(Timestamps from Spotify):

Dan Riley [00:01:16]:
I wanted to start with that and get your commentary and additional thoughts on how you think about your purpose and what you think your purpose really is with writing.

Sherry Ning [00:01:25]:
Everyone asks me about my purpose, and I guess I set that trap up for myself. And this is something I felt uncomfortable admitting in front of friends on podcasts in the last year. But I think this year my new paradigm, or my new realization is that it's okay to not have lived out an advice that you give to people. And I think that, yes, I generally do stick by the rule of certain content is definitely better than others. For example, like certain books, they're classics for a reason. They've stood the test of time generations before. You have been reading it in universities and schools. There's definitely some truth and some wisdom in that.

Sherry Ning [00:02:11]:
But I think the thing with purpose, I don't know what my purpose is. I think the purpose for me right now, today, is just to write something well and to have fun doing it.

Dan Riley [00:02:23]:
Yeah, I think when you were making additional commentary on the goal of spreading good information, I mean, to some degree I feel the same way about having done this show for many years. I love information. I've heard you talk about the trait openness quality in people and how it's broken down into two different categories. And you made an observation about the big five personality traits and related to openness that I thought was really insightful about how you meet people in college who are obviously extremely intelligent, but they're not necessarily that interested in debate, conversation, deep dialogue about ideas. In that openness is really broken down, as best we understand it, into two different categories. And one is really the intellectual side of openness is not intelligence per se. It's more fascination with ideas and I don't know if you resonate with that quality yourself. I have to imagine you do because of the work that you do.

Dan Riley [00:03:29]:
But I wanted to give you an opportunity to talk about that trait in people specifically. And I know you were a psychology major at the University of Toronto. So anything else that you might think is interesting about that trait, I wanted to give you an opportunity to speak to.

Sherry Ning [00:03:45]:
Yeah, openness is such an interesting trait. I mean, the first time I heard about it was from Jordan Peterson and his original lectures on personality on YouTube. And the second time I stumbled upon the ocean, the five traits. And, well, actually, did you know there are six now? It's actually oceans s, and the s stands for spiritual. I think that's the new dimension of personality. But when I did my research, I did one year of research in political psychology. And one thing about personality is that trait, openness is the most indicative and the most highly correlated with political liberalism. And liberal and conservative does not mean.

Sherry Ning [00:04:29]:
It doesn't mean a certain party. It doesn't mean the capital l left or capital R right. It just means an approach to something, like an approach, a worldview. So there's like this famous anecdote about a liberal and a conservative. They stumble across a fence in the middle of the field, and the liberal says, let's take it down. Let's see what's on the other side. And the conservative says, wait, hold on. What if this fence is protecting us? Let's evaluate what the fence is for before we take it down.

Sherry Ning [00:04:58]:
So that gives you a sense of, what do people think of a situation when they approach it? And I think personality is such an interesting perspective because many of the times in political arguments, it's two people yelling at each other and saying, why don't you see it from my side? And I think, well, what if we consider that people have different personality predispositions that make them value one policy over another? And openness is very interesting because if you look at all the artists and inventors and innovators that have changed the world and are changing the world today. So think like Silicon Valley, San Francisco in general, all these people are very high in trait. It's also, I don't think it's a surprise that these states tend to lean left in policy as well. Yeah, I think openness is not talked about enough or not enough people know about it.

Dan Riley [00:05:59]:
I remember hearing Peterson making a comment once, or I think I read this about him being quoted related to personality in general, that our cultures. I know you're in Canada, but they're relatively similar. Talk a lot about diversity in cosmetic ways, but really, the big, major differences between people. In his mind, his argument was that it's really based in personality. People are wildly different in how they're wired. And I think that might be what you're getting at with that comment.

Sherry Ning [00:06:33]:
Yeah. I also think that certain jobs or certain traits have been socially deemed as more positive. I think Susan Cain is the one who's most famous for talking about being an introvert and how society and culture sort of cater to the know. People want to be the life of the party. Everyone wants to be the best friend of the life of the party. People say, if you're more extroverted, if you're chattier, you get the job, and the quiet person doesn't. And I think she made her big breakthrough on media, on the Ted talk episode where she talked about how, no, there's a power of introversion and people who are more quiet, or they just not shy, but they get energy by being alone or sitting inside their own heads and introspecting that there's a real superpower to that, that naturally extroverted people are just not used to, or they don't see the value in that. And the diversity of personality is, I think it could get controversial really quickly because, in a sense, I don't want to get into, like, free will versus determinism conversation, but it's like saying you're born with certain personality traits, and a lot of that is genetically influenced.

Sherry Ning [00:07:51]:
There's a job out there for you that's best for you. It's kind of like saying, if you're a fish, try to get into the ocean. If you're a bird, get on a tree. If you're a fish, don't try to compete with the bird who can fly. Yeah, I tried to notice, or when I did this research, I was noticing how many of these institutions or fields naturally attract a certain type of people with a certain personality. And we get a lot of stereotypes from that, like the nerds who are in engineering. But I do wonder if genetically, are certain people more predisposed to certain jobs.

