Honesty and Self-Belief: Interview with Patrick Rhone

This article first appeared in Alpha Efficiency Magazine: Issue 8: Confidence, subscribe and buy here

Many of you will be familiar with Patrick Rhone, either from his renowned technology blog Minimal Mac, his personal writing or from the hugely popular (though now concluded) Enough podcast. Patrick is a fantastic writer whose personal insights and introspections I particularly admire. He’s an advocate for acceptance, tolerance and diversity but he doesn’t pull his punches in his writing! Patrick’s a great role model and I’m thrilled he’s given us the opportunity to delve deeper into his inner game.

Patrick, why don’t you tell our readers a little more about yourself.

Well, it is hard to add to that wonderful and humbling introduction. Perhaps I’ll mention some things most people don’t know about me…

– I ran for a State House of Representatives seat when I was 26 years old (I lost the primary).
– I do a pretty good Jon Bon Jovi impression for karaoke. Particularly, singing Dead or Alive.
– I went to an all Italian-American Catholic School for 6th through 8th grade. I was the only non-Italian at the school. The school lunches were made by the mothers and grandmothers of the students and were as amazing as you would expect.

Beyond that, I guess I would say that I live in Saint Paul, MN with my far smarter and more talented wife and far more fun and interesting six year old daughter.

We’re talking about inner game this season – how would you describe yours?

My inner-game is always an effort to find balance and peace through mindfulness and near constant introspection.

I have struggled with mania and depression for most of my life and regular check-ins with myself are the only thing that have kept me alive and (relatively) sane.

I also tend to think things through as deeply as I can take them. I’m always striving to get to the essence of an idea — to seek the most base meaning and fullest understanding. To get to the core — the truth.

What inspired you to become a writer?

It is something I’ve done for as long as I can remember. Even as a kid I was making up fanciful stories, writing poetry, and was a voracious reader. As a child you would rarely see me without my head buried in a book or reading something. My Mom still ribs me a bit about reading the cereal box at the breakfast table, for lack of anything better close at hand.

But, I became pretty serious about it as an early teen. I even self-published a (very bad) book of poetry when I was 16. Thankfully, only one known copy remains and it is safely deep in my basement. It was during this time period that the idea came to me that I had a talent in this area and a desire to want to find a way to always do it. And that, perhaps, even doing it professionally might be an option.

Your writing covers quite a spectrum of technical to philosophical topics; what motivates you to write and from where do you draw your inspiration?

From all around me. From all that I am interested in, think about, converse with others about, and otherwise come into contact to. As I said, I’m not one who thinks of anything I’m even remotely interested in lightly. I have to dig deeper and find out more. And the best way I know how to explore my thinking on a subject is to write about it.

Cecil Day Lewis said, “We do not write in order to be understood: we write in order to understand.” Well, this is certainly true of me.

This month’s topic is confidence and self-belief. You tackle some pretty weighty issues in your blog and on social media; what gives you the confidence to do this?

I seek only to speak the truth, as I understand it, in as compelling a manner as I can, in the hopes it might help others. And, when one speaks from such a place, what would there be for one to fear?

Now, one could answer that there are many who speak the truth and put themselves in mortal danger for doing so. That this alone should cause them fear. I would argue that those that are in that position understand the consequences and thus have made peace with that fear through such understanding and the knowledge that the truth matters more.

This is not to say that I, in any way, face those same dangers. This is simply to say that, when the things you say come from a place of knowledge and full understanding of the issue at hand and the consequences of action, what could there be to be afraid of.

The transition of Dash/Plus from a paper-based idea you blogged about into an app seemed (at least to me) to come completely out of the blue – tell us more about how that came about.

Mainly, my friend Dave Mendels had always loved the system and, as an app developer, figured out a way to make it work really well on a digital platform. I take no credit at all. He did share early development versions with me and asked for my feedback and permission to use the system. But, most of what you see in the app was his brilliant ideas.

I also want to mention something that kind of gets lost in the conversation about the DashPlus app. Dave donates the proceeds from the app to a School-In-A-Box program he helps to administer in Indonesia. This program brings iPads and educational apps to schools in developing counties putting technology in the hands of children that would have no access otherwise.

People should buy the app just based on that alone. Plus, it is a really great app for tasks and simple lists.

Bojan and I have both recently made big life and career decisions. What important decisions have you made (good or bad) and how did you make them?

Wow. I’ve made so many important decisions I’m not really sure where to start. In fact, I’m not even sure the size or importance of the decisions are what really matters.

I think, to make any decision it is simply a matter of gathering as much information as you can and choose the direction that you feel makes the most difference to those around you.

And, in fact, often times my goal is to try to get to the core of what is really being chosen. To distill and simplify it as much as possible. Most decisions are not as complicated as we make them. And, more often than not, we know the chose we are going to have to make — what we are really dealing with and working out is the fear and second-guessing. I would wager that the more important the decision, the better one knows the choice, but the fear surrounding that choice is the problem.

As one who strives for mindfulness — especially when dealing with fear — I simply try to remind myself that even the most important choices we make are temporary in the grand scheme of things. Because all things are impermanent.

As a writer, you must have some favourite techniques for staying motivated and productive. What advice would you give to our readers?

Well, for me, the blank page is like diving into a swimming pool versus slowly stepping in. Just dive right in and start writing and one will quickly become so used to it they wont want to get out.

Another thing is that I have a writing habit. I can’t not do it. If I don’t write something every day, even if just for myself, I feel like something is off — missing.

We always ask our guests to share their home screens with us – talk us through a few key apps.

Well, as you can imagine, there is not a single thing on my home screen that does not get used or has not had a tremendous amount of thought put into why it belongs there.

In addition to the previously mentioned DashPlus where I make quick lists, I also have:

Simplenote where I capture quick thoughts.
Byword where I do a lot of my writing (90% of what you see on my sites is written on my iPhone).
Agenda for my calendar.
Instapaper for reading.
– The no-longer-available Poster for posting to my personal site.
Camera Plus, because it’s a better camera.
Reeder for my RSS.
Day One for personal journalling.
Path,Riposte, Whisper, and Twitterific for social networking.
Quotebook because I’m a big fan of quotes.
Forecast.io for weather.

Plus there are the usual suspects down at the bottom.

Last month we talked about the impact of having a “source code” – a reference point for your values and dreams to inspire you. From where do you draw your inspiration and strength? Do you have a creed or manifesto that you live by?

It is mainly it is to walk a mindful path, express genuine kindness, and endeavor to help others with whatever skills and talents I have. I can die peacefully at any time because I know that, though I sometimes fail, I work each moment to let my actions be driven by this.

What’s your next big project?

I just received a grant to work on a book I have long wanted to write about my family history which might also take the form of a kind of memoir. Books become themselves and I wont really know exactly what this is until it’s done. It’s the biggest book project I’ve yet attempted. It’s scary and exciting all at the same time.

Thanks for talking to Alpha Efficiency Magazine!