Kevin Rose is one of the most prominent and prolific technologists in Silicon Valley. He famously founded Digg in his early twenties and later went on to invest in almost every major tech company in the last decade—from Foursquare to Twitter to Facebook. Most recently, he left New York City and moved back to California to join a venture capital firm after stepping down as CEO of HODINKEE, an online wristwatch magazine. Aside from his investment and entrepreneurial success, Kevin’s other outlets include Foundation, an online video series where he interviewed Silicon Valley leaders (including Elon Musk), his monthly email newsletter The Journal and his own podcast, The Kevin Rose Show, where he “goes deep with fellow geeks from all walks of life.”
Kevin has also shown a deep fascination with philosophy—especially Eastern—and has been a proponent of both fasting and cold showers as means of achieving resilience, self-discipline and mental clarity. We reached out to Kevin to ask more about his philosophy of life, favorite exercises, how was he first exposed to Stoicism, the benefits of fasting and cold exposure as well as learning more about his curiosity about the East. Enjoy!
One of Seneca’s recommended practices for building resilience and conquering fear is through setting aside a certain amount of time to practice difficulty. One of those, of course, is fasting. You’ve been such a strong proponent of fasting that you built an app around it. Aside from the health benefits, do you find there is a philosophical component too? What does the process bring out for you?
Fasting, especially multi-day, can be quite the emotional roller coaster. At first, I thought I could use willpower, but the gnawing feeling of hunger quickly depletes this. From here you have nothing left to do but surrender to it. Around this time the body begins to adapt, entering ketosis, and you start to regain your mental clarity. The fasting process wakes up the body and provides a challenge with a new set of feelings to appreciate.
Following on that, you’ve also strongly recommended cold exposure and had tremendous positive experience with it. I feel like the Stoics would have been proponents of a cold shower in the morning, if only as a test of self-discipline. Is that something you’ve found in it as well?
Almost everyone hates the cold. When I tell friends about the showers and ice baths the #1 reaction is “I could never do that, I can’t stand the cold.” My feeling is that technology (primarily the conditioning of air, both hot and cold) has made us soft. We’re kept in constant comfort. I try to incorporate practices in my life that mimic our ancestor’s environments and their daily challenges. This can be simple things like walking in the rain without a jacket or wearing my sandals in the December snow when I take the dog out in the mornings.
Tell us about your introduction to Stoicism. Was it through Tim Ferriss? Or do you remember your first encounter?
I remember a dinner where Tim was wearing hideous shoes. Being a good friend, I proceeded to comment on how ridiculous and “80s businessman” they were. He laughed and said this was by design. He was learning how to embrace criticisms and not fear what others think of him. This was based on his reading of stoic philosophy. It was this combined with quotes in your book Ego is the Enemy that pushed me to learn more.
Happen to have any favorite Stoic quotes or exercises?
One thing I practice daily is surrender. I try to surrender to the earth as everything unfolds around me, not judging it, but accepting things as they are. This, of course, is easier said than done. One of my favorite quotes is from philosopher Alan Watts: “To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim, you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do, you will sink and drown. Instead, you relax and float.”
I’m curious if you have any thoughts to why Stoicism seems to be particularly popular these days with tech folks. Obviously someone like Tim has helped introduce it there, but if there wasn’t something resonating, we wouldn’t be hearing so much about it.
It’s difficult to say. Many technologists first entered tech out of curiosity, e.g. how does this machine work? I think that’s just a love of learning. As I get older, I find myself extending this love for learning to exploring my psyche and improving as a human. Stoicism is a great prompt to kick off deep work and personal development.
I remember reading that one of your favorite books is Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind and I wanted to chat a bit about Eastern philosophy. Following you, I’ve been impressed with the fact that you are an avid student of the East— you regularly go to Japan, clearly love tea and there are always these really fascinating references to Japan in The Journal. What is that draws you to the Eastern way of thinking? Do you see any commonalities between the schools?
One time while visiting Tokyo I witnessed a man hand cleaning his mailbox for 15 minutes. He had a cloth and was slowly polishing it, making sure to clean out every groove. This appreciation for one’s property along with taking pride in one’s duties I find a rarity in the west. I’ve always “geeked out” on things, going deep and learning as much as I can about topics I care about — the Japanese take this to the extreme. You’ll meet very specific artisans that are the absolute best at what they do, no matter how trivial the task may seem. It’s not about money or fame, but the love of the craft. This is the way it should be. And since you asked about tea, I’ll leave you with this:
“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh