Jonathan Fields is the founder of media and education venture Good Life Project, where he serves as Executive Producer and host of one of the top-ranked podcasts in the world with a large, global, mission-driven community that has been hailed by The Wall Street Journal as one of the top self-development podcasts and featured on-stage during Apple’s legendary annual event. Jonathan is also the chief architect behind the Sparketypes®, a set of “work imprints,” tools and programs tapped by nearly 250,000 individuals and organizations in the quest to amplify purpose, engagement, and performance. He is the author of bestseller How to Live a Good Life, as well as the critically acclaimed book Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance.
Jonathan’s career has spanned many fields and disciplines. Determined and focused, Jonathan has been able to live his life with intention and a strong sense of purpose after finding meaning in a time of crisis.
Bryan Wish: Jonathan, welcome to the One Away Show.
Jonathan Fields: Oh, thanks for inviting me here.
Bryan Wish: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I’m really proud of you and excited for you with the launch of your latest book, which we’ll dive into. But happy to have you on the One Away show today. What’s the one away moment that you want to share with us today, Jonathan?
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. For me, there are a number. But the one I’ve been reflecting on a lot recently … and I think for two reasons … One is because we’re just past the 20th anniversary of it. And two, because it was a catalyzing moment in my work and the way I thought about work, and the relationship between work and life. Would’ve been 9/11. That, for me, changed a lot of things.
Bryan Wish: Wow. Well, I would love for you to explain where you were at 9/11. I know you lived in New York through the majority of your life. Where were you in 9/11 and why was that moment maybe so significant for you?
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. I grew up just outside of New York, and I’ve lived my entire adult life, up until just about a year ago, in New York City, so that would be 30 years. And I was living in Hell’s Kitchen at the time, which is a part of New York which, in a past generation, lived up to its name. But when I was there, it was getting a lot more gentrified. But it was a part of the Midtown, west side of Manhattan. I was married. We had a new home and a three month old baby.
And I had left a life as a big firm lawyer a couple years before had stepped into the world of entrepreneurship and fitness and well-being and built a fitness facility and then sold it, and then was taking a little bit of a breather thinking about my next step, and I got really fascinated in the world of yoga. I had started to develop my own practice. And my entrepreneur’s brain immediately, when I’m interested in something, it starts looking at the culture and the history and the business model around those particular things.
And I was looking around and I was like, there’s an interesting opportunity here to bring something to the city that preserved the power and the traditions of the practice, but made it more accessible. Because I felt like, for a lot of people, it just wasn’t. It was a little bit scary. And you got to remember, this is a very different time in the world of yoga too. So I started looking for a space, and I found a space that was a floor in a building, 115 year old building in hell’s kitchen. It was a full floor and it was just three blocks from where I lived.
And I remember seeing the picture in the window and I ran home and I called the number and the owner met me there and I walked up the steps, and the door swings open. And this is like a bombed out disaster inside. And I just looked at it and I was like, “This is perfect for a yoga studio.” Because I saw what it could be. I saw the potential and I knew there were more floors in the building that we could potentially expand to if we wanted to. And in fact, we ended up doing that.
And I came back, I brought my wife and we’re like, “Yeah, this actually looks really interesting.” So I signed a six year lease for that floor, a floor in a building in Hell’s Kitchen, New York. New home, married, with a three month old baby. And the day I signed that lease was September 10th, 2001, the day before 9/11. And I woke up the next morning, as you can imagine, horrified. This is my city. This was literally like, this is my city, and this is my community. And guaranteed, I knew somebody who was in the towers. And in fact, I did. I knew a number of people and at least one of them didn’t come home.
And he was one of the youngest partners in one of that was on the top floor of one of the towers. Married. He had two young kids. And my mind was going to him and was going to all the other families and just the utter devastation, and the complete collapse of a world view, and a sense of safety and a sense of relationship and my place in the world.
And then it went to, am I really going to launch a business into this sea of pain, where I don’t know if there’s going to be an end to this? And remember, then, we didn’t know if this was going to be the start of World War III. We didn’t know what was happening then. And I found myself with my wife and our little baby in her car seat, driving up to the home of the dad who would eventually never come home. And we were sitting vigil with his wife and a whole bunch of other people, and just waiting and watching the news.
And everybody slowly shuffled out as the day went on. And by the end of the day, it was just like us and my wife and little daughter, and then our friend and her daughters. And my wife and her friend went upstairs to put the infant to sleep. And they asked me if I would go upstairs and read a bedtime story to the two and a half year old. So of course, I did and I walked up the stairs and I opened the door and I see this little two and a half year old boy sitting in the bed with his favorite book on his lap, waiting for his daddy to come home and read to him, as was the normal routine.
