Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Q&A with Joanne Lipman




Joanne Lipman is the author of the new book Next!: The Power of Reinvention in Life and Work. Her other books include That's What She Said. Lipman is a former deputy managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, a former editor-in-chief of USA Today, a lecturer at Yale University's Department of Political Science, and a CNBC contributor.


Q: What inspired you to write Next!?


A: For those who haven’t read it yet, Next! is a deeply reported guide to navigating change in how to work, live, and lead. It taps into the zeitgeist at this particular time. So many people are burned out.


The inspiration was the pandemic. In the middle of the night, early in the pandemic, the world shook. We knew nothing would be the same. We all started reprioritizing—are we happy in our lives and relationships? Three years ago, we knew we would have to search for a new normal. The health crisis has receded, but we’re still trying to figure out a new normal.


In anybody’s life, you go through a series of changes—happy ones like getting married, sad ones like an illness. They are usually individual things. But in the pandemic, we all went through a seismic change, all at once.


Q: So what impact do you think the pandemic had on people reinventing their careers?


A: There’s a lot of research about how during the pandemic people started questioning their career choices. It stood out to me—the majority of people looking for new jobs were looking in a different field. They wanted to change careers. This was something new.


The pandemic made all of us stop in our tracks. It was a time to rethink where you are. If your life was just going, and you were so busy, there was no time to reflect on where you are. So many people’s lives were upended and they were thrown out of their routine. There’s no roadmap. I wanted to provide a roadmap.


Q: You begin the book by focusing on author James Patterson. Why did you choose him as a focal point?


A: I wanted to look for people who had gone through massive transformations of all sorts—people coming back from failure or trauma,  people forced out of their jobs—different transitions. I was looking for examples, and it reminded me of an interview I did many years ago with James Patterson.


My first job out of college was with The Wall Street Journal, and one early assignment was as an advertising columnist. I was covering the burger wars, and he was in charge of the Burger King account at J. Walter Thompson. He started talking to me about how he wanted to be a novelist, and he gave me a book he’d written.


I lost touch with him afterwards, and was surprised when he showed up on TV with his books. His transformation was a great example of how you can go from one career to another. We spent some time where he walked me through how he did it.


My next step was talking to academics who would describe the process of change they discovered in their field through a series of steps. Each one was describing the same process. James Patterson was a textbook example of what they were talking about.


There are four steps: search, struggle, stop, and solution.


In the search, you’re collection information about where you might want to go next. Often you may not realize you’re searching. The struggle is when you start moving toward a new career. It can last for quite a long time. You’re disconnecting from where you were but not quite connected to where you’re going.


In a surprising number of cases, it requires a stop. You quit your job, or there’s illness or divorce, or the pandemic. It stops you in your tracks. Only when you stop can you take stock, and then get to the solution.


James Patterson was writing books, but was in the advertising business; he wrote books on the side. He was still afraid to leave, even with a couple of bestsellers. The stop moment was on a Sunday night when he was coming back from the beach on the New Jersey Turnpike sitting in traffic, watching the other side of the road, where there was no traffic, going toward the beach. He told himself, I’m on the wrong side of the road. I need to leave my job.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from Next!?


A: I see it as a hopeful and optimistic book. I hope people take away that change is available to them. With the struggle piece, I wanted to explode the Cinderella myth—she goes from the ashes to becoming Cinderella. We are all brought up with the idea of instant transformation—there’s Spiderman and Superman.


We minimize the struggle. All of us are going to go through a struggle at some point. I want to make people feel better about it. The struggle period is where important work gets done.


James Patterson was almost 50 when he quit the advertising business. He uses everything he learned in advertising. It prepared him: What does the audience want?


Chris Donovan was a telephone repairman for many decades. As a teenager, he started working for the phone company. In his spare time, he started sketching shoes. For his entire life, he was sketching fantastic shoes. He met his now-husband, and showed him the drawings, and his husband said, You have talent.


When he turned 50, he got prostate cancer. He said, I need to think about what my real passion is. He retired and went to design school, and he was named the best new shoe designer by Boston magazine when he was 61 years old.


Another important lesson: We are all told in business books that you set your goal and work toward that every day. So many people I spoke to had no idea where they were going. Their interest led them there. Chris Donovan didn’t know there was a career as a shoe designer.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Joanne Lipman.

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