How to Become the Host of ESPN Sportscenter and Discover the Productive You — with James Swanwick


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Welcome to the newest episode of the Hack The System show!

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The Hack The System Podcast is your access to interviews with the world’s foremost experts on blogging, lifestyle design, traveling, and life/system hacking. In short–you’re going to learn how to kick ass.

In this episode, I sit down with a friend I met in Colombia, James Swanwick, who teaches how to become a journalist. An Australian now based in the US and Colombia, James is an anchor on ESPN’s SportsCenter and author of Insider Journalism Secrets and Become a Celebrity Journalist (and he wears a few other hats, too). He has interviewed celebrities like Michael Douglas and Nicole Kidman, and shares the secrets of how he did it in his books.

James and I are very close friends, ever since we first met in Medellin, Colombia. James is also my Bet Switch Mechanism partner — I’ve paid him for multiple purposes when I cheat on goals. Most recently, $25 for eating a bag of Skittles.

James and I did an interview recently, called How to Meet and Connect with your Heroes. He discussed how to follow up and become friends with the heroes that you meet. In today’s interview, we delve deeper. James and I talk about 3 specific questions.

* How can you meet your heroes — and how do you leave an incredible impression on them so they will respect you forever?
* How can you look for loopholes to your dream career, exploit them, and achieve success?
* How can you use the tools at your disposal to become the most productive version of you?

Listen to the audio podcast here:

Watch the full interview here:

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Transcript of the Podcast Episode

Maneesh: [00:00:00] Hey, guys. This is Maneesh Sethi, your number one digital nomad, coming at you today from New York, New York. I’m here with a good friend of mine, James Swanwick.

James: [00:00:09] Hey, guys. How are you doing? Hi, Maneesh.

Maneesh: [00:00:10] Hey, James. James and I are really good friends. We go way back almost four months but –

James: [00:00:16] (Laughs)

Maneesh: [00:00:18] We met in Medellin, Colombia, and now we’re hanging out both in New York, and I wanted to talk to James a little bit about his story because he’s a pretty interesting guy. James, do you want to introduce yourself?

James: [00:00:28] Yeah, sure. I’m James Swanwick. I live in New York City, sometimes in Medellin, Colombia, the rest of the time. I’ve been a print journalist for the past 20 years, a television anchor on ESPN for the show “Sports Center” for the past couple of years. I wrote a book called, “Insider Journalism Secrets and How to Become a Celebrity Journalist.” And I spend my time as I said in between New York and Medellin, Colombia. When I’m in Colombia, I work on various trade opportunities – not the white stuff that everyone jokes about. They all think that I’m trading illegal drugs but, no, training commodities between Colombia and … sorry, America and Asia.

Maneesh: [00:01:07] So which commodities? Is it cocaine?

James: [00:01:11] No, it’s not cocaine. Didn’t we just talk about this? [Inaudible 00:01:13].

Maneesh: [00:01:15] (Laughs)

James: [00:01:16] No, no, no … coal, coffee, chocolate, all kinds of things.

Maneesh: [00:01:20] I didn’t know that. I’m already learning something new today.

James: [00:01:24] I’m an international man of mystery to you.

Maneesh: [00:01:26] A mystery. So, James is like an interesting figure. The first time I met him was a very different experience. I met him via an email in Medellin, an email from you, you were just like, “Hey, I see you’re friends with these two people on Facebook. Do you want to meet up?” I thought you were one of my weirdo blog readers. Don’t be a weirdo if you ever meet me, readers. I go and I meet … I go to a café and meet up and then James – Aussie guy – and you sit down and you start talking and you start listening, which is very weird. Usually, it’s like –

James: [00:01:58] I started listening?

Maneesh: [00:01:59] Yeah. You started asking me about myself, which is weird because I’m used to my readers just … I’m more used to these meetings often like people talking about themselves all the time. And you did it very differently and I was really impressed by your method of, not really [inaudible 00:02:13], but connecting, really, the way that you … I don’t even think it was a system. I think it’s just how you act. And so can you talk more about how you progress in these meetings when you meet people for the first time?

James: [00:02:26] Yeah, sure. I mean, I love meeting new people and I love understanding their story. I’m really interested in people, and that’s a good skill to have first and foremost because you’re going to build rapport with people because people’s favorite subject is themselves. It’s just human nature. So whenever I meet someone new, whether it’s a business meeting or a social meeting, I just want to get to know the other person so I ask questions about that person and I’m genuinely interested. What I find is that when I become genuinely interested in someone else, it makes them feel good and then they become genuinely interested in me later on. So when I met you, I saw that you were a friend of a mutual friend and in the first ten minutes of meeting you, I just wanted to dedicate that to trying to figure out who you were, what your passions were and, more importantly, how I could help you because one thing I’ve learned over the years is that when you help people, they in turn will help you back. So for many years, I was pretty insular, almost cocky to arrogant, and I would go into meetings thinking, “How can this person help me?” And then I flipped it a few years ago and just started going, “How can I help this person?” And when I did that and I started helping that person, whether it was just through a connection with someone else or whether it was doing him a favor or something, what I found was that that person, in turn, helps me. A lot of times I didn’t even ask for the help but they would just then introduce me to someone really interesting or cool and maybe a got a great business opportunity over them introducing me to someone. And, yeah, so when I met you, it was just like I want to know about this person, I want to know –

Maneesh: [00:03:58] Do you specifically dedicate … like you said you specifically dedicated ten minutes to … is that in your mind like, “First ten minutes, I want to not talk about myself” or is it just like that’s how you’re going to [inaudible 00:04:09]?

