Have you ever seen another expert in your field and thought, “THAT’s what I want to do!“?
Well, that person for me is Jonathan Fields.
Jonathan used to teach business and marketing advice to his community, but now he’s a leader in helping people create meaningful, connected, and happy lives.
But it gets even better.
This guy is truly a Jack of All Trades. He’s an award-winning author, founder of Good Life Project, and the creator of an incredible adult summer camp (I know, I know, I want to go, too!).
But he didn’t start that way.
In fact, his career began as a corporate attorney.
Then he decided to shift everything and open a wellness center.
Then he created a yoga studio in New York City.
And ultimately built the personal development brand he has today.
Such an interesting trajectory, right? In this interview, Jonathan shares how he moved past fear as he created each new business, how he creates a work/life “blend,” and the 3 most important factors in having a great life.
Check out the episode below:
In this episode, you’ll hear about things like…
- Jonathan’s former career at a prestigious law firm, where a serious wake-up call shifted his direction in life, towards what he truly wanted.
- Jonathan’s core set of questions and metrics to consider when making a life change – and why it doesn’t have to be complicated.
- Why he doesn’t really like the word “balance” (and the concept he uses instead).
- The three areas of your life that determine whether or not you’ll have a fulfilled, happy life (including some of Jonathan’s favorite activities to keep you at your best).
- How Jonathan and his wife are able to cultivate a vulnerable, creative community through Camp GLP – and his favorite story about one of the participants.
Links from the interview:
- Jonathan’s website
- Camp GLP — Jonathan’s adult summer camp
- Jonathan’s book, How to Live a Good Life
- Jonathan’s podcast, Good Life Project
- The Lean Startup book
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Loving the podcast? I encourage you to use the hashtag #PursuitWithPurpose to show our PWP tribe how you live your purpose everyday. Plus, you’ll get to sift through the hashtag to find other business owners who care about community and connectedness over competition and comparison. And I’ll be reposting some of my favorite images and stories, too. 🙂
Thank you for listening!
TranscriptRead the Interview Transcription Here
Alright my friends, I am so excited to share today’s guest with you. His name is Jonathan Fields, and he’s a dad, entrepreneur, award winning author, and the founder of Good Life Project which is a global community of people on a quest to live more meaningful, connected and vital lives which is exactly what Pursuit With Purpose is all about. So you guys are going to absolutely love what Jonathan dishes out today. Now he also produces a top rated podcast and offers a ton of trainings, courses and events, including his annual camp, GLP summer camp at the end of August every year. Now we’re actually going to get into more info about the camp in this interview, why he created it, all that good stuff because it is seriously so cool you guys. I’m obsessed with this camp, can’t wait to share that with you later in the interview. Now his latest book, “How to Live a Good Life: Soulful Stories, Surprising Science, and Practical Wisdom” explores validated strategies to cultivate a life well lived. Now this interview is absolutely packed with wisdom and actionable advice for anyone who wants to move past fear, find balance, and create more meaning in their life and business. Let’s do this.
Melyssa Griffin: So I am joined today by none other than Jonathan Fields, who has just done an amazing breadth of work on creative projects, and has a really interesting story to share. So Jonathan, I’m so excited to have you here.
Jonathan Fields: So excited to be hanging out with you. Thanks for the invite.
Melyssa Griffin: Yeah, so I want to just dive right in. What a lot of people don’t know about you is that you started as an attorney, a security’s attorney – that’s the same kind of attorney my dad is, and then ended up quitting that and creating a yoga studio in New York City, which I think is just such an interesting transition, like two kind of opposite things. So I’m curious, what was your mindset like during that period? How did you start off as an attorney and then decide to switch to something totally different?
Jonathan Fields: Yeah, and there was even one step in the middle. I actually – so the jump actually went from being sort of a mega firm lawyer to being a $12 an hour personal trainer, then building my own fitness facility and then selling that to investors, and then opening a yoga studio after that. So I mean the thing – when I was practicing law, I was very fortunate. I was in this big, prestigious firm, making a fantastic salary, doing complex high level work but the pace of the work was insane. I would work probably about on average 100 hours a week. I wasn’t in control of my schedule. Sometimes we’re willing to make sacrifices like that, especially earlier in life to build a career. If we see the future and we really want it badly and there’s something about the work that’s meaningful, that’s nourishing us, we’ll dive in and we’ll be like okay so I’ll put it up, pay my dues. For me, what I started to realize is I actually didn’t want the future that it was leading to. I didn’t want to become a partner in a law firm. I didn’t have a whole lot of interest in the practice of law, and at the same, time it was killing me. I actually ended up in the hospital, in emergency surgery, after barely going home for a three week window of time. My immune system crashed and this huge infection kind of brewed inside of me and ate a hole through my intestines from the outside in.
Melyssa Griffin: Oh my gosh. Wow.
