All the World is James Whittaker's Stage

06 Jun 2016

All the World is James Whittaker's Stage

This week’s Fibonacci Sequins post is dedicated to a very special person. James has been Dona’s longtime friend and mentor and she credits much of her career successes to the advice that he is not shy about giving.  After she read his Career Superpowers book on an offhand recommendation, she knew she had to meet this Master of Stagecraft.  After a month of stalking and hustling, she attended one of his jaw-dropping talks and convinced him they should obviously be friends. 

A few weeks ago, we took advantage of a sunny spring day to do a fun photoshoot at James’s fave spot: a place with WiFi and beer. We did get yelled at for climbing a tree and kicking people out politely asking people to let us use their table, but hey, rules are someone else’s opinion, no?

Today we’re happy to showcase a behind-the-scenes, dare we say, *softer* side of  Mr. Do Epic Shit!

Tell us a little about you.

I specialize in enjoying life. I’m really picky about the activities I engage in and the people I surround myself with. Life is short and working on cool shit and being around interesting people is, I’ve found, both the meaning of life and the secret to success. It’s a simple philosophy but if you think about it the work you do and the people you spend your time with have a great deal of impact on your life. Whatever else you do is minor in comparison. If there is anything you really want to control it is those two things. If you want a better life, those are the two levers you need to adjust.

Tell us about what you’re wearing.

I have on cool socks. Socks are the fashion equivalent of your soul. They aren’t on full external display and people have to be around you for a while before getting a glimpse of them. Mine have little beer mugs on them (we found them!). Yep, that’s my soul all right…it’s a little malty. I enjoy exerting my personality with my clothes. I wear a lot of music t’s that I buy when I go to concerts with my kids. And, of course, I have built a brand out of my “do epic shit” shirts. Those are fun and almost serve as a warning to people about what I am really like as a person.

(Um, side note, THOSE SHOES YO! These want to be as cool, but nowhere near as cool as the ones above)

I have to admit I am attracted to people with a sense of style that reflects their inner self. I go out of my way to talk to people dressed a little weird or who have a look that broadcasts their inner personality. I want to get to know them to see if my impression of their appearance fits the person. I do like people with style. There are enough boring people in this world already.

This is one reason I don’t wear suits. The European suit culture, to me, screams conformity and I am glad its fallen out of fashion over here. Especially on the west coast. Those things have too much cloth in all the wrong places.

How did your style evolve to what it is now?

My style is low-effort. I am blessed by sharing my life with people who like to shop. They pick things out for me. Sometimes I come home to a great big pile of clothes and I get to try on things while they assess my look. I love those days! Whenever there is an intersection of “dad that looks good on you” and “this feels good on me” then I keep it. Anything that fails either of those tests goes back.

When you grow up wearing mostly hand-me-downs, clothes that fit and feel right are a big deal. And when someone with style tells you it looks good…well, I don’t care who you are, getting compliments on how you look feels good. That’s right, I said it, looking good feels good. Go on demand my man card, I’ll gladly give it up.

Einstein famously didn’t give a shit about how he looked. I’m not so sure I believe that; he had the coolest hair and if he really didn’t care then he would have blended in but he didn’t. His clothes made him stand out. They made a statement. I am different. I am me. In “not caring” how he looked he made the biggest fashion statement of them all.

Any advice for a young person thinking about getting into a STEM field?

Caution advised. Careers in STEM are great. Education in STEM…not so much. I think we over rotate on math and arcane facts and figures that just aren’t useful in real careers. When was the last time anyone, other than an 11th grade math teacher, needed to factor a trinomial in their actual job? STEM edu tends toward the rote but a STEM career is everything but rote. It requires a lot of creativity so do not let the educational system take away from your creative self. Never neglect the arts. Never neglect your creative lifestyle. If you are going to study STEM, get a creative side hustle going to ensure your creative juices remain nice and liquid.

Seriously, look at the true STEM heroes like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs. They were creative as hell. They weren’t successful because they work in STEM fields but because of their creativity and critical thinking. The people who neglect their creativity end up being minions for those who don’t

Having said all that, learn to code. It’s the last human skill that will be useful after the robots take over.

What would you say is the project you’ve done that you’re proudest of?

My most recent one, the class I am giving on Creativity. But ask me again next year and I’ll tell you something new. Like Bob Dylan said: those who aren’t busy reinventing themselves are busy dying. I don’t like resting on my past glories. I’ve done cool shit, but I did that cool shit yesterday and yesterday stopped mattering the moment the sun rose today. I disappointed a lot of people off when I stopped teaching my Career Superpowers class but I had to do it. It was getting too easy. I could just step up and slay it every time. I felt a need to challenge myself to do something new, something I have to learn to get good at. Something I might be a little scared of. Something that might just beat me.

People put a lot of expectations on you to keep doing what you are doing. They like to label you and freeze you in time. Don’t let them. That is the path of stagnation. You’ll grow old and have only one story to tell. I want to grow old and surprise my grandkids with stories they’ve never heard before. I want to do this every time I see them. I hope the last words out of my mouth just before I die are “guess what I just learned—”

What is the best way (if any) for people to follow you on social media?

@docjames on Twitter and at my new website (recordings of his amazing talks!)

I also blog on

And there you go. In typical James style. He arrived. He said smart things. He left us reeling and wondering what we’re even doing with our lives.  If you haven’t read Career Superpowers, James’s incredibly practical advice for the non-prodigies and non-privileged among us, yet you definitely should. We can say with 100% certainty: it changed our careers.  It taught her our most important skill: story-chasing.

We can’t wait to share with you what James does next. Hint: it’s going to be epic. 

Till next week!


Dona & Beth