The Best Books I Read in 2020

One of my resolutions for 2020 was to read 25 books. I got a Kindle at the end of 2019, so I was fully equipped to knock out my goal. I loved nearly every book I read, so either Amazon’s recommendations were perfect or I just have a knack for picking good books.

These books stood above the rest as the five best books I read in 2020:

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing

This is the best story I’ve ever read. It might just be the best story ever. Endurance is about a man’s ambitious plan to cross the Antarctic in the 1910s. In the middle of their journey the ship is trapped in pack ice and the crew is forced to sit idle for months. Finally the ship is crushed and slowly sinks. The 28 man crew is now in the middle of the Antarctic sea hundreds of miles away from the nearest land or any hope of rescue. After an unbelievable journey Shackleton’s entire crew is rescued successfully.

2020 may have been the perfect time to read this book. Stay-at-home orders around the country may have led to a bit of cabin fever, but 9 months in a dark, frozen sea would have led me to absolute insanity. The 28 men were able to stay in good spirits for all of it, and even maintained hope of survival.

Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga by Hunter S. Thompson

I’d read books by Hunter S. Thompson before, but this one is definitely my favorite. The Hell’s Angels are wild. The TV specials about the rowdy and violent group don’t do the Hell’s Angels justice. Hunter S. Thompson embeds himself with the Angels and provides a picture of the sex, drugs and violence within the infamous group of bikers.

The Club King: My Rise, Reign, and Fall in New York Nightlife by Peter Gatien

Peter Gatien was one of the most recognized names in the New York hospitality industry for decades. He is the former owner of Club USA, The Limelight, Palladium, and Tunnel. Gatien is the ultimate entrepreneur before it was the “cool” pursuit that it is today. The book covers his rise to notoriety and his downfall that resulted from drug use in his clubs.

My time working at a nightclub in college led to a fascination with large clubs in places like New York, Miami and Las Vegas. This book gives a look inside the wild, fascinating industry of bars and nightclubs. Gatien was a genius when it came to running nightclubs — and this book tells his story.

The Man Who Solved the Market: How Jim Simons Launched the Quant Revolution by Gregory Zuckerman

I read an article about Jim Simons’ Renaissance Technologies a few years ago so I was familiar with the mathematics-based investment firm. Renaissance Technologies controls the Medallion Fund, which has consistently out-performed the S&P 500 by an insane percentage for decades.

This book tells the story of how Jim Simons went into finance even as his academic peers advised him against it. He led the finance industry to adopt algorithmic trading strategies, and clearly he has figured out how to make it work.

My Week at the Blue Angel: And Other Stories from the Storm Drains, Strip Clubs, and Trailer Parks of Las Vegas by Matthew O’Brien

This book is like a real life account of a Charles Bukowski book. O’Brien is a journalist and author who lived in Las Vegas for 20 years of his life. This book covers people living off the strip and in the older, dirtier, and poorer parts of Las Vegas. He spends a week at the Blue Angel which is a seedy motel on East Fremont Street. The motel is known for prostitution, drug dealing and violence and O’Brien gives us a look at the people who live and work at the Blue Angel.

One of my favorite parts of this book is a trip that O’Brien takes into the storm drains and sewers of Las Vegas. He talks with people living in the “underworld” of Las Vegas and shares their stories.

Chasing YouTube Monetization

I started a YouTube channel for work back in early 2018. I posted videos related to internet privacy tools that my company made. Then at some point I sort of forgot about the channel and let it sit inactive for six months or so. When I returned later and checked my channel’s analytics I saw that a couple of the videos I had made had slowly accumulated over 10k views.

Why I Started a YouTube Channel

I’m an SEO Specialist and I realized that YouTube videos could actually rank on Google for certain types of searches. I would just create video versions of blog posts that I had already written. It allowed me to reach new people that I wasn’t reaching with my blog posts alone.

Growing On YouTube

I quickly saw that the same SEO tactics I was using to rank blog posts and get views worked on YouTube. I saw potential to grow my channel into a more valuable resource for marketing privacy products and sharing information about internet privacy.

SEO is much different than other forms of internet marketing because it is more focused on long term traffic and engagement. People can take the same approach to growing on social media, but most people chase viral content that may or may not work.

My YouTube Growth Has Been Slow and Steady

One of the keys to my continued growth has just been consistently posting. I’ll admit, I have neglected my channel at times but so far I’ve always come back to it. I encourage anyone who is on the same journey as me to just keep going. Every time you post, you’re giving people another opportunity to find your channel.

