Changes: Emma Gannon
The audio version of this episode is available here.
Annie [00:00:04] Hello and welcome to Changes, it is Annie Macmanus here. My guest today is Emma Gannon. Emma is a bestselling author, a broadcaster, a speaker and a practicing coach. She has published five bestselling books today, including The Multi-hyphen Method, Sabotage and Disconnected. Her first novel, Olive, came out in 2020. Emma started her career in the magazine industry. She wrote columns and she was a social media editor at Glamour Mag, but on her own time was writing a blog, a blog that would motivate her to make the leap into the world of freelance work. It was then that she started her podcast Control Alt Delete, a careers podcast without the corporate bullshit - her words. And this was way before podcasts were as omniscient as they are now. Since launching, she's spoken to over 400 different creatives about how they conduct their careers, from Ava DuVernay to Dolly Alderton. All of those episodes are still available to listen to now, but notably at the start of this year Emma announced she was quitting the podcast. Now, as well as coaching, Emma writes a really popular weekly newsletter on Substack called The Hyphen, that is an exploration of ideas that have got her thinking in new ways. She continues to write books and her most recent, The Success Myth: Letting Go of Having It All is what we're here to talk about today. It changes our perspectives of what success is. I can honestly say hand on heart, Emma, that it's changed how I'm looking at my life. Like, it's changed me so thank you.
Emma [00:01:31] Thank you so much. You're one of the first people to read it, so that means a lot.
Annie [00:01:35] It's so good. I have a kind of erm *hesitates* I wouldn't say an allergy but I glaze over a lot when it comes to a kind of- this new lexicon when it comes to wellness and that business. I find it, I just- I can't really engage with it. But the way you write is so straightforward and so accessible and easy to immediately be able to apply to yourself. It's such a practical book, I think, and such a pragmatic book in terms of being able to take what you're saying and apply it. And yeah, congratulations. It's amazing.
Emma [00:02:09] Thank you. I'm the same. I don't like wellness, I'm not into this like, self-improvement culture of feeling bad about yourself whilst trying to be better. And I'm more about wellbeing. I like that word more.
Annie [00:02:20] Wellbeing is a lovely word. So listen, before we get into this book, before we get into talking about success and what it means and how we can change our perceptions of it, I want to address something so that everyone listening can feel this conversation is for them. We, you and I, are both cis, able bodied white women. We have both had, according to your book and I know it me, have had kind of loving and supporting family environments growing up. Is it not easy for us to sit here and discuss success when we've had very few hurdles put in front of us to get it?
Emma [00:02:51] Yes. I'm so glad we're starting with this because it really lays the foundation for the book. It's honestly, the reason why I'm writing it is because, like you just said, if you're in a position where you have seen behind the curtain, which I feel I have, I know that you have in many of your jobs, where I have met so many successful people who have literally reached this sort of cloud 9 version of success that we are sold every single day in our culture of the big house, millions of pounds, oscar winning directors, scientists, people who have climbed Everest, people who have won gold medals. I've interviewed these people. I feel so lucky. And not to mention my childhood and everything that was very privileged, which we'll probably get on to. But I've met these people and they're not as happy as we think they should be. And I'm a curious person. I'm a journalist, I'm a writer, and I couldn't not meet hundreds of these people and be very privileged and successful myself and not kind of talk about the elephant in the room, which is like this thing that we're all bred to want, isn't actually what we think is. It's, you know, people who have fame, money, power. A lot of people end up, you know, overdosing or dying by suicide. Like this is a very serious topic. And so I sort of push back on, which I know it's not what you're doing, but I push back on people who say, like, we shouldn't talk about this and you shouldn't talk about this. I feel like it's the most important thing we could be talking about right now.
Annie [00:04:23] Right. I would love for our listeners to come away from this conversation feeling really inspired to look at their lives differently like I did upon reading this book. There's things I want to talk about- I actually have headings within our conversation. Emma, I mean that's a whole other story about how I like to micromanage and plan everything, including my rest periods. But I want us to talk about productivity, ambition and happiness. But first of all, the book at large, a quote from the book, "the world is going through a vast amount of change in a very short period of time. It feels like turbulence on a plane. I believe that before we tell ourselves that we're broken and need to change, we should consider whether it's actually the society we live in that is broken and needs to change". You talk about successful people being confused, unsatisfied when they get to the success they so craved, and in the book you say it's because we've been lied to. What are those lies?
Emma [00:05:15] Well, that's why I called it The Success Myth, because I unpick all the myths. Because if you really look behind all of the things we're supposed to want, there's something kind of sinister going on there. I mean, we're sort of in a world where it's easier for, you know, the people that own the big companies for us to just sort of be plugging away on the rat race and not really look up and question things. So I guess I wanted to start with that because I believe we're in a time where we are chasing something because we always feel like we don't have enough. Like we're always thinking, there's more, there's more, there's more. We never look back and think, 'wow, I did something really cool there' or 'I've actually got some really good friends, even if I've got two, that's enough'. Or, 'my house is actually really cosy and I really like it, and I can go outside and look at the sky'. Like those are the things that fundamentally do make us happy. We have enough, many of us, and I'm sure we'll get on to like what 'enough' actually means personally, but I think we have enough resources now to sit back and be like, something's broken. Why do we always want more?
