The Karma of Kindness

I was once asked which was more important to me — kindness or success. It struck me as an odd question, but hustle culture encourages this binary cutthroat attitude. It dawned on me that kindness and success can look like they’re mutually exclusive traits sometimes.

But kindness is the PRECURSOR to success by my definition. And that’s an important note — my definition of success might not be yours. To me…success is doing work I love, being surrounded by people I love, and having experiences that I will remember for the rest of my life.

To me, kindness is crucial in building a network that not only helps you achieve your goals but also brings fulfillment to your life. And you feel good for making someone else’s life a little better. You can’t beat that.

The Importance of Kindness

Kindness is often overlooked in the business world and the tattooing world. Hell, you hear stories from older tattoo artists about bricks through windows, crowbars to the knuckles, and the relationship between MCs and tattooers through the 80’s to now.

But the idea of a cutthroat industry is completely counter to one of my core instructions in life — don’t be a dick.

Like it or not, your demeanor becomes your reputation. If you start dumpster fires on social media to get attention, that will become your reputation.

I’d much rather be the guy that lets people have a turn in traffic, who takes the shopping cart to the corral for the grandma trying to tame her grandchildren. Or the guy who quietly does other nice things without expecting anything in return.

Keanu Reeves is a great example of this kind of human. He doesn’t brag about his kindness on social media. He just…does nice things. And people notice.

To me, extreme kindness is actually selfish. Because I feel pretty damned good doing it. I’m pretty sure Keanu feels pretty good, too.

Tom Hanks is another celebrity known for being kind. He once returned a college student’s lost ID card, then took a photo with her. Another time, he helped a couple take their wedding photos in Central Park. He’s known for being very supportive and kind to his colleagues on set. Leonardo DiCaprio has even called Tom Hanks a role model.

Yes, a role model. Just being a nice guy has turned Tom Hanks into a role model to some of the biggest actors in Hollywood.

If you believe in that sort of thing, kindness supposedly gives you some good karma, too. I don’t know if Keanu and Tom used some of that karma to rise to the top, but I KNOW that being nice didn’t hurt.

Networking with Kindness

If you give it even a second of thought, I’m confident that you made friends with…all of your friends…probably by doing something nice for them and having common interests.

You courted your spouse or significant other by being nice.

And, guess what? Being NICE is exactly how you should build your network, too.

I will give you two quick tips that took me forever to figure out when it comes to networking…

First – be genuinely kind to other people. Because it’s obviously fake if you’re doing something nice and you have a different motive.

Here’s the life hack to that tip – be curious about the other person. That’s it. Ask questions and listen. Be INTERESTED instead of INTERESTING.

I still catch myself talking about…me…all the time. When I manage to notice, I mentally smack myself in the back of the head and ask my conversation partner a question like: “So…random question…what’s the funniest story you have about your day job?” Or, “What’s the toughest day of work you ever had?”

Curiosity is the ultimate switch — when you show interest in another person’s life, they sincerely appreciate it, and you get to learn. It’s really a win-win situation. Learn to be interested instead of interesting and you’ll be one of the best conversation partners in the room, even if you never SAY anything.

What’s wild about this tip is that it works for almost everyone. I’ve reached out to several of my “heroes” over the past couple of years and just asked them questions about THEIR lives. I didn’t ask FOR anything, I just asked ABOUT them. And I’ve received more responses than I ever would have expected. Food for thought…

Alright, tip #2 – find charitable organizations or causes to align yourself with.

We do regular fundraising events at my tattoo studio for each person on the team. We each take turns supporting a local non-profit or charity every quarter.

I picked the local animal shelter last time. We’ve also raised funds for Planned Parenthood, The Trevor Project, to help pay the bills of a beautiful soul who was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and a couple of other events over the 2.5 years that we’ve been open.

Aligning yourself with an altruistic cause attracts other people who are passionate about helping in the same way you are. And those are good people to have around.

