The Assumed Life

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Every once in a while I bop over to amazon to see what’s happening with the books I’ve written.

This week, I discovered a review that fascinated me. Not because of anything that was said about the book. What I write is fair game for agreement or disagreement. I’m great with that. It was about the assumptions that were made. On the surface, assumptions about me. But, in truth, my bigger interest is in what those assumptions reveal about them. About us, both individually and societally. And what they’re keeping us from.

Here’s the core of what was written:

Jonathan Fields, former hedge fund attorney is not like you or me (I ain’t no hedge fund manager.) The average person doesn’t a ton of money in the bank to take them thru a career change in NY, or a contact list that can circle Manhattan (financial guys are notoriously out of shape, and they’d work out with someone who understands them than some stranger; it’s intimadating.) and most people do not have the confidence or the financial means to quit their job, especially when they are married with kids. Most people are uncomfortable with the the amount of risk it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. Most businesses fail within a year.

Repeat: contacts are enormously important. At least in this universe.

The average person also doesn’t have the business or legal education, the negotiating skills, the manic energy, and the drive to do what Fields did.Not to mention the ability to handle enormous stress. The comeptitive spirit to dominate and win.

So, lets have a little fun…

According to this review, I apparently had a “ton of money in the bank” to fund my next career. Truth is, I had saved enough to cover my basic living expenses for a fairly short window of time. That’s it. I don’t come from big money, I didn’t have a trust fund and I had only been practicing at a large-firm for around a year when I left. My time in the law before then was spent working a government job, which lets you wear the white hat, but doesn’t exactly pay well.

So, I had to work like crazy to figure out a completely new industry as fast as I could while making $12/hour as an entry-level personal trainer, before working even harder to build my own private practice, earn a livable wage and then bootstrap a venture in that space.

What about my “contact list that can circle Manhattan?” I went from being a lawyer, a little more than a year out of the S.E.C. (where I investigated the very people who’d have been prime candidates for my big money “contact list”) to dropping into an industry where I had zero relationships on any level. And the few contacts I did have in the law all thought I was loopy for doing what I did. Nobody followed me as a “client,” nor did I ask anyone to. The reviewer is right about one thing, though, my background in law and financial markets did make it easier to have conversations with clients who worked in that same space, but I had very few of those and my eventual venture wasn’t focused on them at all.

We also learn that “most people do not have the confidence or the financial means to quit their job, especially when they are married with kids.” This is so true. BUT it also assumes I’m telling everyone to quit today and just pray your next move works. Did I do that on a personal level? Yes. But I also realize that I am an outlier, which is why I wrote that most people do it very differently once they’re a bit further into life. And I shared many case studies in the book featuring people further into life, some with families, who did things very differently. They spent years building their next professional adventure on the side before ever stepping into it full time. Gaining confidence and building financial momentum in tiny pieces over time. So, yes, most people don’t have the confidence and money to straight-up quit and start the next adventure cold-turkey. But then, that’s also not how most people do it, nor how I offered it had to or should be done.

What about the claim that “Most people are uncomfortable with the the amount of risk it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.” True. Most people are. But the assumption here is that you either “have it or you don’t.” That there’s no way to “train” in the mindset that fuels the ability to take sustained action in the face of risk and uncertainty.” My entire second book looked at this assumption. And what I found was that this capability is very trainable. So the challenge is not that you don’t have a particular ability, it’s that nobody’s ever told you that the thing you’re missing is trainable, then showed you how.

Next up, “Most businesses fail within a year.” I’ve seen a wide variety of statistics on this and, with a fair degree of latitude, I wouldn’t say most, but many. But the assumption here is that (a) all business are the same, (b) all entrepreneurs are the same, (c) no matter what approach you take, you have the same likelihood of failure (soooo wrong), (d) you are a statistic and (e) if there’s risk on the table, it’s not worth the effort. If we all adopted these assumptions, many of the products, services, brands and businesses that make your life so much better simply wouldn’t exist.

