148. Setting Intentions, Direction and Ensuring Career Longevity with Joanna Penn

“That discipline — of getting back to the page, or to the project you’re doing, or back to the day job when you don’t want to — that form of discipline is part of the creative journey as well.”
— Joanna Penn

This episode is part of Season 5, a short series where I share conversations I’ve had with my heroes and role models. My hope in sharing these conversations is that you’ll pick up something that inspires and motivates you. More importantly, I hope these chats move you to sit down and have similar chats with your role models and heroes.

Listeners of the podcast will not be surprised that my guest today is part of this series. I often refer to her as a role model and someone I admire tremendously.

Joanna PennJoanna Penn is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of thrillers under J.F.Penn and also writes non-fiction for authors. She has written over 30 books published in 149 countries and 6 languages. Her award-nominated podcast, The Creative Penn Podcast, has been downloaded over 4 million times in 220 countries and is one of the longest-running and most popular podcasts for writers. Joanna has been named as one of the Top 100 most influential people in publishing & writing by The Guardian.

While all these achievements are impressive, what I really admire about Joanna is the way she’s been able to reinvent herself and build a successful writing career. For me, she demonstrates intention and focus. She knows where she wants to go and then steadfastly moves in that direction.

She sets challenging goals – I know because she shares those goals with her listeners and readers – and then, she actually takes action on those goals such that by the end of each year, we can see her progression. Frankly, if there’s one person I’d like to model for focus, drive, grit, and courage, it’s Joanna.

There’s something she said to me about longevity being a key factor to success in any field. I think what you’ll hear throughout this interview is just how Joanna works — the processes and habits she follows — to create that longevity in her career.

Links From the Episode:

Visit Joanna Penn’s website
Listen to The Creative Penn Podcast
The Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Keep Going by Austin Kleon
Audio for Authors by Joanna Penn
Map of the Impossible by J.F. Penn
Tree of Life by J.F. Penn
The Things App
Briefing Notes
Follow Second Breaks on Instagram
Connect with Lou Blaser on LinkedIn

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

I just got to this point in my life where I looked back — and it was about a decade at that point so this was around 2006 — and I thought, what have I got to show for the last decade?

This is the proof copy for my next book. It’s called Audio For Authors. And I can say between about August when we met at Podcast Movement, I got some of what I learned is in this book. So this represents both three months of writing, but also over a decade of learning about audio and podcasting and audiobooks. And when I hold this book in my hand, I can say, I made this, and I can measure my time in physical works in the world.

And what was funny, the company I joined, on day one they said everyone on the left-hand side of the room, you’re now doing SAP, which was this German software system. And I happened to be on the left side of the room. So I didn’t even choose that path.

I urge anyone listening, you don’t have to do the things that the world tells you that you have to do. I mean, obviously, that’s why I say about being a good taxpayer. I’m not saying just do random things. I’m saying choose how you spend your time and you can still achieve your lifestyle goals.

Some people say, Oh, I love writing. It’s so easy. And it just flows. Don’t believe it. Don’t believe it. It’s hard work

Literally, longevity in any career helps.

If you take what you love and try and make money from it, you have to be very careful because that’s when the thing you love becomes more stressful and you might put so much pressure on it that it fails.

I would say, every day there are pros and cons of an approach. I think you can make things work, but only if there is an audience who buy what you do.

So I’ve written 17 novels. And yet, if I tried to make a living with my fiction alone, I would not consider that income enough. So I also write nonfiction books. I podcast, I speak. I do all these other things and I enjoy them, but I wouldn’t say they’re my passion. But altogether, my passion, I think, is running a creative business and I enjoy all the parts of it.

Another book recommendation, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. She says, do not put pressure on your art. Your art should not support you. You should support your art.

There’s so much information out there in the world. And we get to choose what we consume and we have the power to press the fast forward button or the off button.

Your creative work is your work and you cannot please everyone. And you shouldn’t try and please everyone. Double down on who you are. Talk about what you like to talk about and you’ll attract people who are interested in that type of stuff.

If you’re struggling, give yourself a week. But you can’t just let it go on and on and on. That form of discipline of getting back to the page or getting back to whatever project you’re doing or going back to your day job when you really don’t want to — that form of discipline is part of the creative journey as well. So what I would say is yes, be gentle to yourself to a point and then kick yourself and get back to the chair.

I sometimes wonder how my fiction helps other people and yet I get emails from people and they say, Oh, you’ve really helped me with this, that, or the other through my fiction. Or you entertained me and took me out of my miserable job. So, I’m not sure about the trail with my fiction yet. I think I’m still figuring that out.

Get smarter, wiser, and bolder about midlife.