And it was my job that night to play a horrible stand-in for a dad, a father who had never come home. And we left that night really rattled, and the conversation in the car home was really trying to understand what was going on around us, trying to understand what the future of our city was going to be, trying to understand what our life might look like. And then, of course, wondering whether we should push forward and launch a company in this moment in time. Pretty safe bet, if I had gone back to the building owners that day and said, “Hey listen, we can’t do this. We’re shutting it down.” We could have figured that out.
But the fact that I knew that one person we knew never … He didn’t go to work that morning never expecting to come home that night. It was just a regular day for him. And life happens and we have no promises, and it really struck home with me. I said, “We have one pass through and you got to take advantage of that.” You got to lean into it as much as you can. So we went ahead. We profoundly changed to all the plans. We were going to launch with all this fanfare, like a health club and a presale and celebrations and all sorts of in-your-face advertising and a big marketing campaign.
And of course, at that point, it was completely inappropriate. But we built this space out and November 19th of that year, about eight weeks later, we launched into a community, and were pretty packed from day one, because people were wandering around the streets then just in a fog, in a complete and utter fog, not knowing what to do. And we were a place of community. We were a place of conversation. We were a place of inclusivity, a place of breath and movement. People would just come and sit in a corner and cry. People would come and move through and work their bodies to the point where they just were shaking and they couldn’t stand anymore, because they were exercising something they couldn’t understand.
And then, they would just sit and be with each other. And it was a really powerful moment for me. We launched with two people, literally me and somebody else who actually was very experienced and knew what she was doing as a teacher, and I was making it up as I went. Probably should not have been teaching in hindsight. It took a while and a lot of training to really figure out how to be good. But that was a moment where I just remember being there, and it wasn’t … We sent people down to the peers that were two avenue blocks away from us where a lot of the aid workers were being stationed, and just said, “Come. Don’t pay. Just come, breathe, move, meditate, do whatever you need to do.”
And it taught me so much about the importance of doing something that matters with your life, about the fact that we’re never given any promises about what the next moment will hold, let alone the next day, the next month, the next year. I think we’ve been reminded of that in some pretty profound ways over the last 18 months. And also, it reminded me what can happen when you step into a place where you’re aligning the thing that you’re here to do. For me, I’m a maker. I build things with a deep, deep and pervasive need. And then, you just show up and do your best to keep creating moments and experiences and possibilities to be of service.
There was so much that I learned in those days. I learned to let go of plans. This was not my first business. And I have opened, launched a number of companies since then. And I always plan fiercely and have performers and spreadsheets and make assumptions and all of this stuff. And at the end of the day, it’s important to do that, and then it’s really important to hold them really lightly and respond to what those you seek to serve are telling you they really need. Because you never get it entirely, right, and often, you get it pretty wrong. And then try and find the sweet spot between what they want and need, and the way that you need to show up in the world to feel like you are fully alive and invested and getting what you need from the experience.
So that moment, it changed me in a lot of ways. And I’ve been reflecting on it a lot recently, because like I said, we’re having this conversation on the eve of the 20th anniversary of that moment. I’m no longer in New York as of last year, which is a whole giant change for me. And reflecting on that, 20 years later as I sit nestled in a mountain town in Colorado, and also on the eve of a book that, in no small part, is the outgrowth of those initial curiosities around the relationship between work, meaning, purpose, joy, flow, and life. It’s all coming full circle right around this moment in time.
Bryan Wish: Absolutely. Well, Jonathan, I just want to take the time to acknowledge the depth of what you shared around your friend and the story you shared being the stand-in father and how hard that must have been for you. And just to witness that, where maybe everything you knew was just shaken to your core. And maybe how yoga, in the opening up the studio, was this maybe what you didn’t know at the time, this healing center for people who were so lost from the catastrophe, from the events to just bring people together in such a meaningful, joyful way.
Thank you so much for just speaking to that experience so profoundly. Something I believe is so interesting from what you were talking about is how just yoga as a practice, it’s so associated with healing and helping people come on alive. And for you, it sounds like it was an opportunity to not just give you an opportunity to align who you were to what you do for sure, but was yoga the first … You mentioned leaving the law firm. Was yoga the first time in your life, when you were opening up the studio, when you saw it one, meeting a need and making you alive? Was this your first foray into true meaning and purpose? Or had you experienced that before?
Jonathan Fields: No, it definitely was not my first foray into it. I’m very fortunate in a lot of ways and very privileged in ways that I have become far more aware of as an adult. I grew up in a Watertown, just outside of New York City. And my dad had one job his entire life. He was a research professor and ran a lab researching human cognition, and loved what he did. And to this day, actually still does search, even though he retired from academia. Because it’s a thing he can’t not do. He does it even when he wakes up in the morning and he’s not getting paid for it anymore. He just loves it. My mom was an artisan and is to this day.
