Learning from your past experiences and using that knowledge to be of service and help others is an incredible aspect of the human experience. Joel Ague, an Associate Manager in Silicon Valley, embraced this idea for his book, Outvoted – a memoir inspired by both his penchant for writing and his passion for helping younger people find their way.
In May of 2018, Joel was finishing up grad school when he texted his lifelong friend, Caelan King, and suggested that they co-write a book. At the time, both Joel and Caelan worked with youth in their communities and had younger family members who looked up to them. Not only did Joel think it would be a fun and valuable project to write down stories from their time in school, but he also wanted to help the younger generation with concepts and advice that they might not know or think about at their age.
“We both really cared about the next generation. Caelan was a youth pastor at the time, and I worked with students at my church,” Joel shared. “We had a pretty good understanding of how to do well in school, while also not forsaking our personal life and pursuits. So, with our shared compassion for the next generation, we wanted to try and help them as they follow in our footsteps through high school and college.”
Mapping it out
While Outvoted centers around school, the stories it tells are about much more than how to get good grades. Hoping to serve as a roadmap and guide younger people through their experiences more easily, Joel and Caelan share all that they have learned, including their successes and the times they’ve failed or made mistakes.
“We wanted to talk primarily about school, but sometimes, there’s more important things to focus on – like the value of healthy eating and exercising, managing your money well, or your relationships,” explained Joel. “We have a whole chapter on the importance of relationships, which is a concept at Siegfried that I really appreciate.”
The stories in Outvoted range from embarrassing memories – like the time Joel was locked out of his college dorm room after taking a shower – to more serious accounts of dealing with heavier events and emotions – like the loss of Caelan’s mother-in-law. Ultimately, Joel and Caelan wanted to show that learning isn’t just something you do in school. It’s a lifelong process that happens throughout all your experiences, both big and small.
“We want people to understand that the point of school is to learn how to learn,” said Joel. “When you take geometry, you wonder what the point of knowing how to calculate the hypotenuse of a triangle is. But the point is that you’re being exposed to multiple concepts and ideas and developing the learning processes that you’re going to use for the rest of your life.”
The writing process
English was never Joel’s main field of interest, and although he’s always had a knack for writing, the only other written project he’s pursued is articles about baseball cards, a shared passion between him and his dad. Therefore, writing Outvoted was a whole new frontier for Joel and Caelan to navigate, and their writing process involved a lot of planning and collaboration.
“We each picked five chapters to focus on, but neither of us did a chapter by ourselves. Not even close,” Joel discussed. “Half of the book, he was the lead on, and half of the book, I was the lead on. But it was very co-written.”
Writing a memoir while simultaneously juggling their busy lives also required dedication. In the four years between the memoir’s inception and publication, Caelan had two kids and Joel moved to California and met his now-wife. This chaotic timeline meant that their writing occurred mainly in intense spurts of creativity, whether it be when they had moments of free time or during writing retreats.
“We went on three trips where we just intensely focused on the book. The first trip was the most important because that’s where we decided what we were doing, the point or thesis for each chapter, and the overall message. The other trips were more editing-based – figuring out how to make what we had written better. Overall, those trips were just great ways to carve out precious time and jointly attack the project.”
Although each author’s contributions fluctuated depending on the time and circumstances in their lives, Joel and Caelan mastered striking a balance. “I spent a longer time editing, and he spent a longer time with the publishing process, like getting it on Amazon. We each had our roles, and that’s how a good partnership should work,” reflected Joel.
Being open to new experiences
It requires courage, vulnerability, and dedication to pursue projects you’re passionate about. But when it’s something you care for deeply, the end product is worth the journey to get there.
“Writing a book is a very vulnerable thing, especially when you’re publishing personal stories and advice,” shared Joel. “There’s plenty of things people will disagree with, and there’s plenty of things I would probably disagree with if I reread it. But, at the end of the day, I wanted to hand people like my younger cousin this book and hopefully have them learn something from it.”
The story of Outvoted’s title and cover imagery comes from a moment similarly characterized by openness to something new. After college, Joel, Caelan, and their friend Gabe Anchondo – who also wrote Outvoted’s foreword – went on a backpacking trip through Europe together. On the twelfth day of the trip, they visited Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, and when they got to the castle’s base, they encountered a “No Trespassing” sign before a set of otherwise unmarked stairs. While Joel played it safe and suggested that they shouldn’t break the rules, both Caelan and Gabe voted to explore.
“We ended up finding a waterfall. It’s one of my favorite memories from the entire trip, and I voted against it originally. So, some of the best memories and experiences we have, we might have said no to. The point is to sometimes be thankful that you were outvoted, because maybe it was for the best that you lost or were wrong or messed up.”
Outvoted is available for paperback or digital purchase on Amazon and for free with Kindle Unlimited.
An excerpt from Chapter 5 of Outvoted, “The Banana Spider and the Frustrated Idiot”
“Sibling, knock six to eight times on the door in order to enter” was the command given to me on a cool, fall morning early in my sophomore year at Abilene Christian University. I began a rhythmic rapping on the door until flurries of a variation of “What the heck are you doing??” were thrown at me from all around. Confused, I stopped and the same voice on the other side of the door repeated, “Sibling, knock six to eight times on the door in order to enter.” Again, confident of what I heard, I began my rapid-fire knock. For the second time in as many minutes, my response was called into question. Every party involved, including the sixty fellow pledges standing behind me, were audibly frustrated at the situation. “Joel, why do you keep doing that?! You are going to get us all in trouble,” one of my fellow pledges chimed out. “I am doing what he said! Knock 68 times,” I responded. A collective groan was let out, “Joel. He said six TO eight, not sixty-eight!” Dumbfounded, I stood there, the frustrated idiot.
A perfectly logical reason exists for my tomfoolery: I was tired. Pledging season was in full swing and I had made the costly decision to stay up until 4:00am the previous night. I was up prepping for one of the most terrifying undertakings known to the human spirit: Speech class. This speech class was focused on public speaking, and it was notoriously difficult. However, this late-night prep session was not for me. A friend of mine, who was also pledging, was having trouble crafting his first speech. I had taken the class the prior year, so I had some good insight on the process. We had a pledging event the night before that did not end until 11:00pm, and we had another that started at 6:08 the next morning. We worked late into the night, knowing that 6:08am was looming, but not being aware enough to check the clock periodically. When we finally finished, I felt a chill go down my spine when I checked the clock and saw 4:00am.
I woke up in a rush the next morning and barely made it to my spot by the required time. Being the line leader, which is my birthright with my last name, was apparently an important role that morning. I was literally the last person there and it was noticeable, as I navigated to the front. On my third try, I successfully completed my six to eight knocks, and the morning mercifully went on. I am quite certain that I am the only one who remembers this poor knocking story. It was such a little thing, but it stuck with me. Here is the point of this story: prioritize your connections with other people. My friend gave a solid speech later that day and eventually passed the class. He was very grateful for the time I invested in his education, and I learned the depth of how much I love to serve and help other people.