What was it like to work with Jordan Peterson?
My background with Jordan for context
I’ve followed Jordan Peterson for years. I remember my buddy telling me about him while we were drinking in a bar years ago. He mentioned an interview with a British interviewer who was trying to snag him into a Politically Correct trap, and how we used his cunning to avoid the traps, outsmart her, and how satisfying it was to watch.
What started as an “ohhh shit you got owned” type of entertaining and amusing admiration, turned into something a lot more involved. Suddenly it seemed like his name was popping up everywhere I looked, and he wasn’t some underground online hidden gem any longer. People seemed to have very strong opinions about him one way or another, and much of it centered around gender identity, politics, religion, and psychology.
Then he wrote his book. 12 Rules for Life. I thought the name was immediately a turn-off. Rules? 12 of them? What is this like a click bait title? Who is he to create rules for LIFE? He’s saying everyone should follow these rules that HE came up with? I hated the idea of it. But I started listening to the audiobook anyway. As I listened, I noticed the level of conviction in Jordan’s voice while he read his own words. I noticed how much he truly meant what he was saying, and how choked up he’d get while reading, and it really struck me. This guy believes this so deeply and he’s really being vulnerable here. Regardless if I feel or think differently than him on certain issues or ideas, I respect the honesty and openness and thoroughness.
He challenged a lot of preconceived notions I had on a multitude of subjects. One particular chapter struck me. It was the chapter on Meaning. Maybe it’s because of my tendency to adopt a nihilistic view of the world. Maybe it was that I was looking for something meaningful in my life in general. Maybe it was just a mixture of that and the poetic nature of the way this chapter is written. I realized that I was not pursuing meaning in my life. I realized I was cynical, distant, judgmental, hurt, disappointed, angry, and hopeless. I realized I’m the only one who’s going to change that, and I don’t have to have those experiences rule me. That doesn’t have to be my reality. The paragraph that truly changed something for me was a beautiful depiction of pursuing meaning despite the darkness and hopelessness. It wasn’t necessarily a rational argument. It was about choosing life over death. Choosing meaning over nihilism, and for good reason. I had been so shut down and closed off and hardened for so many years before that, I could not believe my response to listening to that chapter. As Jordan read, he got choked up in a way that was audibly surprising. It was to a point that I was surprised he left it in the recording. Something about that hit me so hard. I had all those realizations simultaneously while his analogies sent beautiful imagery through my mind. Art is what speaks to me, and this felt like profound poetry. I had something shift inside me after that.
That experience opened up a lot of conversations for me, including some at work. Part of the results of those conversations is part of why we have “Telling Meaningful Stories” on our website front and center right now. We want to be a part of stories that move people with truth and honesty and vulnerability, not just checking the boxes of a mission statement or particular company mantras.
After finishing the book, I got lost in a vortex of online videos of Jordan Peterson. Conversations about him and things he said seemed like a regular thing in my life, and continued to be a bit polarizing. Something I love that I have is friends that are open and intelligent and close to me that I can debate with who disagree with me. I know so many people with different perspectives and it’s very helpful to not be lost in a silo or echo chamber as they say. I’ve found that even the people I know who disagree with a lot of Jordan Peterson’s points, still respect a lot of what he has to say and the way he says it.
Meeting Dr. Jordan B Peterson
Ok, so jumping ahead to meeting him and working with him; did I stutter when saying hello, did I fanboy and completely be tongue-tied around him, did I get to have real conversations with him? I did have a moment where it seemed like my brain short-circuited when he first walked into the room. I realized that I’ve watched more videos of this guy, seen him live at a lecture, read his books, and spent more hours putting his words in my brain than the average person has experienced with their favorite movie star or celebrity. He greeted one of my co-workers, Jed I believe, and then turned to me and shook my hand and I said who I was and he looked right at me and locked into some serious eye contact for what felt like a long time. I stayed shaking and didn’t look away and said something like “really great to meet you” and it felt like he figured out my entire existence in that moment. After that, everything seemed to simmer down and it became normal. We talked about typical things like him and his son’s traveling to us, he complimented our office, and he complained about having to wear masks in Canadian airports still. He seemed extremely comfortable talking about anything, and I think he knew that he’s among friends.
