The road to success is not a straight line. In today’s show, Jonathan Fields talks about his zigzag route as an author-entrepreneur, tips for writing non-fiction and his latest book, How to Live a Good Life.
This is a pre-recorded intro as I am currently travelling in Israel. If you want to see the photos, pop over to Facebook.com/JFPennAuthor
Today’s show is sponsored by my own course, How to Write a Novel: From idea to finished manuscript.
Jonathan Fields is a bestselling author, inspirational speaker and podcaster. He runs The Goodlife Project, a global community with the quest to live more meaningful, connected and vital lives. His latest book is How to Live a Good Life: Soulful stories, surprising science, and practical wisdom.
- What happened when Jonathan wrote a book that didn’t work.
- Finding a new way to write.
- Jonathan’s early beginnings as an entrepreneur, including a business in high school painting album covers on jeans jackets.
- The winding road of Jonathan’s entrepreneurial journey.
- Recognizing patterns in one’s life to discover passion and purpose.
- In writing, and in life, work to the plan and open to the magic of serendipity.
- On what creates a Good Life and where work fits into that good life.
- Incorporating play into a serious adult life.
- The hybrid method of publishing that Jonathan is using with his new book.
Transcription of interview with Jonathan Fields
Joanna Penn: Hi everyone, I’m Joanna Penn from thecreativepenn.com, and today I’m here with Jonathan Fields. Hi, Jonathan.
Jonathan Fields: Hey, awesome to be hanging out.
Joanna Penn: Oh, it is. It’s been so long and we’ll go into that as we talk. But just an introduction, if anyone doesn’t know you.
Jonathan is a best-selling author, inspirational speaker and podcaster. He runs the Good Life Project, a global community with the quest to live more meaningful, connected, and vital lives. His latest book is “How to Live a Good Life: Soulful Stories, Surprising Science, and Practical Wisdom,” which is out now as this show gives out, so really excited about that.
Jonathan, I wanted to get started with your writing process. and I was literally just looking back over your site and I saw this quote from you. “I worked three different manuscripts. I almost gave up more than once and learned a ton about writing, both about my writing and myself.” You’ve written other books.
What was it about this book that made it so hard?
Jonathan Fields: This book was quite the hero’s journey for me. And I think there were a couple of things. One was actually I’m still traditionally published. I’m sure we’ll talk about this a lot more later. We’re actually doing a bit of a hybrid with this, which I don’t even know if you know about, so maybe a little news for you. And I can show you something out blue.
Joanna Penn: Oh, cool.
Jonathan Fields: I’ll break something on your show. But for me, the book that I sold to my publisher was not the book that I ended up writing.
I sold one particular book, I started researching it and realized it really wasn’t ready to be written yet. I went back to my publisher and I said, “Hey listen, here’s what’s going on. It’s not the right book at the right time,” and explained why, and they were in agreement. I said, “But I can write this other book called, ‘How to Live a Good Life,’ and, you know utilize beautifully with who I am and with the brand and all.” They were like, “Yeah, yeah, let’s do it.”
Then I went out and I just, you know, the way that I work with my editors is — and this has always been my relationship. I don’t know why — is I vanish, and then nine months later, I hit submit and I send them a completed manuscript. We don’t go back and forth, sort of on a chapter by chapter basis.
And that’s what I did, and I handed in my manuscript. And they came back to me, they’re like, “No, this isn’t it.” I was like, “Huh! That hasn’t really happened to me before.” Like you said, it’s not my first time in the rodeo.
We had a meeting, and I was trying to understand why it wasn’t it. And I got it. And part of the reason, I think, is because this is a very different type of book for me.
My prior books were all built around careers, entrepreneurship and really focused around that. And this is a book which steps into kind of a new place for me. Not new, on a personal level, but new from a writing level, which is pretty much pure human potential.
I’m not hugely steeped in books in that space. It’s not where a lot of my reading is. I didn’t really understand the genre and the way that it needed to be written to really to go down the way need to go down.
We had a meeting, and we worked and I said, “Okay, I think I get what I need to do now.” I went back. I vanished for months and then I hit submit. Second manuscript, almost completely different, top to bottom. They got back to me a few weeks later and said, “This still isn’t it either, and we don’t know what to tell you.”
Not what a writer wants to hear. That’s about the last thing you ever want to hear. And at that point, I was like, “Oh man. Like, what do I do?” And I considered, I was like, you know, is this just not right for me? Is it not my genre? You know, do I give back my advance and just walk away?
