Helping Ali Abdaal Overcome 8 Challenges to Creating a Fulfilling Life and Business

Ali Abdaal, YouTuber extraordinaire with over 2 million subscribers and creator of the Part-Time YouTuber Academy that’s made over $2 million in revenue in the last year, just released a 44-minute video where he goes through an extensive life and business update.

It revolves around his search for what direction to take his life and business next to fulfill him and bring value to his audience.

Ali is one of the most caring, genuine, and benevolent people I’ve seen online. So I’m writing this to help him (and you) as much as possible.

My bread and butter is helping founders, creators, and entrepreneurs flourish by aligning their life and business with their core value.

So instead of replying to the video with a quick comment, this article is a response to Ali’s struggles. It’s a play-by-play of how I would help Ali if he was my coaching client with each of the eight challenges he covers in his video.

In actual coaching, I’d go more in-depth, depending on his answers. But this will give you an idea of where I’d start and how I’d approach his current struggles.

Read on for a peek behind the curtain of how I help innovators build meaningful, purpose-driven businesses that fulfill them using my 15 years of psychological training in human optimization and meaning-making.

Each section starts with a timestamp from his video, if you want more context.

Also, here’s a handy dandy Table of Contents if you want to bounce around:

•••

Challenge #1: Medium to Long Term Planning

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As his business has grown from a solo side project to a full-time, 20-person team, there’s more pressure for him to be intentional with the direction of the business.

He’s struggling with questions like:

  • What destination is the business pointed toward?
  • What is each member of the team working toward?
  • What’s the overall point of the business and content?

The first thing I help clients do is to clarify their core value.

Not multiple values or eight company principles—one value.

Because your core value is what makes you tick on a fundamental level. It’s the driving force that propels you to intuitively know what fulfillment looks like.

When you haven’t clarified your core value, the future is hazy. Fulfillment becomes a moving target. And when you create goals that aren’t rooted in your core value, you’ll either half-ass them, give up, or even if you do achieve them, victory will feel hollow.

Because those goals don’t resonate with you. They’re not rooted in your core value.

Every goal you create has the potential to get you one step closer to, or one step further away from, your ideal life of fulfillment.

Once you identify your core value, you can create goals rooted in that value.

That way, every goal aligns with what makes you tick on a fundamental level and keeps you focused in the direction of fulfillment.

Some of the most common core values of my clients include:

  • Freedom
  • Service to others
  • Mental health and wellness

For example, my core value is freedom.

So if someone offered my $100k to work 60 hours a week in a high-stress environment, where I’d have to speak and dress a certain way—I wouldn’t take it. I’ve had this happen. I value my freedom—specifically the freedom to control my schedule, explore my creativity, and help others pursue fulfillment—to free them from the cycle of unfulfilling work.

So anytime a new opportunity comes my way, I ask myself:

“Does this align with my core value of freedom and get me one step closer to my ideal life?”

If not, I pass. If so, I explore it.

Ali says he’s interested in what makes a happy and fulfilling life, and wants to help people live their best life by creating education and inspirational content.

But why?

Here’s what I’d ask him:

Why do you ultimately care about helping people live their best life? What about this resonates with you on a fundamental level?

Don’t over-intellectualize it.

Ask yourself two questions:

“What do I give a shit about?”

“Why do I give a shit about it?”

You can journal your answers or talk it out with someone—but the point is to keep it conversational and intuitive. Don’t overcomplicate by intellectualizing or over-editing your answer.

Answer from your gut, not your head.

For example: I give a shit about helping people flourish because I believe too many people die regretting not having done more with their lives.

I had multiple friends put off pursuing fulfilling until it was too late. Each of them let fear paralyze them. One spent decades as an attorney before retiring early to write a book. Halfway through writing it, he was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Two weeks later, he died with his manuscript forever incomplete.

So I write online and coach to help as many people as I can pursue fulfillment while I have time left.

What do you give a shit about, and why do you give a shit about it?

This is what you’re working toward.

This is what you steer your medium and long-term planning toward.

Take what you give a shit about and do as much as you can to make an impact in that area.

This is how you achieve fulfillment and help others along the way.

•••

Challenge #2: What Do I Want From My Life?

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Throughout medical school and his career as a physician, Ali was on a “very clear ladder of progression.” He got used to always chasing the “next thing.”

Since taking a break from medicine and building his business, this compulsion to chase the next thing has muddied his ability to know what he actually wants to be pursuing.

