Missions and Marketplace Podcast
Interview with Jon Acuff
Hey guys! Welcome to Episode 18 of Missions and Marketplace podcast. I’m your host Priest Willis and I have the opportunity and pleasure to sit down with Jon Acuff who is New York Times Bestselling author of five books including his most recent one, Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work and Never Get Stuck. For 18 years he’s helped some of the biggest brands in the world tell their story including Home Depot, Bose, Staples, and the Dave Ramsey team. Most recently he’s spoken to hundreds of thousands of people at conferences, colleges, companies and churches. Featured regularly on national media, Jon has been seen on places like CNN, Fox News, Good Day LA and other key outlets.
I had the pleasure sitting down with Jon and talking about his books Quitter, Start, Do Over and all these other books that I think are really pivotal for those who are wanting to step out and become entrepreneurs. He’s really tapping in to a place where he is offering a little humor and all of this books have written them all but at the same time he is giving you key elements to build them. And Jon and I really discussed some really important things that we deal with as individuals, that we deal with as we’re building businesses or whatever you’re trying to branch off to. So I thoroughly enjoyed Jon. I think he is a very genuine person and I appreciate him much. So without further ado here is Jon Acuff.
Welcome to Missions and Marketplace podcast. Join us as we talk to business and thought leaders to discuss their passion in and outside of business and how it drives them to give and be citizens of goodwill. Let’s get started.
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PW: Hey Jon, welcome to the program! It’s exciting having you, been looking forward to having a conversation with you and I’m glad you’re on.
JA: Thanks for having me Priest.
PW: So many things to talk about but before we do, how about you just tell us a little bit about yourself and how did you get to where you are today?
JA: I live in Nashville Tennessee outside of the city with my wife and two daughters. I’ve been married going on15 years and spent/majored in Journalism to kind of focus on Advertising, the advertising part of Journalism and worked in corporate America for about 15 years at companies like Home Depot and Bose and Staples and got a great kind of behind the scenes look at branding. And then a little over two years ago, went off on my own and decided to try being an entrepreneur full time. I’ve written five books and dividing my time mostly between writing books and giving speeches and companies – big companies like Microsoft and Comedy Central but also small companies with 15 employees, 20 employees and they’re trying to figuring out how do you grow a business. So that’s kind of a quick scattershot of what I do.
PW: You know you talked about the five books that you wrote. We’re gonna kind of get in to a few to those books but you know you brought up Comedy Central’s employees. In some respect it would be like, well how does that tie in but I will tell you in these books that you’ve written and this is one thing that I really love is in terms of as you’re talking about business and fearing business and doing over and some failure and success that you have, you use a lot of humor in all five of these books and I really appreciate and enjoyed that rather than the five point plan and the serious kind of old, foggy feel to it.
JA: I guess there’s two things. One, I come from a funny family. So my dad uses humor to communicate, my youngest brother is the funniest person in the family. He’s way funnier than me. So I grew up on humor and then it’s a great source of differentiation. There’s a lot of business books that tell you to have an exciting business and an exciting life in a boring way which makes no sense. And so fortunately for me, it’s something I really like to explore, I love comedians. They are the best public speakers in the planet. I love to write with humor. And fortunately it’s a source of differentiation coz there’s not a ton of business guys writing in that same space.
PW: I think you are, you know, one of the few that I’ve read personally and I’ve read all five books by the way.
JA: Oh thanks.
PW: Yeah. That I think you use a lot of humor but there’s deeply a message that’s never lost within the humor. And you’re right; we don’t see much of it. So, I wanted to kind of dive in to one of your books and you’ve talked about this and you kind of brought it up quickly at the beginning there where you talked about you work for a company and you left and kind of stepped out on your own and I think that was back in 2013 where you left. At one point you were with Dave Ramsey and kind of started your own brand, if you will, but beyond that, what you call a dream job. So this is kind of what I wanted to dive into. How nervous were you to leave what you initially thought and believe, and probably still do, to be a dream job to step out on what you now believe is another dream? So it’s not to say that the one other dream was bad…
JA: Uh. Uh yeah, it’s not to criticize the other one.
PW: Yeah exactly.
JA: I mean good grief the things I learned! I mean I had somebody tell me that Dave Ramsey fast forwarded my career by ten years, so I do my best to always celebrate those three years because I learned a lot. It was great. Now, to that point though – stepping out. Yeah, it was very nerve-wracking because anytime you leave something stable and known to try something new and unknown it should be nervous. Like you can prepare all you want, you should you know, there’s a lot of things you should get in place, there’s thing you should do, there’s counsel you should get but there’s always a degree of the unknown. So it was definitely nerve-wracking. It wasn’t impulsive, I’ll say that. I was deliberate; I felt like I had gone through a good process to come to a decision. But yeah it’s definitely scary especially if it’s something you haven’t necessarily done before and that I’ve never run my own company and I have always been at big companies where I was surrounded by talented people who did a lot of talented things around me and so to be on my own and have to figure out how do you manage people, how do you build something and how do you grow a brand that’s on your own. Yeah there’s was definitely a lot of nerves around it.
