The Good Life Project

Have you heard of Jonathan Fields?

Jonathan Fields & the good life projectIf not, let me give you the two second introduction – a former big firm lawyer, he is now a phenomenally successful author, entrepreneur and speaker. He’s one of the cool, popular kids in the startup world. The kind of guy you want to learn from. I had recently emailed him about getting together for coffee but our schedules had been too busy and the meet up had been put on hold indefinitely.

My weekend had slid past in a lazy summer haze of boating and beaching and seafood gluttony, when I had an email from Jonathan on Monday evening.

new york sailing

new york summer beaches

Would I like to be interviewed for his new venture, The Good Life Project. No big deal, he was just inviting 10 people he knew in the city to take part in a relaxed (his words not mine) Charlie Rose style interview where we would talk about what it means to lead a good life. The videos would be broadcast online and released to his 37, 000 fans (if we go by twitter). Oh and by the way, the interview was on Wednesday. Was I in?

Of course I was in. I was flattered, excited and ever-so-slightly terrified. Public speaking is one thing. I’m used to it. I know what I’ll say and I know I’ll have the floor. An interview is something entirely different.

But I had to do it. Because this was a chance to put my mouth where my pen had been and well and truly give in to the idea of being vulnerable.

The day rolled around. A steamy New York day, the filming was running late, 2pm had rolled into 2:30, half an hour was left on the memory card, four cameras were trained on my face and three lights were flicked on. A bead of sweat crested my ankle and fell into my sandal as Jonathan turned to ask the first question.

I would like to tell you that I was eloquent and funny and composed. I’m not sure if I was any of those things. I imagine I was rather more rattled and out of control. I know that I stuttered up a storm. The cameras cut out twice and we had to begin again, palms were raised in a 5 minute warning.

And yet I survived. I felt slightly sick afterwards but I said what I wanted, or close enough, and I got my first taster of what it might be like to start marketing this book that I’m bringing out into the world.

Not easy, not a walk in the park, but exciting and funny and awkward and well worth it. Because ultimately I think that living a good life means striving, living on the edge of uncertainty, laughing at ourselves and embracing those imperfect moments when we recklessly human.

Silencing the devil on your shoulder

Do you ever have those days when you feel utterly overwhelmed? Those mornings when all you want to do is crawl under the covers, hibernate, eat cake and forget about all the things that you should be doing, all the things that you don’t think you can do.

Most of us have been there. When I was there, it was obvious that the best course of action was a long nap followed by staring out the window.


Luckily, my other half had more sense than I did. He was the one who boiled the kettle and put pen and paper in my hand.

“Just write everything down. List all the impossible things you want to accomplish. Write down all the negative thoughts that are running around your head.”

He asked for 5 minutes of my time, just 5 minutes to sit and write.

And it worked. Because when you write down the negative rubbish that’s holding you back, it doesn’t seem quite so daunting. In fact it all seems fairly manageable.

to-do list

Now we’ve done it more times than I can count. It has become second nature. Whether we are working on the business, or planning our year ahead, or making a list of everything we want to learn and accomplish, we write it down.

I tend to forget about the lists as soon as I have made them. For me, it is the creation, the brain dump, that sets me free.

The boy is different, he holds on to them. He files them safely away. And I’m so glad he does because these lists of ours, these words scribbled on napkins and grocery lists and sheets of notepads, are part of our history.

They teach us that we will always be striving, that there will always be things to worry about. There will never be some dull, serene moment when we have reached perfection.

And yet they also remind us that we are capable, that we have achieved more than we ever thought we could.

What would you put on your list?

What makes someone a great boss? Stories from ExchangeMyPhone

Jeremy and I have just hired our first full-time employee. It is a very exciting time for ExchangeMyPhone and a big moment for us to reflect on the types of bosses we want to be.

boss at ExchangeMyPhone

We have had two part-time employees at ExchangeMyPhone and lots of contractors for almost a year. They are all amazing, and we are pretty sure that they don’t hate us, but how can we be the best we can be?

Over my life I have had wonderful employers and not-so wonderful ones. I have worked in offices and newsrooms and restaurants, and the traits that have made someone inspire me to work for them (or not) have easily spanned all those industries.

Most of us have answered to a boss at someone point in our lives, so what one word would you use to describe your perfect employer?

I have been brainstorming and these are the best that I have come up with so far:

  1. Encouraging
  2. Clear
  3. Approachable
  4. Focused
  5. Organised
  6. Forward-thinking
  7. Receptive
  8. Motivating
  9. Capable
  10. Trustworthy

I’m still thinking and I would love your input.

In the meantime, I’m off to start cooking lunch because I definitely think that a good boss should make their team some yummy treats to keep them going in the middle of the day!

Creating your Dream Life: What are you willing to give up?

Do you have a dream? Maybe you want to open a restaurant, or start a business, or become a painter, or start a family, or write a great novel. Whatever your dream might be, I suspect that it may take a bit of sacrifice to get there. Maybe sacrifice is too serious a word. If not sacrifice, then a few decisions. What are you willing to say no to in order to say yes to your dreams?

