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Backhanded Optimism with Adam J. Kurtz

About This Episode

Sounds Good Season Finale // If you've been looking for a sign to change your life, this is it. As you've probably figured out by now, life isn't a linear line. It's full of ups and downs, uncertainty, and confusion; however, what guides us through is intentionality. That's what illustrator and author Adam J. Kurtz's fourth book, You Are Here (For Now): A Guide to Finding Your Way, tackles. In it are essays and illustrations aimed to help readers with personal transformation — instead of simply living life getting through it day by day, Kurtz wants you to actually enjoy where you are and who you are.

As a best-selling designer, artist, and public speaker (whose work has been featured in the New Yorker, NYLON, and more), Adam has dedicated his whole life to finding the humor, truth, and optimism in being alive. He channels the lessons he's learned through his art and wants you to know that it's all going to be okay. His art and stationary brand has been sold all over the world and he's amassed a big social media following through his work in mental health. In this episode, Adam J. Kurtz talks to us about what purpose really means to him and how we’re never as alone as we feel.

Guest: Adam J. Kurtz, author of You Are Here (For Now): A Guide to Finding Your Way

Order You Are Here (For Now) on Bookshop or Amazon and follow Adam J. Kurtz on Instagram and Twitter

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Transcript

Branden Harvey

Okay, Adam, first of all, it is just so great to have you back on the show. Welcome back to Sounds Good.


Adam J. Kurtz

Thanks so much. I can't believe it's been, like, five years sinceI was still here.


Branden Harvey

I was too nervous to go back and look at how long ago it was, but it probably is about five years ago, you were one of our very first ever guests, and I believe that Sounds Good was maybe your first podcast that you ever went on.


Adam J. Kurtz

I think it was probably one of my first ever, and I remembered that I had a very bad headphones microphone, and there was like, a police chase outside during the podcast. And I was like, well, I'll never be invited back to any podcast ever again.


Branden Harvey

I guess that's so. Well, I don't remember that. So it didn't make an impression. And I guess similarly, I remember coming away from that and be like, oh, I feel like I made a total fool of myself. Like, I was already a fan of you. And I told Sammi I was like, I just don't know if I like, I don't know if Adam thought I was cool and you probably didn't. But you must have liked me enough because you ended up inviting me and Sammi to your wedding, like, the next year.


And so I got to come out to your wedding, hang out with you and Mitchell. And since then, you have played a pretty significant role in helping good, good, good get up and running. Like, you helped me figure out how to print and ship the Goodnewspaper, and run a merch site and all of those things. And so it's been really cool how that podcast created a domino effect, I think in our friendship and just I guess so many other things.


Adam J. Kurtz

Yeah. I think we were already friendly, and Sammi and I were friendly online. Don't forget that we had barbecue with y'all in Nashville.


Branden Harvey

That's right.


Adam J. Kurtz

I did the blue newspaper pins when Goodnewspaper launched on Kickstarter. So, you know, we have a creative friendship where we are friends because of our art leading us to each other. And then we're friends beyond that. But then also share resources and, like, I don't know, I love that. I love that in life that people's creative passion can lead them to each other and then be the foundation for a friendship or a relationship. I love that, too, when people -- couples meet that way.


Branden Harvey

Yes, I love that, too.


Adam J. Kurtz

To clarify for the listeners, Branden and I are not married. We have separate partners. Not sure why I mentioned the last part. I just think it's cute when people fall in love.


Branden Harvey

No, it is very cute. I mean, you and Mitchell also both have creative professions. Me and Sammi both have creative professions, and so I do love that connection. And how that's another form of intimacy on a platonic or romantic level.


Adam J. Kurtz

Yeah. I mean, it's passions right there in the word. And so for me, at least it's so important for me when I'm in a relationship to see someone's passion, it doesn't have to be the same as my passion. But I want to know that you're passionate about something. And I think in my friendships, too, it's hard for me to be friends with someone who has no discernible passion. Mind you, that the definition of passion could be really wide open. Like, you might have a passion for video games.


That's okay. I just if I can't see what you're excited about, then I'm like, are, are you alive?