Dan Riley [00:08:29]:
Yeah, I think there's almost certainly something to that. And I remember, I read that book years ago with her book quiet. And if I remember correctly, there's a distinction she makes between, even in american history, the difference between eras where the culture was a culture of character versus a culture of personality. And in a more agrarian era, it was more of a culture based in character. And as people increasingly moved into the cities, you were around strangers and being a charismatic figure who could shake hands and was comfortable marketing yourself, that became much more advantageous than it had been. I think there's a story in that book of, I think it's Albert Einstein in the early 20th century when he begins to get famous and his picture is all over the place and everyone knows who he is, and him getting letters from friends, basically telling him how sorry they were for him, that he was losing his privacy. And fast forward 100 years. And I know you write about this and have spoken about it as well, that people seemingly now have inverted that idea, or at least that's a much more common phenomenon of people wanting to chase fame.

Sherry Ning [00:09:48]:
Yeah, it's a strange thing because I think fame is like the tail should never wag the dog. I think fame is more of the side effect or the byproduct of doing something really well. And then you're known for think. I don't feel like Steve Jobs was the kind of guy who said, I'm going to make a great computer because I want to be famous for being the guy who made a great computer. He seemed like he had a genuine passion for product and design, but because he was so eccentric and his philosophy was so different, it made him stand out from the crowd.

Dan Riley [00:10:23]:
Yeah, I agree with that. I want to get into your writing in a second, but something you said about the big five personality having an s now as potential 6th. I don't know if you know of the book the weirdest people in the world, or the writer. He's a professor at Harvard. Joe Henrik is that name. Have you ever heard of him?

Sherry Ning [00:10:41]:
No, I haven't.

Dan Riley [00:10:42]:
I had him on a year ago, and one of the things I remember from that conversation, we were talking about the big five personality traits. And the acronym weirdest stands for, if I can remember it correctly, western educated, industrialized, rich and democratic. And the argument is essentially that the battery of tests that have been given to individuals that we now take as canon in psychological science, basically all stem from these type of countries. And that there was preliminary research in non weird countries. I remember Bolivia being one of them, that when they would apply the big five personality tests, know bolivian people, only two were showing up as being actualized. And if I remember correctly, it was pro sociality and industriousness. If I remember something like that, like extroversion and conscientiousness. Anyways, just putting that on your radar in case that's ever of interest to you.

Sherry Ning [00:11:52]:
Sorry. I think all of the scales and the tools in psychology, especially is a little. I mean, anything is a little oversimplified for how complex human behavior.

Dan Riley [00:12:06]:
Yeah. There was a Naseem taleb line that I loved from years ago. This is kind of tongue in cheek, but related to the idea you just mentioned is the social sciences means inventing a type of human that we can understand. Anyways, I want to talk about maybe a couple of quick ideas, and then I want to read a few quotes from your essays. I just so appreciate your originality and clarity. And there are a few themes about modern life that I want to go over and get your thoughts on quickly, though. One thing that I partially love, that's, I think, found in your writing and your speaking is how you often invert ideas or questions to try to help people elucidate answers to meaning or purpose or happiness. And it reminds me of.

Dan Riley [00:13:06]:
I've heard you say things that remind me very much of one of my favorite lines, which is from Charlie Munger, which is, and this is a direct quote from him. Quote. Rather than wondering what will make me happy, ask what is certain to make me miserable. And I know a lot of the times when you talk about purpose, for example, or creating a life of meaning, rather than trying to figure out what those answers are with clarity right away, I think one of your suggestions, if I am understanding it correctly, is to ask what is certain to be unmeaningful? What do I hate doing? What will make me miserable? I wondered if you would comment on that idea and how you kind of stumbled upon that in your ripe age of, I think, 23 or 24 years of years of age.

Sherry Ning [00:13:54]:
Yeah. Turned 24 late last year. Yeah.

Dan Riley [00:13:58]:
Getting old.

Sherry Ning [00:14:01]:
No, I'm not at an age where that's offensive. Yet that principle came out of my personal experience with consulting, which I briefly mentioned earlier. I don't know if this was before we started recording. When I was in college, I thought consulting was like this glamorous. It was like the best job in the world. I'm going to have so much fun doing it, and my life is going to be this great. I'm going to be going these places and doing whatever. And then when I actually did it, I realized that it was nothing like that.

Sherry Ning [00:14:37]:
And it was completely ignoring the things that I was the best, which is being creative, which is thinking outside of the box. And I'm not blaming the firm and I'm not blaming the system, because I think that a system like that, you have to, at a certain scale, you have to work a certain way. The corporate culture has to kind of cookie cut people. You have to put people in boxes if you want that scale and efficiency. But I learned that that was not for me. And around December 2022, I just had this kind of. This feeling of courage of, if I'm not going to take the risk now, when am I going to take the risk? So I left corporate, and then I started experimenting with writing online, and rite of passage, which is where I work right now, is quite a stroke of luck, I would say. It's serendipitous from Twitter.

Sherry Ning [00:15:35]:
It's more like the job found me than I found the role, but I think it's much more fitting for what my talents and my gifts are.