PW: You know initially before, my wife and I we kind of relocated to Raleigh, North Carolina. That takes you know some level of courage so you can do a lot of calculation behind it and talk to your mentors and your small circle no matter how small it may be. It may be as small as a period but you still consult with them but at some point you still gonna have to step out on faith, if you will, and just make the decision to take the leap.
JA: You can’t predict what’s going to happen. I mean that’s kind of the myth on some of this stuff is that people love to sell you on here’s some of my five year plan or my ten year plan but I just think that’s crazy. I was just reading Peter Drucker; obviously very famous, well known, well regarded business author/writer kind of genius said “A plan can usually cover no more than 18 months and still be reasonably clear and specific”. He said it’s rarely possible or even particularly fruitful to look too far ahead. And so that idea of and that’s Peter Drucker saying “Hey, you can get as far out maybe as 18 months to get a sense of what’s gonna happen. But let’s be honest, you don’t know.”
PW: You really don’t know at the end of it all, right?
JA: Hell no! And so yeah that’s where some of that you know nervousness comes from. But you don’t get to grow if you don’t have those moments. I think about that all the time that I talk to people that wanna change, they just don’t wanna change anything they’re doing or they’ll say “I want growth just no discomfort” and I say “well, that’s unfortunate because growth is always uncomfortable”. That’s part of the trade-off of being different, of growing, of getting better. There’s some degree of awkwardness and uncomfortableness.
PW: I love the way that your books are set-up. Out of the five, if you look at the last three, I believe it is you have Quitter, Start and Do Over which is your most recent book here. But we talked about Quitter and somebody stepping out from their dream job or something that they are believing in and just take the leap. But then Start is sort of you’re re-engaging with it and just taking over your fear. Do you think it’s really possible that people are afraid of success? I’ve heard, you know, I remember my grandfather was into some kind of singing group when I was younger and my father would tell me yeah he quit because he was afraid of success. That makes no sense to me coz success is determined by what you believe success is and there’s really no guarantees. Do you think that’s possible that people are afraid of success? Does that make….
JA: Oh! 100%! 100%! Yeah! There are a lot of people afraid of success because they’re afraid of you know “will I change when I get it?”. You don’t have to look far to see in the news successful people who have blown up their lives. So it’s very easy in the midst of success to get drunk on it and lose it. You know I show you churches that fall that way, businesses that fall that way, show you celebrities that fall that way where the success becomes the hardest thing for them to handle. And I’ll also show you know really smart business people and celebrities that say they’re glad they didn’t get fast success. And they had to learn it slowly. So yeah there are people that are afraid of success. And part of it can be that they have a really low self-esteem and may feel they don’t deserve the success. So when they receive the success they feel ashamed because they’ve bought the lie that I don’t’ deserve good things or I, you know, I’m a bad person so something bad happens to me that’s because I deserve it, something good happens to me I don’t feel good about it. I mean I remember Kendrick Lamar talking about survival skills. He’s successfully left a difficult area he was in and the survivor’s guilt of that. Survivor’s guilt is about success. It’s about hand down wrestling with the idea of “Why me. Why did I get to be the one that get to rock a ride out of the difficult situation and what does that mean for my life?” So yeah there’s many forms of fear of success.
PW: Yeah that’s a really good example coz I think there are a lot of people that get out of their hardships and feel like either they don’t deserve it or they owe everything back to the people that they came out of it and in some respects I mean that’s just kind of a misnomer about your kind of your own system. I mean you know it’s unfortunate that people are that way but I totally get it.
JA: Yeah. I see it all the time and I understand coz I’ve been on that I get nervous about it or attacked by it. So I think there’s definitely such a thing as fear of success.
PW: But how do you get over that Jon?
JA: Well I think a lot of it is relationships. I think you know you talk about the circle, you have to have people in your life that can tell you the truth. You have to have friends that’s say “wait a second wait a second this is what you worked for. This is you know we’re not gonna idolize it. If your only mission is money, you’re gonna have a miserable life.” Like every – I mean look at the cover of Rolling Stone this week. I mean its Leonardo DiCaprio and he’s talking about his most difficult movie, the Revenant and his new fight for the globe. And so anyone who reaches a certain high level eventually goes “You know what? I get a 20000 square foot house or 25000 square foot it doesn’t matter. If it’s a red Lamborghini or green Lamborghini it doesn’t matter. Eventually you realize there’s got to be something more. I think that’s part of it. You get over it by talking to friends that’ll keep you grounded and then get over it by staying connected to why you started in the first place.