His level of comfortability and casual nature made us feel like we could be ourselves. We joked around with each other, challenged him to ping pong, talked about their new app and the production plan for the couple days with Essay, and the whole process felt organic.He had a what seemed like a body guard who was also his cook, who made steaks for him in an air fryer which they gave us at the end of the shoot.He talked about the twitter fiasco and why he started ranting more on twitter. He said that he had concluded that it’s just not the platform for saying what you think, and that’s unfortunate but he had to use it regularly to really find that out.
Our first interview with him was more like a free lecture or master class. I sat on the left of the camera and Jed on the right. I had prepared interview questions that Jed added onto and was ready to use to guide the conversation. I think he made it through half of a question or maybe one or two before Jordan came out the gate swinging. Not aggressively swinging in that sense, but just doing intellectual interview jiu jitsu. He didn’t stop talking for over 45 min or so, and everything felt intentional, well thought through, punchy, wise, and but also a little all over the place. He would let his mind wander to different subjects and you’d find yourself deeply thinking about one point he made while another took it’s place. It was hard to process it all at once. Something that seemed like a fleeting thought would then make it’s way back to the original purpose of the interview and then further solidify answering the question of why it’s important to write, or why writing helps us think, or what is at stake in the world if we don’t think better by writing. It was an amazing experience and opportunity to be able to digest this ten feet away from him. When he locked eyes with me, it truly felt like he was speaking directly to me in my life, and some of what he was saying ironically matched with things I’ve been thinking through regarding writing in general, my life direction, aiming up and having goals, the type of relationships I want to have, especially in my romantic relationship, and being a competent man who is purpose driven. I’m still processing so much of what he said.
See a Behind the Scenes video of the shoot below
Jordan’s thoughts on sorting yourself out through writing with the Self-Authoring Program are similar in nature to what we talk to clients about in helping them tell their story. Write out experiences. Ask yourself why you do things. What is your motivation? What do you really want? You may not know, so write and re-write and outline until you have a clearer idea. This is in a certain sense what we help clients filter through when they go through our Development Process.
Telling your story helps connect with other people, but it also provides clarity to yourself.
Is Jordan like he is online?
That’s a question I’ve been getting or at least underneath the surface when I’m asked “how was it?”. Yes, Jordan is insightful, intense, intelligent, and opinionated, just like he is online. But he’s also just a guy. He jokes around, he sits quietly, he listens, and he was humbled in his ping pong playing. I appreciated the sarcastic dry wit that he had. I liked that he didn’t shy away from certain subjects and never felt the need to seem combative with any of us. He even offered for our hair / makeup artist to email him with an outline for a program she wants to get back up and running, nearly offering her a generous grant on site. His generosity throughout the process, his compliments, and his positivity were all things that surprised me.
Does he have opinions that are unpopular right now? Yup. Does he say things in a way that turn some people off? Yup. He’s an emotional guy, but he’s also super knowledgeable and passionate and steadfast, so some things he says will sound aggressively stated. I’m personally someone who relates to this, so I respond well to it, but not all personalities are like that. Is he the pinnacle of what a successful man is? Maybe to many people, yes. Is he perfect? Obviously not. Is he admirable? I personally admire him a hell of a lot. I don’t think he’s always right, and I don’t think he always says things in a way that invites people to hear it. But I think he’s always trying to find what’s right, trying to find the truth, and inviting others to do the same.
He’s encouraged me to have goals and ambitious goals at that. Reading his books has opened my mind to having a more nuanced view of life, to not waste time, to truly aim at the truth, and many other valuable things I’ve taken with me. I never expected to get the opportunity to work with him and have real conversations with him, so I’m pretty damn thankful for that.
There’s a lot more to say here, but I’m not trying to write a novel. I actually utilized some of what I’ve learned through using Julian and Jordan Peterson’s Essay app in writing this blog, which involves a lot of editing and cutting down. I look forward to us creating the Essay brand story and continuing to work with people that really inspire us and share similar values. Stay tuned for more work with them and more case studies.
Check out the Essay App
Mike is Head of Marketing here at Votary, a film director/producer and a musician. He’s been a part of Votary’s origin the longest besides our founder Jed. His mind is always running and creating and flowing with ideas. His strengths are finding the truth behind a message and a person’s story as a writer and director, understanding Votary’s market and voice, as well as envisioning finished edits in detail while in the brainstorm phase. Votary’s Development process has been informed by his interview style and drive to understand storytelling framework deeper while leaving room for genuine personality, especially in documentary filmmaking. His drive comes from wanting to know people’s truest self and being able to explore pure creative expression.