Joanne Lipman reveals her strategies for reinventing how you live, work, and lead.
- How struggle makes you better.
- Three tricks to make any transition easier.
- How to take the most efficient brain breaks.
Joanne Lipman is a pioneering journalist and the author of the No. 1 bestseller THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID: What Men and Women Need to Know About Working Together and NEXT! The Power of Reinvention in Life and Work. She has served as Editor-in-Chief of USA Today, USA Today Network, Conde Nast Portfolio, and The Wall Street Journal’s Weekend Journal, leading those organizations to six Pulitzer Prizes. She is also an on-air CNBC contributor and Yale University journalism lecturer.
- Book: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
- Book: The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments, Creative Insight, and the Brain by John Kounios and Mark Beeman
- Book: Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
Joanne, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.
Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Well, I’m excited to dig into the wisdom of your book Next!: The Power of Reinvention in Life and Work but, first, I just got to know, you have had such an impressive career in the heights of senior journalism.
So, given your perspectives from having worked in journalism for a long time, what can you tell us about humanity, those of us here who make and choose to consume the news? What have you discovered that most of us don’t know?
One of the things that I’ve discovered is that I really, really, really respond and appreciate the audience, the people who are listening. I think that our best insights come from when we’re talking to lots of people, when we’re out and about, when we also listen to people throughout the country. I think that one of the issues that we’ve had with trust in media is the idea that there are…we have media centers on both coasts.
We don’t have as much national media in the middle of the country, and I think it’s really important to have people represented in the newsroom from every community, from different localities, different genders experiences, socioeconomic backgrounds. And that, to me, is what builds trust in the news. And, to me, that’s the most exciting part of being in the newsroom when you’re surrounded by people who come from all different perspectives, and everybody brings something else to the party, which is, I think, helpful for all of us.
And then what happens when that’s not done, in terms of what’s the vibe or the impact?
Yeah, I think there’s been some legitimate criticism that we’ve had too much sort of parachuting in. So, you’ve got your…because media is, and this is a whole other conversation, but media is under pressure, financial pressure, and there’s been a lot of cuts to journalism jobs. And, as a result, what sometimes ends up happening is there’s a story somewhere where there’s not a big news organization, and one of the big national news organizations, we call it they parachute in. Like, it’s every presidential election, there’s 50 big-time journalists who descend on Iowa and go to a diner.
Diner journalism is not great journalism. What you really want are the people who live there to be the reporters, to tell you to really understand what’s happening on the ground. And I think this is a reason why the media has – and this is all legitimate criticism – missed a lot of the rise of populism, the rise of Trump, certainly, but also just sort of through the last 20 years, the rise of the Tea Party. There’s a lot of really smart, informed people throughout the country whose voices are not heard.
And I think anything we can do to elevate those voices and have a broader perspective about…and an on-the-ground perspective of what’s happening. This is actually one of the great things when I was working with Gannett, which owns over a hundred local newspapers, and it was fantastic to be able to have when there’s an earthquake, a fire, a natural disaster, a shooting, to have local reporters who are on the ground who understood the community, and it really helps to understand the whole country. We’re a very diverse place with lots of perspectives and we need to understand ourselves better.
Well, now can you tell us your book Next! what’s the big idea here?
Sure. So, Next! it’s the power of reinvention in life and work, and I’m so excited about this book because it grew out of what we are all going through right now at this moment, which is we’ve had three years, we’re at the three-year mark, which is crazy, from the start of the pandemic, and the entire world was sort of upended.
No matter what you do or who you are, your life was upended, and it really got so many people rethinking, “What are our priorities? Am I in the right job? Is this the career I want? Is this the life I want? Is this where I want to live?” So many questions, and it occurred to me very early in the pandemic that we’re all going to have to figure out what’s next.
And so, the big idea is I wanted to help people to navigate big changes, navigate change in how we live, how we work, how we lead, and really to help people to move toward finding their real purpose.
All right. Well, so when it comes to doing that, you’ve got a reinvention roadmap. Can you walk us through how that works?
