Full Circle

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Oakland, California. 2012

Walking along the pier, we stumble upon a booth, bursting with photos of letters, arranged into words.

I have to know the story behind them, so I ask the proprietor. His name is Steve. He’s spent the better part of his adult life as a senior executive in the Bay area tech scene. Earlier in the year, his company downsizes and he’s given what’s called a garden clause. Meaning, he’s out of a job, and he isn’t allowed to work for a competitive company. But he gets paid to sit the time out.

So, he’s got kids to take care of and a future to think about. But he has some time to figure it out.

Photography. That’s been his side-passion for years. He wonders, what if I could spend the next year taking photographs and maybe even figure out how to build a living doing it along the way?

Steve hatches an idea. He begins to cruise the San Francisco streets shooting letters. On buildings, walls, signs, you name it. Pretty soon, he amasses a huge library of images of letters and starts to print them out and arrange them into words and phrases.

One day, he shows up at a local outdoor market with a stash of “product.” A few dozen words made up of a blend of his letters, framed in glass. Inventory blows out in a New York minute. So, he starts to double down. He sells out again. And again. And again. A business venture is born. He calls it Plan B.

planb

By the time I meet Steve, business is humming along and his kids have joined the party, turning letters loose on reclaimed skateboard decks and various other items. My wife and I fall in love with his work and his story and order up words to give as gifts to everyone in the 2012 Good Life Project Immersion program. Ones that resonate deeply with their aspirations. We work with Steve over a few months and also have him custom-make a big Good Life Project sign (above).

Then, I get a long email from Steve. He needs to make a decision about his future. Will he keep building Plan B or return to the relative safety of the path he knows better?

He turns to a mentor of his to talk it through. They go to dinner, and after a nice meal, the conversation deepens around Steve’s future. His mentor pulls out a book, slides it across the table and says “read this, I think it’ll help a lot.”

planb2

The book he hands Steve is my first book. Career Renegade. Steve looks down and picks it up. Eyeing the cover, he looks at the author’s name. It’s then that it all clicks. But not how you think. He makes the connection between the guy he’s been working with and guy who wrote the book.

This book, he tells his friend, he’s seen it before. When he loses his job, he starts spinning his wheels. He doesn’t know what direction to go in.

He reads everything he can find, but every book seems a little too hot or a little too cold. Then he stumbles upon mine. It’s the first one that sticks. That moves him. It’s the one that helps inspire him to launch Plan B. And until this day, he’s never made the connection.

That I’m “that” Jonathan Fields.

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44 responses

44 responses to “Full Circle”

  1. Much gratitude for sharing this Jonathan, I very much needed to read this today. I am passionately in my Plan B vocation, but am at a crossroads as to how to support my family while continuing down this path. This post along with yours about the evolution of your website from your blog has been a wonderful sign (well actually push) from the universe in terms of some clarity as to my next steps. Many blessings to you and your family…

  2. Karen Fields says:

    Career Renegade is fantastic! It truly is a gem. It contains everything you are looking for to create your own future in the work you love.

  3. Jon Knight says:

    Hi Jonathan – Career Renegade is a great piece of work, especially relevant nowadays. Glad to see you’re still doing well my old friend!

  4. Thank you Jonathan for starting my day off with this inspirational read. It is a beautiful reminder that we never know when, how or where our work will impact others. You hit it out of the ballpark once again!

  5. Jonathan Fields says:

    P.S. – The point of this story is not to go buy my book! lol.

    Frankly, in the 5 years since it’s been published, there’s a lot that’s become dated in it (you may notice I didn’t link to it).

    This story is really just about people getting creative with their futures and what sometimes happens when you put work into the world and see it, in some way come full circle.

  6. Christina says:

    The question many of us ask: How do I know if I’m really on the career/life path that is most conducive to what I want and need?

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      The only way to truly know is to continue to act. Commit to running a series of deliberate “experiments” that test the pieces of a vocation that allow you to come alive. It may pop in a moment. It may take weeks, months and even years. What’s more important is that you undertake the quest. And forgive yourself the lack of an instant answer.

  7. Traci says:

    What a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing. You never know who you will meet along your journey or the impact others will unknowingly have on your life or the influence you will have on others.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      No doubt, Traci. I’ve been on both sides of experiences like this more than a few times. It’s those seeming “coincidences” that often add both great stories, and great context and texture to our lives. And it reminds you, whether you’re the giver or the receiver in any transaction is often a very subjective thing.

  8. What moves me most: All along, Steve was getting subtle direction about his right path in the form of his excitement and the enthusiasm others showed about his art. And as Plan B expanded, and as he starts to wobble and wonder, someone hands him the very book that helped really solidify his journey (his plan) in the first place. This is what I call guidance. We are never ever alone. All we need to do is ask and then be open to receiving.