James: [00:04:09] I mean, you were saying before what’s my strategy? Kind of, yeah, I’m thinking about it. In my head, I’m thinking I want to know about this person first. I don’t want to hog the conversation. I don’t want to dictate the conversation. I don’t want to be going me, me, me, me. So I want to know about this person just for my own interest and, two, I just want to make sure this person feels comfortable with that so that we can develop a relationship and build rapport, etc.

Maneesh: [00:04:36] So James and I sit down at this café in Medellin and for the first ten minutes I’m talking about me, and I’m always feel weird doing that even though I’m pretty good at it. And so after ten minutes, I’m like, “All right. So what’s up? What’s up in your life? What are you doing, James?” And he’s like, “Oh, yeah. Well, I have this website coming out. It’s called, Insider Journalism Secrets, an e-book that I’m selling.” I was like, “Oh, okay. Why don’t we hook up and see if I can help you a little bit with your stuff?” He pulls it off and there’s this like a picture of James next to Cindy Crawford, a picture of James next to Joaquin Phoenix, a picture of James next to someone else who’s really famous –

James: [00:05:10] Kiefer Sutherland, Jon Bon Jovi –

Maneesh: [00:05:12] Olsen twins –

James: [00:05:12] Olsen twins.

Maneesh: [00:05:13] And I’m like, “Wait. Who the fuck are you? Who is this guy?” And I started asking, “What’s going on?” It’s like after 15 minutes that he brings up the fact that he’s the host of ESPN Sports Center, which is like a big deal. To me, I was like, “Whoa! That’s like crazy.” So I thought that was really, really interesting you had let that grow on its own, like you had it grow organically. And then when I saw this, I was like, “Wow! This guy is really interesting. He’s fun to talk to. I’m having a great time in this meeting. Let me help you.” Usually, I try to cut these meetings short. I usually cover 30-45 minutes. I think with you, we hung out for two or three hours, maybe four, and I was going through your site. We were going through it. You were telling me your trials and tribulations of that morning.

James: [00:05:58] Yeah. We can’t talk about that.

Maneesh: [00:05:59] (Laughs) And then we went through your site, I gave you a ton of advice, the kind of advice that I rarely give out to people for hours for free. So I thought that that was –

James: [00:06:13] Thank you.

Maneesh: [00:06:13] Yeah, it was – (Laughs)

James: [00:06:15] It was a nice thing. I appreciate that.

Maneesh: [00:06:17] Yeah. (Laughs) And so, anyway, that was really cool and it was really … when I got home, I was thinking to myself, “What did James do?” I was trying to reverse engineer because when I try to meet people that I’m interested in meeting, I want to figure out how to get people to act the same way that I had, not on purpose, acted towards you. But what really blew me away was the next day … What did you do the next day?

James: [00:06:45] Well, yeah, I mean, look, I enjoyed meeting you and I wanted to stay in contact with you on a social level and I wanted to swap ideas on a business level as well. I just thought you were a cool guy and I thought I’m going to make this guy my friend.

Maneesh: [00:06:58] He is the host of ESPN Sports Center. He says I’m a cool guy.

James: [00:07:01] (Laughs) So what I do is when I meet people that I like, I follow up with them and I do it as soon as possible, within 24 hours. So what I did was, the next day, I sent you an email saying, “Hey, Maneesh. It was great to meet you yesterday. How can I help you? I’m going. Let’s stay in touch.” And then I sent you three or four books … when I say books … Every time I read a book that I like, I underline the best parts of it. I type it out and I PDF it so you’ve got the best parts of the book that you can read in like ten minutes. I had like three or four of those books all done in nice PDF form. I sent them to you because I thought you might appreciate them. For example, I sent you a book called “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi, which is all about connecting to people and helping people and, in return, they’ll help you back, “Winning With People” by John C. Maxwell, which is a really cool book about, again, same kind of concept, social relationships, business relationships, romantic relationships, how to be better with people. And I don’t know what the other one was; maybe it was part of “The Four-Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferriss. I don’t know, whatever it was. But I wanted to add value to your life without asking for anything in return. So it was just my way of saying, “Hey, man, I enjoyed meeting you, and here are some cool resources that you may enjoy that might be able to help you on your journey.”

Maneesh: [00:08:20] This is a really, really cool tactic that I’ve tried to use in the past couple of months now ever since James did it to me. It was like … just like to summarize really quickly what he did. I literally woke up in the morning and there were six emails from James. I’m like, “What the fuck is this weirdo doing?” And the first email says “Seven things we talked about and my responses to them.” He was, I don’t know, taking notes of what we were talking about and written down his responses. And then he said at the bottom, “Also, I found five books that I believe you’d be interested in and so I’m attaching a summary of those books to help you get through your life.” I was like, “Whoa! This is awesome.” And even if I didn’t read all the books or read all the summaries, the fact that they’re there and this was something that you literally put time and thought into was super like … I think I forwarded that email out to like ten or 15 of my friends, going like, “This is amazing. I’ve never seen this happen before.” So that’s a really good tactic that you can use. But the tactic is less important than the strategy, and the strategy being sit down and think about how you can add value.