YouTube Channel Analytics

My Tips for Growing on YouTube

  • Post Consistently and Often: The easiest way to grow is to post a lot. Every video on your channel is a new place to gain views. If people see that you’re posting often, they are more likely to return to your channel to check for new videos. Don’t expect to get to 1000 subscribers with one or two videos — Play the long game.
  • Your Videos Don’t Need to Be Perfect: Looking at other YouTubers with thousands of subscribers can make you think your videos need to be perfectly edited, with fancy intros and end screens. People often use that as an excuse not to post. When you’re first starting out, you may only get 8 views on your videos. So unless you truly enjoy the editing process or you want to learn how to edit, it’s not worth it to spend 5 hours editing a 5 minute video.
  • Do Some Research: Part of being good at SEO is doing research. Look at what successful YouTubers use for their titles and descriptions. Search for topics you know about and see what the top videos look like. If you emulate what is making these videos successful, you won’t have to go through the learning period that these YouTubers did.

My 2021 Goals for My Internet Privacy YouTube Channel

I want to focus more on growing my channel in 2021.

  • Post 31 videos in January: You can’t get more consistent than posting every day. I know that by posting every day I will get a lot more views and gain more subscribers that I was getting before. After I get in the habit of posting every day in January, I hope to continue that consistency through the rest of the year.
  • Gain Monetization on My Videos: I’m close to being eligible for YouTube’s partner program. I need about 250 subscribers and 2000 additional public watch hours to be eligible. I don’t expect to make a ton of money with YouTube, but the extra incentive to create videos would be awesome!
  • Improve My Video Quality: Right now my videos are just me talking to the camera. I hope to include more screen sharing and graphics in my videos in 2021.

Give me some love on YouTube, if you have a second.

What Podcasts I’m Listening to in 2021

These are just a selection of some of the podcasts I listen to regularly. Let me know if you have any recommendations of your own!

The Joe Rogan Experience

The Joe Rogan Experience

The Joe Rogan Experience is a free podcast hosted by American comedian, actor, sports commentator, martial artist, and television host, Joe Rogan. It has grown to become one of the world’s most popular podcasts, regularly receiving millions of views per episode, and includes a wide array of guests.

What I Like About The Joe Rogan Experience

In 2020, long-form conversation was something I really missed. I found the Joe Rogan Experience as an escape into long conversations about this and that. Rogan also talks to some super interesting people, like Elon Musk, Kanye West, and Bret Weinstein. I’ve learned a lot from this podcast and recommend 99 percent of the episodes to friends.

How I Built This

How I Built This with Guy Raz

How I Built This is an American podcast about “innovators, entrepreneurs, idealists, and the stories behind the movements they built” produced by NPR.

What I Like About How I Built This

I’m not an entrepreneur myself, but I still find these stories incredible. It’s so interesting to hear that large companies like Zappos or Clif Bar were started by a single ambitious individual who hustled from their apartment for months or years before seeing their business explode in popularity.

Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People

Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People Podcast

Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People features interviews with thought leaders, legends, and iconoclasts such as Jane Goodall, Stephen Wolfram, Margaret Atwood, Woz, Martha Stewart, and Leon Panetta. Every episode will make you a little more remarkable.

What I Like About Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People

Remarkable People really dives into the lives and motivation behind some very important and influential people. Guy Kawasaki is a great host and asks questions that lead to deep thoughtful conversation. Start with the Jane Goodall episode, her story about how she left home at a young age is so interesting.

The Tim Ferriss Show

The Tim Ferriss Show Podcast

Tim Ferriss is a self-experimenter and bestselling author, best known for The 4-Hour Workweek, which has been translated into 40+ languages. Newsweek calls him “the world’s best human guinea pig,” and The New York Times calls him “a cross between Jack Welch and a Buddhist monk.” In this show, he deconstructs world-class performers from eclectic areas (investing, chess, pro sports, etc.), digging deep to find the tools, tactics, and tricks that listeners can use.

What I Like About The Tim Ferriss Show

Tim Ferris is one of my favorite podcast hosts. Whenever a guest gives a piece of advice or discusses their methods, Ferris always pushes a step further to get very specific, detailed descriptions from his guest.

Barbend Podcast

Barbend Podcast with David Tao

Each week, the BarBend Podcast brings together some of the world’s biggest strength names across weightlifting, powerlifting, CrossFit, strongman, and more. BarBend Editor and Co-Founder David Thomas Tao sits down with the strength community’s smartest and strongest minds to with a focus on their learnings through training, competition, and coaching.

