Paul Shirley

SOLO 162 | Paul Shirley


Peter McGraw invites Paul Shirley, a writer, entrepreneur, and retired professional basketball player, into the Solo Studio to discuss Paul’s remarkable life as a basketball player through the lens of his books. “Can I Keep My Jersey?” has blended into Paul’s time in the minor leagues and overseas. Paul learns that if things go poorly, you don’t have to take it as an existential threat because sometimes things do work out, or sometimes they don’t. Looking into the lens of the “Stories I Tell On Dates,” Paul dives into his status in a relationship. Tune in to this inspiring episode with Paul Shirley!

Listen to Episode #162 here


Paul Shirley

Welcome back. You may remember Paul Shirley from the How To Read A Lot episode. In this episode, I invite Paul into the SOLO studio to talk about his remarkable life through the lens of his books. A National Merit scholar and engineering major at Iowa State University. Paul played for 17 professional basketball teams in a 9-year career. Including stops in Spain, Greece, Russia, and with three teams in the NBA.

A longtime writer. He’s the author of three works of non-fiction and two works of fiction. Paul is also the Founder of The Process. Which helps creatives, freelancers, and working professionals find structure, accountability, and community online and in person. Paul and I crossed paths twice figuratively before literally crossing paths at a coffee shop in Denver. I’ve been forcing my friendship on him ever since. I hope you enjoy the episode. Let’s get started. Welcome back, Paul.

Peter, how’s it going?

Never better.

I’m seeing you on your best day. It’s the reverse of that office space situation. Every day is better than the last, so you’re seeing me on my best day.

That’s right.

The optimist’s version of the office space.

We’re new friends, but we’re good friends because I’m basically wearing my pajamas right now.

Don’t ruin it for the audience.

You appeared in the episode, How To Read A Lot, and that’s a winning episode. People like that episode. I find myself dropping it into Twitter comments all the time. I wanted to bring you into the SOLO studio to talk about your life as a writer. We’re going to use the lens of your books to look at your remarkable solo life. You’re the author of three works of non-fiction. Can I Keep My Jersey?, Stories I Tell On Dates, and The Process Is the Product. You are also the author of two works of fiction. Your first novel, Ball Boy, came out in February 2021. Your second about a rock band named David launches on March 23rd, 2023.

SOLO 162 | Paul Shirley
Ball Boy

Auspiciously picked.

Let’s jump in because we’re going to be finding out about you along the way. Let’s start with your previous life as a basketball player and your first book, Can I Keep My Jersey?

What do you want to know?

That’s how I got to know you. I stumbled on your book, I would say, as a largely retired sports spectator, but my favorite sport to spectate was professional basketball. It probably still is. If I do regress, I’ll put on the NBA. I do one other sports spectating thing. Every summer, I go to summer league, Las Vegas with some friends.

As we’ve discussed and as you’ve tried to convince me to engage with.

We have a mutual friend who’s worried. He’s getting ready for the full-court press, pun intended. You played for 17 professional basketball teams during a 9-year career. Stops in Spain, Greece, Russia, and three teams in the NBA. You’re now retired.

Super retired. No one’s ever been more retired.

You’re more retired from playing basketball than I am from watching it.

I’m more retired from playing basketball than anyone’s ever been retired from anything.

When was the last time you shot a basket?

Probably in some half-assed way in my parent’s backyard with my brothers. It hasn’t happened in any kind of meaningful way for years.

Do you miss it?

I miss that stage of my life, but I do not miss basketball.

Let’s talk about how you came to write the book because I think that’ll tell a bit of a story about what kind of basketball player you were.

The start of that is that when I was a senior in college, I had a friend who had gone overseas to play in the second division in Spain. He would write these entertaining journal entries that he would send out as emails to friends and family. I resolved that if I got to play professionally, which was looking more likely as my senior year progressed, I would do something similar. Sure enough, after getting cut by the Los Angeles Lakers in training camp, the Lakers of Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and Phil Jackson.

Were you drafted or were you a free agent?

I was undrafted, not super close to being drafted, but there was some talk that maybe I would be a second-round pick. For those who were not familiar, there are only two rounds in the NBA Draft. I had gone to Summer League with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The team had been toying with potentially drafting me, but they picked Carlos Boozer instead, which was pretty wise. He went on to make about $150 million in his career.

One of the more overpaid.

Pretty overpaid, but still good basketball players. Not embarrassing that they drafted him instead of me.

I think we both agree that I probably watched you play Summer League without noticing the 6’9”.

I was a good NBA Summer League player because I understood how basketball worked, and most guys that play NBA Summer League did not at the time.

What does that mean for someone who doesn’t understand basketball?

There are a multitude of types of basketball players, but you could break them down into guys who see the game from a first-person perspective. As in, “I’m playing against you.” Everything else fades into the background. There are those of us who see it in its more three-dimensional form. A third-person perspective, which is we know that if I do this, then this other thing will happen.

It’s like chess.

It’s like a speedy version of chess. Steve Nash is the ultimate example of a guy who always understood what was going to happen before it happened. I played a lot of basketball. That was what I was good at. It was understanding how the game worked. I was good to have on your chaotic team because I could bring some order to that chaos. I had played Summer League with the Cavaliers, gone to training camp with the Lakers and gotten cut as soon as the Lakers could cut anybody. Me and Dennis Scott, who played for the Orlando Magic, were cut on the first day that you could cut people.

I went off to Greece to play. Sure enough, the experiences I had were super weird. I started writing them down, mostly to catalogue them because they were coming at me so fast and furiously. I was like, “Someday, I got to be able to explain this to my grandkids.” I then followed the lead of that friend and started sending these out as emails, little journals kind of a proto blog.

This is the late 2000s?

This is the fall of 2001.

Early 2000s.

Yeah. I quickly realized that if I made them funny, then people would respond to my emails, which made me feel less alone, which was nice. I developed the shtick of every week writing a journal about what had been happening. “We played in Jerusalem. That was weird, and here’s why. We played in Thessaloniki. That was weird, and here’s why.” I kept doing that for four years while my career did the rollercoaster of training camp, get cut, go overseas, play in the minor leagues. Make it to the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks, get cut again, go back overseas. You can imagine.

It’s not as romantic and exciting as you imagine it when you were sitting in your driveway shooting baskets, thinking, “I’m going to be a professional basketball player.”

By the time you are aware of how something works, it usually has moved on to something else. What I mean by that is I had grown up reading all these sports biographies of the 27 Yankees. Riding the train and having these amazing experiences as a team. By the time I made it to, especially the NBA, it was so sanitized and corporatized. There was very little interaction with the city you were in, with each other.

Flying private in and out.

Yeah, you existed in liminal space if you were. You were just between the real world and your own existence, I guess.

It’s like a carnival.