The Fulfillment Factor

Remember how I mentioned earlier that I have my own definition of success? It wasn’t always this definition. I wanted to be a millionaire in my early 20’s – like most 20-somethings. That was the dream. As I struggled through a divorce and found myself on the tail-end of a crumbling business, I started to re-evaluate my life.

I wasn’t unfaithful or abusive, but I was codependent and we were both reponsible for the marriage crumbling. My personal problems crushed my business. I ended up moving back in with my grandfather in Kentucky after living in a nice, gated community in Austin, TX.

This experience…was painful, to say the least, but I did my best to learn from my past. I approached all of my relationships differently — because being alone is painful.

Being surrounded by people I love was a new requirement for my “success.” So I had to start finding those people. And I had to be nice if I wanted to keep them around. I eventually met my NOW wife, and things started to turn around for me. I avoided codependent behaviour, I did my best to GIVE her love without expectation, and I worked on being the best version of myself.

By finding my tribes (mostly online) and growing my family, I feel like I’ve hit that point of “success” for me. I can honestly say that trying to GIVE VALUE to the people I love is one of the most fulfilling things that I’ve ever done or continue to do.

And that circle of people I love continues to grow.

Which brings two major things to the front of my mind — we’ll start with the events that we run at Affinity. These altruistic events have brought in some of my favorite clients to date. They come to support a cause, we make a connection, then I have a new client for life that I genuinely enjoy being around.

These events commonly attract people from two surrounding states (Ohio and West Virginia) — and those clients have a tendency to keep coming back. This all happens from us trying to make a positive dent in the universe.

The next major “thing” that pops up is my YouTube channel. I’ve removed a lot of my older videos because they don’t really align with what I want to accomplish today. Some of them are still up, and many of them are embarrassing to share…but when I released The Power of Play…it struck a nerve. I wasn’t trying to “get” anything or “build” anything when I did that video.

And I think it was relatable. I made something that I would enjoy watching, and I shared more than I thought I should. As Neil Gaiman put it — when you feel like you’re walking down the street naked, you might be starting to get it right.

Well, that’s how these videos feel to me.

Who is going to care about me wanting to be nice? Does anyone want to watch me make a shitty drawing or painting? Who is going to care that I want to make the world a better place? Who gives a fuck if I share how I almost destroyed my family’s future by taking on too much risk? Does anyone care that I still have a mountain of student loans?

I don’t know…but sharing something vulnerable about myself seems to be one of the most kind and relatable things that I can do…

It starts conversations, I get to help people see ideas through a new lens, and I get to build connections.

And if this video starts a domino effect of kindness, then I’ve found a way to amplify this idea, which will make me feel beyond amazing. It’s my greedy fulfillment of altruism.

On that note…thank you for watching. I hope you can go out and be a light for someone else today. Do it without expectation. Do it because it’s a good thing to do. Do it to provide value to someone else, not try to capture it. Do it because you NEED to be kind BEFORE you can be successful — by my definition, anyway.

So have a wonderful day or night, and I look forward to our next conversation.

Passion Doesn’t Pay: Lesson Learned the Hard Way

Do you dream of turning your passion into a career? This advice may not be as helpful as you think.

The last video I made — the Power of Play — got an unexpected amount of attention. Attention that I’m not used to. And some of the responses made me realize that I made creative careers sound very romantic. And they can be — but I’m not a romantic.

I made a mistake by understating the importance of being practical with creative careers.

First — I want to make it clear that I’m not a licensed anything. Except tattoo artist. I’m not a financial advisor or a career counselor. All I have is life experience, some mentoring experience, and a whole lotta books.

With that said, I don’t necessarily encourage anyone to “follow their passion.” I actually have a very different view. This was hard-won wisdom that nearly cost my family everything.

Passion vs. Practicality

It’s pretty common advice to “follow your passion.” And, to a li degree, I agree.

To be more precise, I believe in following your curiosities and letting passion happen. Curiosities become experiments. Passion is the byproduct when you do an experiment that works.