We dive deep on their journeys and where strength training has taken them. World record holders share their competition secrets. Coaches give their most underrated tips. And top thinkers and researchers from the realm of strength science go deep on their most promising findings. This podcast is the perfect companion for experts and beginners alike, covering a wide range of topics to keep listeners up to date on the world of strength.

What I Like About Barbend Podcast

I’ve tried listening to a number of “fitness” or “training” podcasts, and many of them are just bros being bros and discussing their lifting PRs and favorite supplements. David Tao’s Barbend Podcast takes a very science-based approach to fitness and strength training. I recommend this podcast to anyone looking for information about how to get strong and how to train intelligently to avoid injury and overtraining.

Freakonomics Radio

Freakonomics Radio Podcast – Stephen J. Dubner

Freakonomics Radio is an American public radio program which discusses socio-economic issues for a general audience. The show is a spin-off of the 2005 book Freakonomics. Journalist Stephen Dubner hosts the show, with economist Steven Levitt as a regular guest. The show is also distributed as a podcast, and is among the most popular on iTunes. Created in September 2010, it is a weekly podcast.

What I Like About Freakonomics Radio

I read Freakonomics (the book) shortly after graduating from high school. I had very little understanding of what economics were, but the connections between different events and phenomenon in Freakonomics were fascinating. I enjoy this podcast because it takes a deep dive into subjects that may at first seem uninteresting…and every episode presents a fascinating takeaway.

The Mind Muscle Project

The Mind Muscle Project

A podcast dedicated to finding the most effective training and nutrition methods on the planet.

What I Like About The Mind Muscle Project

The hosts of The Mind Muscle Project are very knowledgable about all types of strength training (CrossFit, Bodybuilding, and Powerlifting). They discuss marketing their own personal training and gym businesses, common training mistakes, and the best training for different people based on their goals.

Business Wars

Business Wars Podcast from Wondery

Business Wars is a podcast hosted by David Brown and produced by Wondery. The podcast premiered on January 20 2018, and consists of more than 150 episodes.

It critically examines “business rivalries” between two organizations (or between two brands) and tries to derive a conclusion concerning the success or failure in the form of a single episode or a series of episodes.

What I Like About Business Wars

Business Wars tells the stories of massive businesses and how they got that bit. It does so in a way that is incredibly entertaining and exciting. The voice actors in the show reenact conversations that happened in the process of these businesses growing.

My favorite season of Business Wars covered the battle between Anheuser-Busch and Miller to become America’s biggest brewery.

My First Year of CrossFit

I started going to a CrossFit gym in early 2020. I had been working out at a “globo-gym” for a few years and I was tired of it. I would go to the gym 5-6 times per week and not talk to a single person. My workouts were still enjoyable, but I was in the mood for something new.

So I found a CrossFit gym close to my house and I joined. I was already pretty familiar with CrossFit as far as the movements and style of workouts. The first day I went, I was hooked.

Why I Liked CrossFit

  • The Competitive Aspect: I noticed that whenever I workout with a partner, I’m able to lift more and go harder. I’m super competitive so when I first logged my scores and looked at everyone else’s I was determined to push myself and do my best for every workout.
  • The Community: The first day I went to CrossFit, I was so surprised by how friendly everyone was. People were asking me if I’d done CrossFit before and seemed interested in getting to know me. I felt super welcome and have made quite a few friends at the gym.
  • The Scored Workouts: Before I did CrossFit, I’d follow some lifting program I found online and increase my lifts until I couldn’t any more. And then I’d start over at lower weights and start to work myself up again. At my CrossFit gym, every workout is logged in an app called “Wodify”. I find it super helpful to be able to look back and see what weight you used the prior week. This and being able to look at the weights increasing overtime have really kept me making progress.

The Improvements I Made

In 2020, I went to CrossFit 128 times. I went the most of any guy at my gym, and was able to get the most PRs (personal records) of any guy.

  • Olympic Lifting (Clean & Jerk, Snatch): One of the reasons I was drawn to CrossFit was seeing Olympic lifts included in workouts. I wanted to improve my Clean and Jerk and my Snatch. I was able to improve my form and my comfort in both of these lifts. As I grew more comfortable I was able to put more and more weight on the bar and actually hit the lifts. I’m still working towards my goal of 225# C+J and 185# Snatch.
  • Conditioning: I loved Metcon style workouts from the first time I tried CrossFit. Even though I was really “fit” when I showed up at CrossFit, I rarely did conditioning work or HIIT training. I would do cardio or play basketball, but nothing like what CrossFit prescribes. While I’ve seen my strength numbers increase, my conditioning has improved also. My times for benchmark workouts have improved drastically.
  • Strength: I’ve gotten so much stronger this year. I started out not being able to deadlift 300 pounds and now I can deadlift 355. My squats have gotten much deeper and I’ve increased my one rep max from around 250 pounds to 300 pounds. A group of us at the gym completed the Smolov Squat Program which was the main driver behind me improving my strength in all lifts, not just the squat.

