006: Charlie Hoehn – Overcoming the Expert Syndrome

Dealing with Negative Reviews

Charlie Hoehn is the author of Play It Away, Play for a Living, and Recession Proof Graduate He has spoken at the Pentagon, U.S. military bases, Stanford, and TEDx. Previously, he was Tim Ferriss’ Director of Special Projects, and he helped edit and launch The 4-Hour Body. Currently, Charlie lives in Austin with his wife and daughter, where he is the Head of Author Marketing for Book In A Box. Charlie Hoehn runs a podcast called Author Hour

Today, he shares some great stuff about leveraging the power of storytelling by making it identifiable, dealing with the “expert” syndrome, and how to handle negative reviews.

[01:58] The Power of Storytelling

Charlie never wanted to be a writer and he actually saw it as more of a necessity, being the fastest way to create.

He thinks of himself as an “ideas” person and the best way to materialize those ideas the fastest is through writing in whatever shape or form. He thinks it’s even faster than speaking it.

Quite similarly, I’ve always pushed back the idea of speaking so I practically leaned into writing. So for the longest time, I didn’t think I wanted to be a writer, but I wanted to tell stories. The part that interests me the most is the story underneath all of it.

Charlie adds to this, pointing out that people want to hear stories instead of advice. That’s why he tells each guest who comes on his show to start with a story that people can identify with. Humans are hard-wired for stories.

[05:13] Speaking versus Writing

Storytelling allows you to gain empathy and see the world from another person’s perspective. As opposed to speaking that is not as efficient since you have all these obstacles you’re having to deal with in real time. You’d have to deal with your own emotional state while you’re doing it. You have to be good at judging your audience to make sure they’re on board with you while you’re communicating these ideas.

But when you’re writing, all you have to do is communicate the idea well. And whoever reads it is actually “listening” to you. They’re giving more weight to what you’re saying.

[06:10] The Power of Fiction Books

Charlie recalls having this recent argument with someone who said they’d rather deal with reality since fiction books are a waste of time. However, fiction allows you to exercise your imagination. In fact, every movie basically comes from a fiction book first. And all of us love fiction movies.

More importantly, you’re still gaining compassion, empathy, and a new perspective on the world. It still comes from a human being and it’s grounded in their reality. We’re mostly writing about people and their feelings. So even if it’s fiction, you’re still learning about another person.

I had a young author here on the show and he said that the thing he looks for the most in fantasy is the depth of relatability to the main character. Yes, you’re creating a whole another world and yet some of that is replicating other worlds. But the character seems so likable and relatable that you follow them through this journey.

To know how to make somebody likable by an audience you can never see or touch – that’s the complexity of understanding the humanity and the qualities within somebody to make the story resonate. More than the likability factor, Charlie thinks it’s that relatability – the identifiability.

[08:30] The Number One Rule of Screenwriting

Charlie explains that number one rule of screenwriting is all about the character. And the audience has to identify with the character. A great example of this is Marty McFly of Back to the Future. He’s a cool kid that skates on the back of the car, which is super cool. But he’s got really low self-esteem and he’s dealing with some real-life challenges. It’s the same with Walter White of Breaking Bad, who is far from being likable, but he is an identifiable character. So you don’t necessarily have to be likable, but just somebody that you identify with.

[12:22] Writing His Book: Play It Away

Charlie gives a brief overview of his book. It begins with something very identifiable with people who struggle with anxiety and burnout. He describes how he felt the physical symptoms and what it was like internally.

The second chapter talks about what is going on outside, which are the conditions that led to that internal state. Charlie found it easy to do this since he simply had to make the outside world even louder, but the feelings are the same.

He believes that everybody struggling with the same stuff is convinced that no one else is struggling with it because no one’s eternal life is the exact same as the other.

Charlie goes on to talk about the book. He went through about two years struggling with debilitating anxiety and burnout. He was isolating himself from other people, not wanting them to catch his contagious energy of constant worrying and sometimes, paranoia. He had physical symptoms of rapid heart rate.

So he secretly suffered through all this because he was ashamed to go through it. He didn’t understand why he felt that way.