But passion doesn’t support a family. When my son was born I had a stable job, good credit, and could have supporting my family very comfortably. But I decided to follow my passion because I wanted to be a tattoo artist.

After college, but before I had a family, I’d built a pseudo-successful graphic design business that buckled under my personal problems at the time. So I thought I could make it work again in a different field, avoiding the mistakes I’d made in the past. But I had no idea what I was doing.

I’d already completed my apprenticeship but never pursued tattooing as a full-time career while I was in college. After that huge gap, my first year of tattooing was filled with disappointment, disillusionment and depression.

I worked insane hours just to make ends barely meet and destroyed my credit in the process. Eventually, through trial by fire for years, I made it work.

What I did was NOT practical. It caused an insane amount of stress for me AND my wife and kids. I only made it work because of my amazingly supportive wife and a drive to succeed fueled by grit and a desire to prove “them” wrong. Whoever “them” may be.

What I eventually discovered was a more relaxing path where I relied on referrals from clients, rejected the “hustle” culture of tattooing, and got obsessive over studies and having fun.

I found where I fit in the market, but it took a lot of practice, patience, and experimentation.

The Reality of Finding Work You Love

Yes — finding work you love is possible. And I would argue that it’s incredibly important.

Work you love tends to energize you instead of drain you. That’s something that I’m incredibly grateful for.

But it took time, effort, and (in my case) a lot of stress. Because I did things the hard way.

What I wanted to encourage people to do in my last video was to explore their curiosities and look for WORK that they love.

I think that’s an important element that gets glossed over. You get paid for work.

I was trying to encourage my viewers to explore different obsessions and find a calling through trial and error. Find a way to either get passionate about something you can monetize, or experiment with obsessions and see who will pay for them.

Find the overlap of money and love, but understand that it takes time to find your unique path.

Steven Pressfield, the author of The War of Art, and the ultimate creative hard-ass, had to win through trial and error. He was a trucker, a migrant worker, and flirted with homelessness before “hitting it big” with The Legend of Bagger Vance when he was 52 years old.

Robert Greene, author of Mastery, The Handbook for Evil aka The 48 Laws of Power, and The Laws of Human Nature worked several writing-related jobs in his early life. He worked in a bookstore, as a translator, and as a movie development assistant. He spent years studying subjects like history, literature, and philosophy, and reading countless books.

Eventually, Greene wrote articles for magazines and newspapers, then published The 48 Laws of Power when he was 39 years old.

Stephen King was a high school English teacher who wrote short stories in his spare time.

He was a younger than Greene and Pressfield when he finally “made it” at age 26, but he still had to overcome incredible obstacles for his breakthrough. His teacher’s salary barely supported him and his wife, so he worked in a laundry mat and as a janitor to make ends meet.

Their stories are NOT common, but they illustrate a couple of very important things:

First, there’s real risk involved in “putting it all on the line.” I don’t know how close Greene and Pressfield came to losing everything, but I’m sure they sacrificed SOMETHING in the process.

I know I came dangerously close to losing everything. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling.

Second — it takes experimentation.

I studied studio art, computer science, and graphic design while I flirted with being a tattoo artist.

I finished a mediocre apprenticeship and put tattooing “on hold” for years. Eventually, I made a stupid leap and made it work AGAINST the odds.

I don’t regret my decisions, but I wouldn’t advise anyone else to make the same decisions I did. Especially not if you have a family to support.

I’ve seen and encouraged people to do it the smart way, and it DOES work.

Making (Sm)Art Career Choices

Art can be a viable career path, but it’s important to approach it with a realistic and practical mindset.

You might not be able to eliminate the risk of pursuing a career in a creative field, but you can at least manage it — or figure out what your risk tolerance is.

Are you young, single, and free? Start building your portfolio and finding clients!