Dan Riley [00:15:45]:
Yeah, fair enough. I want to start with reading a section of an essay that you wrote, which is one of your essays called Death by ambition. And this is about the theme of success, and you just talked about how you can think outside the box. I think that's partly what I have so liked about your writing, is your take and your twist and your spin on modernity. And I've just found it very thought provoking. And so this is a relatively long passage, and then I'd love to get any additional comment you might have on it. And this is from that essay. Quote.

Dan Riley [00:16:27]:
I think there are two kinds of successes. An outward success. What do people see? And an inward success. Do I feel significantly transformed? In my experience, things done without deliberation rarely make me feel inwardly successful. This is why I think that even on the highest of thrones and in the most private of rooms, we might just as likely find examples of failure as we might in a small farmhouse in the plains. Every now and then we hear of tragic suicides of glamorous public figures, Marilyn Monroe, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, a few that come to mind right now. And it makes us reflect on what really drove them to do that. How could one person do that to themselves after achieving all that fame, wealth, reputation? And what the rest of the culture tells us is success and happiness.

Dan Riley [00:17:20]:
Someone who lives a simple life can be just as successful as someone who lives a busy and culturally significant one. As long as both live. As both lives are intentionally pursued, both are equally successful when obtained. Perhaps we don't need to take that new job with greater responsibilities, accept that invitation to that party, wear the same brands that everyone wears, go take pictures in the same places that everyone goes, or try to keep up with everyone we know and see online. Perhaps for some of us, we would be better off focusing on how to reduce the items on the to do list, the events on the calendar, the people we engage with, and instead keep a relatively simple schedule with just a few important things and a few important people. For me, and this was my favorite line. For me, I think an exciting life is one where I feel glad to be alive, not one where I am frantically busy.

Sherry Ning [00:18:23]:
Yeah, I think that was one of my more emotional rambles on substac when I was in consulting, and I would occasionally interact with the very senior people in the company or on the client side, very senior people in this big, whatever, money making company. And yes, on the outside, they have the LinkedIn of what everyone wants. Everyone wants to talk to them, everyone wants their attention, they want to shake their hand, they want to introduce themselves. But then once you get to know them a little bit, they talk about how I was at the stream when I was an analyst, when I was your age, and I didn't do it, or I was once so interested in this, and now my hips hurt and I can't do that anymore. And it is a trade off. You definitely work hard for a career like that, and you make it to that senior level and you have the reputation, you have the salary. But then I thought about myself, like, am I someone who is able to make that sacrifice? Would I feel okay with all the material good and the financial success, but knowing that I could have done this other thing and loved it and enjoyed it? And I think that's a big thing. A lot of people are really hung up on the financial part of it, like how much money you make from doing something, which obviously you should be because likes don't pay bills, subscribes and shares don't pay bills.

Sherry Ning [00:20:00]:
But I think times have changed that there are people making millions of dollars on YouTube. That's just an example. But what I want to say is that times have changed, that the world is very flexible and you can kind of carve your own path if you have the talent and you have the courage and you have the time and you want to try it. The thing is, you have to want to, like, if you have the intention of trying something and you've got your own back, you don't think of giving up. What if you make it? The thing about entrepreneurship is you don't always have to be right, but you just have to be right once. And that was appealing to me, at least for me. When I jumped out of consulting. That kind of went through my head.

Sherry Ning [00:20:45]:
And I think a lot about these, and I'm not trying to compare myself to Marilyn Monroe or Kate Spade. That level of Hollywood and fashion industry success. But now that my writing has helped me reach a lot of people that I once admired, in a way, I've met a lot of my heroes. I realize that they're just normal people. They're just like me and you and everyone else you see on the streets. It's just that they worked really hard for this one thing. They've had a bit of luck, but that's also because they've kind of exposed themselves to opportunities. It's more likely than you think to become famous or to become really known or really good at what you do.

Dan Riley [00:21:33]:
Because I know you must be extremely thoughtful, given the content of your writing. How did you get to the point where you believed that the trade offs and the risk was worth taking the leap to do something that seemingly, it seems like you felt rather called to do, or at least you had a deep sense that you wanted to try?

Sherry Ning [00:21:56]:
Well, every morning or afternoon when I go for my two hour walk with my coffee, I just think I would choose this over a corporate job that pays twice what I'm making now. Anytime.

Dan Riley [00:22:11]:

Sherry Ning [00:22:12]:
In a simple.

Dan Riley [00:22:16]:
You know, you have spoken a lot about Renee Girard and mimicking mimesis and how I think I heard you mention this in an interview that God knows I've seen this in my own life with myself and my friends. So often people just follow the leader. And if you're somebody who believes that you're capable and have been given some feedback, that you're intelligent and that there's a job opportunity available to you to go and work on Wall street or work in consulting, why wouldn't you do it? They must be doing this for a reason. Was the financial component for you just not a real concern? Did you figure you could have a life of comfort but potentially not luxury with the opportunities that were in front of yourself, how did you kind of work through the calculation at 22, 23 years old to do that? Because in my experience, often what happens is the people that go on their own to be creative tend to do that after having earned a certain amount of savings and investments to hedge their bets a little bit. How did you make that decision? Or what kind of calculation did you make to decide it was worth the risk?

