In this conversation, Jonathan Fields shares his wisdom about how to dive into self-knowledge and really understand who you are, what you want, what you need in your life, and then how to harness that to do the work that you’re here to do.
How to Know What to Do with Your Life with Jonathan Fields
In this episode, we really unpack what Jonathan calls Sparketypes (the archetype of work that sparks you), tell you how you can figure out what yours is, and some really tactical ways to know what to do with your life.
Today we are talking with Jonathan Fields.
Jonathan is a dad, husband, entrepreneur, and an award winning author.
He’s the founder of Mission Driven Media and the Good Life Project, where he hosts the top-ranked Good Life Project podcast with millions of downloads and a global audience.
He’s also the creator of Sparketypes, a set of archetypes designed to reveal the source code for the work you’re here to do.
His latest book, How to Live a Good Life: Soulful Stories, Surprising Science, and Practical Wisdom, offers a powerful framework for a life well lived.
I invited Jonathan on to share his wisdom about how to look at your life right now and in retrospect and to find that through-line, how to dive into self-knowledge and really understand who you are, what you want, what you need in your life, and then how to harness that to do the work that you’re here to do.
On Jonathan’s journey to and from attorney:
Jonathan made a left turn after college, knowing that he wanted to do something to challenge himself and go back to school.
He’d been a lifelong entrepreneur, often in the wellness industry, but never applied himself very much academically and he was curious what he was capable of.
Until the last minute, Jonathan was split between going to get a graduate degree in physical therapy or law; he chose law, where he ended up doing very well.
His first step out of law school was to Securities and Exchange Commission in New York, which is a massive federal government agency that investigates the stock market and that world under the veil of secrecy.
From there, he moved onto a private equities and securities firm.
Knowing where Jonathan is at now, it’s so different from these original positions.
And this might give some optimism to people out there who may be in a career that doesn’t move them, that isn’t their calling.
“You don’t always have to start where you finish”.
In fact, many people don’t anymore; a recent statistic that Jonathan cites says that the average person changes jobs between eight and 11 times in their adult life and entire careers somewhere between four and seven times.
And that’s been his experience, too.
We have to prepare ourselves for adaptability more than domain expertise these days.
After about a year of working in a big government agency, Jonathan knew that it wasn’t the right work for him.
Similarly, he wasn’t feeling like law was in his future either.
But not ready to leave it behind, he went into a giant, private firm in Midtown, Manhattan, where he stayed for about a year.
However, he found himself in emergency surgery only three weeks into that job; he was barely going home, had massive amounts of stress, and he wasn’t taking care of his health.
And although he likes moving his body and eating well, he had abandoned all of it and then layered on insane amounts of stress with little sleep and an infection that basically mushroomed when his immune system cratered.
And that was his first major wake up call.
“When your career starts to be rejected by your body, you kind of have to start to listen”.
Not knowing where to go next, Jonathan sat in his office and made a list of things that sounded like a good fit for him to do with his life if he could figure out how to earn a comfortable family-worthy living in New York City while doing it; that was the beginning of the next story.
After he recovered from his surgery, he knew he wanted to leave law but he also knew he didn’t want to go back to living hand to mouth, knowing he would likely go back into the world of entrepreneurship and wellness.
He also knew he would take a pretty big financial hit, so he started saving money while still working a job that compensated well and didn’t leave him much free time to spend his earnings.
It finally got to the point where he felt life he had what he needed and he didn’t think he could sustain the pace he was working at anymore, so he left.
His first step out was taking a job as a personal trainer in a small, exclusive studio on the Upper-East side of Manhattan making $12 an hour.
“It was all about having the opportunity to step into an entirely new space and learn what was working and what was broken”.
And what he found was that everything was broken; the fitness industry has changed a lot since, but by and large it is an industry that is driven by maximizing revenue rather than creating powerful and sustainable outcomes for the people participating.
The average big box club loses close to 40% of their membership a year, which means every two and a half years, they essentially turn over their entire membership.