Entrepreneurship is hard, really hard. But it’s also not rocket-science. The bigger problem is that most people approach it in a way that serves neither them, nor the ventures they seek to build. They never do the level of self-inquiry, process-mastery, market-research, need identification and validation and skill-building needed to not only survive the first year (btw, they second year is generally the tougher one), but flourish long-term. It bums me out to think how much deeply-impactful art, music, experiences, products, services and businesses never see the light of day, never make a difference in the lives of would-be creators and those who’d have been moved by their creations, simply because success was not certain and a clearer path to necessary capabilities was not explored.

Let’s move one, “The average person also doesn’t have the business or legal education, the negotiating skills…” The only business education I had was what I learned building my own things, from mowing lawns in summer to DJing in college and working minimum wage jobs here and there. No B-school, just the very same training anyone can get with initiative. As for law school, while it did train me to be better at researching case-law, everything I learned about financial markets was on my own, through my own self-study driven by a deep interest. As most lawyers will tell you, their formal education was essentially a ticket to a job (not so guaranteed any more) where, for the first time you’d really start to learn the practice. And, for the record, it’s a pretty safe bet that I wasn’t all that good at negotiation and I hated the back-and-forth posturing that often went on in the name of a “win” I wasn’t all that invested in.

Finally, we get around to this, “ the manic energy, and the drive to do what Fields did. Not to mention the ability to handle enormous stress. The comeptitive spirit to dominate and win.” Funny to hear someone who has never met me talk about my manic energy and competitive spirit to dominate and win. Wow. Just, wow. This is so far from the way I pursue anything, interact with people in a fairly methodical, deliberate, near-meditative way and work not to “dominate and win,” which I could care less about, but to serve and solve.

But, again, this isn’t about a defense of me. That’s just the container for this conversation. In fact, it’s not about me at all. I’m good with who I am, the intention behind my work and the faith that the folks I most want to serve get it. And I have no issue with readers not liking or finding value in my work. That’s totally cool. To each his or her own.

So, what’s this really all about?

It’s about the assumptions we make about people and what that reveals not about them, but us.

It’s about how we sometimes assume into existence a facade of reality that doesn’t exist in the name of rationalizing our own inaction. It’s about pointing to people who have done something and saying “well, that’s good for them, but I don’t have all the advantages they have,” when, in reality, the “they” we are talking about aren’t all that different from us.

Why do we do this?

Because, if we own that fact that what we want is within out grasp, even if we need to work hard and train in the ability to make it so, and we still don’t act, we are faced with a level of cognitive dissonance that makes us feel really bad. Bad about ourselves, and bad about the lives we unfold.

So, instead, we make assumptions that allow us to never try. Which keeps us from feeling the discomfort of uncertainty and novelty and change and risk. But also leads to so much sadness. So much futility. So much frustration and surrender. And beyond the way it affects our own lives, it robs society as a whole of the amazing gifts we have to offer, had we only owned the truth of our own potential and learned the skills needed to handle and then harness the journey.

In sharing this, I make absolutely no assumptions or judgments about the person who judged me. And I absolutely do not want this conversation to be about them. Like I said, I’m a big boy and I’m fine with my work being critiqued. Looking back, even I cringe at some of what came out of my mouth and how I said it. That person may, and I truly hope it’s the case, have a wonderful, deeply rich life. I reference the review only as an example of a conversation that I’ve heard repeated so often over the years on a broader level. One that unfolds in peoples’ heads, around break tables and in journals thousands of times every day. One that builds a cage upon a foundation of false assumptions, rather than a path lit by a willingness to try.

That makes me sad. I don’t want people to be reckless, especially once you’re deep enough into life to have people relying on you. I’m a father and husband. I get it. But I also don’t want to see so many people live lives of buried potential built upon a foundation of false beliefs.

What say you?

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44 responses

44 responses to “The Assumed Life”

  1. Pip D says:

    Such great insights Jonathan. The ‘it’s ok for them but I could never do that because of x, y, z’ syndrome can be an incredibly comforting lie – I have been there for sure. Letting this one assumption go is the one of the most freeing things anyone who wants to follow their calling can do for themselves. It’s hard as hell being on the other side of it but I also feel more alive and ironically more in control. We are ‘them’ – we can all achieve great things, in our own way and at our own pace.I wish everyone could see that potential in themselves.