But my publisher wasn’t saying, “We’re done with you.” I think what they were saying to me was, “There’s something more inside of you, and there’s a different way that you need to approach this, but it needs to come from you. Like you need to figure this out right now. This is a process which is going on in your brain.”
They didn’t want to just say like, “Here’s a formula.” So I actually, literally, went out and I bought the top 10 best-selling books in that space over the last couple of years, books that were best-selling over sustained period of time, not because of great marketing but because of, you know, the nature of the book itself, and to see if I could understand the genre.
As I was reading them, it became really clear that, in fact, there is one approach that almost all of those books take with the rare exception. And that the ones that really landed well all follow this almost identical framework.
I reworked my table of contents according to that, and I went back to my publisher and I said, “Hey, would this work for you?” And they looked at like, “Yes, that’s it.”
I said, “I don’t know if I can write this book and still feel okay about just me and my writing style and the way I want bring myself to the world.”
I went and I wrote the first four chapters, partly to show them what it would look like and partly just as a test, for me, to see if, as a writer, I would be okay writing within these, like pretty new set of constraints. And it actually surprised me, because normally I do like a deep, nuanced philosophical thing, because that’s what I geek out on. But what I realized is in this space, of a lot of readers really want you to do a lot of the work for them. And so I had to work within that.
So for me, my new creative challenge, that kept me in it, was trying to master this completely new style, a new set of constraints that I didn’t normally write to. I think that’s a big part of what kept me in it through the third draft is that it wasn’t just that I was creating something entirely new that I started to feel would really be useful on a whole different level, but from the creative challenge it was can I write something in this very different way and still feel awesome about it, and feel like it’s doing good in the world?
In the end, the answer was yes to all those questions, but man, it took a bit of a beating for me to get to that place.
And in fairness to my publisher, I think part of what they were saying too is, “We know you have something better in you, and we want you to go back.” And again, like we all know, it’s not necessarily the fun part of the process. You know, when you hit that iteration, where you just think you’re like, “I’ve done my best. I can’t do better, and then somebody’s telling me it’s still not it.”
But very often, I found, whether it’s entrepreneurship or writing or any form of artistic expression, it’s like the people who are willing to go back to the canvas or the palette or the keyboard, when they feel like they’ve already hit a wall and they’ve given everything they can and then they pause or take a little bit of time, and then they’re willing to come back and go deeper, that’s where the really good stuff tends to happen.
In the end, I’m glad that my editors pushed me.
Joanna Penn: It’s so interesting hearing you talk about this. There’s lots and lots for me to come back on that, but I want to kind of jump into you as a person, because actually what you’ve just said fits with your career.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah, pretty much.
Joanna Penn: A lot of people think, “Oh you just like, oh you decide to quit your job and then you become an entrepreneur,” and that’s like a two-step process.
Tell all the listeners what the various incarnations of Jonathan Fields have been. A brief overview of your zigzag journey to where you are now.
Jonathan Fields: I have taken a lot of zigs and a lot of zags. I was a kid who was wired to create. And that showed up when I was younger in the form of entrepreneurship, building, creating my own business to painting.
I got really into painting when I was a kid, and I have no training whatsoever. Same thing with writing. I have never taken a writing class. I’ve never taken a painting class. I’m very much an autodidact. So whatever it is, I love learning myself.
I combined the two when I was a kid. In high school, I made all my walking around money painting album covers on the back of jean jackets. I got to college. I love music. I started a DJ sound and lighting company, grew that, sold it, took three months off, traveled in Australia and went scuba diving.
Then came back and went to law school, which a lot of people really didn’t understand. They’re like, “What?” But I attended so little class in undergrad that I was really curious what I was sort of intellectually capable of. I thought law school would be great training, even if I never ended up practicing law.
I was fortunate, I worked hard, I did really well in law school and I had great opportunities, so I ended up going into the field and practicing. And then ended up hospitalized, when my body basically rejected that career. I had surgery. Big wake-up call back to the world of entrepreneurship.
This time bumbled around with fitness and exercise and lifestyle, which is a big love of mine. Ended up making 12 bucks an hour as a personal trainer. Months after that, I open my first facility, grew that. Two and a half years later, it was a beautiful, flourishing community and business, sold out to an investor group. Took a little time off and start dabbling in writing, but didn’t get real serious, and then got interested in the yoga world.
