“What words come to mind when you think of me?” I asked my partner while lying in bed.
I put my hands over my eyes as I started crying. That was the last thing I wanted to be known for.
I had spent my whole life wanting to be seen as smart. And now that I was, I didn’t like it.
Earlier this year, I participated in David Perell’s writing class, Write of Passage. Over five weeks, I experienced a tremendous amount of personal growth. The course pushed me to expand what I wrote about, publishing things I wanted to say, not just what I felt I “should” say. I was able to put a bit of myself into each piece I wrote.
I wrote about my relationship with books and reading. I wrote about Asian representation in the media. I got to write about my internet idol Venkatesh Rao (the piece I hate most). I even re-worked a few of my posts on money from previous munny.club issues based on what I was learning.
It was the most intense course I’d ever taken.
I loved it.
And yet, you might find it surprising to learn that this wasn’t the first time I had attempted the course. In fact, the first was a complete failure.
Write of Passage is a course about building a career on the internet, masquerading as a class on writing. While there are parts of the course that will help you become technically better at writing, it’s so much more than that. It’s about how you consume information. It’s about your personal identity. It’s about your future. WOP makes you to question your relationship with information and clarify your purpose for writing. David opens your eyes to what makes your perspective unique and how to stand out in a sea of voices.
My introduction to Write of Passage
Write of Passage is an online cohort-based writing program that takes place over 5 weeks. Each week, there are live sessions where David reviews the material (ideas, techniques, examples). You also spend about half of that time in breakout room exercises or discussions. There are weekly writing assignments that you share, critique, and ultimately publish. The goal is to help you become an internet writer and, generally speaking, a more “online person.”
I initially participated in the beta period when David was first preparing and launching the course. I watched some of the early videos and provided feedback but didn’t attend the live sessions. As a result, I got nothing out of it. I was a lousy student.
Fast forward to January of this year, about 10 months into the pandemic. I had been in a slump for 6-months or so, unable to get excited about anything. I am an avid reader, but that deteriorated into 2–3 books during the pandemic. All I wanted to do each evening was go on my computer to play Runescape, a childhood favourite, or watch Twitch. I claimed I was interested in writing, making games, and building apps. Despite that, I continued to do nothing.
I needed a forcing function to return structure and routine to my life, as my own efforts had failed to this point. The next cohort of Write of Passage was coming up, so I signed up. I committed to participating and taking it seriously: I would attend the live sessions, do the assignments, and give it an honest effort.
To be honest, the commitment scared me. I was at a point in my life where it felt like pretty much everything was falling apart. I lost my workout group, my swim team, and my working environment. I struggled to do anything “productive” for almost a year. I was nervous because I was afraid I was gonna fail for a second time.
While I learned a lot about myself and the practicing of writing, this piece focuses on three things:
- The power of the breakout room
- Permission to edit
- A shift in my mindset
The power of the breakout room
When I started the course, the prospect of breakout sessions (small conversational groups) was something I dreaded most. I spent 4 to 6 hours each day on Zoom for work, and the thought of more Zoom meetings was unappealing. I wanted to passively absorb the information. These sessions ended up being the most valuable part of the course. We were asked to reflect with others, connect on our writing, and provide live feedback on our pieces. It provided accountability and engaging conversation.
My peers were amazing. Write of Passage really represents a pivotal moment in your life and your peers. Everyone there wants to write. For personal reasons, professional reasons, whatever it might be. And everyone is investing in themselves. You’re part of a group of ambitious people with shared goals. You’re all committed to the course and want to see the change it’s promising. It’s evident in the conversations you have each night.
The questions we discuss are about your writing journey, not your writing itself. We were put into breakout rooms in the first live session with the prompt “Why do you want to write?” and honestly, I was a bit stumped. Right out of the gate and I could barely articulate why I was even trying to write. I had to look inwards trying to answer that, and I immediately felt myself posturing. I thought I was the kind of person who should have a good answer. With each breakout session, I felt I was slowly getting a better grasp of who I was and what I wanted.
These conversations were the catalyst for me getting therapy. I realized my dependence on external validation and the desire to be seen as smart and interesting. It was paralyzing me and impeding my ability to publish anything. I became insecure. I felt like an imposter.
Imagine my sense of belonging when almost everyone in WOP could relate.
One of the notes I had taken during the course read:
“I am amazed at how quickly people were able to open up and share with one another in breakout rooms, including myself. Maybe there is something powerful and secret about being vulnerable with strangers. It feels less scary. They don’t have preconceived notions of you that you are subconsciously trying to meet.”
Permission to edit
Within Write of Passage, you’re invited to join one or more mentor groups. Mentors are all past students and are committing time to help you on your writing journey. I chose to join Joe Balcom’s group primarily due to timezone constraints.
In the first session, the prompt was “What is the biggest risk you’ve taken?”. I was paired with another mentor Charlie, who shared my story about moving across the country for Liz, who I met online. It was amazing because she had a similar story. We were able to connect over the fact that the decisions we made didn’t feel like risks at the time, just something we had to do. It was incredible to be able to connect with someone so spontaneously.
In the second or third week, Joe made a comment that really stuck with me. It’s one that I abided by during the course but let slip following. He sticks to a rigorous publishing schedule with his own writing. We were working to develop a weekly habit of our own.
His rule was: You have to publish every week. You have permission to go back and edit it after posting, but you must publish on schedule.
His advice was that your anxiety is from hitting Publish. You won’t really care anymore to edit it that much more. And it was true. Every time I published something, I told myself I would improve it later. But I never did. Done was better than perfect.
It’s been one of the few pieces of wisdom that have stuck with me that I try to abide by.
A shift in my mindset
Around the same time, I read Mindset by Carol Dweck and recognized that I had the wrong mindset going into Write of Passage. I fixated on what I could do right now and not open to the learning potential in front of me. My mindset at the start was:
I put immense pressure on myself with each assignment to ensure it was perfect before even asking for feedback.
Throughout the conversations in breakout rooms, I realized I had a deep need to be seen as smart and interesting. I wanted recognition from my peers. Was I taking this course to prove that I already knew everything?
The mindset I adopted was:
Facing my Demons
Throughout Write of Passage, I felt insecure about publishing, compounded by my need to be seen as smart. Because writing is so deeply personal, it surfaced many introspective questions I had been avoiding. My classmates helped me recognize this about myself in conversations and shared the challenges they faced as well.
During that earlier exchange with Liz, I realized that despite my need for validation, getting it was unfulfilling. Hearing her say it helped me see it wasn’t anything worth pursuing. It wasn’t something I wanted to put on my tombstone.
So what was left to describe me? That’s something I’ve been talking to my therapist about, a practice I started immediately following Write of Passage. I was in search of my own identity. I couldn’t express myself without first knowing who I was. Thanks to Write of Passage, I was forced to confront that fact and start to take steps to figure it out.
My one regret after WOP ended was not sticking with writing during the months that followed. The most recent thing I published on my website, aside from this, was my final course assignment. This is something I’m hoping to do better next time.
As I enter the next cohort of WOP, I’ll be bringing some clarity about why I write and what I want to write about. I’m committing to an ongoing weekly cadence. When I look back in 6 months, I want to be proud of my decision to write and build an audience.