  2. Jason says:

    Very well timed article and a point i been pondering in life with my project….its a big leap of faith. Thank you.

  3. Terri says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    Such a graceful response to what could have been an uncomfortable one. I really like the way you break down the mindset behind why we convince ourselves it is easier for someone else to get over obstacles.

    It can be hard to hear such harsh interpretations of our lives. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Zach Franke says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    I loved this piece. I am an entrepreneur and I connected with every word you wrote down.

    It’s funny, I literally just came inside after writing a poem kind of about this very thing and then I sat at my computer, opened your email and read your article. The poem I wrote is surprisingly overlapping in themes to what you wrote about…Although I don’t usually share my poetry, this was a little too weird of a coincidence not to share with you.

    Here it is:

    “I am puzzled by man, of which I am a part.
    The light of happiness so bright, yet we stay in the dark.

    Fear, expectations, prisons of our conditioning;
    afraid of our power, we allow this imprisoning.

    We look for explanations, rationalization, and excuses, not accepting that the answer can only and will only come from within.

    Within this moment and our reaction to it, we must enjoy every second, not just try to get through it.

    Authentically good, the truth will never change; try to change the truth, so goes the next bar on the cage.

    But we can’t just know this; we must do, we must act. We must give, we must learn, we must attack what we lack.

    Whether compassion, forgiveness, or kindness without expectations; the formula is clear, our potential is without limitations.

    What’s limited is our belief, our courage, our actions. Our spirit for change flounders, so our imagination stays captured.

    Yet. I envision our freedom, the most beautiful scene ever shown. My light just one of billions, together the brightest we’ll ever know.”

    If you get this and read it, cool. If not, oh well! Regardless, I appreciate all you do Jonathan and I will continue following your stuff.

    -Zach

    • Terry says:

      Hi Zach – what a wonderful poem! Thank you for sharing!

    • Let your light shine – your poem is beautiful!!

    • Zach – that was incredibly moving! Thank you
      “What’s limited is our belief, our courage, our actions ….
      together the brightest we’ll ever know”
      Please take the courage to share your work, it is inspiring!
      If you ever read it on youtube would love to see it.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Beautiful thoughts and words, Zach. I’m so glad you chose to share with me and our little tribe. Have a wonderful weekend. 🙂

  5. Jenny says:

    Hey Jonathan.. review seems a tad unfair but at the same time I have to confess I made similar assumptions, that you would have those connections and that experience and that those very same things would hold me back..
    Quite glad you published this, as knowing that you didn’t makes me feel all the more confident that maybe, just maybe, I can pull this off. As in..the whole build a meaningful life around doing what you love x

  6. tomRmalcolm says:

    “…if we own that fact that what we want is within out grasp, even if we need to work hard and train in the ability to make it so, and we still don’t act, we are faced with a level of cognitive dissonance that makes us feel really bad. Bad about ourselves, and bad about the lives we unfold.”

    Whooa… man, that’s gooood!

    Tom

  7. Thank you, I found this a resonant post. The issues of ‘motivation’ is relevant I think. The reviewer is (perhaps) motivated by fear which warps into misconception/assumption which warps into aggression. The motivation of the entrepreneur is crucial as it determines outcomes and the nature of the business etc.
    I’m trying to build my own biz from scratch and, at the age of 59 and without financial security of any kind, (and certainly without a meaningful contact list etc.!) have had to delve deep within to be sure (as sure as i can be) of my motivation. And I’ve found that it’s this: I MUST do this (build my biz) in order to be authentic, to be most true to who I really am. I MUST do it if I want to get even close to fulfilling myself in this life. I MUST do it if I want to make a difference in my world.
    Understanding why I’m doing what I’m doing allows me to take the ‘leap in faith’ required to really go for it. And it’s this which separates you, Jonathan, from that reviewer: you know yourself.
    Power to you.

  8. Leigh Wasson says:

    Thank you for sharing Jonathan, really enjoyed the breakdown assumptions most businesses fail within a year. Interesting thinking.

