Yung Pueblo, LIGHTER: Let Go of the Past, Connect with the Present, and Expand the Future

Yung Pueblo, LIGHTER: Let Go of the Past, Connect with the Present, and Expand the Future

Zibby interviews #1 New York Times bestselling author Yung Pueblo (Diego Perez) about Lighter, a compassionate, humble, and wise guidebook for self-healing that is beautifully entwined with his personal experiences. Yung Pueblo shares his story–his family’s immigration from Ecuador to Boston, the trauma of living in poverty, the escape he found in parties and drugs, and how hitting rock bottom forced him to change. He describes the power of meditation and self-love not only as drivers in his own recovery, but also as necessary pieces in the healing of all humanity. Finally, he talks about his company (Wisdom Ventures), the book he is currently obsessed with, and his best advice for aspiring authors.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Diego. Thanks for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” Not to confuse anyone, but Diego Perez, whose pen name is Yung Pueblo, is here joining us today. Very excited to have you here.

Diego Perez: Thank you for having me, Zibby. I’m excited to be speaking to you today.

Zibby: Congratulations on all the success of Lighter, your most recent best-selling book. It’s so exciting.

Diego: Thank you.

Zibby: Before we talk about that book, can you just tell listeners about you and your rapid trajectory, how you’ve become such a sensation, and how you’ve tapped into this fount of wisdom that you share with everybody?

Diego: The story really starts with me immigrating from Ecuador with my family. I was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and grew up in Boston. We got here when I was about four years old. It was a big time of struggle where we were just suffering through poverty. During that time, I saw how much it was impacting my parents. I was not really aware of how much it was impacting me, but I developed these tendencies of sadness, of anxiety, developing this scarcity mindset, and all these emotional issues and tension that I had no way to process. As I got older, what I ended up doing was just partying as much as possible, doing a bunch of different drugs. That led to a pretty big rock-bottom moment in the summer of 2011 where I almost lost my life due to using way too many drugs. I realized that in that moment, my mind was incredibly heavy. I had to find a way to make it lighter. My first solution was, I need to start being honest with myself. That helped build my mental strength. Eventually, that led me to meditation about a year later. I’ve been practicing vipassanā mediation in the S.N. Goenka tradition now for about ten years. That clarity that I’ve developed about myself and about what I’m seeing around me, it really emerges from meditating regularly.

Zibby: Can you share more about your rock-bottom moment?

Diego: It was about a year after I graduated from college. I was just totally lost. I still was trying to basically run away from myself as fast as possible. I knew that I just didn’t like feeling any tension inside of me. Whenever any sort of sorrow would come up, any anxiety, what I would do is quickly roll up a joint or drink alcohol, go to another party, just surround myself with people so that I could avoid myself. I realized that that craving to avoid myself was coming from me not wanting to face the truth that there was something wrong. There was something wrong inside of me. I needed a lot of healing.

Zibby: When you started meditation, was that easy or hard? I’ve been trying meditating. I cannot do it. You’ve been doing it for ten years straight and becoming a total master. What was it like at the beginning versus now?

Diego: The first silent ten-day course was incredibly, incredibly difficult. It felt like the hardest thing I had ever done. It was even to the point where I barely made it. I barely made it through those silent ten days. I was thinking about leaving on day six, on day seven. Once it was over, when I got through it, I realized afterwards that I felt better. I felt significantly better. My mind felt lighter. I felt like I could kind of see more options in my mind than before whenever something troubling would happen. I felt much more connected to my emotions in a healthy way. I was like, whoa, this thing has changed me. Even though it felt really difficult and really hard, I need to go back. I would go back periodically every three to four or five months and just put a lot of time into it. I really don’t think of myself as a master. I think of myself as a student. Meditation’s hard. It’s hard for people who even have been doing it for decades. We keep going back because the results are great.

Zibby: Then tell me how that turned into your writing career.

