How to Reclaim Ease, Sanity & Success | Emma Gannon

Emma Gannon

Have you ever wondered if we’ve gotten success wrong? We chase after all the things we’re told it’s supposed to be–money, status, accomplishments, fame, stuff–and even if we get it all, or much of it, we end up giving so much of our humanity that we end up empty inside. We’ve got the trappings of success, yet we end up feeling trapped. 

That was the experience of my guest today, Sunday Times bestselling and award-winning author, Emma Gannon, who ironically, was pushed to a breaking point while writing what would eventually become a bestselling book on how we’ve gotten success all wrong. 

In late 2022, just after turning in the manuscript for her book The Success Myth which redefined societal notions of achievement, Emma found herself barely able to get out of bed. Normally vibrant and social and excited, she no longer recognized the person staring back at her in the mirror. She ended up taking the entirety of the next year to reimagine and reclaim not just her work, but her life. 12 months she called her year of nothing. 

In today’s conversation, Emma’s shares a candid account of her descent into that year of profound loss of self, personal reckoning and reclamation. How she made the radical choice to step away from almost all obligations for a full year to heal, explore solitude, simplicity. and rediscover what really mattered most. And how that intense experience reshaped her perspective on success, fueled new boundaries, and led to her current “smaller but better” life aligned with integrity, ease, and creative fulfillment. 

Emma is also a journaler, and her notes on that year led to her new book, A Year of Nothing, but this time, she published it in a radically different way that truly supported the way she now works and lives. We also explore how and why the one professional thing she kept saying yes to that year was her wildly popular Substack newsletter, The Hyphen, and how her community there played a meaningful role in her recovery.

You can find Emma at: The Hyphen Substack | Instagram | Episode Transcript

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photo credit: Paul Storrie


Episode Transcript:

Emma Gannon: [00:00:00] And I actually felt almost a bit ashamed of it all because, you know, family and friends were worried about me because I was really in a bad place. And I kept saying to myself, like, no one’s died. And then I was like, oh, but actually, someone maybe did die like me. Essentially, like something is dying here. And I don’t think we give ourselves that time, that grace, to say, I’m going into a new chapter. It made me think, you know, this is not the only time this is going to happen to me. I hope it’s not as extreme, but, you know, we’re always changing. This is life. Life is full of these little griefs. And like when you actually look at them, you know, you can get through them.


Jonathan Fields: [00:00:39] Hey there. So have you ever wondered if we’ve just gotten success all wrong? We chased after all the things we’re told. It’s supposed to be money, status, accomplishments, fame, stuff. And even if we get all of it or much of it, we end up giving up so much of our humanity that we find ourselves empty inside. We’ve got the trappings of success, yet we end up feeling trapped. Well, that was the experience of my guest today, Sunday Times best selling and award winning author Emma Gannon, who, ironically, was pushed to a breaking point while writing what would eventually become a best selling book on how we’ve gotten success all wrong in late 2022, just after turning in the manuscript for her book The Success Myth, which redefines societal notions of achievement and that found herself barely able to get out of bed and normally vibrant and social and excited, she no longer recognized that person, staring back at her in the mirror, and she ended up taking the entirety of the next year to reimagine and reclaim not just her work, but her life. 12 months that she ended up calling her year of nothing. And in today’s conversation, Emma shares a really candid account of her descent into that year of profound loss of self, personal reckoning and reclamation, how she made the radical choice to step away from almost all obligations for a full year in the name of healing and exploring solitude and simplicity and rediscovering what really mattered most, and how that intense experience reshaped her perspective on success, fueled new boundaries and led to her current, smaller but better life aligned with really integrity, ease and creative fulfillment. Emma is also a journaler, and her notes on that year eventually led to a book, A Year of Nothing, but this time, she published it in a radically different way that truly supported the way that she works and lives now, and we dive into that as well.


Jonathan Fields: [00:02:32] We also explore how and why the one professional thing that she kept saying yes to that year was her wildly popular Substack newsletter, The Hyphen, and how the community there played a really meaningful role in her recovery. So excited to share this conversation with you. I’m Jonathan Fields and this is Good Life Project.. If you look back over the last decade or so in your career, from the outside looking in, at least it’s been this wildly successful career. You left media, you wrote a number of books. The books have done really well. People have embraced them. Teaching in person, online speaking, had this incredibly popular podcast, and then we hit 2022. So you come into the end of the year into October, and you turn in the manuscript for what would then be your sixth book, the book that would eventually become The Success Myth. And the book is about redefining success and really focusing on personal values instead of expectations. Dealing with burnout is something you address explicitly in there as well. You hand in the book. And as a fellow author, I know that feeling of handing in a manuscript and knowing that it’s generally about a year or so before it comes out and a couple of days later, sounds like about a week or so after turning in this manuscript where you’re just pouring yourself into what does modern-day success really look like? You know, how do we do the myth-busting and what’s real here? Everything kind of falls apart. So take me there.


