.
Morty: Scott, thank you very much for being here. Where are you right now?
Scott: Right now I’m in Kunming, China.
Morty: That’s exciting. What are you doing there?
Scott: Right now I’m learning Chinese. So it’s a good place for that.
Morty: I read something in your blog about how you’re going to learn four different languages by visiting four countries in one year. Can you tell us a little more about that?
Scott: A friend and I decided to travel for a year and we got the idea of making it a more interesting challenge in learning languages. Previously we were in Spain, and then we were in Brazil. We learned Spanish, we learned Portuguese. And now we’re in China, learning Chinese. Hopefully if all goes well, we’ll also be in Korea, learning Korean as the last leg of the trip.
My friend does quite a bit of video so we’ve been putting together a lot of short documentary films. Charting the progress of learning the language but we’re also combining it with visual and cultural experience and showing what it’s like to live in that country. A little bit of experience showing what it’s like for us for each three-month leg of the trip.
Morty: Exciting, oh boy. Let’s get into specifics with your blog and I’m sure as we do that we’ll get much more into your trip and your travels.
Your theme seems to be getting more from life. What was the impetus to starting your blog?
Scott: It’s funny you mention that. I started reading a lot of blogs that were online about personal development. And there’s no barriers to entry with starting a blog. Anybody can start a blog. Doesn’t mean it’s going to be a successful or popular blog, there’s millions of blogs right now that not that many people visit.
But there is in a sense it’s not like beginning a book or becoming a speaker, you need to have someone approve of you before you can start doing it. And I was really interested in coalescing one of the ideas that I’ve been reading. Making it more concrete for myself and also trying to put it in my own words, sharing with other people what I felt was my own opinion on these ideas.
So I started the blog sort of from that angle. I also recognized that online being this new media, there was this opportunity for building a platform for sharing the ideas there.
So I worked on it and I’ve been working on it for the last pretty much eight years now.
Morty: Ok so you’ve been writing your blog for about eight years?
Scott: Yeah. It actually should be right now. It should actually be about eight years that I started the blog.
Morty: What was your background on personal development before you started? Was it just reading what a lot of what other people have written or have you taken courses or did you develop something of your own? How did that work?
Scott: Really amateur. And this is I think the stark difference between someone like myself who started blogging with really no expertise, no credentials, no reason why anyone should listen to me other than I was an enthusiast.
I wasn’t someone who had an impressive list of accomplishments to go on the inside of a book jacket that you know, “Oh this is why I should listen to this guy because he’s done x and y and z.”
I hope over the last eight years I’ve done, particularly in the domain of learning and self-education that at least now, some people consider my ideas more seriously in those domains.
But when I started I definitely didn’t have any experience in that. I just had that real passion for learning a lot of the books and applying it very rigorously with myself and reporting the results.
I think that’s really the medium of blogging, why it has become very popular. It’s because you have a more firsthand experiential view. It’s less someone from a pulpit giving you advice and it’s more “I’m doing this, this is what’s working for me and I’m gonna share it with you.”
Morty: Very good. It sounds like you’re saying there’s no particular experience you’ve had that got you started on writing a blog. It’s just all your experiences of life and everything you’ve learned you want to tell other people about.
Scott: Yeah definitely. Before I started I just had the personal experience of trying to build habits, set goals. Doing the regular personal development activities and working through my own experiences. But I definitely hadn’t built any accomplishments yet and I think that the people who have followed my blog from the beginning have maybe seen the evolution. Whatever accomplishments I’ve had in the last eight years that I’ve documented as they were happening, as opposed to reporting on them in the past.
Morty: Got it. So who would you say your typical audience is? Who specifically would be interested in your blog?
Scott: My audience has been quite varied. I’m always surprised when I have reader meet-ups various cities. How varied the audience is. I would have this stereotype in my mind that it’s this kind of person and then I get all walks of life coming to the blog.
So I definitely don’t want to discourage someone from checking out my site just because they don’t fit my particular image here because the vast majority of my audience doesn’t. But I have written a lot about learning and self-education so naturally that’s interested a lot of students.
So there’s been quite a few of students who follow my blog. In addition I have a lot of people who, for whatever reason, are getting into self-education or looking at pursuing it more aggressively. And they’ve turned to by blog for figuring out how to do that.
So a lot of people are maybe thinking about changing careers, need to learn new skills, going back to school. I get a lot of emails from people who basically want to learn better and have found my blog useful in that regard.
