Jeremiah Rogers

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Tue, Oct 13, 2015

When I first moved to California in 2011 I sold almost everything I owned down to the point of fitting my life in a Honda Civic. I noticed that my identity “shifted” a bit every time I sold something. My brain had thought for so long “this is my bed and this is my table.” Once the bed and the table were gone I really liked that new feeling and the new discovery: “this is me, the same me, without a bed and without a table.”

When I left California in 2014 to travel to Asia I again sold everything — this time much more aggressively — and kept just a small backpack and a few boxes of clothes at my mom’s house. I travelled for a year and a half with comparatively few things.

Once I got back to San Francisco my mom mailed me a huge box of clothes from Virginia — a time capsule I sent myself from a year and a half ago. The first night after the box arrived I went to a party with my roommates and changed outfits three times before my roommate Joe laughed at me and asked me how I liked this new life of having options. I hated it. I didn’t like any of the clothes, I didn’t like having so many options, and I was uncomfortable putting my old skin back on. I wore my usual travel outfit to the party with the sole addition of a new pair of pants.

There have been more additions since then: coffee brewing equipment, a film camera, a macro lens, books, a hair trimmer, a camping hammock, a yoga mat, a cushion to sit on the floor, and an old Ikea chair and coffee table found near the dumpster. Right now that’s close to my upper limit of what I want to keep around.

What selling everything down twice has taught me is that not only do I not need so many things, but that the things consumer society makes me want to buy are often very wasteful. Functional clothes are important, but stylish clothes make me spend a lot of time thinking about how to get dressed. The most enticing things to buy, which for me are often slick electronics, push me toward compulsive behaviors that scatter my mind. Furniture isn’t unhealthy, in fact it’s often very practical, but for me it makes spaces feel constrained.

As far as money: It would be easy in San Francisco to spend $5 on a coffee, $20 on lunch, $40 on a shirt, or $2,500 on rent. I’ve found good enough alternatives in making my own coffee, a $5-10 lunch, wearing the shirts I already have, and subletting a room in a friend’s apartment. The space between “good enough” and “perfect” can be reserved for the few things that I care deeply about.

Photo is a film panorama of an old man fishing. Taken at Fort Mason center in San Francisco.

Wed, Jan 14, 2015

How I felt this morning. Shanghai, China. May, 2014.

Part of what makes this site good is the travel advice, part is the photography, but a big part is the honesty.

I woke up this morning feeling like a fraud. This site is my baby, I like to watch it grow. Over the past week it’s been growing like a weed in the sun. One of my recent essays has about 50,000 views.

The feelings that hit me are:

  • What makes me think I can write something 50,000 people would want to read?
  • What makes me think I can write something again that another 50,000 people would want to read?
  • What makes me think that my writing and photography could ever support my lifestyle?

It’s the first time this feeling has hit me strongly, but it’s called the imposter syndrome:

“The impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.” Wikipedia.

I’ve been aware of imposter syndrom since my first meeting when I started at Facebook. My boss brought it up and told me to immediately dismiss it.

Why? Beause the imposter syndrome is insidious. There’s no way to disprove it. It keeps you from shipping. It fills you with self doubt. It makes you afraid. It prevents good things from being made.

Here are my responses to my internal critics:

  • What makes me think I can write something 50,000 people would want to read? I did. The numbers don’t lie.
  • What makes me think I can write something again that another 50,000 people would want to read? I don’t need to.
  • What makes me think that my writing and photography could ever support my lifestyle? I’ll take that day at a time.
  • Why do I feel this way? There’s a solid chance that any emotions I feel are normal and experienced by everyone in the same situation.

I’m not going to live in fear that the next thing I write won’t be as good as the last. I’m not hold off on publishing things that might not be recieved well. Success and failure are remarkably unpredictable.

You might find, just as I have, that as I get better at things my taste outdoes my skills. I know that I’m not creating things to my own internal standards. This is totally normal.

Past success is a sunk cost. Published work is a sunk cost. Failed work is a sunk cost. As far as I can tell the only way to keep producing things is blind disregard for the past, an embrace of failure, and a sharp focus on continued iteration.