Branden Harvey

Yeah. One of my favorite things is you sit next to somebody on a plane. I mean, first of all, I don't like talking with strangers on planes as extroverted as I am. I don't love that. But I do love it--


Adam J. Kurtz

That's good because I don't think they would like that. As soon as you start talking, I was like, oh, no, no, no.


I'm going to have to interrupt my friend on his own podcast.


Branden Harvey

On the occasion where I do sit next to somebody and they do something super nerdy, like, one time I sat on a plane next to somebody who was an airplane mechanic.


Adam J. Kurtz

Oh, wow.


Branden Harvey

And something wild happened on the plane like, it shook for a second. And he mentioned he was an airplane mechanic, and I asked him one question, and then he just shared with so much passion the details for this thing that I do not care about. I will never go on YouTube and look up airplane mechanic videos or whatever it is. But he probably does. And the way that he spoke about it was so delightful and charming. And I love that I don't care what that passion is.


But I do think there's something special about, like, really caring about something totally.


Adam J. Kurtz

It's cool to care or it's not cool., then what is cool?


Branden Harvey

There is this idea of like, there are the things that are cool when we're younger and then we grow up and realize that those were maybe superficial and that if you go deeper, that's not actually the thing that's attractive. That's not actually the thing that's connecting us to each other, even though on the surface, it does seem like the connective thing. It's like, no, we're all searching for that thing that is deeper. I think that it is cool to care once you get to the point where it's cool to care.


Adam J. Kurtz

Yeah. Agreed. Okay.


Branden Harvey

So for this idea that you and I were kind of attracted to each other's work creatively professionally. This is the thing that I always am almost, like, confused by and try to figure out because you and I, on the surface, have very different work. But there is something in common. And I think I was about to describe how I think of your work. But before I do that, I'm almost curious. I would love to hear you describe what your work is, especially in terms of how you think it relates to Good Good Good.


And like, kind of the energy we bring to the table.


Adam J. Kurtz

I mean, I think of my work, whether it's visual art, whether it's stationary books and writing, social media output, neon signs or embroidered teddy bears. Like it's all me communicating in as many ways as I can in my own voice and extensions of my voice, whether that's handwriting or a certain tone or smart or, you know, in the case of my upcoming audio books, like, I'm actually reading the words for the first time, which is very cool. And I think that communication with other human people in a very real human way is at the heart of that.


And that's in my perspective of your work, that's exactly what you're about is communicating with people and helping people through that communication. It's just standing up and being like, hey, I I actually give a shit. I hope that's okay. And if you also give a shit, then welcome to this conversation because there's so many people who are not speaking up because they don't know how to because they don't want to, because it's exhausting, because they're busy, which is total -- there's so many valid reasons that people don't stand up, that people don't stick out their hand or, I don't know, try to interrupt the flow of things that I feel like Good Good Good shows up and it's like, hey, yeah, the world is actually so hard and bad, but it's also extremely good and nice.


And here are some of those things and just sticking out when it would be easier not to to use your voice that way to help other people and to feel more okay, that I have so much respect for. And that is something that I would love to do or to think that I do as well.


Branden Harvey

I absolutely think that that's something that you do.


I think you do a really good job of that.


Adam J. Kurtz

And I I do too. I was being humble. Alright, let me clarify. I really like what I do, and I think I've gotten pretty good at it too. It's weird to say that, but that's something that happens, right? So first it's intimidating to speak, and then once you start speaking, you're like, oh, maybe maybe I can do this and you learn how to speak more effectively. And, you know, a big part of learning how to speak is also learning how to listen. So you're always growing. But I should use more concrete terms about my work.


I should stop saying, I guess, and I hope and I wish it's like, no, bitch, this is my fourth book. I think I'm doing it and self confidence, man, it's hard.


Branden Harvey

I think the thing for me where I'm like, oh, do we have anything in common is that your work has this, like, negative undertone and negative isn't the right word. The real word is real. You are very real. You're like, there are bad things, like bad things exist, but in the same way, the good things that exist in the world are equally real. And I think you always strike that perfect balance. And I genuinely think that if you and I hadn't met before I founded the Goodnewspaper, the Goodnewspaper would be a lot more toxic positivity.