Emma Gannon: [00:04:03] Um, you know, it’s so funny because today I’ve put on a nicely bright shirt and I feel back to normal. And it’s really strange thinking about how much of a shell of myself I was in that month of October 2022, and how depleted I was and how almost like in debt I was with my own energy levels and how much I didn’t notice it or catch it, and how programmed I was to override my emotions. It was like I was starved of something and just completely ignoring all the bodily symptoms. It was insane. And so I had I mean, I didn’t think I’d write about it. I thought my career was over, quite frankly, because I felt like I’d broken myself. I felt like the computer was malfunctioning. It was really scary. And I don’t know if burnout is actually the correct terminology sometimes because it felt so existential and so scary. But you know, when you say it like that, it was my sixth book and I’m, you know, in my mid-thirties and, um, I think sometimes something’s got to give and the universe or whatever scares you to tell you you need to work in a different way now.


Jonathan Fields: [00:05:17] Um, so how did this first show up?


Emma Gannon: [00:05:22] I mean, I think it was probably building up over time. You know, obviously we all went through the pandemic, which of course has something to do with it. We all had our personal relationship to that and how it changed our world. But, um, over time, I think it was like I was a colored in person. And then I was like the tracing paper. Over time, you know, things get taken away from you. Burnout is something I’m really passionate about talking about now because it’s very different to being exhausted. It’s very different to being tired. It’s you losing life force. It’s you not nourishing or nurturing yourself in that very unique way that we all need to be nurtured. And it’s like death over time. It’s it’s really quite scary. And yeah, I now I notice what it is, but I take it seriously now.


Jonathan Fields: [00:06:11] Um, I know you write, um, my youthful, jovial personality was shedding like a snake. My vision was cloudy and narrow. My voice sounded different. I felt like I was shifting up a gear. Mhm. This feels like very embodied. Like this isn’t just. Oh, my mind is burned out like, this is every cell in you.


Emma Gannon: [00:06:28] Yeah. And a very transitional. And I’m really, really intrigued about the change cycle of a human being because I believe it’s similar to being a caterpillar. I do believe that we melt down into a gloop. We go into a cocoon, we change ourselves, we look in the mirror. We don’t recognize ourselves because we’re changing so much. And, um, you know, we’re not the same person over and over again. And also, you know, the scary thing about burnout is when you don’t love anything anymore. For me, it felt like, oh God, I don’t want to read a book. Something’s bad because I love reading. It’s like my reason for everything really is to make things and read things. So if you ever feel resentful or you feel like you don’t want to do the things you love, I think you know you might be in a burnout territory.


Jonathan Fields: [00:07:14] Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting, I recently was actually talking to a physician about burnout and how we tend to look at it. And, you know, the the World Health Organization has this very well-defined thing with three different criteria. And one of them was cynicism. You know, you default from whatever your state was before to kind of looking at everything and just saying, well, it’s it’s not possible. It’s not skepticism, which I think can be healthy in a creative process especially. But there’s a cynicism about everything. And I’m wondering if that’s part of what became your experience.


Emma Gannon: [00:07:48] Yeah, definitely. You know, I think we’re still learning labels and terminology around these things, but I don’t think I was depressed because I think depression, from what I’ve heard, is a numbness or some of some sort where you don’t feel anything. So I still felt things. I still felt things a lot. So I think I was still connected to my emotions in that way. But yes, absolute cynicism and absolute sort of what’s the point? And I think that’s a scary place to get to as a creative person, because the point is because you love it. The point is I get to change someone’s day. The point is, oh my God, I can’t believe I’m alive. And so that. Yeah. So that’s not a great place to be in. You’re not going to create anything from that place?


Jonathan Fields: [00:08:32] Um, no. I can totally vibe with that. I’m. I tend to move through the world with a. Not sort of. Um. I don’t even want to say an optimistic lens, but a possibility lens. You know, I still have a lot of healthy dose of, like, New York skeptic in me, and I always will, but I tend to also open my eyes in the morning and look around and say, ooh, there’s so much possibility like, this is possible. This is possible. And I know one of the tells for me when I’m sort of like reaching a similar point is often I start to lose that, you know, I start to see a lot less possibility around me, and everything kind of just looks a little bit more like, ah, there’s nothing really for me to do here. And I think that that’s probably a similar wiring for just a lot of people who would identify as, quote, creative types. It sounds like that was part of your experience as well.


Emma Gannon: [00:09:15] Yeah, for sure, for sure. And you know, and like my true nature, I believe, is that I am an optimistic person that believes in possibility. You know, I was just thinking today about how I’m in New York for a few weeks and I’ve got lots of friends here that are sort of internet friends. I’ve never met them in person. I’m going to meet them for the first time. And I thought, well, surely my world is a world of possibility because I have friends all over the world and my world feels very big and expansive. So yeah, I think that’s my default nature. And I think if you’re being taken away from your nature, that’s when you get into sort of a corporate, capitalist, exhaustive way of the world where it’s trying to squeeze you. So you need to keep that nature, human nature, alive, I think.