Sure. So, I’ll tell you a little bit about what the reporting was. When I started reporting the book, it was so interesting. I was looking for stories of people, and I did hundreds of interviews, there’s tons of research, scientific research in the book Next! And what I started with was talking with people who had already gone through these major transformations in different ways.
Some had had huge career changes, like one of my favorites. A guy named Chris Donovan who spent years, decades, as a telephone repairman but he secretly would, like, doodle pictures of shoes. And at the age of 50, left the phone company, went back to school, and now is a couture women shoe designer who was named Best of Boston, Boston Magazine, best shoe designer. It’s a beautiful story.
I found all these wonderful stories where people had these amazing transformations, but then what I did was I went back and talked to the academics, the researchers, who study these different kinds of change. And what was so fascinating was I talked to people who had gone through very different kinds of transformations, some were career, some were people who came back from, like, huge failures, some were people who had had trauma in their life, and some were actually people who had these grand aha moments that just changed their life.
So, these all seemed, on the face of it, to be very different kinds of transformation. And then I went and talked to these academics. There’s different academics who study each kind of change that I’ve just gone through, and they all walked me through sort of the steps of transformation, and they all used different words, different language, but they were all describing the same set of steps. And it was such a revelation to understand how this works.
So, they’re basically there’s four steps that pretty much everyone will go through. So, the first step, like, I will tell you the four steps, what we call them are search, struggle, stop, solution, and I will walk you through them. So, the search, almost everyone who I spoke to, no matter what kind of transformation they went through, they actually started before they even knew they started. They started moving in this direction, they started collecting information.
So, if you think about someone who changes careers, that is somebody who maybe has a hobby, or a side hustle, or even just some random interest that just grows and grows. I talked to everybody from James Patterson, the mega-selling novelist, who spent 30 years at an ad agency. He was actually at an ad agency, and he wrote books on the side, some of which got published, many of them kind of did not do well. He was, like, finding his voice, but he was working toward it.
The shoe designer I mentioned was doodling shoes. One of my other favorites was a bank economist. He worked for years, for decades, at JP Morgan, and he had a weekend house. And on the weekend house, it was a farmhouse, and he leased out the land around it to a cattle farmer. And when the cattle farmer died, he just bought the cows, he said, “I just thought all they do is eat grass. It doesn’t really take any work.”
Well, fast forward 20 years later, the guy is a full-time cattle farmer. He used to be a Harvard-educated economist, and now he’s, like, a guy who gets up and shoos the cows from one pasture to another and could not be happier. So, anyway, that’s the search, that people start moving in that direction. The struggle is very often particularly with careers, this is true. You leave one identity behind but you haven’t quite gotten to the other.
There’s a wonderful professor, Herminia Ibarra, who studies career transitions. She calls this the liminal period. It’s where it’s an uncomfortable period where you’re still haven’t quite figured out the future but you’re escaping the past.
The third step, which not everyone goes through but very often they do, which we call the stop. Very, very often, I found that there is a moment, and it’s either you choose it or it chooses you, where you just stop. So, where it’s either you’re banging your head against the wall and you can’t figure out that next step, again, uncomfortable, or, in some cases, for example, the shoe designer who I was mentioning, what prompted him was he got struck by cancer.
He had prostate cancer, and it was one of those moments where he said, “Wait a second. I’ve got to stop and think. Is this the life I want to have? Or, is this the life that I need to follow the path that I think I was put on this earth to do?” and he had that stop. And so many people do. And, by the way, if you talked to creativity researchers, people who study that, this is why we all have those aha moments.
I bet you’ve had this, right, where you wake up in the middle of the night, or you’re in the shower, or you’re going for a run, and suddenly you have that aha moment. It’s because you’re puzzling through something, and you can’t quite figure it out, and then what ends up happening is you have to put it out of your mind, you have to shut off the conscious thinking about it, and that’s what allows all these sorts of random thoughts in the back of your head kind of coalesce in your subconscious and then emerge as this aha moment.
So, there’s your stop. And then that is, again, what takes you finally to the solution. So, these four steps are very common to every kind of transition, and I found that very, very encouraging to understand how that process works.