And I think I would have neglected to see that value of saying, hold on. Actually, I just wrote down. I realized I wrote down a quote from your book, which is that you said negativity provides context for positivity. And unfortunately, we need both. And I'm like, that is such a perfect way to describe this thing. And the positivity doesn't feel good at all unless you have that negativity. And so I think that on first glance, I'm like, this negativity is not up my alley. And then I'm like, no, no, this is the most real and connective thing.


And I think it feels so much more authentic than somebody who is just quote unquote positive online.


Adam J. Kurtz

I mean, you need the duality and to ignore the negative would also be kind of insane, you know, for lack of a better word. Bad things happen and what you're describing in my work, I start calling backhanded optimism where I get to the right place eventually. But I need to cycle through the bad or the hard or the difficult or the negative, because that's actually how I feel and experience the world. Like, I skew negative. And then it realistically. I take stock of all the positive, add it all up in my head, and then I'm like, okay, actually, I'm pretty okay right now.


Do you know, it's that thing of like, if all you had were high notes or if all you had was sweet, you wouldn't know it was sweet anymore. You need the low notes. You need the sour and the bitter. You need the full flavor. You need the full orchestra in order to have a beautiful meal or a piece of music. I'm mixing my metaphors here. But we know what I'm saying.


Branden Harvey

It's that combo music food metaphor that I think really speaks to all of my senses. So thank you for that.


Adam J. Kurtz

Yeah. Those are kind of the only two things I care about or two of my favorite things, music and food. I mean, those are two things that just make life worth living. Those are two things that I can always get excited about sharing a meal or, oh, man, we just bought some pears yesterday, and they are so good. You know, when a piece of fruit is just like, the best version of that fruit in a while. And it reminds you of every other time you've had that fruit.


And it reminds you that, like, there's so many fruits you can eat in the world. You know, that's the number one reason to keep going is there's more fruits to eat? I should have put that in the book.


Branden Harvey

I mean, I will spoil this chapter. I actually will spoil the chapter for chapter. You have a chapter that's basically reminding people of the reasons that they should keep going and stay alive. And the spoiler is that you think people should stay alive. But I think that you did such a good job of articulating, you know, things in a very poetic and beautiful way that also, again, really acknowledge the challenging parts of life while also saying there are little things and big things that will mean a lot to you in the future.


And I actually, I don't think I've ever seen in articulation of why somebody should stay alive. That was so, it was so resonant. And I think people will really find it delightful, which is a funny thing to say about about a word, like a suicide prevention chapter. Yeah.


Adam J. Kurtz

I mean, I think that's just it. The book is not only -- that the book is not only extreme exact things, but when I talk about mental illness in very blunt terms, I'm always doing it with a sense of lightness and humor. For me, humor is the silver lining that makes the bad okay. And I'm not the only person like this when something is so awful and so sad. I almost like, I might start to laugh a little bit because you take a step back and you're like, oh, my god, this is literally the worst.


Like, I was talking to a friend earlier and she's like, do you want to hear something sad? And she told me about a very, very sad and tragic thing. And then I started laughing and she was like, why are you laughing? And I was like, because you just interrupted a call to say, do you want to hear something terrible? And what a ridiculous like, why did you do this? Because now we're both sad and just the premise of that is ridiculous. The book You Are Here (For Now) is really everything that I have learned and everything that I'm learning and processing.


That's the keyword You Are Here (For Now) is everything that I am processing in real time about being a person in the world. And that includes the good and the happy. And it also includes the sad and the heart, and occasionally the scary.


Branden Harvey

I was about to say we should back up a little bit. And I'll say that your new book is called You Are Here For Now, and it's your first book that has this long form writing in it. I have been a huge fan of all of your other books, but this one just felt especially exciting and connective. It just, like, so good, like, goose bumpy to me because I got to experience your writing in this long form, traditional chapter format, which is still interspersed with all of your beautiful art that people kind of know you for. What was your goal with this book? And why did you decide to make it different and kind of make this leap into essentially a new medium?