James: [00:09:17] Absolutely. And take a genuine interest in the other person. Like I said before, for years, I was very insular and kind of like pretty selfish. I was just thinking about what I can get from someone that I just meet. And when you flip that and you genuinely are interested in the other person and you genuinely want to help and you genuinely come up with ways to help them without expecting anything in return, what you find is that that person then wants to help you and will help you ongoing.

Maneesh: [00:09:44] Yeah. James is good. He always calls me out when I try to talk to people and expect something in return.

James: [00:09:48] Yeah, he’s good about it.

Maneesh: [00:09:50] So, anyway –

James: [00:09:51] Think about other people, Maneesh.

Maneesh: [00:09:53] I know.

James: [00:09:53] All the time. Think of me. What can you do for me today?

Maneesh: [00:09:55] (Laughs) Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for James Swanwick.

James: [00:10:00] That’s right.

Maneesh: [00:10:00] (Laughs) I think that a lot of readers are super interested in networking and connecting and meeting people they want to meet because it’s an important concept. And one thing that I think that you understand very well is that the importance of other people. Other people are what build the business. There’s no business that exists in solitude. Even a writer has to network. Almost all of my readers I’ve met through guest posts, and guest posts have come through me meeting people, connecting with them and helping them out and then giving me an opportunity to write for their site. In the same way, I think that you have a lot to say about connecting people. You clearly know from becoming a celebrity journalist, that’s not an easy job. That’s a pretty desired job. You had to connect to people to get there.

James: [00:10:49] Yeah, [inaudible 00:10:49].

Maneesh: [00:10:50] So how did you become a celebrity journalist? First of all, how old were you when you became a celebrity journalist and then when did you stop?

James: [00:10:57] Yeah, I was about twenty … let’s see. I was 27 when I started as a celebrity journalist. A celebrity journalist, we mean like I moved to Los Angeles and I created a career for myself whereby I was going to interview movie stars and musicians, like Cindy Crawford, we’ve mentioned before, and Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt and Jon Bon Jovi and The Rolling Stones and all those kind of –

Maneesh: [inaudible 00:11:23] these are some sweet phone numbers. Let’s call them up. Let’s call [inaudible 00:11:28].

James: [00:11:30] But you know, what I think about really was that there were two groups of people in the world. There’s you and everybody else, and without everybody else, it’s a pretty lonely world, right? So, you know, I always think about that so, again, it was like how can I tap into my group of friends and the people that I know and my acquaintances and ask them for help and how can I help them in return. I moved to LA from London where I was living for four years in 2003, and I turned up there. I was living in a hostel for nine days, working at a job site in Bel Air, building a house. My journalism career was going kind of like downhill pretty quickly but I was like … I basically started from scratch in the US and it was like, “How am I going to do this?” And, you know, I reached out to movie studios and I said to them, “I want to become a celebrity journalist. How do I do it?” And one of the movie studios, Sony Pictures, responded. The other ones didn’t – Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Dreamworks – none of them responded. But all it took was one. And one of the executives from that movie studio, Sony, took time to meet with me, explained how the process worked and then I systematically followed her advice, and then two weeks later, I was interviewing Jack Nicholson in the [inaudible 00:12:41] Hotel in Beverly Hills, which is my first celebrity interview. And that was like four weeks after I arrived in Los Angeles. So, you know, I mean, you said before, just start with making that phone call, reaching out to someone, asking for advice, asking for help. I know we’ve spent the first part of this chat talking about how can you help others, but the other big lesson I know is that if you need help, just ask, you know, just ask for help. And when you do that, if you say to yourself the worst thing that can possibly happen if I ask for help is that person can say no and you can be comfortable with that, that’s the worst thing that can happen, right? Then it makes it so easy for you to go out there and ask for help and to make things happen. So that’s just … this is from Australia. This is the way I’ve done everything.

Maneesh: [00:13:28] This is interesting, though. I’ve always wondered about this because there are people who ask me for help and then there are people who ask me for help, and there are people that I respond to and there are people that I don’t respond to. And I don’t know the answer to what I’m about to ask but it’s like what is it that makes me respond to some peoples’ emails or make me respond to some people’s phone calls and there are other people I usually don’t? Clearly, you’re charismatic and there’s something like when you hang out, you’re like, “Oh, I want to help this guy.” There are other people who when you sit down next to them, you’re just like, “I don’t want to take advantage of you. I don’t know what I’m doing here.” And, I don’t know, do you have any insights on that because there are a lot of times when people would email me and I’m like, “Dude, you just asked me for … I’m not … no.”

James: [00:14:08] Are they asking you for something that you consider to be unrealistic, like –?

Maneesh: [00:14:12] Yeah, I was thinking about that, actually. The questions you were asked were more like, “How can I get started as a journalist?” And what kind of answer did they give you?

James: [00:14:22] This is how you do it. Step one, step two, step three. And then I just –

Maneesh: [00:14:26] Do you have any idea what step one was?

James: [00:14:27] No. I had no idea what step one was.

Maneesh: [00:14:28] Do you remember?

James: [00:14:29] Oh, yeah, sure. It was reach out, find a magazine that is willing to publish your work. So, literally, from there, it was like, “Okay, I need to find 15 magazines. I need to contact the 15 magazines. I need to say, ‘I’m going to be interviewing movie stars in Los Angeles and hope that one of them says, okay, sure, we’ll work with you.’

Maneesh: [00:14:49] And then you can say, from there, you contact the celebrities with your agents or whatever and you’re just like, “Hi, I’m –“

James: [00:14:55] Exactly.