This was 2001 now. I signed a lease for a floor in a building in the Hell’s Kitchen in New York City, a six-year lease, got married, owned a home, had a three-month-old baby the day before 9/11. And that turned into this stunning journey of like crazy highs, crazy lows, but again was really fortunate to assemble an amazing team. We built this tremendous community and business and really flourished in seven years in after teaching and doing a lot of other things, in running this, I was ready to move on.
I had actually sold my first book at that time, because I was really getting more and more into writing, just in the background. And I really want to focus there. I want to focus more in writing and speaking and developing stuff. And I got interested in the online space because I saw that as the future book marketing. That was the thing that actually brought me to the online world originally.
From there, I sold that company and really started doubling down on writing, speaking, and building community online. And that led to the first book and the second book, then me building a presence as a blogger and a writer, and then 2012, we launched this venture called Good Life Project, which is media and education.
On the media side, we started out producing broadcast quality video and then moved to podcasting a couple of years in. And on the education side we produced all sorts of programs from online courses to year-long intensive retreats to our now annual summer camp for adults where people from all over the world come and basically we just play and frolic and learn for days.
And that brings us to where we are now. It’s not like I made one big pivot. To me, it’s this constant evolution, but fundamental to it all is really just a deep questioning of what does it mean to live a good life, and it was a reflective time for me.
I really started looking back and trying to connect with what Steve Jobs famously called the dots: looking back, and see what the through line is, and a lot of it really was about exploring human potential. How can I figure out what it really takes to be here on the planet and get the most out of it, and then turn around in some way, insight possibility, and help create community that guides other people to do the same?
Joanna Penn: Which is awesome. And I wanted you say that because…well, talk about your journey, because so many people just think it has to be like step one, step two, whereas you’ve shown it’s a zigzag.
I always say it’s like skiing. It’s like skiing down a hill. You have to be moving in order to change direction. You can’t just keep on aiming for the one thing, and then, as you found, like you get there and then you’re like, “Okay, well, now, I’m ready to be something else.”
But what’s interesting is writing has been a through line also.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah, totally. And it’s funny, because I’m a little slow, so I didn’t key in on it quite so quickly. It took me, probably, a couple of decades to really realize that actually writing has been something which has been a consistent go-to in various different ways.
Even when I was in law school it was fortunate that I did well. And the first year, if you make law review, you’re kind of minted. I made law review the first year. I realized the way that did that was in law school, your entire first year grades were made up of one exam at the end of the year. And how you do on that one exam, generally, the top 5% or 10% of the class makes Law Review. And those exams, for the most part, for me, were essay exams.
What I did was I figured out that there was basically a formula. And my brain works in pattern recognition. We’ve talked about this. I figured out the pattern and I understood how to write that pattern, and I basically did it meticulously and ended up doing really well because it leaned on writing.
When I look back on college, the courses I excelled at were all the ones where it was based on papers, not exams. I’m not a great tester, but there was something about writing. But I really didn’t key in on it until years later as that thing, something that actually lit me up too.
And something where I actually gained an interest in developing the craft. Even though the books I’ve written are prescriptive, it’s not about the information for me. Like that stuff which has to be there, it has to be useful.
I’m genuinely drawn to the craft. I want to write sentences that, in some way, land in an embodied fashion and move somebody in some way. And that’s my work and that will probably remain my work for a long time to come.
But what you were saying also, there’s a really interesting parallel in that, and I’m curious whether you write this way. You know, when I write, very often, I’ll outline in the beginning. But then what you learn as you’re writing, at least when I’m in my processes, as meticulous as I am outlining, at some point, I have to also surrender to where the book needs to go.
Because at some point if you hold yourself really rigidly to only the thing that you thought it would be in the very beginning before you started writing, you’ll get there quickly and productively and efficiently, but there’s a really good chance that you’ll have ignored all these serendipitous tangents and things that would have taken you just a profoundly different and more interesting direction.
Even the writing process, it’s the same thing. You can plan to a certain extent, but I found that the real magic happens when I work to the plan, but then open myself to serendipity. I’m curious, do you find this in your process too, or are you more sort of formulaic?
Joanna Penn: Yeah, absolutely. And in fact, for my fiction, I find I’m incapable of plotting. I’m really trying to work on it. There’re around 55,000 words at the moment in my latest novel, and it’s really like, what the hell! But that’s part of the fun.
