Ask a Genius: Why Jason Feifer treats time like money
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Jason Feifer is the editor-in-chief of Entrepreneur Magazine and the host of two podcasts, “Problem Solvers” and “Pessimists Archive.” He does keynote speaking on the side and co-authored a book with his wife called “Mr. Nice Guy,” which comes out in the fall.
If you’re wondering if Feifer ever slows down, he doesn’t. While he still considers himself a journalist, Feifer is always looking to expand his resume and connect with others, especially entrepreneurs. We spoke to him about the entrepreneurial mindset and finding a niche.
Our conversation with Jason Feifer is the latest edition of Ask a Genius, our regular series of talks with brilliant people. This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.
For a long time I was driven by writing stories that I happened to find interesting. But now I do see myself in a real service role. The thing that people respond to the most from me is stories that help them think through challenges in their lives and their businesses and remind them that the things that they go through in their lives are not isolated. That you’re not alone in the challenges you face, especially entrepreneurs.
I think the work that I do with the magazine and both podcasts is really, more than anything, about reminding people and encouraging people to embrace change and understand the importance of change and recognize that change is hard but necessary. It’s really about directly telling people stories and recalling my own experiences. My podcasts have given me a platform to be an advocate for innovation and growth and change.
It was really circumstantial. I got this job at Entrepreneur, and originally I really thought of it as a pretty straightforward media job. The first job was to fix the magazine, hadn’t been updated in a very long time, and then after that I would continue to guide and improve editorial across the brand.
But then I began to notice people were seeing me as something else. They knew me as a journalist, they knew me as a representative of entrepreneurs and what they wanted from me was to be a thought leader. That phrase is ridiculous, but that’s how it is. And originally I didn’t know how to embody that role but I spent a lot of time thinking about it and seeing how people reacted to me and what they wanted from me and seeing how I could genuinely deliver on that.
It completely changed the way I think about my career and the relationship to my audience. It also turned out to be really welcome. I was really preaching this message of change and I hadn’t really thought about change in myself and my career for a really long time. I thought of myself as less of a street journalist and more of a thought leader and advocate for a particular type of achievement. And it was really fun and emboldened me to do all of these other things, to speak and do these podcasts.
It’s totally one-on-one interactions. It’s funny, I spent so much time making media, and that can be a strangely lonely experience. You may be a megaphone blasting out what you write to millions of people, but you don’t really hear from them very often. You only hear from them when they’re angry. To go to these conferences and speak and then have these people come up to me individually and have these conversations, they know my work and I help them think through things. I also do one-on-one consulting, so I’m carving out 30 or 60 minutes to talk to someone and help them work through a problem. It’s just great seeing people’s individual reactions to my work and being able to help them individually.
Entrepreneurs are motivated in large part by a sense of ownership. They typically left some job at a company that they didn’t own and they create a path for themselves and that has become a lot more meaningful to them than what had come before. It’s about thinking what your brand could be in five, 10 years. It’s a totally different way of approaching something and it reminds me how different something is when it’s yours.
We repeat our fears and mistakes throughout history and if we had a better sense of our own history and could appreciate the things that came before us, I think we could avoid a lot of the mistakes we made today. That is particularly true when we are talking about fear of innovation because we say the same things and we react in the same ways over and over again to new technologies. If you’re just aware of what came before you in the context of how you live, you should feel liberated to invest and change and grow and take risks in a way people are often afraid to do.
Analysis paralysis. People will try to come up with the perfect path before they start going down the path. People will have a business idea and not know how to execute it so they don’t do anything. Or they want to make a career change and don’t know exactly where they want to go so they don’t make any change. What I try and reinforce over and over again when people put themselves in this situation is that you cannot know the path before you’re on the path. The thing you originally have in your head will completely change by the time you’re anywhere near a goal. People are so scared of making the wrong decision so they make no decision.
I began to view time as a resource. Somebody once told me you should spend time the way you spend your money, if you’re spending money wisely. We are always aware of the limited amount of money that we have. But we aren’t really often thinking about time in the same way, but we should. How can I be intentional about the time that I spend? The solution that came to me was to think about time in terms of outcome. So if I have 15 minutes, an hour, a day, what would I like to say I got for spending this time? If you start to think like that you realize you’re spending a lot of time on stuff that doesn’t really have an outcome. You can apply that thinking to anything.
I don’t look to people like that. I see individual projects as inspiring. I’m more inspired by people’s work than by people, because people are complicated. Listening to really, really well-made podcasts is an inspiration because it pushes me to improve my own work. Great works of fiction I’m inspired by — “Game of Thrones” is actually quite inspiring, just the way that they built that world and the level of depth and thoughtfulness.
Spending the past couple years speaking with entrepreneurs on a constant basis has definitely inspired me to rethink myself and my career. It’s not really one specific person, but maybe one specific person’s idea.
To own more and more of my work, and to redefine what I do, because I used to just think of myself as a magazine editor. I came up with another phrase, which was “Stories told in my own voice.” My goal is to get better and better at that and find more avenues.
Want to learn more? Check out our financial guide for freelancers.
Image: Nastia Kobzarenko
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