All right. Yes, very much. And that struggle, it’s interesting that notion of identity. So, our identities are often quite wrapped up in our work careers. Is that a finding you saw again and again?
A thousand percent, yes. Very often, somebody said to me, “You are, like, your title, and when somebody takes that away from you, you lose that title, people are really lost.” There really is an issue with, there’s an Atlantic writer who calls workism, which is it’s almost like a religion where we are so focused on work, and it is so much of our identity, and when that goes away, it’s very hard to come back.
But that struggle is also sort of the pathway. It’s really uncomfortable. What I found almost universally is when you’re going through that struggle, whoever it is that’s going through that struggle, you think you’re the only person in the world who’s dealing with that. You feel like, “I’m a loser, and everybody around me is getting ahead, and they’ve figured it out and I haven’t.” But it is actually a universal feeling.
And it’s also where the really, really important work gets done. It’s not necessarily fun but it’s helpful to know that, first of all, everyone goes through it, and, secondly, it is actually where the most important part gets done. And I think one of the issues that we have in this, with society at large, is we have this sort of fantasy of instant overnight success, overnight transformation, and it starts from childhood with Cinderella, and then it goes to adolescence with Superman and Spiderman, and then it goes to adulthood with American Idol.
And then we hear these amazing stories, like John Legend was a management consultant, and now he’s a superstar. And Mark Zuckerberg was a college kid, and now he’s a tech billionaire. We hear these stories and it just seems so far from our own experience. It just seems like it’s impossible we shouldn’t even try because we’ll never get there.
And it’s really a damaging myth. It’s a complete myth that the important thing is we all need to go through that middle period. It’s really important, great work is being done in that middle period. We all go through it. And so, again, it’s something that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about.
Well, you mentioned John Legend, a management consultant to music, and I remember when I was making my transition, I was in management consulting at Bain. And I remember when I was sort of an odd duck, like people typically didn’t believe that company to go be speaker-author-people. So, I did feel that discomfort, it’s just like, “Oh, so what do you do?” I was like, “Oh, I’m a speaker and an author, and I’m kind of still figuring it out. My market is in topics and audiences, but I was a consultant at Bain.”
So, it’s like, “But I’m not a loser, I promise.” I don’t know, it’s like that insecurity that I had in that moment, it’s like, “I’m still figuring out what the heck that I’m doing here, but before I had a pretty prestigious role, so don’t think less of me.”
Everybody. Everybody has been in your position because so many people, they meet you and they’re like, “Okay, what do you do?” and it leaves you tongue-tied. I’ve experienced that myself. I ran a magazine that closed, and then I was meeting people, and they’re like, “What do you do?” I’m like, “I used to…” What do you say, right? It’s a very awkward situation.
I have a whole chapter, by the way, on what I call necessity entrepreneurs, which is women, people of color, and, increasingly, Baby Boomers, people who are actually being squeezed out of the traditional workforce or the traditional jobs, and very often end up with far more fulfilling careers, actually, as a result. But the women who I talked to, in particular, said, “You feel invisible.”
There’s a fabulous woman I talked to who had a big consulting career, and left to raise her children, and for 12 years, she was out of the workforce, and she said, “These 12 years of feeling invisible, it’s tough. It’s tough.” I do love, by the way, that LinkedIn now allows you to have that career gap as, like, a legitimate part of your resume because I think those are…these career gaps, we’re increasingly in a nonlinear world with careers, which is so much about what Next! is about, is this sort of nonlinear life and how do you navigate the nonlinear life.
And we see it with Boomers, and now we’re seeing it with the younger generation, which they expect to have, 10 or 12 careers in the course of their working life.
Well, now you got me intrigued. So, LinkedIn, so gaps, you have the option, you have a start date and end date for things that don’t have to overlap within the programming. Is that what you’re saying?
Yeah, exactly. And it’s made for people who have career gaps or people who maybe dropped out of the workforce, paid workforce, I should say, because they’re still working, but paid workforce, you know, they raised their kids or for other reasons, they take care of older relatives, for whatever reason it is. And I think that’s incredibly important.