  9. Excellent article, Jonathan! I couldn’t agree more. As someone who has been unfairly judged and someone who is guilty of doing the same, I really found this insightful and thought provoking! I Love what you do 🙂 when I get notification you have a new podcast ready, I settle in for an excellent day in my studio. You, Cory Huff and Melissa Dinwiddie keep me feeling like I *can* do this art thing.

    Thanks and keep up the great work. What you do makes a positive difference in my life 🙂 and I’m grateful.

  10. KelliP says:

    That assumption that others have “something” you don’t is such a powerful excuse. What these people really don’t understand is that those that do great things are usually the same as them, but for their choices in the face of fear.

    As a lawyer, I found the assumptions about lawyers pretty funny. That we’re rich, confident, well-connected, and are great at business, negotiating, and finance. Most lawyers I know aren’t rich, have no idea how to network, and have no business or finance training what-so-ever. All of this leads to a lack of confidence.

  11. Hi Jonathan, your article is spot-on for me. One of the assumptions that rings most false to me is that all entrepreneurs are “competitive”, and want to “dominate and win”.

    That is not at all what drives me. It’s being of service to clients. That’s where the satisfaction lies. There is no one flavor of entrepreneur.

  12. Mark Newsome says:

    Assumptions truly are an excuse – especially assumptions made about an unexamined life. And I don’t mean unexamined on some existential level, but on the most practical level. How much money does it really take to live the life we want? Do we even know what the life we want entails?

    I’m a CPA who had a decent job. I recently walked away from it (with very little savings and even fewer contacts) to start something of my own. It might be successful, it might not. But, I now know what I actually need, and what I really want. It costs – in dollars and cents – a whole lot less that I thought. The cost of not having something meaningful is much, much greater!

    Jonathan, you so great at gently pushing folks to ask those questions. Keep it up!

  13. It’s interesting to read the review you posted and see all of his, “Yeah, but’s…” coming out. I feel his (or her) sadness and frustration and longing underneath. I hear the same things with friends who see my husband and I working to keep our small businesses going at any cost because the freedom is 110% worth it to us.

    People are scared. They live in victim-mode because they don’t know how to change their zip code. I love that you come from a place of compassion for them, rather than reciprocally tearing them down.

    The big question is, how can we collectively continue to inspire people with our work and be available to those who are willing to join us? I know you’re answering that question with your speaking and mentoring and I’m trying to make a dent with my work at the community college.

    It takes a village – and some people just haven’t found the village (tribe?) yet. Some people don’t even know they ought to be looking or that they even desire this. Ironically, your reviewer does desire it. His fear and judgement and story-telling are smothering his desire.

    I wonder if he knows that?

  14. Aleksandra says:

    What a wonderful response to this review. I think the key here is that as you said Jonathan “we sometimes assume into existence a facade of reality that doesn’t exist in the name of rationalizing our own inaction”. This is so true. Makes me look deeper within myself, and never ever make assumptions about others. Just work my butt off to get to where I want to be 😉

    Thank you. You’re an inspiration.

  15. Thanks for the gentle yet insightful perspective. It’s very interesting to consider how we use assumptions about others to create our own stories…that then lead us to act or not act. Powerful stuff.

  16. Great article. Henry Ford said something along the lines of “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” Mightn’t be the exact quote but you can get the meaning. Seems to apply to your reviewer.

  17. You have such a gift for seeing through the layers and seeing the good on the inside despite what was projected on the outside. Great article. Always inspiring.

  18. Charlotte says:

    Hi Jonathon

    I’ve just started listening to Good Life Project and love it – you have so many of my favourite teachers on there.

    I was surprised to read this blog post and wondered about your motivation in writing it? I couldnt help but feel there was an element of justification or needing to prove the other guy wrong? Just a thought. I think you could have written the 2nd part of the article without the first part.

    One if the things I’ve found powerful is to examine my motivation with anything before I take action … You may have already done that so just a curious question!