Very much so. It was like being a circus performer in many ways, especially because I was so marginal. I was just good enough to play in the NBA, but also really good in Europe. I was always torn by I could stay in Europe and make a whole bunch of money. I could come to the NBA and constantly get my brains beat in, but maybe get to play in the NBA.

By the way, some people are making that decision for you.

Yeah, certainly.

The teams that are cutting you or signing you?

Yeah, which was perplexing because I was so much on that edge that I never had a secure sense of how good I was. In some cases, I would fit in really well on an NBA team. In other cases, I wouldn’t fit in at all. The same would be true in Europe. Although, I was much better suited to play in Europe.

I suspect now, again, not to get too nerdy about this, you probably would be better suited for the NBA now than back then.

I remember getting cut by the Atlanta Hawks after it coming down to me versus another guy for the last spot on the team. The brief summary, and this is still a little bit true, but not as true now. Back then, most of the contracts were guaranteed when you went into training camp. They would have 4 or 5 guys fighting for the last spot to breed some competition.

This was a bit of a vestige of an earlier time when there’d be a lot more competition for the spots, and it would be more of a wild west feeling of, “Who’s going to make the team?” The Hawks had left one spot open. I was in pretty good shape to compete for that spot but lost out the night before opening day, which was, of course, devastating.

I was, at this point, enough of a pro that I went into the office and asked the right questions. What do I need to do better for next year? They handed me a shot chart that they had kept, every shot I had taken in training camp. They showed, “You make a lot of them from here. You don’t make as many from here.” The thing I found fascinating was they said, “What we’d love is for you to look for your shot more.”

I thought, “That’s so stupid. You don’t want me shooting a lot.” I was a good shooter and I would do fine if left open. You’ve got Shareef Abdur-Rahim, who’s making $15 million, let’s say. Jason Terry, who’s making $6 million, and on and on. All these guys that you’re paying to make shots. You want me to come in and do the right thing. Help us win games through things that don’t involve making shots because all of those other guys are shooting.

The formula for you succeeding is different than Jason Terry’s.

The point of that being, now, because of the embrace of stats and all of this, people understand that much more than they did years ago. They just thought in this one-dimensional, “Does he score a lot of points?” Which is really silly. The best case scenario is be the eighth man, which was mine. I could have come in and made things work better, but I wasn’t big enough or good enough to be a star. Which I was fine with, and it was strange that they didn’t see that.

The Atlanta Hawks let you keep your jersey?

Yes, they did.

The Los Angeles Lakers did not.

They did not. They gave me the title for that first book.

How did those emails turn into your first book?

As I mentioned, after 3 or 4 years of this, I was playing for the Phoenix Suns. After being ready to quit basketball. I had gone to camp with the Suns. This time, I had made the opening day roster and then got cut a day later when they signed Bo Outlaw, who the Memphis Grizzlies had paid $3 million not to play for them. I took that as a sign that things weren’t going great.

I did go sign up to play in Russia, which I thought would be interesting. It was interesting in a kind of fear-for-your-life. Not that anybody was like holding a gun to my head, but I felt like I might disappear at any moment. I made it only two months in Russia and then turned down $55,000 a month to play the rest of the year in Russia because I was exhausted.

I was 26. I hadn’t had a relationship in five years. I was completely torched mentally and emotionally. I said, “I’m going home. I don’t know what I’m going to do, I’ll just go home.” The next day, the Phoenix Suns made a trade, sent three players away, and signed me to the rest of the year. That was the Phoenix Suns that had the best record in the NBA. Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, Mike D’Antoni was the coach.

One of the best teams to never win a title.

One of the most iconic teams because of the way that they changed the NBA. I suddenly went from, “I don’t know what I’m going to do” to “I’m on the best team in the NBA.” When that happened, their website, people had known me from training camp that fall. They knew me to be somewhat sardonic, and at least able to carry on a conversation.

They asked me, “Would you write a blog for our website?” This was a newfangled thing. I said, “Sure,” knowing that this was probably my chance. I had been developing this shtick and thought, someday I’ll write a book, but I didn’t know how that would exactly happen. I squirreled myself away on a road trip and wrote these journal entries about, “Here’s what it’s like to be on the road as a marginal NBA player.”

What would be an example of a post that you would have done?

It had nothing to do with the game and more to do with, “This is what it’s like to travel this much.” Jokes about, like I forgot what hotel room I’m in because we’ve been in 5 in the last 6 days. Does anyone care if I’m here? I’m not going to play either way. I was making fun of myself. I was giving a window into what it’s like to be on the road that much.

In fact, I think that the first set of journal entries was called Paul Shirley’s Road Ramblings. Anyway, Random House saw this because Bill Simmons, who wrote for ESPN drew some attention to it. The Wall Street Journal did a little thing about it. The people at Random House called my basketball agent and said, “Would Paul ever want to write a book?”

The answer, of course, was yes, but my basketball agent was like, “Sure, but I don’t know what that has to do with me.” I ended up getting a literary agent through some series of events and wrote that book, Can I Keep My Jersey? which came out still in the middle of my career when I was 29 or 30. That led to the weird riding career that I embarked on as my career was ending and beyond.

You asked for your jersey when you got cut by the Lakers, and they said, “We don’t do that.”

That taught me a lot, too, about the book world. Can I Keep My Jersey? is a great book title.

SOLO 162 | Paul Shirley
Can I Keep My Jersey?: 11 Teams, 5 Countries, and 4 Years in My Life as a Basketball Vagabond

It’s really good.

I had to fight so hard for that book title. Random House wanted to call the book, “A View From The End of the Bench” because a lot of my writings with the sons were what it was like to be on the bench. At no other time in my career was that true. Another thing that was the case, they didn’t understand early on how the most interesting stories in the book had to do with my time in the minor leagues and overseas.

My time in the NBA was relatively antiseptic and featureless. There’s nothing interesting happening. There’s no way to make it funny when you’re talking about flying on a private plane. There’s humor and vulnerability in me standing outside of whatever event center we were about to play in. In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, having gone to Applebee’s for a solo dinner.

Across the street, the event center where we’re going to play has Def Leppard coming to town, but they’ve misspelled Def Leppard. Thinking to myself, “I have to stop this basketball thing. This is stupid.” That’s what made my writing interesting. The times when I was down, the times when I was hurt, all of that. Can I Keep My Jersey? blended to that.

This sense of puppy dog eyes of like, “Can I at least keep my jersey?” Which had happened, as you mentioned. When I was with the Lakers, when I got cut, I went down to the equipment room and said, “I just got released. Can I take my jersey with me?” The guy said, “No, we’re not a club who does that.” I’m like, “Wait, what? What are you going to do with a Shirley, number 45 jersey? Also, you’re the Lakers. It’s not like you’re hurting for money or sewing machines.” I left befuddled and went upstairs to the equipment room, which had served as my locker room. I didn’t even have a real locker. It was me and one other guy in this equipment room. I stole two pairs of shoes and felt like I had gotten back at this.