  9. Small world, isn’t it? 🙂

    What an awesome story, Jonathan–thanks for that. As much as Career Renegade obviously resonated for Steve, that must feel extremely validating for you, too. How wonderful to know that even your “dated” (heh) work is still out there helping people like that.

    And of course, as a San Franciscan, I’m now trying to identify where some of these letters of Steve’s are from. (That E at the end of “life” in Good Life Project? Somewhere on Haight Street, I’m guessing. I can **almost** see the store’s sign in my head.)

  10. Kevin Riedel says:

    Amazing story! It has screenplay written all over it.

    If you ask me, Hollywood has been week on ideas as of late. Seems every movie is a remake, sequel, based on an old TV show, etc.

    Given the rampant job dissatisfaction in our society, this would be a hit that would cause tons of inspiration to an audience outside of your community.

    So a strong HINT to any aspiring film makers that read this blog…. reach out to Steve and Jonathan. Your version of plan B is right in front of you.
    Just give me credit in your film. And invite me to your premier. I’d be available to do a cameo appearance as well. 🙂

  11. Christie Clements-Shepherd says:

    Oh wow! I absolutely love stories like this. Thanks so much for sharing.

    The spooky coincidence as divine guidance – brilliant!

    Love and gratitude to you.

    Chris

  12. Leanne says:

    That is a freaking awesome story! I love how you ended up inspiring each other. I like to think of my work as a two way street that way.
    I’m having a go at “Plan B” right now, and I think I may have gotten here sooner if I had come across you and your work earlier. I do love that you’re here when the going gets rocky 🙂 Thank you!

  13. i just wanted to read and re-read the post…
    it spoke directly to the part of me that was (and sometimes still is) terrified of trading in safety for beauty.
    stories like this, and people like YOU, keep making the world a bit brighter and full of possibilities.
    thanks jonathan.

    pascale (definitely living the good life).

  14. Julie Bennett says:

    What a great story! I love serendipity. The universe is always sending us messages, it’s only up to us to listen – and trust. Oh yeah, and act according to that! I hope Steve keeps going and learns to trust his new path. Taking the road less traveled can be scary, but the scenery and drive are so much more amazing!

  15. jean says:

    I love that story! He’s really stumbled upon something. Which way will he go? The story continues…:)

  16. This is soooooo cool. The story, the imagery, the small world we live in. One thing that strikes me is that his art made him really LOOK around at his surroundings, finding little beautiful letters in all sorts of different places. Then, building them together to create something new. It’s a beautiful story of stopping to smell the roses, sort of.
    And, THEN, this is discovered and WOW!! Really makes me want to pay attention today, perk up to the signs that I know are coming my way, too. We are all connected and it’s so beautiful when we figure out how.
    Thanks for my inspiration today!

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      That is really one of the big lessons for me. You never know where the ripple may lead and how it may reflect back to you

  17. Sue says:

    Love this. Thank you for this inspirational story.

  18. Bob Gower says:

    Awesome story. And as someone who loves letters—and has been laid off in SF more than once—I’m jealous of his business idea.

    Does he sell online? I’d love to get something for the living room.

  19. Karen Runnels says:

    Stories like this help me keep going, never giving up on one day finding a meaningful way to make a living. I lose heart, sometimes, coming across a 10 year old journal in which I wrote, “I think I’m getting closer,” & realize that I’m still saying that & have made no progress figuring out a better, more suitable, more rewarding way to work for a living.

    I’m 63 & it’s getting harder to convince myself I’ll get it figured out. But I plan on living well past 100, so there’s still time to be a (very) late bloomer! As long as there’s life, there’s hope, right?!

    Thanks for all your great inspiration, Jonathan!

  20. deb harpster says:

    ah…for those who are reading your post for the first time, they might not trust your authenticity but…you are indeed, the compassionate, humble, insightful, inspirational and real deal…you are “a good man, jonathan brown”(sic, fields)!!! in this day and age of doom and gloom, you find and share stories from good peeps everywhere! small kernels of understanding that human challenges are shared by many manage to take root. it is as if from a tiny seed comes the smallest seedling that gets transplanted and becomes a fully mature plant. good begets good.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Thanks, Deb. I realized after I hit publish that it might come off as self-congratulatory or me taking credit for Steve’s business. But, as you’ve so kindly shared, that was anything but the point. I take no credit.

      It’s simply about how life’s journey brings certain people together at certain times for certain reasons that we often don’t know or understand until much further down the road.

  21. Chris Shouse says:

    Loved this story and love his work.