  19. Wayne says:

    Jonathan,
    Interestingly, but disheartening, very similar criticisms were levied at a local individual, Eric Savage, who gave up his career in investment banking to start Unitus Fund in India. I don’t know Eric, but have worked with his brother Bob on entrepreneurial projects. The whole extended family is known for philanthropy.
    Regards,
    Wayne

  20. Jennifer Smith says:

    Cognitive dissonance or not, I don’t make enough to pay my monthly bills (I take grad level classes and get student loans to make ends meet.). I literally would be risking my home to quit my job… that’s not fair to my kids I think.

  21. Elena Elorriaga says:

    Well Jonathan, an interesting piece. Your training as a lawyer has not helped you build your new career, but it probably comes helpful when responding to false assumptions like the one you bring up in this piece.

    It seems that this person never watched any of the interviews from the Good Life Project, through which you drop bits and pieces of your experience as an entrepreneur and the many difficulties and fears of the process.

    I take this opportunity to say a Big Thank You. I found out about you through the interview to Brené (I am a big follower of her), and it was the beginning of a weekly meeting with you and your guests. It has been wonderful. Very diverse and powerful pieces. So consistent in quality; long and inspirational. Great work Jonathan.

    Pity that I live a bit far, in Barcelona, to attend your summer camp for grown ups. Good luck with it.

    With gratitude,

    Elena

  22. Lexy says:

    The book review that spawned this essay seems a blessing because it created an opportunity — a window — to share and frame more about your own experiences and thoughts on entrepreneurship. Nicely written and inspiring!

  23. Hi J,

    So great to read this because we can learn a lot about ourselves from the assumptions we make about other people. And learning about ourselves is more useful, interesting and true.

    Having met you I’d guess your success is based more on quiet confidence and strong self-awareness of your values which combine to see you following through on your ideas. Not sure if that’s true about you but I guess it shows what I’m aiming for in my own life and why I read your books and blog 🙂

  24. Ashley says:

    Oh dear, I so needed to hear this today. I am glad I stopped and read it. Thank you, Thank you 🙂

  25. Sandra says:

    Well, glad your response spoke to some people. My initial reaction was why the need to respond at all? I dare say, people with certain biases will not be swayed by “explanations”. We’re never going to be “acceptable” to all or even most people, only to our “own tribe”. Taken me too long to figure that out, just live my life, be who I am, be comfortable with it, and of course don’t hurt anyone!

  26. Joe Breunig says:

    People can be idiots and they don’t let facts spoil their fictional storylines when making their perspective understood; after all, it’s the Internet and anything goes.

    Loved how you debunked the article, line by line; given your accessibility, the writer should have interviewed you, in addition to some fact-checking; did you respond to the original post with a link to your rebuttal? Maybe an apology would be forthcoming by giving him a reality-check.

    -Joe

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Hey Joe – Thing is, I don’t care so much about debunking what was said about me or making it a rebuttal. People can and often do say whatever they want about me and my work. That’s okay. So, I didn’t feel any need to link to this post on amazon, nor do I feel the need for an apology or the right to judge the person who shared their thoughts. On a personal level, it’s no big deal.

      I was more “fascinated” by the review as an interesting example of something bigger. Of how we all make assumptions about other people that plant the seeds of action and inaction in ourselves. The review just gave the conversation context. It served as an example for a broader exploration. 🙂

  27. Kayti says:

    Best bit I have read in a while. Thank you for that – very much needed this week. 🙂

  28. Katie says:

    Wow. Great insights! My favorite line is the last because it sums up what I’m trying to encourage as well. Thanks!

    “That makes me sad. I don’t want people to be reckless, especially once you’re deep enough into life to have people relying on you. I’m a father and husband. I get it. But I also don’t want to see so many people live lives of buried potential built upon a foundation of false beliefs.”

  29. Heidi says:

    One of the biggest wind ups for me is when people say ‘oh, of course you’re lucky…’ with me it’s often, ‘oh, of course you’re lucky – you got funding to do your PhD’. Completely nullifying the year I spent combing through possible grant funding bodies.. writing and re-writing my proposal.. going through madly rigorous interviews etc. But, in retrospect (from those people that never even started or tried the process) I’m just ‘lucky’. I often respond that you have the capacity to make your own luck.

    Lovely post Jonathan.