PW: Having a tribe, as its being called now communities are important. I mean you know I tried to look at Facebook a little bit differently for a long time. I’d be the guy putting up cats and like crazy saying but then I get sad. You know the people that I wanna have on my Facebook page I wanna leverage these real friendships and family to be really someone that I can have dialogues with. Same with Twitter. Same reason why I’m having podcasts with people that inspire me like yourself. And I really wanna engage with people and have real relationships and build a community because when you do have to make these tough decisions or you are facing fears there’s people like yourselves that can inspire you to say yeah fear’s real but you gotta get past it and here’s some ways that I would suggest.
JA: You know you can’t eliminate it. That’s why when I talk about fear; I talk about punch fear in the face and not how to get rid of the fear. I don’t think that’s possible. I’m thinking you know this side of heaven you’re always gonna struggle with fear. Each new stage has bigger challenges. So as you continue to level up it’s just you know a bigger challenge and a bigger challenge. You’re constantly being stretched and there’s fear that comes with that. So I don’t think that fear is a bad thing in that sense.
PW: Jon you have an entrepreneur who has gotten over the fear of starting a business decided that here she wanted to start one. Got into it, got rolling along and have found other people that are doing what they do but they either have a bigger platform, their Twitter page is bigger and all these other variables. And the next thing they roll into is what I like to call comparisonitis. So they start to have this disease, if you will, that now they want to become that other person or aspire to have the things that that other person has. Where when you just think that months before they started their business they had no idea that they just conceptually went in to start the business. How does an entrepreneur get over saying I want what that person has or I need it now do it this way? I mean coz I think we all kind of in one respect or another look at the other person over our shoulder and say, I should have did it like that. How do we get over that?
JA: Oh, I don’t know. Uhm. I think part of it is if you identify a place that’s challenging for you or a person that’s challenging for you; you don’t have to follow them on Instagram. Like you don’t. I think we’re so hard on ourselves and think oh I should just man up or you know I gotta be tough and so if there’s somebody who is in your Instagram feed that every time you see them you get lost in comparison for half an hour, then stop following that person – like the fix to that is very simple. Like I know you could go “I should be a strong enough person to be able look at their photos and not get emotionally upset”. Okay yeah yeah down the road let’s get there – let’s become noble. Fine that’s fine but for now unfollow them. Like unless it’s a person that’s gonna cause more strife to unfollow them like they are a close friend that’s gonna go “hey wait a second”. If it’s just somebody in your industry or somebody in your circle and you’re having a hard time because you wanna be the next so-and-so and every time you see so-and-so’s photo you feel like whatever you’re doing is not good. I think you just unfollow them. And everybody thinks about it. Everybody you know whatever level you’re at there’s somebody who’s at a higher level. And then the other thing is you have to remember the truth about it. A lot of times we compare ourselves to people that are in age or experience twenty years ahead of us. And we’re frustrated that we don’t have exactly what they have. And you think well they’re fifty, you’re twenty five. You’ve an entrepreneur; you’ve been out of school for 4 years! They’re fifty! It makes no sense. And so a lot of times I try to have fun with the reality of it which is you shouldn’t compare yourself to somebody who’s you know. I shouldn’t compare myself to Jim Collins. He’s a Stanford professor, I thinks he’s mid-fifties and he’s been doing this for 35 years and so if I look at my ideas and go “oh I might as well research this Jim Collins”. I should then go, you mean the Stanford researcher? Who’s 55? And they’re not. Of course they’re not. Yeah I can’t dunk like Jordan either. Like it’s just ridiculous.
PW: [Laughs] I love that approach in this against the humor that I really enjoy because it does kind of, uhm, it settles you down for whoever you think you’re supposed to be in some respect.
JA: yeah. It gives you a chance to laugh at it. I mean it gives you a chance to go “oh! Come on!” and part of it too is the problem is sometimes the people you compare to, I don’t wanna say all the time, but a lot of the times the people you are comparing to are showing you an edited version of their life. So it think about like the entrepreneur that should go “Wow! They post a hundred times a day. How did they do it”? You know what you’re not seeing? You’re not seeing their husband or wife who’s like “hey could we just go to dinner at once? Like you have to selfie every decision you make? This is killing me”. You know you’re not seeing that that photo that took nine minutes to set up to look like it didn’t need to be set up. Like casual takes the longest time to take a photo, you know. So I try to remember on the other side what you’re not seeing. Then murmur oh yeah that’s fine. And then you remembered the comparison takes you away from the thing you’re supposed to be focused on.
