12 Lessons From 7 Years Of The Daily Stoic
In 2015, my agent called me with an idea. I had published The Obstacle is the Way and was working on Ego is the Enemy, two books which were rooted in Stoic philosophy–but tried not to be too overt about it.
Steve, my agent, suggested I do the exact opposite. You should write a daily devotional about Stoicism, he told me, one page per day. It seemed crazy to me. Most people weren’t interested in philosophy (and most publishers weren’t either). Besides, I don’t speak Greek or Latin, so how would I do the translations? “I’ll do them,” Steve told me, “and I promise it will be your bestselling book.”
This was preposterous to me on many levels. For one, Steve knew Greek and Latin? But it turns out he did…and he was right!
The Daily Stoic released on this day seven years ago and has gone on to sell over 2M English language copies, and it’s been translated into more than 30 languages. Here on the 7th anniversary of The Daily Stoic, I thought I would share some lessons from that book–or rather, lessons that came from writing and publishing it, because the whole process taught me as much about business and life as it did about philosophy.
–Take the assignment. As I mentioned, the idea for The Daily Stoic wasn’t mine. In fact, I wasn’t totally convinced the idea would have much appeal, but I was at a point in my career where I was taking assignments. It seemed like a challenge. I felt like I would get better for trying. Plus Steve had far more experience in publishing than I did, so I trusted him. You just never know. Certainly, I have been surprised time and time again where little opportunities, little suggestions have changed the trajectory of my career. But only because I showed up and did the work.
–There is something powerful about the “daily read” format. Tolstoy believed his most essential work was not his novels but his daily read, A Calendar of Wisdom (it’s since become an absolute favorite of mine). As Tolstoy wrote in his diary, the continual study of one text, reading one page at the start of each day, is critical to personal growth. Steve had published The Daily Drucker (which is also great). I didn’t understand until later how perfect this format is for Stoicism. It’s not something you read once and ‘get.’ It’s a process. A ritual. I think everyone’s day should start with a daily read of some kind (The Daily Laws by Robert Greene is another I recommend).
–The work never stops. As I was writing the book, I got into it and decided I would just keep going. That’s what started the Daily Stoic newsletter. I’ve written and sent out a meditation on Stoicism every day since—I’d estimate that’s 750,000 words? Enough for seven more books. We’ve sent out just over 3,000 emails, which is just mind-blowing to me. The daily email continues to steadily grow, going out to over 760,000 people each day. And our open rate has basically been the same as when we started with just a few thousand subscribers in December 2016.
–Platforms are the priority. When Winston Churchill was driven from power, he could have wallowed. He could have retired. Instead, he became a one man media company. Between 1931 and 1939, Winston Churchill published 11 books, more than 400 articles, and delivered more than 350 speeches. He became more famous in the U.S. than he was in Britain. He cultivated power outside the system, delivered his message without intermediation. You could say they tried to cancel him, but it didn’t work. That’s what I’ve set up with The Daily Stoic. It’s not just an email list but also a YouTube Channel with 1.5M subscribers, an Instagram account with 2.7M followers, a Twitter account with 540K followers, a TikTok page with 655k followers, and a Facebook page with 861K followers. It’s Stoicism directly to the people.
–Give a lot of value away and capture a small percentage. I mentioned that we’ve essentially published seven books for free through the Daily Stoic email. On top of that, over the years, we’ve essentially created the largest Stoic library in the world. Hundreds of hours of video on the great Stoic works, the rules the Stoics lived by, Stoic habits, Stoic don’ts, and Stoic questions for a better life. Hundreds of thousands of words across articles on the Big 3 (Marucs Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus), timeless Stoic strategies for happiness, dealing with stress, getting and staying motivated, overcoming procrastination, and handling rude people. We’ve done something like 63 million views on YouTube (4.4 million hours watched). The podcast does around 5 million downloads a month (well over 150M lifetime downloads). The vast majority of people who have ever heard of or consumed anything from me, have done it for free. That’s absolutely cool with me. A very small percentage of people buy a book or a coin or whatever…my goal is to provide a lot of value to a lot of people and capture a tiny bit of it. That’s plenty for me.
–Use your success well. My friend Casey Neistat once said something to me. “You don’t make art to make money,” he said, “you make money to make more art.” As Daily Stoic has captured some of the value it has created, you know what I’ve done with that money? I’ve made more stuff! It’s allowed me to start the podcast, to hire a video editor, etc etc. I have a little note card next to my desk that says “Am I being a good steward of Stoicism?” By that I mean, am I using the success that this philosophy has brought me to introduce more people to the philosophy, or am I buying fancy cars with it? My goal has been to re-invest most of what I have gotten back into making and doing cool stuff. That’s a privilege, but also an obligation.
–Commitments/deadlines make you better. It might seem like a lot of work to write and put out an email every day for seven years…and it is! But it’s also one of my favorite things to do, and it has made me so much better. Committing to do this has been a forcing function to my productivity. We all need reps. If I only published books, I wouldn’t get nearly as many reps as I have gotten from publishing these daily emails–each one making me a little better at my craft. It’s also kept me active and in good shape. No resting on my laurels, no off season. Every day I have a show to put on.
–Meet people where they are. We know that people don’t necessarily wake up and think, ‘Today is the day I’m going to start looking into an ancient school of philosophy.’ In fact, that’s why I was skeptical about the book working in the first place. I say in the intro “Stoic philosophy” is not an appealing phrase in the English language. In order to make this all work, I’ve tried to never lose sight of that. I understand people are busy. I understand they’re not philosophy nerds. I try to meet them where they are. That means making stuff in lots of formats. That means giving stuff away for free. It also means trying to present what I know as solutions to their problems, trying to show how this philosophy helps them with their actual life.
–Think about how they’re interacting with what you do. Most books put the title on the top of every other page. For the second printing of The Daily Stoic, we put the title at the top of every page. We made that change because we realized people liked to take pictures or screenshots of that day’s page and share it…but then their friends had no idea what book it was from. Tolstoy didn’t have this issue/opportunity, but in the modern world we do.
–To everyone who hasn’t heard about you, you’re new. Even with the title at the top of every page, even though the book has been out for seven years, and even though it’s been read by millions—still, whenever we post a picture from the book on our own social accounts, people comment, what book is that from? It’s hard to remember when something is so familiar to you that it is still new to a lot of other people. I don’t expect people to have heard of me. I understand that the vast majority of people haven’t. I want to meet those new people.
–It takes time. Always remember that great things take time. They take longer than you think, even when you take that into account. The Daily Stoic took a while, years, even until it became a hit. I would walk into bookstores and they wouldn’t have it. The email list took years to reach what it is now. I’ve learned that patience is everything.
–Little things add up. Zeno said that greatness “is realized by small steps, but is truly no small thing.” Below is a look at some of the sales data for the hardcover and e-book in the U.S. You’ll notice that in most weeks it only sells a couple thousand copies and for many weeks at the beginning, it sold many fewer than that (those big spikes are the first week of January every year when we do a big discounted promo btw). But because I stuck with it, because the book was about something timeless, over the last seven years, those weekly sales have added up in a big way. Maybe other books sold more, faster, but I am confident that The Daily Stoic is going to keep going, like the tortoise, and in the end get very far.
Anyway, I can’t finish this piece without a note of gratitude. To Steve, who suggested the book and helped me write it. And to all of you who read it, watched one of the videos, forwarded one of the emails to a friend. As I said, I’ve gotten better for the opportunity (and privilege) to get to do this. Thank you!