Jonathan Fields: [00:09:59] Yeah. I’m curious also because this came literally on the on the back end of you turning in a manuscript for a book. And when you’re working on a project like that, generally you’re really dedicated, you’re pouring yourself into it as you’re heading up for the, like the deadline. It’s also often, I don’t know if this is your process, but often, like, I’m kind of behind. And so I find myself working just insane hours to hit the deadline because I don’t want to let people down on the other side. But then there’s like, what I’ve noticed is there tends to be this window afterwards of an almost like malaise type of feeling like I woke up and had this intense purpose for like a solid chunk of time. And now there’s still other stuff, but like, that’s lifted. And I wonder if, like, you felt that and if you wondered, well, like, is this just my normal sort of like after the big push type of feeling or like, is this really something different?


Emma Gannon: [00:10:47] Mmm, well part of the reason I wrote the success myth is because I wanted to normalize that sort of arrival fallacy. It’s called where you think that once you complete a project, your life will be sorted, you’ll be happy, you’ll feel fulfilled forever. You’ve released the album. You’ve written the book. You’ve done the thing. Look at me. I’m. I’m forever fine. And actually, psychologists do say that we of course we have a slump because it’s the same as when you’re a kid doing an exam. It’s like you, you know, use this adrenaline, you do it. And then afterwards you, you do crash and burn a little bit. So I kind of expect that to happen after a book. And I’ve done enough now to realize that happens. But this felt different. This felt like you didn’t have the sort of petrol in the car for you to even do this book in the first place. Like, you didn’t take a break when we warned you to take a break. Like I had whispers of careful, you’re you know, you’re going to burn out. Um, and I ignored all of those whispers. And so when it came to handing in this book, it was like, oh, you’re going to go down now. Like you really ignored. 


Jonathan Fields: [00:11:50] The whispers weren’t enough, right, right, right.


Emma Gannon: [00:11:52] Yeah.


Jonathan Fields: [00:11:52] What were how did some of those whispers show up? Do you recall what some of them were?


Emma Gannon: [00:11:56] Well, you know, I’m not a mental health expert, so I find it weird talking about it or describing it. Sometimes I feel like it’s called disassociation from what I’ve heard or and spoken to people about. But essentially I would be doing something, and it’s almost like my vision would change and I would feel very out of body, or I would feel very disconnected from the world. I would feel like I’m I’m in a sort of 2D universe, like it was really mental for me, like literally mental in terms of how my tiredness and exhaustion. Was very out of body. And now I see that as my brain literally saying, you are so at capacity that it’s starting to shift. And now I take that so seriously. And I know the flip side of burnout is having an even better life, because I’m not going to go back there.


Jonathan Fields: [00:12:50] Mhm. Yeah that makes a lot of sense. You know when you’re when you’re in that space though I often feel like we just ignore the signs, you know, because it’s like it’s sort of like push push push. But it’s also like it’s not lost on me. And I’m sure it wasn’t lost on you in the moment. That sort of like the thing that preceded this for you was you researching and writing a book about redefining success. Mhm. Was that weird for you?


Emma Gannon: [00:13:15] A little bit, and actually I’ve been talking about this at some events about the book that, um, I actually don’t remember writing the book. Like that’s how sort of in such a strange place I was so, so, you know, I’m beginning to probably get a bit more spiritual as I get older, but I’m intrigued about that because that book was clearly written from like, some sort of subconscious place that came out of me while I wasn’t sort of logically there. So I feel like the book was a bit of a message. I think that’s what books are. I think when we write in our journals, you know, we I can predict the future. Like I look back on my journals from three years ago and I’m like, oh, some something somewhere knew what was going on inside of me. So I think I wrote the book from a very desperate place. And actually, since that book’s come out, you know, I’ve totally changed my career and my goals are totally different. I’m not chasing the carrot on the stick as much. That’s what I think books are. I think they’re a gift to others. And I think that even though I’m not in that place anymore, that book will reach someone when they’re at the place I was at. So it’s sort of passing it back to someone else being like, here you go. Like this helped me. And by the way, I know that I’m probably not meant to turn the tables on you just yet, but I did read that you also had a bit of a strange reckoning in October 2022, so maybe there was something in the air.


Jonathan Fields: [00:14:35] Yeah, I’ve had a number of those reckonings over the years, so I think it just tends to happen. You know, the question is always like, what do you do with them when they happen?


Emma Gannon: [00:14:46] Mhm.


Jonathan Fields: [00:14:46] So for you I mean the what did you do was you made a really what from the outside looking in I would imagine would be sort of a radical choice. And you know, it effectively took a year the better part of a year to just hit pause on so many parts of your life to, to I think so many people are starting to like they want to just like, live faster and bigger and expand. And this was a year that for you was almost like the exact opposite. It was a year of stillness and contraction to a certain extent.