Annie [00:06:16] Mm, mm. And you talk brilliantly in your book about the pursuit of happiness and the kind of, not the myth of happiness but the myth of happiness being something you should strive for and something you can feel all the time, quite simply, you know? And in the book, I mean, a bit that really kind of made me, you know, start I suppose was the stats about happiness. You say one in seven people are on antidepressants. This is according to NHS studies. And then also that there are persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in teenagers that have risen from 26% to 44%, the highest level of teenage sadness ever recorded. 60% of all UK workers are unhappy at work, according to a 2020 study by investors and people. Like these stats are like, whoa, this is backed up evidence and stats that people are unhappy. What are the things in society that are making it hard for us to kind of, reach these levels of happiness we're supposed to crave?
Emma [00:07:16] Yeah, I mean, The Happiness Myth chapter is a really meaty one because I really wanted to tap into how happiness as a concept, like it's a word, it's a concept, happiness, what is that? Is sort of pretending to be bottled and sold essentially, like we think, 'oh if I buy that thing we'll be happy' or 'if I move house, I'll be happy'. Yes, we will be more comfortable. We will probably have, you know, nicer surroundings. But that's not the same as happiness. And I talk about the difference between that happiness that we think we'll have in the future versus like the joy that we can have in the everyday. And, really I wanted to talk about how this is not a coincidence that these statistics come off the back of a pandemic. But these statistics have also been rising really since social media took a bit of a downturn, and those things really do sit side by side. Like I think so many of us can say that the days where we forget to check our phone, miraculously we're having a really good day and everything is okay in the world and our life isn't that bad. I'm, you know, I'm with you in this book. I wrote this book for myself. I'm not from the outside giving this wisdom. I can go into such a dark spiral if I see something online that's triggering me. And I think it's about building that awareness.
Annie [00:08:28] Mmm. Let's talk about you then, so, you know, the book is about changing our perceptions of what success is. When did your perception start to change when it came to success?
Emma [00:08:39] Well, I talk about in the first few chapters how I'm a recovering workaholic. Essentially, I'm like a success addict. Like, I grew up wanting to be really successful. My whole twenties was just dedicated to that. My friends would say occasionally, 'do you wanna come to the pub or like, let off some steam? Shall we go to a gig?', I didn't do any- like, okay, I went to a few things, but I didn't really have fun in my twenties. I was actually pretty dry *giggles* in terms of fun. That makes me really sad looking back now.
Annie [00:09:09] So what was the work you were doing? Sorry to interrupt.
Emma [00:09:11] Yes, so it was writing essentially but working in big media companies, working at Condé Nast, working in those environments that, you know, I grew up watching The Devil Wears Prada. We forget how much culture really shapes us and I wanted to be inside the magazines. I wanted to be interviewing all these people. It was a bit of a, like an obsession. So, yeah, I got to breaking point and then here we are now *laughs*.
Annie [00:09:36] So what did breaking point feel like and how did you identify that you were breaking? Like, was there a moment, a kind of revelation where you're like, this is not okay, what's happening with how I'm feeling?
Emma [00:09:46] Yeah. So the intro of the book is sort of me talking about- and there are lots of examples of this, I just picked one to write about but I was doing this keynote speech, I was being paid so much money. I was 28 I think at the time, flying there in a taxi, you know, that moment of 'I've made it'. I have made it-
Annie [00:10:05] I'm in demand.
Emma [00:10:05] I'm in-
Annie [00:10:06] I'm desirable.
Emma [00:10:07] Yes, I'm in that montage moment that I as a little kid wanted and feeling so empty, like so lonely and so miserable. And going back to my lovely hotel room and lying on the lovely bed and being like, what the hell is my life? This is so empty and, you know, and I could have just pretended everything was fine for a lot longer than I did. Because what's so interesting, I think about social media especially, is you can get addicted to the validation. Because my Instagram feed was like 'wow!', because I put, you know, a picture up of me with a microphone or something. 'Wow, you're doing so amazingly, you're so great' blah blah. And it's very jarring because you don't want to lose that because that's you're validation, that's like the thing that you're craving. But what I clearly was craving was actually some real connection.
Annie [00:10:55] Right. And can you talk to me about trusting yourself as well? There's another great quote, 'when we talk about success, a huge part of stepping towards your goals is tweaking your internal dialogue and learning not to trust it as gospel'. So it's this idea of not trusting your thoughts, knowing that your thoughts are kind of a result of conditioning and the societal conditioning and your childhood, but then also being able to trust your thoughts that you are going in the right direction.
Emma [00:11:24] Mmm, yeah, it's interesting because I think we're so good at drowning out the inner voice. Like it's there. It's a part of you that is kind of nudging you. Like, I got so many nudges over the years of, 'hey, this isn't quite right. I don't like this', you know, like that sort of- I don't really know how to describe it but for me it's like a little bit of an alarm bell in my body and my physical body of like ooh, this isn't right. The vibes are off, basically. And I just ignored them, pushed it down, put headphones in, drink some wine, whatever. And then I think what happens if you ignore that voice for too long, you essentially can be burnt out or something happens where you're kind of forced into making a change.
