We second guess ourselves not because we don’t know enough, but because we know too much.

In many ways, knowing too much about a thing is worse than not knowing enough.

And these days we all know too much.

I was 24 years old when I self-published my first book. It’s a guide for personal trainers called Ignite the Fire. I’d only been full-time in the gym for three years.

Nothing about writing that book at such a young age was audacious or courageous. The truth is that I knew so little about all of the reasons why I shouldn’t have written the book that I wrote the book.

Here’s how it happened:

I carried a clipboard while I trained my clients with two items: workout programs and a blank piece of paper. On the blank piece of paper, I’d take notes.

  • Client told me they had pain bench pressing.
  • Picked up a piece of garbage.
  • Another trainer instructed deadlifts wrong. (dangerous?) (intervene?)
  • Have a crush on the secretary.
  • Got stopped by a member wanting to buy sessions.

And so on.

At night, I’d review my day by expanding on each point adding details and thoughts. In some cases, I’d call friends and ask what they’d do or have done in similar situations.

I wasn’t trying to write a book. I was trying to learn by cataloging and reflecting on my day’s events.


After about a year I showed the document to my mom. It was large. Probably about 100,000 words. Small daily actions add up fast.

Mom said it could be a book and that there’s a lot of interesting material but I need an editor.

I was a personal trainer with a kinesiology degree. I didn’t know any authors let alone any editors.

Instead of being overwhelmed by book publishing, I focused on figuring out the next step. Not on purpose. I’m creating a post-rational narrative here. The process was undoubtably messier than how I’m describing it because, at the time, all that I knew was that editors are involved in books and bookstores have books.

So, I went to the bookstore.


There was a shelf of bestselling health and fitness books. I wrote down the names of the authors, went home, and sent emails to as many of them as I could, asking for an introduction to their editor.

Almost everyone replied. Many of them made introductions. I hired Kelly James-Enger because she told me that the ideas were good but the book was not and that it needed a lot of work. I like honesty.

Once the book was edited, Kelly said that I now needed a copyeditor to fix grammar, spelling, and formatting. I didn’t know that was a thing but I guess it makes sense that that’s a thing.

Kelly introduced me to a copyeditor. Then I got the cover designed and book printed. And so on.


This was 2009. There were no hybrid ‘book-in-a-box’ publishers or marketplaces of reliable outsourced help. If you wanted something done, you needed to mash together a random smattering of contractors––and those contractors could be hard to find.

When I think about that period of my life, I can best define myself as being optimistically ignorant. That’s a way of saying that I was clueless but, like, in a good way.

If you wanted to do something back then, you figured it out.

Or, you didn’t, and you didn’t do the thing.

We were all mostly blind; mostly making it up as we went. Everything was both new and exciting.

You had a binary choice to take something seriously or not back then. None of this wishy-washy in-between stuff. These days, it’s too easy to do a bad job with all of the tools and tutorials freely available.


I know that we can’t go back in time and I also know that there’s more opportunity for everybody now. But still, a part of me gets nostalgic thinking about that period of my life.

Ignorance kept me going. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. But I gained confidence knowing that I could always figure out the next step. It seemed less daunting. As I solved one problem, the next became clear.

It’s like when you’re driving on the highway and it’s pitch black and you have your high-beams on. You know you’ve got miles to go and that there will be twists and turns but all you can see right now is what’s directly ahead of you so you focus on that. As you continue to drive, new stretches of road light up until you approach your destination. Optimistic ignorance is kind of like that.

Ignite the Fire has sold over 70,000 copies. I wrote it a long time ago. I’m proud of it. But I sometimes wonder whether I’d be able to do it if I was 24 today. Honestly, I don’t think so.


Informed pessimism is a rampant problem

The reasons why it’s hard. Or a bad idea. Or why somebody else is better suited than you are to do the job.

We second guess ourselves not because we don’t know enough, but because we know too much.

Did you know that the reason we have grassy front lawns is because in the 1300s medieval kings planted grass as a way to show off their wealth. According to the historian Yuval Noah Harari, grass was the perfect status symbol. It produces nothing of value, needs a lot of land, and requires a lot of costly labor to maintain (this was before sprinklers and lawn mowers.)

We don’t need to show off our wealth with grass anymore. We have social media for that. For some reason though, this status symbol outlasted all of the monarchies that built it.

Personally, I don’t have a problem with grass. But it’s interesting to learn that our obsession with it is nothing more than a remnant of the past that really only exists because people kept copying one another until nobody really knew why they were growing grass but figured that there had to be a reason, so kept doing it.

I guess what I’m saying is that copying others is an inevitable byproduct of constant exposure.


If I were 24 and considering publishing a book today, I’d be discouraged by how many people were already saying what I wanted to say online. Not because my ideas were original before. But because now it’s impossible for me not to notice that they aren’t original.

If I was able to overcome that self-defeating narrative, I’d look up how to self-publish a book. Like Alice, I’d fall down the rabbit hole of podcasts episodes, YouTube videos, and social media posts. The overwhelm would be paralyzing.

Knowing too much about a thing is often worse than not knowing enough.

All of the information we can access in our pockets is more often a crutch than a support.

Too often, the result of spending all of our time collecting new information leaves us pessimistically informed.

When we become aware of all of the reasons why we shouldn’t do something, we often don’t.

Informed pessimism isn’t something that can be avoided. It’s an inevitable byproduct of an information economy. Instead, it’s something we must overcome.