Emma Gannon: [00:15:18] Yeah, it was and I really didn’t think it would be a year. I had friends that had gone through quite similar things, or at least it manifested differently, but it was definitely burnout. And they said it took a year for me, by the way, and I and I thought, that’s ridiculous. Like, I can’t take a year to do nothing. I mean, thankfully I had savings. I also had my Substack, which was, you know, additional income from people that support my work, which is an amazing new thing for creatives because, you know, it’s some sort of foundation, I think, in which to feel supported. But, um, yeah, it’s been a long it took a long time and time shifted. I think when you’re going through something like grief or, you know, you’re going underground, time bends like it was a very odd time for me. It felt so much like grief, and I actually felt almost a bit ashamed of, of of it all because, you know, family and friends were, were worried about me because I was really in a bad place. And I kept saying to myself like, no one’s died. And then I was like, oh, but actually someone maybe did die like me. Essentially like something is dying here. And I don’t think we give ourselves that time, that grace to say, I’m going into a new chapter. And, you know, my dad at the time, he was just retiring, or at least he’d sort of been retired for, for for a year or so. And he was adjusting and I kind of felt really connected to him because he was going through this new change. And I it made me think, you know, this is not the only time this is going to happen to me. I hope it’s not as extreme. But, you know, we’re always changing. And like, if if, you know, I don’t have children, but my friends have children every time their kid does something new or passes an exam or moves away or gets turns 18, it’s like, this is life. Life is full of these little griefs. And like when you actually look at them, you know, you can get through them.


Jonathan Fields: [00:17:14] Mm. No, that’s so true. That the kid example resonates with me deeply. We have a daughter who, um, graduated college about a year ago and and is now off living on her own, having an incredible life. And, um, it took my wife and us by surprise. Not. She’s a great kid and doing this awesome thing. But just the fact that, oh, wait a minute, like, there was a moment where we both looked at each other and were like, oh, she’s probably not coming home again, right?


Emma Gannon: [00:17:41] Mhm.


Jonathan Fields: [00:17:41] You know, maybe to visit here and there, but not every holiday and not every summer and not all these different things. And it was there was a process of real grief that I think we’re still navigating. You know, as much as we’re celebrating, we’re grieving something that we love. That was a way of being that’s just changing. And it will change into something that’s beautiful and different, but still.


Emma Gannon: [00:18:02] Mhm.


Jonathan Fields: [00:18:02] But the thing that you shared about you know like us not giving. Enough. Oh, well, this isn’t the type of thing that should cause grief in me. Like, you know, there’s that grief is for, like, these much bigger losses. And I feel like, you know, we don’t allow ourselves to actually honor the fact that, no, actually, this is real. And I need to I need to move through it and acknowledge it, you know, but probably also that same sense of sort of like internal shame makes us not want to share that with other people too.


Emma Gannon: [00:18:32] Totally. And I and I, I really like that’s such a, such an amazing way you’ve put that because these are huge things. So why are we making them feel like they’re small? They’re not small. And also, you know, the invisibility of of it. You know, I had a family member who was going through cancer treatment at the time when I was going through my burnout. And I kept thinking, well, you know, that’s I’m not going through that, so why can’t I function? And and actually, you know, it’s not you can’t really compare things like, it’s not like for like just because you can’t see a mental health issue, it’s still there or grief or whatever. So yeah. And and also you know, the grief around for me, for example, not having children, I, you know, I’m getting older. It’s not just a thing that I can say, oh, I’m not going to have kids because I’m, you know, it’s by choice. I’m child-free by choice, but I can still grieve a path. I’m not going down, you know that. So it felt that felt very resonant actually during that time was, oh, you’re closing a door on something. So maybe you need to give yourself time to, to to realize that.


Jonathan Fields: [00:19:41] Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. You bring up the notion of comparison also, and this ends up being something that you actually end up writing about in the success myth. But but, um, in the opposite way, you know, it’s sort of like we’re comparing other people’s supposed success to ours and then like seeing how we, we don’t measure up to all of this, you know, all their illusory, often success.


Emma Gannon: [00:20:04] Mhm.


Jonathan Fields: [00:20:04] But there’s this other side, too, which is we, you know, and that makes us feel really bad about ourselves. But the other side is we compare our our grief, our suffering, our sorrow or pain, our loss to other people’s. And if it doesn’t fall within the category of, quote, predefined things that you know are valid, to actually feel these things around, we just discount it. Um, which then compounds whatever we’re feeling because it’s just like there’s there’s no outlet, there’s no release valve for any of it.