Sherry Ning [00:23:46]:
I already thought about joining startups because at the time, what I was the most unsatisfied about with big company consulting culture is that you're just a cog in the machine. Like I have all these gifts to offer. Yet on Friday night, 10:00 p.m. I'm fixing the hex code of this color on a PowerPoint slide. And that just felt so removed from the real world and the grass. Like, I'm not touching the grass. And I talked to a few friends, and I basically came to this conclusion that I think, why don't I try working at a startup? Because I think that what I learned from consulting is that something that is really important to me when it comes to work is that I get to see the result of my work. So if I do something, I want to see the end of it.

Sherry Ning [00:24:36]:
I want to see it to the end, and I want to see, well, how does the world react? How does the user react? How does the reader react? And consulting did not satisfy that for me. So I was already starting to network and starting to make that change. And then writing just kind of took off from there. So I thought, why don't I just focus full time on writing for a while? I've got nothing to lose. Even if in six months I still don't have a job, I'm still a new grad. I'm still considered a new grad, and I could still just apply.

Dan Riley [00:25:08]:
Yeah. And the gifts that you speak about that, I think I heard you say this as well, that the work that you had been doing was not maximizing what you had to offer. I think you just basically said the same thing. What did you feel in your heart, in your gut you had to offer at that time or throughout your life that probably, I would imagine you desired expressing or at least giving? You write a lot about service as well. What were those gifts? What did you think you had to offer?

Sherry Ning [00:25:45]:
I really like writing stories. I enjoy making people think instead of being like, go write this email kind of a job. I don't know, it's really hard to pin down exactly what creativity is. For me, it's more of being inspired by ideas and then seeing how that applies in the real world. And why do people think the way they do? I mean, I studied psychology because I still am very interested in just seeing what makes people tick, like what is going through people's heads when they make this decision, or why do they think that way?

Dan Riley [00:26:25]:
Fair enough. I think this next quote will be a good fodder for conversation. And this is one of my favorite lines and sections from one of your essays, which is called on cultivating taste. This is two paragraphs, so bear with me. And this is from you. And I love so many of these ideas in here. Quote, open mindedness, like extroversion, has become a kind of arbitrary virtue that many believe is worth embodying, primarily because it makes you friendlier at parties. However, there is nothing inherently virtuous about open mindedness.

Dan Riley [00:26:59]:
It only feels like an angelic trait because we equate it with something akin to niceness or a lack of hostility. And this is in bold. The opposite of open mindedness is not bigotry, but rather it's particularity, much like how the opposite of extroversion is not shyness but introversion. There are definitional gaps in the english language that require experience to be understood, such as the distinction between niceness and kindness, envy and jealousy, or talent and genius. The opposite of inclusion and tolerance is not persecution, prejudice or political partisanship. Instead, it's about having principled preferences that are meaningful rather than arbitrary, convenient or conforming. Cultivating good taste requires discrimination, exclusion, and a wise pickiness, often assigned as an insult to the stereotype of pearl clutching, bush voting conservatives. The more you eliminate the things you don't enjoy, the more you can devote yourself to the things that enrich your life.

Sherry Ning [00:28:12]:
I really care about excellence. To me, that means to do something. If you're going to do something, do it to the best of your ability. Like really try, don't do 1ft in, 1ft out. If you're going to try something, really give it a try. So I care about excellence, and the thing I've noticed about excellence is that excellence is self selective. For example, if you think of a private club, like a private society, they select for a certain group of people. Not that they go out and they recruit certain people, but that the fact that they exist naturally draws the people who want to be a part of that club.

Sherry Ning [00:28:53]:
And the people who want to join also know. They know who they are, and they know what they have to offer and how to get in and why they fit the archetype of this club. I was going to give the example of an Ivy League university, but I don't think nowadays Ivy League as exclusive and hard to get into as they used to be back in the day. And I think that's actually kind of meta, because it is about this kind of cosmetic inclusion and diversity, of being nice and being postmodern and, dare I say, woke. But I think that the way nature works, especially human nature works, it's still very much the things that are exclusive are exclusive because they keep out everything else. I think the words inclusion and diversity have been misused in too many places that they no longer mean what they originally mean. Like, I think inclusion and. And diversity are really great for.

Sherry Ning [00:29:59]:
For ideas and say, you're hosting a party and you want, you know, all kinds of people to be interacting, and you want different people of different careers or different jobs and different backgrounds to cross pollinate in that conversation. I think that is the very original and dictionary definition of inclusion and diversity. But I think that nowadays, when you say that, you kind of can assume what else this person believes in or what else they think there should be. And so, all to say, I think that when you accept way too much, you're really just diluting the good stuff. You're diluting the things you should be caring about or the things that you might actually find really interesting. So when you open Twitter or open any other social media, when you start scrolling and you just get this influx of timely information, some of them are funny, some of them are like news, and some, it's spam. If you're not selective about what you consume, if you're not muting, I don't know, accounts that annoy you, or there are certain words you don't want to see, you can mute those words. You're filling your timeline with everything that is essentially junk.