He says:

“Oh, we’ll just aim for more views, and more subscribers, and more revenue, and more courses, and just more more more. And I just haven’t really stopped to think, like what do I actually want to do now that I have the freedom, broadly to design my life how I want within reason.

It’s a nice problem to have, but it is a bit of a challenge because when you have so many options, it’s hard to know which one to go for. And it’s hard to even know what all the options are.

I think back when I was working in medicine and it was like a very confined career path… Whereas now it’s like, I don’t really know if I still want to be a doctor forever, I don’t know if I want to do this YouTube thing forever, like what the hell do I want to do? I don’t know. Like there’s a whole world of options.”

Ali’s describing two separate issues: being trapped on the Hedonic Treadmill and choice paralysis.

Here’s the approach I’d take for each:

Hedonic Treadmill

To jump off the Hedonic Treadmill of more, more, more, it goes back to clarifying what makes you tick on a fundamental level.

Most people have heard of the Hedonic Treadmill or hedonia—pleasure-seeking and constantly chasing cheap hits of dopamine and vanity metrics. But this is a temporary fix to a long-term problem. What you’re chasing isn’t fulfilling.

Eudaimonia is the opposite—it’s what Maslow called self-actualization or fulfillment. It may not always feel good in the moment (like hedonism), but it’s meaningful, purpose-driven work that fulfills us.

Here’s an example:

Justin “The Pygmy” Wren is an MMA veteran who digs wells for the Pygmy population in the Congo. Justin has contracted malaria multiple times in his pursuit to give more people in the Congo access to clean drinking water and help them buy back their land and freedom from their oppressors.

If you asked Justin during one of the times he’s contracted malaria if he feels good, he’d say hell no. But if you asked him if the work he did was worth it in the long run, he’d say hell yes. The struggle that comes with digging wells is worth it.

He isn’t chasing pleasure; he’s pursuing something worth struggling for.

In this TEDx Talk, Justin ends it by asking the audience, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” Answering this question can give you a starting point to figure out what eudaimonia looks like for you.

Eudaimonia is about doing things that, even if they don’t always make you happy in the moment, give your life direction, purpose, and meaning.

Despite individual moments not always being “fun” on a surface level, the journey, the pursuit of what makes you come alive—that is what eudaimonia looks like.

So the question is:

What are you willing to struggle for?

Choice Paralysis

Understanding your core value and what eudaimonia looks like for you will simplify your choices.

Most opportunities are distractions from your ideal life.

The simplest way to filter which choices are worth exploring and which aren’t is to consider the second and third-order effects of each.

Some opportunities give you short-term improvement, but lead to long-term issues.

So ask yourself:

Where does this choice ultimately lead—closer to or further away from my ideal life aligned with my core value?

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean it’s worth your time and energy.

Infinite Games

Ali also talks about finite vs. infinite games.

A finite game has an end goal, while infinite games are ongoing.

He asks himself:

“What is the thing I would be happy to do forever. If I didn’t care about money, what would I spend my time doing?”

He answers by saying he cares about reading, writing, learning new things, and teaching. He especially loves teaching (this likely taps into his core value).

But he says if he didn’t have to worry about money, he probably wouldn’t make courses because he doesn’t like charging for them (this also hints at a core value).

Here’s how I would approach it:

There’s an inherent conflict here. You love teaching but hate creating courses.

The underlying question is:

What, specifically, do you hate about charging for courses?

Are you concerned people can’t afford it? You already offer scholarships for PTYA.

Are you concerned your courses aren’t valuable? Unlikely, although Imposter Syndrome may be kicking in.

Do you just hate having to add a price tag to knowledge in general?

Because when we pay for something, we become more invested in it—we now have skin in the game.

So if one of your goals with content is to keep people invested; charging for it may achieve that end. You already offer scholarships, put out most of your content for free, and offer money-back guarantees. So you’ve all but removed price as a barrier to your content.

So what’s the underlying issue?

Have you created a false dichotomy? Either I create expensive courses, or I help people pursue happiness and fulfillment?

I’d dig into this issue and figure out the root of it.

Your Ideal Week

In the last section of this challenge, Ali describes his “ideal ordinary week.”

He says if he could design his ideal week, he’d go to the gym and play sports a few times a week, play board games and cook at least once a week, spend more time with friends, and take time to do deep work each day.

But he hasn’t.

He asks himself:

“Why don’t I just do that? What is actually stopping me from making that my schedule? And the answer is always, ‘I don’t know.’”

Here’s my take:

You think you have time.

The number one strategy to light a fire under your ass is applying the Stoic concept of memento mori—remember you will die.