Emma Gannon: [00:20:33] Mhm. I know, and it’s such a crazy world of social media that’s only getting faster and crazier. And TikTok and reels and, and I think we have to be really choosy with what we follow now because we can so easily fall down a rabbit hole that makes us feel bad, but actually has no significance really, on our life. You know, I follow people living it up, getting drunk in Italy, and I’m like, well, I don’t drink alcohol anymore. So that’s not for me. But why am I jealous of it? Because I am.


Jonathan Fields: [00:21:02] Yeah, it’s it’s that magic, that magical life that we see happening out there.


Emma Gannon: [00:21:07] Exactly.


Jonathan Fields: [00:21:07] So in the first month or so, you describe in In A Year of Nothing and your most recent book that you really like, it was at a point where you more or less struggled to get out of bed on a daily basis and function, um, when you’re in that window, I know one of the big questions that often comes up for folks, whether it’s in a in an intense window of burnout or if it tips into depression, which not infrequently, burnout does. One of the lingering questions once it doesn’t go away in a day or a couple of days, or, oh, by the end of the week, it’s like. When will this end? And the real question underneath that, that I think really is so brutal for people is will this ever end? I’m wondering how you navigated that.


Emma Gannon: [00:21:52] Mhm. Well, I don’t know if this is a personality thing or just the way I am, but even when I was in the worst of it, I really did have faith. And I’m not religious. I don’t have a faith. It’s just that I knew that I was going through something and I just knew it would end. I didn’t know when, but you know, that’s that phrase. You know, this too shall pass. My friends actually got that tattooed on on her arm. And I felt like. I don’t know. There’s a Rupi Kaur quote that is, um, slowed down with this version of yourself. I’m butchering it. You know, the quote.


Jonathan Fields: [00:22:33] The quote too, but I can’t remember exactly what it’s like.


Emma Gannon: [00:22:35] It’s like, slow down, spend time with this version of yourself. She’s she’s in it now. Be with her kind of thing. That’s the gist of it. And I really leant into that. I thought, what if this is an incredible transition period that I’m never going to have again? So when I’m on my walk and I’m feeling really sad and I’m feeling things very deeply, what if I just stay in this and witness it? Because the nature of the world is things are always changing. So it was weird. It was almost like. Oh, I’m going to weirdly miss this when it goes, if that makes any sense at all.


Jonathan Fields: [00:23:10] Yeah. You know, it’s it weirdly it does. Uh, but I think it also goes back to if underneath that there is still this underlying there’s, there’s still this thread of optimism or possibility. Then there’s I almost feel like there’s an underlying belief in these moments that say, this, this is hard. Now, this is real. I would I would really prefer this not to be what I’m moving through, but here I am. And if if you believe that the world is filled with a sense of of possibility, then yeah, like I think it’s you either intentionally or inadvertently start to reframe it a little bit even as, okay. Um, but hopefully this is taking me somewhere that’s better on the other side. And that’s not easy to access for a lot of people, especially depending on depending on what you’re experiencing.


Emma Gannon: [00:23:56] Exactly. And and that’s why I’m really aware that it might be my like makeup in some way, because I found that I was able to access this place of not trying to resist it, you know, the whole like what you resist persists thing. And I listened to a lot of Martha Beck during that time. And she’s really about that sort of, you know, cling on to the lifeboat and just like, float, like you don’t have to swim, you don’t have to battle, like, just float, like, try and just be. But yeah, it is really, really difficult. And, um, I don’t really know where that inkling of faith came from, actually. Um.


Jonathan Fields: [00:24:33] And we’ll be right back after a word from our sponsors. So part of the process for you, especially early on, was a shrinking of obligations, experiences, even people. And part of that was also work, you know, and I’m guessing a lot of it was also because functionally, it just couldn’t happen. Um, but, you know, as a writer who sort of lives and breathes often based on what is the last thing that we put out into the world, I know there’s this very common fear that says, if I am not constantly forward facing, if I am not constantly putting out new work and interacting with people, that if I vanish largely, I may never be able to come back. I’m wondering if that thought touched down at all for you.


Emma Gannon: [00:25:25] Um. Yeah, it definitely did. And I think one of the reasons I’m really grateful that I went through what I went through is I have experienced. A loss of identity and knowing what that feels like because I floated around that year, honestly, like, if you would have seen me in my local park, you would have been like, oh God, is that woman all right? Like, you know, I just wasn’t me. Like, I was just in this coat with my wellies on, really just quite identity-less in some ways, because I wasn’t working. I wasn’t really contacting many like, acquaintances, like I’d lost, like, my network, really. I was just sort of with my friends and family, and I wasn’t putting out any new work. And I thought my career might be over because I thought I’d broken myself. And I think the amazing thing about going through that is I know that the worst thing happened. And I’m still okay. And it was. And it’s so, so it’s like, if that happens again, I know that it’s not the truth that things are over. I just you could take five years out and I believe that you can always come back. I really, truly believe that now. And also it was really important for me, I feel, to know who I am behind this, behind this writer, me, because it’s a massive part of me. I love writing, I love being out there in the world, but I now know who I am without it. And I think that’s a lesson that some of us have to learn.