Any other industry with that level of turnover would probably not make it.
So to these businesses, the approach to fixing it isn’t to reengineer the way they’re serving people, it’s to spend more money on marketing and locking people into contracts.
Jonathan started to look at this and figure out what people really need, want, and aren’t getting, and then figure out how to give it to them.
Over the last decade, there have been a lot of grand awakenings in the wellness world: intimacy, community, novelty, different functional movement, stuff that engages the mind as much as the body, stuff that allows people to have a sense of joy so they look forward to hard work rather than being terrified of it.
If you look at the average crossfit box, the interesting thing is that there are a whole bunch of people who won’t pay $29 a month for a big box gym but they’ll pay $129 a month to be a member of a crossfit box and they’ll never miss a workout, but they wouldn’t show up at a big box gym.
So you have to ask what’s really happening here that’s creating this change.
On making the leap:
Jonathan admits that he’s unusually comfortable with high levels of risk and taking action and investing in the face of massive uncertainty.
Once he felt like he had a strong sense of how to do things right, the next step was launching his first fitness facility, which was focused on community building, and it grew rapidly.
And after about two and a half years, Jonathan was looking for something new so he sold the facility and came back into New York trying to figure out what the next thing would be for him.\
He was living in Hell’s Kitchen in the city, married with a young baby, and exploring the world of yoga.
He realized that yoga had a lot of benefit to offer, but the way yoga was available was similar to the fitness industry: terrifying to the average, middle-aged, person who felt they were unfit, inflexible, nervous, and self-judging about their bodies and their capabilities.
The thought of walking into a studio potentially filled with incense, chanting, where they would have to move their bodies in uncomfortable ways in front of large groups of people can be terrifying for a lot of people.
Jonathan realized there was an opportunity to preserve the power of the practice and remove the barriers to participation.
The change was in simple things like removing fragrance; in the US the average yoga studio student base is about 70-80% women, and women have a much higher incidence of scent-triggered migraines, so from the beginning he made a decision to not use incense in the studio so that they weren't turning away people who could benefit from the practice.
They launched it and signed a six year lease, the day before 9/11.
Followed was a lot of reflection over the next three weeks, but ultimately they decided what better time to open a business driven by community in service of healing.
Over the next few years Jonathan was accumulating knowledge and certifications.
For the first 18 years of his life, he trained as a competitive gymnast year-round so he already had a strong sense of somatics and mind-body.
It was just the natural evolution from his fascination with that connection and entrepreneurship and being in service to people.
On teaching yoga:
At this point, Jonathan still considers himself teaching yoga, just not the asana (pose) part of it.
He doesn’t teach a 90-minute class where people are moving and breathing together, but fundamentally, that part of yoga practice was originally developed to create a body and still mind so that you could deepen into the more lifestyle and meaning-driven parts of the practice.
Robyn is also a yoga teacher, combined with a background in research and psychology and large scale policy change.
She believes that when you have someone come to the practice with such a diverse background, it elevates all sides, but that the yoga philosophy, the asana, the movement, is secondary, although that’s what everyone thinks of and it’s where the barrier to entry exists.
As a lawyer, what originally brought Jonathan to the practice was that there was so much stress that he didn’t know how to handle.
He felt like he didn’t have the time for a physical practice (a feeling many of us are familiar with), so he was looking for something that could bring him back to center in the moment.
He found pranayama (breathing exercises) to be incredibly effective at taking him from a hyper-stressed out and anxious state into a calm and grounded place very quickly.
On what type of kid he was:
This conversation on Jonathan’s history starts around college and post-grad, but as a child, and to this day, Jonathan is a maker.
He wakes up in the morning and sees things that he wants to create; as a kid, that took the form of bikes, forts, painting, construction projects, as a high-schooler he made money painting album covers on the back of jean jackets, as a college student he spent his summer in construction building houses.
“Any time I had the chance to make things, I am the happiest person in the world”.
