Ben shares thoughts on being a middle child, memories of pretending to be an ice cream cone in dance class, and why writing makes him happy.
Ben Kassoy is Editor-in-Chief at DoSomething.org, co-author of 8 books, and former online columnist for Glamour and Details. We heard amazing things about Ben before our conversation and he definitely lived up to all of it.
Jumping right inâ€”what makes Ben happy? Writing. In his eyes, there is something magical, exhilarating, and liberating about taking an idea that you created and putting it down on paper. He does two types of writing: collaborative, and stuff thatâ€™s geared towards social justice for dosomething.org, an organization that activates a generation of young people to make positive change in their communities (We encourage you to visit the website and check it out!). His freelance writing, he tells us, is completely the opposite: selfish and indulgent, it is a compilation of personal essays, creative non-fiction, and dating columns. Both provide equal amounts of joy.
Ben tells us there is something super gratifying about working at DoSomething.org and connecting with people. For starters, collaborating with a team and knowing you are working collectively towards something greater than yourself is an amazing feeling. He also connects with young people all over the world who are passionate about making change. He is able to facilitate and cultivate people discovering that doing work for others is important. More than creativity, it is a role of service.
His freelance work on the other hand is more personal. Instead of connecting to others, Ben feels like his personal writing connects him to himself. Writing about a variety of different things, he attributes this to his parents allowing him to be exploratory and free growing up. He and his sisters had no notion of gender roles, were allowed to have broad interests, and encouraged to express themselves.
As a kid, Ben was sort of ADD. Teachers often called home to let his mom know he paced around the classroom. His mother, who is a school counselor, made his teachers think outside of the box. She let them know that as long as he wasnâ€™t disrupting anyone or his own studies, she didnâ€™t see a problem with what he was doing. To this day, Ben is an active person. He has a standing desk and often takes breaks to stretch or danceâ€”which also makes him very happyâ€”while at work. Not much has changed about his work flow.
Letâ€™s dive a bit into Benâ€™s relationship with technology. To begin, heâ€™s not a fan. He tries to use the internet with as much intentionality as possible and only uses Facebook for professional purposes. He is neither a clicker nor a scroller despite the fact that he eventually uses a computer to write in a word processor. Like all things, there are still aspects he finds positive about the internet just as much as he finds there are negative. Because he wants his writing to be a reflection of the best version of himself, however, he only wants his work to exist in positive places on the web. He is just as particular about where his writing is placed as he is about about his writing conditions.
Ben actually calls himself a diva. The room heâ€™s in has to be a specific temperature, he has to be in shorts, and be barefoot. You should know that there are also many colorful notebooks involved and if he used black ink during one writing sessions the next has to be done in blue, red, or anything else thatâ€™s different (the same color is absolutely not allowed back-to-back.) As a perfectionist, ideal conditions also include extended periods of time to write. First he jots down ideas, then he outlines and then actual sentences begin to get formed.
Sidenote: whatâ€™s your creative victory celebration when you finish something creative? Is it a little song you sing? Do you hump your keyboard? Crave a particular food? We had this discussion with Ben and want to know your thoughts!
Another thing to note about Ben is that he is a middle child. He feels like this taught him a few key things like how to be okay with being alone and how to be a peacemaker. Although he came from an awesome and well-adjusted family, this definitely came in handy a few times.
What about dancing? As a kid, it was something he started because his sisters did it. Since he had so much energy, it ended up being a fantastic outlet. From being an ice cream cone in creative movement class to ballet, jazz, and later learning to breakdance in college, he absolutely loves to move. He mentions heâ€™s had to pay for it now by having the body of an old woman and wearing orthotics.
Benâ€™s love for writing blossomed over time and became apparent after he landed a job in product development for Macyâ€™s in New York. After getting his ass handed to him multiple times and no longer wanting to talk about towels, he would simply come home to write about everything. He then landed a job with DoSomething.org and that was that. Although he doesnâ€™t think he would quit his day job because he does enjoy having some sort of structure, Ben would ideally enjoy working up late, heading to a dance class, doing meaningful work throughout the day, eating a nice dinner, and having never-ending time to write guilt free.
Final thoughts on what makes Ben happy?
- Sitting on a high stool on an early Saturday afternoon with a cup of coffee, pen and notebook in hand, next to a window
- The color mustard yellow
- The movie Moonrise Kingdom
Links / Read / See / Hear
Jason Zappolo for editing and mixing this episode; follow Jason on instagram.
Orly Margulis for social media support; follow Orly on linkedIn.
RocÃo CastaÃ±eda for ongoing support; follow RocÃo on instagram.