I turned 40 yesterday and I am super thrilled that I have made this milestone birthday while doing something I love with my life!
It's been a journey and I have learned a lot along the way … I've been sharing everything here since 2008 but here are some of the most important things I've learned.
First of all, looking back … what a difference 10 years makes!
On my 30th birthday, I was living in Auckland, New Zealand and newly divorced. The scuba diving business I had with my ex-husband, as well as our property investment was all gone, and I was back at my day job.
I was an IT consultant, implementing Accounts Payable systems into large corporates and small boutique companies (yawn!) – something I did from 1997 – 2011 in the end.
My two best friends were single at the time as well, so we hired a body painter and got glammed up. Cameras were clearly not as handy back then – no smart phones! – but the pics are still quite fun!
On my 40th birthday, I am happily married and living in London, England. I am a New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author under J.F.Penn, with 6 novels and 3 novellas out in the ARKANE and London Psychic series, as well as a short story collection.
I also have 4 non-fiction books under Joanna Penn. I'm an award-winning creative entrepreneur, international professional speaker and this site, The Creative Penn, has been voted one of the top 10 sites for writers and self-publishers multiple times. My best friends are writers and I am part of a community of creative entrepreneurs worldwide.
I am incredibly grateful of the opportunities that have led me here, and thank you to all of you who have supported me on the journey.
So how did I make such a dramatic shift? Here's my lessons learned, in the hope they will help you too.
(1) Take 100% responsibility for your life
I first read Jack Canfield's The Success Principles a little after my 30th birthday, and the 10th anniversary edition has just been released. I still recommend it as a life changing book and am re-reading it at the moment.
The first chapter, Take 100% responsibility for your life, still resonates with me.
I had what many would have seen as a successful life back then. I was earning very good money as a consultant, doing a high status job in one of the best cities of the world.
But I was empty inside.
That emptiness around my career remained even when I met a lovely man and moved to Australia. Which is when I read Jack's book and decided I had to make some changes.
I had originally decided to change careers way back in 2000 when I went traveling, but I kept ending up back in the same job. My exam results led to a degree at Oxford, which led to a consultancy job, which led into the work I did – seemingly without any real conscious choice. I had ‘fallen into' a job, as many do, and I needed to make a change.
Since then, I have changed direction several times – learning about blogging, online marketing, writing books, professional speaking and a lot more besides. But it all starts with deciding to take 100% responsibility, stop making excuses, stop blaming other people or your background or whatever and just start on whatever you really want to do with your life.
(2) Balance consumption with creation
This was the first major mindset shift and one I still make sure I keep in balance as a creative entrepreneur. Here are a few examples:
- Make stuff instead of just buying stuff
- Write a book, don't just read books
- Or read a book and put it into action in concrete ways
- Record a podcast and not just listen to podcasts
- Record a video and not just watch videos
- Do an online course to learn something – and then immediately put it into practice and create something from those ideas
- Spend time creating instead of watching TV, or watch TV and then use those ideas in your own work. Steal like an artist as Austin Kleon says 🙂
We all NEED consumption as artists – we need to fill our creative well, and learn from other media – but if you record the hours you spend in consumption instead of production, you may see why you're not getting enough creative writing time in! Remembering this will help you turn your time into finished products.
(3) The magic of scalable income and intellectual property
- Discovering print on demand and realizing that I didn't have to pay for printing books. I could just upload digital files and Amazon would sell direct to customers. I didn't need to hold stock or do any shipping or pay in advance. That was amazing! (especially as I had just paid for 2000 print books, which mostly went in the landfill). Here's my video on that realization – it's 5 years old and pretty hilarious!
- The launch of Amazon Kindle and going digital as a reader. Realizing the potential of reaching readers globally through self-publishing to this new platform radically changed my business plans because the publisher was no longer necessary as middleman. I didn't have to ask permission anymore. I could just choose myself and give it a go. Here's another funny vid of me extolling the virtues of the first iteration of the international Kindle. You can see the packing boxes in the background as we were just about to move house in Australia. Again, it's pretty embarrassing but good to see how far I've come since then.
- Realizing that a book was not just one book. One manuscript can be turned into multiple streams of income through the exploitation of rights. Multiple formats, multiple country sales, multiple languages – and all possible as an indie author. When the penny drops, your head may explode! Read more on this idea here.
- Understanding that fiction doesn't age. Every story I write can sell for my lifetime and 70 years after I die according to copyright law. Stories touch people many years later, even generations later. Whereas I have to update my non-fiction every couple of years and I have withdrawn several since starting writing. Ditto for online courses, which date even faster. The best use of my time is therefore creating fiction. Here's a video of me talking about this realization.
(4) Beware the shadow career
Another book I re-read over and over again is Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield.
He warns of the shadow career, which echoes our calling but entails no real risk. His example is,
“Are you getting your PhD in Elizabethan studies because you're afraid to write the tragedies and comedies that you know you have inside you?”
Everyone has their different version of a shadow career – and it is hard to face up to.
For me, the constant challenge is: Are you blogging and speaking about self-publishing and book marketing instead of writing the stories that will make an impact on the world?
The former is easier than the latter and it is easily justified.
I love to help other people, and I still make an income from this site, my non-fiction and professional speaking – and I love all of it to a point – but I need to constantly re-evaluate my time in order to create the things that really challenge me.
Does this challenge you? Do you have a shadow career?
(5) The Compound Effect works
It's interesting that in reviewing the biggest changes in my life, the ideas often stem from books that I have read. I've never had an ‘in-person' mentor, but I have had hundreds, if not thousands of mentors online and in books. You'll find much of their wisdom interspersed in my own non-fiction books. Yes, I am a self-help junkie!
The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy is a great book, even if the basic idea is quite obvious.
Essentially, little steps every day in the same direction will get you a very long way over time.
If you keep chopping and changing, and if you give up too soon, you may have nothing. But if you hold to your course, keep making consistent steps towards your goals every day, then you will achieve far more than you think is possible.
This might be 500 words every day on your book, which is 182,000 in a year, which is three thrillers or a couple of fantasy novel, or six romance novellas 🙂
It might be one blog post a week, making 52 by the end of the year. Or taking one photo a day and sharing it on Pinterest or Instagram or Facebook or Twitter, resulting in the beginnings of a platform by the end of the year. It might be 10 mins meditation a day, leading to a calmer, happier life.
It might be reading 10 pages a day of life-changing books – which has made a huge difference in my life, that's for sure! You can find more of my recommended books for writers here.
I am evidence of this principle working in practice.
On my 30th birthday, I had no books, and no inkling of even writing one.
I had no website, no blog, no social media, no email list. I knew nothing about publishing or marketing. I didn't know that I would end up here by 40. I DID have a desire to change my life, and I was willing to take massive action.
It was 3.5 years from the photo at the top of the page to when I started this site in Dec 2008. It was 6 years until I gave up IT consulting forever to become a full-time author entrepreneur. That may seem like a lot of time, or no time at all. But the point is, it can be done.
If you feel unhappy with where you are now, you CAN change things.
In this new world of creative opportunity online, you are empowered to write, to publish, to create, to reach readers directly, to make money online through a myriad of opportunities.
The only thing stopping you is you.
As for me, well, I have plenty of plans for the next 10 years. I hope you will join me for the ride!
Please do let me know what you think in the comments below. I'd love to hear about your journey and lessons learned along the way.