Coming back to you, something else I’ve noticed about you, and I found you during the “Career Renegade,” so around 2009. You were one of the first people I started following online, which is why it’s thrilling for me to have you on the show, because you’re another one of my long-term people.
You have always also being Jonathan Fields, like you’ve had “Career Renegade,” you had “Uncertainty,” you’ve had Good Life Project. To me, your personal brand has come through all the time. I know some people hate personal brand, but you’ve also, in your interviews, you talk a lot about vulnerability. You’re very open about a more emotional stuff that some people are less willing to share.
How do you get this personal stuff and personal brand into your writing, and how to cross that line between the audience and you?
Jonathan Fields: It’s been an evolution. And also, I’m wired on more of the introverted side of the spectrum, so I’m not the person that gets lit up by being very forward facing. I love speaking, but the moment I’m done speaking, I kinda want to run and hide and just walk in solitude.
I’m also fiercely protective of my family and my personal relationships. What’s interesting is while I am online and very active across various social platforms, what you’ll see is actually a pretty narrow focus, and I pretty much never use my wife or my daughter’s name, rarely ever post any pictures of either of them, and if I do, they’re usually obscured. Every once in a while, while I do, but usually not too often.
I may talk about lessons that I’ve learned or experiences that have happened, but I’ll usually do it in a way that’s designed to protect anybody else who may have been involved in those experiences. I need to make it about what I learned or how those experiences have changed me. It’s very much like memoir. A memoir done really well isn’t about what happened. It’s about how what happened changed the writer, so I really try and focus on that as well.
While I have been public and I do it because it is good for what I’m building, I’m always very, very conscious, in the back of my mind, I’m always thinking how is this going to affect me, the perception of me and others with whom I’m around, or who may be involved in my personal life. And there’s always a line.
That said, this new book is, hands down, the most personal thing, the most vulnerable thing, the most revealing thing I’ve ever written. It’s not a memoir but there’s a lot more of me in this book than I’ve ever shared. Truth told, it makes me uncomfortable.
At the same time, the early feedback I’ve been getting is the stuff which is really landing powerfully are those very moments. And plus, part of what I write about, part of what I to talk about is being vulnerable, is getting real, and so how can I make that argument if I’m not willing to model it myself?
It’s this really fine line that I’m constantly working of trying to model the type of behavior that I’m inviting people to engage in, and at the same time, be very conscious of privacy.
I wish there was a bright line. I wish there was an easy way to say this is the recommendation for everybody, but I really think it’s a very personal thing. What I will say though is I think people think that I’m way more public than I really am. The vast, vast, vast majority of what happens in my personal life never sees the social or public or like media side of what I create.
95% of it probably completely happens offline off social, off media. And you know this too, when you create media on a regular basis, especially video and audio, there’s a level of intimacy were people really feel like they know you over time, just because the sound of your voice gets into them. So it’s been an interesting journey for sure.
Joanna Penn: I’d been listening to your voice for years.
Jonathan Fields: But you’re wired pretty much the same way I am.
Joanna Penn: Yeah, it’s true.
Jonathan Fields: So how do you deal with that that because now you’re producing really regular media too?
Joanna Penn: The weird thing now is my husband and I have been working together a whole year. And people are like, “He’s got to come on the show.” And I’m like, “I still haven’t crossed that line, so we’ll see.”
You obviously have the Good Life Project, and you always ask people on your show, what makes a good life, what is your definition of good life? I know in the book, you’ve identified various elements that make up a good life.
Maybe just explain the elements that you think make up a good life.
Jonathan Fields: A big part of what I thought my work was in the book was not to break new information, because come on. Like “The Secret,” we’ve pretty much known what it takes to live a good life for 2000, 3000, 4000, 5000, 6000 years. You know, you go back to Buddhist, you go back to Stoics.
The problem isn’t that we don’t know what to do. The problem is that it’s delivered in a way which is complex and heavy, and requires you to buy into beliefs and dogma and all this stuff, and so we don’t do anything with it. It just washes through us. Or we don’t want to do the work understand.
What I thought my job was in writing this book was to take all this wisdom that I’ve been so fortunate to learn through my own life and through sitting down with amazing people and distill it into a model which was so simple that you hear it once, you remember it for life.
And that it actually guides your behavior on a daily basis. And then set up a series of days were people can literally spend five minutes just reading something, a story to inspire you, some signs to validate it for that rational brain, and then just one simple thing to do so. The model is really simple, right? There’s nothing magical to it.