You have stories about getting paid and hiding the money in your shoe during practice because you’re afraid someone’s going to steal it. Was this in Greece?

This is all a critique of locker rooms across the world. In Greece, our locker room didn’t have lockers, it just had benches in a square room. A shower that no one went into because it was so filled with fungus and other weird organisms. The first time they paid me, they paid me in cash. They were supposed to pay me $12,000 a month. That meant that they handed me an envelope with 120 $100 bills in it, but there was nowhere for me to put it. I had to go practice, so I hid it in my shoe and brought my shoes out to the practice court.

You’re just looking over your shoulder.

Just hoping, during practice like, “Is it still there?” Also, that’s the first money I’d ever made. It’s near and dear to your heart when it’s the first money you’ve ever made.

If that happened to me now, I’d be anxious about it.

That was a quality problem because two months later, they handed me an envelope and it had $6,000 instead of 12,000. I said, “Wait, this isn’t enough money.” They said, “Avrio. We pay you the rest Avrio.” In a literal sense, that means tomorrow, but I learned that Avrio means someday. We might pay you.

Your story is that of the underdog. You were the least heralded recruit at Iowa State. On top of it, you were an engineering major, which hamstrings you in some ways. I think the average person doesn’t recognize that college athletes are professional athletes who aren’t paid.

At least back then, now they’re starting to get paid, which is weird. I don’t totally understand, but yeah.

You’re doing this heavy engineering load and doing it well while also playing basketball at a high level at a Big 12 University, but they weren’t dying to get you.

They were not.

You flourished in college. Is that fair to say?

Yeah. I was an amazing high school basketball player, but I played at a very small school. I had 55 people in my graduating class.

I could have been good on that team.

Yes, but I was also a good high school basketball player, except that nobody knew I existed. It’s not like now, I think everybody would know everything. Back then, there was still some mystery because there wasn’t the internet. You could easily hide. The assumption was, “If he scored a whole bunch of points against these other small-town kids, he’s probably not very good.” That meant that a lot of colleges were excited that I existed because they had found that diamond in the rough. Those colleges were the University of Vermont, the University of North Dakota, Dartmouth, Davidson, and places like that.

All fine places to get an education.

Yeah, but not basketball schools by any means. I thought I was good enough to play at a higher level. I had written letters to something like 80 schools saying, “Here’s who I am. I think I’m good enough to play.” At the behest of my dad, kudos to him. This is in the days when you had to go to the library, get a roster of the coaches’ physical addresses.

We went on WordPerfect and did the little fill tab to all of these colleges. Tim Floyd, who was at Iowa State, had been one of the few who had written back and said, “I like the spirit of this, but we don’t have any scholarships.” I told the University of North Dakota, “No, I didn’t want to go live in Grand Forks because it was too cold.”

An assistant coach there called Tim Floyd because he had been an assistant at Iowa State. He said, “There’s this kid nobody knows about named Paul Shirley in this tiny town in Kansas. I think he’s good enough to come to Iowa State. You should take a look at him.” Tim Floyd called us and said, “You sound great, but we just gave away our last scholarship.”

My mother then called Tim Floyd back and said, “Would you like Paul if he could come for free?” She had found out that if you were a National Merit finalist, which I was. You got an automatic full scholarship to Iowa State University. I went on an academic scholarship under one condition, which nobody could know. You just have to pretend I’m here on an athletic scholarship because I don’t want anybody to know because they’d treat me differently. Do not let on that I can do the math.

You have one leap from high school to college. You have another leap from college to the pros. You were an underdog in the pros.

For sure.

At least in the NBA. Less so in Europe and beyond. Do you still see yourself as an underdog? Was it part of your identity then? Did it fuel you? Is it still part of your identity now?

It is a good question, especially because that switched in my brain to some degree. I was not only an underdog when I was in college, but I was also fueled by rage about how I’d been overlooked. That is an effective motivator but not a particularly long-term or healthy motivator. I think of the scenes in Mad Max: Fury Road where the dudes are on the tank, the hood of the cars. Taking gas and spewing it into the carburetor. That’s how rage works.

It’s good if you put it directly into the carburetor, but it isn’t good for longevity. I had that chip on my shoulder from being told no by so many colleges coming out of high school. I used that same motivation in my first couple of years of the pros. I then had this horrific injury where I had my kidney and spleen ruptured and almost died.

I had the typical near-death experience awakening of, “This isn’t any way to live.” I was so consumed by this fear of failure that it was getting in the way of my actual success. It was able to get me to 95%, as good as I should have been. I wasn’t able to reach that next level until I let go of some of that and started to approach the world from a more optimistic or striver’s perspective. A sense of, yes, there are going to be people who don’t think that I can do this, but I don’t know how useful it is to dwell on that.

Before, I’ll describe this injury because I know you’re sick of talking about it. When I got to know you, I went on YouTube and found the video clip. You were playing for the Chicago Bulls, and it was a run-of-the-mill play. A big forward-type drives to the basket. You rotate over and do the thing that Paul Shirley-type basketball players have been doing since there were Paul Shirley-type basketball players.

It is to take one for the team, which is to try to take charge. It is an important play in basketball. It can be a game-shifting play. It’s an exciting thing. It’s a close call for the referees. The gritty, selfless players are the ones who do it. This player, Austin Croshere, basically puts a knee into your ribs and ruptures your spleen.

Yeah, and my kidney. We have to keep in mind, he did not do that on purpose.

No. He was just playing basketball. That’s right. I’ve played sports before and I’ve been injured in, especially in competition. The way that you were arriving on the ground, I had such an empathic response to it. I don’t know if you remember this, but I saw you the next day at the coffee shop that we met at, I recognized you at, and introduced myself. Normally, we shake hands and say hello, and I said, “Can I give you a hug?”

It’s one of those stories that, as you mentioned, I have delved into so many times, that it almost doesn’t feel like it was me. If that makes sense.

You probably see it the way I saw it on the YouTube clip.

It was profound but also unimportant if that makes sense. It didn’t happen in the midst of a playoff game. It didn’t happen in the midst of a superstar’s career. In some ways, that’s what makes it a better story if you really dive into it. We’re down by 25. There are five minutes left to go in the game. Nobody cares.

Yeah, it’s not a game-changing play.

The only reason it mattered was because I was on a 10-day contract. I was doing everything I could to prove that I belonged. That can be interpreted in a lot of different ways. I have chosen to interpret it as a sign that I was cutting or selling myself short. I thought I had to go so far as to almost die to stay in the NBA. That simply wasn’t true.

I was good enough, and in fact, better when I played the right way for me when I controlled what I could control. That’s what I spent that summer learning from Scott Wedman, who was a former NBA player who retaught me how to play basketball. It was a much more heartening and positivity-focused attitude. I think it’s what led to me that next fall, making the Phoenix Suns team and getting called back as soon as they could call anybody.

