Become a Career Renegade: Interview with Career Expert Jonathan Fields

Post written by Leo Babauta. Follow me on Twitter.

Author, blogging friend, and career expert Jonathan Fields has launched his new book today: Career Renegade: How to Make a Great Living Doing What You Love.

I’m happy to have him as a guest on Zen Habits to talk about his new book and how it will help us all pursue the career we’ve always dreamed about.

Disclaimer: Jonathan is a blogging friend of mine, as I mentioned, and I was interviewed for this book and I’m in one of the chapters. But after reading through my review copy, I saw that the book would be useful to many people and thought I’d interview Jonathan to let you know more about it.

Leo: On the book’s web page, you say that “Do What You Love And The Money Will Follow” Is A Scam … can you explain this? It seems to go against what most of us believe.

Jonathan: If your passion happens to lie in some field with a clear path to a great income, like law, plastic surgery or programming, you may be one of the lucky few who can make a great living doing what you love by simply following the mainstream path.

But, what if you love teaching, painting, making music, writing, knitting, playing video games or just plain hanging out and having great conversations? Then what? Will the money really just automatically follow if you try to turn those into your living? Doubtful, no matter how good a gamer, knitter or talker you are.

No doubt, there’s a lot of simplifying you can do to live a lot better on less. Your book does an amazing job of laying out that process. But, what if you do all that…and it’s still not enough? It’s not easy to support a family of four in a major city on a teacher’s salary, no matter how much you streamline your life.

So, if there’s no “mainstream” way to make enough money to live well in the world with your passion, conventional wisdom says either turn it into a hobby or accept that you’ll have to either sacrifice money for passion or passion for money.

Career Renegade is all about breaking the binds of conventional wisdom, doing what you love, then “making” the money follow.

Leo: Tell us how Career Renegade is a game-changer and a life-changer… what will it change for us? And what is a Career Renegade?

Jonathan: Here’s what makes this book really different. It says, even if there’s no clear “conventional” way to generate income around your passion, the next logical step is not sacrifice. Nor is it relegating your passion to wallow in hobby-land.

There is often a “renegade” path to both passion and prosperity, a different way to do what you love that’ll generate enough to live comfortably. And, laying those paths out is what this book is all about.

Career Renegade is one part inspiration and 9 parts action. Its packed with hundreds of strategies, case studies, links and resources. It covers everything from identifying and refining your passion to tapping technology to position yourself as the go-to person in the area of your passion, then leveraging your reputation and community to create the opportunities you need. Leo, you’re actually a perfect example of this (which is why you’re in the book).

It also busts a bunch of myths about careers, entrepreneurship and, to a certain extent, mindset and personal development. For example, when it comes to mindset, I’m a big believer in visualization. But, did you know there are two very different approaches to visualization, and there’s great published research about which one works better?

In fact, the one promoted by the vast majority of people isn’t the one that delivers the best results. I go into both styles in the book, share the research, then show what works best and when.

Okay, last thing-what is a Career Renegade? It’s someone who makes a conscious effort to build their living around the life they want to life, the activities and experiences they love to do and the people they just cannot get enough of, while also earning enough to live well in the world.

Leo: Lots of my readers are having trouble finding their passion … can you give a couple of tips on how they could get started finding it?

Jonathan: I guess it won’t surprise you to learn I am a bit of a contrarian here, too. I don’t really believe people don’t know what their passions are. We all know. We’ve known since were little kids. Maybe not the exact jobs, but we do know what makes us come alive.

The problem is, when we ask the question in the context of careers, we almost always bundle with a “part 2.” We ask, “what am I passionate about…that will make a lot of money?” When we add that dangling participle, we end up dangling our passions in the wind. So, step one. Stop doing that!

Take the money part of the equation off the table, even if for a moment. When you do this, activities, ideas, adventures and explorations start flooding in.

A great starting point is to ask…

“If I won the lottery, and it was enough to support me for the rest of my life, but a condition was that I had to work full-time at something and I couldn’t use that money to fund a business, what would I do?”

Then, begin to refine. Ask what you’ve done in the past that has delivered you into what famed psychology researcher and professor, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, called a state of “flow” (I go into this in detail in the book).

Next, go one level deeper and ask “who” makes you come alive? What type of people?

Finally, look at what you love to read, what you do when you have free time (other than sleeping and watching TV). You get the picture.

Leo: Leaving your day job to pursue your passion is a scary thing, for anybody. How do you overcome that fear to take the plunge?