Jonathan Fields: So it was a bit of a wake up call. I kind of knew at that point when I was recovering that I was on my way out of the law, but it took me another year or so because I had worked so hard to get where I was through law school and sort of pay my dues first at the SEC* where I started my career. There was a certain amount of income that I enjoyed and there was a certain amount of ego and status and the perception of power that I kind of had started to build my identity around. For me, I kind of got shaken out of that and I started to just ask bigger questions. I said well if I could actually return to my roots as an entrepreneur which is what I was as a kid and in college, what would that look like, what would I want to do, and how would I start to make that happen. What I realize is I do love kind of being in control as much as I can, but I do love the process of entrepreneurship, creating something from nothing. I’ve also had this lifelong interest in wellness and lifestyle and health and fitness. So that’s why my first jump was I looked at the fitness industry and I saw a lot of stuff that I didn’t think was really being done on the level it could be doing. I started looking at the data on it. What I learned right away was that 85% of adults in the US will not join or stay a member of the health club, the traditional big bucks health club, and 95% of the people in that same demographic will raise their hand and say I must be exercising to live the life that I want to live. So there’s a big disconnect. I wanted to figure out what’s not working and how do you build a better mousetrap*, which is why I started as sort of at the most basic level of service, as a personal trainer because I really wanted to understand what was happening in the personal dynamic, what was working and what wasn’t, with the goal of sort of recreating solution in a different way. That led me to then build the private practice which I then leveraged into launching a facility, and grew that for two and a half years before selling that. And then I made the leap into the world of yoga which was a whole other thing.
Melyssa Griffin: Yeah. Oh my gosh, that’s so interesting. Do you – like you mentioned that you didn’t even really like law that much. Do you feel like that was kind of the path that was set for you by somebody else? Why did you get into that?
Jonathan Fields: No. That was entirely my choosing. I wasn’t – it’s funny because I am the grandson of two grandfathers who were lawyers, but that never really influence me. I didn’t feel like there was any sense of legacy or expectation. My mom was a craft person. She was a potter when I was growing up. My dad was a professor. He was an academic. So me being lawyer was a kind of a weird aberration, because I was always a little bit of a weird kid who was into entrepreneurship and doing my own thing, very much watch my own drum beat. I think truthfully, the reason I went to law school was because I was building my own business in college and basically never attended classes. I graduated with not the greatest GPA. I got really curious. I got I think maybe a little bothered that I had – felt like I really had never taken the opportunity to develop myself intellectually and academically. I got really curious. I was like what am I really capable of. I thought law school would be a really interesting way to both help figure that out, and then that same time, develop some really useful skills that would help me whether I stayed in the law or whether I moved into business or anything else. I just kind of knew that it would teach me how to think differently and teach me how to develop logical arguments. I thought it would teach me how to write in a way that would be really useful in the real world, but it taught me how to write in a various – taught me how to write as a lawyer which I was really happy not to have to do when I finally chose to move on from the career. It wasn’t based on some external expectation that this is your path. It was really me just sort of using it as a tool to figure out what I was capable of.
Melyssa Griffin: Right. How did you move past that fear of just changing everything? Like going from a lawyer, corporate lawyer it sounds like, to starting a wellness center, to having a yoga studio. What was that fear like and how did you get past those feelings?
Jonathan Fields: I mean for me the fear was a) I live in New York City, and at the time, I was dating the woman who would eventually become my wife. I knew that I was probably going to be starting a family soon. It costs a lot of money to live in New York City and then the thought of raising a family in New York City, and I was kind of at a point in my life where I’m not really open to living hand to mouth. I’m not really open to just – to going to zero. I want to be comfortable. So part of it was the fear of going to zero, the fear, but also I think the bigger thing for me, I knew in the back of my mind because I was the entrepreneur kid, I’ve always been able to figure out a way to be okay financially. I think I had to get over really the fear of judgment of people sort of looking from the outside in and saying wow he had like the power job, he had all this stuff and he just couldn’t hack it, what a shame. He couldn’t make it. So I kind of had to just get rid of my ego. The thing that really pushed me was being hospitalized. It was a big wake up call. And for me, that pain was enough to offset whatever pain the fear of having to start something new was causing me. I also realized that every day longer I stayed in this current trajectory, would be a day where the sort of classic golden hand callus would start to close around my wrists and I would start to build a life and build a family, and spend money and build all sorts of things and scaffolding and prop up the expectation of having all those same things. I probably wouldn’t be able to actually make different decisions until a few decades later. So there was a window where I kind of knew I had to do something fairly soon or else it would get exponentially harder to make a really big disruptive move if I waited even just a few years. I said I don’t know what’s going to happen here, but let me give it a shot. I mean let’s be honest too, I still had my law license. So I also knew in the back of my head, listen, I really, really, really don’t want to go back to this, but push comes to shove, if everything just goes south and I need to find a way to generate enough income to be okay fairly quickly, I had that skill set and had a license to practice that I could rely on. So that kind of helped ease the transition probably for the first few years. I think that helped allay the fear that was in the back of my mind, where I kind of knew I had this thing there which is interesting because a lot of people will say like you should just put that out of your mind entirely and burn the ships. You should have just given up your license to practice and walked away because that would force you to succeed.
I actually had some different, like a very different theory, a very different lens on that approach. I’m curious what you think about this too, because you work with so many entrepreneurs, aspiring entrepreneurs. What I’ve seen is that people respond to sort of the urgency of the burn the ships approach in one of two ways, either they’re wired so that becomes fierce motivation for action taking and they do everything they have to do to make this next thing succeed, or it is absolutely demoralizing and paralyzing. That urgency and scarcity basically makes you curl up in a ball and just hide in the corner and you stop taking any action at all. So I never make sure* of the universal proclamation that everybody should do this or do that. What my experience has been is figure out how you respond to the scarcity and the urgency that’s created by essentially burning the ships, and then make your choice based on like what would be motivating and action taking for you, not the opposite. I’m curious what your sort of experience has been like that.
