We had the good fortune of connecting with A.J. Jacobs and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi A.J., is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
One of the most important factors is self-delusion. Which I know sounds strange. But honestly, I think self-delusion is crucial when you are starting any big project or career or job. This is because the chances of success are often a long shot. So it helps to force yourself to be be delusionally optimistic. Otherwise, anytime something goes wrong, and things will go wrong, you’ll curl up into a ball in the corner and eat Cheez-Its all day. I feel incredibly lucky that I am able to make a living as a writer. But I wouldn’t have stuck with it if I didn’t have this delusional optimism when I was younger.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’m a writer, journalist and human guinea pig. I’m the author of four New York Times bestsellers, including “The Know-It-All,” “Drop Dead Healthy” and “The Year of Living Biblically.” I’ve given four TED talks that have total views of more than 8 million. I’m a frequent contributor to NPR’s Weekend Edition, and writes for the New York Times and Esquire magazine, among others. I’ve found that most of my career involves faking it till I felt it. I faked confidence till I finally got a little. I still have impostor syndrome some of the time, but it’s not debilitating.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I recommend Watson Adventures Scavenger Hunts. It happens to be my wife’s company, but it’s really fun. In non-COVID times, there are real hunts in museums and historic neighborhoods. But in COVID times, they are online. I also recommend the Spy Museum in New York and The Puzzled Pint, a nationwide puzzle contest every month.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I wrote a book about gratitude in which I thanked a thousand people who had any role, however small, in my morning cup of coffee — the barista, the farmer, the logo designer, the truck driver, and on and on. So I’m a big proponent of the idea that it takes TONS of people for anyone to succeed or any project to become a reality. I don’t have room to thank a thousand, but here are some: My wife Julie, my sophomore English teacher Mr. Bender, my parents, my great-great grandparent who came from the Ukraine to New York, Gutenberg for inventing the printing press, the Phoenicians for inventing the alphabet, the lumberjacks who cut down the trees to make paper for my books, the hikers who saved my sister and I when we were lost in a kayak in Alaska, my three sons, my dog Stella and Steve Wozniak for co-creating the computer I’m using.