Sherry Ning [00:31:09]:
It's not useful to you. It could even be harmful to you. One of my favorite, I think it's from the book of first Corinthians. In the Bible, it says that bad company corrupts good morals. And that is something I think is so true. When you're thinking about how to spend your time with certain people, there are people who don't mean harm. They're not bad people, and they're not trying to do you evil intentions. They don't have evil intentions, but the way they are or the way they think about might not be beneficial for who you are, what you believe.

Sherry Ning [00:31:47]:
And I think that what is so taboo nowadays is that this idea that you have to hang out with people, everyone who just like you, have to tolerate everyone's ideas and beliefs. Well, what if I don't want to? What if I just don't want to? I just don't want to hear you talk about the thing, your belief, because I don't agree with you, and I don't really want to talk about that. I don't want to have an argument. I don't want to have this conversation.

Dan Riley [00:32:14]:
I know. I've heard you say that that is not the way kids operate. You ask a child what they want, they will tell you. And the question which I think you posed in another interview is, why is it that so many people grow into a mentality of being seemingly almost ashamed, of wanting things and you used the word postmodern just a minute ago, and I have to ask if it's your view that culturally people are being slightly brainwashed or overtly brainwashed into not having discriminating tastes, to not basically asserting what they want in the spirit of open mindedness.

Sherry Ning [00:33:08]:
I don't like. I know you've already done an episode with him, but I think Rob Henderson would be the right person to ask about that. Yeah, I don't know. I've never really thought about this that much.

Dan Riley [00:33:18]:
Yeah, that was something that came to mind as I was reading that passage that you just wrote that I read out is that I feel like that's becoming more and more a common phenomenon of people, and maybe it's that I'm living in Brooklyn now, and so I'm surrounded by a certain zeitgeist. But that definitely rang true for me. I want to read out one other section about, and I've already shared this essay with other people, and this is titled Wildflowers. You write and talk a lot about beauty and the importance of beauty, which is not a subject I come across that often that modern writers are diving into. And I thought this essay was very thought provoking and very well written. And this is from you. Quote. When the wildflowers came into bloom, my mother would add to her philosophy on beauty.

Dan Riley [00:34:21]:
Beauty may be necessary, but so is toughness. If a girl were a flower, she's better off being a wildflower. Unlike greenhouse flowers, wildflowers are resilient. When it storms, they brave through the winds and pouring rain. When it snows, their roots nap under the earth and return the following spring. They're never truly defeated. They're lanky, mismatched, and they sprout in the most peculiar places, highways, cracks, on the sidewalks, roadside ditches, and everywhere in between. For the wildflower, the whole world is its greenhouse.

Dan Riley [00:35:00]:
There is no optimal environment for it to grow. They don't demand carefully monitored temperatures, finicky doses of sunlight, or dainty amounts of water. They live off what they receive, and they thrive doing so. Wildflowers never complain about the elements. They bloom wherever they can and whenever they want. Wildflowers never ask for permission. They dance in the wind like no one is watching. My mother raised me to be like the wildflowers, to be beautiful but tough.

Dan Riley [00:35:32]:
She gave me a roll up your sleeves mentality when hard work was necessary. She taught me to maintain graceful. She taught me to maintain gracefulness even in the face of adversity, and to look up at the sky after it. Pours Wildflowers have their roots deep in the earth and their faces worshipping the sun. Come droughts, cloudy days, storms, and fearsome winds, wildflowers still blossom and bring a touch of beauty and joy to the world around them. That's beautiful writing, and I wanted to give you just some space to respond to that and also to respond to the idea of the relationship between, and sometimes even the necessity between beauty and toughness.

Sherry Ning [00:36:23]:
Beauty. Well, beauty can be taken from so many ways, but in this piece in particular, it was more of a poetic. Is it called personification? I'm not sure about the poetic, actual techniques, like the name of the techniques, but it's more about how it was more of an ode to my mom and just kind of like about, wow. Now that I'm at an age where I go out in the world and people see me as an adult, how does everything that my mom has taught me up until when I went off to college, until now, and how I kind of start to realize from first principles many of the things why she would say that. And I would say that the two big things my mom really instills in me is, number one, is not individual independence, like, kind of being self sufficient and agency? Like, if you don't like something in the world, go change it. If you can't change it, then just, I don't know, avoid it, accept it, but never give up without a fight. Like, if you want something, you can speak up. You have free will.

Sherry Ning [00:37:43]:
You can go say something. You can find a person. You can try to solve this problem if you don't like it. And independence is more like. I wouldn't say my mom is super traditional, but she's not a feminist. I wouldn't say she's, like, the modern kind, of the capital f, like, feminism kind. I think that she does encourage a certain level of independence. It doesn't matter whether you're a man or a woman.

Sherry Ning [00:38:09]:
It's about, like, if you were left alone in a new city and you had $100 in your pocket, could you make it? Could you survive? What is your strength, your inner strength? And for my mom, a lot of inner strength. And in her personal stories with growing up and her first job and getting a career and moving to different places and traveling, she believes that you really learn about yourself, and you really test your limits of independence when adversity strikes. Like, she would tell me about, my mom really likes hiking. She likes the outdoors. So she would travel to places where you're not expecting Ritz Carlton bathrooms. Like, you're not expecting first world country customer service. And those times can be really tough when you're used to living in North America and everything's kind of ready at your fingertips. And she'll tell me these stories about traveling in Tibet, traveling in Portugal, and the things that you would just really need to realize that, wow, the world does not.