Melyssa Griffin: It’s funny that you said that because in my head I was thinking the exact same thing, that it’s more based on the person and how they respond to that fear or is this going to actually propel them forward and make them want to work even harder. I feel like that’s me if I have a backup, I’m like when I lose the backup, I can just kind of go to that and not really focus so much on this, but if I don’t have a backup, I’m putting everything into this thing. For other people, not having a backup is like all they’re going to focus on. They’re like oh my God, I don’t have anything to fall back on. I’m so anxious and worried and then they can’t focus on the thing that they actually want to be doing. So I think like you said, it really does depend on the person. It’s up to the person to figure out which kind of section they fall into and then having a plan that suits them and who they are.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. Now totally, it’s been my experience also. It’s good to hear that, sort of like you seeing the same thing with different people. Because I know for me personally, I don’t – I just work hard if I get an idea in my head and I want to make it happen. I’ve also learned that I’m fairly comfortable with a very high level of sustained uncertainty, probably more so than the average person. So because I’m kind of – I’m wired for action taking and I’m comfortable going into that space, what I realize is I really didn’t – like it didn’t matter to me whether I had my law license or not, whether I burned the ships or not. I was going to go and work as hard as I could work to try and make this new thing happen no matter what. So for me, it wasn’t really a difference maker either way. I just knew that I wanted to create this new thing because it would give me something cool to do. It would give me a sense of purpose, a sense of meaning and contribution that I just wasn’t feeling as a lawyer. I have no knock on the path of law or the practice. For some people, it’s awesome and it gives them everything they need. It just wasn’t my path.
Melyssa Griffin: Right. I love that you kind of like – I feel like so many people think of it as like this really complicated thing when you’re trying to decide what you want to do with your life, but you just did the thing that felt cool to you, like this is what feels good, this is what I know is going to be meaningful for me. It’s like we don’t have to overcomplicate this decision of what our life’s work is going to be, maybe it’s just the thing that feels really good right now.
Jonathan Fields: I think that’s part of it. I also think that what I’ve learned over now a couple of decades, is that there’s a core set of questions that you should ask and explorations that are super, super helpful in trying to figure out a next big move. It actually doesn’t take long to sort of ask those questions and get that basic set of metrics… what I learned is that… Yeah, sure. Really understanding what I call your sparks, what lights you up. There are sort of like a series of specific sparks for it that are very individualized for each person, understanding your strengths on two levels, your strengths based on what would be more considered your character strengths, the essential parts of your character that when you utilize them as much as possible in the way you contribute to the world, you just feel like everything is aligned* and you feel lit up. And then strengths and more of a StrengthsFinder orientation which translates more towards your talents, your skills, your gifts, the things that you’re really good at, the things that come easily to you, knowing your values and beliefs. So it’s sort of a core set – there’s a basket of about probably five to ten questions and metrics that I look at, but the interesting thing is this, most people will barely explore any of those at all. They’ll just start looking at different jobs and they’ll just say is this job right for me or is it not. They’ll never… yeah exactly, rather than just asking who am I, like what really matters to me, what lights me up, what fills me up, what empties me out.
Here’s the interesting thing that I was trying to circle back to, is that it doesn’t take long to answer those sort of earlier questions, but that doesn’t get you where you need to be. Once you have that sort of like fundamental profile, the next part is okay so how do I contribute to the world in a way where my actions are really fiercely aligned with who I am. That’s a process of experimentation, like you can’t think your way into an answer to that question. You have to act your way into the answer. That’s where I think a lot of people get tripped up, because we keep thinking well let me just keep analyzing and let me ask more questions, and let me interview people who are doing this and let me – if I think about this long enough, I’m going to get an answer and it doesn’t work that way. The only way to get your answer is just to go out and try it, to do it and do it not necessarily with the mindset of this must succeed, do it with the mindset of so this is the next experiment that I’m running to get more information to see if this is right for me or not. As long as it gives me information, I win. It’s not a failure you. And then if it’s great, awesome. I’ll double down with that. And if it’s not, that’s awesome too because now I have more information, I can carry that into the next experiment. So to me, it’s like – and I realize that this was my approach. I didn’t really know this until years later when I realized that people didn’t do it this way, that after having spoken with so many people now, where the process is almost entirely internal. It’s like this constant spin cycle in your head and you’re trying to get the answer by thinking it through and you can’t. At some point, you just have to go and do it.
Melyssa Griffin: Yeah, I love that advice. I feel like that’s great advice for almost any issue you’re having in your life, is just take action because I think even for something like confidence, how do you get more confidence? You take action and start doing the things that make you feel unconfident or scared. How do you decide on what kind of job or path to pursue? It’s just everything’s an experiment and just taking action in those directions of things that feel good and that you want to try…
Jonathan Fields: You seem to be wired that way a lot also, because when you look at your trajectory, you really action oriented. It seems like you’re just trying things and trying things and trying things. Does that come easily to you or is that something that sort of you had to cultivate?
Melyssa Griffin: It does. I think for me, it’s the sense of it is an experiment and also it’s going to work out in some way. Even if I try this thing and it just crashes and burns, I tried it and like it was fun and I got something out of the process. I feel like with anything that you do in your life, there’s always at least one thing that you can learn or get out of doing that thing, whether it’s going to a conference that was just a horrible conference or whether it’s launching a business that ends up failing. We always get something out of it. So I just look at the thing that I can get out of it. I feel like when you go into it with that attitude of just optimism and knowing that something will work out, then it ends up working out. It ends up becoming the thing that you need it to be.