He had a dream job, working with Tim Ferriss for years. And then all of a sudden, he was dealing with this stuff.

Other factors came into play – a family member died, a close friend attempted suicide, a deadline for a huge project getting pushed back several months. Plus, being in a prestigious position, he felt like no one in his peer group fully understands what he’s going through.

So in the book, he talks about how he tried everything but nothing worked. But the one thing that unlocked to his personal cure was through play – to be more playful and not so serious and not be worried all the time. He had to incorporate play into his daily routine.

[16:20] Are You Battling Against Anxiety? You’re Not Alone

What he has learned from the thousands of people who also read his book is that they have also held back for the same reasons Charlie held back. They’re ashamed and they think no one understands what they’re going through. They don’t want to end up on addictive pills or be put in a hospital. They didn’t want to go through intense, expensive treatments.

Charlie wrote that book, as he was desperately searching for that type of solution – which was natural, free, common sense, and something that didn’t require dangerous or expensive therapies.

Meanwhile, his friend who was a CEO of a Fortune 10 company finally opened up to him after having read his book. She reveals how she’s going through the exact same thing. And she thought Charlie was the only one who could possibly understand. But anybody going through the stuff will understand you, not to mention the millions of of people struggling with this stuff. Just look on YouTube and you’ll see all these confessions videos that have come out over the years.

Charlie says this is something common and it’s something he’s not afraid of, at all, if it would happen to him all over again. If it does, he already knows the cure.

Two women came out to him after a speaking gig and they admitted being on high does of anxiety medicine for 20 years. Then they incorporated play into their life and it dissolved. Anxiety was gone.

[19:30] Overcoming the Expert Syndrome: You’re Unique!

Charlie recalls speaking at an association for therapy through humor. Everybody in the room was a licensed professional and was there to learn about the science of humor.

He only had his story while these people had all the research to back them. None of them had published books, or if they had, they were dry. Second, none of them could really present on the topic in the way that was identifiable.

Experts are in their field doing studies so they’re looking at their patients’ experiences, not theirs. So just because you don’t have a piece of paper telling the world that you’re not “expert,” doesn’t mean you’re an expert.

If you have experience life others have not, you’re an expert!

The expert syndrome causes that idea of “we’ll wait and see what happens to you if you say it before I say it” or “I may not be credible if I say it and I’m wrong.”  

But how can your story be wrong?

That’s why I often tell authors to put their story in there. You see, you’re the only part of it that matters more than anything else. Why? Because that lens is going to help more people than if you just share your knowledge in your head. Your unique perspective cannot be found on the internet. It comes from you.

Charlie further says that people will sense that. As long as you have that positive intent, you shouldn’t worry about being an expert. Just do it.

[25:22] Dealing with Negative Reviews

If you’re only writing list articles, no one’s going to care. But if you’re putting yourself out there and really say what matters to you, you’re going to get some push back for sure. And Charlie had a share of some of those. People tell him he was just trying to take advantage of the anxiety market and trying to capitalize on them.

So people have their own agendas they’re bringing to the table when they’re trying to argue with you. And if they’re pushing back on you? It’s more about them. It’s not as much about you.

Personally, I have been having so much fear and anxiety about this current book I’m writing. It’s really well-received as a message. But I’m just afraid someone misinterprets what I’ve learned from children. So I just want them to share the things I’ve learned. And I admit that’s one of my struggles being a writing coach. And so when haters show up, I try not to respond at all, unless it’s positive in some way.

In the first place, there won’t be many critics, it’s in your head more than anything else. For every 100 positive things people say about the book, there will be one critic.

Additionally, if you’re thinking about writing a book and have all this fear and wondering about these kinds of things about being an expert and not knowing enough, the biggest mistake people make is not sharing their truth and they try to share too much – too big concepts or too many things. All because they don’t want to be not thought of knowing more or enough.

You don’t have to share all your wisdom. Just stick to the one thing. You have more than one book in you. So chill out and nail this one. Stop talking. There’s confidence in quiet. And when you know when to shut up, that’s a good thing.

