It’s been fun to bring you my conversations with people who I’m watching bring their superpowers to their work and the world. I hope you’ve enjoyed the ideas they’ve shared, too! Author and speaker Jonathan Fields is next on the list!
Enjoy our Skype interview below (just ignore my big head) or you can read the transcript below. Missed our previous interviews? Find them here:
Know someone bringing his or her superpowers to work? (Psst–maybe it’s even YOU??) Tell us about it here–we’d love to meet them!
(Here’s the transcription, edited for readability and emphasis added for your scanning ease! Plus, note that the book links are affiliate links, which means that if you choose to purchase through one of those links, Red Cape Revolution gets a few cents.)
Darcy: Hi everybody, it’s Darcy Eikenberg. I am the author of [amazon_link id=”0983987408″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Bring Your Superpowers To Work: Your Guide To More Clarity, Confidence & Control[/amazon_link], and the founder of RedCapeRevolution.com. I’m so excited today to bring you another terrific person I’ve met in my journey who I think is bringing his superpowers to work. I would like to introduce Jonathan Fields!
Jonathan: Great to be here with you.
D: Thanks, Jonathan, for being here today. Jonathan is the author of the book, [amazon_link id=”159184424X” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel For Brilliance,[/amazon_link] which we all want more of. Also, he’s the author of [amazon_link id=”0767927419″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Career Renegade[/amazon_link], several years ago – a book that I had read several times on my path. Jonathan is a former lawyer, he’s a New Yorker, he’s an entrepreneur. He’s started businesses, and he’s done many different things, and we’re going to hear some more about Jonathan and his path in a minute. Again, Jonathan, thanks for being here today!
Jonathan, just to start – can you tell us a little bit about how you got to the point where you are today, where you’re a published author, a very popular speaker, and I know that you are really focused on helping other people bring their creativity and their projects forward into the world. So tell us a little bit about your path.
Jonathan: Yeah. I have a very varied path, and I have certainly jumped careers a number of times, too. When I started doing it, it was pretty uncommon. I was a life long entrepreneur – as a kid, I was a lemonade stand kid. I kind of abandoned that for a period of years to go to law school. I was very fortunate there and did well and had some great opportunities, and I ended up in the United States Security and Exchanges Commission, investigating and prosecuting insider trading and market manipulation – which was interesting. I went from there to a large firm in Manhattan doing venture capital work, hedge fund and securities work.
After about a year, I ended up in the hospital with a perforated intestine and a huge infection in my body. My system more or less shut down. I was working insane hours and had huge amounts of stress. It was a wakeup call for me, so I took a step back, took a legal pad and started writing something that had nothing to do with law, and that was “my top 10 cool things to do with my life and figure out how to make a living at it” list. And that was probably the first time in a long time that I had had a really big smile on my face in my office.
But I also realized that many of those things for me, were things where most people who do them didn’t make much money. I lived in New York City–and at that time I didn’t, but I knew I was going to have a family to support sometime–and I liked to live well. So the quest became how to build a better mousetrap. So I saved up a whole bunch of money and made the jump from six-figures to making $12/hr as a personal trainer in-training; learned that industry from the point of service up – because that’s one of my philosophies, I want to know the fundamental touchpoints of the business and understand the psychology behind it. I learned the industry, launched my first company which was a private training center. We grew that and sold it to an investor group.
And then I took a year off to start to write a bit and explore the online world. I was also getting married and having a kid, and getting the jones to go and do something “bigger” again. I was really fascinated by the yoga world–and really, according to most people who knew me, for no justification whatsoever. I opened a yoga studio in the middle of Manhattan with the goal of doing something which was differentiating, and that lowered barriers of participation for people who came out of a mainstream approach to the world; which wasn’t really me, but was the world I came out of; a little bit metaphysical. And I signed that lease for the building in Manhattan in Hell’s Kitchen with a 3-month-old baby and a wife at home. Oh, and it was on September 10th, 2001, the day before 9/11.
So it was an incredible time, the next 6 months to a year. The city was going through incredible pain and terrible transformation, and I was going through a struggle trying to figure out what to do–do I build a business, do I not? But we pushed forward and it turned out there was never before a bigger need in New York City for healing and community, and we really embraced that and made the studio a source of healing and community.
We took off. We did really well, and over seven years I built that company and expanded it several times, building it into one of the larger teacher-training institutes as well. Then at the end of 2008, sold that really to focus a lot more on helping people in business–I’d been consulting a small bit on the side, helping people build small businesses. I have an affinity for marketing and business strategy, and also writing–and I really started to get that buzz. So I sold the company at the end of 2008, and focused most of my energy on the online world and on writing.