Jonathan Fields: I think that’s what – when Eric Ries wrote “Lean Startup” which was this huge book in Silicon Valley and in tech entrepreneurship, to me, the single most important thing that came out of that book was that he said, “Listen, it’s not like the metric in the early days of anything. It’s not making money. It’s not success. It’s not sales. It’s learning.” You want to gather data and the information that validates or invalidates your assumptions as fast as humanly possible. That is your primary metric. Everything else becomes secondary because every – like the early stage of everything is the startup phase. In business, the startup phase is designed to answer the question: is there a viable business model here? It’s not designed to like build something successful. A startup is an entity that is in search of a business. If we treat everything that we do that way – if it’s a new relationship, like the dating phase, look at it as the startup phase where your whole goal here is not like I must have love now. It’s like well this is kind of interesting and cool, let’s go through this sort of process and figure out is this right, is it not right, and what can I learn from it. And then it’s always a win*.
Melyssa Griffin: Yeah absolutely. I love that. So I’m curious like you have done so many things, and with your current brand, you have multiple books, you have a blog, you’ve done videos, you have a podcast, and you have an adult camp which we’re going to talk about. It sounds so cool. So how do you balance all this? We also – like I feel you have such a good balance with your family life too. We even rescheduled this interview so you could celebrate your anniversary with your wife which I freaking loved. How do you do that? How do you find that balance between all of these big projects you’re doing and also a personal life, and all the other things that you probably are up to?
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. It’s such a great question. So first, I don’t believe in balance. I love the phrase blend, work life blend, rather than work life balance because I’m a language freak. You already know this. I think words matter. When we use the word balance, it implies a) that it’s possible, and I don’t think it is. I think it sets a standard that is like more frustrating and debilitating and humiliating for people…
Melyssa Griffin: I find that such a freeing thought to hear.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. So blend to me is like hey listen – and it also assumes that work and life are contrary to each other and they have to be balanced against each other, rather than saying well what if work and life actually could be constructed in a way where they seamlessly integrate and where you love all of them, and your work is such a deep source of meaning and purpose and contribution that it is your life. So for me, I look to find ways to build business to generate income, to be of service and contribute to the world that genuinely lights* me up. It doesn’t always happen. I crash and burn. I do stupid things and I do things where like 30% of the time I really don’t like what I’m doing, because we all do. That’s sort of the reality of business building and having careers. For the most part, if I feel like it’s really meaningful, I don’t feel the need to balance and I kind of try and seamlessly move between the two. The other thing is that I think it’s really important to understand the importance of what I call the three good life buckets: contribution, connection and vitality. The idea is that a good life is when all of those buckets are as full as they can get. Contribution is meaningful work. Connection is deep and meaningful relationships. Vitality is the state of your mind and body. If we can optimize all of those, that’s awesome, but if any one of those starts to get too empty, we crash and burn.
So part of the way I would keep this sense of like being okay, is really kind of looking at that every single day and saying like how connected am I, is my connection bucket on a two out of ten, because I’m going to be in a world of hurt if it is. That means I have to go back, I have to spend more time with my wife and my kid, and my family, and my friends. Is my vitality bucket a disaster? Which for entrepreneurs especially, tends to be one of the first things to go. They’re like I can get back to that later. It’s like I’m on a deadline. I have a launch – whatever it may be. I’ll work out next month or I’ll eat well next month. The thing is, it’s your ability to take care of yourself, to fill your vitality bucket that lets you contribute on a profoundly different level. So to me, it’s this idea of just – it’s a daily practice of asking these questions, like quick scan, like how’s my connection bucket feeling, how’s my vitality bucket feeling, how’s my contribution bucket feeling. If you notice that you’ve got some issues and they’re leaking and running dry, doing something that day and the next day, the next day.
So for me, the idea of balance, the closest I would come would be sort of like keeping my buckets as full as they can be. There’s another thing that I’ve done which is that – so you mentioned that we rescheduled this because I want to honor my anniversary. So it’s my twentieth anniversary which is like an amazing blessing. I’m married to my best friend, the most incredible woman on the planet, and we’re also business partners. We haven’t always been. We built separate careers for many years. About I guess three, four years ago, we started working together on Good Life Project, not because we woke up one day and said let’s go into business together, but because we just kind of happened to have very complementary skill sets. She’s amazing at experience building and creating on the ground events and stuff like that. We would run a lot of programs that would require that, sometimes internationally. She’s awesome at that so we started working together to co-create these different things. The way we work together and the way we are, it kind of works, not necessarily for everybody, but for us it works really well. So part of the solution for me has been that I literally spend pretty much every waking hour, seven days a week with my wife. For us, that works really, really well. And so, that’s kind of like – and it was a really long winded answer, but I think it’s also – I think the big thing is it’s a daily practice. It’s continually checking in and asking yourself, hey how am I doing.