The process of making ideas go into something, making ideas manifest, is central to Jonathan as far as he can remember.
He hasn’t always been this self aware, though; he’s human, and still working on it
He was more introverted as a kid, and spent a lot of time alone in nature; having an orientation towards more stillness gave him more space to be self-reflective, but it’s taken him much more intentional practice of self-inquiry and self-discovery over the last 10 or 20 years to get to where he’s at.
On the value in self-study:
Robyn mentions that if you’re listening and unsure what kind of kid you were-- it’s completely normal; we don’t often have those opportunities for self-study or self-reflection, so it might not be something you have a lot of practice in.
And Jonathan thinks it’s even bigger than that:
“We don’t value self-awareness on the level that we value domain expertise”.
Most people might define success as mastery of a craft or skill, but rarely is it defined as something rooted in self-knowledge and self-awareness.
In Western society, we devalue it, but it’s the exact opposite in Eastern society.
There are tremendous paths to self-inquiry that have existed for thousands of years and it’s sort of the heartbeat of how you build and live your life, but Western wellness doesn’t place value on that quite so much
And that may be underlying so much angst and sadness because we don’t know ourselves well enough to understand when and what to say yes and no to in a way that will allow us to align our decisions with the things that fill us up in the world.
“Sometimes we get it right, but a lot of times we get it wrong. We don’t know ourselves well enough to understand why we’ve gotten it wrong and what to do about it to come back into a place of better alignment and really just spend more time filling rather than emptying”
There’s a lack of emphasis, or even pushing away, of the idea self-study in Western culture.
Even the word “self” is so related to “selfishness” for so many of us.
In a conversation with Dr. Kristin Neff, she talks about the idea taking “self” out of “self-compassion” if it’s becoming a barrier to practice.
And in talking to Gretchen Rubin, she found that many people are coming to the same conclusion.
If self-knowledge is so important, why is it so hard?
“We have never really accepted that it’s a necessary process for us to be happy and live meaningful, fulfilled, fully expressed lives, so we’ve never gone in search for the tools that would allow us to actually deepen into it”.
We also have become an instant-based culture.
There are processes that are helpful, but there is very little that just gives you everything that you want in an instant; it’s a process, it’s a practice.
Part of Jonathan’s daily practice is meditation and for the last nine years he has had a daily mindfulness practice and a daily breathing practice
Every time you think you know yourself you realize that there is so much more that hasn’t yet been revealed.
We’re really focused on short-term solutions, are there are some ways to shortcut the process
It’s a blend of practice, tools, practice, tools, and practice; you get tools that will give you information, and then you build a practice around that, and then you cycle between those.
But a lot of us just want it now, and Jonathan admits he would take it now too if he could.
In fact, a lot of his work over the last few years has been trying to figure out how to accommodate a Western set of expectations while providing tools and resetting expectations that allow us to get immediate and valuable information and also emphasize the process of deepening into it and continuing to learn more over time.
Part of Jonathan’s work over the last couple of years has been developing a set of archetypes that help people understand the source code for their life’s work.
He’s learned that his primary and secondary archetypes are that he is first a “maker”, and informing that is what he calls a “scientist”, somebody who is driven to solve problems and figure things out.
While his law practice required problem-solving, there was nowhere near enough opportunities for creating for him to sustain himself in the field.
In everything he’s done, the through-line is being a maker informed by a scientist side of himself
On the Sparketypes:
In working with thousands of diverse people who the world views as successful yet who are miserable, Jonathan has been trying to deconstruct what’s going on there.
More recently, he’s been working to understand the notion of meaning and purpose in the context of our work in the world.
Do we each have some sort of deep driver, some sort of source code that informs the work that gives us a strong sense of meaning and purpose that allows us to feel engaged and fully expressed in the world?
Looking at existing research, Jonathan found that what was out there wasn’t really applicable to the everyday world; there’s a lot of metaphysical, spiritual, philosophical stuff, but he wasn’t finding a straightforward, practical set of tools or processes that would allow somebody to quickly understand what their primary driver is.