Sherry Ning [00:39:15]:
In a good way. The world does not care about me. In a good way. The world does not care about me. And it's really up to me to make it work, and I have to work hard for what I want. And I think, yeah, adversity is probably the best teacher of that, which is what I tried to talk about when I mentioned the wildflowers, and I compare that to, like, a greenhouse flower.

Dan Riley [00:39:36]:
And I know I've heard you talk about this as well. I think this event probably must have influenced some of your decisions, and I'm sure it gave you a lot of resilience and resourcefulness. But if you're comfortable talking about it, I would love to give you an opportunity to talk about your dad. And I just read an essay of yours, I think, this morning about and his family's story that I think you shared in an essay, both of your parents. I think it was like, Wagyu and ancestors or something. I forget the title exactly.

Sherry Ning [00:40:17]:

Dan Riley [00:40:17]:
Yeah, and fate.

Sherry Ning [00:40:19]:
That was my first experimentation with biographical, nonphilosophical writing, because up until that point, my blog was all, like, exploring ideas, beauty, but aesthetic as a philosophical idea. That was my first kind of real biographical about me piece.

Dan Riley [00:40:38]:
What resonates about his life for you related to beauty and maybe more importantly, toughness? My understanding is that he was a salesman, an account executive who was traveling a lot when you were young. What about him? What resonates to this day about what he taught you about some of these subjects?

Sherry Ning [00:41:00]:
So that one would be from how to pack a suitcase, which is a separate piece. So that piece was a tribute to my father, who passed away in 2019 when I was in college. And the older I get, the more I think I start to realize which parts of me I got from my dad and which parts I got from my mom. Probably everyone has that realization at some point. And I think personality wise, we've gone full circle now. But I think personality wise, I'm a lot like my dad. I'm a lot like my dad than my mom. And I think sometimes I get into arguments with my mom, and I just like, why can't you see it from my perspective? And I just realized that, no, she's just different.

Sherry Ning [00:41:40]:
That is not where I get it from. She's a different part of me. I think I really get the personality from my dad. And by personality I mean like this rigor, the standard of excellence, like doing something really well. I think I said this in the essay as well, but my dad was an engineer by training. Like, he went to school for engineering. So you can already imagine the meticulous, the planning, the sensitivity to details, which is something I really have. In fact, I thought about architecture, going to architecture before, in high school, before I majored in psychology.

Sherry Ning [00:42:20]:
There's just like this visual spatial intelligence that I feel like we really bonded over at times. Like building Legos, really sketching the cityscape and seeing how the edges of the building work from different perspectives. But also this kind of obsessive compulsive work ethic, like this need to get something right. Now, I didn't tell you this before the recording, but I slept at 03:30 a.m. Last night because I was editing this video essay and I never sleep that late. I'm usually in bed before eleven. Like, I'm out at 1030 latest, so this was an anomaly. Spoiler I'm making video essays and I was learning final cut pro and I was up at 03:00 a.m.

Sherry Ning [00:43:06]:
Just playing around with little audio editing. But that's an example of my obsessive compulsive personality and the way that I work. It's just so obsession driven. If I'm working on something I have, like horse blinders on, I don't see the world. This is all I'm focusing on right now.

Dan Riley [00:43:23]:
Yeah, I can relate to that as well. There's one final section I would love to read, and then I would love to get your take on our cultures in general in relation to one specific subject afterwards. But this was one of my favorite sections and some of the most in my mind, some of the most beautiful writing I had come across in a long time. And this is from your essay about nostalgia. And there are passages in here that I thought were just so damn creative and well crafted. And I want to read this and then get your thoughts on some of these ideas. Quote we always ask, where did the good times go? Without reflecting on the possibility that this very moment, right now, is what we will one day be nostalgic for. There is a particular phenomenon where one can gain a sudden but ephemeral awareness that a present experience is going to become a poignant memory.

Dan Riley [00:44:24]:
But this is not guaranteed to happen. We tend to take good times for granted. We move as a rower propels his boat facing backwards. We can always see where we've been, but not where we're going. That's why your boat is always going to be steered by a younger version of you. Every first time can only be a first time once. Now is the oldest you've ever been and the youngest you'll ever be. If only we knew how much or how little time we have left with someone we care about, we might appreciate every moment we spend with them a little more.

Dan Riley [00:45:05]:
If we knew in advance which days were going to be our happiest, we might be prepared to enjoy those special days with a bit more effort. But why must we wait for some oracle to tell us which person is going to leave us first? Or which day is going to be our happiest? If we make every moment a bit more precious and take things one day at a time, maybe we'll leave this world with fewer regrets. And if we didn't manage to make fewer mistakes, at least we enjoyed every day as if we were granted some magical portal to visit a past we know we will miss. It's beautiful.