  22. Wow! What an inspiring story. I really like the fact that the key was something Steve already had in his hand, and a moment of inspiration. Makes me think about that word ‘inspire’ literally meaning ‘breath into’ – makes me want to ask myself ‘what is is I already have in my hand, that I’m waiting for Life/God/The Universe to breath into?’

  23. Cecelia says:

    Ah! Love this, Jonathan. Kismet in every sense of his disconnect…makes it even more so – something that is meant to occur. The world does indeed work in mysterious ways 🙂

  24. Yolanda says:

    That was like a touching and serious Seinfeld episode!
    I loved it! Very moving, especially since I’ve just started my Plan B.

    Thank you for sharing. Have a great weekend.

  25. Carol Spong says:

    Thanks for this lovely piece. Creativity, hope, persistence, wisdom (asking for help)…lots of lessons for us all.
    again,Thanks.

  26. Tom says:

    Chill producing story… Once again amazed by the synchronicity of the Universe in action.

  27. David says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    I remember seeing your initial videos and content ahead of the Career Renegade release date.

    Inspirational, motivational and soul talking are some of the words that best describe how I felt. Could not wait to get my copy from Amazon.

    Devoured it all in 1 day then started again.

    Still has pride of place in my list of books that matter 🙂

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Thanks, David. Funny, I have such mixed feelings about it these days, just because it’s in such desperate need of updating.

  28. Vesela Simic says:

    When I finished reading this story, I heard a chorus of angels singing below my audible, “Wow!” And so, Wow! on many levels.

  29. Brandy says:

    Oh man, that gave me chills.

  30. Hi — what a great story — we’re all on a journey. After 30 years as a grateful workaholic and co-founding two very successful businesses in the recruiting industry and raising 3 wonderful children as a single Mom…in 2007 I realized that I accomplished lots of the goals I had set. While I was extraordinarily proud of my accomplishments — I was tired (actually exhausted and unhealthy) and decided to make a change…with the support of my business partner I started a 3 year exit from our company and decided I needed my LIFE to be Plan A and my job needed to become part of my life (it was always the other way around). I have a new business partner, building our start up, The Good Jobs, counterintuitively and my life is Plan A.

    I so enjoy all you’ve written and are writing…you are an inspiration and your stories are are regular reminders that I can make choices AND be comfortable with uncertainty…and help others to do the same. Thank you! always…anne

  31. Jonathon-
    I just discovered your blog and want to say thank you for giving me new insight! Especially with this blog post. I think it is time for a Plan B for myself. What a great visual image and idea.

  32. I love this story. You tell it so well. It keeps me inspired to keep on keepin’ on.

  33. Steve Lozoya says:

    True story and the names haven’t even been changed to protect the innocent. This post is genuine and surreal to be reading, as I am Steve. Surreal in that I habitually turn to Jonathan’s blog for inspiration and sometimes a laugh. I have watched and/or downloaded every GLP episode and now this post is about me. I watch, listen and learn for one simple reason…to create my own “good life.” I honestly have to say that I am a better person mentally and spiritually as I have made self improvements in something I learned and put to practice.

    There is a deeper reason Jonathan and I keep crossing paths directly/indirectly. The “why” is still unknown, but I am thankful for his passion, inspiration and the untold stories he unselfishly brings to light as they give me the encouragement and boost needed to keep going in my journey.

    Jonathan, thank you for your kind words and sharing. I am certain that it is a matter of time until we have another connection point. Until then peace, love & happiness.

    Steve

    This Thanksgiving and holiday season…give more in all ways and be thankful for all that you have in life.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Steve –

      So wonderful to see you joining in the conversation here.

      Totally agree, there’s some bigger reason we keep crossing paths. So appreciative of you and what you bring to the world.

      To be continued. 🙂

  34. Sara Glendinning (@BotswanaArtist) says:

    This is how it is all supposed to work – and imagine the people who have been inspired and motivated by you who you haven’t met yet! A tweet, a mention on TED, a link in a seemingly random blog comment…. all these things lead us closer to where we are meant to be and stories like Steve’s just reinforce our belief that we are on the right path.

  35. Otiti says:

    WHOA. Whoa. Just goes to show that we never know how or when our work will touch someone in a special way, and we never know when/if we’ll have the pleasure of them making a personal connection to us.

    Such a sweet story. Thank you for sharing this, Jonathan; I feel like my heart just plumped up with ahhh and softness. 🙂

  36. Max Turner says:

    Jonathan I just found you and absolutely love your site’s layout and then I love your posts! Especially this one.

    It was something that I needed to read and something that made me feel better some how.

    Thank you for sharing and keep up the GREAT work.