So I was always exposed to my mom devoting herself to craft. She was a potter when I was younger, and the downstairs, the basement in our house where I grew up was her studio. And I can literally, if I close my eyes and I inhale, I can smell the clay dust that you would just get wafted through you every time you walked down this stairs. And she was somebody who surrounded herself with people who were kind of quirky, eccentric, and artisans and craft people, and very likely weren’t the type of people that you’re going to see in mainstream business.
And they were the people that were part of our community, our familial community. So I was exposed really early on to the notion that there are things inside of us that to compel us to show up and invest effort, for no other reason than the way it makes us feel. It makes us feel alive, because there’s a sense of meaning and joy and purpose, and we have this ability to lose ourselves in flow. I didn’t have language for it in my younger years. I just kind of knew. I sensed. I sensed that this was going on.
And I was given freedom to just pursue a lot of what I wanted to pursue. My parents didn’t place a lot of the expectations on me that I know so many people have felt like they have to shape their lives around and rise to, even though it’s really not in any meaningful way aligned with who they are in their essential selves. And I didn’t have those constraints. It was really a gift. Like I said, when you’re a kid, you don’t think about any of this stuff. You just wake up in the morning, you know that you have a lot of opportunity to do what you love. And I realize in hindsight, how much of a blessing, how much privilege there was in that in a lot of my circumstance, in the way the relationship I had with my family and the freedom they gave me to really just discover who I was.
So I’ve been a maker from the time I can remember opening my eyes, building stuff with my hands, with physical materials, eventually learning to paint and painting album covers on jean jackets, just because I loved doing it. And then I got pretty good at it, so I started making my walk around money in high school doing that. Creating my own landscaping businesses in the summers, and then working construction when I was in college. And during the year in college, I’ve had a lifelong passion for music. Music takes me somewhere. I don’t care whether it’s Bach or Country Joe and the Fish or the Pentangle or the Grateful Dead or Kendrick Lamar. It’s like, good music is good music.
So I started DJing in college. And then, with a friend, built a mobile dish jockey sound and lighting company that we built up. And I loved doing that, so much so that I never went to class and graduated with like a C plus average. How I got into law school after that, I have no idea. So I’ve had a lifetime of experiences where I have been given the freedom to explore, and to build, and to take risks, and to stumble, and then to figure out how to get back up. And to scrape my knees, and to scrape my soul, and know that it hurts and it sucks, and I’ll figure out a way through. I didn’t have a ton of resources.
So it built in me just, I think, a lens on possibility that has stayed with me to this day. And also, I’ve realized later in life, I keep reflecting on the fact that this was not the experience of a lot of other people that I know, and there are so many sliding doors that could have slid in a different direction that would’ve had me just living a much more constrained, confined, expectation driven life, where I think I probably still would’ve figured out a lot of these things about myself, but it probably would’ve been way further down the road.
So me being able to step into a place of doing the thing, I feel like I’m compelled to do, and loving it, and vanishing into it and driving a sense of purpose and joy and meaning from it, it’s been a through line, honestly, through pretty much my whole life. It’s not always the thing I’ve gotten paid to do, but it’s always been there for me.
Bryan Wish: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s so neat that you grew up in an environment that promoted possibility and expansion, opposed to restriction, right? And I think you’re right, it’s not the norm. And having examples as parents who maybe lived that and well, lived it in two different ways, were examples for you to follow or see early. And just to dive a little deeper, did your parents intentionally or actively talk about being able to do work that they love and make things that they loved? Or was that just something you witnessed and then that just became more ingrained into your DNA?
Jonathan Fields: Yeah, that’s a great question. No, they never talked about it. They just modeled it. They just did it. And as we all know … because I was a kid once, pretty sure you kid once, I’m pretty sure everyone listening to this was a kid once … It really doesn’t matter what a parent says to you. It’s like, you just follow their behavior. And if they’re saying one thing and modeling something else, then it reads as cognitive dissonance. And not only do you not believe them, but you don’t believe whatever … You don’t believe the model of what they’re living. So for me, it was never … We never had a sit down where it’s like, “Hey, you can do anything with your life.” And the truth is also, the town that I grew up in was a very wealthy town. So a lot of money in the town.
And we didn’t have money. We weren’t on the poverty side of things, but we were also, we were not a family with a lot of money. So I saw that all around me, and I saw what it bought you. And I didn’t necessarily see that it bought you happiness or fulfillment. It bought you cool stuff, and as a kid, that’s pretty awesome. But beyond that, I had the ability to just do a lot of things that I did, and it was really modeled behavior. And it wasn’t even intentional. My parents weren’t sitting there having conversations saying, “Let’s model the behavior for the kids that we want them to adopt, because then hopefully it’ll work.”