Annie [00:12:06] Right. And then can you tell me about Allegra? I know in the book you said 'please don't ask', but I need to ask about Allegra.
Emma [00:12:12] Oh God yeah, so-
Annie [00:12:13] I think it's a really practical example of how you can kind of sort the kind of unhelpful thoughts with the helpful ones.
Emma [00:12:20] Totally. I mean, other people have spoken about this before. Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist's Way is a huge inspiration to me and hers is called Nigel *Annie laughs*. So basically this inner voice that is just so dramatic and really mean. And it's not you, it's coming from somewhere else. Like, I think like naming it makes it feel separate to you, because I think our actual self wants the best for us. You know, we want to grow. That's like what we do on earth, like things grow. And so anything that's stopping you growing, you've got to question it. So mine is called Allegra and I imagine it as like a lizard. And yeah, when I was very unwell because I was so out of alignment, and I think when you're out of alignment with your values, that's when it pipes up the loudest. When I was, you know, in a management team, like earning loads of money but miserable, Allegra was like screaming at me, like, 'what are you doing?'. So yeah, it got, it got pretty bad. And now that I've tuned in with that side of my- of that voice, I'm like oh! Allegra's piping up but that's a good thing. That means something's wrong. Let's figure it out.
Annie [00:13:26] What if you're coming from like a place of poverty and you've worked your arse off and you're providing for your family and, you know what I mean, like, I'm just trying to think of all different types of people who would be applying these suggestions. Like, what if you were someone who came from no money and no support emotionally, financially, and then you do get the money. There must be a kind of underlying- a whole other level, I suppose, of kind of perception of where you are and why you need to be there.
Emma [00:13:54] Totally and I think I could have called this book The Excess Myth.
Annie [00:13:57] Hmm. Interesting.
Emma [00:13:58] Like, I'm talking about how there are many people in this world, I believe, who have too much, me included, quite frankly. Where you're out of alignment because we have too much of it. It's almost like, I've said goodbye to too much of it. I just want to go back to being enough. So what I'm really talking about in the book is like, from like a global scale, things are really bad because some people have too much and some people don't have anything and can't feed their families and have to go to food banks and they send their kids to school and they can't eat. And so I guess what I'm talking about in this book is like, this is really wrong and when we think about success, let's reframe what that is so that everyone can get on board. For me, I think success is everyone having enough, and I think everyone being able to really have the basics like pretty much sorted. And I mentioned like Universal Basic Income in the book. I don't know loads about it, but imagine a world where, like everyone just had a really good starting point. And I don't think that's asking for the moon. I think we should all have enough. And so, I guess what I'm doing in this book is I'm putting myself on the line really and sort of saying, it's quite icky when you feel like you are craving something that is too much. I don't know how else to describe it.
Annie [00:15:16] Yeah, no, I mean, it's capitalism entrenched in all of us, right?
Emma [00:15:20] Yes. And that's why your question is an amazing question, but I don't have the answers because what I'm talking about in this book is so huge in some ways that like, this is like, we need to change this. We all need to do this collectively and talk about it.
Annie [00:15:36] Mmm. I mean, oh my God there's so much I want to talk about! Collective ambition. Another huge thing and we'll get to ambition.
Emma [00:15:42] Yes, it's like, what is success if it's not everyone?
Annie [00:15:45] Exactly! We live in such an individualist culture now with social media and people growing up with social media, the way that they are trained to think about their life is to project themselves to the world, to kind of present a version of themselves to the world and to curate their life accordingly so that other people are seeing it. But it's never about the collective. I mean, maybe that's a social media gap that needs to be filled, this idea of a collective side of social media in terms of presenting people or communities. Can I go back to you, Emma, and you know, you talked about that moment when you realised that you were miserable in your lovely bed, in your lovely hotel room. What happened next?
Emma [00:16:25] I did nothing *laughs*. I did nothing about it. I continued in the same way for maybe another three years.
Annie [00:16:30] Right.
Emma [00:16:30] Which sort of, yeah, is kind of funny looking back because- you know, also when I think about this book, I think it's for everyone. But I also think it's for a very specific person too, which is that person that I can imagine in my head who is doing really well, actually, and their parents are really proud of them and they're earning really good money and life is fine, but they are like really lost like deep down. And I actually don't think there's anything wrong sometimes with writing a book with like a very specific person in mind, because once ideas spread far enough, like they do end up reaching everyone too.
Annie [00:17:07] Yeah, and it doesn't even have to be someone who's earning lots of money I think either. It's kind of someone who's followed the rules of what traditional success looks like. So they've done what their parents, or society, or their school have kind of expected them to do, whether, you know, get married to the right person, get the nice flat or, you know, get a mortgage and have a baby because they want the nice family thing and, you know, get the jo- just all of the things that you think you should do that society has taught you to be successful. What this book does, I guess, it kind of questions those things and it makes you look at, you know, the question that I've been obsessed with for the last four years, 'what do you really want?'.
Emma [00:17:47] Yes.