I know a lot of brilliant people who live in total fear of publishing their work. There are many people who are much better writers than I am who just don’t put themselves out there. Lack of fear turns out to be a competitive advantage.

Tue, Jan 6, 2015

I’ve used Tinder an enormous amount in my travels around Asia. I want to endorse it and talk a bit about it.

For the uninitiated: On Tinder you see profiles of people you might be interested in meeting. Swipe right if you’re up for talking and left if you aren’t. If you both swipe right you’re dropped into a shared chat thread. It’s remarkably simple and it works.

How to use Tinder is a personal choice. If you meet people in bars and immediately try to fuck them that’s probably also how you’ll use Tinder. If you meet people in bars and immediately try to talk to them that’s probably how you’ll use Tinder. I’m the second type.

Ways Tinder has helped me travel:

  • I met a woman named Kate and we travelled together for four days in Cambodia. We became quick and close friends, eating together and sharing very personal stories about our lives. When I meet people on the road we often share more personal stories about our lives since our friendship exists outside the confines of shared friend groups. We didn’t have sex.
  • I met a young woman in Hong Kong who wanted pictures of herself practicing yoga for her new website. I shot a few dozen pictures, edited them quickly, and sent them to her over Dropbox. In exchange she gave me a free tour of Hong Kong and bought me ice cream. We didn’t have sex.
  • I’ve gotten free tours, visited museums, and asked a girl I met on Tinder to be an impromptu translator during the Hong Kong Protests. People want to meet other people and hang out. Tinder makes that easier than other apps.
  • I’ve met countless women1 on Tinder and just had good chats with them and never met up. I’m normally 12 time zones away from home and lonely, so it’s nice to have someone to chat with during the day. I’m still digital friends with a ton of people from Tinder today and we talk often.

Tinder is an amazing tool to get to know an area. My favorite question to to ask is “What’s something around here that most tourists don’t get to see?” I’ll also often ask “What’s the dirtiest or richest part of this town?” and “What’s something interesting going on today?”

Aside from meeting up in person, conversations with locals on Tinder are valuable tool for things finding to experience and places to take pictures. I love it for that.

Selfies as Information

We should think carefully about the word “attractive”. Whether Tinder profile pictures are attractive has little to do with sex. I often swipe “no” on scandalous bikini pics and “yes” bookish looking nerds. I want to relate to people.

Tinder working purely visually has benefits. On Tinder I have one task, which is to have a profile picture that makes someone want to meet me. This dramatically limits the wasteful intellectual jousting and foreplay from text-based social apps like OK Cupid.

A selfie is worth 1,000 hard to fake words. A selfie provides a ton of information. Looking at someone’s selfie tells me, in broad strokes, how healthy they are, their mood, and how many friends they have. It shows me dozens of things that people signal to each other with how they present themselves. I find the selfie is a good way of determining if we’ll be friends.

This is generally my profile picture. Notice how I’m not naked.

Tinder is a wonderful app for meeting people on the road. Check it out if you’re a traveler.

Victoria Harbor at Night. Hong Kong, China.

  1. I only look for women on Tinder. Mostly because I have no trouble making male friends. Also because I don’t want to end up on a date with a man by accident. [return]
Sat, Jan 3, 2015

A year and a half ago I read an article on the top regrets of dying people. What did those people regret? Living a life they didn’t want, working too hard, and not expressing their feelings.

The article made me think about what I want in life. I know that I want to express myself, see the world, and create nice pictures. I know that I want learn and teach. I know that don’t want to spend so much of my life indoors and that I want to wander and have fun.

I decided to listen to the article’s message and try to cut those regrets from my life. I’ve since thought of this as living my life “backwards.”

I spend most of my days writing, photographing, and brainstorming ideas for how to become a better storyteller. Right now that work is hard. After living in Cambodia for a few months the streets are no longer surprising. I have to dig for interesting stories. It’s embarassing to admit that I am bad at something and want to improve.

My dream is has been consistent for a long time: I want a life where I can take pictures and write every day about the things I find interesting. I want a career where I can always be learning and growing and sharing. I’m ok with living simply as long as I can follow that dream.