Jonathan: First, very often, you can test the waters or start to build your renegade career on the side, before making the big leap into the next big adventure.

You are a great example. For the better part of your first year as a blogger, you still worked a “real” job, until you’d built Zen Habits and various other passion-driven income streams into a stable enough side-pursuit to make the jump.

Second, you’ve got to rally your rabbis. What does mean? Work like crazy to assemble a team of like-minded people who will be honest, but still support your quest.  You may also need to spend a lot of time convincing those closest to you that you’re not just plain losing it (trust me, been there).  I actually tapped my marketing background to lay out a process in the book to make this a lot easier and smooth a lot of bumps.

Last thing, mindset is critical. You’ve got to cultivate the “just watch me” mindset. This will be instrumental in cultivating the will to take daily action toward your vision. And, honestly, that’s the single most important factor in any success. Consistent action. So, implement a set of daily mindset practices that’ll keep you focused not on what can go wrong, but on what can and will go right.

Leo: Is there a certain type of person who would be best for this kind of thing — to become a Career Renegade — or can anyone do it?

Jonathan: I’d love to say anyone can pull it off. And, truth is, anyone can. But, the more self-directed you are, the more motivated to finally get what you want out of live you are, the more likely you’ll be to succeed.

Also, if your current quest is simply figuring out how to make enough to cover your fundamental living expenses, to pay your rent and put the most basic amount of food on the table for your family, you’ll likely be less motivated by the desire to earn a living doing what you love and more by your basic instinct to survive.

As we know from Maslow, until you’ve got survival covered, it’s difficult to focus on the other elements in the hierarchy of needs.

Leo: What happens if you take the plunge and go for your dreams, but don’t make enough money? Do you think that happens very often?

Jonathan: So, one thing I’m not going tell you is that this is easy. It’s not. It may be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. But, here’s the thing. We’re talking about the one thing that will likely consume the vast majority of your waking hours until the day you either retire or die. So, sure, it’s a giant, challenge…but it’s a challenge worth rising to!

Whether you succeed in this or any other life-changing endeavor is largely a factor of your approach. It’s no different than any other big-picture quest. There’s no magic to it. No secret strategy, key, button or pill.

That formula wins pretty much every time.

So, when you look at people who take the plunge and come up short, you can pretty much always look at each one of those items and pick out where there was a breakdown. And, if you’re game, go back to the broken element, adapt and revise, and jump back in.

Leo: Tell us briefly about your career — are you a living illustration of your principles?

Jonathan: I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was a kid, but somehow ended up in law school. When I got out, I worked for the S.E.C., then a few years later, jumped to a mega-firm in NYC. Two weeks into my stint, I ended up in the hospital in emergency surgery, having perforated my intestine and developed a big pelvic abcess (simmering ball of infection).

Thankfully, the surgery went well and I made a full recovery, but it was a wake up call, my body had literally rejected my career. So, I made a list of things I thought would be cool to do for a living. It became clear that most people who did the things on my list, most of which involved health and fitness, didn’t make much money.

I was convinced I could be different, but I knew it would take time to figure out how. So I started preparing, spent a while saving up enough money to cover the early leg of my next big adventure, then eventually walked away from the law.

In fact, I went from making six-figures to earning $12 an hour as a personal trainer. Yikers! But, within a short period of time, I’d figured a better mousetrap. Soon after, I opened my own facility and grew it big enough to sell to investors 2 ½ years later.

I’d also discovered a passion for writing, so I took some time to write, but then the yoga side of the wellness industry began to call me back in. I’d developed an interest in yoga as a practitioner, and that sparked my entrepreneurial jones, too.

So, a month and a half after 9-11, with a 3-month old daughter, I opened a yoga studio in the heart of New York City. Man, did I get a lot of rolled eyeballs. But, over the next 7 years, that studio grew into one of the top studios in Manhattan.

And, as it matured and needed less of my energy, it gave me the time to turn my energy back to writing. And, at the end of last year, I actually sold the studio to focus on writing, blogging and a number of other ventures that I’ll reveal as 2009 unfolds.


Thanks so much for the incredible opportunity to share a bit of what I care so much about with your fantastic community.

Leo: Thanks for talking with us, Jonathan. Readers, I highly encourage you to check out Jonathan’s book, Career Renegade: How to Make a Great Living Doing What You Love. Read more about it at the book’s site.