The Coffee Chat (#23)

My conversation with Scott Young - A Wall Street Journal bestselling author, podcast host, computer programmer and a dad to a baby boy

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Hi there 👋🏽

One of the things that I am very glad I did early on in my career was learn to sell. It made me comfortable with the idea of rejection and the whole concept of “if you don’t ask for something the answer is always no”.

Very quickly I realized that the downside of asking for something is limited, the worst that will happen? You will hear a no or be ignored. But the upside? That is unlimited.

Today’s edition is a result of me just shooting an email to someone whose writing I have read for over a decade. A lot of people ask me how I find guests to feature in my newsletter. Here is the secret. I just ask :)


 Now, on to today’s coffee chat…

Meet Scott Young.

Scott has been a prolific writer since 2006 on topics such as learning, productivity, career, habits and living well. He has also authored a best selling book.

Scott is know for documenting learning challenges such as the learning a 4-year MIT computer science degree in one year, learning four languages in one year, learning to draw portraits in 30 days etc.

Given that Scott has recently become a parent I was curious to learn more about how becoming a dad has changed his views around productivity, learning and habit formation.

Below is my conversation with Scott …

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your family

I’m Scott, I’ve been a writer for 15 years about productivity, learning and thinking about life. My wife, Zorica is an accountant. A year and a half ago we welcomed our first child, Thomas, into the world. 

For you what was the hardest part of becoming a new parent?   

I think there’s an uncertainty to it. You know it will be big, but it’s hard to know what to expect and, perhaps most importantly, it’s an irrevocable decision. So I think this can create some stress for first time parents as they’re not quite sure what it will be like.

After becoming a parent did you adopt any new beliefs, behaviors, or habits that have most improved your life?

I wrote an essay where I tried to explain that I don’t think becoming a parent is necessarily helpful for productivity—after all you now have an additional constraint of a child to care for. But it does create a value shift, and that, I think, can encourage you to adopt healthier and more productive habits. So, the strange thing is that it is somewhat harder to pursue some goals, and yet you pursue them more because you have a new motivation to do so.

Did you take any form of paternity leave? If yes, how was the transition back to work? 

I took about two months. My initial plan was closer to three, but I sort of slid back into working full-time rather than all at once. But my work affords a lot more flexibility than most.

The biggest challenge that working parents with young kids have is a lack of predictability in their schedule and limited time for themselves. How have you managed this? What are you doing to manage your energy?

Hmm I’m not sure that’s been my experience. If anything it’s that it’s harder to do things spontaneously—the last minute drinks with friends is much harder, since it means leaving your partner with taking care of dinner prep at home. But if you coordinate and plan ahead things it’s much easier. 

Limited time is the case—but I suppose the real truth is that we always have the same amount of time. What differs is what we choose to spend it on. I guess that’s the feeling I have about the value shift as well. My own personal experience is that I’ happiest when I feel *slightly* too busy, but not stressed. Having tons of unstructured free time can also feel boring or aimless, so I think having a child gives a lot of structure.

Are you part of a dual career household? If yes, then what choices have you and your partner made that have helped you become a dual career household with a child? 

My wife took a year off (this is pretty standard in Canada). She and I work together now so the work is fairly flexible, but we don’t have any childcare at the moment so it’s probably a bit less than full-time for both of us.

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investment you have made after becoming a parent?

Funnily enough we really got into those meal prep delivery services. I used to scoff at them as they always seemed kinda silly (can’t I just download a recipe and pick it up from the grocery store) but removing the need to think about it and potentially run extra errands makes it worth it. Online shopping has also been a big plus, but that was a shift for everyone last year I think. Pretty much anything that cuts unnecessary errands.

What advice would you give others who are on the cusp of becoming parents? What advice should they ignore? 

I think they should ignore most people’s advice, including mine. People have been having children since before there were people. You figure it out. A lot of advice only adds to the anxiety of becoming a new parent and it’s often hit or miss.

Quick-fire questions:

What’s the best thing you have watched recently?

Ha! Television time is definitely down. But I do usually keep a course on YouTube bookmarked to watch over lunches—right now I’m watching Financial Markets by Robert Shiller.

What’s the best thing you have read recently?

I liked How Innovation Works by Matthew Ridley. Democracy and Education by John Dewey was also good, but a little more work to get through.

What’s the best thing you have listened to recently?

I’m currently listening to The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand and it’s pretty good. David Goggin’s Can’t Hurt Me was also good in quite a different way.


I would love to hear from you, feedback is always welcome!

And if you happen to know an inspiring working parent who should be featured in a future edition (or if you yourself are one) - please do get in touch

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