I also think that there’s an increasing recognition that during those gaps in paid employment, there’s a lot of learning that’s going on, and there are a lot of people who I’ve talked to who had these wonderful career transitions because of what they learned during these gaps in their careers. The woman who I just referenced, who said she felt invisible for 12 years, she poured her energy and her business skills into community issues.
So, the zoning board, and getting a playground by the school, and getting a stop sign, and joining the PTA. All these kinds of things, civic engagement, and she met a lot of women like herself. Ultimately, what this woman did was she did two things, which is so awesome. She started a nonprofit that she is now the CEO of, that is expanding nationally, called The Acceleration Project. Its volunteers like herself and other moms who had big careers, and they mentor local business owners to help them with things like marketing and finance.
She did that, and then she was elected mayor of Scarsdale, New York, her town, and she now gives speeches all over. And she told me when she gives these speeches, she says, “When I talk about my career path, it sounds like it was so intentional, and that you can tie it up with a bow. But, frankly, when you’re in the middle of it, when you’re in that struggle,” she said, “you have no idea where it’s going.”
And this is sort of that myth that we were talking about. Everybody else’s journey looks so nice and neat, and we feel like we’re the only ones who are a mess, but, frankly, we all go through that struggle.
Okay. Well, we touched on a number of stories as examples here and there. Could you walk us through a story from beginning to end that you find the most clearly illustrative of these stages, “Hey, here’s the search, here’s the struggle, here’s the stop, here’s the solution”?
Yes, okay. So, there’s a fabulous woman who I met, named Marla Ginsburg. So, Marla Ginsburg was a big-time television executive, and she had a great job, and she told me this story about how she got a promotion, she moves to California, gets the big house with the pool, and the nannies for the kids, the whole works, then comes a writers’ strike, and she loses the job.
And so, now she has to think about, “What am I going to do next?” And she says the only thing she can think of is she was always really interested in clothing design, and she’d always hoped to be, in her dream, her dream life was to be a television host. And she said the only problem was she didn’t know how to sew, she didn’t know how to design, and she’d never done television.
So, she, though, was in this struggle phase of, like, “What do I do next?” As she said, she was over 50 in a town that really prizes youth. Her old life, she could see, was fading away but she was in the midst of this struggle, saying, “How do I get to this new life?” And so, she went out, she bought a sewing machine at Sears, she Googled how to use it, and she Googled how to sew.
She Googled everything about design, she starts trying to put together these designs, and then she’s learning, she’s struggling, she’s hoping to get to this next step, and then she gets slammed again, that her son gets ill, he needs treatment. She no longer has insurance, and it’s one of those stop moments. He goes overseas, where her ex-husband is, to get treatment, and she follows.
She’s in a bar department, and this was her stop. She’s struggling, and now this is a dead stop. She is only there to be there for her son. And she said she was all alone, like while he was getting his treatments and such, she’s all by herself and she’s in a new place where she doesn’t know anybody. And she says, “You know, for some reason, during this moment, it was a dead stop, and yet,” she said, “my creativity just flourished.”
And she had all of these ideas about creating new designs and new ways that she could…she thought about the women who could use the designs for, particularly women in her age group, over 50 kinds of women, and she said it was the most creative period of her life. It was an amazing thing. Thankfully, her son recovered. She came back to the United States, she found a manufacturer, and fast forward to today, Marla Ginsburg is one of the biggest stars on Home Shopping Network.
She has a line called MarlaWynne. And PS, she is the face of MarlaWynne, so she, actually, made both of her dreams come true. She’s a clothing designer and she’s, essentially, a talk show host because you can find her on TV talking. And she’s awesome on TV talking about her designs. And it was an amazing thing to see for someone who went through such a struggle and had that stop that was just forced on her that was just horrendous, and yet that was…everything that happened to her was what allowed her to be what she considers the best expression of herself as a clothing designer and being on television.
So, so many stories work out in that manner. It’s been pretty amazing to speak to so many of these people from different walks of life.