If you look at your life, it has three buckets: connection, contribution, and vitality. And those are the three buckets. You know, your connection bucket is about cultivating relationship. Your vitality bucket is about optimizing your state of mind and body. Your contribution bucket is about how you contribute to the world, how you bring your strength, your gifts to the world. It’s really simple.
And a good life then is very simply about doing a little something every day to fill those three buckets until they’re as full as they can be, and then keeping them full. Because one of the big laws of the buckets is that they leak. There’s no moment in time ever where you just like, “My connection bucket is topped off. I got all my relationships dialed in, my relationship with an intimate partner, with good friends, with the community, with source. I’m done,” and you can just ignore it. There’s no time when you can walk away. It’s a lifetime practice of filling your bucket.
I look at a good life as the process of filling these three buckets. And it’s not a place that you get to, and then just get to say, “Yeah, I’m here.” It’s a daily practice.
A good life is a daily practice. And that’s why the whole rest of the book, really, the meat of the book is a whole bunch of different things to do to fill your buckets. Because how do I actually get people started? That was the goal. So the model is simple. It’s almost deceptively simple.
In fact, when I started developing it, I thought it was just too easy and I wondered if it was powerful enough. So I started sharing it, and we started teaching it in our programs. The response was mind blowing. People started talking in the language of the buckets, like they wake up in the morning like, “You know what? My vitality bucket’s feeling like it’s a 5 out of 10 today, I’m gonna make my priority, I’m gonna go do yoga, I’m gonna walk around, I’m gonna do different things.”
One person, in one of our communities, actually decided to have a third child based on looking at her life through the three buckets, and using the buckets as a framework to have a conversation about whether to have a child with her husband. So it’s an amazing thing.
It’s deceptively simple, but that’s what we need. We’re so maniacally like, you know, driven by pace these days, that people don’t want to have to do the work to figure out what to do. They want really simple, and then they’ll do the work to actually do it, but they don’t want to have to, you know, pile on.
Joanna Penn: And I think that simple, but not easy, is exactly the same as writing. Writing is just putting one word after another, just typing or whatever. Simple but not easy. I know people listening understand that.
But I did want to challenge you on something. Originally I was attracted to you work in the more entrepreneurial, making money online types, Facebook marketing, where you had a course years back. And I love my work. I love the entrepreneurial side as well as the creative side. I found what was missing, in the book, was the work and money side of things.
Was that deliberate? And how does that fit into a good life?
Jonathan Fields: It was. And in fact, in an earlier draft, there is a really big conversation about money, happiness, and life satisfaction.
There’s a lot of research on that, and I actually do speak about it, but I saved it until there’s a more abbreviated conversation in the final chapter, in the end chapter. The reason I did that, I actually talk about both money and happiness. You won’t find them anywhere in the actual, like the main part of the book, they’re both talked about in the final one.
The reason I did that was for a couple reasons. One is that I do believe, you know, we all need to earn enough to be comfortable the world. You know, if you’re always struggling at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy, if you can’t earn enough to actually take care of yourself, put food on the table, roof over your head, put a little money in the bank and be comfortable, you’ll be in scarcity/survival mode and you’ll never be able to have time to think about artistry and the transcendent side of life.
But most people, once they hit that, and this is where the research starts to come in, it shows that until you actually hit that threshold, there is definitely a linear relationship between money and happiness. Once you have that baseline covered, as a general rule, every dollar earned or pound earned or euro earned does not any longer increase your level of happiness on a daily basis.
You have to ask, if you’re working and working and working because you want to put more money in the bank, what are you sacrificing in the name of that work? Even if you end up with a whole bunch more money, if you have destroyed your health, if you’ve destroyed your relationships, if you have jettisoned everything and everyone from your life except for the thing that allows you to make more money, you’re richer, but are you happier and are you more satisfied with your life?
You’re this wonderful example of somebody who actually has been really intentional about the way you make money. You make a great living now, and you do it, doing something that lights you up, surrounding yourself with like a small number of people who you really like to hang out with now, including your husband, assuming you like to hang out.
Joanna Penn: We do.
Jonathan Fields: And I’m the same way. I’m business partners with my wife, and we love being around each other’s. It’s like the coolest thing in the world.
Joanna Penn: I think I more meant like body of work. Work as in, “I love my work. I like working hard and the satisfaction that comes from working hard.”