Morty: You mentioned meet-ups. Do you send out notices through your blog that you’re going to be in a particular place and hope that a bunch of people show up so you have a chance to meet them?
Scott: Yeah. I don’t do meet-ups all the time. It depends on what city I’m in and on what schedule I’m in. So it’s not some regular activity I do. But I’ve done meet-ups in Paris, Amsterdam, San Francisco. I’ve done them in several cities right now and in several places.
Depending on the city and on how large my audience is there, we get a dozen or twenty people who come out and meet me. Have some drinks and coffee and chat about life.
Morty: Very good. What would you say is the essence of your message? Do you have one?
Scott: Yeah, I would say that my message is pretty varied. I don’t have the concrete thesis of the site. But I do believe that learning and your ability to teach yourself things is fundamental. It’s a skill that’s going to amplify all the other skills you have in your life. So I tend to focus a lot on that.
Focus on how can you learn new skills, how can you learn new skills both in a technical sense like “I need to learn this skill for a job” or “I need to learn this skill to pass this course” but also in a personal sense like “How can I learn this skill of building habits or learn the skills of self-management so I get more things done”.
Morty: Got it. How often do you post?
Scott: Well it depends. Right now I’m posting about once a week. So I have one article once a week and if you subscribe to the newsletter you get two articles a month, where I usually group two articles or so per month.
However there are over a thousand articles. I used to write five times a week. So if you are new to the site, if you haven’t been there before, there is far more content than I think a typical person can read.
Morty: When you said “newsletter”–so when people go to the blog they will only read the thousand blog postings. But is there something different about those? Tell us more about the newsletter.
Scott: Well the newsletter is basically people who are interested in what I’m doing and want to get the new content, get access to things before other people.
I have the newsletter sent to a more close group. So if you join the newsletter, I give you a copy of my ebook on learning methods and learning faster. And then I send out emails.
Now the emails most of the time are referencing articles. So if I’ve written articles that are available on the website you can get those articles. But I also include other things that I don’t include on the blogs.
Every once in a while I would do mini-courses on learning better. And I only do those in the newsletter. I don’t post those to the blog.
Morty: Got it. You may or may not be familiar with many of the other personal development bloggers but would you say there’s something sort of unique about your take? What you offer people if people are looking around to see “Which ones should I start following on a regular basis?”
Is there something here that I’m not sure you can get anyplace else? Is there some unique way of looking at personal development or learning or self-education that you have?
Scott: Yeah, I think everybody develops their own certain voice. I would say two things make me stand out in comparison to other bloggers. First is the topic. I write about self-education and learning. And I would say I have sort of developed a little niche for myself in that topic.
I’ve read a lot of other blogs on personal development and self-education but I would say that is a strong back bone of what I write about. So if you are interested in how to learn better, learning more both in the technical sense and the personal sense, the blog might interest you.
Second thing, I feel that my approach to personal development has always been a more analytical, rational kind of approach. I try to look at issues from both sides. I try to form strong opinions, but I like to consider all angles of a problem.
I think that’s also reflected in the comments that I get. I write a post on some angles and the comments will also have people look at different angles.
So I think that as opposed to some bloggers that carve out a stance and they sort of aggressively defend that viewpoint, I have a little bit more of defend the viewpoint but I also going to try to include why people disagree and why people think differently about it. So you can make up your own mind.
Morty: Very good, thanks. The next thing I want to ask you is–you obviously do accept comments, which was one of my questions. I noticed that some bloggers respond to all the comments and some of them don’t. Do you have a policy on responding to comments?
Scott: Well this is also my policy for people who email me. If I can think of a good response to the comment, I usually reply. If I can. Sometimes nothing comes to mind as a reply. Because a lot of comments are just general support or pointing to another viewpoint.
If I don’t have any particular viewpoint on that then I usually don’t respond, at least in the comment field. But I am active in the comments, I do read all the comments. So if you do write a comment there then you will know that I’ve at least read it. And if you write a comment and it provokes a particular response from me–I do write a lot of responses as well.
Morty: I’m very much the same myself. Do you have a long-term goal for your blog? You’ve been doing it now for a while. Seven, eight years. Is there a goal that you would like to accomplish? Something you would say “This has achieved what I wanted it to”?
Scott: My original goal was I was really interested in doing it full time. I really liked blogging. I really liked the idea of devoting your life to helping other people achieve more in their own lives.