Diego: Before I started meditating, I thought I was going to be an investment banker. Because of my experiences in poverty, I knew that I needed to help myself and my family out. My thought was, let me go into finance. I realized that these aspirations were not my own. They were much more conditional and much more given to me by society. When I started that deep healing work through meditating, I realized that there was this creativity that started bubbling up. I was surprised by it. I think it was after the third silent ten-day course that I did that I really felt this motivation to start writing. It felt clear. I was like, okay, you know you’re not totally wise. You know you’re not fully healed. You know you have a long way to go, but start sharing the fact that healing is even possible. That was the big shocker to me, that the mind was malleable. That was a surprise to be able to experience that firsthand.

Zibby: Wow. This is not exactly an advertisement for a career in banking. The road less traveled seems pretty good right about now. The wisdom that you’ve gotten and that you post on your massively successful Instagram and in your books and in this snippets of stories and these one-liners or paragraphs that really just hit home, talk to me about that. Which of the things that you’ve yourself written do you refer back to and find the most helpful on a bad day or a sad moment? Do you have your own stuff taped up places? How does it help you and help others?

Diego: One of the pieces that sticks with me the most is this simple definition of love that came out — I think I wrote it in 2017. I was living in New York City at the time. I was sitting in front of the New York Public Library, right there on 43rd in the middle of everything. I wrote, “Love is not, I will give this to you if you do this for me. Love is, I will give this to you so that you can shine.” That selfless quality of love, I felt like it was something that I was really learning at the time. I think a lot of the sorrow that I had experienced before, it made me really self-centered. I was trying to balance that out. I was trying to be giving to others while also not exhausting myself or falling into people-pleasing, but really trying to develop a balance so that I could treat myself and other people well at the same time. That one, I always think about it. I’m always trying to apply it in life. Lately, I’ve been enjoying writing longer essays. I’ve released my new book, Lighter. That’s in a nonfiction format that includes a lot of my personal story, which is different from my first two books, which was a lot of short poetry and prose. That was fantastic. I loved that, but nonfiction feels like a new home.

Zibby: I’m glad you segued us into Lighter. Some of the things you were just saying, of course, are in the book, and your experiences and setting the stage for what happened. Why did you decide to go to nonfiction? How did you feel sharing some of the things that you put in the story?

Diego: I did not like it. I knew I wanted to write a nonfiction book from the beginning, from when I really started writing about healing and about my own experiences in it. I would write about my experiences not from first person. I would talk about them in a space where it was much more universal. I would talk about letting go. I would talk about personal development, talk about love and relationships, but I wouldn’t include my own stories in it. When I started putting together this nonfiction book, my editor, he told me, he was like, “We need more of you in this book.” I use this pen name, Yung Pueblo. My real name is Diego Perez. I had started really enjoying being in the shadows, quietly sitting behind the pen name Yung Pueblo and living a private life while more followers are coming, more books are being sold, and happily just being in the background. I realized that for this type of book, for Lighter, it wouldn’t make sense. Where does all this stuff about relationships come from? It comes from the ups and downs of the relationship I’ve been having with my wife for the past fifteen years. It comes from almost passing away when I was twenty-three. Including all of that, I think it definitely helps the book make more sense. This is from real lived experiences.

Zibby: Did you consider using your actual name?

Diego: I did for a while. I think the name stuck because Yung Pueblo, it just means young people. I like putting everything that I write within this idea that humanity is maturing. When I first started meditating, I was like, whoa, I am woefully immature. I’m terribly immature. Then I started thinking back to the world and to history. I like to study a lot of history as well. I’m like, wow, humanity itself is super immature. Think about the things that we try to teach kids as soon as they enter school or they’re three, four, five years old. It’s basic things like, clean up after yourself. Share with each other. Don’t hit each other. Tell the truth. Be kind to one another. We may be able to do these things as individuals, but we don’t know how to do them collectively yet. To me, that’s a big sign that humanity has not mastered the fundamentals yet.

Zibby: How can we do that?

