This interview with Thomas Waschenfelder is part of The Unfollowables Series.
The goal of this series is to help you find actionable ideas and inspiration from others’ most extraordinary experiences.
Three of my favorite takeaways from Thomas are:
- Why the world needs more people who obsessively pursue what they care about without caring what the rest of the world thinks.
- The difference between certainty and truth.
- Why the best way to make the world a better place may simply be to live authentically.
If you’d like to be featured in The Unfollowables please reach out to me.
1. 👣 Life Story
Q: What’s your life story so far, told as briefly as you can?
I was born and raised in Alberta, Canada, AKA the “Texas of Canada.” It’s known for three things: oil production, country music, and the Edmonton Oilers NHL team. I’m only a fan of the last one, so I left at 18 and moved to Los Angeles to become an actor.
That career worked out about as well as you would expect, but the confidence it gave me – that you can just change your life entirely and figure it out as you go along – was pivotal in turning my life into an adventure. Plus, it started my love affair with LA, where I eventually studied film at USC.
In one hyphenated word, my life so far can be described as multi-disciplinary. I’ve had my hands in:
- Bio-medical science
- Reality TV
- Car commercials
- Barista-ing (I’m banned from ever working at Starbucks again for reasons I’ll keep to myself…)
Most recently I quit my job because I was bored out of my mind making car commercials to become a screenwriter.
Turns out screenwriting is really hard… and also amazing. I write with my wife (she’s an actor, so things did come full circle) and we write romantic comedies. We have multiple projects optioned to major producers which is pretty cool.
Speaking of my wife, I never actually asked her to marry me. I came home from work one day and she said she wanted to get married – four months later, we were (how romantic, I know!). We currently work, write, and sleep together in Los Angeles.
2. ❄️ Quirks
Q: What fun facts and/or quirky things make you you?
1. I’m obsessive.
I’m interested in a lot of different things and go down these rabbit holes that can last days, weeks, months, or years.
I spent 3 years learning about how people get rich and created a blog about it (wealest.com). If you want to learn yourself, start with Naval Ravikant’s blog post, How To Get Rich: Every Episode, based on the podcast of the same name. If you take it seriously, it will change your life.
Most recently, I’ve been in a screenwriting rabbit hole, learning how to write movies and TV pilots.
I really feel like if you’re curious about something, you can learn it and get better at it with practice. That’s the secret to life: keep getting better.
2. I write every day.
I’m either writing with my wife on our latest project or I’m writing for Wealest.com. I really believe clear writing is clear thinking, and there’s no better way to get my thoughts in order than writing them down.
There’s a saying that goes, “I don’t know what I think until I say it.” For me, it’s “I don’t know what I think until I write it down.”
“I don’t know what I think until I write it down.”Thomas
3. I’m a big hockey fan.
I grew up in Canada and have played hockey all my life… with the scars to prove it. The bottom of my chin is a mess of scar tissue.
I was the captain of USC’s hockey team a decade ago and have since retired to a men’s league team nearby. It’s still the greatest workout you could ever ask for.
3. ✊ Mission
Q: How are you trying to make the world a slightly better place?
I’m not sure I’m trying to make the world a better place (ducks for cover). I think that’s a second or third-order consequence of figuring out who you are and living it authentically.
People light up when they meet someone who is totally themselves because it means they’re safe to be themselves too. We just need more people to pursue what they’re curious about. That’s what makes the world better: more people excited and passionate about what they do.
And I’m passionate about storytelling, especially in the context of under-represented groups. My wife is half East Indian, so many of our stories revolved around the experience of being “other” in everyday life. As a white male in a position of privilege, getting these stories out into the world is something worth fighting for.
There are so many pioneers in this space who are working to tell South Asian stories. The recent hit movie Everything Everywhere All At Once is an example of putting a beautiful cultural layer over a classic mother/daughter story set in the metaverse. If you haven’t watched it, check it out!
