YLYW Interview # 14: Jonathan Fields on focus, multi-passionism & uncertainty

Jonathan-not-the-cookie-lady’s-son-Fields has a resume that reads like a Scanner’s AND he knows how to focus!

That already excites me beyond anything else.

Having first come across JF on twitter (where everyone comes across everyone in the virtual world, don’t you know), then reading his blog & book, I’m curious to learn more about how he brought together his multiple passions into one work life.

Let’s find out shall we?

Q1. What’s your WHY ie, why do you do what you do, has it changed over the years and what’s your process for finding it?

My why evolves with each company or project I’ve launched.

But the overall why tends to be fairly consistent, and it revolves around a standard I try to apply when deciding how to allocate my energy – to spend the greatest amount of time absorbed in activities and relationships that fill me up, while surrounding myself with people I cannot get enough of and earning enough to live well in the world.

What’s funny, too, is that this standard, which appears on the surface to be very “self” oriented, is actually very “service” oriented.

Because the things that tend to truly feed my soul, heck everyone’s souls, are the ones that place us in a position of greatest service to others.

Q2. You’ve been a lawyer, yoga instructor, day trader, author and a whole bunch more (woohoo scanner alert!). How did you navigate these passions to turn them into an evolving business/career you love, ie, how did you pick one & decide when to move on to the next and what would you tell those scanners lacking focus and spinning their wheels, about choosing theirs?

It’s never an easy thing.

But, applying the standard above really helps. I also try to create enough space in my life, often through deliberate daily practices like mindfulness, to become aware of my visceral responses to possible opportunities.

I’m a firm believer that your body tells you what’s right and wrong, but we tend to ignore it until it smacks us into listening through illness or injury.

And, trust me, I’ve been there and, being human, probably will be again.

But stilling practices have become a much bigger part of my decision-making and action-taking process these days.

And they have the added benefit of turbo-charging creativity, calm and cognitive function. I talk about this a lot in my forthcoming book, Uncertainty.

Attentional training isn’t just for those seeking enlightenment, it’s also for those seeking to elevate their games in all areas of life.

Q3. How long did it take for your business ventures to be ‘successful’ as YOU define it, and what was the moment you knew that you were going to succeed?

Ha, it’s been different for each one.

Some, were in the black from day one. Others took a few months. One of the things I’m a big believer in is paying yourself from day one. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but it sets the tone for what you need to do to keep paying yourself as the venture expands.

But what about the “moment” I knew I was going to succeed?”

Can’t really say there’s been one, and I’m not so convinced that it exists for anyone who’s truly driven by growth.

Creation is a process.

The moment you become complacent and think you’ve made it is the moment you start to slide slowly downhill. Success is about growth, evolution and action in the face of uncertainty.

That’s a process that really never ends.

And, I’ve gotta make this really clear… plenty of my ventures and projects have outright bombed along the way. My last company was (and still is, after being sold) very successful. But I also tried to start a franchise division, spent serious money getting it going and then eventually shut it down when I realized it wasn’t working the way I wanted it to.

That’s part of the bargain you make when you stand up and declare yourself a creator of stuff that didn’t exist before you.

You will fail along the way. The bigger challenge is learning to reframe those moments as signposts that you are one step closer to your next big success.

Q4. Tell us about a time you failed or nearly gave up. What kept you going then & what (daily/weekly/monthly) success habits do you have that help you stay the course when the going gets tough?

As I mentioned above, I fail all the time, the franchise company was just one example.

I’m a big believer in daily practices that allow you to “touch psychological stone” and really see where you are, bundled with circuit-breakers and feedback mechanisms that require you to take an objective snapshot of where you are on a regular basis, then adjust course if needed.

Also, having the support of my wife and a likeminded community of people who understand how I choose to live my life has been a big help.

Q5. How do you deal with overwhelm with all the stuff you’ve got going on – any tips to productively organize your work load in weekly/daily schedules for peeps who don’t know how to break it down?

First, the practices I’ve mentioned above help. A lot.

Second, I’ve been seriously contemplating being less poly and more uni these days. Our brains are built to thrive at the highest level when we are committed to the pursuit of mastery. It’s not even about attaining mastery, but rather the process itself, the quest, that is immensely rewarding.

It’s difficult to reach that same state of contentment that a tightly-focused quest driven by a deeply-felt purpose can deliver.

And, that’s not just me talking, there’s now a strong body of research behind it (for more, check out Martin Seligman’s Flourish or Mihaly Csikszentmihalyis Flow).

So, while I have a lot of interests, and I can be relatively-happy load-balancing them at any given time, I’m really starting to yearn to go deeper into one or two these days.

I know that’s not a PC thing to say in an online world that’s increasingly filled with proud polymaths, but that’s where my personal journey seems to be leading me.

Anything else you’d like to add?

This – anything worth doing will require you to act in the face of less than perfect information, in the face of uncertainty.

That terrifies most people.

We experience it as fear, doubt and anxiety.

We can’t change the need to act and we don’t want to wait until we know everything that can be known. Because the only way that can happen is if that thing we’re looking to create has already been created, at which point you’re no longer creating, but re-creating.

So, why bother?

The bigger challenge is to be able to go to that place where you feel the discomfort, then learn how to act in the face of it, to lean into and even embrace it as a signpost of genius to come.

Spend as much time training in mindset as you do training in content and skill.

Tia: Thanks for this fab interview, Jonathan! Yes, while us polymaths are discovering that we aren’t nuts for having too many passions, our biggest challenge is knowing what to pick and how to start. Being able to focus on a couple of major things at any given time along with a myriad of other interests is both a challenge & a relief – so thanks for being an example of how to swing that!

Want more? Jonathan Fields is a dad, husband, lawyer turned serial-entrepreneur and author. His next book, Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel For Brilliance is out in September. Fields blogs at www.JonathanFields.com and runs book marketing educational venture TribalAuthor.com. He has also been featured in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Business Week, FastCompany, Entrepreneur, USA Today, People, CNBC, FoxBusiness, O Magazine and plenty of other places that sound cool, but don’t impress his daughter all that much.

I’d love to hear from you reading – what did you think of this interview? Got any thoughts/questions? Please share, thanks!

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Xoxo, Tia

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  1. says

    Awesome interview, Tia – Jonathan’s reminder that most successful people have a fair number of failures behind them mixed in with the successes is an important one.

    I feel like it’s one thing to know that Thomas Edison failed x-hundred times before he invented the lightbulb, or know Michael Jordan’s miss rate… but hearing someone who’s so obviously successful talking about about the realities of past failures for them personally… that’s something else – and it’s something inspiring.

    • says

      And someone closer to ‘reality’ than the obviously super talented/extraordinarily blessed sporty-inventory-genius types! People like US who are just a few steps ahead :) Thanks for chiming in Tanja!

  2. says

    Hello Tia, i visited your site when i saw your link among the top 50 best motivational blogs, and i must confessed you didnt disappoint me, as i have been refreshed with your brilliant articles.

  3. says

    My take-away: “Spend as much time training in mindset as you do training in content and skill.” God… that is SOOOOOOOOOOO true. Great interview. I love him. Am on his mailing list.. can’t remember how I discovered him, but great job Tia!

    • says

      Lisa, after 2+ years, I’m finding that the content and skills training was the easy part. The mindset – HOO boy! Hoooooo boy! That takes constant work and awareness and makes ALL the difference! Thanks for dropping by :)

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