Melyssa Griffin: Right. I love that idea of checking in on your three different buckets every day, maybe journaling. I don’t know if you journal, but that’s been big for me recently. Going through your buckets and being like how is my connection bucket, how is my vitality bucket, and thinking of where they’re actually at. Because so often, we kind of just go with the flow and assume things are the way they should be and they’re fine, when really something’s off. When we have that practice of just sitting down and reflecting and journaling and thinking about these things, it makes such a huge difference. I know in your book, “How to Live a Good Life”, you talk all about these buckets and go into a lot of detail about them. So anybody who’s really interested in this topic or feels like something is off, definitely check out “How to Live a Good Life”. You give a lot of exercises in the book too that people can do to fill these buckets or to reflect on them more. Are there a couple that you, like come to top of mind that you practice regularly or that you love or recommend?
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. So there are a couple. One is this thing called forest bathing, which is kind of funny. It’s a Japanese phrase called Shinrin-yoku which translates roughly to forest bathing. It’s funny because when I wrote that chapter in the book, I realized it was actually something that really resonated with me. Since then, it’s kind of become a buzz in media, and I see this showing up all over the place. So the idea is that nature affects us in some pretty profound ways. It affects our physiology and our psychology, and not just in a woo-woo metaphysical way, but actually in a science validated way. So exposure to going walking in trees. Actually there are chemicals that are emitted by forests and by plants, and combined with the outdoors, combined with sunlight, it actually does all sorts of things from lowering inflammation to lowering levels of stress, anxiety, depression. All this stuff is sort of like it’s been studied and measured, so much so that in Japan where this original phrase came from, there are designated Shinrin-yoku forests where people will go walking, because it is considered to be deeply therapeutic. If you are even in an indoor environment like in your home or in an office, simply having a plant or something green in your side of view, changes your psychology and your physiology.
So for me, I always knew intuitively that nature was my reset, but it was really cool to actually dive into the science behind it. So I live in a part of New York City where two blocks in one direction is the Hudson River and three blocks in the other direction is Central Park. For me, that’s awesome. I don’t think I could be in the city without being where I am because pretty much every day, if not probably five days a week, I’m walking in Central Park. I take all of my meetings, face to face meetings or walking* meetings outside, barring really extreme weather. We almost always go into Central Park. I take all of my phone calls as walking phone calls on the headset in Central Park. So I’m just in there. For those who don’t know Central Park in New York City, the park itself is the size of some cities. It is a massive, massive, massive park where you can get lost in the trees and feel like you’re sort of like out in the woods somewhere. So forest bathing, exposure to nature to me is this really awesome thing that just really – it changes everything for me. It’s my daily reset. It’s like that. It’s a part of my daily practice.
Melyssa Griffin: I feel like humans, like we started in the natural world. That’s where we used to live more regularly. It seems like it’s part of our, just kind of DNA. That’s what we feel most comfortable in, like when we’re in nature, we just feel so happy and then we go back to our houses and kind of forget about it. It seems like almost this ancestral thing based on where we started and we feel that connection when we’re back in it.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah, I totally agree. I think especially if you live in a city environment, it really affects you. There’s actually a bunch of research on how cities affect sort of the human race. As a general rule, it’s not great. So it’s interesting because I hadn’t gotten – like even though I go into the park on a regular basis and walk along the water which keeps me sane, I hadn’t really gotten out of the city in quite a while. A couple weeks ago, for the first time, we went out and we drove up to this beautiful farm to table restaurant, about an hour north of the city where literally you get out. It’s like trees and it’s on the farm. It’s not like farm to table, like the farm is the restaurant. I stepped outside of the car. I smelled the air. I felt the breeze. I saw these fields. It was like I could almost feel my heart rate and my blood pressure just lower. I felt like I could breathe again. I felt like everything just got calm again. I could see the world in color more vividly, and just like – it literally took two seconds for me to just remember oh this matters. It’s great to get into a park for an hour a day, but I actually – for me to be okay, it reminded me that I have to physically remove myself from the city environment for longer than that on a really regular basis. Are you similar that way?
Melyssa Griffin: I am. It’s almost like I forget that I need nature and then when I’m in it, I’m like oh my gosh, what have I been doing? Why have I not been to a forest like this in so long? It is something that 100% rejuvenates me. I feel the same way where, when I’m in it, I’m really in it and I love it. I feel more present too, just present in the moment. So I buy a lot of plants. That’s my fix right now. I do want to make more of a point of being in nature more. I do.
Jonathan Fields: I think especially for people who have an entrepreneurial side to them and/or just really enjoy big parts of the work that they do in the world, it’s easy for us to get lost down that rabbit hole, and just start spending more and more time doing that because it’s kind of fun. It’s interesting and we see really cool things happening. So it’s not even that like we’re working so hard because there’s pressure from some external thing to make us work so hard, we’re working that hard because we actually were lit up by what we want to do. We kind of have to have circuit breakers and triggers to kind of like pull us out and remind ourselves that there’s actually other awesome stuff that helps us feel good too outside of that.