And for the last three years, that’s really where most of my focus has been–growing a blog, understanding the online business and marketing world, writing books – you mentioned the two books I was fortunate enough to have out with some great publishers. And I’m about to launch another venture literally any second now, and I’ll continue to write books and to consult and to speak with organizations of all sizes, as long as I can find the balance of what brings me a lot of joy and what allows me to live well in the world, and honor my family and my love that I have for them and the time I want to be with them; to live well and give well.
D: What’s really interesting as you go through your story is that you had so many diverse interests. And then something that you said really struck me, around building your financial foundation to allow you to do certain things and wanting to start from the ground up to learn certain types of businesses. So many people that I talk to are interested idea of bringing your superpowers to work, and they want to be doing that. But then so many stories in the media are like, “This person abandoned everything, and then jumped from being a corporate CEO to a Vermont cheese farmer!” It sounds like you had a plan, and you really did make some commitments to yourself about the ways that you would get there.
J: Yes, I had some bigger principles, and I’m a thinker and I like to plan. One of the core beliefs that I have is that has really become much more core to me is that you should plan as much as you can, but you should also understand that the vast majority of your assumptions are going to be wrong. So you’ve got to keep yourself open to serendipity and the possibility that you’ll need to shift dramatically, and the possibility that there’s other opportunities out there that weren’t anywhere in your purview. They may come to you, and if you were so focused on that original plan, you may miss them.
D: So that staying open to that possibility, but knowing that things can shift and change, is a great transition into talking about uncertainty. I really enjoyed your book [amazon_link id=”159184424X” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Uncertainty[/amazon_link], and I’m curious – what was it that made you decide this was an area you wanted to dive in more, that this was an area you wanted to research and publish on?
J: It’s interesting, and looking back at the books I’ve written so far and what I have in my mind to write moving forward, I’ve started to realize that what’s really been driving me is answering my own personal questions. With [amazon_link id=”0767927419″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Career Renegade[/amazon_link], it was more of how can you take something that the world says is just a stupid hobby and turn it into a living. Is it just a free market thing? It was an exploration of that. With [amazon_link id=”159184424X” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Uncertainty[/amazon_link], it was more about how do I do what I’m here to do on the planet–which is bring things to life that leave people changed–without suffering so much myself? Are there people that are just genetically able to handle the uncertainty that has to go along with creating something from nothing? Or is it something that’s trainable, and if it’s trainable, how? What do you do? That became the deeper driving question for me, in part because I thought it’d be really interesting.
That was a piece of the puzzle, but it wasn’t the focus of the book when I started writing–the focus was more broadly what allows people to create on extraordinary high levels and build great things. And as I started interviewing people, this was one topic of conversation I had a deep question around. And once we hit this topic with almost every interview I was doing, from solo artists to chief innovation officers at huge multi-million dollar companies, the conversation lit up. Everybody wanted to talk about and know what I was discovering, and what other people were telling me. And that was a signpost–no one was talking about or writing about this in a substantive way.
People are writing about it in a spiritual way and I have that side to me, but I wanted to write something that was from a strong hardcore science take – is there research, what happens to your brain when it faces uncertainty, is there a science behind it, and what are the interventions that people explore? It’s a story meets science route to finding the answer to the question.
D: I think that’s really interesting. As you know, I talk and teach a lot about confidence. One of the things textbook definitions of confidence, is the degree of which you are certain. So many times today, there is nothing that seems certain. “Bank” is now a four-letter word. There are so many questions that we have. I’m curious – in your book, you offered several tips and ideas about how people can manage through uncertainty, and what they can take control of. What are some of the suggestions that you were most surprised at, or things that more people could have access to if they only realized it?
J: Yeah – can I jump back for a second? The definition you just shared of confidence, which is the degree to which you’re certain, it’s funny to me because to me that’s the antithesis of confidence. To me, confidence comes from your ability to handle sustained levels of uncertainty with a great degree of equanimity and ease. Because when you said “the degree to which you’re certain,” you’re setting yourself up for failure with everything. Anything worth doing, you won’t have complete information for. You will always have to take action and make decisions with less than perfect information. Which means that if confidence comes from high levels of certainty, and innovation and creativity comes from when you don’t have high levels of information, there’s a huge disconnect there for me.
D: Interesting. I think that’s a great point. When I think about confidence in the people we admire, my own confidence that of watching other people, there’s a point as to where you do never have all the answers, and is [confidence] just the conviction that you know that you’re not going to have those answers? I like your definition, that’s great.
J: So, anyway. I just wanted to go back. I never knew that was one of the textbook definitions. So back to interventions. I looked at it from a couple of standpoints. One was workflow optimization–what are the changes you can make in your workflow that would help shift the psychology of creativity and innovation? What are the changes in work environment or in culture; and also probably the one you have most control over and the one that’s most profound is what are the personal practices that you can embrace that will have a profound effect on what you do?