Maneesh: [00:14:56] God, that’s fucking brilliant. That’s great. I didn’t even think of that. I never thought of that. Yeah, you already have the thing set up. Yeah, ok, so that’s great. So you didn’t know that before.

James: [00:15:06] I didn’t know that, no.

Maneesh: [00:15:07] I’m not sure my readers know that before. Now they have no reason to buy your book every day.

James: [00:15:10] (Laughs)

Maneesh: [00:15:11] But so that was just simply asking for a little bit of information – “Please give me three steps.” I guess the one thing that turns me off is when people ask me to do something for them. If you ask me for genuine information that doesn’t take me long to give them, that’s something. When people ask me to like give them a site review or like –

James: [00:15:27] Okay. There’s a big difference when asking for advice and another way of asking for something that’s actually going to take time. Now, I would never ask someone to do something for me if I hadn’t already had that relationship with them, I already got to know them. I have no qualms at all asking people for advice because I know, in my life, I need to ask people for advice in order for me to progress. So people ask me for advice, no problems. I’m going to give you that advice. If someone I don’t know comes to me and says, “Can you write me a review on this thing?” I’m just going to say … I’m going to politely decline. I’m going to say, “Thank you very much for thinking of me to do this for you but, at this stage, I’m not going to do it. I need to know a little bit more about you first, etc.” I don’t just ignore them because I figure it takes a fair good courage to ask anyone for anything. But, certainly, if it’s advice, I’ll give it away no problems at all. And if it’s them asking me to do something that’s quite time consuming, I’ll make a judgment based on what is my current relationship with them, how do I know them, etc.

Maneesh: [00:16:30] Okay. Yeah, that’s awesome. So you got there. You got your celebrity … you got your first interview with Jack Nicholson, and then from there you just self-propelled?

James: [00:16:41] Yeah. So I did the interview with Jack Nicholson. It was for the movie, “Anger Management,” with Adam Sandler. You might remember. It was about 2003. So I interviewed Jack Nicholson. It was a 20-minute interview. I got the story published in Loaded magazine in the UK. From when I did in the interview to when it was published, it was like a six-week gap so I had to wait six weeks for it to be published in England. Then I had to get a friend to post it to me in Los Angeles. Then I went to a FedEx store, photocopied that article 12 times and then I got the address of magazines in Australia and England, I put them in envelopes and I sent them off to these different magazines and said, “Hi, my name is James Swanwick. I’m based in Los Angeles. I interview movie stars. Here’s my recent interview with Jack Nicholson in Loaded magazine. Please consider me for any other interview opportunities that may arise.” I also sent that photocopied article to all the movie studios that didn’t take my initial call, which was Fox and Warner Brothers and Paramount and Universal, and said the same thing, “Hey, I’m James Swanwick. I’m a journalist here. If you’ve got movie stars to interview and you like me and you’d want to promote your movies in certain magazines, please consider me.” So I did that. A couple of weeks after I did that, I got contacted by Universal Pictures, I think it was, and they invited me to interview Arnold Schwarzenneger for the movie “Terminator 3,” which at that time turned out to be his last film before he went on to become the California governor. So, yeah, there I was … I’m pretty sure it was the Universal lot. I’m sitting next to Arnold Schwarzenneger and he’s like, “When I become governor of California, I’m going to do this.” And I’m like, “Dude, I just want to talk to you about movies and explosions and what it’s like to act in, you know, that kind of stuff.” He’s like, “No, the Republican Party …” That’s a really bad Arnold Schwarzenneger accent. I apologize. But, yeah –

Maneesh: [00:18:30] I thought it was perfect. You look kind of like him too.

James: [00:18:32] Yeah. (Laughs) So, anyway, I did that interview and then that interview got printed and then I photocopied that interview and did the same thing, just sent that out. And then before I knew it, I was getting invited to a bunch of things like … I think I was invited to do the interview for Ben Stiller and Jennifer Anniston for the movie, “Along Came Polly.” I think that was like the third one I did. And then, from there, a magazine contacted me and wanted me to go to the Playboy mansion and write a first-person piece about the Playboy mansion. So I went to the Playboy mansion and I met Pamela Anderson and Hugh Hefner and Owen Wilson and Stone Cold Steve Austin, the wrestler, Ice-T and playmates, and I jumped in the grotto and I got thrown out because I jumped in the grotto. And so I wrote a story about getting in and then being thrown out of the Playboy mansion.

Maneesh: [00:19:17] So how long is the timeline between you getting your first interview with Jack Nicholson and then getting the second one with Arnold Schwarzenneger?

James: [00:19:27] Oh, that was probably about two months, maybe, maybe eight to ten weeks because I had to wait for that article to get published to then photocopy it –

Maneesh: [00:19:36] I’m sorry. From the post, how long was it from then ‘til you got the interview with Arnold Schwarzenneger?

James: [00:19:41] Oh, with Arnold Schwarzenneger? Oh, it was only like a couple of weeks.

Maneesh: [00:19:44] And from there, it kind of exploded really quickly.

James: [00:19:45] Then it just went like this. It was like a tipping point. You know, it was like really slow for the first few months and then, all of a sudden, it was like I started getting this traction because people are like, “Oh, okay. This guy looks legit. All right. He’s had something published. Oh, he’s interviewed Jack Nicholson. Oh, he’s interviewed Arnold Schwarzenneger.” And then just started to roll from there to the point where a year later, I was making six figures comfortably and only working two, maybe three days a week. And those two-three days a week was one day go to the movie and watch the movie, the next day, turn up and interview the star and the next day, write the story and submit it, and that was it.