It’s just, they did what they did. They really marched to their own drum beats as human beings and they do to this day. And while that can read as quirky, eccentric, a little bit weird as a kid and maybe sometimes you wish they wouldn’t, just like every kid wishes that about their parent. At some point, it also showed me something that I think … It gave me a permission that was never spoken, but always embodied.
Bryan Wish: Totally. Well, it’s just neat the way you describe it. It’s like, you’ve really grown to appreciate that. And the fact that … What’s the quote? You speak with your actions. They didn’t have to see that you down and tell you or model. All they had to do is model it through behavior, and you were able to pick up on that and grow to appreciate it. So Jonathan, with growing up like that, and then I’ll get back to the yoga studio in a moment and everything that’s followed thereafter for you in your career.
But with you maybe noticing early that the freedom to explore and be in flow and a heart-centered space where you get to create, what led you to working within the law firm? And what made you leave? I believe when we were sitting and talking about this the first time we spoke, it was a pretty big story here. So I’m just curious, what made you get into that work in the first place?
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. So as I mentioned, I basically didn’t attend class as an undergrad student, so much so that I had to beg my way into enough classes to have enough credits to graduate college. I literally pled my way into a class called Earthquakes for one credit in the second semester of my senior year, because I needed it to get out of school. And I had a great time, and I was building a company. It was the first company that actually ever sold when we graduated.
But I also got really curious. I took some time off after that and I took some of the money, the equity from having sold the business and vanished into Australia for three months, diving down the east coast. And when I came back, was kicking around these outside sales jobs and realizing it really wasn’t what I want to be doing.
And I thought I wanted to go back to school, so I ended up going to law school, in no small part because I figured it would teach me to think, and teach me to research, and teach me to write, and teach me to speak. It did some of those things, for sure. And I’m really happy that it gave me a certain skillset. I ended up also going and I said, “I really want to see what I’m intellectually capable of when I say yes to this,” because it was going to be three years of my life and a lot of my savings.
So I went into it, I was all in, and I worked really, really hard and I graduated very close to the top of my class and had a lot of opportunities when I came out. And I ended up working in the SEC in New York, which was the enforcement division, so we investigated insider trading and financial markets. And I was the annoying 22 year old, where, when you asked them what you did, I would basically say, “I work for the SEC and I honestly can’t tell you anything beyond that,” because it was all under the cover of secrecy. And it really was.
And then I ended up in a large firm. And the whole time, I realized … I just kept thinking, this is really not working for me, but I want to stick it out. So I switched size and I went into a giant firm in Midtown, New York. Very prestigious, fantastic salary and benefits, and doing this super high stakes work. And a couple weeks into that, I was on a deal and we were barely sleeping, barely going home, working absurd hours, under huge amounts of stress where the stakes were massive, massive financial stakes. And we finally pushed to close this deal just hours before the deadline.
And during that whole period of time, I knew that there was something wrong with me. There was a pain that started brewing in the center of my body, and it was almost like this glowing ember. And with every breath and every minute and every hour, it glowed hotter and more painful, until after a number of days, I could barely breathe. I could barely stand up. I knew something was really wrong, but I was also the young guy on the deal, and I didn’t want to be the one who tapped out first.
Everyone was just heads down living in their own altered reality. So I pushed through, and then I went home. I think I passed out for a few hours, woke up, and went straight to my doctor who did a quick exam on me and turned white and then said, “There’s a large mass inside of you that wasn’t there a few months ago when we did your physical.” He took me to an infectious disease guy down the hall, and within a matter of hours, I was checked into the hospital and had emergency surgery. And all we can figure was that I had an infection burning in my body for a long time before that. And my immune system had just, there was nothing left inside of me. I had pushed myself so far to the edge that my immune system basically stopped functioning. And that infection mushroomed into this big thing inside of me and ate a hole through my intestines from the outside in.
So when your body rejects your career, at some point, you have to listen. And for me, thankfully, the surgery was a success. I took a little bit of time to recover and then went back to the office. But I knew from that moment forward, I was on my way out. And I just started making lists of things that I thought would be cool to do with my life, if I could figure out how to support myself, because I didn’t really want to start living hand to mouth having had a taste of the life that I was living as a big firm lawyer. And I needed to try and figure out how to navigate that.
My entering into the field was more based on curiosity and skill, and my exit from it was based on my body letting me know that I was doing something that was not right for it. And what’s interesting is, in hindsight … And I can’t remember whether we’ve talked about this, Bryan … But I’ve been thinking a lot lately about, if I knew now, or if I knew then what now about how to reimagine and reinvent what you’re doing, to bring so much more of what you want into it, I think there may be a safe bet that I actually would’ve stayed in the practice of law, but understood that I could completely reimagine how I was practicing the type of law I was practicing, who I was working with, the type of hours I was keeping, the intentions and the focus areas. Because it’s a vast, vast field, and there are so many opportunities to carve your own unique niche into it.