For a long time, I couldn’t figure out the ending to that story because I got hurt and it sucked. I had forgotten that when I did get cut that next fall by the Suns. I wrote a note on the dry-erase board to the team saying, “I really appreciate the way you accepted me. I wish you nothing but the best. I really feel like you guys are in good shape.”

I felt like that was a team that was functional and worked well. I would be rooting for them. I was sad that I’d been cut. It wasn’t like before when I would’ve internalized it and thought, “These assholes don’t know what they’re missing.” Again, I’m disappointed, but I’ll move on and I’ll find something else when I got called up by the Suns at the January mark of the year.

One of the assistants pulled me aside, showed me a digital camera that he had, and he said, “Do you remember that note you wrote? I took a picture of it because I knew you’d be back as soon as you had written that.” I think that informed the way I started to look at the world was I belong in this world. Sometimes it’ll work out, sometimes it won’t. I don’t have to take it as something an existential threat each time that things go poorly.

Yes. Frequent readers, I’ve told a story on the show before along the lines of you letting go your anger as a way to reinvent yourself as a basketball player and as a human being. I had a similar experience with it. Anger is motivating. It can be a very useful emotion. It’s not very good when it’s chronic and when it becomes part of your identity.

You’re giving other people way too much power over your happiness and over your own personal story. It blinds you to other possibilities. I have an overachiever identity, but I’m no longer trying to prove the world wrong. What I am very realistic about is what are my strengths and weaknesses and how I can be more creative and work to improve myself.

In order to accomplish what I want to accomplish, to make myself happy rather than to show these fools that they’re wrong. The problem with it, and I’m sure this has been the case in your career, is that no one ever pulls you aside and says, “Paul, I thought you were kind of a chump. You proved me wrong about that.” No one ever does it because no one ever cares as much as you do.

An important quote to remember is that no one gives a shit.

They just don’t care.

I would think about missed shots in “important games.” Think about one of my teammates. Do I remember every shot he made or missed? No, I don’t. I just remember did he play hard? Did he care about being there? That’s what all the coaches remember, too. It is similar when people are thinking about emails they may have screwed up and speeches that didn’t go perfectly. No one gives a ****. All they care about is, are you present with them? Are you being honest and vulnerable? Do you care about what they’re going through to some degree?

One last question before we get to your life as a bachelor. You had mentioned going five years without a relationship. This is not as romantic a career as people want to think it is. Especially for the average everyday person. Not the Michael Jordans and LeBron James of the world. Did you have a lone wolf mentality as you were going through this process?

Your family’s in Kansas. I’m sure you’re making some friends, but they’re ephemeral. One day, you’re on the team, the next you’re not. I’ve played sports for much of my life, but none of my friends are from that world. I never completely clicked with them. I’m sort of curious how you managed that. Was that part of your identity when you were going through all this process?

I don’t think it was intentionally part of my identity. It just became that.

You didn’t start out a lone wolf and that helped you along. You had to be that.

Yeah, I think it just evolved naturally, and then I developed skills with regard to self-soothing, which means, in this case, being able to talk myself off of ledges. Being able to build my own willpower, build my reservoir of gumption, for lack of a better word.

That’s such a Kansas word.

I then got to a point where I wasn’t likely to be dependent on someone else to fill that role unless they were a pretty wonderful person. The reason I say that is that a lot of basketball players I was around would latch on to someone who would be supportive. They had a “girlfriend” or even wife that they almost didn’t need anymore once they succeeded. That person served only that role of, “Things will be okay. You’re fine.” Once they started doing well, that person didn’t fit in. That led to a lot of infidelities, and guys who would be in constant turmoil between, “I needed this support.”

It’s more than that because there’s a whole phenomenon around the professional athlete’s wife who maintains the household and food on the table. Dad’s sleeping until 11:00 AM because he got in at 5:00 in the morning or whatever.

It takes on some of the characteristics of the med school supporter.

This happens in the art world, where someone maintains the business so the artist can be an artist and so on. I think that’s common.

The issue is that if there wasn’t a plan in place for what happens when that person does succeed, whether that plan is overt or just understood, then some troubles arise. For some reason, I avoided that. I always felt there will be time for true loving relationships down the road once I’ve settled in a place for some time largely, because it was so transient.

I needed to be ready to go to the next team. It felt to me also awful to try to persuade someone that wasn’t that way. The girl I dated when I was in Greece, I guess I could have thought to myself, maybe I’ll take her to the next place. That seemed absurd because I didn’t even know where the next place was going to be. More importantly, I didn’t know where the place after that was going to be. Imagine dragging someone around the world that way.

I think it’s already hard. I imagine I’m living in my apartment and then someone’s like, “You’re now moving to Indianapolis, and you need to be there tomorrow.

I also wonder from a self-analysis standpoint. If I felt like maybe the trade-off was never going to be worth it, the person would probably say, “Yes, I’ll go.” Eventually, we’re going to have to pay the piper on this. I will be dragged around for a while, but someday, we’re not putting up with that anymore. You’re now going to pay me back. I saw that a fair bit, too, I guess. Maybe that weighed on me.

Did you see it with fellow players?

Yeah. The woman had been like, “Yeah, this was fun for a while, but eventually, we are never doing that again.” That didn’t seem like a great trade-off.

I can’t blame them for that.

No, me neither. It’s perfectly natural.

That hasn’t happened yet. You have not been settled enough.

I moved to LA when I was 32 or 33. The subsequent nine years, whatever it was, was the only time in my adult life when I was in one place for a period of time. It was unsurprising that I started to have girlfriends. Amazing.

You have a book, Stories I Tell On Dates. In this case, the title does a very good job of describing what’s in the book. It’s a series of stories to tell on dates, and actually, the date. It’s about a Thursday night in Los Feliz or whatever it is that’s there. I need to ask you this question. It’s a dreaded question that any single person has faced at some point in their life. Paul, you’re so great. Why are you still single?

SOLO 162 | Paul Shirley
Stories I Tell On Dates

That feels like either the beginning question or the ending question for a podcast most of the time. I am single.

I don’t expect you to answer that question, but you can if you want.

I think answering it implies that I am great, which is up for debate.

Paul, you seem pretty cool. You seem like women would like you. You have talked about wanting to have a traditional-ish relationship, kids and all. What are you waiting for?

I’m waiting for my life to make sense again. It’s been interesting to me that the stages in my life where I felt good about where I was professionally and financially. Lo and behold, someone would magically appear that was amazing. I think that will be true again. It’s just that I’ve had limited windows of that happening. It will probably happen again when my life makes sense again.

I get that. We’re not living in 1960 where the economy’s booming, you go to college, and then you get married right away at age 21, average age. You go to work for a corporation, a business of some sort. Move into the suburbs, and do all those things. It’s kind of lockstep. We’re not living in that world anymore. You had an unusual thing where you had an early career. You retired at what age?