Melyssa Griffin: Right. Absolutely, yeah. So I want to circle back and make sure, were there any other exercises that you love or you practice on a daily basis. Because I love the first one you shared.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. So this is kind of still staying in the vitality bucket side of things, but one thing that’s sacred for me, every day for me starts with a seated* mindfulness practice. It’s two things. One is probably pranayama or breathing exercises. That leads immediately into a mindfulness practice. For me, it’s been game changing, and not in sort of like these big, profound, like oh my gosh, everything’s great, like the world is singing type of thing. It’s got this slow build effect where I just would notice overtime, I’m like wait – so the things that would make me anxious or freaked out or angry, I’m just – I’m more okay with them. I can breathe through uncertainty and stress and anxiety and not knowing, and take action with more ease and sort of like a stronger sense of equanimity and calm. And then I also noticed that I feel like I can see more, like I’m able to actually be less reactive and more responsive. I make better decisions. I see more of what’s going on around me so I can take in more data and better information to make better decisions, and see how things come together, see patterns more clearly. That, as any kind of creative professional or just anyone who’s like, is a maker on some level, it’s huge. Do you have any kind of stilling* practice or daily practice? Well you said you journal, right?
Melyssa Griffin: I journal and I do also meditate too. Like you said, I feel like it helps you see things overtime from just this higher perspective rather than being sucked in the moment and feeling all of the emotions or the anxiety, and just really being able to see like okay this is how this is working out right now, this is how things are going, but I don’t have to be so in the moment where I’m feeling anxious or angry or upset. Yeah, so that’s been big for me too. It’s just that practice of becoming more mindful in my own life.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. I think it makes you less reactive. That alone is huge.
Melyssa Griffin: Yeah, it really is. So I’m curious for – you started this camp called Camp GLP. It’s this amazing, like culmination of all of the things that you’ve done with your brand that you talk about in your book, that you teach, that you speak about. As a camp for adults, an adult summer camp, and you have creative workshops, business workshops, and then just fun activities that I feel like kind of bring out that childlike wonder in people. Can you tell us a little bit more about it? Because a) I want to know more because I’m really interested in it, and b) it sounds like such a cool, unique idea.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah it is. I think this is one of the things where my wife, Stephanie and I have thought about doing. We’ve run all sorts of things where there was an on the ground gathering type of element to programming for years together, but we kind of wanted to raise the game. At one point, we even thought about buying or building a retreat center. Sort of like as a first step, we’re like well why don’t we actually see what would it be like to create some sort of gathering where people come together, we live communally. So the huge difference from a three day event versus camp, is that we’re living, breathing, eating together 24/7 in a shared accommodation. So we sleep in kids’ bunks. Things get real fast, but in an amazing way because we’re thinking to ourselves when was the last time that you had an opportunity, just like step out of your everyday life. Step into this altered reality. It’s 130 acres in nature where it’s got bad cell signals and bad WiFis. So you’re kind of like just dropped into this wonderland with a group of people who’ve all raised their hand and said I see the world similar to you, like we have shared values and shared beliefs. I just want to drop the facade and have fun and reconnect with a deeper sense of play and joy, and have those conversations and create those stories that most of us kind of feel like we probably left behind in our late teens or 20s and just got serious about life. It’s like we send kids to sleepaway camp, but what about the grownups?
We started this four years ago. It was one of those “we’re going to build it, will they come” things, because we literally had to – I mean like we took over and we had to buy out this massive sleepaway camp and build all this programming and how people end* up facilitate workshops…
Melyssa Griffin: Wow, so you bought the camp?
Jonathan Fields: We didn’t buy it but we had to buy out the camp for like the time that we were there so that nobody else would come and use another part of it. So we had to commit. We’re like we are guaranteeing X hundreds of people are going to show up. The first year we had 250 people come which was amazing. It was the most incredible experience and people were leaving – they’re like I didn’t know what to expect, I was terrified coming to this. Because a lot of people actually come alone, and we learned that the first year. They’re like – it was like I got here and I realize everything was going to be okay. You create a container that just made everyone feel safe. And so this year, we’re going to have 400 people. It’s kind of mind blowing because it’s also – it’s an hour and a half outside of New York City. So we figured it would be a lot of locals. There are very few people from the area. It’s very international. We have campers coming in from all over Europe, South America, Australia, Asia, India. It’s amazing. It’s this beautiful sort of like community that comes together. Yeah, it’s been this incredible thing to be a part of. My wife, Stephanie, is the camp director. So she’s kind of like the – she runs the whole thing and helps organize and structure. It takes a solid chunk of the year to actually pull it off along with a team of people that kind of come together to make this amazing thing happen.
Melyssa Griffin: Right. What kind of activities do you do at the camp?
Jonathan Fields: So it’s a lot of stuff.
Melyssa Griffin: Yeah, I was looking at the schedule. I was like wow, this is a really amazing schedule here.
Jonathan Fields: People are like I’m having major FOMO here because there’s so many things to do. We’re like you know what, it’s totally cool to show up and sort of like pack your day with activities and it’s also totally cool to show up and do absolutely nothing, hang out on the lawn, play Frisbee and just have awesome conversations all day. That’s absolutely awesome. So the program is actually built around the three buckets: a connection, contribution and vitality. So contribution, there’s a whole – there’s a ton of workshops. I don’t know, there’s like 30 or 40 workshops on everything from, sort of like making crafts, hand lettering, art to business and branding and things like that, and entrepreneurship, mindset. There’s tons of vitality based classes like physical activities. And then there is – there’s all the playful stuff that you would find at a kid’s sleepaway camp. So there’s like a bonfire and a talent show and like swimming in the lake, and all sorts of other – just like fun stuff that you would find at sleepaway camp as a kid.