[31:20] How to Respond to Negative Comments

When Charlie did the Vegas shooting article, he realized it’s going to take off quickly. So he was trying to manage the computers on his computer. And he has learned this from Tim Ferriss that if you respond to negative comments, always begin with thanking them.

As for Charlie’s part, he would invite them to help him fix it up and that he values their input. This has set the tone for all other negative commenters. They saw he wasn’t there to fight, but he was there to introduce a new perspective.

Again, say thank you for the insight. Hear and listen to what they have to say. Then offer to be a team mate and to collaborate with them in fixing whatever needs to be fixed.

Another thing he learned from Tim is that the people who are your most vocal critics can become your most vocal fans if you know how to play it right. So view this as an opportunity to gain a fan, rather than taking your heels and trying to butt heads with them.

[36:41] They Could Just Be Having a Bad Day

Charlie explains the irony that when you write something, people give a lot of weight but they don’t really know you. They’re just reading this thing printed down. And we have this bias that if if you hear somebody say something, it might be true. If you hear more than one person saying something, it’s probably true. But if you read it, it’s true.

The irony is that it’s still playing in our heads when we’re reading comments by 12-year-old’s with zero life experience. You don’t even know who’s on the other end of that comment. They could be trolls or just pissed off at that moment and they’re just having a bad day. That may be their stress relief for the day and they just want to take it on somebody they don’t know.

More importantly, just treat it as a feedback. It doesn’t mean you’re not good as a person. Maybe, they’re just stuck, too.

When I got a feedback on my book, which was an early copy of the book that wasn’t edited very well, I stopped promoting it and I stopped getting reviews. I just kept silent. And the reason is because there was some truth in there and instead of addressing it, I just turned away. I didn’t know that early enough to understand it. But now I know.

[40:45] Go Beyond the Numbers

Charlie goes on to say that men’s biggest fear is being ridiculed, rejected, and laughed at. He has seen this across the board. They’re afraid no one will read their book. They not only worry about a lack of reviews, but also, a lot of sales or a lack of validation from the market.

You’re going to find that even if you have some success as an author, you still view some of these book author titans as somebody you’re never going to live up to.

And Charlie says a disturbing number of them are wanting to sell a million copies of their book in the first two or three years. And he tells them they’re going to have to buy 995,000 copies of the book. Because that doesn’t just happen.

Let go of these delusions of grandeur and recognize that not only accomplishing the act of publishing a book is a huge feat in itself, but readers who take the time to get through your book is huge. This can be more impactful and have more ripple effects than you think. So just let that go.

Charlie also points out that there could be deeper emotional issues at play if you want to be a celebrity in the author world. It shouldn’t be the goal, but it should be a by-product of having done a lot of things right for a long time and capturing what the culture is going through at that moment.

He ultimately says that it’s not something you aim for. It just happens. And it only happens to one or two of thousands and thousands of authors every single year.

[46:45] A Process of Self-Transformation: Focus on Yourself

I always reiterate to authors I work with is that it all comes down to doing this for you – write the book so it transforms you. And I want to see these people transform their own selves, first of all. And if they can, then they begin to transform others as a byproduct.

Charlie adds that J.K. Rowling, for instance, wrote those books for herself. She did those to amuse herself and she wasn’t worried about what other people are doing. So your best work comes from that place of focusing on yourself.

Lastly, recognize that the process doesn’t end here. Things don’t happen magically. At the end of the day, it’s all about finding that truth that’s always been inside of you but you’ve just been afraid to tell them.

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Find out more about Charlie Hoehn on www.CharlieHoehn.com

Check out Charlie’s article on Vegas Shooting

Take a listen to Charlie’s podcast, Author Hour

Book Recommendations:

The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness by Edward Hallowell

The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant

Indian Givers by Jack Weatherford

The Fish That Ate the Whale by Rich Cohen

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006: Charlie Hoehn - Overcoming the Expert Syndrome006: Charlie Hoehn - Overcoming the Expert Syndrome

006: Charlie Hoehn - Overcoming the Expert Syndrome