Annie [00:17:48] Which is so hard to answer because you have to really dig. You have to really dig down into who you are and what your values are.
Emma [00:17:56] Yeah. And it can really go against the, you know, the culture. And I guess we're sitting here, yeah in a Western culture but all around the world there are different versions of what that is. Like you just said 'the rules', the rules of how you were born. Like, you're meant to do this, you're supposed to do this. And I think this is really what the success myth looks at is like you say, success is very personal. And I know so many people with wildly different lives. And when they can look in the mirror and be like, yes, this is it. That's the moment, that's success.
[00:18:26] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:18:36] When did you start being able to, I suppose, build a way of working and living that felt like a new type of success for you?
Emma [00:18:47] It's funny because I think a lot of this as well- well from my point of view is when we lose touch with like our childhood self, that's when things can go really wrong. For me, when I'm like in touch with like my younger self, like the self that loved to write, loves to read, loves to wear a wacky jumpsuit, loves colours and loves- like it's very joyful, my version of success. And I think when I don't allow myself to get caught up in like all the things I should want, even with like, we all follow trends let's be honest, but when I catch myself like really trying to follow a trend, that's me going, 'ahh, please like me if I wear that certain outfit' or whatever. So I don't know, success is sort of just being like, oh, you're, you're tapping into like that purity again I think.
Annie [00:19:36] Mm mmm. Okay. Productivity. Something very close to my heart because I realised upon reading your book that I was born into a family that do. Do, do, do. My production company that produces this podcast is called DIN. D I N. Do It Now *Emma gasps*. I am like, obsessed with doing. Even when I rest, I have to plan it all out. 'I'm going to read the newspaper for 15 minutes, then I'm going to do that. I might take a walk, go down and get a coffee-', like I can't just be. And I found your writing about productivity so interesting. This idea of shame. Shame around resting. What have you learned about our perceptions of rest and how do you feel like they should, maybe could change.
Emma [00:20:21] Mmm. Ahh, it's so interesting talking about rest because- and you know, to caveat this, I took four months off work from burn out end of last year. And again, massive, you know, disclaimer that I'm very lucky I could because I have multiple income streams that could tide me over and I don't know many people that could do that unless you're signed off work, which I know people are sometimes. So anyway, I rested for four months, essentially. And what I learned about rest is A, it was very uncomfortable because, who am I if I'm resting? No one then. You know, it was like really confronting, it was like my identity is like the person that makes stuff and I wasn't. Had to sit with myself. But I learnt compassion for myself. I learnt that I actually think I am enough actually, just like being on this planet if I'm not doing stuff all the time. It made me really question why we are so brainwashed into being like, we're only worth something if we have outputs. And I learnt that resting is not doing nothing. Like sleeping is great. Lying on the sofa is great. But rest, actual rest is like doing something because you want to do it. Like swimming for me is rest, because I'm resting my brain and I'm kind of resting my body because I'm just like swimming around. So I learnt that it's quite active, rest.
Annie [00:21:38] Right. Okay. So for those listening who feel like they might be burnt out or might have experienced it or might be on their way to experiencing it, obviously it's all subjective, it's all how you feel, you can't measure pain, you can't measure any of that. But what were your personal experiences and what are your signs for you to know, 'I need to rest now. I'm burnt out. My body's overloaded'.
Emma [00:22:01] Well, I actually feel lucky that it was so bad because I was forced to rest. I think if it was like, a little bit bad, I would have pushed through it. I mean, the statistics around people that worked through COVID, for example, like coughing into the Zoom screen *laughs* it's just like, we don't know how to rest as a culture. But I had no choice, it was actually really, really bleak and really, really scary. Like my brain was all broken-.
Annie [00:22:25] Oh no Emma.
Emma [00:22:25] So I couldn't really do anything. Like, I literally couldn't even go for a walk or make toast. Like, I was- the computer was functionally broken. Yeah, it was really weird. I couldn't even look at my phone for longer than like, a minute. Like, my eyes wouldn't really work when I was looking at the pixels. So something was very much needing to mend. And I think- I know- it's hard to talk about it in a way because it's all different and I also don't know if it's mixed in with like a little bit of COVID-
Annie [00:22:57] Sure.
Emma [00:22:58] Post trauma stuff. Because I think everyone has their own version of what they went through in COVID. And also, I think I'm a highly sensitive person. So other people's tolerance levels are a lot higher than mine. Like, I can kind of break down quite easily because the world is quite a lot *laughs*.
Annie [00:23:15] Yeah, yeah.
Emma [00:23:16] Which is why I'm a writer, so it all makes sense. But I learnt that I could get through it, which is amazing. And I learnt that we are kind of- well we are part of nature, aren't we? So we need to replenish. We can't always be like fully in bloom. That's what I learnt.
Annie [00:23:32] I mean, you got to stop the car and fill it up with petrol or it will stop going. It's the same basic thing isn't it?
Emma [00:23:38] It's very basic, which makes me laugh because it's like, why? Why is it such a problem for us?