The awesome thing also, so believe it or not, I’m very much on the more introverted side of the spectrum, sort of socially. I think because I’m really hyper aware of how I get in environments for a lot of people, over the years, we’ve really become sensitized to making sure that we’re really welcoming. Even if you show up alone, you get off a bus or out of a car, off a train, the moment you get there, we want you to know that it’s going to be okay. So we’ve built a lot sure* mechanisms and ways for people to interact and feel comfortable, and also to step aside and just go for a walk alone in the woods if you want to, which I do on a pretty regular basis during camp, just to kind of reset sort of my social reserves. So it’s been a really interesting learning experience for us and it’s just taught us so much about the importance of community and how to actually cultivate community, which is something that I feel is so important in the world right now.
Melyssa Griffin: Absolutely. I love how you create this space that’s safe for everyone. Whether you’re an introvert, extrovert or anything else, you come and you feel accepted and you’re able to kind of pick and choose what feels good for you. I’m curious. It seems like for a camp of 400 people, that’s a lot of people to be together and it doesn’t necessarily mean that just because all these people are together, they’re going to become vulnerable and genuine with each other. It seems like you really have that at Camp GLP. How do you inspire that kind of vulnerability and how do you create this atmosphere where people feel like they can be vulnerable or can be exactly who they are without putting on a façade?
Jonathan Fields: Yeah, it’s such a great question. So one of the first things that we learned when we were thinking about how do we build this community in a way where exactly that happens, is what are the critical pieces of the puzzle, what are the critical elements that have to be there for this to work, for that magic to emerge. What we realized is that the single biggest thing that you have to create, the first thing that you have to create is a feeling of safety, and not just physical safety, but emotional safety. The feeling of like somebody is – like if you let your guard down, if you drop the façade, if you don’t talk about your position or talk about your last big win at work, but actually if you talk about the fact that you’re really struggling or you’re coming out of a really tough relationship or a health crisis, that people are just going to look at you and be like that’s cool, me too, let’s talk about it. We realize that we needed to find a way to create that safety. What we realized is a couple things. There are different ways to do it.
One is everything always happens from the top down. So we needed to model this behavior. We needed to model being open and being accepting, and being graceful, and being respectful, and treating people with dignity. Part of that also, was very early on in Good Life Project, we actually like – we wrote a creed and it was like the statement of beliefs. It’s like here’s what I believe about – this is how I see the world. What’s interesting is I really do feel like that has served as a litmus test to a certain extent, where if people read that and they’re like “this is the stupidest thing on the planet, you guys are morons, I want nothing to do with you”, that’s awesome because there’s going to be another community and another state of beliefs that are going to be right for you. It’s great because then it lets somebody self-select out of that community. And then if somebody reads it and they’re like wow you’re in my head, then it kind of tells you that if I participate in a program or listen to podcasts or show up at camp or something like that, that there’s a really good chance that I’m going to find people who see the world similarly. And in fact, we found that that really does make a big difference. And then what we do in addition to that is we create all sorts of momentary touch points and mechanisms to give people permission to just drop the façade and automatically interact with each other.
So a really fun example. One year, I think it was the first year that we did this, the very first night when people are still kind of like feeling their way through, like is this right, am I okay, is it going to be alright, we created what we called human bingo. So we made bingo cards and instead of reading numbers and getting somebody five across, there was a row of 25 boxes. Your job was to fill out all 25 boxes. The card, it would be like find somebody that speaks Italian, find somebody that’s read like three books in the last three months, find somebody… So it’s like we gave people social permission to actually just randomly wander up to any person and say hey which one are you, have you done this, have you done this, have you done this. It starts a conversation around fun things. You don’t have to get nervous about what do I say, how do I start a conversation, why should I approach somebody. It also created this environment of like we’re all in this together. I’m going to be goofy and I’m going to be vulnerable and I’m going to ask a question. I’m going to approach you even though I’m not quite sure about this. I think between that, the modeling, the really clear ethos and the creed. And then it really – the people who show up are just stunning human beings, like giant hearts that just like pour love, and are there to just be of service, to be helpful, to enjoy themselves. It’s really – so as much as we work really hard to create the container and create sort of like the basic ingredients, the real magic happens. It comes from everybody who participates in the community. That’s really where I think there’s a certain amount of luck that has helped to create that sense of safety. We kind of put the ingredients in and then the people show up and decide whether it’s going to work or not.
Melyssa Griffin: Right. I love what you said about modeling the behavior that you want people to embody, because I think that’s just great advice for business owners, entrepreneurs in general, where if you want to create this tribe of people who feel genuine and authentic and have these different character traits that are important to you, you have to first model those things to your community. Maybe that means like putting yourself in some uncomfortable situations where you’re being vulnerable in ways that you haven’t been in public before or doing things that scare you, and modeling that form of courage to your audience. So I love that form of responsibility. I feel like I am a better human when I have a responsibility or feel indebted to other people, and want to show them what they’re capable of versus just seeing what I can do. So I love that.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah, and especially like if you’re bringing it back to business, if you’re building the type of business where eventually you’re going to build a team, the team is going to look to you to understand what’s appropriate, what’s not appropriate, and how to behave in the world and how to interact with clients and vendors. And so, it creates this ripple effect where we put together a sort of like a big volunteer crew to help pull this whole thing off. We expect them – so we have to model behavior for them and treat them with all the same love and dignity and respect and stuff like that, because we want them to understand that that’s the expectation. We want them to feel what it feels like to interact on that level and then we want them to turn around and offer that same thing to everyone that they’re in service of. If you just give lip service to it, it’s just people see through that so quickly.