PW: That is the key. Remember that young woman that came out and she finally, I think she was an Instagram model, everybody’s an Instagram model now…
JA: Oh yeah yeah. That said how, like the, “truth behind the photos”…
PW: Yeah, exactly! and she gained like the real, raw truth and that was – what was I gonna say is you know in some respect people aren’t even-they can’t even compare themselves the way they have lighting setup and they position their bodies or show cool stuff like the picture of their laptop and microphone and say #hustling when really they’re just eating Cheetos.
JA: I just try to remember the reality of it, you know. That there’s, chances are it does not look like how you think it looks like.
PW: So let’s talk about the book Do Over a little bit. And when I read this book what kind of jumped out at me is that you know I was at a company before where I felt like I was in a ten story building and I was on the ninth floor and when I left that company I felt like I was on the first floor of a twenty story building. Which means that there was a lot more height to it, there was a lot further to go but you’re starting at the bottom and you’re doing it over. And sometimes what people feel like is just because I do over, I’m losing ground or I’m somehow losing anything that I would’ve gained in my previous whatever that may have been. But let’s talk about Do Over. Does it mean that you’re losing any ground that you gain?
JA: Yeah. I think the thing you have to remember there is going to be some degree of that. Like that’s a reality. You know I know people that will say okay I’m in sales and I wanna be in tech. Like I’ve always wanted to be in tech, not a sales guy forever I want to be in tech. And then they have to take courses. They have to add certifications. They have to – you don’t get to go “I’ve been in sales for 20 years I want a 20 year equivalent job of being in tech” coz they should say “well you have been running at work for 20 years”. Like it’s awesome that you have passion. So depending on what you jump between there’s gonna be some backwards.
PW: But the silver lining in something like that may be, you have more personal interaction. Once you learn the tech side, than the tech guy, because you haven’t been behind the computer all the time. You’ve..
JA: Yeah. You’ve 20 year on skills for that. That’s exactly right. That’s what the career savings account idea is about is that those 20 years in sales were not wasted. It’s your job to figure out where’s the overlap? Where’s the connection? And so that’s what a big part of do over is about figuring out is that okay how do you build the type of career that no matter what you do you have again what I call a career savings account which is almost like a bank account for your career. Where regardless of what job you have, you’re taking your relationships, your skills, your character and your hustle forward with you and so it’s usually not a you’re on the twentieth floor and then you’re back to the one. Uhm sometimes people fear that and they never jump because of that.
PW: Uh huh.
JA: It’s usually you’re on the twentieth and you get to the twelfth but being on the twelfth of the building you wanna be in is better than being on the 100th of the building you don’t want to be in.
PW: Uh huh. Uh huh.
JA: Uhm and you have to look at the long term. It’s a long term play. You shouldn’t jump for a short term play. You shouldn’t say I kinda maybe sort of want to do this thing and its wrecked my whole life and uproot everything. You should be on purpose about it. And if you don’t wanna do that, you shouldn’t make the jump. But if you do wanna do that, you should be able to say okay its gonna take me one to three years to get back to the level I want but man I got thirty years left to work and those thirty years are gonna be awesome because I’ve done the difficult jump part of the one to three.
PW: How many times have you found yourself? I know you left your dream job and you’re constantly brand picking up on things and again I follow you on Periscope and other places and now we see you almost in a sense you know mentoring other people and giving them advice and talking to them. But you’re also in some sense talking to yourself. How many times are you doing over? How many times are you starting and kind of re….
JA: Oh I think I tried to you know explain to be able to do over, you know, is any time you have to change. And so there’s days when you’ll to do over something a hundred times a day or you can be doing over a relationship with a co-worker that’s difficult and you’re trying to use empathy to understand where they’re coming from. Uhm there’s times where you know I get up in the morning and have to go okay this one way I thought things are going to be down this webinar is not working so how do I do that over? So yeah the phrase do over for me – and it’s not a negative phrase it can be positive too. You know getting a promotion is a do over. Uhm getting a new opportunity is a do over. Changing how you look at the situation is a do over. Reading a book that challenges you and asks you questions is a do over. So I have I would say a series of do overs as far as you know every new client I work with is a do over. Cause I get to learn that client and say okay it’s a great fit or it’s not a great fit or here’s what I need to do. Every speaking gig I get to learn a new audience, you know. The challenge is if you start thinking everything’s the same over and over and over again you can get complacent.