Does that fit into vitality, I guess or which bucket does loving your creative body of work fit?
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. So it’s primarily under contribution. We talk about contributing to the world and we want to contribute in a way that…I call it “being sparked,” and I think that is part of what you’re talking about.
Being sparked is when you do something that, for some way, it’s just you’re intrinsically drawn to that particular type of pursuit or activity or endeavor, and for whatever reason, you’re wired in a way with that. When you do it, you just light up.
There are five different sparks that I’ve been able to identify so far. I’m actually working on more of these, hopefully.
There is there is a curiosity spark. You’ve got a burning question that you’re looking to answer.
There’s a fascinations spark. There’s just a topic or an idea that you’re fascinated about, even if there’s no question.
There’s an immersion spark, where there’s a particular activity that, when you do it, you just get lost. You’re completely absorbed. You don’t care about answering a question. It’s not about going deep into a topic, you just want to do more of this because you feel good while you’re doing it.
There is a mastery spark, where you’re specifically looking to work towards developing skills towards mastery.
And then there’s a service spark. You want to be in service of others.
And granted, most of us are sparked by some blend of all of these. If you really get honest with yourself, at any given window of time there’s one which we’re usually, really strongly predominates.
To earn a living and honoring that primary spark is when you can integrate any one of the first four, with the latter, with being of service, because if you’re not a service in some way, you don’t get paid.
If you’re a writer, and in some way, you either need to be solving a problem or delivering a delight, and that’s how you get paid. For me, what you do sparks you. You do it because it earns you a really nice living, but it didn’t in the beginning.
For most writers, it doesn’t in the beginning. You do it because it’s that thing you can’t not do. And you probably don’t even understand why. There something about it where you’re drawn to it. And then you may, over time, be like, you know what? I’m actually developing confidence at this.
There are writers who have been writing 20 years out, and I look at sentences that they’ve written, and I’m like, “Oh man, I would kill to be able to write that sentence,” but I know it’s gonna take me another 10 years to develop my craft. And then you slide into more of a mastery spark, which is something that draws me on, to a certain extent these days.
So to me, that’s, I think, more of what we’re talking about. And then at the same time, are you leveraging your strengths in a really powerful way? These things all fall under the contribution bucket is contributing to the world in a way that also contributes to you, that lights you up along the way, and hopefully generates money.
That said, I’ll also tell you that I think it’s perfectly okay for the thing that generally lights you up, the thing that really fills your contribution bucket, not to also be the thing that you get paid for. For a lot of people, that’s it.
I have friends who all they wanna do is to be awesome parents. Actually, what a horrible thing to say, “all they want to do,” what they want to do, because it is not all they wanna do. It’s a full-time, beautiful, amazing thing that fills their day. They love it. Somebody else whose favorite thing to do is be in service of some community, that’s…maybe it’s kids who are in need or struggling or in inner cities. They’re never gonna earn a living by doing that. But they’ll spend a lot of their waking hours devoted to it, because they cannot do it, it lights them up, and that’s okay.
Sometimes, if you’re fortunate, you can construct a way for those things to overlap. Sometimes, it’s harder to do that, and that’s still okay.
Joanna Penn: I totally agree, and I think there’s too much emphasis on, you have to make a living with writing, which isn’t necessary. Both of us have multiple streams of income from other things, and I did want to talk about that because you have this camp, which is an amazing Camp, GLP.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah, which you have to come to one time.
Joanna Penn: I really want to. When you were in Costa Rica, I was like, I really wanna go to Costa Rica and play in this camp. But one of the things you say in the book is you talk about people giving up so much in the name of being an adult, and that really resonated with me.
I try and play. I have some coloring, and I try and play with my writing. I mean, I’m writing some really, like quite fantastical stuff right now, and I’m trying to be accepting of some of my crazy mind things, which you would embrace as a child. You’d be like, “Yeah, it’s really cool,” and I’m like, “This is really stupid,” but it’s nice, it’s just playing.
How can the listeners, and how can adults, in general, return to this kind of playful attitude without giving up all responsibility?
Jonathan Fields: I think like step one is actually is to understand that there’s no research I’ve ever seen that shows that being a grown-up means that you slowly start to just extract levels of fun from your life. But that’s what culturally we’re thinking it is. We get more serious. If you’re going to be responsible, if you’re going to be grown up, that means you don’t play as much, there’s not as much fun, you don’t goof around as much is the complete opposite.