Jonathan Fields: [00:26:55] Mhm. Yeah. And I think oftentimes we don’t learn it until we’re brought to our knees in some way. As much as I’d rather have another process be, you know, like the prime way of learning. Um, so you stop writing but actually you don’t entirely because so you like, you back away from books. I know you’re on deadline for the next novel where you basically said, that can’t happen right now. You had a podcast you were producing for six years that you wound down and really pulled back from public life in a lot of ways. But there was one thing that you didn’t pull back from, and it was what you mentioned earlier, which is this newsletter, the hyphen. You know, you took a short break in November of that year. You took, I think, about three weeks off, but then you were back. And that was surprising to me. Talk me through, sort of like the process of you saying, this is the one thing that I’m going to keep saying yes to.


Emma Gannon: [00:27:45] You know, it’s so funny that because, yeah, I, I see it as like this nothing year because I didn’t send an email really during that year. Like I didn’t say yes to anything work-wise, I guess I didn’t have a plan or like a career move going on. It was like I really have opted out. Like I watched a lot of TV. I borrowed a dog, like I only really saw my friends, close friends and family like. It felt very private. But then the one thing I was doing was I dipped my toe into the Substack world, which felt very safe because I had a paywall. So I had maybe a couple hundred readers at that point, like behind the paywall. And I felt like I was talking to this really close-knit group of people. It was like blogging, because I think if you’re a writer. Writing is healing. I didn’t want to be out there really like big shiny look at me and my writing and my books. But like I wrote for this very small group of people and they really helped me through burnout. And it made me think that readers and people who follow our work online, they it’s a two-way relationship.


Jonathan Fields: [00:28:54] Yeah. Completely agree. Which can work. You know, both ways also because on the one hand, it’s nice to realize you have community. There is a back and forth that often happens, um, especially the way you were doing it in this fairly small, like well defined and protected space and container at the same time, you know, that sort of like back and forth. It can create expectation. And when you’re in a place of burnout and thinking, I really just need to be here for me, I need to take care of me like it can. We can hit that line where all of a sudden there’s expectation from a whole bunch of other people, and then we start to say, well, now I’m actually I have a responsibility to them, which can be fine when you’re well resourced, but when you’re not, it can be brutal.


Emma Gannon: [00:29:38] Totally. But I think the learning as well from that time was I can’t be indebted to anyone. I refuse to be indebted to anyone because my my health is still on the line a little bit. And so actually, the thing about that platform and I’m not being like paid to promote Substack as this utopia, even though I am having a great time on it, is, um, if you would look at my back end, I took so many breaks, like there’s a pause button on Substack so you can pause everything. You can be like, I’m not taking payments, I’m not doing anything. Everything is paused and my chart is like, up, down, up, down for ages, up again, down again. For a long time. It’s literally so squiggly. And I and I shared it the other day because I wanted people to know that you can take breaks, that you really can. People will wait for you. And that’s the power of community is people also want to know the truth. They want to be like, oh, Emma’s struggling. Um, I’ll see you when you’re back kind of thing.


Jonathan Fields: [00:30:36] Um, I wonder if, seeing that from this small group of people, probably most of whom, if not all, you’ve never met before and dispersed around the world saying, like, we care about you. We want to know, like you can share the real stuff. And if you need to take breaks, that’s okay. Did that help you rewire the way that you thought about sharing what was going on with the people who were actually, like, legitimately closer to you in your life?


Emma Gannon: [00:31:01] Mhm. You know, it’s so funny. I think maybe this is a side effect of being a writer, but I’m more comfortable sharing things with strangers than I am with my own closest people sometimes.


Jonathan Fields: [00:31:10] I think that’s not unusual for writers, yeah.


Emma Gannon: [00:31:12] Yeah, exactly. Like I wrote a novel called Olive about being child-free, and it was like everyone was joking, like, oh, Emma has to go and write a novel to, like, tell her friends and family what she’s going through. Um, so, yeah, I felt safer with those people and their, you know, based all over the world and are like-minded. And that’s amazing thing about the internet is like we attract people with, I think, a similar energy field, you know, there’s something about it or I’m like, these people have come into my life and I’m so grateful. So yeah, I felt really safe with them. Definitely.