Thirty-one or thirty-two.

At 32, I was just getting rolling. I had just gotten a PhD at age 32.

I was talking to somebody on a date recently who is five months sober. She said something that I had read, which is that your development as a person emotionally stops when you become an addict. If you become an addict at 18 and you become sober at 27, at 27, you’re like an 18-year-old emotionally. In many ways, I was addicted to basketball from age 16 to 32.

It was what I thought about when I got up and when I would sleep. Everything served the desire to pour my energy into a nearly workaholic or possibly truly workaholic way into basketball. I’ve also had a lot of catching up to do when it comes to emotional development. It wasn’t just the ten years of my professional career. It was also the 6 or 7 leading into that. I was effectively a professional from the age of sixteen. When one looks at me, and I have to remind myself of this a lot, you have to remember that I am 45, but probably I’m more like 33.

That’s probably why we get along so well. I totally get it. I talk about these different types of singles. There are the someday singles, the hopeless romantics, the just may singles, the hopeful romantics, the no-way singles, the folks who are not interested in dating or a relationship for an hour or forever. There are the new way singles. These are folks who are approaching. They’re dating in an unconventional kind of way.

There are many subcategories of that new way group. You strike me as kind of a just may type. You have this. It feels like a hazy goal that you’re going to at some point. Go live on a farm or a ranch.


There’s going to be sheep and chickens.

Very possibly. Only because I’ve realized that we all got to do something with a beginning and an end or we go crazy. I feel like I’m probably more of a, you said no way?

You feel like a no way right now.

Yeah, but I think that’s how this goes. It’s impossible to predict how you’ll feel in 2 years or 6 months.

I’ve stopped trying.

You still can’t predict it. It’s impossible. If I’ve learned anything else, it’s that whatever you feel today is not an indicator of how you’ll feel in two years about these things. I think we all have to be open to how that’s going to change based on life circumstance because it will.

You’re working on building a business. We’re going to talk about that next and last. Before we do that, you are the kind of guy who, it’s sort of surprising that you don’t have a girlfriend. Let me say this in a complimentary way. You’re a good-looking guy, fit, interesting, a great conversationalist. You’ve got great stories. You have this confidence. You’re on a growth path. You are improving yourself. You’re well-dressed. You check a lot of boxes in a sense. You’re good company, reliable, high integrity. I could go on, if you need a matchmaker.

Let’s add these to an audio track with a series of pictures of me. Tucker Max once had a dating application online. Would you like to date me? We could do that.

I have a previous guest, Brandon Patrick, who’s a comedian. I came to him through word of mouth. I went to his website. He has a contact form. One of the boxes you could check, it’d be like, “Hire me to do standup.” One of them is dating, that kind of a thing. We could do the same thing for you. It doesn’t strike me that it feels that important to you right now, though.

It doesn’t.

You’re not dating online. I know that.

God, no.

You’re at the whims of reality.

As it should be. The question is why?

Yeah, help me understand. You wrote a book, Stories I Tell On Dates. You do care enough about dating. You have enough experience.

I love dating. I absolutely adore it. You’re meeting me at a stage in my life that is the absolute nadir of my financial success. I have spent the last three years trying to put back together a business after having it destroyed by the lockdowns in LA. I spent the four years before building that business in LA. To me, building a business feels impossible to do unless I’m doing it wholeheartedly.

I mentioned that person that I’d gone on a date with that was a week ago. I thought about it today, “I should probably check in with her.” I thought I don’t have the energy because I am doing so much to get this business working. I truly don’t care, but not in a, “I wouldn’t like to have that in my life.” It’s just that I don’t have the energy mentally and emotionally to put into that.

What I have learned about my past is that there have been times when I will dip my head above water for a couple of years when my life does make sense and those things start to happen. Now, am I able to tell myself that? We host comedy at The Process. There have been nights when I’ve helped to put on this big event, and everybody’s happy. I’m like, “It would be fun to have somebody to share this with, ” and say, “Good job, Paul.”

I always text you how great it was.

Thank you, but go home and cuddle up. Sleep in the next day, go to breakfast and feel like it was a job well done. That just doesn’t feel very realistic right now. That makes me sad, but I’m lucky because I’ve seen how this can work in my own life. I tell myself it’ll probably figure itself out. It’s just that now is not a good time. It is depressing at times because I’m in Denver, as are you. It’s not as easy to have an unconventional lifestyle here as it was in Los Angeles, where people are just like, “I don’t care. Whatever you’re doing is fine.”

LA is judgy in other ways, but they’re not terribly judgy about whether you’re a 45-year-old single man who’s never been married and has no kids. That’s pretty common.

Totally. I think that has been an adjustment for me here. Situations that I’m in where I’m talking to people and I realize they think I’m weird. I don’t love this feeling. In LA, they may not like me or they know I’m not rich, but there’s also a more permissive attitude.

That’s why you’re on this show, and those people aren’t. The data on no ways, says Pew Research Center, the number one reason that someone’s not interested in dating casually or seeking a more serious relationship at the moment is they’re working on more important things. That’s clearly the case for you. You’re in a situation where things feel touch and go.

You’re optimistic, but it’s not for sure. These are precious moments at times. Foregoing a bit of those cuddle sessions. I get it. Makes sense. Let’s talk about this business. Your current life in Denver is focused around growing The Process, as you call it. You have a book called, The Process Is the Product. I would call it an elevated co-working space. It’s the foundation of it. I’m a member. I don’t go often enough.

SOLO 162 | Paul Shirley
The Process Is the Product

We’re going to change eventually.

If I didn’t have to drive to it, I would be there much more often. It’s beyond a co-working space. Talk about the book and talk about this concept. How did you come to it? What are you doing with it? Why is it that you’re almost on the verge of bankruptcy?

I came to a lot of what’s in the book experientially, which gives me a lot of faith in telling other people about it. I wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about some of the stuff if it had just been true for basketball. It was when I started to apply these ideas of building systems to my writing life that I began to understand that it was universal.

This is about making stuff.

Yeah. The reason this is so important, I don’t think we’re anywhere close to understanding how valuable these tools are. People have not quite woken up to the fact that so many of us are in the world of knowledge work, I guess, is the best way to put this.

I would call it creative work.

It’s creative work. It’s knowledge work. You can do this work on your laptop. Most of that work is project-based. We’ve not taught people how to manage their days, weeks, months, and interior psyche when they’re faced with huge projects that involve some level of creativity. It’s about teaching people how to build systems for themselves so that they can accomplish these things.

Where we found the most traction is with businesses. Helping business teams down to the employee develop systems so that they can do focused work. If you think about my past as a basketball player. You might think the best way to become a great basketball player would be to shoot baskets 24 hours a day. Conceptually, that is the best way, but that’s impossible.