Maneesh: [00:20:22] And this is all print? This is not video?

James: [00:20:23] This is all print at this stage. But what happened was that after I’d done the print for a year, the Sky Movie channel in the UK contacted me and said, “Hey, can you interview our stars for our movie channel in the UK?” I’m like, “Sure.” So I think the first TV interview I did was Angelina Jolie for the movie, “Taking Lives.”

Maneesh: [00:20:39] Is she hot in real life?

James: [00:20:40] Absolutely smoking. In fact, I was really hung over that day and I was wearing a really bad T-shirt which was a Lee’s jeans T-shirt and it was of a dwarf spinning a lasso above his head. And that was just the fresh one that I grabbed off my bedroom floor because I was late for this Angelina Jolie. I put it on and I sat down much like you and I sitting down like this. And I go, “Hi, Angelina. Nice to meet you.” She goes, “Oh, I love your shirt.” I’m like, “Oh, thanks.” She goes, “What brand is it?” She goes, “Let me have a look.” So she’s like this. So her breasts are like in my face and she’s trying to see what the brand name of this thing and I’m like, “This is just awesome. What a great deal [inaudible 00:21:19]. Angelina Jolie’s breasts are in my face.”

Maneesh: [00:21:22] (Laughs)

James: [00:21:23] So, anyway, I did that interview –

Maneesh: [00:21:25] Check off that [inaudible 00:21:26] list.

James: [00:21:27] You can actually see that video or part of that interview on my website, Become a Celebrity If you go to that site, you’ll see –

Maneesh: [00:21:35] Is that part on the video?

James: [00:21:37] That part is not on the video because that was just before filming but you can see interviewing her back in 2003 when I was a little bit skinnier and –

Maneesh: [00:21:46] Say the URL again.

James: [00:21:48] Huh?

Maneesh: [00:21:49] Become –

James: [00:21:49] Oh, yeah. Become Celebrity If you go there, you can see that video. In fact, you can see me interviewing Ben Affleck for the movie, “Jersey Girl,” that he did in that year or 2004, and William H. Macy for “The Cooler,” and Charlize Theron for the movie, “Monster,” and, you know … So, anyway, it snowballed from there. I started doing TV interviews. Then I got invited to be a correspondent on an Australian radio show so they would call me once a week. I’d be on air going all across Australia for five minutes, talking about what was going on in Hollywood, and it just kind of snowballed from there.

Maneesh: [00:22:22] I took away two big points from this story that you told before and that comes down to, number one, the importance of snowballing, which is that people who get started on blogging or any other industry always get really, really dejected because things just don’t seem to hit right away. And I feel like you’re kind of in a situation right now with your blog where you’re inside celebrity journals … we talk about this a lot. We’re trying to grow it and it’s slow but it’s one of those things that will grow in the same way it will grow when it starts to grow, just the same as when my log was blank for years until I finally put in the right effort. I found that right tactic that made it explode. So one thing that I want to advice the readers is that you guys start thinking about pushing through that trough, that dip, that tough time because that’s the time you need to break through before things become –

James: [00:23:13] Yes, absolutely true. I mean … and three months is what I found the most things in my life. Like the first three months, you don’t get the traction that you hope that you’re going to get and then all of a sudden, it’s around that three-month mark, things just start to happen, you know. And one thing leads to another, leads to another, leads to another and it’s the snowball effect just happens. So you’re mentioning my blog, I got a blog now, James, and I only launched it like six weeks ago and I’m frustrated because I haven’t quite got the traction that I had hoped. But then, at the same time, I’ve got these unrealistic expectations because everybody who starts their own blog thinks everyone’s going to come swimming towards my site in the first six weeks. It’s going to knock it out of the park. And, as history will tell you, that rarely really happens and you need to just be patient. If you do the right things consistently enough, success will follow then.

Maneesh: [00:24:08] So the first thing I wanted to say, which you just mentioned, was that snowball takes a lot of time to grow. The second thing that I got out of that story is your crazy ability to just take action, and that’s something that I fail at often and I feel like all of my readers fail at all the time, you guys. So why are we not taking action and what really makes you take action? I remember I sent you a list of ideas for your site and then, the next day, all of them were implemented. I was like, “What the fuck? How did you possibly … when did you have time to do that?” I sent him a couple of books and he’s like, “I read them all.” And I want to know what makes you do that? What makes you take action?

James: [00:24:48] The main thing is just decide to take action, and by saying that, I mean, really decide to take action because people say, “Yeah, I’ll definitely do that. Yeah, I’ll get around to that. I’ll do that tomorrow. Yeah, I’ll put that on my to-do list and I’ll do that.” For me, I’m just like, if I decide I’m going to do something, I really decide to do it and then it’s just like the Nike slogan – “Just Do It.” It’s really, really that simple. So when you send me something, in my head I just go, “You know what, I’m just deciding to do this.” So then it becomes all about setting aside a block of time where you eliminate the distractions and you say, “My goal is to complete this task and I’m going to just absolutely zone in and focus on it until completion.” So when you sent me … what was it? You sent me like a few books to read, I really wanted to read those books [inaudible 00:25:42] would help me, so I said, “Right. It’s 2:00 in the afternoon. I’ve got a few hours that I can dedicate to this. From 2:00 until 5:00, I am just going to focus on this. I’m not going to focus on a few of those other things that I know I have to do. I’m just going to focus on these things. I’m not going to do an hour here and then go and do another hour on something else and then come back to this thing. It’s just not … that’s it. I’m reading Maneesh’s books. Three hours … bam! Go!” So then I just did it. Got it done. And when I did that, it was … I learned a lot. I accomplished a goal, and bang! I did it.

