Joanna Penn, successful thriller writer, international speaker, and popular podcaster had a job that was crushing her. Then she decided to rewrite her life.
A number of years ago I interviewed Joanna Penn, of the popular podcast and blog The Creative Penn, for an online magazine. I was interested in all the things she does—self-publishing, blogging, speaking, fiction writing—but I was really after something else. At the time, I was on a quest for a new life trajectory. Joanna Penn had found hers. She’d changed her life dramatically. I wanted to know how she did it.
If you’re searching for your shiny, new future, you’re going to find Joanna’s story both hopeful and practical. Here’s what I learned.
Prologue: Our beliefs about ourselves can seriously limit our futures. Many of us stay stuck in jobs we hate because we can’t see beyond the walls of our office.
JP – I used to be an IT consultant implementing financial systems into large corporates. The money was great and so were the people I worked with, but my creativity was seriously stifled, to the point I didn’t believe I was creative at all. The work seemed pointless. It was soul-less, I was working really long hours and basically wondering what I was doing with my life.
Chapter 1: Speaking, exploring and writing about new truths will change your brain. It’s true. Have you ever decided to buy a house? If you have, you know that your brain suddenly became super-house activated. You found entire new neighborhoods you never knew existed. You were suddenly fascinated by the real estate section of the paper. The first thing Joanna did was career-change activate her brain.
JP – I wrote my own book on career change, with the intent to use it as a way to change my own.
I describe the process as skiing down a slope. You have to get moving in order to make any progress, and then you have to make a lot of turns along the way! Start with a goal, or an affirmation. Mine was “I am creative. I am an author.” I used to say it aloud when I went walking until it felt real, way before it came true.
Chapter 2: Joanna took the time to contemplate what career trajectory would best support the life she wanted.
JP – It’s important to question your assumptions about what you think you want. For example, saying ‘I want to be rich’ is unspecific and can mean different things. I found out that I didn’t actually want a 4 bedroom house and a car. Being rich to me really means being free to travel and live where I want, which in turn means fewer possessions and less physical ties.
I had a personal need to be location-independent, to be able to earn money wherever I lived. When I looked at what I wanted for my life it was clear, becoming an author-entrepreneur, earning money from books, speaking and selling courses from my website was the best choice.
Chapter 3: Positive thinking and visionary exercises are great, but at some point you have to actually do something to accomplish a life rewrite.
JP – I took dramatic action. I researched and wrote that first book. I started my website. I took courses on blogging. I built my first online product. I took an academy on public speaking, and I started speaking for free.
A book I highly recommend is Jack Canfield’s The Success Principles: How to get from where you are to where you want to be.The first principle is take 100% responsibility for your life.
Once you decide what you want, take action toward those goals, and write it all down. You’ll be amazed at how much you can change your life in just a few years. Another book I recommend is The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy, which is about how little actions, done consistently every day, can change your life massively over time.
Chapter 4: Expect bumps in the road and don’t let them discourage you. Most of us hit a few Saggy Middles before the path smooths out in front of us. Joanna was no exception.
JP – I tried a lot of businesses, including a scuba dive charter business, property investment, and even retrained as a psychologist, but none of those delivered the life values and happiness I really wanted. I had to work that out along the way. There are a lot of zigzags in the process of changing your life and your career. Things happen that alter your process.
When I started TheCreativePenn.com in 2008, I was determined to be a non-fiction author and motivational speaker, but in 2009 I started writing fiction. I never expected that, but it came from stepping into my own creativity, experimenting, and finding I loved the fiction side.
I am a voracious reader and although I had always wanted to write novels, I thought it was for people with a certain kind of mind that I didn’t have. Since I blog about writing, I challenged myself to do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in 2009 in order to blog about the experience. I didn’t expect anything to come from it, but those 20,000 words formed the basis for Pentecost, my first novel, which (at the time of this interview) has now sold over 40,000 copies.
*Since I spoke with Joanna, she has published 5 thrillers, started a dark, London detective series, and has written several books for writers on the business of writing. I’d say that was massive action.
Chapter 5: Joanna found honesty and humility are essential for continued growth.
JP – Authenticity and integrity are critical to me and I share honestly on my blog about the problems I face as well as the successes. For example, although my career change has been amazing, I have had shaky moments because it’s hard being an entrepreneur and working for yourself. I shared some of my insecurities and psychological issues in a post about the first year of being an entrepreneur. I believe sharing honestly is critical, and I bring this to my writing as well as my speaking.
Joanna Penn is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling thriller author, as well as a non-fiction writer for authors. She is also a professional speaker and entrepreneur,voted as one of The Guardian UK Top 100 creative professionals 2013. She’s based in London, England and has lived in Australia and New Zealand for 11 years. She is a self-proclaimed travel junkie.