Annie [00:23:42] I know. Well I guess, you know, the bosses would say, well that's what weekends are for, you know? But weekends, I think for so many people who work, you just about recover enough to then be able to go back to work. You just about catch up on sleep and then you're back in work. So I mean, this whole concept of four day weeks feels wonderful to me and has been proven that people are just as productive, if not more, with that less time to have more time to rest. Do you think things could change in the workplace for the better with this moving forwards?
Emma [00:24:11] I hope so. And I think even though I would never call myself an activist, I've got like a real like flame in my belly around this topic at the moment because I also think that like, when we look at the economy, I think we're going to have a burnout epidemic on our hands. And so if a boss listening is like, 'oh, I don't believe in 4 day weeks' or 'I don't believe in long holidays', it's like, well you're going to have people needing to be signed off work for three months. Like, that's not going to be great for your business is it. So I sort of think of- if we want to talk about it in like capitalist terms, which a lot of people do still, it's still going to happen and people are still breaking down so why don't we make it easier for people to heal and then we can have a more thriving workplace?
Annie [00:24:50] It makes so much sense. I mean, it's so basic. It's so obvious, isn't it? But it's like we're caught up in this culture of productivity. There's a beautiful analogy that you used in the book when you were talking about someone who kind of worked and worked and worked and worked and on the outside- and we see this a lot on social media, we see people on the outside who just look like they are just, you know, they're killing it, they've got a new announcement every week and it's so much going on, but it's like seeing 'a ballet shoe with ruined toes inside'. I love that line because it so true isn't it? You just don't really know how people are inside, how their state of mind is. How are things changing in the workplace when it comes to productivity? There is laws coming in in various countries in Europe that I didn't know about until I read your book.
Emma [00:25:35] Yes. So I think it's in France where it's becoming illegal to email or text or whatever any of your staff members past a certain time, I think. And in Germany as well. Yeah, there's a lot of conversation around that because lots of jobs wouldn't be able to do that because, you know, if you're working like in an actual emergency or urgent sort of place-
Annie [00:25:53] Yeah.
Emma [00:25:54] Like you can't necessarily do that, but I think for the majority which is I guess what I talk about in the book which is like, what this guy David Graeber terms 'bullshit jobs' where you just send emails all day *Annie laughs* and it's like, it's okay to say that a lot of jobs are kind of pointless. Like they are. And we saw it in the pandemic when people literally said, your job is nonessential, you're like, Oh my God, it is nonessential but that's okay. So therefore, why are we killing ourselves over a nonessential job?
Annie [00:26:23] So in terms of wanting to change our attitude to productivity, let's say you're listening and you feel overwhelmed. You're so busy, you feel like you need to be busy in order to feel valid as a person. You feel like you have to contribute in whatever way you are doing it. In terms of how we change that attitude, can you explain milestone goals versus process goals? I loved this.
Emma [00:26:45] Yes, I love this. This actually was super helpful for me when I learned about it. So milestone goals are very big, overwhelming goals. Like I want to write a book or I want to run a marathon or I want to launch a company. And that's like, whoa, okay, write that down on your list, it's very overwhelming. And a process goal is when you kind of break things up into bite size chunks essentially, or at least you make the process a goal itself, which is really uplifting and really helpful. And so if your milestone goal is, I want to write a book, your process goal would be, I'm going to write for 15 minutes.
Annie [00:27:21] Every day.
Emma [00:27:22] Every day or not every day.
Annie [00:27:22] Okay, yeah.
Emma [00:27:22] Just today, and then you tick it off.
Annie [00:27:24] Yeah.
Emma [00:27:25] And if you do that enough times, you've got a book. And it's just- and I use obviously that example because of what I do but, you know, absolutely fill in the blank. But it's really good and it really keeps the motivation going. And I think, you know, it doesn't have to be all in one go.
Annie [00:27:39] Yeah, I just love the very simple concept of changing the reward to the small part, as opposed to the huge part, you know, and making that process the productive and the rewarding part.
Emma [00:27:52] Yeah, 'cause our life is really made up of lots of very small things. And your life is made up of each day, each hour, each minute. And I think, you know, if anyone here is listening and going, you know, 'my job is sucking the life out of me', even like, 'I want to quit my job', that's a milestone goal which is great but process goals are going to get you there. And that could literally be, you know, like 5 minutes just like jotting down some ideas. It could be 10 minutes talking to a friend. And I've actually got a little turtle on my desk because Martha Beck, this amazing life coach that I know, she calls it turtle steps. Like the tiniest step is what you need to do. And I just, everything I do as a turtle step. Everything.
[00:28:34] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:28:44] Now, ambition. This was something, again, that resonated with me so much, and it's something that I realised I had my own entrenched belief of what ambition was. So in my head, when I think of ambition I think of bigger, more. More ticket sales, more book sales, more listeners, more like- stats going up *laughs* that's ambition. More, more, more. Busier, busier. But that's not the definition of the word ambition. Ambition can be wanting anything. So you can be ambitious for a quieter life. You can be ambitious for a more collective experience, to serve your community more, like ambition can be anything that you apply your desires to.
Emma [00:29:28] Yes, exactly that.
Annie [00:29:30] So tell me about your personal change with how you changed your outlook of ambition, because it's really interesting how you have done that. Like, I get very inspired by watching you online and reading what you're doing because you seem to be so happy with your lot and so content with where you are in terms of how you conduct your career as a writer.