Adam J. Kurtz

You know, I think that the power of my work has always been that I am very honest and very truthful. But in a sort of shorthand way, I'm often speaking in aphorisms or phrases that ring true and allow the reader to really find themselves in there. And at a certain point, I think I was so wrapped up in the subtlety of it that I no longer had the space I needed to be as truthful as I wanted to be or to say as much as I had to say.


And while I was working on this book, You Are Here (For Now), I realized, hey, there's actually a lot that needs to be enunciated, like, life is so hard right now. You know, I started working on this book before the COVID-19 pandemic began, but to write a sort of light and fun book about being okay during one of maybe the scariest and most difficult moments in our collective history would be completely tone deaf. And so I had this moment of like, okay, Adam, you are working on your fourth book.


You have earned the right to exercise your creative freedom without the publisher taking back your book deal or telling you it's bad. I earned the right to just say what I wanted to say. And I was like, I got to say it.


Branden Harvey

You truly took that opportunity and ran with it a good job.


Adam J. Kurtz

Oh, I ran!


Branden Harvey

I read the additional version because I'm reading it before it actually comes out, and I cannot wait to get to hold it, too, because I think that will be a nice touch or hear the audio book too. One of the central themes that you already alluded to this in the book is this idea of purpose. And what advice would you give to those who feel like they don't know their capital P purpose in life yet.


Adam J. Kurtz

You know, not knowing your purpose is part of being alive. People spend an entire lifetime searching for purpose. Your purpose might change. You might think, you know what it is and realize that you don't. You might have been told from a young age, hey, this will be your purpose, and then you get older and you're like, Well, that person loves me, but I don't think they got it right. That's not my purpose. It's always going to be a journey. And I don't think you should ever beat yourself up for not being certain.


But one thing that I say in the book is kind of a cheat code is that searching for purpose is kind of a purpose. So if you need a stalling tactic that makes you feel better, the search for purpose is in and of itself a form of purpose. And so you can do that one for a while. As long as you're genuinely doing it right? As long as you're really doing the work to ask yourself the questions about what's important to you and what you have to offer. That counts.


Branden Harvey

I like that idea, too. That purpose changes because it is a reminder that there's always a little bit more purpose in looking around for a new purpose. Not that it's like I have to get rid of this thing and move on to something new, but it's that okay. Well, what can use my talents and skills and abilities and my interests even more effectively than right now or what is calling out to me in a new and different way now that maybe my life has changed a little bit?


I don't know. I kind of like the idea of not being locked into a purpose for a long time. Do you feel like, you know what your purpose in life is?


Adam J. Kurtz

You know, I think that there is an important distinction to be made between a sense of purpose that we really feel innately that calls to us, and then a skill set that we possess that makes us especially good at doing something because you could have someone who's the fastest runner in the world, and maybe they run really fast for awards and income, and that's their job. But maybe they feel their true purpose is just to be a good dad. And so we really need to create that distinction between.


Okay, what do we think we're good at versus what are we genuinely not just passionate about, but feel uniquely called to do. And for me, you know, I always think about my sense of purpose as rooted in acts of service for others. That doesn't mean I'm especially good at helping others. In fact, I'm often overbearing, right. I see someone standing at a party, and I'm like, Here, sit, and they're like, no, I don't want to. And I'm like, what do you mean? Here's an arm chair, and they're like, no, no, I'm fine.


Right. So my sense of purpose is not always good, and I'm not always the best at it. But I realized over time that I'm really called to help others in in any way that I can. And part of that for me has been shifting my art from something that helps me express myself into something that helps me express myself while also connecting with others and reflecting truths back to others and commiserating with others. And that has been a really long journey of realizing that, hey, the things that I feel and think in my brain actually resonate very strongly with some other people.


Right. And I don't think the whole world loves me. But there's maybe of people in the world who have an inner monologue that's kind of similar to mine. And when those people stumble onto my work, they're like, holy shit. I can't believe other people think like this. I thought I was crazy, and I'm just like, Well, surprise, bitch. I might be crazy to you. I'm not saying you're not. I'm just saying you're not alone.