Melyssa Griffin: Right. Absolutely. Are there any favorite stories or memories looking back over the four years of having this camp? Like anything that stands out to you as like wow, I can’t believe that happened or wow that was really meaningful to me.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. There are so many. We’re kind of waiting for the first marriage to come out of it at this one… there may be actually. We know there are romances that have come out of it. There was one moment, it was the first or second year that we did it, where one of the campers – his name was Barry, kind of – it was a talent night show. This is, you’re going up on stage – it’s a really fun kind of camp environment. There’s a stage and he was kind of on the fence, and finally he goes up. He’s like a programmer, like a technology guy…
Melyssa Griffin: Yeah and there’s hundreds of people watching.
Jonathan Fields: Right, exactly. He gets up and he walks up on stage. You can tell he’s really nervous and he wasn’t sure he wanted to do it. He tells a story about how a couple years ago, he was visiting or hanging out with his niece who was like this little girl lying in bed. She was really, really, really scared about monsters being under the bed. He wanted to help her be okay, so he wrote this poem about monsters under the bed. It was this really beautiful poem. And then he went and he read it to her and it made her happy, and it made her okay. It calmed her down and then she was totally fine. She actually saw monsters as her friend after that. And so, he said he had that poem. He wasn’t prepared. He hadn’t written it down. So he just pulls out his little mobile device and just kind of sitting on stage with his head down in the device, reading kind of slowly. Everyone is getting really hushed. It’s this beautiful, amazing story. He gets down* and he looks up, and like everyone stands up and starts whooping and applauding, and just like embraced him. It was so beautiful to see that. Here’s a guy who’s like, turns out his secret aspiration is actually to write, especially to write like children stories and children’s books. This was like this moment of profound validation where he felt so good. He felt so safe that he could step up in front of like a decent number of people that he really didn’t know that well and share something really personal that he had written for this little girl who was his niece, with no preparation whatsoever and then to be embraced like that. It turns out that people were so moved that within a matter of days, a couple of other people who had been at camp also, who were involved in book packaging and design and copyrighting, got together with him and formed a team. They took that poem and they turned it into a fully produced and designed and children’s book. So that, I think it was like maybe three months later, this poem that he had read off of his mobile phone on the talent show stage at camp on some random evening, was a children’s book. I was just like it just shows the power of the community and what happens when you create moments like that.
Melyssa Griffin: That is so beautiful. I like have goosebumps, holding back tears right now. That is so beautiful. That is just one of my favorite things to see people not only supporting each other, but also taking those vulnerable steps to show who they really are to people that maybe they don’t even know that well, and then to be validated with their ideas, and to even go beyond that and to help him really pursue his dream. That is so awesome. I’m sure there’s many, many more experiences like that at Camp GLP too. So it sounds…
Jonathan Fields: It’s pretty amazing. Yeah it’s pretty cool to be a part of it. Every year we’re kind of like wow this is a lot of work, are we going to keep doing this. And then we get there and we see what’s happening, we’re like this is so much bigger than us of course.
Melyssa Griffin: Yeah absolutely. So I have one final question that I like to ask all of my guests. The podcast really started for me, kind of losing way of my purpose and then re-infusing my life with more meaning and purpose and fulfillment. So I’m curious, what do you feel like entrepreneurs or just humans in general, can do to live more meaningful, fulfilled lives?
Jonathan Fields: Yeah, such a good question. I think one of the most important things to do that most of us skip over, is know yourself. It’s really easy to take a course in high school, college, masters degree, whatever it is, there are a lot of classes that you can take and degrees that you can get, licenses that you can obtain that give you domain knowledge. There are very few classes that we take or we can take that say here is a process of inquiry that lets you really understand who you are, what you need to be full in the world, what empties you out, and what to engage in, and what to step away from as you build your life. And so, most of us just kind of blow past that and we just start doing random things and wonder why we’re not feeling good. Because we kind of assemble our lives in a haphazard random way and hope and pray that somehow it’s going to end up as something good, and sometimes it does, but very often it doesn’t or it gets halfway there. The thing is we don’t really know how to get it the rest of the way there because we never just hit pause and said who am I, like what do I care about, what empties me out, what fills me up, what are the processes, activities, tasks, locations and things like this that are really important to me in the world, who are the type of people I love to be with them and in service of and in relationship with. Some of those earlier inquiries, like what are my sparks, what are the things where when I do that type of thing, I feel like I’m being pulled from ahead rather than pushed behind, what are my deeper values and strengths. I think if we hit pause and say this matters, like that process of inquiry matters, let me spend a little bit of time on these questions, maybe I won’t get the answers right away, but I’m going to plant the seed, then it gives us the ability to make decisions moving forward that are so much better informed by the essence of who we are, rather than the veil of ignorance.
Melyssa Griffin: What a beautiful answer. I love that so much. Those are such great questions and things to reflect on as we try and form a life that feels purposeful and meaningful to ourselves. So know yourself and check back in and pressing pause. Thank you for that and thank you for this interview. You have been amazing and there’s just been so many nuggets of wisdom that I’ve taken away and I’m sure other people listening are taking away as well. So thank you so much Jonathan for being here and doing this.
Jonathan Fields: It’s been my pleasure. Thanks so much for inviting me. It’s been a lot of fun.