Emma [00:29:50] Yeah, and I think it's a really interesting one because I really do just have my own ambitions and I don't know where this has come from, but like, I do have like blinkers up sometimes. I'm just on my path and like, other people are on theirs. And I just feel that I'm very clear on what I want from my life. And, it's like what you said earlier, what do I want? I actually remember Oprah Winfrey on some tik-tok of something, not that I'm on there *Annie laughs*, saying that that's how she lives her life. She's like, what do I want? And then I work backwards. It's not like, how do I get to this faraway place that looks good? It's like, what do you want?
Annie [00:30:26] Yeah.
Emma [00:30:26] And how do you- and then just you get there. And I think for me, I feel very, very lucky because I grew up in Exeter, I didn't really know any writers, I didn't even know anyone that, like, worked in the media or anything, but I knew from a very early age that I just wanted to be paid to write. That's my ambition.
Annie [00:30:43] Wow. How did you know that?! It's so precise.
Emma [00:30:46] I know, but it's so simple. And I could have not got there, or at least I could, you know, be making like, not that much money on the side still from a side hustle but I'd still be getting my ambition. I'd still do it. And anything else is an icing on the cake, quite honestly. And I think what made me feel lost is when I was having more, more, more, more, more, because other people thought I should. And it's like, I didn't even want that. I'm not actually that ambitious, I feel like I have to whisperer it. I'm not, I'm not that ambitious.
Annie [00:31:15] Ambitious in the sense of the traditional-
Emma [00:31:17] Yes, the traditional.
Annie [00:31:18] Paradigm of ambition, as opposed to ambitious for you being content.
Emma [00:31:23] Yes. I don't want to do talks on stages. I don't really want to sell out arenas. I don't want to employ anyone, I work just me. I like to keep it quite small.
Annie [00:31:33] Mmm. But that must be hugely liberating, the moment of realisation then. The 'ohh, I don't have to do this'. How did that feel when you started kind of changing your life to becoming smaller and more effective for it?
Emma [00:31:51] It just felt like I was being true to myself. There's only- I don't really know how else to describe it. It's like the smaller me that wanted that thing is like, 'yay!' *both laugh*. Like, 'you're doing it!'. It's a very personal thing which is why I've spent the last year training to be a life coach. Because my favourite thing now is not really talking about me and what I'm doing is like, figuring out other people's is the most amazing feeling and it's completely different to mine. When people ask me, how do I get this? Or how do I do what you're doing? They're not actually asking. They don't want my life. They don't want to be writing. They want to figure out their version. And that's what's really fun.
Annie [00:32:28] Yeah. What have you learned in your learnings of life coaching?
Emma [00:32:33] That we all know what we want. It's just figuring it out and digging beneath the sand that's been covered up for years. That ambition changes throughout our life. So like, we might be having another conversation in ten years time and I might have wildly different goals. And that essentially, most people aren't actually listened to properly. We just talk at each other. Like on social media, you know, a lot of people just kind of want to speak, and that's because they're not being heard. And so if you are in a safe space with someone for an hour talking it out, you could be talking to a brick wall and you'll go home having the answers.
Annie [00:33:10] So all people need is a chance to be able to talk up and out their feelings and in the process, figure out what they want.
Emma [00:33:18] Yeah, basically. And obviously, coaches are more than just like, sitting there *laughs*.
Annie [00:33:22] Yeah, 'cause they facilitate.
Emma [00:33:24] They faciliate and they can ask very powerful questions that can unlock things. But like I said, this is- I also think this is years and years of work and not to put anyone off doing it but nothing is fixed overnight, and that's what I want to talk about in the book is I am allergic to anyone, any gurus that think that they can sell you a success potion of like, take these three steps and you'll be fixed for life. Like, this is an ongoing project. We're all an ongoing project, basically till we die.
Annie [00:33:53] And it's just about learning how to be adaptable and flexible and keep coming back to yourself and being true to yourself, right? So it's a constant thing.
Emma [00:34:01] Not abandoning yourself, exactly.
Annie [00:34:03] Yeah, can I ask you about your decision- the not having kids thing? Because you've talked about this a lot. You're a person that has so much conviction in who you are and what you want. So this is something that you talked about a lot and I know all of your novel is- the main protagonist is about that, too. What have you run into, again with the views of traditional society, with regards to that decision and being public about that choice you've made?
Emma [00:34:25] Yeah, so funny again because I wrote Olive, which is a story about a childfree woman and all her friends start to become mothers, I wrote that like three years ago now and now I'm Olive. Now I'm actually Olive *Annie laughs*. Like, all my friends are having kids and I'm like oh my God! This is really amazing, but also terrifying.
Annie [00:34:41] Why is it terrifying?
Emma [00:34:43] Well, I know, like, in my bones, that I don't want to have children.
Annie [00:34:48] Yeah, you say in the book "I know as much as someone who knows they want to have kids, I know that I don't want to have kids".