A dear friend of mine, I think you know him too, Jeffrey Davis, is he’s a writer and he told me once. He said, “My goal as a grown-up,” and he’s a dad, two beautiful little girls, he said, “My goal is to live in a way where when my daughters look at me, they have no desire to stay kids, because they see being a grown-up as just as much if not more fun as being a kid.”
So a lot of it for him is modeling it, but I think a lot of it really just comes down to letting go of this really arcane notion that being a grown-up and being responsible, that there is some sort of opposition between being responsible, living in the world, and also being light and exalting play.
What I found is that if you start looking for things in your day, almost no matter what it is, both good and bad, you will find myriad opportunities to embrace it. If you’re like, “Look, I want to do a play challenge. For the next 24 hours, I’m going to be walking around my day looking for ways, opportunities to be playful, to create them.”
If you plant the seed in your conscious brain or subconscious brain, simply priming your brain to start to see opportunities to play, they’re all around you, all day long, but we reject them because we’re supposed to do the “responsible thing and be serious.” And how much fun are we taking out of life by doing that?
I’m having flashbacks to the movie “Stripes” with Bill Murray, and a line from a character named Francis or just saying, “Lighten up, Francis.” Sometimes you just wanna shake people and say, “Lighten up,” you know, because life’s short.
I think for some of us, we get a little bit older. Here’s an interesting research. A lot of people would think that the older we get, the less happy we get. Actually, the data is really crystal-clear. The research shows that the older we get, the happier we get and the more satisfied we get with our lives. Even though there’s more illness, there’s less physical function, there’s all sorts of struggle that we’re dealing with, because you get far enough into life and you start to realize, “Oh, wait a minute. Time’s going quick. You know what? All those things that I thought were crazy, big dilemmas and problems and drama, they really didn’t matter much.”
And you start to lighten up. You gain perspective that allows you to lighten up. And I wonder what would happen, after we actually start to prime ourselves on a daily basis to lighten up now, rather than wait decades further.
Joanna Penn: And we’ve certainly had the death of people like Prince, real creatives, who make you realize, “Oh my goodness, got to get on with life.” I’m very lucky; my husband, I feel like both of us, we’re very serious. Someone comes into our life who helps us play, and my husband plays that role, of really just helping me to stop being so serious. And that’s a great challenge. I’m very goal orientated, so I’m now gonna take the play challenge.
Jonathan Fields: Be sure you make a spreadsheet for your play challenge.
Joanna Penn: Exactly, I will be. I’ll would tick things off. In fact, since you’re yoga, my friend Orna said to me, “You realize that yoga…” Because I’ve started doing yoga, and I’m like, “My challenge with yoga is to be able to sit in this particular way.” She’s like, “You realize, there is no challenge with yoga. It’s a practice.” And I’m like, “Oh, right.” But I’m still… it’s just the way I’m wired.
Buy anyway, we’re running out of time. I’ve got to come back to publishing. In the beginning, you said, this might be more of a hybrid project.
What did you mean and what does is the reveal?
Jonathan Fields: The book that you mentioned at the beginning, I actually have it sitting next to me. This is the actual finished copy. This is coming out…and that’s been published. That’s Hay House and my publisher, they’re on with the whole thing.
And for me, right now, it still makes sense to go that way, because I make a comfortable advance, which is nice, and I get the support, I get distribution in traditional bookstores for as long as that matters. And I also speak, part of the way I earn my living is I speak. And in that, like a slice of the world, being traditionally published still matters. So for me, that still matters, and I’ve had a great experience with them so far.
At the same time, we wanted to create something extra, so we wanted to actually create a companion to this book. We created a companion journal. That this, a six-month practice journal. So we want to create something where you started with the book. It gave this idea, and then 30 days to really dive deep and start to create behavior. And then we want to actually create a tool that would allow you to build a daily practice, like a morning practice and an evening practice over time. We could have gone back to a publisher and said, “Let’s do this,” but we wanted to run our experiment. So what we created was actually this.
Joanna Penn: It’s a little box.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah, so it’s a sleeve.
Joanna Penn: It’s like a Moleskin notebook.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. And it’s hardcover. We designed the entire thing ourselves. It’s four-color on the first few pages, two-color on the inside.
Joanna Penn: Very nice.
Jonathan Fields: As much as an open journal, there’s 200 something pages of actual stuff inside of it. And we’re offering that as a companion to the book. And we do that ourselves. We designed them, we wrote them, we printed them. We went through all the stuff to actually have them printed overseas.
