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The Inner Circle - Issue #2

5 ways to inject mre meaning into your life, and 4 techniques to elevate your cooking game

Sean Johnson
Sean Johnson
7 min read

This newsletter is for my inner circle. The people whose opinions matter to me the most. It’s where I’ll be more open than normal. Where I’ll share what I’m excited about, what I’m processing. You’re on this list for a reason. Thank you for being in my life.(P.S. Thanks to all the folks who gave me feedback on the first issue. Was blown away by the response.)

In this issue:

  • 5 ways to inject mre meaning into your life
  • 4 techniques to elevate your cooking game
  • 1 Thing to Watch and 1 Thing to Buy

5 ways to inject more meaning in your life

One side effect of this newsletter has been my conversations with friends have been elevated. Since the first issue I’ve had no less than a dozen conversations with friends who’ve had similar issues around the letdown associated with achieving goals.

It seems one outcome of achievement has been a shift in the old “mid-life crisis”. People in their 30s and 40s are asking the kinds of questions their parents asked 20 years later.

Each person has come to different conclusions, and the comparing of notes has been extremely helpful for me. Here are some of my favorite strategies people are using to recapture meaning in their lives - perhaps one of them will be helpful for you.


By far the most common approach. Getting outside of the constant self-chatter, learning to recognize you are not your thoughts, and learning to quiet yourself has proven useful for several good friends. Headspace is an easy way to start - I’ve been trying to use it each night for 10 minutes.

A variation for folks of a spiritual persuasion is to “practice the presence of God.” The idea is to keep God (or whatever you want to call Him/Her/It) in front of your mind as much as you can. The person who explained this to me said its primary benefit has been to simply think about themselves less, which they’ve found has made them much happier and much more present to others.


Second most common. Two specific approaches people have shared with me. The first is stream of consciousness. The act of getting your jumble of thoughts down onto paper seems to have a calming and clarifying effect.

The second is some form of “gratitude journaling”. People who have done this said it’s helped them become more content, less restless, and happier as they go about their days. Both people who told me about this use this journal.

Seeking solitude.

Get away from devices and people and noise. Strip away the distractions, remove the masks we wear.

People who have done this claim it is powerful (and scary). You confront how strong your desire is to seek distraction. You struggle with what it feels like to truly do nothing, and realize so much of your self-worth is tied to accomplishment. You face the reality that you are not your job or your business, and process what that means. And in a paradoxical way it actually makes you more equipped to be around people and be present with them.

Candidly, this one scares the crap out of me. Which probably means it’s something I should do 😉.

Serving others.

Engaging in acts of service is another way to stop thinking about yourself so much. It allows you to step outside of your own mind and focus on helping other people. They’ve found their problems and concerns begin to look really silly by comparison. They’ve also found serving people who aren’t big and important, doing so in secret, not getting any credit or pats on the back has helped them become less prideful - something our society doesn’t necessarily advocate but has made them happier people.

Start Taking Risks Again

One common reason for success is tolerance for risk. But as you get older your risk profile changes. You get married, have kids, get a mortgage, and suddenly your willingness to do things that seem scary goes way down.

But the fear is a big part of what makes you feel alive. The systematic removal of risk slowly kills your spirit.

So several friends have been re-raising their risk profiles. Some have been pursuing new careers, others have been starting businesses. One friend is starting to try standup comedy.

After being talked out of getting a (ridiculously beautiful) motorcycle by every person in my life, I started taking Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes. As someone who’s never been in a fight before, getting thrown to the ground and choked over and over again has been frustrating, but strangely life-giving.

Any other strategies you’ve found helpful? I’d love to hear them.

4 techniques to elevate your cooking game

The cooking stuff appeared to resonate with folks - might become a regular appearance.

Once you have the right equipment, it’s time to learn the right techniques. Here are 4 of my favorites.

Big Pot Blanching

The key to cooking great vegetables. Crisp, tender and perfectly seasoned.

  1. Use lots of water (big stock pot) and lots of salt (I use a cup of kosher salt).
  2. Add the vegetables and cook for a few minutes (green beans only take a minute or two)
  3. Immediately transfer them to an ice bath. The ice bath is the most important part. It stops the vegetables from cooking so they stay crisp, and it keeps the bright color.
  4. If you like, reheat the vegetables in a pan with butter or oil, and season with salt and pepper right before serving. Can also serve them cold, for example in a Nicoise salad.

Pan Basting

The best way to prepare a steak. It cooks in less time, has more flavor, and a better crust.

  1. Get a thick steak with good marbling.
  2. Season it well with salt and pepper and let it come to temperature on the counter (30 minutes or so).
  3. Heat your cast iron skillet on high with a little oil and add the steak.
  4. Sear on one side for a few minutes until a good crust forms, then flip.
  5. Add a couple tablespoons of butter. Tilt the pan, and use a spoon to baste the steak for 2 minutes.
  6. Throw it in a 450 degree oven for 6 minutes (for medium rare).
  7. Let it rest a few minutes on the cutting board to redistribute the juices.


The best way to cook fish. I used to always dry my fish out too much until I discovered poaching. It creates much better texture, better seasoning, and it’s super simple.

  1. Place the fish in a pan with a lid.
  2. Add a cup of wine, a few tablespoons of salt, and if you like some aromatics.
  3. Cover the fish with cold water and cover the pan.
  4. Cook on medium until the water starts to simmer.
  5. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 6 minutes or so.


Braising is the best way to impress guests during the fall or winter. It takes tough (cheap) cuts of meat, and turns them into something wonderful. I usually do this to make bourguignon or stroganoff with short ribs or a cassoulet using pork shoulder.

  1. Sear the meat in a dutch oven and remove it.
  2. Cook your aromatics (onions, leeks, shallots, garlic, carrots, celery, etc.) in the fat.
  3. Add your liquid (stock, wine reduction, etc.) and deglaze the dutch oven by scraping the brown bits on the bottom. They add flavor to the liquid.
  4. Put the meat back in along with any juices. Bring to a simmer, then cover and throw in the oven. Cook until tender, usually several hours.
  5. Read a book and enjoy the smells.

One Thing to Watch and One Thing to Buy

Ryan Hamilton: Happy Face

I did stand-up for 3 years in college. And because I didn’t want to offend my parents I worked clean. Comedy is hard enough as it is - it’s exponentially more difficult when you can’t rely on cursing and over the top material to get easy laughs from drunk people.

As a result I’ve always admired comedians who can work clean and pull it off - guys like Brian Regan, Jim Gaffigan and Dmitri Martin. But this might be the best clean standup special I’ve ever seen. I’d never heard of him before, but I think he’s going to be a legit star.

Monoset Correspondence Cards

Sending hand-written thank yous is a lost art. So much so it’s difficult to find beautiful, modern looking cards anymore. Monoset creates simple, super attractive cards and stationery, for about $2 a card. (Yes, I’m aware Ryan Hamilton has a bit about this.)

Thanks for reading!

If you have ideas for how to make this better, please let me know. Thanks for being in my life ❤.

-- Sean

P.S. This is the motorcycle I almost bought ☹️☹️☹️.