I remember a conversation that Jeremy and I had, early on, when we were sitting in our first Brooklyn sublet, eating soft boiled eggs on the floor. We had no furniture, no jobs, no money and we were two weeks away from being homeless. It was all a bit Withnail and I and a tad depressing. We had big plans but we had yet to sell a book or launch a business.

With egg dripping off his toast soldiers, Jeremy asked me to list all the things that I really wanted (or wanted to do) that I was willing to give up:

  • Long stints of travel
  • A predictable life
  • A safe, healthy bank account
  • Saving for a house
  • Some beautiful possessions
  • A good work, life balance
  • An apartment with doors
  • Plenty of time outdoors

On another sheet of paper we wrote down the things that we refused to give up:

  • Each other
  • Seeing our friends
  • Closeness to our family
  • Good food
  • Writing and the success of the business

Our list has changed since then, it has grown and evolved with us. But it was helpful to have to keep us on track early on.

So what do you want and, perhaps more importantly, what will you give up to have it?

dream life quote

Startup Life: The perils of working from home

I love running our startup from home. I was never a big fan of office life. I went mute by the water cooler, longed to be outside in rainy London and went brain dead every morning that I had to plan what to wear. There was something unnatural to me about the sunny open plan office that I last worked in. I dreamed of a cramped home office.

writing at home

Today my dream has come true. I work from home, along with Jeremy and the rest of our team. We have lunch together every day and banter conversations down the halls of our little flat. I couldn’t ask for anything better. And yet it does have its perils.

It is hard to look professional with towels hanging from the clothing line outside the kitchen window.

The temptation to work in trackie bums is, at times, too great to resist.

I have forgotten how to walk in high heals.

Business calls compete with the impressive shuddering of our washing machine.

Midnight has become a normal time to stop working.

Without office intrigue to keep me busy, work chat has kidnapped my banter.

Still, I’m not complaining. Working from home suits me. I’m just confused, I’m not sure where my home begins and my office ends. I’ve escaped the 9 to 5 and entered the 9 to midnight. Someday soon we may have to move into a ‘real’ office but I’m reluctant. My home may be covered in brown box ‘installations’ but my commute is pretty impressive and every day feels a little bit like a stolen holiday. I’m not too keen to give it up.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

A writer.

The answer was always a writer.

Today is a sort national holiday for writers worldwide. It is Bloomsday and a fine day to reflect on a career that has always held a fascination for me.

As a child, I envisioned an older version of myself in a house in the hills of Italy, writing my ink-stained manuscripts by day and cooking meals with friends every night. Small details never hindered my imagination. My lack of fluency in Italian was never an issue to my invented friends, I was never lonely, money rarely entered my thoughts. I certainly never had to deal with any sort of rejection.

In reality, making it as a writer is very different. It is not always easy, it can be painful, it is full of rejection and I am often racked by self-doubt. It is not the idyll that I had in my mind’s eye.

And yet I have to admit, with James Joyce on my mind, that writing is wonderful. When the blank page gives way to words that flow or sentences speak beyond their distinct outlines. When an article comes together, when a chapter of my book sits proudly on my desk, or when I feel I have eloquently described my chaotic inner monologue. Writing is a drug. An addiction that drives you through the low points and pummels you towards something worthwhile.

Today I am a writer, a public speaker and the Creative Director of a young business ( I could have never dreamed up that long-winded title as a naïve adolescent. I would have never imagined that my dream to be a writer would have taken me around America, would have introduced me to a new world, would have landed me in New York starting a business with someone I love.

My real life, and my hybrid career, works. In reality, the house in Italy would be lonely. I would miss the chatter of the big city, the amazing friends and family I have here, the buzzing potential of the start-up world.

In the immortally cool words of the Rolling Stones…

Rolling stones - writing dreams

Teaching public speaking and secretly loving it

I taught my second class on public speaking last week. I tweeted about it and mentioned it on my facebook but I rarely brought it up in the real ‘offline’ world. I know I should just get over myself but, despite all my chat of being entirely comfortable with my speech, I still feel awkward telling people that I teach public speaking.


As a general rule, most people who do hear about it are fiercely supportive. Betraying none of the skepticism that I assume they quietly harbor.

And yet there are some people who openly frown when I tell them, whose face seems to question if I realize that I stutter. They ask me what will happen if I block on every word? They prod and poke…am I not nervous? I answer them honestly…yes. I’m petrified. I call my sanity in to question hours before each class begins.

However, my nerves do make me relate to my students…perhaps more deeply than is convenient. I understand any fears that they might have. I have walked in their shoes.

Ultimately, I believe that nerves are normal for all of us. Once the moment comes and we do get up there to speak, it is never as terrifying as we had dreamed up. In fact it is oddly wonderful.

As much as I kvetch about the class beforehand, once I am there, looking at their faces, I realize that my fears are ungrounded. That I love teaching. I love sharing ideas and potentially helping others. I love speaking and stuttering and not worrying about being perfect. I love feeling that I am making an audible mark, however small, in the world.