Right now, they’re on a shipping container over at a fulfillment house. We actually invested in old-school printing, not even print-on-demand or CreateSpace and stuff like that.
It’s an interesting hybrid for us, because we’ve got these two things coming out simultaneously — one through a traditional publisher and one through us. And so now, we’ve actually navigated the entire process of doing it ourselves. Not just print on demand, but also really printing, inventory, and stuff like that. And it’s complicated.
Joanna Penn: Definitely.
Jonathan Fields: But you know, it will be an interesting experiment, because we also know that the margins, like on one versus the other you can’t compare. So right now, I would say we’ve got this duo, this hybrid launch that we’re moving into right now. And it’ll be really a fun experiment to see how everything goes.
I make a decision about how I’ll publish with each new book, when I decide to write that book. I’ve already got other books spinning in my head, as I’m sure we all do, right, everyone that’s watching this. When I decide to focus on that, which will be pretty soon actually, because I tend to shift gears pretty quickly, then I’ll start to decide. Am I going to go trad with this or am I gonna go indie, and/or again, create some sort of hybrid version that just works best for me?
I don’t think there’s any one right option. I remember you, when we were hanging out in Austin a couple months back, and you’re like, “Let me just tell you what my business model is.” I’m like, “Ah, it sounds so good.”
Joanna Penn: Just circling right back to the beginning, you said you have two other manuscripts.
What the hell is happening with those, because I was thinking, “Well, you could put those now at the same time.” I mean, you know, there’s another option.
Jonathan Fields: It is. What I’m probably going to do is take a bunch of what was in that and release it as essays or long articles, either on my blog to my people or potentially somewhere else.
I actually haven’t figured out what I’m doing with all of that right now, but I do have a lot of editorial that’s sitting and waiting for something to happen with it. Or maybe it turns into a mini-digest, 10 essays, or something like that, that I just release that go deeper into specific topics for people who wanted to have a nuanced, deeper exploration.
Joanna Penn: Which you could put out on Kindle, and then as an indie book.
And this is the beauty of it, right, you can do whatever you like it.
Jonathan Fields: It’s amazing. I just think of such an incredible time to be an author if you’re willing to actually step into a place of taking responsibility and control.
If you’re not, if you just want to write and only write, it may not be the greatest time, unless you don’t care. Like if you don’t have any need to earn a living from doing it, god bless you, just go write, do what you need to do.
But the moment you actually want somebody to pay you for it, then you have choices to make. And if you’re willing to actually step into being that person, creating what you’ve created, which is amazing. It blows my mind, when I think about, when I first met you to what you’ve done, it’s just like, my jaw drops. Hats off to you. It’s just amazing.
And who knows, I mean, because I also…I think I mentioned to you, when we were talking, I have fiction in me. So when it comes to doing that, that could be a whole different story.
Joanna Penn: Yes and that’s my last question. You are the master of reinvention. You’ve got the Good Life Project, which is obviously, there’s the podcast, there’s the camp, there’s the training courses. There’s all these other things. There’s a new book.
Do you see another reinvention on the horizon, like you mentioned with the fiction or something else? Is there anything bubbling up?
Jonathan Fields: I would say a substantial reinvention on the level of I’ve done stuff in the past. I wouldn’t rule it out a couple of years down the road, but right now, I am really focused on building our Good Life Project, the company, the community, what we’re doing.
But I will, no doubt. I’m constantly running experiments, I mean, nonstop. And I am getting more and more interested in the fiction side of things. I know nothing about how to do it, but that hasn’t really stopped me with pretty much anything else at this point, so I’m going to probably start in the background, just start to read up on the structure, on the framework, and how to actually put together solid fiction. Very likely not literary fiction, but more just thriller, page-turner, fun type of stuff. I think that’d be a lot of fun to play in that domain a little bit. So we’ll see where that leads.
Joanna Penn: I’m looking forward to that.
Where can people find you and your books and everything that you do online?
Jonathan Fields: The best place these days is really just goodlifeproject.com, and for more info on the book, it’s just goodlifeproject.com/book or just, you know, anywhere. It’s available in booksellers around the world. It’s being published simultaneously in the UK and Australia. So it’s pretty much anywhere you want it, you’ll find it.
Joanna Penn: Brilliant. Thanks so much for your time, Jonathan. That was great.
Jonathan Fields: It’s my pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.