Are you in your 30’s with a wife and kids? Don’t quit your day job. And start building your portfolio and finding clients! Think about how you can make a transition and manage the risk of a career in the arts.

Do you have a big safety net that will let you coast for a year? There isn’t much risk involved if you can manage your lifestyle and start looking for paid opportunities. Figure out how you could get back to where you are, then go for it.

Regardless, develop your skills and learn how to monetize your creativity. There are countless options, so do some research into the fields you’re interested in.

Find out everything you can about getting a foot in the door — preferably from people who have real-world experience.

As much as I love educators, experience is almost always a better teacher. Educators will give you a theory that doesn’t work practically. And if you take jobs immediately, YOUR experience usually pays with cash.

It’s all about exploring and seeing what work works!

I hope this helped shed some practical light on the dimly lit romantic room I portrayed last video.

Yes, I love my career. Yes, I believe in the incredible POWER of making your work feel like play. But I would recommend leaving one foot planted in reality while you chase your dreams. 🙂 It actually makes it more likely that you’ll succeed.

The Power of Play: Why Loving Your Work Matters

Want to know what I do for fun? I draw gestures, study art and business, and write stuff that nobody reads. And what I do for WORK: I do tattoos and run a studio for 5 hours most days.

Then I pick my kids up from school, play and cook and clean, tuck them in, hang out with my wife, and repeat.

It looks boring from the outside. Why would Josh study for fun? Isn’t it hard to draw every day? Is that another fucking book in Josh’s hand?

Yes – and I love it. Because to me, my work is play. And my play helps my work.

I’ve found what I love, and I’m letting it kill me – just like Charles Bukowski said I should.

I’ve defined “success” on my terms, so I get to study the things I love, play with my kids when I feel like it, and draw on people to make a living.

I’ve hit a goldmine.

Hitting creative goldmines looks like “talent” from the outside.

It took me almost 30 years to figure this shit out. I had false starts, made stupid decisions, racked up a terrifying amount of student debt, and experienced multiple failures before I said “fuck it” and pursued art as a career.

It didn’t come naturally. Ignore the idea that things come naturally. I still struggle to improve my craft every day, but I can focus on improving my craft because that struggle is FUN.

Find a craft that you can deeply focus on and people will assume you’re a natural at it. Don’t let their comments about talent go to your head; it’s not true. You just put in more reps than the next person because you thought it was fun.

Steven King’s nuance on talent is to find the things that feel easy but look like work from someone else’s perspective:

“[When] you find something at which you are talented, you do it (whatever it is) until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head. Even when no one is listening (or reading or watching), every outing is a bravura performance, because you as the creator are happy.”

You’ll keep doing it because you’d do it even if you weren’t getting paid. In the most extreme cases, you’d even pay to do your work. Because it’s THAT fun.

The Rewards of Effortless Creative Execution

That sounds like a pipe dream, right? Who the hell is lucky enough to pull that off? Happiness is a luxury that not everyone can have.

I don’t know. Honestly, if everyone pursued that thing they’re great at, we might have an entirely new world on our hands.

That’s Simon Sinek’s mission – to flip the ratio of job satisfaction on its head. To go from 80% job dissatisfaction to 80% love of the work. He’s written several books on the topic — check out the books “Start With Why” and “The Infinite Game” if you want a taste. 

But why should we care about that mission?

First – increased productivity. If you LOVE something, you’ll get good at it. If you get good at something, your output skyrockets. You can do more in less time than the next person could dream of.

You’re more valuable to society if you can give the world a lot of what you’re great at.

Second – enhanced creativity. Let’s assume that you enjoy your craft so much that you do it non-stop. Those constant iterations give you a place to play and experiment.

Eventually, you take your craft in a direction nobody would have thought of because your experiments and fun yield interesting results. You learn, test, and apply until you’ve developed a creative style that is uniquely yours.

Maya Angelou – renowned poet, author, and civil rights activist – was known for her love of writing and how she approached it with joy and passion. 