Another thing is like … Someone gave me another book to read, “The Way of the Disappearing Man” by David [inaudible 00:26:16] and “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle, and I had two flights to take recently – one from New York to LA. So I just went, “You know what, I’m going to read ‘The Power of Now’ on this flight.” That’s the time set and you’re going to go, “I read it.” The plane took off and by the time, I’ve done it. Same thing like two weeks later with “The Way of the Disappearing Man” by David [inaudible 00:26:36], same thing coming back the other way; “I’m just going to read this book.” Bam! Done!

Maneesh: [00:26:40] I like … You talked about Will Smith’s quote. What did he say?

James: [inaudible 00:26:44] Yeah. Will Smith … It’s like when he decides to do something, it’s already done. He just says, “You know, it’s already done. You guys just got to wait to see it. It’s done.”

Maneesh: [inaudible 00:26:52] made is the way to do it.

James: [00:26:54] When he decides to do something – this is Will Smith, the Hollywood actor – I’ve interviewed him a couple of times and I would actually encourage your viewers to Google Will Smith inspirational quotes or Will Smith motivation –

Maneesh: [00:27:05] Such an inspiration.

James: – [00:27:05] because he is absolutely trained on being the most productive person that he can be. And there’s a lot of great stuff on YouTube from him quoting Zen masters and how he focuses on … how he studies patterns in the universe and how he gets stuff done. But, anyway, your initial question was what does he say in terms of taking action? He basically told me when I interviewed him a few years ago, it was as soon as he decides to do something, bam! It’s already done because he knows he’s going to be absolutely so focused that he’s just going to do it. It’s just that decision.

Maneesh: [00:27:44] Yeah. So I talked about this a little bit. In the Mentalist article that I wrote as a guest host today when we were filming it, and it’s basically this post where I was trying to start my blog for five years for several months and could never get it done because I’m all tied up with Skype, I’m all tied up with whatever else. Then suddenly, one day, I found myself in a cave for five days and just me and a notebook. And I always thought I had ADHD or something but, instead, I found myself focusing on this for eight hours straight, running eight hours of post. And, until this day, those posts are not just the most quantity I’ve ever written in a short compressed amount of time, but they’re also the best quality posts I’ve ever written. I feel it’s because it’s one of those things that like we never focus on things for more than an hour anymore and it really takes an hour or two hours or three hours before the flow comes, before the click comes, before you start doing a good job. I think you might agree with that.

James: [00:28:35] Sure, absolutely. I mean, again, for me it just goes back to the simple case of just do it. It’s as simple as that. Make that decision and when you actually are doing the just do it part, eliminate the distractions.

Maneesh: [00:28:48] So, guys who are watching this right now, what we’re basically saying is that right now I know you have some tasks on your to-do list that you’re not doing, and right now you’re probably watching us talk, which is great – we’re very interesting and I’m extremely attractive – but it’s important that you guys just fucking … after this video is over, shut it down, turn off your Internet. I swear to God, it makes a huge difference. Do you do that?

James: [00:29:13] Oh, I mean, I don’t do it enough but I’ll tell you, when I’m the most productive, it’s on a plane when there’s no wi-fi on the plane because, guess what? I can’t get on and check the sports scores. I can’t check I can’t check my email. There are no distractions. It’s just there’s my computer. I do like a hundred emails and catch up on a whole lot of work on a six-hour flight. It’s the most productive that I ever am because I don’t have someone –

Maneesh: [Inaudible 00:29:38] emails that you don’t have Internet access to, right?

James: [00:29:41] Exactly. Emails, I don’t need Internet access to. There’s no Internet. There’s no cell phone.

Maneesh: [00:29:45] It’s amazing, the power of Internet.

James: [00:29:47] There’s no television. There’s no nothing. There’s no distraction. I am so productive in that time on the plane. It’s unbelievable. So Internet is terrific because you’ve got the world at your fingertips, but it’s also a killer for productivity because you’ve got the world at your fingertips.

Maneesh: [00:30:02] Exactly. You can do anything so you won’t do other things.

James: [00:30:04] Another thing … one cool thing that I like to always remind myself is a lot of people say, “I’m going to try to do this” or “I’m going to try to do that.” You know in the movie, “The Empire Strikes Back,” when Yoda was talking to Luke Skywalker, and he goes, “I want you to lift the plane out of the swamp. Lift it up with your mind.” Luke Skywalker says to Yoda, “All right. I’ll try.” And Yoda says, “Try? There is no try. Do or do not.” And I say to myself all the time, it’s like you either do something or you don’t do something. Just make the decision, do it or don’t do it, but don’t try. There is no try.