4. 🦸♂️ Role Model
Q: Whose life do you look up to?
He’s the Vice Chairman of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway and he just turned 99 years old (while being sharp as a tack). By the time he turned 31, his wife had just divorced him, his son had just died from cancer, and he was broke. And he went on to have the life he did. Anything is possible.
PS I took this photo of Munger myself at the 2020 Daily Journal annual meeting in LA. It was so awesome to see him speak in person.
5. ⚡️ Huge Zag
Q: What’s one of the most impactful zags (proactive changes to your life’s path) you’ve made?
Meditation has changed my life.
It transformed me from this anxious, neurotic, annoying person into someone who can embrace uncertainty and risk with a calm, organized mind.
I played around with meditation in my early 20s but didn’t take it seriously until I noticed a trend: in all the interviews I watched of successful actors/writers/business owners – they all talked about meditation being a fundamental part of their life. And I thought, if all these really successful people live by this, maybe I should try it too.
And I did, using the Waking Up app. I started at 10 minutes a day. And for the first six months, I didn’t notice anything different. But then I reached a tipping point where suddenly, I wasn’t gripping onto life so hard. I was letting go of things that previously drove me crazy. And now I’ve been meditating for 5 years, and I’ve never looked back.
Don’t get me wrong – there are still days that are an absolute dumpster fire (Hollywood is brutal!). But I could never have quit my job to do something as outrageous as trying to write movies without my meditation practice. It’s my not-so-secret weapon.
6. 💡 Life-Changing Learning
Q: Can you share a source of information (book, podcast, video, etc.) that pushed you to take action that improved your life?
Everything changed for me when I found out about Charlie Munger.
I read Poor Charlie’s Almanack and it introduced me to this whole other way of thinking about the world. From his multi-disciplinary approach to probabilistic thinking to his “elementary worldly wisdom” – it got me excited about what was possible for my life.
I had always been on the “corporate” track. I was a manager, then a director, and had my eyes on a VP position, grinding out 50-hour weeks without even considering there was another way my life good go.
Reading “Poor Charlie’s Almanack” was the first domino toward freedom in life and work.
7. 👀 Change of Mind
Q: What have you recently changed your mind about? What caused this change of mind? How has your behavior changed as a result?
I used to think that if I was certain about something, it was the truth. But certainty isn’t truth.
I’m certain about all kinds of things that turn out to be wrong: how a scene should play in my writing… how long something is going to take to get done… what kind of project is certain to sell… whether I started the dishwasher the night before… it goes on.
One thing I’ve picked up from Munger is to really rub your face in it when you make a mistake. My public writing is full of all the mistakes I’ve made. When you rub your face in it, you’re a little more careful the next time you’re “certain” about something.
I have a little mantra I repeat to myself: “Anything can happen at any time.” This keeps me on my toes even when I’m really confident about something.
8. 🔬 Curiosity
Q: What are you currently excited to learn more about?
I’m really interested in how comedy works.
My wife and I write comedies and it’s been this crazy adventure of trying to figure out why one thing is funny and something else isn’t.
I’ve read all sorts of books about it (Funny Business by Sol Saks is one of the best I’ve found) but it seems that comedy works only when it’s grounded in truth. We’ve all seen jokes that don’t work because we say: “That person in that situation would never do that.”
That’s the core of comedy – finding the truth and then making it as big and funny as possible.
9. 😰 Struggle
Q: What are you currently struggling with? How might the person reading this help you?
I’ve been self-employed for a few years now and I’m still struggling to even out the emotional roller coaster of working for myself.
When you have skin in the game with your work – when you only get paid for a successful output that is rewarded by the market – the wins and losses mean so much. They’re your livelihood. So figuring out how to stay calm and rationally optimistic (accepting reality while trying to get what you want) is a skill I’m still learning.
I’m not sure anyone can help any of us with finding peace from our minds. Like anything worth learning, it takes time and effort and there’s no quick solution.