You have to figure out how to create little structures, so that you know, “I’m going to practice for 45 minutes on the court. I’m going to do that four times a week. I’m going to go to the weight room for 45 minutes. I’m going to go to the track three times a week.” You’re able to manage over the very long-term this system, so that you can be at your best whenever a team calls or whenever a game happens.

It’s exactly the same with writing. You might think, “I would be the best writer I could be if I could write for 24 hours a day.” Again, that is true, but it’s impossible. We build systems. What I’ve learned, and what every smart person who talks about creativity. Whether it’s Steven Pressfield, or James Clear, or Charles Duhigg. It always comes back to little bursts of time.

It’s taking this immense amount of brain capacity we have in honing it so that we can focus it quickly. That is true not only with basketball and writing but also when you have to create a pitch deck. Figuring out, “How can I do this intensely for 20 minutes, for 5 days in a row?” Instead of waiting and trying to do it for 100 minutes in a row, which would be that math.

You could do something 20 minutes a day for 5 days or 100 minutes for 1 day. I’m here to tell you that it will be 10 times better if you do it for 20 minutes, 5 days in a row. First, waking people up to the fact that they are being bombarded with distractions that are keeping them from doing this. They’re overwhelmed by the size of the task.

Oftentimes, they’re burnt out from trying to engage their brains frequently and for such a long time that we’re able to help them build these systems so that they can focus. Do creative work that allows them to remember, “I love this,” which is the book’s focus. Turning your process into your product. How do you get to a point where you can get back to the loving of it each day?

I had an episode on optionality that members of the community liked. I was talking to Richard Meadows about his wonderful book. We talked about some of these things and about this notion of goals, for example. I don’t remember who said this. The moment you decide on a goal, you decide to be unhappy until that state of the world happens.

What happens is people become writers, or athletes, or painters, not for the joy of winning the game or launching the book, but because they like writing, playing basketball, or painting. If you can create a process that you day-to-day can immerse yourself in. You’re going to create stuff. You’re going to ship things. You’re going to have good outcomes in life, but your day-to-day life is a better life rather than living in that future world that is uncertain.

Never live up to your expectations. That’s the other part. Even if you reach this point where A equals A. You were working towards this, and you got to that point where the variable equals the variable on the other side of the equation. You still will not be as happy as you thought you would be. Even if you are, it will be fleeting and you will very quickly drop back into not feeling that way. In a perfect world, yes, you would work your little tail off. You would reach a milestone. You would keep that level of happiness forever. You would work towards another milestone and keep up with this new level of happiness. That’s just not how things work.

We have to work with what we have, which is a fallible intellect, and realize that the only way in a Buddhist way is to enjoy this moment and then the next moment. That’s where we get back to this idea that if we can get you to love the preparation for the speech in some way, not get you thinking if this speech goes badly, it’s all lost, then we can have some success. If we get you thinking, “The only way I’m happy is if this speech goes well,” you’re ****** both ways.

The thing that people don’t understand is those 5 to 20-minute blocks. There’s a lot of problem-solving happening within those blocks. To solve a problem gives you a tiny bit of pleasure.

We also forget that a lot of problem-solving happens between those 20-minute blocks. You’re going to solve the problems without even realizing it. It’s not even if you solved it while you were in the shower, although that is often true, and then you ran out and made a note. You solved it in the shower, and you weren’t even thinking about it, which is an amazing aspect of our brains.

It’s so cool. It’s not just people. We all are prone to this. We think we don’t have enough faith in our own capacity. We think, “I’m not as smart as I actually am.” Some of it is a AA way of, “Let go, let God.” Trust the process, but trust that it will come back to you. I remember as a younger writer thinking, “That was the best idea. I better get somewhere and write that down.”

No. Stupid. I’m going to have a billion ideas. I have no shortage of ideas and neither does anyone reading this. Trusting that window when you sit down to write or paint, or practice basketball. That’s your opportunity to let whatever has filtered or bubbled up in the past 23 hours and 40 minutes. That’s your opportunity to get it down on the page, or the canvas, or the court.

What I like about your product, it recognizes our fallibility. Not only does it take into account the felicitous thinking that we have about productivity, creativity, achievement, and making things. It also acknowledges our fallibility.

That’s kind of you to say. I hadn’t thought about that, but it is important to what we’re doing.

It is. Here’s how it is. I have world-class willpower. I have the ability to focus and consume difficult content. To make complex ideas accessible, it’s hard, it takes a long time, but I’ve been working on it my whole life. I’ve been rewarded with tenure for being able to do it. Despite that world-class willpower, I’m terrible at this.

The people who are best in the world at this are bad at it. I find myself drawn to my phone, Twitter, and other ideas. I don’t have exactly what it takes to do it, and I’m good at it. To recognize that fallibility, and to sign up and to go. If I can, I’ll describe it. You do sprint sessions and extended sessions in the physical space.

For clarity, for anybody reading, we have a physical space here in Denver, which is our consumer side, and then we work virtually and online with companies as well. That’s the thing that’s going to get me out of the nadir of my financial assistance.

The co-working space is wonderful. It’s a great concept. It’s a very comfortable space. You have great taste. It’s well-designed. It’s a pleasant experience to go in there. It’s unlike typical co-working spaces. I’ve used them. You can come and go as you please. They all have coffee, snacks, and stuff like that. You can leave your laptop. You don’t have to worry about someone stealing it, unlike working at a coffee shop.

It has some energy, unlike working at home. I don’t like working at home that much because it has its own set of distractions. It’s home. I like this in-between space. For one of the sprints, you go in there. You write your name down on a board. You write down what you’re going to work on for those 45 minutes. It’s not 44 minutes and it’s not 46 minutes. It’s 45 minutes.

You have a little phone hotel. You can put your phone in a little orange bag and put it in the phone hotel. I don’t know if you know this. I’ve never bothered to get the Wi-Fi password at The Process because I don’t want the Wi-Fi. There’s accountability because you have one of your associates who’s there who welcomes people and so on, do a little debrief.

“How did it go?” You give yourself a percentage score on how well you did on that task kind of thing. It has all these things that are useful. It has accountability. You can minimize your distraction. It’s not too much time that you’re going to naturally lose focus. You can’t work four hours in a row on something creative and difficult. We’re not built that kind of way.

In the same way, you can’t lift weights for four hours, and so on. It’s an effective way to recognize that you have weaknesses. The other thing that I’ll add to it that I like about this is it has a sense of community. I’m taking a break from events. I was doing these SOLO Salons and so on. I’ve had my head down working on a book, as we’ve talked about often. You have this comedy show. What is it?

The 3,600 because it’s exactly 3,600 seconds long, theoretically.

Yeah, but it’s about an hour.

Right, which we are beholden to because most comedy shows are too long.

As someone who has watched a lot of comedy in his life, especially my previous project, it’s part of the reason I go to your comedy show.