But my head wasn’t there at that point in my life. The only way I saw was just to exit. But I’ve been reflecting on that recently. I don’t know whether I would’ve stayed in for a lot longer, but safe bet, I would’ve at least tried one more iteration, and probably gotten a lot more out of it than I realized I could have back at that time.
Bryan Wish: Yeah. The hindsight is interesting, but I think the pain that you went through is such a signal. My mom always told me growing up, she said, “When the pain of staying is greater than the pain of leaving, that’s when you know it’s time to go.” And your body, it seems like, forced that absence to eventually go. But I also can appreciate the perspective of, maybe I could have reimagined it.
But I think it’s moments like that, that are so profound and shape and make you into who you are today, and clearly were pivotal points to set you on a path forward that was, I think, very much for the better. So Jonathan, after you maybe turned in your notice to say I’m leaving, is that what led you more into the healing and heart space with yoga? What events maybe happened after that?
Jonathan Fields: Yeah, so on that list that I was making on my legal pads … And if you had walked by my office on any given day and you’d see me madly scribbling on a legal pad with yellow paper and smiling, it wasn’t because I was doing my work for my job, it was because I was brainstorming options for my next move. And what kept coming up over and over were variations of entrepreneurship.
Because again, that bug has been in me. I make things. I wake up in the morning and I build things. And a lot of times, that means businesses and brands, and communities, often around them. So what kept coming up was variations of fitness, well-being, human potential, and entrepreneurship. And I got really curious about the fitness industry. I had been exposed to it for most of my life. I was a competitive gymnast for the first 18 years of my life also. So I had a deep fascination with semantics, the mind/body connection.
And I started looking at the fitness industry and really believing that it was horribly broken. And I started doing research on it and seeing the numbers were atrocious. And honestly, to this day, they’re really, really bad. It’s an industry where there’s a 40% annual attrition rate for your clients, which means you’re effectively replacing all of your client base every two and a half years. And rather than trying to change that by just providing extraordinary outcomes and touch and community, a lot of marketing money has been thrown at it. And to this day, it really hasn’t changed the numbers all that much.
There’s some big standouts that are doing a phenomenal job, but the core of the model hasn’t really evolved. And I kept looking around and saying, “There’s got to be a better mouse trap.” So I literally, I knew I was going to head into this space. I also knew I didn’t want to head into it on a management level, I wanted to understand what was happening at the fundamental point of service, like what was broken, what was right? I wanted to learn that touch point.
So I talked my way into a job at this fancy little personal training studio on the upper east side of Manhattan. And I went from making a really nice six figure living to making $12 an hour in the blink of an eye. I knew this was coming, so for the better part of a year before I actually tapped out of the firm, I was just banking as much money as humanly possible, because I knew I was going to take a hit, and I knew I needed to cover myself. I needed a buffer.
When I felt like I had enough information about how I wanted to step into this new space, and when I felt like I had saved enough money, and when I felt like my mind and body just really couldn’t take being there any longer, that was when I made the decision to leave. And then, my first step was spending six months just learning the industry as a personal trainer, wearing tights, running shoes and beat up old tee shirts. Funny enough, very often working with the same type of client that I had worked with as a lawyer, raising hundreds of millions of dollars for private equity. I was just working with them in a different context.
And I also learned that the fact that I could speak Wall Street made me a real liar in that world and it was a very big competitive advantage. And I pretty quickly deconstructed the model and realized I wanted to do something very different, and I thought I had a different take on it. And that also taught me that there’s a distinct advantage very often at coming into an industry, not by working your way up, but as a complete outsider, because you don’t buy into all of the norms, you just look at it with fresh eyes. And it’s really powerful to be able to do that. And it’s scary on the one hand, but also powerful, because you see things that people who come up from the inside don’t see, because they’re just based on the assumptions of what they’ve been taught.
So I ended up opening my own facility right after that and we grew it for about two and a half years. And then I was kind of getting ready to move on, so I ended up selling my interest in that company to some private investors. And that was where we entered that conversation of me taking a minute to breathe and then actually starting to write. I think I started to develop a passion for language. And then simultaneously, signed in that six year lease for a floor in a building to step into the world of yoga.
Bryan Wish: Wow. Super fascinating story. And what’s interesting is, what kept coming up on your notepad, the reoccurring theme. It’s funny, it’s like you started to lean into the mind body space to learn everything, but subliminally, in a way, you were kind of connected to that mind body connection with that, you were really present to the signals of what was coming up for you, and then really diving deep into it.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah.