Diego: We need to develop our self-love. That’s one thing that hit me, was that self-love is this great balancer. It’s something that you use to not only heal yourself, but when your self-love really starts developing, it opens the door to unconditional love for all people. It’s not going to be perfect unconditional love, but it starts opening that door. That compassion that you have for yourself, you start seeing that, oh, the way that I feel sorrow, other people feel sorrow as well. The way that I have felt loss, other people feel loss as well. That helps you slow down, not be as reactive, and have more patience with people when they’re either saying something dumb or doing things that are unkind. One thing that I’ve found is just that as your self-love increases, you’re going to be less and less interested in harming yourself or other people. I think that’s what’s missing.

Zibby: True. Do you think it’s possible? Do you have hope that our society can really change on a major level? Sometimes it feels pretty dire.

Diego: Yes, it does definitely feel dire. I’ve been learning to think more in bigger macro scales. When I think back to — I’m happy I was born now. I’m really grateful that I was born in 1987. I’m super happy I wasn’t born in 1930 or that I wasn’t born in 1840. These are rough times. Can you imagine being born back then? I’d much rather be born now. I do see a line of progress that’s happening. Hopefully, we can add to that. Now not only do people want to change the world for the better and make it more humanized, but we have the ability to heal ourselves as individuals. That’s going to add to that greatly.

Zibby: All right, I’ll cling to that. What has your experience been like now with everyone? You had a hard time doing it, but then you put it out there. Now what? How do you feel that you worked through it and shared and have gotten, obviously, a wonderful reception of it? How does that make you feel? Does that inspire you to do so much more? I know you said this is your home now. Tell me about that.

Diego: Honestly, it feels really freeing. I think it was a great challenge to be vulnerable like that and to add so much of myself into the book. I feel like I sort of fell in love with writing again. There was a little while where I was a little bit tired of it. I realized that I was tired of feeling stuck within a particular format. I was tired of just writing poems, of just writing short prose pieces. When I started writing nonfiction, I was like, oh, the universe has opened up. I can say so much more. I actually think that focusing on Lighter for the past two years has given me a new love for poetry and for prose. I’m excited to do a bit of both and to just let all of this emerge organically.

Zibby: I know you give all this advice in the book as well, but for someone who is struggling with self-acceptance and knowing it’s important to get to this place of self-love but wanting to heal and not necessarily knowing how to do it, what then?

Diego: I think we need to be able to see first how fortunate we are to live in this time period. We live in this hyper-globalized world where we have access to all of these Eastern modalities, things that have been developed for thousands of years that are now available in any city or through the internet, similarly with the Western world. What the Western world has done with psychology, with psychotherapy, these are incredible advancements that are available around the world. Similar with different indigenous practices. There are tons of things out there now. There’s no lack of healing modalities. What our job is is to figure out, how much time do we have? What is it that I’m struggling with? Is it anxiety? Is it sadness? What’s happening inside of me? Then trying different things to see what really connects with us and what actually provides us results. For me, meditation is fantastic. It’s done wonders, but meditation is not necessarily the best thing for every single person. It may work for tons and tons of people. For someone else, it may be a form of therapy. There’s so many different forms of therapy. I think going out there and finding something that meets you where you’re at and something that is challenging but not overwhelming so that you find that sweet spot where, yes, it’s hard, but it’s helping me grow instead of being so difficult that I don’t want to continue. I think that’s really our challenge, finding our sweet spot and finding that tool. Then keep going.

Zibby: Question on Instagram because I spend a lot of my time on Instagram. With so many followers, how do you manage it? Do you ever check your own DMs? Are you on it a lot? You never go on?

Diego: No, no, I’m on, but I’ve learned that I need to be really careful with my own mental health on Instagram. One thing I learned as a writer — I’m sure people come across this in all creative fields — is that some people are going to love your work, and some people are not going to love it. That’s totally fine. It’s almost like flipping through the TV where there are some shows that you like and others you’re not as interested in. Then there are some people who, because of whatever sort of psychological issues they’ve had in the past or traumas they’ve gone through, they don’t just not like it, but then they really hate it. Those trolling qualities or whatnot come out. What I realized is that I’m much better off just not reading the DMs and not reading the comments and trying to build these boundaries so that I can focus on writing. If you like it, fantastic. If it serves you well, great. If it’s not for you, that’s also fantastic. Totally fine. That’s to be expected. Every art is not for everyone.