You know when it’s going to be over. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s going to end, which harkens back to what we’re talking about. This idea is that whether I’m being effective in my 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes, I also know that it’s going to end. The misery’s going to be over at some

Also, I think that knowing that it’s going to end actually creates urgency.

Absolutely. That’s what is cool about seeing people participate either in the process or on their own. They come to this realization of, “It’s not just that this is taking me less time. It’s also that I’m locked in and focused, because I know there’s a finite amount of time that I’m not letting my attention bleed. It’s like hitting the turbo button on the video game controller. I only have so much of it, but Can I do a cool dunk?

You’ve had a couple of references that the audience they’re not going to get the Mad Max.

Just reference.

They’re not going to get the NBA jam reference. Maybe a couple of folks. Also, you have a thing you call Side Hustle Saturdays. Right. You do Writer’s Blok, which was your previous business.

It’s like a vestigial tooth on a reptile or something. It’s the remnants of what’s left of the writing night. Yeah.

The Process started as a meetup. Yes?

We started in LA. When I got to Los Angeles, like you were referring to, I needed community. I felt like I needed to meet other writers. I started a thing called Writers Blok because I’m super creative. That began as a friend had a sandwich shop that was closed at night. I said, “What if we got some writers in here to see how it went once a week?” He’s like, “Sure.” Kudos to him.

I would traipse extension cords out, make coffee, and hand out chocolate at the end of the night. At first, it was like two and a half hours of writing, and then people talking about it. It was very loose and odd. Even on the first night, there were seventeen people there. I knew there was something to it. It grew, then we got our own space. That’s where we got formatted. Knowing that we had these types of sessions, that there was structure to it, but then we realized it wasn’t writers who needed it. It was all creatives, freelancers, and now business teams. That’s what led to the creation of the second business.

Why is the community part so important, do you think?

I think people are more lonely than we realize in these pursuits. When they get to commiserate about exactly what you were talking about earlier, which is, “This is really hard.” They then feel a lot better. As I mentioned, so many people are out there fighting this fight. “I’m being forced to self-start, build reservoirs of willpower, and then do it for long periods, but nobody’s talking about that.

When you get people talking and the light goes on, it’s like, “I’m struggling with this, too. I can only concentrate for 26 minutes also. I thought I was a crazy person.” There’s a sense of relief. There is that age-old thing that happens when you unearth something. When you expose it to the light, then suddenly you feel less alone. You can make progress that helps you go forward.

I want to close by asking for two pieces of advice. The first one is for people reading. One of the wonderful things about the SOLO community is it’s a community. I’m working on that. We have a private group. You can sign up at PeterMcGraw.org/solo. I’m incredibly impressed with the folks who joined. They’re bright, thoughtful and vulnerable.

They’re often doing interesting things. They’re certainly living unconventional lives. They’re not living that nuclear family in the suburbs working for IBM. Many of them are makers. They’re creative types. They’re knowledge workers. They don’t have the gift of the process a ten-minute drive away. Where would you suggest that they start if this last third resonates with them? They’ve got a book in them, a song in them, or a business in them that they want to pursue full-time or as a side hustle. Where should they begin? What advice would you have for them?

It always comes back to where we finished that discussion of The Process, which is community. One of the quickest ways to get community is to ask someone else in your life what can you help them with? What do they want to accomplish that you can help them with? Say, “That’s awesome. I would love to help you plant a garden. Now, could you help me because I want to spend twenty minutes a day practicing the piano,” which I gave up years ago.

Usually, by asking someone else how you can help them, then what happens is they want to reciprocate. The quickest way is, “Could you help me with this?” Coming up with some kind of trade. If somebody says like, “There’s nothing I need help with,” then you move on to somebody else. You can build a two-person community quickly if both of you want to work on something.

Even if those two things are completely different. When I wrote my “second book,” which has never seen the light of day because it’s bad and it had gotten rejected by all the publishers, it wasn’t just that they rejected it. I knew deep down I didn’t know what I was doing. Resolved to apply what I’d learned about basketball, which was building habits to writing.

I had a friend who lived in London at the time. He wanted to get up every day at 5:30 to get his morning routine going. I was like, “Cool, I want to write 1,500 words a day.” He was, of course, in London, so that meant that I was behind him. What I would do is, I had a girlfriend at that time, I would get out of bed, and leave her there all warm and nestled up. Roll into my office, and pound out 1,500 words however I can.

I would turn on my phone, text him the number of words I’d written. At that time, he would’ve sent a picture of the clock in London at what time he had gotten up. I had that accountability of not only am I telling him, “This is the number of words I’ve written.” Also, he’s reciprocating with, “This is what I did.” It’s a miniature version of community and accountability.

I wouldn’t have guessed you were going to say that.

Whenever I’m working with an individual or a business team, even at The Process, we want to teach how this is applicable for the rest of your life. It’s not just when you have access to The Process or pay us to work with your business. It’s how can you hit the reset button and come back to some of these tricks along the way?

There are a zillion other things to do that are simple. Using other people to help bolster your own willpower. Like you were saying, none of us has extra willpower. None of us is strolling around, “You know what? I have this extra store of willpower, how can I apply it somewhere?” Again, back to your point, which is a great one about our own infallibility. I am like you. I think sometimes that I’m writing and saying this stuff for myself to remind me of what an asshole I am and how bad I am at this. “Keep on it, Paul.” If you and I can’t do it, if you and I don’t have extra willpower, then who does?

That’s the way I feel. I’m not trying to be modest when I say that. I know my strengths. I’m not that strong.

There are days when I’ll get to the end of the day, and I’ll think, “All I need to do is send that one last email.” I’ll be completely prone on my couch, thinking that’s the hardest thing that I have left to do.

I sometimes have trouble putting away my folded clothes. Why is that so hard? It shouldn’t be.

It comes back to what they say about attention, and some of this is willpower, but the changing of tasks does us in. We’re constantly switching gears throughout the days that we’re now living because we’re exposed to so much information. If we go back to my engineering days, each time you deplete a battery and recharge it, it takes more time off that battery’s life. Batteries are not inexhaustible. I think we’re very similar in our days. If I switch from podcasting with you to, I was going to go try to write. That’s a big, cognitive lift.

That’s a big jump. I wouldn’t even try to do that.

Me neither. Wouldn’t even conceive of coaching someone to do that. If I did try that, even if I took twenty minutes of getting a massage, let’s say, in between. I’m still depleted from the day I’ve already had. Therefore, I’m not going to be able to get back to where I might be at the beginning of the day.

One of my pieces of advice is do the most important thing first. There are exceptions. People work well at night, and so on. In general, whatever your challenge is. If it’s exercise, do it first. If it’s the writing, do it first.

That’s where I would come back to what you were saying earlier. For me, even though I’ve now been writing on a professional level for twenty years. Writing is still the hardest thing. I do it every day to start my day. I conceivably could muster the energy to work out. I don’t want to work out at the end of the day, but I might be able to muster that energy. If you told me, I have to go right for 30 minutes now, no chance.

