‘Digital minimalist’ Nathaniel Drew wants to help you find mental clarity

Despite having been on YouTube for only three years, Nathaniel Drew, 22, is using filmmaking and photography to share with others how to create mental clarity in a digital age.

Photo credit: Nathaniel Drew

Nathaniel is one of the 2.5 billion people born in Generation Z, those born 1997 and later, who grew up in a purely technology-driven world.

His path to be where he is now is the result of what he refers to as “experimentation.” Whilst most of his peers went on to pursue college degrees, he had a different plan for himself.

Photo credit: Nathaniel Drew

“Before the end of high school it was clear to me that the American school system was definitely not going to bring out the best in me,” he tells me. “I was looking for a way to do something more intellectually or culturally stimulating for myself.”

He spent his junior year of high school in France but by the end of the trip he made a major decision.

“When I came back, it was an amazing experience, but I was like, “I’m not going back to high school.’”

Photo credit: Nathaniel Drew

Instead, he fulfilled the remaining credits he needed to graduate by enrolling into a dual-credit programme in a community college. He was still adamant though that a college degree was not for him. He was willing to pitch his parents all about it.

“I made a case to them for why going to college didn’t make sense to me and they heard it,” says Nathaniel. “You really just have to approach life like a series of experiments and the only way to figure out what works for you is by trying things out.”

Americans spend approximately $30,000 per student per year. For most, the only viable way to pursue higher education is to take out a student loan. According to a Federal Reserve study, for every $1,000 in student debt there is a 1-2 percentage-point decrease in home ownership.

Photo credit: Nathaniel Drew

“I’m starting to make a little bit more money than before. Not what I was expecting.”

The increase in profits that Nathaniel is able to generate being a YouTuber has allowed him to do more ambitious projects.

Whilst buying a home is not a priority for the emerging filmmaker, Nathaniel is finding ways to learn in quicker and more cost-effective methods.

One of those ways is through audiobooks. As we sit and chat, he runs through a list of books that he has listened that have been impactful in his life.

“I’m currently listening to Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Old White Clouds,” says Nathaniel. “What I’m taking away from this book right now is how you can apply mindfulness to every aspect of your life.”

It doesn’t just stop there. He will then create a video sharing an honest monologue on a topic that he learnt about.

Photo credit: Nathaniel Drew

Take for example Nathaniel’s videos “Learned Italian in 7 Days – Part I and II.” He talks about the Pareto Principle—also known as the 80/20 rule. The idea works like this: 80 percent of on-screen time is done by 20 percent of actors. What you can notice is that 80 percent of the effect comes from 20% of the cause.

What this meant for him learning Italian was that he really only needed to learn the 20% of words that are used in everyday conversation. He made a list of the 1,000 most common words used in everyday language and recorded himself saying those words in Italian.

“All of this information that I am learning is part of my short-term memory and the brain needs a chance to turn that short-term memory into long-term memory through the hippocampus. This is done during sleep,” says Nathaniel during his Part I video.

Being intentional and committed, although challenging, are necessary for learning anything new.

tweet-graphic-transTweet: “I think if you let the fear of failure and the fear of making mistakes or whatever prevents you from trying new things, the real obstacles that you’ve got to overcome are within yourself.”—Nathaniel Drew, filmmaker/photographer

By doing things that are difficult and challenging you may just surprise yourself of what you are really capable of. Nathaniel tried meditating for an hour a day which he documented in a video. Prior to that he was only able to do about 10 minutes per day. His personal motivation was to manage anxiety and be more present with himself.

“To just do an hour a day would be very difficult, but to create a video, and document the process, and share it with the world, that makes it fun and exciting.”

Finding ways to make daily tedious tasks more enjoyable can make the experience that little bit easier. However, sometimes tasks that are less enjoyable need to get done.

One of those is email. As Ashton Kutcher says, “Email is just everyone else’s to-do list.”

 In April, Google announced that Gmail will have a new built-in email scheduling tool. You bet, Nathaniel uses it!

Photo credit: Nathaniel Drew

“New tip that I haven’t shared on my channel is to schedule my responses for Saturday at 11:00 AM or 11:30 AM,” he says. “Trying to pick a time to cut things off too at night so that you can unwind and not continue that endless stimulation that’s occurring in your mind.”

At an age where most people would only begin to discover what career they want to pursue, Nathaniel is carving that path for himself on his own terms.

If he could give his 18-year old self advice, this is what he would tell him:

“Do everything in your power to maintain your curiosity and joy for life and don’t get stuck in your head. Go and give yourself the freedom to make mistakes, and screw up as often as is necessary.”



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