Zibby: I feel like at least Instagram usually is a little nicer than Twitter. I can’t even deal with Twitter. That’s my personal boundary wall myself.

Diego: Twitter is like the Wild West. It’s really true.

Zibby: I’m like, I don’t even know what to do with this. When you’re not meditating and writing and inspiring everybody, what do you do when you have a free minute or two? What are your side loves, interests, all of that?

Diego: When I’m not writing and I’m not meditating, I put a lot of time into this company that myself and a few other friends created called Wisdom Ventures. Wisdom Ventures is basically a venture capital fund. We’re focusing on supporting and developing companies that are trying to scale compassion, so companies that are literally developing their products with the well-being of the user in mind. This past decade, there have been a lot of advancements in the tech world, but there’s also been massive amounts of harm where we’re increasing loneliness, increasing depression. Our idea is to try to invest in companies that want to create great products, but at the same time, there’s no shady business with trying to make you more addicted and all of that. We think that compassion itself can actually be good business.

Zibby: Only in the tech space, or any space?

Diego: Primarily in the tech space right now. Our inspiration comes from the clothing industry. The clothing industry, I think they saw how many ills there were from the way that things were produced, from the way that people were paid, sweatshop labor, all of these things, fast fashion. What we’re seeing is that people who are consuming these things, they feel better about buying these things if it’s clear that it’s as sustainable as possible, that people are treated well while they’re making it, that it’s resourced well. Trying to bring that energy into the tech world and, really, the world at large feels really important.

Zibby: I feel like that’s what I do, is try to do everything to help the readers and help the authors. We’re all working so hard. It’s so mission-driven and happy. People really love to jump on board with that because it feels good.

Diego: That’s great.

Zibby: That’s okay, you don’t have to invest. I’m kidding. I’m good. I’m all good. Are you reading anything good? What kind of things do you like to read?

Diego: Oh, my goodness, I’m so glad you asked. I’ve been in the middle of doing a lot of work, but I’ve been slacking off reading Babel by R.F. Kuang. Have you read that?

Zibby: I have not.

Diego: Oh, my goodness. I’m sixty percent through. Now I need to intentionally slow down because it’s almost over. I’m so wrapped up in this world that R.F. Kuang created. It’s just amazing. I’m so, so impressed by the lyrical quality of her writing, how beautiful the actual writing is, and the worldbuilding. It’s just phenomenal.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, that was a great recommendation. I’ll go explore. Wonderful. Great. Any advice for aspiring authors?

Diego: If you really want to take writing seriously, I think the number-one thing is consistency, continuity. You want to keep going. One thing I have found over and over is that — I started taking writing seriously in 2014. I had come across a number of writers that were emerging on Instagram. They kept going for a while, and then they would just stop. They would stop for whatever reason. They were some talented people, really talented people. I think one of the reasons that I’ve been successful is because I just kept going. I just kept going, kept writing, kept putting out new things. Eventually, people came. I feel like that’s one of the most important qualities you can develop. Just don’t stop.

Zibby: Very true. Amazing. Good thing you didn’t stop. Good thing you’re not a banker. All these things are very great for the world at large. It was lovely to chat with you. I just wanted to close — there’s one of your quotes that I love. It’s, “I cannot make you happy, but I can commit to support you in the creation of your own happiness.” I love that. That’s such a good thing for my kids and all of that. I feel like I try so hard to make them happy, but ultimately, I can’t. I needed that. I’m sure everybody picks something different, but that was mine. Thanks.

Diego: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.

Zibby: Thanks a lot. Take care. Buh-bye.

Yung Pueblo, LIGHTER: Let Go of the Past, Connect with the Present, and Expand the Future

LIGHTER: Let Go of the Past, Connect with the Present, and Expand the Future by Yung Pueblo

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