Brandeis International Business School

008: Bullet Journal

Living without a sense of purpose, finding your niche, and creating the Bullet Journal

Ryder Carroll is the creator of the Bullet Journal and the author of a new book called The Bullet Journal Method.

He has been doing Bullet Journal full-time since April of 2018, but it took a long time to get there. Before that, he was a digital product designer – and before that, he was just trying to make ends meet.

From the Dorm Room

Ryder went to Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, where he double majored in Creative Writing and Graphic Design.

When he arrived at college, he pretty much knew what he wanted to do: direct music videos. Back then, that was a thing. But throughout the course of his college career, that stopped being a thing, and nobody would invest in it anymore. So, he had to change course.

What caught his attention was credit designs, or the little micro movies that play over credits before and after a film. He found a company specializing in this and they offered me an internship after he graduated.

However, this was a year after 9/11, and when he got to New York City, the position was gone. The down market caused the company to downsize.

To the Boardroom

Ryder spent the next six or seven months looking for a job in one of the bleakest job markets in recent history. "So, that was my introduction to the professional workforce space, if you will."

He still wanted to be a creative – it’s what he loved to do – but he realized very quickly that "just because I love doing something and I believe in it, it doesn't mean that I could get paid for it." That was a really hard realization to make at a young age.

So he found a job at a publishing company, which he hated, but at least he didn't have to worry about the bills anymore. "When you're worried about how you're going to feed yourself, every other thing starts to become less important."

However, he now had the mental and physical energy to pursue something more creative again. He started studying websites, and eventually created a side gig doing so. "That's when things started to change... but I was only able to find what I was interested in or how I could actually make a living because I was forced to understand what living without a sense of purpose is like."

So Ryder found his niches in the web development world, continued to educate himself and became more and more valuable. Eventually, he was doing enough web design work to start pursuing his side hustle full-time. That took a lot of time and work, but at least he was then able to focus on something that he really enjoyed doing.

That tiny web design shop grew to contracting for very large companies, and then a job leading a team of people creating web products.

However, Ryder wanted to give back. There were other designers and coders who shared their knowledge, and he benefited greatly from that. So he wondered: what can I share that would add some value? He wanted a little contained project that he could just put online for no other purpose than as a thank you, and he wanted it to be something uniquely his own.

Then it occurred to him that he takes notes in a unique way, and in every digital agency, there are still a lot of black notebooks on desks, even in this digital age. So, that's how Bullet Journal came to be.

He created this website tutorial, put it online, and went onto my next project. But then it started to grow. Again, he had to make a choice: continue pursuing this very gratifying and successful career, or move over to the passion project? Obviously, he chose the passion project.

In the episode, a student asks Ryder a question about starting a business on a limited budget. Ryder says the first thing you need to have is a base income. "Being an entrepreneur is incredibly, incredibly challenging, especially if you're an inexperienced entrepreneur. Just because you want to make something doesn't necessarily make you an entrepreneur. In the building of a thing requires much more than people may imagine, and that becomes significantly harder when you're constantly worrying about how you are going to pay the next check."

It doesn't need to be something you love, but it needs to be something that removes a lot of the fear from you. You can't do good work when you're constantly dreading rent.

That being said, before you start a business, you should also identify what matters to you. "I think that that's really important because if you just want to start a business for the sake of starting a business, that's not going to sustain you. The most lethal adversary in starting any business is time. And in time, your will will be challenged, your resolve will be challenged – and if you don't believe in what you're doing, or if it doesn't truly inspire you, then chances are you're not going to be able to sustain long enough to keep that business going."

Then, once you go full time, it's a whole different beast, and you have to start all over again. You're going to have bad days. Things aren't going to go right. You just get a whole different set of problems. "So, again, my first piece of advice is truly believe in what it is that you're trying to build. Be very excited about it because that's more than money, more than anything else, you're going to need that."


Watch: "How to declutter your mind -- keep a journal | Ryder Carroll | TEDxYale"

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