PW: Again you’re a great writer. You use such great humor and can you put things in such a good perspective that I think has helped me along the way in my entrepreneur journey and my career and its, you know, Quitter was one of the first books I read in fact and uhm what it did for me in terms of me kind of being confident of myself. I can’t say enough about it. I talk about these books and this is before you and I even talked and you were inspiring me just from words on a page. Who or what inspires you?
JA: Uh Seth Godin really inspires me. I really like him. I like the way he writes. I like his generosity and his heart and his approach and his writing voice. I’m really inspired by him. I’m inspired by my dad. I love the way he communicates. I got to grow up watching him do that and still to this day love to get to see him speak. Uhm who else inspires me? Uhm my kids inspire me because they have such a fresh look on life and things that are interesting. My friend Brian Koppelman inspires me. He’s a writer and a director. He and his writing partner David Levien, they just, they have a show called “Billions” right now in Showtime.
PW: Oh yeah.
JA: And he’s become a good friend and an inspiration. He’s got a great podcast called “The Moment”. I find him to be very inspiring. So yeah those are a few of the people that inspire me.
PW: You know just kind of taking one step back into kind of the careers and entrepreneur journey that we’re talking about. Is there really such as thing as work-life balance? I know that you have a family, you’re married, two children but you do so much outside of that too. Is it hard for you to find that work-life balance or are you like, “hogwash! work and life are just part of it”.
JA: You know, I always go back to something I heard Dave Ramsey say that balance was a myth in a sense of like you think you’re going to get some perfectly balanced thing that you can, you know, balance it. And his example was when you train for a half-marathon, you run more that season that you do in other seasons. It’s out of balance and I thought that was a great way to look at it.
PW: Uh huh.
JA: I don’t believe in balance in that sense. I believe in being intentional. You know here’s an example, I would fail if at the beginning of the year I said to myself “Okay I wanna speak. I wanna have as many speaking gigs every month. Like I want it to all be the same. I wanna do four a month. Like say I said that. That would be almost impossible because companies book you to speak in the spring and fall. No one books you in July. That’s not failure – that’s because its summer and there’s no conferences.
JA: So I would be down if I tried to force a balance on a situation that is way out of balance. And so I’m much more about being honest with the schedule and being above all realizing you can’t have it all- you just cant. Like the entrepreneur who’s single and has no kids and has no life, that is working ten hours on a Saturday when you’re playing with your kids, like the reality is going to get ahead of that – of you. Like same with she’s gonna get ahead of you. Now long term will they burn out? Yeah maybe. But you can’t have it all. Like when you dedicate your life to spending time with your family and your kids, there’s an impact. Like there should be! So I guess for me I’m more of a believer that things are out of balance but out of balance is good.
PW: The reason why I asked that question is because, you know, I told you this earlier but I watched your Periscope and one of the things that just jumped out at me is well there’s other people, you said you like to say no quickly and yes slowly which you know again maybe I was just hearing it on my own. What it said was hey I really like to balance and weigh out things and even if some things are really great idea you know you kinda use Jenny, your wife, as kind of a sounding board to say “Hey, you know, I think this is a really great idea” and she kind of like lowers you down and say “Jon I know it’s shiny but let’s really find out why that is”. And so that was something to me that you found sort of a work-life balance there.
JA: 100%! And she’ll, you know, she’ll ask me questions about it. Same with my mastermind. I’m in a group with four other guys that are really smart and I share ideas with them and then go “Wait a second I thought you said this is a thing you cared about”. So yeah I think talking it out is critical.
PW: I’ve read a good book by Andy Stanley called Choosing to Cheat. Awesome book. Kind of talks about the very same thing. And similar to what you said. Look you know the reality of it is if you’re gonna pick something and you’re gonna lose out on the other just it is what it is, but you know make a very conscious decision if you were to decide what it is that you really wanna go with it and go with it and live with no regrets. So Jon were gonna wrap up here. Did you wanna share with anybody on where they can go and how they can find you and hear more from you, see your videos and kind of just
JA: Oh sure!
PW: …collect content from there.
JA: Yeah, I’m at acuff.me, that’s my URL from my blog. And then on twitter I’m @jonacuff, J-O-N-A-C-U-F-F. And then uhm I do a 30-day course and I think it will be closed by the time people are hearing this but it’s 30-day video course that helps people crush their hustle. It’s called the 30-days hustle and you can go to 30daysofhustle.com to get on the waiting list for that.
PW: Good. We’ll definitely put that on our Facebook page. Jon you’ve been awesome. I really appreciate the time.
JA: Oh yeah thanks Priest. Great questions!
PW: Thank you.
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