Bryan Wish: So it’s just neat how you followed it to follow a much deeper curiosity.
Jonathan Fields: It’s funny, because every once in a while, I’ll bump into somebody who was a yoga student of mine back in the early 2000s in Hell’s Kitchen. And it just happened in Boulder, Colorado a few weeks ago, which is really funny. Oh no, actually it wasn’t Boulder. I was literally on a retreat in Napa, California, and one of the people who was working there just kept looking at me. She was a waitress. And eventually, she’s like, “I know you.” She’s like, “Are you Jonathan?” And I was like, “Yeah.” And she’s like, “I used to take your class, like 17 years ago in the yoga studio in Hell’s Kitchen.” I was like, “Oh my God.” And then inevitably, the last, like, “Do you miss it? Do you miss teaching yoga?”
And my instant response is, “I never stopped.” I don’t teach the physical practices anymore, but the ethical side of it, which is where my deep fascination always lay, like the rules and constraints and the guides and the thoughts and the questions about how we live good lives. That’s really at the heart of what yoga is. So to this day, if I’m teaching conscious entrepreneurship, if I’m teaching how to reimagine work to align it with meaning and joy and purpose, if I’m teaching self-awareness, to me, it’s all … You can call it what you want. You can call it being an author, being a speaker, running companies. It’s yoga.
Bryan Wish: Interesting. It’s like, yoga was the Bible for life. Like the playbook on, how do I live a good life?
Jonathan Fields: Yeah, in a lot of ways.
Bryan Wish: Interesting. It’s funny, I’ve been thinking a lot about doing yoga teacher training next year. So anyways, I love what it stands for as a practice, and can see how it really maybe shifted and shaped your philosophy and just thinking around what you do and why you do it and how it all comes together. And Jonathan, I think the path, just from the event that you started out with in this show to opening up the yoga studio, September 11th, it’s just really interesting journey from childhood and what you saw law school and then the entryway to yoga.
It sounds like yoga, from a teaching perspective and a teaching on life perspective, was quite profound. And I know you ended up starting The Good Life. Was that born out of yoga? It seems like everything in your life has been a thread line of continuation.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah.
Bryan Wish: In a very positive way. So I’m just curious how that was born?
Jonathan Fields: So probably, yes and no. Yes in that is, it’s definitely an evolution of my just deep fascination with how we live good lives, which is a lot of what I start to really look at and study on the yoga side. I was reading a lot of the classic texts like the Bhagavad Gita. I remember translation in a line in the Gita was, “Far better to live your own path imperfectly than to live another’s path perfectly.”
So you have all of these early teachings from thousands of years ago that are spot on for the way that we live our lives today and all the questions that we have. And this stuff’s been around forever. So I’m always trying to get closer to the source, is what I found. There’s something about my wiring. So for me, when I finally … I sold the yoga center at the end of 2008, because it was stable. It was rolling on, and the maker’s impulse in me was really rearing its head. I had a deep fascination with language and with words then, and had started to want to write and play with big ideas and take them to the world in a different way, and actually signed my first book deal with Random House.
I sold the business because a business like a yoga center really needs a shepherd who’s present. And I wasn’t. Because it’s a community at the end of the day, so you need people who are invested community. And I had pretty much checked out. And I was very fortunate in that it was a very successful and flourishing company on the business side too, so I was able to exit and just start writing and thinking and speaking.
The Good Life project happened a couple years later, really as my own engine for discovery, where I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if I could find people who I consider to be embodied teachers? And by that, I mean people who aren’t just talking about it or writing about it, but you look at the way they’re living their lives and something about that tells you they figured something out. And then sit down with them and really just ask them everything that I wanted to know.
And then, wouldn’t it be cool if I could find those people, and they would actually say yes to me, and then we could memorialize that and turn it around and share it with the world, so that everybody could be a fly on the wall in that conversation and learn just like I was learning? And that became Good Life project. That became the educational side and the media side. We started producing video, and then eventually that morphed into audio, which morphed into The Good Life Project podcast.
We were very early in the space and very fortunate and have grown into one of the larger shows, as we’ve endured through a lot of change in the industry. And also built community, and we’re doing educational programs and retreats. For five years we ran an adult summer camp where 450 people or so from around the world would come and just hang and play and learn in a kid’s sleep away camp for four days at the end of every summer. This is like, yeah, you could literally look at that and say, “Well, okay, so you’ve recreated the sangha or the community. You’ve recreated the teachings. You’ve recreated all sorts of classes. You’ve recreated a sense of values.”