CrossFit is very results-focused. If you’re feeling stale in your gym routine, or are looking for a very effective way to get in shape, I recommend trying out CrossFit. It’s not for everyone, but I love it and I’d encourage everyone to try it out. I love pushing myself super hard and seeing where my limits are, and CrossFit is a perfect place to do that.

@stewofkc

Yo! Critique my snatch so I don’t suck any more. Plz.

♬ Red Kingdom – Tech N9ne

I hope 2021 brings you loads of health, wealth, and happiness! Thanks for reading.

How Do You Respond to Setbacks?

So…I hurt myself.

Last week during a set of deadlifts I felt a tweak in my back. I was able to finish the set without much pain, but after standing up after the last rep I knew my back was fucked.

I tried to do the next workout, which involved rowing, and every stroke was super painful. So I quit early and headed home.

It’s been a week and I haven’t been able to workout at all. I went for a short bike ride last night, but after about 20 minutes my back started to hurt so I cut the ride short.

How To Put Your Goals Aside?

Without being able to go to the gym, I end up having a couple extra hours of free time in the afternoons. I have to admit that it’s been rough. The gym helps me feel good and feel like I’m accomplishing something every day. But now I have to focus on getting back to 100 percent.

When I got injured I was in the middle of an intense squat program. My goal was to reach a one rep max of 315 pounds. Sticking to that program will likely be impossible unless I have some sort of magic healing in the next couple of days.

What happens when circumstances change while you’re pursuing your goals and suddenly you aren’t able to charge 100 percent ahead? Should I shift my priorities elsewhere? Why is it so difficult for me to just accept that I am injured and can’t continue towards my goals right now?

I want a ROCKSTAR Business to Promote

One of my favorite parts of marketing is finding the positive, unique or exciting aspects of a product or service to promote. Every marketer wants to work with a business that is already a rockstar.

The reason is obvious: A great product is way easier to market than one that sucks.

Customers are the Best Marketers

When trying to convince other people to take action, one of the most effective factors is being authentic. The most authentic spokesperson for your business is a satisfied customer. Not only will this person likely return to do business with you, but they will be likely to share their experience with their network of friends and peers.

Another perk of having your customers market your business is that people will be more likely to trust people they already know than to listen to your advertising.

So What Can Your Business Do?

I’d say a huge lesson here is when hiring marketing professionals, make sure this person is someone that could use your product and love it. If you’re selling fitness apparel, but your marketing team is made up of 300 pound obese men, the lack of authenticity will shine through your brand’s messaging.

If you’re running a large business, there are plenty of marketing people out there using your product or service. Find those people and get them to become your marketing team. Their favorite aspects of your business, will also be the most important to the people you want to do business with.

Each Niche Has Its ONE Problem

I’ve helped a number of different people, in a number of industries solve their marketing problems. As a freelancer, I’ve worked with financial advisors, real estate agents, restaurants, startups and other businesses. As a marketer, my goal is to increase people’s awareness of your brand, improve people’s opinions about your brand, drive people to take action, and as a result increase profit for your business.

Everyone Has a Unique Problem with Reaching Their Customers

Everyone is running into a different problem when trying to promote their brand, reach their customers, or sell their product. Understanding the customer journey and what is most important to each client is the most important part of solving their problem.

For example, a financial advisor at a boutique firm may find that they are having a hard time competing with the brand recognition of Edward Jones. A real estate agent may be incredible at connecting with people in person, but don’t know where to start reaching people on the internet.

Find The Weak Links and Fix Them

Marketers need to know how to take customers all the way through the buying process. If your client needs help at any point in their customers’ journey, you need to be able to shore up their process.

If you need more people to recognize your brand name and think of you when people discuss your industry, a marketer can help you get more awareness. I’d use social media and content marketing to improve your brand recognition, but there are a number of different tactics you could use.

If you need people who already know about your business to complete the buying journey, or to decide to make a purchase, I would focus on email marketing and social media ads to nurture those leads.

If you need people Googling your business to more easily find information about your business, I would optimize your Google My Business page and make sure your website is optimized for your customers to find the information they’re looking for.


A lot of businesses are killing it on 80 percent of their marketing. It’s that last 20 percent that they can’t quite figure out that can make a huge difference in driving customers to purchase. A marketing agency can help you with that last 20 percent and drive increased revenue for your business.