Branden Harvey

I think that was one of your list, like in your list of reasons to stay alive. I think you mentioned this idea that we always underestimate how big this world is, and it's pretty likely that somewhere in the world somebody knows how you're feeling. And I was like, oh, that is a really good point. Like, I don't think any of us are really unique, precious butterflies and any of the ways we think, at the least, there's somebody else who probably has that connective experience.


Adam J. Kurtz

There's always someone out there who gets it. And one very small silver lining to this pandemic has been I have felt an openness from others to be more truthful, when saying, when answering the question of how are you? So they used to be, someone says, how are you? And you say, oh, I'm fine. How are you? And now you say, how are you? And sometimes more often than I think they used to, people actually give you a real answer. And I love that. I'm loving that change because a lot of people are going through a lot of stuff and pretending that you're not.


That doesn't really help anyone else. It's good to have boundaries. Don't tell everyone that you're flailing. But if you tell someone who cares about you, actually, they might be able to help. And then you don't have to be so alone.


Branden Harvey

And if you tell a stranger, I mean, not a stranger. But you tell somebody who maybe isn't in your life that things aren't going great. You're just authentic. You're not putting a burden on them. But you're just telling the truth. If they have been going through their day or their week or their year feeling this heaviness and feeling like they were alone, who knows what that could unlock for somebody to feel like, oh, my gosh. I'm not the only one who feels heavy right now.


Adam J. Kurtz

Yeah, I think it's hard to know what spaces are appropriate for that. I'm very much someone who loves to just talk to Teresa or like, the person at the grocery store. And I have to be better at context clues to know when people want it and don't. But I will say that on the Internet that's often sort of an opt-in environment where people are either interacting with you or not, and the people that are, are probably more receptive to what you have to share. So I think I've tried to be open, you know, for the last year and a half about how I'm doing, about how I'm feeling.


It's not all good. It's not all bad. I'm grateful to be here. I'm grateful to be alive. I am sad about things that we've lost. There's just so much. And one thing that I think it was Mitchell, my husband who said it to me was just there's a lot of grief and grieving that needs to be done, that we still have not been fully able to feel and enunciate. And it's almost like, do we need to wait for all of this to be over to get closure?


Branden Harvey

I've been thinking about this a lot. Actually, just this idea that like, I'm going out and spending more time out in the world again. Others are as well. But like, the death and the heartbreak are not ending as I do this thing. And because of that, like, this grief is sitting with me. This grief is sitting with so many other people. And it's as if by going back into the grocery store in a similar way to how we used to it feels weird to carry this heaviness while I'm in the produce aisle that used to just feel normal.


And I think that just finding ways to like, I don't know. I've actually just tried to be more intentional about making genuine eye contact with some people in the real world because it's like acknowledging that you exist and I exist. And I don't know, I think that there's something important about that, even if it's not a shared conversation about this grief, the world having. It's just that we are complex and we are seeing each other in this moment. And if you're feeling this, maybe I'm feeling this too.


Adam J. Kurtz

Yeah. And this isn't exactly what you're talking about. But I will say that at the beginning of the pandemic, there was a lot of conversation about tipping our food service people and delivery drivers extra because of how hard things are. And I think another version of just being aware and existing in reality is to remember that that's still the case. And actually, people have had to go back to underpaid jobs because the unemployment benefits were cut off. Keep tipping high when you have those positive interactions with people who are working in food service and retail.


Like, keep aware of the fact that even if they are in good spirits, like, it is still harder than it ever was before. And if you have the means, those increased tips really, like, have so much power to make someone's day. And I think I was already a good tipper before all this. But like, now I am on it.


Branden Harvey

I'm never going back. I know.


Adam J. Kurtz

We are never tipping ever again. Like, and this is also the reality of minimum wage. I mean, everything is connected. I think that is a huge thing to remember is that everything is connected.


The pain, the suffering, the hardship is all connected. That said, it's also connected to the good. It's connected to kindness. It's connected to our communities that we create and existent. And so if we can all make an effort to be positive connections, if we can help connect to the good, if we can remind others that good things happen and that love is real and that we will all be okay, that's a huge power. And that's a gift we can give to one another.