Sherry Ning [00:45:46]:
Thank you. I'm a very nostalgic person. Sometimes I just start thinking about things that happened in the past, or I have a hard time throwing out things that I don't use anymore or like things like clothes that I can't fit into anymore. But I don't know. I have emotions projected onto. Onto the object. What was the beginning of that quote? Wow, you really dug from the archives? Like the old, old pieces. I think part of that essay was.

Sherry Ning [00:46:23]:
It was inspired by Hemingway, the sun also rises, where he talked about the lost generation and the people who came back from World War I. And their lives were all scrambled because of the war, and people are now dating different people, and friends are not friends anymore. And then the very last page is when Bret and Jake, they talked about what if? What if we ended up know? It's a lot of what ifs and what ifs. Like, what if you didn't go to the war? What if you didn't get injured in the war? What if you didn't date my friend while I was away at the war? And it was all these situations that I just feel like people are like dots on a map, and we're just following these lines, and we don't really know how these lines are going to intersect. And in a way, it's kind of useless thinking about the what ifs, because while you're already here, today is tomorrow's what if today you are doing things that ten years from now you might be thinking about, oh, what if I didn't go on Dan Riley's show? Like, what if I didn't do this? It was this very existential thinking too far out into the future. Yeah.

Dan Riley [00:47:33]:
Do you find that that state of mind is helpful for you? And if not, is that something that you're actively cultivating a way out of, or is that just something you've become to accept about yourself?

Sherry Ning [00:47:54]:
Oh, that's a good question. I think a bit of both. Yeah. I've come to accept that about myself. I think it's just like, I mean, well, first of all, it makes great writing. Like, being Sal makes great writing. I think the greatest writers, not just writers, but I think artists and innovators in general. What's that quote about how the genius is, they're a little insane in the head.

Sherry Ning [00:48:20]:
I think it takes some kind of blemish, some part of you that literally no one else in the world understands to drive you insane until you create something. There is that stage in creativity. But I think I'm also pretty good at turning my brain off. I think I have a very pure and childlike side that I don't really. Well, I obviously don't show it on the Internet because I just don't think it's a little too private. Why would I want people to know that? But I also don't really write from. That's not the voice. That's not the part of me I tap into when I write or I want to think about these things.

Sherry Ning [00:49:05]:
Did you know that? Well, I don't even know which side of me this is, but I've watched shrek over 200 times in my entire life.

Dan Riley [00:49:11]:

Sherry Ning [00:49:12]:
It's an amazing movie. It's because when I was in the second grade, I had this after school ritual when I had to watch Shrek, and I had to eat a snack while I watched Shrek. And my day wouldn't feel complete if I didn't do that. So for the entire school year, plus the summer afterwards, I'd watch shrek every single day. But there's a very imaginative, almost like a dreamlike, like a daydream like quality that doesn't think as much. I just don't think that people on the Internet know that as me. Like, I think my friends in real life who have known me for a long time would know that side of me.

Dan Riley [00:49:48]:
But, yeah, I know we're getting close to the end of the conversation. I wanted to close with it flies. Who else for you do you look to for great writing? I know you're a big fan of the classics, but in terms of modern essayists or authors, who do you consult? Who do you admire? Who do you enjoy consuming?

Sherry Ning [00:50:17]:
I really enjoy Jordan Peterson. I think there are a few people, speakers and writers that I really like the content of. As in, like, I agree with what they say, and I think that their writing is quite insightful and quite practical as well. I could use them in my own life to really improve myself, whether that's time management or talking to people. But I think the reason why I said I enjoy Jordan Peterson, and it's not just like I like his content because I think it's the way he speaks and the way he can tell stories. And especially he tells it from experience because he's a clinical psychologist. And a lot of the things he learns comes from real life experiences of dealing with people who've had these patterns of psychological suffering and going through troubles. I think it's very enjoyable to listen to him speak because it's like listening to a wise grandfather who's been there, done that, seen it all.

Sherry Ning [00:51:18]:
And he really sums it up in a very consumable way. A lot of times it's mythology, it's stories. And he's also quite funny. I've met him once. He's like his videos. He's like John Vervecki. He's also like the videos, but he's quite funny in person.

Dan Riley [00:51:37]:
Yeah, I always found that before he got famous. He's much funnier in a lot of his videos. I think the stress of becoming Jordan Peterson probably reduced the frequency of him showing off his sense of humor. At least that was my takeaway from watching some of his older stuff. I want to close on a subject that I've covered a few times on this show, that we've sort of danced around purpose, meaning, spirituality and religion. And there's a quote I didn't have time to read about you talking about the shadow, writing about the shadow. And there's a quote in there about Jung, or a couple of quotes in there about Carl Jung. And I wanted to give an opportunity for you to talk, if you're comfortable with it, about your own personal, spiritual and religious views and beliefs and how you came to them.

Dan Riley [00:52:37]:
I know just from reading one of your essays yesterday that you spent a year of college, I think, living in a convent or within a catholic community in Toronto, like a sisterhood. And in however much time you want to give, I'd love to give your brilliant brain, the space to explain a bit why you have these views, where they come from. It's no shock to, I'm sure, both of us, that we live in an increasingly secular age, and some of what you write related to religion and God and spirituality flies in the face of that. And I just wanted to give you some time to talk about that in whatever detail you would like or feel comfortable.