Maneesh: [00:30:36] Yeah, I really like that. And one thing I wanted to mention about Internet distractions is this funny little thing I’ve noticed about myself in the past couple of weeks. I’ve been implementing a new plan where I do this daily morning routine, and my morning routine is very simple. I wake up in the morning and I set my Freedom app, which is an app that turns off your Internet. I set that Freedom app for 30 minutes. You cannot reconnect no matter what. So I set this app to disconnect my Internet, and then I’ll drink one liter of water and then I journal for two pages in this journal. Every time, it takes about 20 minutes for me to finish my journal and drink the water, and I sit down, there are ten minutes left of freedom. So I’m like, “Oh, what do I do?” So I just start working on something that’s important to me. And ten minutes later, Internet comes back and I’m just like, “All right. Well, let me just check one email.” And I hit that button and suddenly it’s 4:00 pm, and I realize that I got more work done in that ten-minute period than I got done in the last six hours. So, really guys, one day, your life won’t die, your life won’t change if you don’t have Internet for one day. Unplug your wi-fi router and see what happens, just see what happens. It’s really cool because you think you might be lost or scared but you’re going to find yourself doing really well.

I want to talk to you a little bit about your ability to … Well, your story about becoming an ESPN anchor is very interesting. I think it comes right back to this idea of taking action on potential activities. This story when he told to me was super inspirational, and one of those things that’s just like … It’s such a “go fucking grab it.” If something’s there, you need to take it. So tell me how you got your gig.

James: [00:32:12] I’m quoting Will Smith again … that movie, “The Pursuit of Happyness,” where he’s talking to his son. He’s going, “Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do anything. If you want something, go out there and grab it.” Yeah, Will Smith, man. This should just be a Will Smith inspirational –

Maneesh: [00:32:23] Where is he? Can you get him on the phone?

James: [00:32:25] Yeah. (Laughs) Will Smith, come out here. So, yeah, ESPN anchor story. Okay, cool. I was a print journalist for many years and a few years ago … you know, I’d always dreamed of hosting my own television show or hosting a television show but I never really got around to it. I had the print stuff kind of distracting me and whatever. I started helping all these other people, putting positive energy into the world and all this stuff came back to me. So, one day, [inaudible 00:32:55], I kept connecting to someone. He then, out of the blue, about three years ago, contacted me and goes, “Hey, James, I met this ESPN producer and they’re looking for an international anchor for Sports Center. And I thought you’d be really cool for it. I’m going to introduce you to the producer by email.” And I went, “Great. Terrific.” So I was introduced to the producer and I went, “Hey, how are you doing?” He said, “Hey, yeah, we’re looking for an international anchor. Maybe we can meet sometime in the next couple of months?” And I was living in LA at that time and he was in Bristol, Connecticut, which is on the East Coast. Anyway, he said, “I’m going to be in Las Vegas next week but I’m not coming to LA. Maybe we’ll meet in a couple of months.” And I’m like, “Okay.” Fast-forward a few days, I knew he was in Las Vegas. I was in LA. I just said, “You know what, this is too good an opportunity to pass up on. I’m going to fly to Las Vegas. I’m going to meet this guy. I’m going to charm him and convince him enough to hire me because this is too good an opportunity to pass up.” I knew that if I waited three months, I’ll be outside, out of mind. It just wouldn’t happen. So, anyway, it was a Monday. I knew he was in Vegas. I emailed him and said, “Hey, listen, why don’t I come and have lunch with you in Las Vegas today?” He said, “Okay. If you want to come, all right.” So I literally got on a flight, JetBlue plane from Burbank to Las Vegas. I got a taxi out to the Hard Rock Café in Las Vegas Boulevard. I met him at 1:00. We had lunch for an hour and a half. At the end of the hour and a half, he said, “Yeah, you’d be really cool. We’ll get you in to do a screen test sometime in the next couple of months.” There was no real kind of urgency about it whatsoever. So I went, “Okay, cool. Great to meet you.” I flew back to LA. He went over back to Bristol, Connecticut on the East Coast.

Now, that could have been the end of the story but, in my head, I’m like, again, this is too good an opportunity to pass up on. I need to get out there to ESPN at Bristol, Connecticut, and do the screen test and I need to strike now while I’m still in his mind. So I waited a few days, maybe a week, and I emailed him and said, “Hey, I’m going to be in New York next week. Why don’t I pop over to Bristol, Connecticut, and do the screen test then?” The truth is is that I was never really going to be in New York City. It was like a bluff, I guess you can say. I figured that if he said, “Yeah, come and do the screen test,” then I’ll just fly to New York. So, anyway, his response was, “Oh, okay. If you’re going to be in New York next week, then, sure, come and we’ll do it. How about we lock you in for this date?” And I went, “Great.” So then I booked my flight. I flew over to New York, and then a week after that, I was doing the screen test in Bristol, Connecticut. And then, literally, I did screen tests for two days and on the end of the second day, he said, “Terrific. I’m going to put you in the air in ten days from now,” and that was it.

Maneesh: [00:35:30] That was it, and that was how James became a host for ESPN Sports Center.

James: [00:35:33] Yeah.

Maneesh: [00:35:34] Guys, you’ll see from this interview why James is one of my role models because of the way he manages to just juggle different ideas, decide what he wants to do and then really decide he wants to do it and then just take action. And you guys know from Hack the System, my entire goal is actionability and actually making my readers do something. So, James, can you, as we sign off, I want you to talk to my readers and tell them what specific advice would you give someone as a goal that they want to do or who doesn’t have a goal, which is a more common one?

James: [00:36:02] If you don’t have a goal or you don’t know what to do?

Maneesh: [00:36:06] Yeah. How do you find out what you want to do?

James: [00:36:07] It’s a great question and it took me years to figure out how to do it.

