Jenny Blake On Work, Achieving Inner Peace, And Why The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One
Former Google Career Development Program Manager and best-selling author Jenny Blake help leaders, employees and entrepreneurs achieve greater clarity, engagement, fulfillment, and impact. Her latest book, Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One was named by Business Insider as among the 20 best business books of 2016 and 7 books that will change the way you work in 2017.
In this interview, Jenny talks about her own struggles with work, achieving inner peace and why your next move is your most important one.
Tell me how Life After College got started?
I left school at the beginning of my junior year to start a company with one of my professors. That experience of leaving school before my friends inspired me to start the website. I had been reading books on personal finance, business, career, fitness, everything under the sun to figure out adult life. I wanted to take care of all the practicalities of my life and felt like there was no manual for the real world and there should be. So I aggregated everything I learned and created Life After College in 2005. Then, I went back to school to graduate with my class and started a blog in 2007 because the website was static and it felt like it didn't have a heartbeat yet. So when I added the blog, that's when it started to grow organically into something I never planned on.
Most people when they are in college hear "adult life, " and it scares them. Was adult life scary to you when you were in school?
I was plunged into adult life in college, so there wasn't any anticipation with it. A lot of my friends said why would you start working now, you're going to be working until you're 60. Why would you want to leave college at this unique time in life?
I felt being at a startup company doing polling during a presidential election year was going to be exciting. The choice had nothing to do with whether I was ready for adult life or not. It was more about having an opportunity and seizing it not knowing what would come from it.
Was there anything challenging to you when you started blogging for the first time?
At first, I was very hesitant to put ideas out in public. I felt like "who am I? I'm not even an expert in the first place" I was nervous, and I didn't give my opinion on anything in the beginning nor did I tell any personal stories. Everything was about curating other people's ideas and expertise and slowly over time; I started to take little risks of putting my stories and ideas out there. I noticed the most vulnerable I was when I did take a chance and acknowledged some mistakes I had made like personal finance, that's what drew people closer. Between that and creating resources like the template, I started to find a groove, feeling more confident in sharing and it has grown over time.
Looking back at your twenties, what were some of the lessons you learned?
For me, in my twenties, many of my challenges were more internal than external like worrying, people pleasing, anxiety and handling uncertainty. When I moved over to Google, that was super exciting but then managing the stress of burnout and the tempo of a fast paced company was hard. When I became a manager at Google, I had to tell some of my friends that they no longer had a role on the team and needed to find another role or leave the company. My twenties were marked by trying to calm the anxiety. It's only now through meditation practices, managing my schedule and working for myself that I have found peace.
What have you found with people today that is inhibiting them from going after what they want and making that next move?
One of the things is putting pressure on having that perfect solution lined up. While we should dream big, sometimes we need to make smaller moves and small experiments to build confidence and gather data and grow more organically in a new direction. In reality, what works is getting anchored in existing strengths and experiences and have a general feeling of success. There is no real way to know the answers up to the front of what to pursue next in our careers unless were running small tests and learning from them.
How did you get inspired to tackle your anxiety and things you were feeling?
Well, nothing else worked for me. I tried some soothing mechanisms whether it was food or working out a lot. I didn't know if meditation was going to be this magic cure all, but I was willing to try it. It wasn't until a year after I first started meditating that I felt like a different person. I tend to gravitate towards food, practices, and people that make me feel like I have a clean system. I think of my whole mind body spirit engine as a Lamborghini, and our bodies are Lamborghinis. When we feed it with the best fuel, they perform at their best. I started to notice that meditating, eating clean, moving my body were all things that kept me agile and calmer and they were cumulative. If you stick with these practices long enough, you do start to see the transformation.
What did you notice when your body wasn't on the same page as your brain?
I worked at Google for 5 1/2 years, and I loved my time there. It's a very fast pace environment with incredibly smart people. I was building a blog and a book on the side while building a program at Google and found myself being overcharged and overstimulated. A lot of our burnout comes from our ambition. I enjoy working and love working on big, complex projects, making an impact. I love being in that fast paced mode to an extent and what I noticed was that I wasn't taking much time to recharge. So now that I have been self-employed, I now can see how deceleration follows these periods of acceleration. And it's just as important for me to recharge before, if were still using the car analogy, I go pedal to the metal.
What was it like helping incredibly talented people develop their careers at Google?
It was very rewarding, and I loved working with people. I started on the Adwords team and then pivoted to working on the Career Development team. I realized I was passionate about helping people explore and reach their fullest potential. It was much more exciting to me to work with people than it was to talk about the Adwords product.
What was your inspiration behind your new book Pivot?
My inspiration for the book came from my struggles. When I would hit a pivot point or a plateau in my career, I got disoriented, and it became challenging for me to answer the question "what's next?" I had this feeling that we were all going to be required to answer this question more frequently than we have had to in the past. Pivot was my way of putting a method to the question "what's next?" so we can become more efficient at answering it than is required for us. Pivot is a continuous process and not a one and done like it's talked in the media as a mid-life or quarter life crisis. We're going through personal changes all the time, and there is nothing wrong with that. It's often a product of our success.
Sometimes the media portrays change as a negative. Why do you think that is?
I don't believe that it's the media portraying that; I believe that it's this inherent juxtaposition within ourselves. We seek adventure and newness at the same time we are terrified to lose aspects of our former selves. One of my favorite quotes in the book from Steven Gross is "All change involves loss." Even the most joyful occasions like getting married, you are losing singlehood or transitioning out of another phase. For some reason, the paradox of humanity is that we crave change at the same time we are afraid of it. A lot of pivots involve saying no to something else, often for people something pretty good. Most people that are pivoting are not in dire, awful circumstances. They are in something pretty good or fine, but they are ready for more and that's one of the hardest, and preliminary parts of pivoting are saying no to the thing you're ready to leave behind.
You have this life-long love of writing, and for those of us that write, it's a very vulnerable process. Often, when submitting something for the public, rejection comes with it. When writing Pivot and Life After College, what was the writing process like for you?
My first book, Life After College, was very intimidating because I didn't know what the heck I was doing. That book I got rejected 27 times and one publisher said yes. With Pivot, I wanted to focus on enjoying the process of writing, so I made it a point not ever to complain about writing a book. My mantra for the book was to let it be easy, let it be fun. If it wasn't easy and fun, then I looked for ways to make it. There wasn't a lot of rejection with Pivot, but my agent did reject the first draft of it. She said "You're not ready. You're not established yet in this space." I felt surprised when she said that. I didn't know that once you had an agent, they could reject your current proposal. But because of her feedback, I ended up with a much better book.
What is your definition of success?
Personally, I don't use the word success. My definition is a day to day feeling of being engaged in my work, healthy in mind body spirit and a sense of ease and equanimity in each day. If I am doing that and having an impact on other people's lives, that to me is a success. There is a Japanese term called Aikikai which translates to a reason to get up in the morning and for me, my mission is to be as helpful as possible to as many people as possible. What motivated me to get up is to learn, read and expand my brain and practices so I can figure out my challenges and share what I have learned with others. To me, that is a great day.