Well, that is a lovely story, and it’s cool to see the pattern and the life cycle there. Could you share with us some mistakes, things not to do when we are thinking about making a switch and reinventing?
Yes. So, one thing is if you read all of the traditional business books, they will tell you, you have to have the goal in mind and work backwards. So, if you read like Think and Grow Rich or any of these books that have been around for many decades, that’s how they lay it out but, in fact, that is a myth also. Almost all of the people that I spoke to, some had a goal in mind, but many of the people that I spoke to kind of had the sort of circuitous paths. They would never imagine that this is where they would end up.
And so, one thing is to really keep an open mind. One of the best examples of that, sports fans will remember Len Elmore, who was on the Knicks and on the Pacers and various other teams, big basketball star in the ‘80s. And Len, after he retired, he actually went on to Harvard Law School, he’s had an illustrious career both as a commentator and also practicing law and management in sports.
And his stop was he turned 65 years old and he just had this just series of terrible things. He was hospitalized, and he had a terrible illness, which he had a heart attack. He was let go from his sports commentating job. So, he’s 65 and, suddenly, he’s done all of these, had this great career, and, suddenly, he’s like, “Wait a second. Who am I? What is my identity? What can I do?”
And he said, “I felt like I had so much more to offer.” And he said, “You know what I did, instead of saying ‘Here’s where I want to go’” he said, “I sat down and I actually wrote down what are all of the skills that I bring to the party. And then I looked to see what are opportunities I never would’ve thought of that my skills matched.”
And guess what? He ended up being, now, and he is currently a Columbia University professor, which is not the career he ever thought he would end up in when he was playing for the Knicks, but all of his skills, the fact that he had this law degree and had practice, and the fact he was interested in social justice with athletes, and his knowledge of sports management, all of it rolled into becoming a professor and a scholar, which is, again, not where he thought his career was taking him.
And we saw that a lot, but there are also things that you can do, which perhaps we want to talk about. Things that you can do to help figure out where it is that you want to go.
Oh, sure thing. Let’s hear it.
Yeah. Well, there’s a number but I’ll just mention three. So, the first is there is a concept that is called possible selves. This is a concept in psychology, a couple psychologists actually coined this phrase, and it means you’re imagining who you might be, who you might become. And that is something that a lot of people sort of felt was very helpful.
James Patterson told me that while he was an ad executive, he imagined himself as a bestselling novelist. It was the kind of thing, it seemed like a far-off dream. Marla Ginsburg did the same with thinking about being a clothing designer. But just imagining it isn’t sufficient. You actually want to do something. So, you want to either take some action as in a hobby or something.
But the second thing that I would say, because this ties in with this first idea of possible selves, is talk to what we would call, I’m calling an expert companion. Expert companion is somebody who knows you really, really well, who can reflect back to you what are your strengths that you may not even be aware of. Again, I saw this very frequently with people who, they’re so close to their own strengths that they don’t even see that they have them.
And then the third thing I would say is reach out to your network, particularly weak ties and dormant ties. And I think you’ve talked about this on the show before. Your most helpful career advice very often will come from, not from your direct circle – you kind of all know the same things and the same people – but from somebody who either you lost touch with, or somebody who you know tangentially. There’s been a lot of research that’s been done on this over the past 50 years. And for people who switched careers, the majority will tell you, it came through weak ties or dormant ties, people who you lost touch with.
There was a really cool experiment that was done fairly recently where executives were asked to reach out to try and solve a business problem that they had by reaching out to someone who they hadn’t spoken to in at least five years. And the results were quite remarkable. They were like, first of all, they got better advice than they got from their inner circle but, also, they just found that it was really gratifying to reconnect with these people.
And they also said, “It was also quite efficient because they could kind of pick up where they left off,” so you didn’t have that sort of awkward get-to-know-you kind of thing. They could kind of dive right into it. So, it was really a win-win for everybody.
That’s very cool. Well, Joanne, tell me. Anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?
