Jonathan Fields understands the potential power of uncertainty. He gave up a six-figure income as a lawyer to make $12 an hour as a personal trainer. Then, married with a 3-month old baby, he signed a lease to launch a yoga center in the heart of Hell's Kitchen in New York City...the day before 9/11. Not only did he survive, he flourished and prospered. And he learned the real life lessons along the way that enabled him to develop a fresh approach to transforming uncertainty, risk of loss and exposure to judgment into catalysts for innovation, creation and achievement.
I sat with Jonathan on the rooftop of his virtual headquarters in Soho House in New York City to talk about his terrific new book Uncertainty: Turn Doubt And Fear Into Fuel For Brilliance.
Q: What's a "fear alchemist?"
A: Someone who's spent enough time understanding the process and experience of fear, what it is and what it isn't, and then equipping themselves with the strategies, skills and tools to take that experience and instead of having it paralyze them, turning it into something that mobilizes them.
Q: And you're one?
A: I'm an aspiring one...still learning, still exploring.
Q: What's a "certainty anchor" and how do you create one?
A: It's very simply something you can count on, that you know recurs regularly, every day, in your life in a fairly automated way. You can look forward to it always being the same, always being there. The power of it is that it gives you a sort of baseline calm, ropes to the ground if you will, so you feel more comfortable going to that untethered, creative place where you really just let go. Certainty anchors assure you that you'll still be able to touch back down after blasting off.
Q: What's the goal of having "creative hives," and how do they work?
A: The goal is to have an environment in which you can create at your highest potential. One of the things that stops people from taking action on what's in their head is the fear of judgment and criticism. So a creative hive is a place or space in which several people or groups are questing after the same pursuit, but not competing against each other. Instead of co-creation, it's more like the "parallel play" of children in a sandbox, each playing in the same space, but not necessarily with each other. Feedback in that sort of environment makes judgment safe and productive, because it's generally more constructive and encouraging.
Q: How did you create your "digital tribe?"
A: It's funny, I started my blog after I signed my first book deal, that was called Career Radical, as a way to build an audience for the book. It became much more than that. It became a community because my goal was to create conversations and content that was really valuable. Then Twitter came around, and gave me another way to craft conversations. And my philosophy has always been to give 10 times more than I get. That should be everyone's ethic in life anyway.
Q: As an self-described "artist turned entrepreneur turned NYC lawyer turned back to entrepreneur turned yoga guy turned artist again," you call yourself a skeptical spiritualist. What do you mean?
A: I'm open to there being a lot of things I can't validate scientifically, but I need to experience them myself on some level. I'm not into accepting things on blind faith. I love it when science helps theoretically explain spiritual phenomena. That's why I'm drawn to meditation and mindfulness.
Q: Talk to me about "going to zero."
A: It's the fear of losing everything—money, power, control, assets, prestige, relationships—and not being able to recover. The sad thing is we create these mental doomsday scenarios, but science shows us that not only are we horrible about predicting the future and how we will feel there, but we underestimate our capacity to adapt in crisis. Most things are recoverable. It isn't always pleasant when you're in the throes of going to zero, but when you come through it, it's really powerful.
Q: How do you minimize or avoid the collateral damage—to other parts of your life, and others in your life—in chasing your creative passion, if it's something dramatically different from your current path?
A: Build something on the side. Do it as a skunk works. Do it in your spare time. Take the 4+ hours the average Joe spends watching mindless TV and do something with it. People say "I need that time to wind down." Baloney. When you're doing something you're passionate about, it energizes you. At some point if you keep at it, you can make the break to the new path when the new idea is viable. Meantime, you keep your responsibilities, and provide the security and stability those in your life rely on.
Q: What would you do if you were twice as bold?
A: I'm already there. I'm at the edge. I'm at my audacity capacity.
Q: What's been your best mistake—meaning something where everyone said you were crazy, it would be a huge mistake to do it—but you did it anyway and it turned out to be brilliant?
A: Leaving my partner track in a big and prestigious law firm making seven figures and taking a job as a $12/hour personal trainer. It led to opening a yoga studio that became wildly successful, in the wake of 9/11.
Q: What's the coolest thing about an entrepreneur?
A: The ability to choose who you surround yourself with, who you work with. That's the magic of being an entrepreneur, for me.
Q: What's the one thing you want people to take away from Uncertainty?
A: That if you kill the butterflies in your stomach, you'll kill the dream. Most people back away when they get that nervous, uncomfortable feeling. But that feeling signals you're doing something that matters to you. Embrace the feeling. Lean into the discomfort. Try to understand what the feeling is telling you. Train yourself in the alchemy of fear.