I enjoy working out more than I enjoy writing, so I reward myself with a workout after a writing session. For other people, it’s the opposite. Advice for me, specifically. I have a saying. I like to give advice. I’d like to take advice. You’ve already been very generous with me offline, but now, this is being recorded.

I’ve been honest with you and my community that I’ve struggled with a project lately. I’m 3 years in to what I envisioned to be a 10-year project. I’ve taken some losses lately. I’ve had some disappointing moments. I’m an optimistic guy, so that hits me doubly hard. Where I am at this stage, what should I be doing? How should I be thinking about this? What am I missing? Where’s my blind spot?

What really energizes you about it?

The podcast. From a creative standpoint, I am effervescent. I’m having tons of ideas, insights, and learning. I feel like I have a lot to say. I have often a very quick turnaround on ideas as a result of that. That, I really enjoy. It feels great. It’s fun and stimulating. The podcast I like it because I’m good at it. I’m good enough at it. I can get better, but I’m a talker more than I’m a writer. This format works well for me. The last thing is, this is the most meaningful work that I’ve ever done.

What work?

The project as a whole. Mostly, the podcast because that’s the thing that touches the most people.

Right, but the podcast doesn’t touch people intimately. Earlier you mentioned community.

The reason I say the podcast is because there’s a lot of single people in the world. I cite the data all the time. Most of them don’t even realize that it’s a problem for them. They assume that it’s normal that they feel out of place. It’s normal that they’re struggling. There’s not alternative way to think about it.

There’s a group of them who go, “This can’t be right. This doesn’t feel right. I don’t fit.” They go looking for something. There’s not much out there for them, and then they find this. They feel validated. They feel seen. Some of them connect as a result of it. They send me notes. They send me thank yous. They express their gratitude.

That means a lot to me. I was that person who felt like a freak because I couldn’t do what society wanted me to do. Be happy, be authentic, and accomplish the things that I wanted to do with my life. That’s a big driver for me. The community stuff does matter because when I throw these salons, they’re really fun because they’re not like anything.

Especially in a town like Denver, there’s nothing quite like this. It’s a sort of energetic group of people. We get dressed up. It’s entertaining. It’s thought-provoking. It’s a good time. People, they like it. It feels different in that sense. I don’t feel like I have the bandwidth and the energy to do that in part because those are small events.

There are 50 people, and they’re finite. I’ve been focusing more on leverage work. Stuff that people can consume and connect to while I’m asleep or while I’m making other stuff. I do think there’s an end game. Where there are SOLO Salons happening in cities around the world, but I get to drop in and get to experience how wonderful it is.

There is a curse of scalability that’s infected us all. It’s nice when we can have people consuming our work when we’re sleeping, but that’s also a shortcut. All shortcuts have costs.

Tell me more.

It’s most stilled version, what I’m hearing from you is that you would like to have a great conversation with somebody where you’re able to help them feel less weird.

Can I give you an example of this? I have an old grad school friend and roommate, Tony Herman, who appeared in an episode on narcissism. He does research on narcissism. He’s a good guy. I have such fondness for him. He’s now in his mid-50s. He’s recently divorced. He’s come to the show. When I saw him recently, when we taped that episode, we talked about his dating life and what he wants from it.

He’s very dedicated to his career. He’s incredibly dedicated to his children but would like some companionship. I gave him some advice about it. Maybe he’s in BFE, middle of nowhere Illinois. “What if you start a monthly visit to Chicago?” We got on the phone and I was helping him with his dating app. “No, that picture doesn’t work. Let me workshop some of this copy.” I got to tell you, it was one of the highlights of the day. We had a great time connecting, having some laughs, and being creative.

While you’re talking about that, you’re lighting up. That’s important. If just doing the podcast were filling your bucket, and you said, “Paul, everything’s going great, I’m not going to ask for your advice.” I’d be like, “Keep doing what you’re doing.” If you’re saying, “It’s not enough.” Get down to the true basics of what you love to do, which is to go one-on-one, one-on-five, or one-on-ten.

Do not worry about whether it’s scalable or not. Get back to that reality and vulnerability of maybe it’s not even the salon. You don’t have the energy for the salon. You’re like, “I’m going to do a six-week course on how to be okay being solo.” Where you meet with five people to get back to that sense of, “This **** matters. This is cool.”

Offer coaching. I do some one-on-one coaching, and it wears me out sometimes, but it’s invigorating to see someone have the light go on. That also teaches me ways to talk about it in groups and the physical space. Resisting the seduction of the internet. We are all seduced by it. “My reach could be so big in getting back to that more organic. What if my reach were really small, and then I just saw that one?”

This is why I wanted to ask you for your advice, because when I do this, you regularly give me advice I wasn’t anticipating.

What were you anticipating?

I don’t know, but it wasn’t that. I don’t want to fight you on this, especially not on air. The reason I’m focused on the reach is because I think there are a lot of people out there who could use the help. I know you’re like, it matters to this starfish, kind of a thing. I understand that.

It can only matter so much. Let’s be honest. If somebody’s listening to one of my podcasts, I podcast also, or reading one of my books. A book has more chance of moving someone to a point where they’re like, “Oh, my God.”


There are just so many podcasts, Instagram stories, and TV shows. It’s real hard to do that with those formats. Therefore, we can try to convince ourselves that we could have this massive, somewhat shallow reach impact or effect. If we multiply that by the number of people who have that experience, that will be enough. There’s something also visceral and immediate about just having a conversation.

It’s fair. I do think the problem with the podcast is it’s so big and it’s all over the place. That’s why the book has to happen. It has to happen sooner than later, just as a learning house for these ideas.

The book’s not going to be enough because it’s the same issue as the podcast.

It’s similar. Yes.

I think what you’re hoping for is, “I would like to be able to create, use my megaphone, and let people response to that.” What I’m hearing is you need those events. You need that back and forth. As uncomfortable as that might be. We’re saying, “The SOLO Salon will be coming to Chattanooga and Huntsville in March of 2023.” I’m frustrating, aren’t I?

Paul, I appreciate it. The thing about giving advice is you have to give it, not expecting it to have any effect. When you ask for it, you can’t expect it to be what you want it to be. Thank you for that.

You’re welcome.

I appreciate your time, I appreciate your writing, and I appreciate your friendship.

I appreciate the chance to be on here. On my way over, I was thinking as I sometimes do, how crazy that anybody cares.

I’ll let you know. Cheers.


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About Paul Shirley

SOLO 162 | Paul ShirleyA National Merit Scholar and engineering major at Iowa State University, Paul Shirley is a former professional basketball player and the author of three works of nonfiction: Can I Keep My Jersey?, Stories I Tell On Dates, and The Process is the Product. His first novel, Ball Boy, came out in February of 2021. His second novel David, launches on March 23, 2023.