Interview with Bev Ryan – Smart Women Publish Podcast

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CAROLYN: I was in France in 2010, and the book, ‘The Artist’s Way’ by Julia Cameron helped me write my third book, ‘Unstuck in Provence’, a 68,000-word manuscript. I don’t believe I could have done it without that as my companion.

What preceeded the time in France was I’d sold my house, I’d given away all my possessions, I’d closed my business at the time. I’d been in marketing for a long time and I literally gave everything up to start over. And it was because I had become really quite disenfranchised with marketing as a profession and where it was heading – but also I just wasn’t really experiencing much joy from that.

So I started over in my life and career, and after my time in France with my then 12-year old son, I moved to Melbourne. I didn’t return to Sydney where I was living before. So it definitely was a cathartic starting-over process.

BEV: For listeners or readers who are either contemplating publishing or already well immersed in it, could you just talk through each of your books and what influence they have had on how your career has developed?

CAROLYN: The first book I wrote was ‘Small Business Big Brand’. That was in 2007. I’d been in my marketing business for a few years and I’d been writing a lot of blogs to market my business and then I thought, “I’m going to have a go at writing a book.” So I took myself off for four days and four nights and sat at this rickety old kitchen table in this little rustic cottage overlooking a lake, and I wrote for four days and there were 30,000 words on my laptop when I merged. And it was the beginning of my understanding that my purpose on this earth was actually to write.

It was a cathartic, pivotal experience for me. Then ‘The Dummies’ book franchise saw what I’d written and really liked the tone and style of it and invited me then to write ‘Marketing Your Small Business For Dummies’. So I wrote that, then went to France as I’d already told you. I knew I didn’t want to write a business book there. I was having this exquisite creative cultural experience and it just wouldn’t have been right to write a business book, so I wrote my very personal book instead.

I came home after six months and I thought I’d give marketing one last attempt at doing good in the world, so I wrote ‘Conscious Marketing’. As soon as I wrote it I kind of shifted into purpose because the core of ‘Conscious Marketing’ was really about teaching people that if you have a solid purpose then all your marketing communication hangs off purpose.

So then “Purpose Project’ happened. One book has led to another, and I’ve got about 10 more books in me. Just at the moment I’m writing a novel, so I’m trying to step more into the creative writing space, which is proving really challenging.

BEV: You mentioned in a recent newsletter that you’re doing both the novel and your other work with Purpose Project. I found that really interesting. You’ve written, “I think I’ve finally cracked the code. My first hour of the day is devoted to novel writing and I’m happy to say my word count is growing by the day. The rest of the day is devoted to making this course the best it can be”. That insight is really valuable to many, many people. That’s one of the big things people struggle with, isn’t it – fitting the writing in?

CAROLYN: I wrote the ‘Dummies’ book over seven days a week, and six weeks, literally writing for 12 hours a day. With ‘Conscious Marketing’ I did chunks of weekends and then I’d block out a week in my diary now and then, and I did that over 18 months. And then ‘The Purpose Project’ again was done in chunks of time. And of course ‘Unstuck in Provence’ was over five months in a big chunk of time as well.

I do tend to write better when I do get chunks of some time. But right at the moment I know that I can’t take chunks of time because I’m also working on The Purpose Project online course. And so it seems that I’ve got to modify my methodologies around writing according to where I am at the moment. So I’ll try to write an hour every day: I put it in my diary and make it a practice. And then when I get to Christmas, I’ll probably have a month off and I’ll just like write like a demon for a month, eight hours a day minimum or something.

So my writing process and system isn’t very consistent, but I do know that when I don’t give myself time to write, I feel like I’m losing – like I’m kind of a bit depleted; I’m not really living my purpose every day.

I love to use the quote by the Gloria Steinem who’s a bit of an icon for me, a feminist and author and activist, and she said that “writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.” And that’s how I feel when I write.

BEV: I’m really interested to have a conversation about how you’ve taken your book, ‘The Purpose Project’ and built from that.

CAROLYN: Writing has built my business. ‘The Purpose Project’ is now just being launched as an online course. I found that I was getting feedback from people on the book that they love it, they love the concept, they love what I stand for, they love the stories, they love so much – but what was missing from the book was a how-to-process.

There was no process or how-to, so I have picked the best lessons and the best stuff from the book and put it into a seven-step process and seven lessons so that somebody can go from having no idea what their purpose is, to actually developing a purpose project and pitching it to their boss.

BEV: A book doesn’t have to tell the reader everything you know; you can present a concept. And in your case, you are presenting a very new concept because you’re talking about people finding purpose within their job, aren’t you?

CAROLYN: Yes, it is really unique. It’s the new frontier of purpose in the workplace that I think a lot of companies haven’t yet embraced. It’s uncharted territory I think to a big degree, because what I’m asking people to do is to find that thing that they love and that’s probably latent in them. I use the Ikigai model, which in Japanese means ‘reason for being’, using four circles for what you’re good, what you love, what the world needs and what you can be paid for.

Most people are in jobs doing what they’re good at and what they can be paid for but they’ve probably neglected the ‘what you love’ and ‘what the world needs’ circles. My view is that we can bring those two circles to our work.