  30. David says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    great article and very timely personally.

    I am with the rest of the guys- Jonathan Fields in my Outlook again- another great gift.

    As for Good Life Project- my spirits are lifted every time.

    KR from the UK

  31. […] It’s about the assumptions we make about people and what that reveals not about them, but us. -Jonathan Fields, Assumed Life […]

  32. Scott Asai says:

    At a deeper level assumptions are made when communication isn’t. I’m assuming the writer you mentioned didn’t talk to you?

  33. Anne says:

    Hi Jonathan,
    Just found you… and your story resonates deeply. My husband and I packed it all in two years ago. We left our suburban lifestyle in Canada to reinvent ourselves in the remote mountains of Costa Rica where we bought a 35-acre property in a paradise setting. Without a shred of evidence that we could pull it off (and just enough savings to squeak by) , we did it anyway. We opened a B&B (people laughed and said no one would come to such an out-of-the-way place) and yet we’ve been steadily ticking along and getting amazing feedback. I rediscovered my passion for writing and wrote my first ebook “Following my tug… all the way to Costa Rica!” and I’m currently working on my second. We’re kinda living on the edge of faith and hard work. We’re figuring it out as we go. It’s been quite the life-altering experience and one we will never regret. Our place is perfect for a retreat and I’ve been called to coach other people to help them ‘follow their tug’ (tug = true ultimate guide). Sometimes I think we’re alone in our quest to live at soul level, but then I stumble upon people like you and my heart flutters. Thanks for that. I look forward to keeping up with your journey.
    Cheers
    – Anne.

  34. Karl Durrant says:

    Well timed article. Not read your stuff for awhile and forgot what it got me to doing last year, with my martial arts venture. Some real obstacles put me back a few steps and back into the 9-5. Part of me was ready to hang up the dream.
    Your inspiration here has changed the mindset. OK I am where I am, that doesnt mean my momentum has to stop. In fact, working from the bottom up from scratch is the only way to build the dream/life that endures. Thanks again Jonathan.

  35. OlgaGa says:

    Hi Jonathan, the guy is right about one thing. You’re not like everyone. Most people, alas, are incapable of any big action. They don’t need it. They’re settled. They live their gray lives with rare glimpses of dimmed light, thinking it’s all that’s available. You’re on a quest to show there can be rainbow. Will people buy into it? Most won’t. Why deal with the rain and shine, when you can settle in the safety of gray? Yet, most miserable are the poor souls awed by the rainbow, talking about it on every corner and not doing anything other than dreaming. That’s when you need excuses to keep the sanity, because the cognitive dissonance is too much to bear. Does this sound familiar or am I the only one who knows it’s time to act but is too busy/lazy/fearful to do it?

  36. Jeanne DeShazer says:

    I understand the comments of the person who wrote about you. I was married to a man like that for many years. He died about 4-1/2 years ago and while I am at peace with that fact, I feel like he missed out on so many opportunities and so did I because of fear of risk. I have been working on all of the things I didn’t seem to be able to do while I was raising my family (eight children) and I have tried hard to do it for them too. And I don’t regret it really because my life experience has made all of it easier this time around.

    • Jessica says:

      Thank you for sharing. My husband and I have dreams to launch something ourselves but always talk ourselves out of it. Your story saddened me because it hit home – one of my biggest fears is that one of us will go without us knowing what it’s like to live our dream together. I am sorry for your loss but I am happy to hear that you are persevering in your dream. Best wishes to you on your journey.

  37. Tony says:

    You know what I say when you assume, you make and a** out of you and me. I hate it when people try to tell me about my life and what it is like. Great post, thanks for sharing.

  38. Aarti says:

    I ran a business for 5 yrs… and people around me assumed I was lucky and rich.. what they did not know was I worked so hard. Had no social life or savings and a huge loan. In the end I had to shut it down and lost a lot of money. Really saddened me the way people enjoyed giving me advice on what I should do next. You are so right when you say their judgements reflect on them. Most people who give you advice and pass judgement are those too afraid to take any chances or make changes in their own lives. Everyone should be more authentic towards themselves. . Would be a kinder world !