Branden Harvey

And none of that is possible without acknowledging first the struggles and the injustices and the heartbreak that's in the world, because only when you see that, then you go, I've got to do something about this. I've got to be a part of this solution. I'm maybe gonna rally a few other people to do this.


Adam J. Kurtz

It's very be the change, right?


Branden Harvey

It's very be the change.


You have this other quote from the book that really stood out to me. You said, you already know how bad it can be. So focusing on positive change instead isn't the same as ignorance. And that's the thing that I kind of get a little bit afraid of. Sometimes when I'm doing my job celebrating the good that happens in the world, and maybe I'm spending a little bit less time doom scrolling is it ignorance to not be giving the heartbreak that's happening in the world, to not be giving this my full attention.


And I found that quote to be really encouraging. But I also imagine that you were kind of thinking about that in terms of mental health and maybe the anxieties of imagining what could happen that goes like wrong. What were you thinking when you wrote that quote when you wrote that thing?


Adam J. Kurtz

Then I quoted, I was thinking both things to focus only on the negative or positive in our own lives is always going to be harmful. Toxic positivity is, I think, a fairly common phrase now, like people are familiar with the concept of toxic positivity. And maybe even just a couple of years ago, we weren't there yet. Even just a couple of years ago, we were still like, positive vibes, only good vibes, good vibes. And now it's like, well, wait a second, because actually negative vibes exist, too.


And I think about it a lot. And, you know, there is an essay in the book called Bad News Pears, which is a very dumb dad joke metaphor that you'll have to read to get but it's basically all-


Branden Harvey

Second pear reference of the day, by the way.


Adam J. Kurtz

I guess I just love pairs. What can I say? And it's all about that sort of vibe that okay, vibe stasis where good vibes and bad vibes can exist. And I will say that in your work, Brandon, there maybe have been times in the past where I was-- where my own feeling as your friend was like, okay, this is feeling a little bit like positive, positive, positive. But you have very clearly in your work and the community, the Goodnewspaper community has really done the work to make sure that the conversations are balanced and to identify the bad that's being addressed by the good.


And that's part of celebrating the good is understanding what's so good about it, right? It's like we know kittens are good, but we don't always know why the actions taken by so and so are good, unless we know the why they're taking and who they're for and where they occurred and what's the historical context for when this is happening at this moment in time. And so I think we need the context to really appreciate the good. And I think that the work you do has been very careful and very intentional in providing that complete context so that people are not just celebrating at the end, but really understanding the entire journey to get to that happy ending on behalf of the team and our community.


Branden Harvey

I'll just say thank you for that in those very kind words. And it's something that we're certainly trying to be intentional about. It doesn't come easy, but I think that that's a good, it's a really good practice for us and something that we're just trying to model because I think everybody is trying to wrestle with that dichotomy. And so if we can try to set a tone for what that looks like, I think it can just create a healthier approach to discourse and maybe a healthier approach to just kind of how we all get to experience the news and the things that happen in the world.


Adam J. Kurtz

I think that for most people, the impulses either digest too much. That doom scrolling. I always think of Karen how, because she tweets her doom scrolling reminders.


Branden Harvey

So good.


Adam J. Kurtz

There's that side. And then there's just like the I pretend I do not see it, bury your head in the sand. And it seems like it's always that extreme of one or the other. And for me, I'm always very intentionally trying to have a diet that includes both because I need to know what's happening. I need to know, you know, a little bit of what's happening in the world around me so that I feel tethered to something outside of myself.


Too much time inside your own brain isn't necessarily healthy either. On the other hand, when you become obsessed with the news cycle and you allow every piece of news to impact you in a deep got a real emotional way that's unhealthy, too. So I go through phases where I turn off my notifications. You know, I turn off all push notifications. That's my number one piece of advice.


Branden Harvey

It's really good advice. I've done the same thing.


Adam J. Kurtz

Yeah, just opt out a little bit. And then if you can move to Hawaii, because the time zone really, I logged in to Twitter in the morning, and Twitter is, like, almost halfway done for the day. And it's like jumping in the middle of an episode of Law and Order, like, you can figure it out, but you're closer to the end and you miss the set up. So I never know who the main character of Twitter is, but then I no longer care.