Emma [00:34:54] Yes. Which is- I feel like it's still a taboo because when I talk to my friend whose eyes are lit up because they're so excited to be a mother, my eyes light up with all the things I'm going to do because I'm not going to be a mother *boh laugh*. It's like we have the same, but not the same. And it's really cool because I can be very excited for my friends who are having kids at the moment because I'm very aware, you know, that it's not a choice sometimes and that there is another side of this conversation where it's very, very painful when your friends start to have children and you're struggling. So I feel like, again, very privileged that I don't- I'm very neutral. I'm just like, oh my God, yay! I don't have any other feelings towards it than that. But yeah, I just know that that's again, my path. And I think I've just done enough work to realise what I want for my life.
Annie [00:35:37] Is there patterns of how people react to you when you talk about that? Or the same things that are said or questions or?
Emma [00:35:45] Yes. I mean, I did a lot of press around Olive. I did a lot of interviews. And it was very well-meaning but a lot of the people interviewing me would say, 'oh, I thought that when I was your age, but now I have two beautiful children'.
Annie [00:35:59] Wow, interesting.
Emma [00:36:00] 'You'll change your mind' *Annie gasps*. Yeah, I get that a lot still. It's like they want me to have the door open to it still? And I understand that but it's kind of strange cause it's like, why do you need me to maybe have them?
Annie [00:36:17] It reminds me a lot of- I think it might be different now maybe but when I was younger, growing up in Ireland, if anyone didn't drink it made everybody else feel very uncomfortable. And they'd be like, 'come on, just have one', you know? And it was always like, 'well, why not?' because by them not drinking, it made the other drinkers have to look at themselves and their choices *laughs*. And it's really interesting how people react to that stuff. Talking about your changing, I suppose, attitudes to your own sense of success, your own ambition, your own productivity, writing this book, how was it different, if it was at all, from writing the other books?
Emma [00:37:00] Oh my God, that's such a good question. I don't know if anyone will ask me that because it actually really touches on something really quite profound like in the experience of writing it which is, my other books had an energy about them, I believe, where I was like, I want them to be bestsellers. Like, I want my book to do really, really well. And this book doesn't have that.
Annie [00:37:22] *Claps hands together* It will do amazing because of that!!
Emma [00:37:23] Which is going to be very strange if it does. There'll be some sort of scientific energy study on why that works that way. But I just want this book to reach people. I love talking about it. The fact that I get to talk to you today about it. I think it connects us all. I think we're all trying to figure things out at the moment. And so if this book is just like a little vessel for us all to have a conversation that honestly ticks the box for me. And I know that sounds cliché, people will be like, 'oh, you want it to be a bestseller'. I actually don't care. I do not care.
Annie [00:37:52] But isn't that massively liberating? It must feel lovely that because you've enjoyed writing the book, it's done something for you so you've gone with the whole process thing. You've done the process goals. Like it's been a process that's fulfilled you and nourished you, and no matter what happens, nothing can change that.
Emma [00:38:10] Totally. And it's funny, a question that I'm asked all the time, whether people want to start a Substack, whether they want to write a book, whether they want to do something else is 'will it be worth it?'. And I'm like, but that's so subjective. What is worth it for you? Like, this book is worth it because I got something out of it and I feel like other people will. Like, that's enough.
Annie [00:38:32] Did you surprise yourself or learn anything new about yourself in the process of writing this?
Emma [00:38:37] I think I learned that my writing is maturing.
Annie [00:38:40] Interesting.
Emma [00:38:41] Someone said to me, who I've known for nearly ten years in this industry was like, 'you sound a bit older and wiser in this book'-
Annie [00:38:49] It sounds so wise.
Emma [00:38:49] And it's really nice because I think I could beat myself up about my past books and be like, ah, they're not very good then. But I think the point is that we're all growing and so, start now. Just do anything now because even in five- basically in five years you'll always look back and it won't be as good as you thought it was going to be so therefore, just do it.
[00:39:07] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:39:17] What are you thinking with regards to your next project? I know you write all the time on your Substack. We'll put a link there obviously, for anyone who wants to go and subscribe to Emma's writing. Do you think ahead? Are you a planner when it comes to your career? I don't know from this coaching perspective if that's something you would even encourage.
Emma [00:39:34] Well, I'm very aware that my job isn't really a normal job in the sense of- because I can move the goalposts myself and sort of use my own time in my own way, which, you know, I'm very lucky to be able to do. But, I tried to write my second novel before this book and it wasn't coming out.
Annie [00:39:52] Wow, okay.
Emma [00:39:52] Like, it was just not happening. Olive came out in 2020 so it's three years later. I've not written a second one and I do have a two book deal, so I have to write that.
Annie [00:40:02] Yeah but you've written an entire other book, babe. Like, hang on!
Emma [00:40:04] Exactly.
Annie [00:40:05] An entirely other book so-
Emma [00:40:05] *Laughs* exactly.
Annie [00:40:06] That's very productive for three years.
Emma [00:40:08] But I suppose what's interesting about that is, this book wanted to come out and the other one didn't. And I kind of do believe in that creative energy of whatever wants to come out, comes out. And if I sat there just bashing away at my keyboard trying to write a novel, I wouldn't have written this. And I just had to go with the flow, really.