Writing was her sanctuary and her form of self-expression. In an interview with The Paris Review, Angelou said, “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’” 

ELEVEN BOOKS. According to her biographer, writing was “play” for Angelou. She wrote with a childlike sense of wonder, which made her prolific and creative in the process.

Neil Gaiman’s 2012 commencement speech, titled “Make Good Art,” echoes this sentiment from Angelou.

I don’t think anyone can deny that Neil Gaiman is one of the most imaginative professionals alive today. And he’s doing exactly what he loves.

Finally – greater job satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment.

By every metric I can think of, finding something you’re great at, that you have fun doing, and that people will pay you for is one of the most satisfying things you can do.

Steven Spielberg probably agrees with me on this one. He has a reputation for being obsessive with his films – from doing incredibly deep research for Schindler’s List and working inhumanly long hours on…well…every movie he’s ever directed.

But imagine the feeling of accomplishment he must have when a new film debuts.

The only way you can maintain that level of obsession is by loving your craft. And when you love your craft, the hard work doesn’t feel like work. It eliminates the NEED for grit. I used to think I’d have to power through the tough stuff to get to the fun stuff.

That’s not the case, though. We don’t need to delay gratification. When we develop an obsession, we’re getting our fix by following the obsession.

Replace the need for grit with a sense of pride in what you’re able to do and a love of the process. It’s not ego, it’s confidence.

Tips for Tracking Down Your Creative Calling

That sounds nice from the outside, but what about pulling it off?

I say: start by experimenting with everything you ever wanted to do as a kid. Yeah, you heard right. You weren’t equipped with the Social-Filter 9000 when you were 6. That got installed when you were 11.

I wanted to be an artist, and I didn’t give a fuck what anyone thought about it. Until I started chasing money over passion in college. Then it took me over a decade to find myself back on track.

Make a list of everything you can remember dreaming about. Even if you can’t do the thing you were dreaming of, it could help you find an obsession. 

If you’re too old to be an astronaut (that might change soon thanks to the Billionaires commercializing space flight), you can still study the stars. Look to related fields if there are limits to your reality.

Keep an open mind and try out new opportunities, and follow the rabbit holes every now and then.

Boyd Varty relates this to tracking in The Lion Tracker’s Guide to Life. It’s a good comparison. You have to keep looking for the next thing that sparks your curiosity, then see where it leads.

This is different than most people’s recommendations – to make a life plan and follow it. 

Joseph Campbell said, “If you can see your whole life’s path laid out then it’s not your life’s path.”

Having plans is good for finding a direction, but you have to follow your little curiosities to get where you’re supposed to be.

Sometimes it won’t work out. You’ll fail more often than not. But that’s not wasted effort or time. You’re refining where to look by learning where NOT to look, which helps find where you’ll eventually go. Once you’ve made a choice, don’t worry if it was the wrong one. Live with the choices you’ve made and move forward, don’t be anxious about the choices you made in the past.

We’re all guessing in the end. We can’t tell the future (which is why plans have to change), so make your best guess and take action.

Let life unfold like an experiment. It’s not about KNOWING what will happen, but DISCOVERING what will happen. There’s no wasted effort in an experiment. There’s no wasted effort in finding your creative calling.

So go out, have fun, and find those tracks that spark your curiosity. Follow them wherever they might lead. Go at your own pace, and have fun while you do it.


Random instructions on living a fun, fulfilling, successful life. Updated regularly. Nothing is gospel, but this is the closest I’ve been able to discover in my reading.

A Letter for 2023

I write my kids a letter every month. For the New Year, I thought I’d make parts of that letter public, and share my thoughts and some hopes for YOU in the upcoming year.

I may not cause any huge changes on my own. But my family and I can be a small part of the tide of creativity and kindness that makes the world a better place. Maybe you’d like to join us.

Where to Build Your Castle

You finally found the “promised land.” Your friends told you how amazing this land was, so you joined them. You loved what you saw. Everyone