And we actually had like a stated creed: this is what we believe. If you raise your hand and say, “Yeah, that’s me too,” then come join us. So it is all the organic extension. Everything is just, it’s new mechanisms and modes and vessels for my exploration of what it means to live a good life. And also, in particular, more recently, the domain of work and how do we work in a way that gives us a feeling of coming alive? And then, how do I build things along the way so that it both supports my ability to keep doing more of it and then provides value to other people so I can call it my living and make a broader difference at scale?
Bryan Wish: Absolutely. And you said something in there that I latched onto, and you said, “How do you find embodied teachers and sit with them to help shape this kind of content for others to really be impacted by?” And it’s like, you started out from such a, just say, internal place of alignment, when you were thinking about this, that it wasn’t so transactional. It wasn’t, “I got to do this to make money.” It was like, you were able to build it slowly over time and it grew to, obviously, a massive, large audience with a lot of change in the industry and technology and online from in person, as you’ve talked about it a lot.
Jonathan Fields: And by the way, just, just to add to that also, because I don’t want it to sound too fluffy or Pollyanna-istic, I’m also a guy who has a family to take care of, so money matters to me and it always has.
Bryan Wish: Right.
Jonathan Fields: So in the back of my mind, it wasn’t like … I wish I could raise my hand and say, “I am here just to love the planet and be 100% of service.” I am the walking, talking, giving tree. That’s not me. The truth is, yeah, I love to learn. I love to make stuff. I love to make things that move people. And I also want to make sure that I’m okay and I want to make sure my family’s okay, and I want to live in a certain way.
So I think it’s important to acknowledge the fact that, I didn’t just say, “I’m all in,” on all of these really cool value driven things. I am all in on those. And at the same time, I’m also really realistic. Until very recently, I was raising a family and being a husband and trying to take care of a lot of people in New York City, which is a really hard place to sustain yourself. So I had to focus on that too. It’s just, that was never my soul metric for success.
Bryan Wish: Absolutely. And I think that’s so important and I didn’t mean to overshadow that at all, but I’m glad you brought that up and put that to the forefront, because you can make things that aren’t just soul driven, but they’re made in a way that can also create sustainable living for you and your family.
Jonathan, I want to spend the last 10 or so minutes talking about what you’ve done to make something that is moving people, and that’s your latest book. And I would love for you to maybe talk about the book, and what made you write it, and how it came to light, and really what you hope the impact it is on the people within your community and audio.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. So the name of the book is Sparked, and that comes out of the body of work that I’ve been working on for … Honestly, actually, it goes all the way back to 9/11, but it’s been a much more intentional focus for last five years or so. And I got really curious, as I said. This thing called work, we do it for most of our lives. We do it for most of our waking hours. And most of us actually are not going to retire. So how can we figure out how to actually make it feel the way it wants to feel.
People are talking about these days, burnout and the great resignation, and everyone’s quitting and it’s all like … Everyone’s like, well, what’s changing? There’s something that’s happening now. And I just want to shake the lens a little bit and say, “No, no, no, no, no.” What we’re seeing now, this is just the fact that, somebody’s peeled the bandaid off a level of existential discontent and burnout that has been festering for generations. This is not a new thing, we’ve just hit the tipping point where people can’t take it anymore.
And now that the world of work has been involuntarily turned upside down and this big questioning has been normalized, everyone’s all in on the process of reimagining. But I’ve been looking at these question for a lot of years and I started to wonder awhile back, I said, “I wonder if there is an identifiable set of impulses for effort or for work that exists in all of us that would give us this feeling of coming alive. And then I said, “Okay, so that’s really two questions. One, do these impulses even exist? I had no idea. And two, what am I actually talking about when I say coming alive?” It’s a really nebulous term.
So I had to deconstruct that latter part first for me. I was like, “Well, what do I feel when I feel like I’m literally doing the thing I was put here to do?” And it’s the overlap of between five states is what I have landed at: it’s meaning what I’m doing actually matters, it’s access to flow. I become absorbed in the activity. I literally can no longer differentiate myself in the activity and I lose a sense of self awareness and a sense of time. It’s excitement and energy. Corporate speak calls that engagement. It’s expressed potential. I’m not being stifled, and there’s no reservoir potential that I can’t figure out how to access. I’m literally mining it and bringing it to the fore, and performing as my best self and as my fullest self.
And the fifth element is purpose, and that functions on two levels: both a sense of purpose, like I know what I’m working towards and it actually matters to me. And then, more broadly, a sense of purpose in life, like you are doing the thing that you feel put here to do. So when I talk, when I use the phrase coming alive, it’s the overlap, the Venn diagram between those five different states. And then when I said, “Do we have these measurable or mappable impulses that would give us this feeling that exist across all people?” I literally just started deconstructing every job, every list of jobs, titles, roles that I could find.