That was goal I achieved three to four years ago with the blog. And sort of the associated business I have had teaching people to learn better, was enough income that I can support myself.
Now my goal is really just to continually improve the quality of the writing. I really have a lot of interest not just in writing a lot and getting a big audience but trying to say things that are true, trying to say things that are useful to other people.
So that’s really more of a long-term goal. Improving my writing, improving the impact it can have on people.
Morty: Very good, thank you. Related to what I’ve just said but a little bit broader…do you have a mission, a personal mission in life of some sort? And if so, how does writing your blog contribute to it?
Scott: I would say that one of the dominant themes of my blogging…if you go there you’ll find out that I’m intensely interested in learning new things and how can you acquire knowledge. I would say that as a personal mission, I’m very interested in how the mind works, how we learn things. And in learning things just in general, even outside of that. Helping other people learn more.
So right now I’m doing this project which involves learning languages. A year and a half ago I was doing a different project which involved learning computer programming and computer science. Self-education. Challenging the notion that you had to go to college to acquire that kind of knowledge.
I think in the future I’m going to take on more projects like this. I’ve really just started to explore what are the limits of self-education and learning and share those with other people. Also, I’m deeply interested in how does the mind work. How do we learn things. How do we improve ourselves.
Morty: Fascinating. I’ve read there was something you tried to learn a four year computer class from MIT in one year. Is that it?
Scott: Yeah. MIT offers a great deal of their course material online for free. Particularly within computer science. There’s a backstory on why I was interested in studying that but didn’t want to go get another degree. My first degree was in Business Economics.
So I decided to make a little project out of it. Would it be possible to do all the programming projects and pass all the final exams MIT offers for your four-year computer science degree in one year. I was blogging about it the entire time, I had thirty or so semi-weekly videos that I did updating people on my progress. I did a TEDx talk on the subject when I was done.
You can view all the exams, all the programming assignments that I did on the website. And I really enjoyed that project, not only because it fell into a personal interest of mine but because a lot of people, a lot of young people right now are really questioning some of the assumptions that higher education has. It’s become incredibly expensive, especially in the United States.
So I want to support people who are innovating in this way. People who are trying to look at alternatives and explore those as fully as possible.
Morty: That is really worthwhile. There’s a whole bunch of people that are really looking into the courses online and different ways of learning online. So that you’re doing work in that area is really exciting. There’s a tremendous need for it and I’m sure a lot of people could get value from it. So that’s a really worthwhile thing. Good luck with that.
Morty: Finally, is there anything you’d like your audience to know about you or your blog? You sound like a fascinating person doing exciting things all over the world. Learning things and teaching people what you learn and how to learn. Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
Scott: If you’ve been listening this far and you’ve thought that maybe what I’ve said about things are interesting, then I suggest checking out the blog. It’s scotthyoung.com/blog.
And you can go there, I have almost a thousand articles right now on all topics of personal development. A lot on learning, a lot on habits, a lot on personal productivity. And you can follow my personal challenges. I’m documenting them when I’m going through them such as the self-education goal, the current language goal that I have right now and travel.
If you are interested in it, you can even sign up for my newsletter and I give out a free ebook on basically the learning philosophy that helps me learn faster.
Morty: Great. So let me get that again. The URL is scotthyoung.com/blog to be able to find the blog and you can sign up there. Can you sign up to get notices about the weekly blogs or do you just go there?
Scott: When you’re on the site and if you’re interested, you can sign up for the newsletter and you can get a free ebook and then I send you an email with all the new posts that I have. So if you’re interested in getting the subscription I would suggest doing that. Because you can then get the new stuff and you don’t have to check on the blog randomly.
But if you’re not interested and don’t want to give your email there’s almost a thousand articles there. So there is way more than someone could probably feasibly read in a matter of time. Most topics are personal development although more particularly habits, personal productivity and learning.
Morty: Great. Thank you so much for talking to us from China. For taking a quick break from your very very busy hectic learning life. It was great to meet you and talk to you and we will put this up shortly. We will transcribe it also so that if people want to read it, they can read it in addition to or instead of the interview. And hopefully a lot of people who hear what you have to say will check out your blog and learn about learning.
Scott: Thanks for having me.
Morty: What makes somebody become an avid learner the way you’ve become I’m sure that would be a very worthwhile thing for anybody at all.
Scott: Yeah, thanks for having me Morty.
Morty: My pleasure.