Building Momentum

I’ve noticed that the more I do, the more opportunities I’m presented with.

My primary focus is making content. I write blog posts, make YouTube videos, and create graphics for social media. When I consider this, my original statement seems pretty obvious. The more content I create, the more likely someone else is to see it and reach out to me about my post.

If you’re creating content, I think it’s super important to publish frequently. Quality content is great, but people often say that because their content isn’t perfect they shouldn’t publish yet.

Well guess what…when you first start publishing, nobody is going to watch your stuff anyway. Spending 10 hours editing a video that only 15 people are going to watch just isn’t worth it for me. I’m not a videographer. I’m not trying to build a portfolio of video work, so I’m not interested in honing my video editing skills.

At this point, I’m really just testing to see what works. I don’t have any huge followings on any platforms, so I’m really just throwing out as much content as possible and seeing what works and what people like.

It’s a Snowball Effect

  • Everytime you post it gets easier. So the more you post, the more you will post.
  • Everytime you get a new follower, that person is another person who will see your future content.

Once you start making progress, more progress comes much easier. I think it’s important to spread this message because the most important thing is JUST START.

Many people ask me how they can grow their social media following, or how they can grow their blog. My answer is always just do it. Everybody starts out not knowing how to do this. The only difference between you and them now is that they started trying stuff and you didn’t.

Your Salary Doesn’t Mean Shit

I have something I want to get off my chest.

I’ve been continually frustrated with how “salaries” are determined. I think that I’ve put too much emphasis on this number and have given it far more respect than it deserves.

My Stupid Assumption

My stupid assumption was that if someone earns a higher salary than me, they must be smarter than me. This was a super naive idea. Just because a company is willing to pay someone more than someone else doesn’t mean that that person is necessarily more intelligent than anyone else.

I’ve watched people making $200,000+ per year struggle to figure out how to turn on their computer, or how to make a minor change in an Excel workbook. This was frustrating for me. If a company deems someone worthy of earning $200,000 per year for a specific skill, shouldn’t they also be held to a higher standard for figuring out small problems too?

Skilled Workers Tend to Earn More

This makes sense. If someone is skilled, I think they should be paid more for using those skills. For example, someone with general “business” knowledge and experience will make less than someone with experience in chemical engineering.

If someone is a Senior Data Scientist or Senior Manager, they should obviously be compensated for their experience and the skills they’ve developed.

I think that someone who can solve any problem thrown at them is especially valuable and should be compensated accordingly.

I’ve worked with a few people who I’ve noticed really fit this description. Many of my bosses, along with just being more experienced than me, have been excellent at answering any question or problem anyone brings to them.

What is the value of solving problems?

How much is someone worth that can solve almost anything you bring to them? Early in my career I assumed that anyone could solve 90 percent of problems. A few years into working in a few different settings, I’ve noticed this just isn’t the case.

A lot of people aren’t willing to do the extra 10-20 percent of work that falls just outside of their job description. I don’t know if this is intentional or not. From my perspective, if someone can solve any problem I bring them, that person is invaluable and I’d want to have them in my organization.

Do people delegate tasks because they don’t know how to do them and aren’t willing to learn, or because it’s better for the organization they’re working for?

My YouTube Channel – It’s Just Talking

I created a new YouTube channel about 2 years ago. My original goal was to share videos about products my company was launching. I didn’t publish much, but the videos I published slowly racked up some views.

A few of my older videos have done really well, and have since gotten over 5000 views. While these videos continue to get views from some decent keywords, I’ve started posting videos more frequently on topics related to my original videos.

What Do I Post on YouTube?

I think that most people have this idea in their head of what it looks like to be a “YouTuber”. I’m very early in my journey, and I’m still posting very basic, simple videos. My videos are just recordings of me talking. I create a stunning thumbnail so that my videos look professional, but the videos themselves are very bare bones.

I don’t edit video clips together, and I don’t even add screenshots or pictures to my videos. At this point I don’t think it makes sense for me to spend much time on editing my videos. My videos don’t get that many views, so I don’t think it’s worth my time to spend hours editing a video that will only be seen 50-100 times. My competitors (people posting about similar topics) really don’t do much editing either. Most videos are just people talking, so I’m fine with that for now.

I want to educate people…

My videos are pretty niche. I focus mainly on internet privacy and tracking. I could talk for hours about how Google is collecting information from you and then about the alternative products that take your privacy seriously.

While I’m not SUPER passionate about internet privacy, I still think it’s important to educate people about how tools like Facebook and Google disguise themselves as a service, but are really just advertising companies.