On the personal practice side, there are a whole bunch of things, but what’s kind of funny is things we know to be massively helpful in all parts of our lives, well, there is now tremendous research that shows that it’s hugely important in psychology of action to have mindfulness and movement. So we looked at mindfulness, such as meditation or exercise or any kind of common practice, and said “Well it’s great for stress management, or it’s great if you’re a spiritual person, so go for it, and exercise keeps you lean and looking good.”
But what’s fascinating now is that there’s a strong growing body of research about the effectiveness of mindfulness and movement on mindset. And what we know now is that “mindset” is really the killer app on performance. It’s not the knowledge that’s specific to your field. The knowledge is the foundation, but your ability to act on that knowledge and the way that your mindset affects your outlook is actually mission-critical. The fundamental goal used to be, you get a great job, you build a great company, you find success professionally, and that makes you happy and joyful. We now know it’s crystal clear that’s absolutely backwards. You have to do the work to develop the powerful mindset, that internal sensation of of joy and fulfillment and happiness, and that’s the actually fuel for success in professional endeavors. It’s not the outcome.
So it’s interesting, the focus becomes what do you do to have a joyful mindset. So mindfulness, movement, meditation, training, all these things make real changes in your brain’s physiology that allow you to go to that place where you have to take action; where the fear center still lights up because you have to move towards uncertainty, but it doesn’t light up anywhere near a level it would if you hadn’t done these practices. You’re able to tap into a different part of your brain, your prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that’s more rational and in-control and self-regulatory, to hold back the fear response and say relax and calm down, everything will be alright. These are the basic practices that I do every day. I have a daily mindfulness practice–it’s easy, it’s non-dogmatic, I don’t need to bide to any religious philosophy or ideology–I just sit on my cushion and I watch my breathing. And movement, exercise, is huge for changes in brain physiology that allow you a better sense of ease, not only for when you’re trying to do something new professionally, but for waking up in a world which is now uncertain.
D: I love the positioning of those two things that we often feel are “should dos,” as in we “should” exercise more, or we “should” take some quiet time. And especially with a lot of busy corporate professionals to recognize that it’s an aspect of taking control and building your brain, and that the research has shown it can really help your brain and be advantageous. Less of a burden, and more of a “this is how I can take care of and do great things for myself.”
J: Yeah, it’s like people ask me, how do I get ahead, or raise my performance levels to where it’s never been before that will blow people away around me? And if I tell them that [focus on movement and mindset], they’re like “okay yeah, but what should I really do?”
D: [laughs] Right!
J: And I’m like “no, listen!” Like in the book, there’s a ton of other information and techniques, but fundamentally, the two greatest force multipliers for performance, creativity, innovation, and equanimity in work and in life, are mindset and movement. And people don’t want to hear it because it’s so fundamental, but all the other stuff that you build around it will get you more down the path, but these are the two biggest force multipliers.
D: It comes down to some of the simple things in life, doesn’t it, and really appreciating those?
J: If you look at the ancient Greeks, there was no such thing as a scholar who wasn’t an athlete. People knew a long time ago that exercise had an effect on brain physiology and intelligence. And for some reason, we’ve become so sedentary and moved away from it so much, that we need to take a giant step back instead of forward.
D: Jonathan, you mentioned earlier that you have some projects in the works. Anything you can share?
J: I do! I wrote something called “My 2011 Annual Report” which was a 34-page thing which got to a level I wasn’t anticipating. It was one of those things where I was holding my finger on the “publish” button, saying “should I or shouldn’t I?” And I’m really glad I released it, because the response was mind-blowing. It was downloaded and shared thousands of times. It was an incredible experience and at the end, I mentioned that one of my big focuses for 2012 was something called “Good Life Project,” which essentially is an endeavor to help educate, train, and mentor people who are looking to build amazing, world-shaking businesses, and give them the knowledge and skillset to really step up their game. That’s about to come to life shortly [Editor’s note: Good Life Project launched shortly after this interview was completed; find out more here.] In addition to all the other stuff I’m doing, that will take a big chunk of my time in 2012.
D: Great. Again, I think you’re someone who’s bringing your superpowers to work to try to empower others to do the things that they need to be doing in the world, and I love the focus on some of the simple and basic ideas that have been proven over time, yet that we’ve lost. And I do think there’s some great stuff in Uncertainty, and it’s a fantastic read full of great ideas. Jonathan, where can we find out more about you and your work?
J: My home base online is at JonathanFields.com. And from there you can branch off and find everything else.
D: And we’ll have a link to that as well as a link to Uncertainty and this interview on RedCapeRevolution.com. Again, we’re here with Jonathan Fields, author of [amazon_link id=”159184424X” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Uncertainty[/amazon_link], and creator of many terrific things in the world. I appreciate your time today. I’m Darcy Eikenberg, author of [amazon_link id=”0983987408″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Bring Your Superpowers to Work[/amazon_link], and thank you everybody for watching!
J: Bye–thanks for having me!