Maneesh: [00:36:11] Many, many, many years. (Laughs)

James: [00:36:13] Many, many, many years. I’m an old guy. Yeah, I’m old, wise and experienced. You know what, I was trying to figure out for years what do I want to do? What do I want to do? But, you know what, I can never figure it out. So what I did was I changed it. I wrote down what I did not want to do. I literally got a piece of paper and I put down a list on this side of the line down the middle what do I not want to do. And I wrote down “I do not want to work for somebody else full time. I do not want to live in Los Angeles anymore. I do not want to … etc., etc., etc.” And what I found is when I looked at that list, when I wrote that down, it became a lot easier to figure out then what I did want because all these ideas that I have, if any part of that was listed as I didn’t want to do, then I just discarded it. So if you have like, say, 50 ideas of “I could do this,” if it was part of this list on the left, like working full time, I would just dismiss it. And, all of a sudden, you get down to like five, four, three ideas, and then you look at those three ideas, then it becomes really a lot easier to figure out what you do want to do from that list.

Maneesh: [00:37:17] Got it.

James: [00:37:18] So I would just say if you guys don’t know what you want to do, write down what you don’t want to do, and that includes lifestyle – How many hours you want to work a day? Whether you want to work for someone or not? Location, like what city don’t you want to live in? What lifestyle you don’t want to have. And when you do that, it becomes easier to figure out what you do want.

Maneesh: [00:37:36] So you do that, you figure out what you want and then what … so my readers have goals … what’s the first step they can do to achieve that goal?

James: [00:37:44] I mean, a lot of what we’re talking about five minutes ago – decide to do it. That’s the first thing, just decide to do it. What I like to do is I like to write it down, not type it down, but write it down with a pen on a piece of paper, write the goal, put a circle around that goal, and then I draw little branches out from that circle of people’s names that I think can help me to get there, people that I can ask for advice. And then, literally, once I do that, just to say I’ve got a goal here, right? I put a little branch out and I write the word ‘Maneesh,’ your name, and I circle that. I would then call you and say, “Hey, man. This is my goal. This is what I want to do. Do you know how I can do that?” And then you might suggest that I talk to two other people. So from your name in a circle, I draw two more little branches and put their names, I circle their names. And then I contact those two people and I say, “Hey, this is my goal. This is what I want to do. Can you give me some advice?” And they may suggest talking to someone else or they may suggest doing a certain action. So then I’ll draw another little branch from their names, put that in a circle and so forth and so forth and so forth.

Maneesh: [00:38:47] So you build this network and you use that network to meet your goal. James, I want to thank you so much for spending time, to hang out. I’m really sad he’s leaving me. He’s going to Medellin [inaudible 00:38:54] tomorrow. I’m glad you were able to spend time today and just do this right before you have to go.

James: [00:39:03] Sure. We’ll hang out [inaudible 00:39:04].

Maneesh: [00:39:04] Yeah, for sure. And, guys, if you have any questions, feel free to email me and I’m sure James will help you guys out too if you need it – Insider Journalism

James: [00:39:13] James – J-A-M-E-S-S-W-A-N-W-I-C-K.

[End of Audio – 00:39:19]


Camilo Luna June 10, 2013 at 8:59 pm

“The Way of The Superior Man by David Deida”


Girl In Trouble. June 1, 2013 at 8:41 pm

Listening to James Swanwick, gave me hope. Hope to live my life, hope to dream and hope to try to improve myself and hope for the better…..tomorrow. I thought I lost all hope but when I heard James speaking….I changed.


PB March 31, 2013 at 4:07 am

the bast part is like genuine people they don’t wear armani suits or merc benz type.
they have a method , whether its good or bad would be decided when we use that tool
another thing i like is that they don’t say poor people are bad
my country has lot of poor people
India is suffering more then the west


André March 14, 2013 at 3:37 pm

I love this interview and will check out James’s book. His story reminds me of when I wanted to be a copywriter without any experience or education. I reached out to four or five copywriters to ask for advice and one gave me really good tips. Now been a copywriter for six years.


Amber J. March 14, 2013 at 1:40 pm

Dang. I’m not mad at him for his guerilla (smart) marketing tactics! I’m a journalist as well, and I’ve often thought about just reaching out to places, but these days it seems as if the barriers to entry are even higher than ever. Hmmm..I think I have some photocopying to do.

Great interview! Smart advice!


Greg March 14, 2013 at 1:32 pm

Biggest takeaways:

1. Just do it.
2. Focus on listening to the person and understanding their story.
3. Big difference between simple advice and favors. Always focus on adding value, and unexpected opportunities will come.


MollysVote March 14, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Thank you James and Maneesh. I found this conversation very refreshing. Sometimes you just need to hear some life pointers, that you know, from someone else.

I am now going to focus on doing it and realising that asking for help/advice and connecting with others is an excellent way to realising our goals. Thank you.


nick March 14, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Awesome . Thank You Maneesh and James


Adrean March 14, 2013 at 12:20 pm

Thank you so much for including the transcript! It’s a joy to finally have access to podcasts. I appreciated the advice of being focused and “just do it” as well. 🙂


Trav March 14, 2013 at 11:56 am

Hey Maneesh,

Just an FYI…

Any time I try to go to the Hack the System Podcast in iTunes, it never shows the latest episodes.

The most recent one that shows up is the interview with Steve in October, 2012.

I can’t wait to listen to this. It’s perfect for where I’m at right now!


maneesh March 14, 2013 at 11:57 am

That’s because it refreshes once a day on It will be there tomorrow, so if you’re subscribed, it will autodownload mañana!


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