Below are a few recent shots from Phnom Penh. They suck. When I see them I think of this amazing quote from Ira Glass. It reminds me that knowing my own work sucks is okay.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” Ira Glass

Phnom Penh, Cambodia. December, 2014.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia. December, 2014.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia. December, 2014.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia. December, 2014.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia. December, 2014.

Wed, Dec 17, 2014

When I worked at Facebook we had a concept called “Fail Harder.” In Facebook culture it’s better to get something out and test it and see if the idea even works than to refine an idea until it’s perfect and then finally, after you ship, find out that it sucks and no one wants it.

“Fail Harder” means don’t be fooled by your own hubris, don’t pour a ton of engineering into a project when you don’t even know if anyone will use it. Instead throw things against the wall and see if they stick, throw them away when they don’t, and keep grinding away at them in the rare cases that they are a success.

You think Facebook was explosive success from start to finish? Not at all. Easily four of five ideas Facebook tries fall flat on their face. One in five explodes. Facebook succeeds because it embraces failing.

We, as humans, are remarkably bad at predicting the future. Embrace that. Your half baked shitty solution is going to be a pain to maintain but it’s going to be better than a fully baked solution that no one needs.

My Failures

“Persistence isn’t using the same tactics over and over. That’s just annoying. Persistence is having the same goal over and over.” - Seth Godin

At the beginning of this blog I had an idea. I loved Maciej Cegłowski’s writing. I loved great images. I thought I could try my ass off to emulate that content and probably make enough, say $20,000/year, to pay for myself to travel and tell stories indefinitely.

I’ve failed a dozen times, I’ve at times been intensely discouraged, but I’ve also made almost $2,000 in my first year as a writer and a photographer. It’s not enough to support myself full time but it’s a solid start.

My past year as a full time blogger has been a remarkable shitstorm of failure, but my God have I learned a lot. I’ve tried tons of ideas, failed at 810 of them, and immediately moved on.

  • I thought that a photography blog could fund itself by selling prints. I sold five. I also learned that I have basically no interest in taking photos that someone would want to frame on their wall.
  • I thought that non-clickbait writing could do well on social media. It doesn’t.
  • I thought that affiliate income could scale from $150 per month to $1,000 per month. Nothing in the world can make that shit grow, I’ve tried everything.
  • Even though the idea seemed insane, I figured maybe someone would want to donate to support this blog. In an hour I put up a donation form and this year it earned over $700.
  • I thought most of my income for the year would come from a holiday print sale. I even made it donate half of the profits to the best charity in the world. It failed so hard. I sold five prints and made about $65 (but we also donated $65).
  • I put up a paywall and a day later realized it was a horribly flawed idea. No one wants to pay for something they can read just by resetting their browser cookies. I pulled it immediately.
  • I created what I thought was great stuff and saw it get no response. I saw massive response for creations I thought were mediocre.
  • Finally, I thought that a paid mailing list was a vague idea that only my close friends would pay for. It now pays almost all of my rent. While some of the subscribers are relatively wealthy friends, the majority are more distant connections. Most surprisingly, only four of the subscribers are people I talk to every few days. My cohort of 20 close friends really doesn’t want to pay me to write, but a ton of people I talk with less often, and a bunch of people I’ve never met, do want to pay and love it.

My biggest lesson from all of this is that you should not, by any means, listen to what people tell you that they want. Follow the money. If I had $20 for every person who said they love my pictures and want to buy one I would be living off of print sales. If I had $5 from everyone who said they were just about to subscribe to The Signal I’d have twice my readership.

People, myself included, don’t know what they want to pay for until you show it to them. Finding the right market takes trial and error.

As the year closes I have been wondering: Would I be happier if I had just taken this time off to travel and not written a thing about it, not published photos, and never tried to make money? Would I be happier if I took this chance to totally withdraw from the world and explore myself?

Definitely not. I’m not the kind of person who can sit quietly and enjoy life. I like to tell stories and I like to create things. I need to a project to work on. The human experience needs to be shared.

I’ve also realized that I like to fail. I’ll keep failing. I get enough of a rush from one success to justify a dozen failures.

Khmer Boxing in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. December, 2014.

Money Sat, Feb 22, 2014