Yeah, you know what, there’s two things I want to mention, actually, that I came across that I think can be really helpful to people. I know you’ve done some shows about burnout. There’s a lot of burnout in this particular moment, and I think it is with the pandemic, it really did get people to rethink and reprioritize. And one of the things that I found, and I found this to be true in the research as well as with the people I talked to, is listen to your gut.
If your gut is telling you you’re not in the right place, listen. It turns out there’s a lot of research behind gut instinct, and very often your gut instinct is correct. And I would also say give yourself a break. This is also so important. When I talk about that stop phase, sometimes it was somebody who either shows to take a career break or had one forced on them when they were, let’s say, laid off.
And every piece of research will tell you that when you take that break, it is a way for your brain to reset, but also when you’re not so actively thinking and focusing and losing sleep over trying to solve a problem, that is when your brain is at its best. When the thoughts that are swirling around in your head can coalesce into some fabulous new idea.
And, by the way, and I think a lot of listeners probably know this, but you cannot say it enough that it’s so important, even during the course of your day, take a walk, take a break. One of the great pieces of advice I got was what we call the 90-minute rule. And the 90-minute rule is if you’re working on a project, you focus intensely on it with no distractions for 90 minutes. So, you turn off the cellphone and you don’t look at your email, you just focus on whatever you’re doing, this task at hand, for 90 minutes. But then, after 90 minutes, you must take a break.
And it doesn’t matter what you do during your break. You can go for a run, you can eat something, you can do whatever you feel like doing but you have to take that break, and then you can do another 90-minute segment. And you can do about three of these in one day and get far more work done than if you just, like, sit at your desk and stare at your computer for eight hours.
There’s the famous research that was done that Malcolm Gladwell popularized about you need 10,000 hours, but the professor who actually did that research on the 10,000 hours, that was only one piece of what makes you an expert. The other piece of it was exactly what I just talked about, which is that his research was on violinists that needed 10,000 hours to be an expert. But what these violinists did is they practiced for 90 minutes, they took a break, they practiced for another 90 minutes, and they did it no more than three times a day. So, it’s so important to take that break to allow your brain to reset.
Well, now, Joanne, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?
Absolutely. I don’t know who said this but I repeat it almost every day, which is, “If something is bothering you, and it won’t matter five years from today, it doesn’t matter now.”
That’s good. And we heard about a favorite study, so how about a favorite book?
So, favorite book, my favorite book of all time is Anna Karenina. However, I would say there’s a book that I absolutely love that I highly recommend called The Eureka Factor, and it’s by two academics, John Kounios and Mark Beeman, who are the reigning experts on aha moments, why they happen, and how you can have more of them.
All right. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?
Yeah, one that I came across while researching the book is a CV of Failure. And I found that people who are highly successful, some of them, there’s an academic who I met along the way, who, she said the best thing she ever did was she sat down and created a resume, not of all her great successes, but of everything she failed at, every research project she didn’t get, or grant she didn’t get, and every rejection she got.
And she said it was really helpful in helping her understand, first of all, all the amazing things she tried, but also it helped her understand where her strengths were, and it actually led her to a different field of research. So, I love the idea of a CV of Failure.
All right. And a favorite habit?
My favorite habit is definitely the 90-minute rule that I referred to earlier. I use it every day.
And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; you hear people quote it back to you often?
Yes. Yes. I was once asked, “What advice would you give to your younger self?” and I said, “Exhale.” I hear that all the time. All the time. The idea that we get so caught up in our careers, and we worry so much about the future, and just if you exhale.
Okay. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?
My website is JoanneLipman.com, and you can find Next!: The Power of Reinvention in Life and Work on Amazon or anywhere where you buy books.
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?
Two things related. First is if you have a hobby or an interest or something that you think possibly you might be interested in, take action, learn about it, talk about it, follow somebody in the field. And second, and so related to this, is be open to the unexpected. You never know where your interests may take you. And for the people who I interviewed for Next! so many of them ended up in places they never dreamed, and they’re so much more fulfilled in their careers because of it.
All right. Joanne, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and many quality reinventions.
Thank you, and you as well. This has been a terrific conversation.