Jonathan Fields: [00:31:45] Yeah. And it’s funny, as you’re describing that Emily McDowell’s an old friend of mine also, who also happens to be on have a newsletter on Substack. And she we just caught up with her a couple of weeks ago, and she was telling me about how, like she launched this newsletter, and then she went through a real, a real struggle, a real like season of just personal reckoning. And at some point she went around, she turned to this community and she said, hey, you know that thing that you had been saying, yes, I’m happy I’m here. I’m going to support you. I’m going to actually pay every month. And and, you know, all those promises I made about what I would deliver in exchange for that can’t do it anymore. I’ll show up when I can, but I’ve got to take care of myself and I’ll share what I can and what I can. But, you know, there’s basically no promises anymore. And if you want your money back and if you want to bail, that’s completely fine. I honor that. And she shared, almost nobody did. You know, people were actually like, no, no, no, no, like, take care of yourself. I’m here for you. However you can show up. You know, I’m not just here for, you know, whatever was on the bullet list of deliverables, um, for this thing, like, I’m on the journey with you, which surprised her. And I think, you know what you’re saying. Really, really backs up that same experience.


Emma Gannon: [00:32:59] Um, I love Emily. I think she talks about very similar things around the creative grief and transitions. And I think, I think we’re entering a new era. I hope we are where artists for so long have been squeezed. They have been starved. They, you know, of creativity in, in these like, corporate machines that just want to like take you take your talent and just like give you crumbs. And, and I think what we’re seeing now is people going, oh no, I want to keep the lights on. I want you to make things I’m going to pay you to and support you. And it’s not a content transaction. It’s like a community transaction. And I actually know someone on Substack, um, she’s been on there for years, and her community have just paid for her maternity leave. Essentially, she left the she left the payments on for three months. And I thought that that’s that’s that’s pretty feminist stuff going on.


Jonathan Fields: [00:33:50] Yeah. I mean, it’s sort of like the extension of I remember years ago, Amanda Palmer released an album on Patreon, um, when she sort of she got into a riff, right, you know, with her label and she’s like, no, I want to do what I want to do. And she raised like $1 million on Patreon. And now she has this ongoing thing which really supports her and has supported her for years to just do the work she wants to do. And it’s nice to see that there are now different platforms and different ways and, you know, people who perceive themselves as different types of artists or, you know, creators in different ways have ways to do it. It is it’s a really interesting and fertile moment, I think, for that, you know, um, I think the opportunities, the possibilities are, are pretty incredible. Um, it’s interesting. I actually I’m very new to Substack myself to like, I’ve written newsletters on and off for years, but I, I was curious about the platform, about why people would go from being a, quote, free reader to going a quote paid reader. So and I couldn’t get that information. So I did a quick poll, and I was really surprised to see the data was that 50% of the people who responded to it said that they were. They did it just to support the person, the creator, the artist, the writer. That was hands down the single biggest motivator for people doing it, which is is really interesting because it’s like a full-circle moment. Back to the patronage model. Um. Mhm. You know, um, and, and you would you wonder if people would be actually that, that kind and apparently they are.


Emma Gannon: [00:35:22] Yeah. I mean isn’t it crazy that we find that surprising that people want to be kind because I believe human beings are kind deep, deep down I believe that it’s our true nature. But we’ve been in such a hostile environment with Twitter and the news and like trolls and horrible comment sections for so long that we forget that sort of human quality of just like wanting to show love to someone. And, you know, I get I get messages because on Substack, people can leave you a message if they become a paid subscriber. And sometimes I get messages from people all over the world just being like, keep doing what you’re doing. Here’s, here’s, you know, $10 or whatever. And it’s like, okay, like, this lovely person has just come out of the blue. And how amazing is that?


Jonathan Fields: [00:36:08] Yeah, it can be so powerful. Um, as you’re in this window, um, kind of bringing it back to that year, 2022, 2023, and you’re starting to emerge like it sounds like the early part was, I need to shrink my world. I need to be really still. I need to go inside. I need to not be so interactive. You create this one pocket of safe, protected community that that feels nourishing to you and that you can sustain, um, and you and you make a decision as you described, like, if I need to turn it off, I turn it off. And if I need to turn it on, you’re still honoring that thing in you. And then as you start to move through the months, it sounds like part of your process was also like, okay, so like I’ve been stripped bare here. I’m still trying to figure out who I am and what life looks like after this, what work looks like after this? What are some of the things that might make me feel better or help me move through this? And it sounds like you slowly start to run these experiments, and this is part of what you write about in the Year of Nothing. And one of them was actually picking yourself up and saying, I need to go somewhere else and just drop into Portugal in this instance, for a short bit of time, what was the impulse to say? Like, I feel like changing locations will somehow be nourishing to me.


Emma Gannon: [00:37:21] Um, well. It was about changing locations, but it was actually about solitude. It was about a deep solitude. And I think sometimes not always going somewhere else on your own. Means you’re getting more of that solitude because you’re leaving your domestic sphere. And I think leaving that domestic world of admin and family or whatever feels like a real luxury. But I feel like more of us, if we can, should try and do it, because there is something about that solitude in a different country or in a different location, whatever it might be, where you can’t escape yourself. You just can’t outrun your problems when you’re alone. I know a lot of people are scared to be alone. Um, so. So for me, my year of nothing began with, okay, you need to go. You really need to go and feel some feelings, and you need to go and do that by yourself, even though you really instinctively just want to be like, I wanted to be with my husband, and I actually wanted to, like, lean more into being, like, very codependent during that time. But it was like, no, go, go, go by yourself. I mean, there were so many different phases of this, of this strange transition, but I think that was the start of looking at like my issues in the eye, I suppose, which was trying to escape things constantly, like I write in the book about, you know, my relationship with alcohol and how that wasn’t helping me. I think about there were friends who I knew I needed to let go, but I was too scared to do it. There was career decisions that I was scared to do, but I knew I needed to do it.