It’s not meant to be depressing; it’s meant to clarify what truly matters and filter out the rest by using your mortality as a motivator to live fully.

Here’s what I mean:

Earlier this year, I almost died.

A simple bruise had become infected, and by the time we caught it, I had to be hospitalized and prepped for surgery. It wasn’t responding to other treatments.

The physicians told me if the infection had gotten into my bones or bloodstream, it could kill me.

When you’re young, you don’t think that any week could be your last alive.

That night, as I laid in a hospital bed alone, with only the beeping of machines and occasional nurse checking my vitals as company, still waiting on test results to know if the infection had become life-threatening, I asked myself:

If this has been my last week alive, am I satisfied with how I lived each day?

This question is different from the typical “What would you do if you had seven days to live.” You can plan that out, party, skydive, whatever. It’s not a helpful thought experiment.

Taking inventory of how you’ve already spent your last seven days, going about your normal day-to-day routine, is way more powerful.

Immediately, you identify all the bullshit you do out of obligation that doesn’t matter. All the things you worried about that aren’t important. Everything you wish you would’ve done but were too afraid to try. All the things you put off because you thought you’d have more time.

Time is our most precious resource.

Because one day, you’ll look back and realize the past week was your last alive.

So with that in mind:

If this was your last week alive, how satisfied are you with how you spent your time?

What regrets do you have?

Hopefully, this week hasn’t been your last. But one day, it will.

What changes are you willing to make so that when the day comes when you’ve lived your last week, you’ll look back with joy and contentment?

•••

Challenge #3: Organizational Design

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Another challenge he’s facing is structuring his business.

Questions like:

  • What does exceptional performance look like for each staff member?
  • What’s the hierarchy of reporting and managing?

Ali says his disposition is toward vision and creativity rather than metrics and operations.

He says he wants to primarily focus on creating content.

So here are my questions:

Where are you the bottleneck?

What specific steps can you take to remove yourself as the bottleneck?

It’s easy to unintentionally become a bottleneck when you run your own business, even if you have a team.

Where are you most valuable to your business?

Because every minute you spend on a task that doesn’t allow you to leverage your unique strengths to your company is a waste of your most precious resource—time.

One of my clients did this exercise and realized he could free up three hours every day by removing himself as the bottleneck. He found the right person for the job and outsourced the tasks he wasn’t best-suited to do.

This equaled 15 hours a week and 780 hours a year.

How much more content could you create, and how much could you evolve your business, if you had an extra 780 hours every year?

So here’s my question:

How can you focus on where you’re most valuable to your company, put everyone else where they’re best suited, and outsource the rest?

•••

Challenge #4: Trying to Make Good Content

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Ali’s next challenge is continuing to put out good content he’s proud of.

As his business has ramped up, he’s felt increased pressure for his content to perform well. So it’s easy to go into clickbait territory and chase vanity metrics.

He’s fallen into this trap before and deleted videos that felt inauthentic—which shows integrity many people lack when they face the same pressures he does.

Now, the bar for his videos is:

“Do I think this is a good video that will add value to people in some way?”

But this is super vague.

Here are a few things I’d drill into:

Operationally define what “good” and “authentic” content means.

What is “good,” and what is the bar for “good enough?”

How do you know when you’ve crossed the line between authentic and inauthentic content?

How does your content align with your core value, and how does it fit into your larger mission to pursue fulfillment? If you get fulfillment from teaching others, how does each video act as a puzzle piece for this vision?

As long as it’s rooted in your core value, you’re on the right track, even if vanity metrics don’t capture its true worth.

•••

Challenge #5: Experimenting with Different Platforms

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Ali says he and his team have experimented with other platforms like TikTok, IGTV, and YT Shorts but keep running into the same issue: he prefers in-depth long-form educational content, but these platforms focus on short, frenetic snippets.

He’s struggling with whether it’s worth the time and energy to create content for these platforms.

If he was a solo creator, he probably wouldn’t. But he feels a responsibility to his team to continue growing the business.

He asks:

“Is me not caring about TikTok hurting the business, and therefore hurting the longevity of what we can do just because I don’t understand TikTok myself?”

Here are a few things I’d drill down on:

There’s definitely a sense of FOMO because you feel a realistic pressure to grow your business—because you feel responsible for the wellbeing of your team and for helping educate your audience on ways to pursue fulfillment. FOMO gets worse when you see all these other creators going cross-platform and blowing up.

But would creating frenetic content that isn’t in-depth, and is more entertainment than educational, make creating content less enjoyable for you?