It’s been an ongoing process, and last year they made the decision to build a valid, well-tested assessment around it.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about helping people live better”
And over this course of testing, it has been distilled down to ten unique archetypes, which Jonathan calls “Sparketypes”, for the archetype of work that sparks you.
And the responses they got after making this public was this it’s a unique, different, and useful resource that was actually helping people.
Take the assessment here and find your Sparketype!
We’re all at some level a blend of these categories, but what Jonathan was seeing is that one or two of them will really start to predominate.
Your primary Sparketype you can think of as the source code for work that fills you with a sense of meaning.
And then your shadow Sparketype isn’t shadowed in a negative sense, it’s just in the shadow of your primary.
And the shadow is the work that you do that you feel confident at, enjoy, and maybe get paid for, but if you’re really being honest, you do it mostly because it helps you better do the work of your primary.
For example, Jonathan’s primary is a “maker”, and his shadow is a “scientist”.
He will start a complex project and then hit a wall where he needs a solution in order to let him continue this process of creation, so he goes into scientist, problem-solving mode.
But as soon as he finishes the process that will allow him to go back to creating, he goes back to it, because it was in service of being a better maker.
And not everyone is happy with the answers that they get; there can be a certain amount of social judgement within these categories.
Robyn took the assessment, too: her primary is “scientist” and her shadow is “maven”.
And they absolutely ring true for her.
Solving big problems is the through-line for her work, and the “maven” side is devouring everything there is to know about a given subject.
But she realizes, too, that while the Sparketype “performer” is her lowest ranked type, a little part of her job now is performing.
It’s less about being competent in different areas, and more about what you choose to do when you have the option.
In some case, like those of early entrepreneurs, you have to take on the role of Sparketypes that might not come naturally.
But once you’re able to hand it off to someone else, the willingness to let go of it as soon as resources become available shows that it’s not your thing.
If you find that your career isn’t in line with your Sparketype:
There are two approaches:
1 | Expand the way that you think about work.
Is work something that you do to get paid for? Or is it something that you do on the side, because you can’t just not do it?
In the broader context of my contribution, what can I do on a daily basis to let me express the work of my Sparketype?
Start doing more of the stuff that fills you, and you’ll start to be in a better place.
2 | Create a canvas to profile yourself on a broader level.
What are the things that are really in conflict with my Sparketype?
What can I do to resolve these conflicts?
However, Jonathan does not recommend blowing this up and abandoning what you’ve built this far; that can end really badly.
You don’t have to quit your job, and your work doesn’t have to be the primary way that you make money.
On what makes a good life:
Jonathan ends his podcast episodes by asking his guests “what makes a good life?”.
It’s rarely answered the same way twice and there’s always something to learn from how each person approaches the question.
After a qualitative analysis of all of the answers he's received, he’s found common themes, which he calls the Good Life Buckets, that people tend to focus on different parts of.
The Good Life Buckets include: optimal vitality, deep and meaningful relationships, and meaningful contribution.
When you fold those three things together and continue keeping those buckets full, focusing on a day to day basis, life tends to be pretty good.
On what it means to be healthy:
“To be healthy is about cultivating a state of body and mind that lets you feel how you want to feel, be who you want to be, and do what you want to do”.
Jonathan Fields is a dad, husband, entrepreneur and award-winning author. He founded mission-driven media and education venture, Good Life Project®, where he hosts the top-ranked Good Life Project podcast, with millions of downloads and a global audience, and leads an international community in the pursuit of live well-lived. He is also the creator of the Sparketypes™, a set of archetypes designed to reveal the source-code for the work you’re here to do. Jonathan’s latest book, How to Live a Good Life: Soulful Stories, Surprising Science and Practical Wisdom, offers a powerful framework for a life well-lived, and its companion journal, The Good Life Journal, reveals a simple 12-minute daily practice that lets you come alive not someday, but today.
Read the first chapter here!
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