And these fundamental units of effort kept popping up over and over and over, but in different mixes, in different blends. And I kept just distilling it down, distilling it down, saying, “What’s driving that?” And I got to a place where I identified these 10 fundamental impulses for effort that give you the feeling of coming alive. And then, I realized that each one of these tends to have its own quirky set of behaviors and tendencies and preferences that wrap around it to form archetypes. And I started calling them Sparketypes, because it’s kind of a fun way to say the archetypes for work that sparks you.
And I started sharing them around and getting tremendous feedback and validation. But I wanted much higher level data. So we spent 2018 building an assessment, the Sparketype assessment. Released it out of beta to the world. As I talk to you now, we’re probably closing in on about 600,000 people have completed this assessment, generating around 30 million data points. And then some follow up research also that shows us tremendous levels of validation. Accuracy rates that people are reporting somewhere between 92, 93%, which is higher than I ever imagined we would see and really strong correlations with doing the work of your Sparketype and all five of those things that I talked about literally in lockstep. The more you do this, the more people will tell us that they feel like what they’re doing actually matters, that they lose themselves and flow. All those different things.
And then, when you have that volume of quantitative data coming at you, then you start to get just a mountain of stories and use cases and applications flowing from that. All of a sudden, we’re building this giant reservoir of lived experiences and how these show up in the world. And this all started building up in my head. And I realized that at some point, oh, this actually has to be a book, because there needs to be one central place where we can bring all of these insights together and just share them with the world in a super accessible way that is not my brain, because it’s almost like there had to be release valve for my head. So that ends up pouring into this book called Sparked, which is the book which is effectively, it’s like the encyclopedia of these 10 Sparketypes.
Bryan Wish: You describing about deconstructing everything, it was just, it’s like what led you there to then go do that? And then just, how you arrived at the place you did, and then how that turned into 600,000 data points. And then, okay, how do I go share these stories qualitatively? I almost feel like it’s a mix of … Not to portray the wrong image here, but it’s like your mom, the artisan, your dad the researcher, and then like this … I love the Brené Brown qualitative/quantitative model of deriving stories from data.
And it’s like, you put it all together and now you have so much information to help people derive, meaning and figure out what makes them come alive, and a more quantitative, with story and just more of a framework and approach to think about their life in a more focused and direct way. And I think that’s just really unique, that there isn’t much out there like that, that you can do and access to give your life direction.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. If this existed in a way that I felt comfortable with before, I never would’ve said yes to this project, because this has been a lot of work.
Bryan Wish: Yeah.
Jonathan Fields: And I’m a maker. I love to make stuff. So we do the research, but then I turn around and we build tools and we build assessments and we build experiences and I build a book, and then we build community. For me, the net result of this is always things that go out into the world and create a ripple effect that goes way beyond me. I make things that move people. That’s literally what it says on the top panel of my personal website. But yeah, and there are a lot of great tools and assessments and personality typing systems out there that tell you a lot of things: relational styles, generalized personality traits, character traits, talent skills. But I didn’t see this thing that basically answered a solitary question which is, how do I find and do work that makes me come alive? What is the fundamental impulse for me in a way that I exert effort, and it gives me that feeling of coming alive or being sparked?
And I just didn’t see that. And for me, it was based on, we need something that’s robust and accurate, but also something that’s useful, that’s legitimately useful, that will guide your decisions on a day to day basis, that will help you discern what to say yes and no to, and make your work a better place to be, and in turn, your life, a better place to play in. And there are a lot of fascinating things that are out there in the world that are really interesting, but also don’t translate super easily into action. And I don’t really have an interest in doing that. I want to create things that are useful in the world, and that actually are simple and accessible, and that people can actually build action around.
Bryan Wish: Yeah, absolutely. And I think you said it best: it’s practical and translates to action. And Jonathan, I want to be respectful of time. I know there’s an assessment on your website where people can go do this, but why don’t you tell people about where to take the assessment, where to find the book and where to follow along the story of you?
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. So anyone can take the Sparketype assessment. It’s completely free. It’s available online. It’s at sparketype.com and that’s S-P-A-R-K-E-T-Y-P-E dot com. The book, which takes you, I don’t know, 10, 100 times deeper, it’s called Sparked. It’s available literally at every book seller around the planet these days. And for me, you can find me at Jonathan Fields, pretty much anywhere in the online world.
Bryan Wish: Awesome. Well, Jonathan, thanks for showing up sharing such personal stories and such connective tissue between meaning, work, aliveness and just who you are. So really enjoyed it and I know our audience will too.
Jonathan Fields: Yeah. Thanks so much for inviting me. I really enjoyed the conversation too.
Bryan Wish: Alright.