Branden Harvey

That's so funny, because you moved from New York, and I always felt like on the West Coast it's just like Twitter follows New York hours once everybody in New York has fallen asleep, like, Twitter is done for the day, you can go to bed so I can go to bed at 09:00 p.m.. But you get to go to bed like, I don't know how to do the time, like dinner time. Yeah.


Adam J. Kurtz

I mean, it's been surprisingly healthy for a person like me who is so very online and, you know, I joined Twitter in 2007, so I just had my 14 year Twitter anniversary and, wow. I mean, that's almost half my life, you know, that's nuts. So it's been a great exercise and not unplugging, but just disconnecting.


Branden Harvey

I think that's really good. And then you get to prioritize what you want to do, which maybe it leads me to this question, that it might be a good kind of question to go out on or a good conversation, which is that-- remind me what phrase you had embossed into those number two pencils that you sold for years. You talked about this in your book.


Adam J. Kurtz

Well, I didn't intend to sell them at first, but in a moment of extreme mental clarity, a nervous breakdown. I ordered 720 pencils that say, "I am a tool or a weapon and completely free," which is literally terrifying. And that really became a sort of thesis statement for my early twenties. And it helped me sort of parse through the potential that I have as a person and that we all have as people to create and to make beautiful and special things, but also to destroy, to hurt ourselves and and others around us.


And every single day is really a choice of how to wield yourself. Just like a pencil can be used to write a book or stab someone in the eyeball.


Branden Harvey

I found it really encouraging because it actually coming back to the idea of purpose. I don't know. I feel anxious about this idea of getting locked into a singular purpose. But this idea of picking up a pencil that can either create good or bad, it's a choice. Every day, every day we get the choice to do that thing. And whatever that metaphor applies to, whether it's truly like the words you write or the words you speak or the actions you take. I think it's very encouraging to be able to look back on your day and say, how did I wield this pencil?


What did I use it for? Because I had all of these opportunities available to me. But I chose to do this. And every day you get to start over. And if one day you choose to wield your pencil for bad, the next day, you can start over and you can try again because the pencil is free.


Adam J. Kurtz

I mean, that's very much the spirit of you are here for now, right? It's this idea that where you are at this moment of time is current and present, and you will soon be leaving. And so if today wasn't a good day, try again tomorrow. And if you don't like who you are in this moment, that's okay. Because you're going to keep growing. You always have more opportunities, and you can always shift. You're not locked into an identity. You're not locked into a sense of purpose. You're not locked into any job or relationship or even a relationship with yourself.


You will change so many times in your life, as many times as you would like. And sometimes some of the times that you don't want to, but too bad, because life is surprising. That's what it is really a conversation about. And that's something I have spent so many of the last years thinking of it. Who am I at any given moment? How am I changing? And where do I want that change to lead me next? Because as soon as you realize your own potential, as soon as you find your own power, the next question is, what do I do with it?


And it's very overwhelming to a person like me to go from feeling like I had no power at all and that I literally was going to not live anymore and then suddenly be like, not only am I going to live, but I'm going to do things. I'm going to make things. And then to see the fruit of that labor, to look around my life and realize, hey, all this work I've been doing has led me here, and I have new opportunities and new resources and new potential directions.


Now, what do I make of those? And so there's just always a lot of change and a lot of growth and good brings good, good brings bad. And you just have to kind of parse through it all. And that's it. That's being alive.


Branden Harvey

Adam, I think that's actually just the perfect way to wrap this episode. I think that's such a beautiful idea, and it's such a good closing note. And thank you so much for doing the work that you do for writing this beautiful book and for being here with us today on Sounds Good.


Adam J. Kurtz

Thanks so much for having me. And I will see you on the internet.


Episode Details

October 25, 2021

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Sounds Good is the weekly podcast that hosts hopeful conversations with optimists and world-changers about the headlines we can be hopeful about — and how you can get involved and make a difference.

Every week, Good Good Good founder Branden Harvey sits down with the people driving positive change against the world's greatest problems. Each episode will leave you with a sense of hope about the good in the world — and a sense of direction on how we can all be a part of that good. Episodes are released every Monday.

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