Sherry Ning [00:53:29]:
Wow, Dan, you could have brought this one up here.

Dan Riley [00:53:34]:

Sherry Ning [00:53:36]:
Where do I start? Well, I was a staunch atheist when I was a teenager. I was very into Harris. You know, like that group of people on the Internet know, they talk a lot about the stars and natural sciences. And I would say that my atheism and my love for natural sciences sort of happened at the same time, where I just thought chemistry and biology, these things were the coolest things ever. They explain everything in the world, and there's no need for religion. It's all just fairy tale, and it's all just like, used to oppress people. I'm trying to say these things to kind of give you a picture, because I'm sure you've met people like that. Maybe you were like that yourself as well.

Sherry Ning [00:54:23]:
But all to say, I really empathize with the atheists. I know where they're coming from, and I've been there. But I think that when you're atheistic enough, when you really think about it deep enough and you really sit in it, it makes you nihilistic. And I think, for me, atheism introduced nihilism, which is like the side effects of the drug that I did not know I was taking. That's how it felt like. And then I went into, like, a spiritual but not religious phase. I think mysticism appealed to me in a certain way, especially in the form of pagan religions. It's kind of astrology, like, thinking about, like, there's a certain pattern to the universe and how things work, and just thinking about how, while ancient people, they used these wisdom systems and things to figure out before they had telescopes and things like that.

Sherry Ning [00:55:21]:
So spirituality definitely ushered in. But I think this podcast is turning into a Jordan Peterson podcast. But I think it was the Jordan Peterson biblical series on YouTube that really changed. It didn't just change my mind. I think it opened my mind. It didn't really change the way I think, but it really opened my mind to thinking about, what if I'm wrong? What if this is not the right way to think about it? And I think the most mind blowing thing he said about beliefs is something like, imagine you're floating on the ocean and you have a raft, and a raft is made out of individual logs. Every single one of those logs are like a belief. Like you need a belief to stand on.

Sherry Ning [00:56:12]:
Even the statement I don't have a belief is a belief. That is a belief you stand on. Even the belief that I turn to worm food after I die, there is no God. That in itself is a belief you need to survive. There's actually no such thing as a belief vacuum. Can't not have a belief because you need that wrath to stand. Otherwise you drown. And if you drown, then you have no opinions, you don't need to have a belief.

Sherry Ning [00:56:35]:
So I think that really changed my mind. And he recommends reading Dostoevsky for a good reason, because I read crime and punishment, which I still think is the greatest novel I've ever read. And it's about how you can't get away with your own, you can't escape your own conscience. You know what you did. You can't lie to yourself. And John Vervecky talks about that. He says, you can bullshit yourself, but you can't lie to yourself. You always know the truth.

Sherry Ning [00:57:03]:
You can't just pretend that never happened. And I think conscious and morality.

Dan Riley [00:57:10]:

Sherry Ning [00:57:10]:
Such a gateway to realizing that not religion per se, but religiosity, like the propensity to have religion, is somehow at the core of human nature, that you have to lean on a set of beliefs. Because I think when you say religion, automatically people think of the Abrahamic, like, you're either Muslim, you're jewish, or you're christian. But I think it's more to do with the religiosity, meaning you lean on a set of beliefs like the Ten Commandments, like the Quran, like the beliefs of these old, so called out of date religions. And I think that's the mindset shift that kind of took me to this new paradigm of thinking. And I sort of realized that mythology and fiction are, they're not stupid. They're just as truthful as a math textbook. They're just a different kind of truth. Like, I think math and science do a great job of explaining the world, telling us what there is.

Sherry Ning [00:58:18]:
But I think myths and fairy tales tell us what to do with what there is. And I think that's just as important as learning natural sciences.

Dan Riley [00:58:27]:
And to dovetail on that, do you feel like you have arrived at a rather firm, clear spiritual or religious conclusion? Do you feel like this is an ongoing evolution for you? I know you mentioned you kind of pivoted from atheist to spiritual, but where would you say you are at this point?

Sherry Ning [00:58:50]:
I got baptized in 2019, and I think that's like the most difficult thing to say because as soon as you say that, everything afterwards becomes a devotional. And I don't want to make it into a devotional, but I think St. Augustine said it best. He said that the truth is, like a lion, you don't defend a lion. You let it loose and the lion defends itself. That's all I'll say about it.

Dan Riley [00:59:18]:
Yeah, fair. Well, I would love to do this again at some point. If we find some time in the future for future books or essays. I really hope you're able, if it is serving you to keep writing, because you're a brilliant essayist and it's been a real pleasure to dive into your work and I hope you keep it up. And I just want to say thank you so much for the time and sharing your ideas and having this combo today.

Sherry Ning [00:59:44]:
Thank you so much. Dan. You're amazing at research, and you're really good at making me think.

Dan Riley [00:59:50]:
Thank you. Thank you for listening to this episode of Keep talking. If you're finding value in this podcast, please consider supporting the show via the links below on PayPal or Patreon. Your support helps to make these conversations possible.