You said you want to focus on creating content—not designing organizational structure, messing with accounting, scripting, editing, etc. So if the one thing you want to spend your time on becomes miserable, where would that leave you?

Instead of contemplating FOMO, there are three ways to approach going cross-platform:

  1. Is there a feasible way for you to create educational micro-content that aligns with your core value and works on these platforms? Pairing down the scope of a video and focusing on action-oriented content is one route toward this. Joshua Weissman‘s team is doing a great job editing his cooking videos for other platforms—if you can, I’d recommend reaching out to him.
  2. Is there a way to outsource short-form content to someone else? This comes down to whether you want to be the only one on camera or if you’re willing to have a team member share the load. You can make an appearance in the video, focus on BTS content, or some other “low lift” approach.
  3. If these platforms don’t align with your vision for the company long-term, how can you shift your focus away from FOMO and toward building a wider and deeper “moat” by leveraging your Unfair Advantage?

Again, what is your core value, and how can you create business goals that align with it and accomplish your vision to help people achieve fulfillment through educational and inspirational content?

•••

Challenge #6: Having a Niche vs. Not Having One

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Early creators struggle to find their niche. Established creators, like Ali, have a different struggle: stay in their niche and keep their audience happy, or branch out into new content and risk losing a chunk of their audience?

Ali has created content on productivity, studying, and living your best life a la health, wealth, and happiness.

“I want to talk about all of those things, but it doesn’t really have a clear niche.”

Even though he enjoys making a variety of content, his metrics only show support for productivity and wealth content.

“If I talk about gratitude or happiness or impact or meaning or effective altruism or donating to charity, you know, those videos do really badly. No one seems to care about those as much as they care about ‘10 Productivity Hacks’ or you know, ‘iPhone 10 Review’ kind of vibes.”

Here are my thoughts:

Value vs. Vanity Metrics

Not to repeat the 10,000 True Fans rhetoric, but dialing into the type of people you want to become a magnet for is worth taking the time to do. It makes your growth and engagement more meaningful.

If 500k people watch a productivity hack video and 8k watch a charity video, it doesn’t mean the 8k video did badly unless you’re only focusing on views.

How can you measure impact?

If you did a charity video and had a CTA for viewers to donate, even a few hundred views could equal tens of thousands in charitable donations that you orchestrated.

Silo

What are the pros and cons of keeping “living your best life” content on your main channel vs. creating a new one dedicated to non-productivity and wealth stuff?

If you’re afraid lower-performing content will scare off a chunk of your audience and negatively affect the algorithm, splitting it into a different channel is always an option.

I know many authors who write in different genres use separate pen names to optimize for Amazon’s algorithm for each category.

Your True Value Add

Ali said he likes creating both kinds of content, and even though some people have asked for BTS content (like the video this article is based off of), he doesn’t know what the “value add” is.

He wants to embody Matt D’Avella’s idea to “Be so good you can ignore the algorithm,” but doesn’t know how to achieve this.

Here’s the thing, I can’t coach you on algorithms. But I understand human behavior.

At the time of this article, that 44-minute video that you didn’t think had a clear value add has over 100,000 views.

You are the value add.

There’s nothing new under the sun.

People don’t watch your content because it’s revolutionary. Even nuanced content is a remix of what’s already out there.

People watch your content because it’s your content.

Why did I sign up for PTYA when there are tons of other YouTube courses, books, podcasts, etc.?

Because of you. Your integrity. Your generosity. Your authenticity. Your personality.

You are the reason hundreds of people have signed up for PTYA.

You are the reason millions of people watch and subscribe to your channel.

You are valuable to your audience.

You are your most valuable asset.

•••

Challenge #7: Medicine

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Ali says he’s on the fence about whether he should go back to practicing medicine part-time or decidedly leave it.

He enjoys teaching way more than practicing medicine. Teaching gives him freedom, while medicine is full of bureaucracy and a high stress-to-enjoyment ratio.

Even though the answer is clear—leaving medicine would free up more time to teach and explore his creativity—he’s still conflicted about pulling the trigger to leave medicine.

Why?

Two reasons:

Sunk Costs

All those years of studying, stress, and the financial cost of going to medical school, getting licensed, residency requirements, and finally becoming a full-fledged physician is a significant investment.

Are you reasoning based off this sunk cost or considering what you’re inexorably drawn toward?

You love teaching because it allows you to educate and inspire people to live their best lives while also exploring your creativity.

Does practicing medicine do that?

Life is about sacrifice.