There are a lot of frustrated artists and environmentalist’s and designers and chefs and other amazing people out there with talents that they use in a hobby or in their spare time, which is fine, but they would really love to be doing more of it – and for some reason, they’ve not seen an application for that at work. But in my experience, there’s pretty much no purpose that people don’t truly have that can’t actually be applied to work. And if we can help people bring that thing to work, we can start to heal cultures.

If you’re passionate about yoga and that’s your thing, why aren’t you teaching your co-workers yoga at lunch time each week? So I feel like it’s not an either- or, it’s an and-and.

BEV: Yes. And then companies won’t be losing very good staff who feel unfulfilled.

CAROLYN: A lot of companies lose good staff because they will go off and start their own business or they will go and look for a company that’s more purpose-driven, that’s more aligned with their purpose.

BEV: Definitely. And we will know that in the world of self-employment, there’s a lot of fulfilment, but there’s a lot of heartache and headache as well. It’s not always all rosy.

CAROLYN: I say that we should always start where we are. If I’d known that writing was my thing when I was in banking all those years ago, I could have been a banker and a writer. I didn’t need to go to France or start my own business or do any of those things. But if I’d had the right mentorship in my career or my own personal awareness or whatever, I could have done both.

But I think what happens in the corporate world is that we just get so stuck in our job, and that is, that becomes who we are. So I feel like it’s the new frontier of purpose and I’m really, really excited about this work and I’m keen to see leaders really adopt it – or think about it at least. So I’m hoping to lead the movement.

BEV: Can you tell us a success story that you’ve witnessed?

CAROLYN: I can give you a big example and a little one. I’ve been doing work with Lululemon and they are at the frontier of purpose. So as a company, their purpose is to elevate the world by unleashing the full potential within every one of us, which is a big purpose. So they believe that if every person in their company can achieve their full potential centered on their own personal purpose, then it’s going to collectively make a difference to the company.

So they empower people to bring their own purpose to work. They will have people in their company that own their own business as well as work at Lululemon. They will encourage people to support their cause or charity as part of their work and create a purpose project around it.

And then at a smaller level, I was teaching a class recently and there was a girl called Cynthia in the group in the room. She worked in an inbound call centre and she’d just become a yoga teacher and she was thinking about starting your own business. But through the course of conversation she realised that her greatest opportunity was to start right where she was and bring yoga to her workplace. And I can’t imagine an inbound call centre in the world that could not benefit with a bit of yoga and yoga philosophy.

So that’s just a very, a small example of how someone might start. Cynthia could pitch that to her boss, get some support from her co-workers and start to create a movement.  I actually say purpose by stealth is the absolute best way to get started and not really ask for permission. Just do it and see what happens.

BEV: Going back to publishing non-fiction books: how important is it for authors to have their purpose in mind when they write?

CAROLYN: There’s no point in writing unless you know why you’re doing it. The ‘why’ question can’t be asked enough: why am I doing this? Why is it important? Keep drilling down and keep asking ‘why is that important?’ till you get to the kernel of why you do what you do.

I use the ‘why, what, and how’ Holy Trinity. Know why you want to do it, know what it is you want to achieve, but let the how unfold a little more loosely because I think we can get too attached to the how without knowing why or what

Every book I’ve written, I’ve written for myself first. And that might sound selfish, but if you’re not writing it for yourself and you’re writing something to please or appease or market to somebody, then people are going to see through it when they read it. So my personal philosophy is you write a book for your own purpose first.

BEV: You have to be willing to unmask a little bit, don’t you? And share.

CAROLYN: People love the stories most. They love your vulnerability. They love your experiences of where things went belly up as well as the positive – the good and the bad and the ugly. I think people want to know who you are as a person. They’re buying your essence when they buy your book. They buying a bit of you and a bit of your life, whether you like it or not. They are buying a bit of you in every successful business book.

And that’s the other thing, being authentic. I think even if people don’t like you, that’s better than nobody liking you and not paying attention. I think there’s that adage that 33% of the world will love you, 33% will hate you, and the other 33% don’t give a toss or don’t care.

I know that some people don’t like what I have to say or they don’t agree with it or they think that my message doesn’t resonate well. That is going to be the way of the world and we just have to accept that. And the more people that don’t like you, probably the better the impact you’re going to have.

BEV: It also means if there are more people who don’t like you, there is equal chance that there’s more people that do like you because you’re much more visible.

CAROLYN: Exactly.

BEV: I feel there’s also an opportunity for women who are in careers working for other companies to take their purpose and their expertise, put it together in a book with their name on it, which then sits on their CV and their LinkedIn platform, shows their knowledge, which may lead to opportunities within organisations. Do you agree?

CAROLYN: Yeah, absolutely. I think that applies to anyone who has the will and knows the why to write a book; it has nothing to do with where you work or what your job is. Whether you’re a mother, whether you work in a big corporate. Just do it. And in a big corporate, you have an immediate audience. Very often, you have even resources at hand to help you get the book out into the marketplace.

Particularly, if it’s aligned to a message that the company wants to support. So there’s great opportunity for thought leadership and publishing within most business and industry spaces. I’d encourage people to start there.

Carolyn is a marketer with a passion for purpose-digging, writing, speaking, teaching and community building. Carolyn is the author of five books; ‘Small Business Big Brand’, ‘Marketing Your Small Business for Dummies’, ‘Unstuck in Provence’ (a personal memoir), ‘Conscious Marketing’ and ‘The Purpose Project’. You can find Carolyn at