Annie [00:40:28] I'm always so curious about when a writer knows that it's not working. If you know what I mean, like I presume when you write that much, you can feel it. You can feel it when it's not flowing. But that moment when you have to abandon a project.
Emma [00:40:42] It's heartbreaking.
Annie [00:40:43] Oh my God.
Emma [00:40:43] I think it led to my burnout.
Annie [00:40:45] Really?
Emma [00:40:45] It's like that Einstein quote of, if you keep doing the same thing over and over again, you'll go mad or whatever. I've butchered that quote, you know what I mean?
Annie [00:40:52] Yeah, I do.
Emma [00:40:53] You go insane if you try something, it doesn't work. So, yeah, I've been talking to a lot of authors, actually, over the pandemic who've said the same. That things aren't flowing, things aren't coming, and that's because we're not resting. Because the minute I go and actually rest or take care of myself or be nice to myself or go and do something else- like I'm writing so much on my Substack, that's flowing, that's coming out. But this novel doesn't want to come out yet and I just- I'm trusting that, I'm trusting the process.
Annie [00:41:21] Yeah, yeah. I mean, that's wonderful that you are in a position now to be as experienced as you are to know that it will arrive when it arrives, you know? When it's time.
Emma [00:41:31] Exactly, I know. And it's difficult because I'm very aware that I'm so many years into this career now that I have this perspective, but that's because I've kind of done it and been there. I've also been the person that stayed up all night until 5 a.m. writing because I was so frantic and really wanted it to happen. So it's a mixture of hard work, of course, but I don't think we should punish our- I don't think we need to punish ourselves for our creativity.
Annie [00:41:59] What is your definition of success now for yourself?
Emma [00:42:05] I would say it is being true to myself, like not abandoning myself. That is really just it now.
Annie [00:42:13] Mmm.
Emma [00:42:14] Which sounds very cryptic.
Annie [00:42:16] How do you do that? Like, on a practical level.
Emma [00:42:20] Something I'm trying to work out is how to prioritise myself without being selfish. I don't think there's anything wrong with being selfish because, my friends and my family are so important to me and I like to think I'm empathetic and I want to like, always be there for them. But I do have to really put myself first now, having gone through the burn out because it came from a lot of people pleasing. That was my downfall. Constantly putting everyone else first. I'm sure a lot of women especially could probably relate to that. I'm not even a mother. Like, I see my friends with kids where it's that times a million really. So I think it's really prioritising my own needs and staying really true to kind of just what I need is success for me.
Annie [00:43:05] Yeah, and being able to identify those needs. And circling back to that thing you said at the start, that kind of being in tune with yourself to recognise the little ick signs *laughs*.
Emma [00:43:18] Yeah, exactly the ick signs.
Annie [00:43:19] The little signposts of like, oop, this doesn't feel right. I'm uncomfortable. The last thing is- this is one of the things I screenshotted my friend, is this idea of phases. Phase one and phase two. And I really feel like I'm in a state of flux transitioning into phase two. Could you explain what phase one and phase two are, so hopefully our listeners will be able to identify themselves in those phases?
Emma [00:43:41] Yes, and this is inspired and also coined by the amazing Donna Lancaster, who is an incredible coach and therapist. So I just want to massively plug her because she's incredible. But she talks about phase one and phase two in her work The Bridge, and phase one is essentially material items fill you up, it's very much about success on other people's terms or at least society's terms and it's all about outward success. It's all about sort of validation and feeling like you're making it in whatever terms society wants you to make it. Phase two is when all of that drops away, like you've reached that, you've done that. It's not- the shoes, the handbags, the stuff, the holidays like it hasn't done anything, it hasn't scratched the itch. Phase two is just fully turning it on is axis and you're looking inwards, and phase two is all about success on your own terms and your inner world becomes the bit that's more exciting to you.
Annie [00:44:36] *Whispers* perfect. Love that. This book is so thought provoking and I think anyone who is able to get it will really not regret it. I have been screenshotting pages and sending them to my friends and I'm going to give this proof copy that I have here full of notes, full of underlined paragraphs that says 'me' beside them *laughs*, *mimicking herself* this is me! This is me! I'm going to give this to my friends and tell everyone about it. Emma, honestly, well done. Congratulations. What an achievement to write this book. I think you're going to help so many people.
Emma [00:45:11] Thank you so much. That means so much to me and I really do think the collective thing is really important here and reach out, we need each other. This is really about community because it's really hard pushing against the tide. It's really hard saying no when people want you to say yes. It's really hard to quit a job when everyone thinks you're doing fantastically, like this conversation- maybe we're making it sound easy. *Laughs* I just want to say like, this is not easy but we can all do it and we can all do it together.
Annie [00:45:39] Emma, thank you so much.
Emma [00:45:40] Thank you so much.
Annie [00:45:44] And that is it for this week folks. Thank you so much for listening. Please do share this episode to anyone who you think will appreciate it and subscribe to Changes as well. That's always so, so cool if you could do that. We're very grateful. It means you'll get the episodes that come every Monday morning delivered straight to you. We'll be back next week with another episode of Changes. Until then, huge love. This episode was produced by Louise Mason through DIN Productions. Seeya!