Would you rather sacrifice the sunk cost of medicine to pursue fulfillment or sacrifice fulfillment to chain yourself to the sunk cost of your past?

Identity Crisis

If you’re not a physician, who are you? You built your brand off your reputation as a Cambridge MD, so don’t you have to keep hanging your hat on that title?

I get it. I spent over a decade earning my doctorate. When I stopped practicing therapy, I had an identity crisis. I still introduce myself as a psychologist—but not a therapist.

You’re still a physician, even if you don’t actively practice medicine. Your doctorate doesn’t disappear, nor does all the experience and knowledge you earned along the way.

I realized I could make a bigger impact and help more people through writing, coaching, and teaching.

You asked,“Should I be pursuing medicine even though I don’t really want to?”

You’re in a unique position. You have the power to take all your knowledge and personal experiences and take them out of the clinic and into people’s living rooms.

You have the potential to positively affect millions of people through educational and inspirational content.

How many doctors can say that?

Where is the intersection between what you value and where you’re most valuable to the world?

Is it practicing medicine, teaching, or something else?

•••

Challenge #8: Making Time for Myself

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His last struggle is common for any entrepreneur or online creator: how to create the elusive “work-life balance.”

Recently, I talked to one of my friends who doesn’t believe work-life balance exists.

He runs a gym with multiple six figures in annual revenue, a YouTube channel with over 250,000 subscribers, multiple highly engaged newsletters, and travels all over the country doing seminars. He’s always thinking about his business. Even when he reads for fun, he uses what he reads to create content or improve his business.

Instead of trying to find a “balance,” he takes a different approach.

He focuses on designing his entire life around what fulfills him.

He’s always “on.”

But I’ve never met someone as content and fulfilled as he is.

Because he filters every opportunity that comes his way through whether it allows him to enjoy life and do meaningful work.

For example:

He only travels once a month, despite tons of people trying to pay him to do more seminars.

Why?

Because he wants to stay at his home gym and hang out with friends, lift, write, and make videos.

He doesn’t chase money.

He focuses on fulfillment.

Ali says he’s used to overworking and struggles to find a balance and spend more time going to the gym or hanging out with friends because those activities don’t have the same clear monetary return as working on a video does.

Here’s my question:

How can you do both?

You say you love teaching people and are interested in creating more content around health and wellness. What’s stopping you from doing a series on going to the gym? Nothing says you can’t make going to the gym a piece of content.

And going back to the concept of memento mori—when you’re on your deathbed, will you look back on your life and wish you’d spent that Saturday night 20 years ago cranking out another video, or spending it with a few close friends having deep conversations (that inspired ideas for future content)?

What is the point of working so hard if you never take the time to enjoy it?

Memento mori isn’t just to inspire you to do more with your life. It also reminds us to enjoy what we have while we have it—because everything is ephemeral.

You also end this section by saying you want to “build a profitable business that helps people and is fun.”

This is vague.

How would you operationally define each of these?

  • What is the bar for “profitable?”
  • Help people in what way?
  • What makes a business fun vs. not fun?

Drill down into what you’re actually aiming for.

Otherwise, you’re trying to hit a moving target in the dark.

 You’ll never know you’ve achieved success if you don’t clearly define what success looks like.

•••

Ending Remarks

Fundamentally, your struggles are profoundly human ones. It’s easy to minimize your current challenges because you’ve hit certain revenue and audience size milestones.

But you’re ultimately exploring what you want out of life and how you can achieve it.

Let me offer a few last remarks.

If I could help you do anything—beyond identifying your core value and creating a business and life aligned with it—it would be to give yourself permission to be yourself.

When you’re so focused on helping other people, coupled with a tinge of ever-present Imposter Syndrome, it’s easy to feel inadequate and question your abilities.

When I used to do child and family therapy, I had two types of parents come in:

The first type constantly questioned their ability to raise their child. They worried they’d “mess up” their kids.

I never worried about this kind of parent.

I worried about the second type: the ones who came in and claimed they were perfect and told me to “fix” their kid. These were also, unsurprisingly, terrible parents.

I didn’t worry about the first type because the fact that they questioned themselves kept them motivated to constantly progress.

So the fact that you question yourself and whether you’re taking your life and your business in the right direction means you’re growing and evolving.

If you thought you were perfect and knew everything, you’d likely be headed for disaster.

So keep questioning yourself, but don’t let fear stop you from doing meaningful work.

You deserve fulfillment, and so do the people you want to educate and inspire.

I’ll leave you with a piece of writing that never fails to inspire me to keep going anytime I start to question myself and what I’m building:

Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” speech.