10. 🥊 Disagreement
Q: What might you and the person reading this disagree about?
Artificial intelligence is going to allow every internet creator the ability to create whatever they want.
One of the most powerful forms of leverage is code – an army of robots to carry out your wishes. But now, with AI, you don’t actually have to know how to code to command the robots. You don’t have to speak their language. You can learn how to prompt artificial intelligence with words to build apps, create websites, and control the robots of the internet.
Just as non-coders will now create code with words, non-photographers will create epic photos with text prompts, and non-videographers will create videos of increasing complexity with nothing but visual descriptions.
And the best part is you’ll be able to build your own AI specific to your taste. I see a future where screenwriters like me will be able to train their own AI on their own writing. That means I feed the AI all my scripts, and teach it what I think is funny, what kinds of characters I write, and what kinds of storylines I like. In turn, it can then make specific suggestions for me based on my own taste and judgment.
AI is going to touch every industry and unleash the potential of brilliant people who never learned to code, but can now command the robots to build crazy, awesome stuff.
11. 🙃 Unusual Practice
Q: Do you have any unusual practices that you think more people would benefit from trying?
Everyone wants a cheat code for success, but there isn’t one.
Here’s what I will say: exercise more. Nothing has a better impact on all areas of your life than exercise.
I work out 5 days a week, which includes cardio, ice hockey, weight lifting, and golf. Playing sports is great because you forget you’re exercising and it breaks the monotony of the same old workouts.
Put another way: move. I move a lot. I rarely sit at a desk. I work on my couch 3-4 hours a day, and the rest of the time I’m moving in some capacity. Move more.
12. 👍 Wonderful Thing
Q: What’s something you own that, if you lost it, you would rebuy the exact same model without looking at alternatives?
My Apple Watch.
It tracks my exercise, sleep, keeps my calendar in order (for the rare times there’s actually something on it), and makes it easy to answer (or ignore) texts and calls.
I know there are other fitness watches out there that probably do better for the exercise component, but for something that slips right into Apple’s infrastructure and just works really well, it’s the Apple Watch for me.
13. 👊 Challenge to Readers
Q: What one thing do you challenge the person reading this to try this week?
Meditate for 20 minutes.
Your mind will be a little quieter than when you started. And if you manage to turn one short session into an everyday habit, you’ll be superhuman in no time. Try it.
14. 🎤 Question for Readers
Q: What would you most like to get an honest, unbiased answer to from the person reading this?
What are you really curious about or interested in that you think no one else is?
I don’t even have an off-the-cuff answer to this question. But I think it’s important because people think no one else is into the weird and quirky things we are into when there are probably hundreds of thousands of people in the world who are!
And that’s the power of the internet. It can connect you – beyond the limit of location – to everyone else interested in what you’re interested in.
Here’s my answer: I’m really curious about why some writing is emotionally moving, and other writing isn’t.
I’m interested not just because if I can answer that question, my writing will get better, but because there’s not just one answer. Human emotions are so complicated and multi-variant. And certain people react to one thing while other people react to something else. And I think it’s a big enough question that it takes a lifetime to try and come up with a good answer.
Before You Go
- Keep following Thomas’ “unfollowable” journey on:
- Subscribe the get future Unfollowables interviews in your inbox.
- Get featured. All you have to do is send me an email at c at thezag.com saying “I’m interested in being featured in The Unfollowables.”
Free Wake-Up Call
Take the 20-question "Comfort Zone Assessment" to find out in just 3.5 minutes:
Where are you complacent?
Which area of your life most needs a push?
How to get started?
It's gimmicky and unscientific, but also quick, fun, and revealing.
PS: Surprise personalized accountability challenge afterward.
About the author
I'm Chris. Canadian, husband, dad, writer, investor, athlete, and obsessed explorer of the secrets to living a never-boring, always improving, unfollowable life story.