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Sarah Hampson: The Interview

A few awesome things about 1000awesomethings.com's Neil Pasricha Add to ...

It's tempting to make a list of awesome things about Neil Pasricha.

Why?

a) Well, it's a reciprocal thing. He's a fan of lists, too, as evidenced in his new book, The Book of Awesome, a collection of descriptions about small, wonderful things - snow days, bakery air, that first dollop of peanut butter from a new jar - that often go unacknowledged.

i) Case in point. When was the last time you appreciated the joy of wearing underwear just out of the dryer? "It's like skinny-dipping in a hot tub, jumping on a horse that's been in the sun all day, and lying on a warm, sandy beach … combined!" he writes.

ii) Oh, and have you ever contemplated the perfection of your colon? (Not that, combined with the above-mentioned item, Mr. Pasricha is of a scatological frame of mind.) Still, "it's awesome," Mr. Pasricha says over his coffee. "It practically invented recycling!"

b) His success has many cool aspects to it, and it's easier on the eyeball, especially on a Monday, to itemize them (see later on for more info) than write them all down in those long, unwieldy things called paragraphs.

c) His way of being is very effusive - in need of containment of some sort. We met at a Toronto restaurant of his choice, Aunties & Uncles, a funky place filled with more nostalgia than your mother's memory. "Breakfast tacos! They're enough to make your head explode!" he enthuses of its menu options, and as soon as we sit down at a small table, he leans across it to tell me about a guy he noticed that morning. "On my way here, I saw this guy riding a bike, holding this huge bag of barbecue briquettes under his arm," he says, dark eyes wide, gesturing with his arms to suggest the scene. "And I was, like, this guy is awesome because you know what? He's like 'It's just five degrees out but it's sunny and today is barbecue day! Today's my first barbecue day and I don't care how hard and how difficult it is to get barbecue briquettes. I'm gonna get them!' He was teetering down the street with this huge 30- to 40-pound bag."



The best part of Mr. Pasricha's success is that it all started privately, as push back against a world that seemed full of bad, sad news. Such as:

a) ice caps melting

b) "the heaviness of wars"

c) the U.S. election

d) "Sarah Palin on every channel"

And so, one night in 2008, within a matter of five minutes on a clunky old computer in his basement, he started a blog called 1000awesomethings.com.

There were other, difficult factors in his life.

a) He felt lonely. He had recently married, but his wife had a large circle of her own friends through her work as a teacher. She coached on weekends. They had just moved to Mississauga. They bought a house. He had a new job. "I was cubicle boy, Dilbert working in human resources in a large company."

b) In February of that year, a close friend of his, Chris, tried to commit suicide. "He told me that every day was a painful day. He said he'd had a major depression for 15 years, but he'd never talked about it. He wasn't sharing it. And I said, 'How can I be your best friend?' and he said, 'Don't talk to me about it. When we talk, just be my friend. Let's have fun.' " Shortly after, Mr. Pasricha started the blog, and "every night, I talked to Chris about the post."

A year later, Mr. Pasricha's life took a turn for the worse.

a) His wife told him she didn't love him any more. He had proposed to her after only eight months of dating, a month before he left to study for his MBA in the United States. At this point, they'd been engaged for two years and married for one. They decided to divorce.

b) Despite close monitoring by friends, doctors and family, his friend Chris committed suicide.

The blog was a connection to what's good. "I had a week of crying, and one night, there was nothing else to write about but crying. I researched it on my computer, and I found all these things that crying is good for. It helps align your chemistry. And that's awesome," he says soberly. His friends started contributing ideas about everyday things they liked about the world. Beside his bed, Mr. Pasricha has piles of little notes, scribbled with thoughts that he and others have compiled. He pulls a crinkled wad of them - grabbed from home before he left for the interview - out of his pocket and starts to pick through the ideas: getting called up to the buffet table first; vestibule heat; cold, crisp weather; food that comes in its own packaging, like bananas; slipping through a door that's opened without touching it.

But of all the things about Mr. Pasricha, the most noteworthy is his approach to success.

a) His blog reached 10 million hits after a gradual build that went viral when it was featured on fark.com and digg.com - sites that encourage users to source and post links to favourite blogs. In 2009, he won a Webby Award and got an agent, and a book deal quickly followed. But he refused to accept advertising on his site, despite myriad offers. "Someone said I could have made $100,000 by now. It's about $10,000 for a million hits or something. But I don't want to monitor ads and invoice people. Then it would be a business."

b) He doesn't see himself as a writer. Much of the wonder he has for the world is innate, he says, learned from his immigrant parents (his mother is from Nairobi, and his father is from India) who came to Canada (settling in Oshawa, Ont., where Mr. Pasricha and his sister were born) and spent the $8 they had in their pockets on the awesomeness of a Swiss Chalet dinner. "I'm just writing about life," he says. "And I don't want to change my life. I don't want to stay in on a Friday night and write. I want to pay poker or go bowling. Getting a cool card in poker is worth writing about. The second I start to be this guy who spends all his time in front of a computer, you become this digerati. You lose friends. You become thin as a person, and I want the richness of doing stuff."

c) He is 30, at an age when many are building their lives, indulging their ambition. But Mr. Pasricha is content to stay in the moment. "I don't think about the future a lot. I did when I was younger. But life is a journey."

d) He still works for the same company, Wal-Mart, and is not interested in giving it up.

e) He is modest. That school where he earned his MBA? Harvard. But he doesn't mention that until the very end of the interview, and only when prompted. It's just not on his list of the most noteworthy wonders of the world he wants others to notice.

 

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