More than that, I love the people I meet. I love the fact that working with Skillshare intimately ties me into the pulsing heart of the New York startup scene. The students in my class are uniformly impressive. They are entrepreneurs and app creators and management consultants and teachers. They are young and ambitious and looking to improve.

The New York startup scene, particularly the tech scene, has a momentum in the city that can sweep you up. Most of the people are working for startups or creating them. It is intimidating and supportive all at once. There’s a network to tap into, a creative flow of ideas.

However much fear I feel in the days running up to the class, it is worth it. More than worth it.  It is my lifeline to the city and an introduction to strangers I would never otherwise meet.

The necessary evil of networking

I like meeting people. In fact, in love it. In a world where facebook and twitter mean that you can interact with the world from the crusty safety of your pajamas, there is nothing as powerful as actually seeing people’s faces, striking up a real conversation, listening to them and maybe even putting on some glad rags for the occasion.

Dinner plans, I’m keen. Drinks, start my bar tab. Housewarming, I’ll bring the bubbly. I’ll happily get on board for the odd art gallery opening, book signing or music gig. But if someone tells me that I’m going to a networking event, my mouth goes dry and I experience the stage fright of a wobbly teenager.

mad men networking inspiration

Studying Don Draper’s skills is becoming a great excuse to watch Mad Men re-runs

This is by no means ideal. Having just launched a phone recycling business, Jeremy and I are doing our best to meet people and broaden our community in the city. Business cards are swapped as frequently as Jeremy once traded baseball cards. There’s lots of elevator pitches and hand shaking to be done. The whole experience leaves me in a cold sweat and, just writing the words, I’m beginning to feel a little hot under the collar.

I sense that my speech has something to do with it. I’m sure it plays a role, it makes me a little more apprehensive, a little less ready to launch into the fray. But I don’t think that my stutter plays the staring role, more a ready and willing understudy. I know I will stutter meeting someone new, I have a 95% chance of stuttering on my name at least, and that certainty is almost reassuring, I have some idea of what will happen, how the conversation with the stranger across the room with play out.

So, if not the stutter, what is it? Why the aversion to the business chat? I think it has something to do with the honest fact that I’m not brilliant at it. It is not that I’m not passionate about the company. I am deeply passionate about it but when I start my pitch I feel uncomfortable, aware of my crassness, of the blatancy of my approach.

I have friends in the city who are champion networkers. The type who laugh and banter and only when you leave at the end of the night do you realize that you are more fascinated by their company than any other venture you have heard of in the past month. You are compelled to Google them as soon as you arrive home. You like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter because you want to be part of their world. If they weren’t so damn likeable I’d hate them for it.

So how do you become a great saleswoman or networker? I’m very keen to find out. I’m of the belief that practice can help anything but, to spare me the slow months of a steep learning curve, any thoughts from you would be much appreciated.

Startup Life: The start of some big dreams

startup dreams

‘You know that old mobile we have, the one can now only receive calls?’ I nodded my head absent-mindedly from the passenger seat. I knew it well. The cell phone in question was from 10 years ago, it had been bedazzled and was now clinging to a few of the forlorn original sparkles. It had a couple keys missing and the ‘abc’ key had gone on strike 2 years ago making every text an exercise with a thesaurus. It was my mum’s old cell phone that she often ‘kindly’ lent me when I stayed in England.  ‘I think it’s time to chuck it in the bin’.

I turned to look at her, my mouth slightly ajar. Then, realizing what she had said, she laughed at her slip of the tongue. Oh the old days. The days when we didn’t recycle anything. When we threw our useless electronics in the rubbish with no thought of landfills or toxic metals or any of that other boring stuff.

But the old days were not so old and the reason that she caught herself so quickly was that she knew all about the dangers of cell phone waste. She knew more than most people. She had heard all about it for over a year.

From Chicago to New York, Jeremy and I had been working on creating a phone recycling startup. Somewhere that people could get paid for recycling their old, broken and generally useless phones.

And finally, after a lot of hair pulling and all-nighters, we have launched the site and is now a living breathing business. Jeremy is the founder, the mastermind, and I’m the Creative Director. Basically I do the fun writing stuff and Jeremy does the hard work.

Now all mum has to do is go to the website and we’ll pay for her to ship her old brick to us so we can safely recycle it. Or she could just had it to me…but I do like getting post. If she ever wants to get rid of her fancy blackberry we could even pay her for it.


Every part of the website has been thought over, and it is not perfect but we are ready to start telling people about it. So emails are being sent out and two people who stutter are picking up the phone every day. Business cards are arriving in the post and our office is getting more crowded by the minute. It is all very exciting and somewhat petrifying.

Now we just have to let people know about it. Mum’s comment is by no means unusual. Millions and millions of phones are thrown in the rubbish bin every year. So we are trying to let people know that they have a different option. They can easily recycle their phones and get paid for doing good.

If you have any brilliantly creative ideas for getting the word out send them my way. The crazier the better!