Emma Gannon: [00:38:54] So I think, I think what happens before you go and like change your life is you need to go and get strong, and that means getting right with yourself and being on good terms with yourself, looking in the mirror and being like. Come on, we can do this. And so a lot of my year of nothing actually was about building resilience. I think, you know, my generation, the millennials, we’ve been told that we’re snowflakes and we can’t handle anything. And I’m a very sensitive person. So I think it was about yeah, just like putting down all the things you think are going to help and just like strip bare everything. Like back to what we were saying about how things are really hard before they’re easy. It’s like you’re going through a portal. I felt I felt like it was a portal because. And a therapist friend of mine says it’s like a portal because you’re on your hands and knees, like going through this hard thing. And when you come out the other side, you are changed. And what I’ve noticed about myself now is I can sit on, you know, the tube, everyone’s on their phones and I can just sit there and I can really just sit there and, you know, I’ve just been going going for a walk today. And I just sat there on the bench and looked out at the view. And it’s really nice because now that’s my default is just I sit and I can look at things and I’m like, oh, I better check my phone rather than being completely plugged into it. So it’s a totally different brain mode, I suppose.


Jonathan Fields: [00:40:19] Yeah, I love the word portal. I know, um, I think it was one of the last guests on your podcast, Donna Lancaster, you had a conversation.


Emma Gannon: [00:40:27] That’s it. That’s who said it. Yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah.


Jonathan Fields: [00:40:29] And it was really about this notion of portals that we pass through where, you know, like things are different on the other side. But it’s interesting because, you know, like when. For you to retrain your attention in the way that you’ve done. You have to be also living in a world where you’re constantly resisting the pattern that everyone else has said yes to and that you, in fact, said yes to before. Um, they’re not going away and you’re not going to, like, take yourself out of that world. Do you find yourself sort of like being pulled back in different ways?


Emma Gannon: [00:41:01] I find, yes, I do, but I can catch it now. I can kind of be so aware that I’m being pulled back and I’m like, oh, let’s just put a pause on that. I think, you know, the reason I wrote the success myth, I think, is because I know now that that doesn’t go anywhere. I’ve been on that train, I’ve been on that train like I’ve gone further enough down that path that I’m like, oh, there’s nothing at the end, you know, the luxuriousness of of, I don’t know, opportunity in certain worlds or money like a sort of windfall of money, like I’ve been in those situations where I’m like, this formula should mean I’m the happiest person in the world because I have all the things that society is telling me I want. And so now the cost is too great. It’s like. You know, okay, this thing that’s being pulled, I’m being pulled towards it. Is that as important as me catching up with my mum on the phone? Is that as important as me staying true to myself? Is it as important as reading in the garden for half an hour? Because those are the things I value, so it would take a lot for anything to override that, if that makes sense. Obviously I have to pay my bills and do my work, but I know now what enough looks like, like I really do, which is I feel like a real privilege as well.


Jonathan Fields: [00:42:19] Mhm. Yeah. And I think that’s an important point, sort of like that at the end. Um, the notion of because I think a lot of people will look at sort of like experiences that you’ve had or conversations like this or even the entire category of personal growth, human potential and things like this, and say, well, all of these ideas that you’re talking about, well, that’s lovely that we’re talking about them, but they’re, quote, not available to me. And I think, you know, there is a, there is a often a knee jerk reaction in this world to say, no, no, no, no, it’s available to everyone. Like, this is all about we all have equal access and we all have. We’re starting in the same starting line. And it’s about your mindset like it’s 100% about that. But I also think it’s important to acknowledge we’re not all starting at the same starting line. Like we don’t live the same lives, we don’t have the same resources and support or history. And I think often that’s never a part of the conversation. But I think it’s important that we start to make it a part of the conversation.


Emma Gannon: [00:43:14] I, I totally agree, and I, and I write about privilege in the success myth. Like I really lay out, you know, this myth of like meritocracy and how we can all be successful. We can all do x, Y, and Z. And it’s like, well, a lot of people who say they’re self-made are in fact not self-made. They’ve come from a complete, uh, starting point of of privilege and access. And so I’m really aware of that with this conversation. And I actually had there was actually a piece in The Guardian that did a big piece about my book recently, A Year of Nothing. And actually, what the woman was saying is what she took away from the book is that she now knows how to do a weekend of nothing, or an hour of nothing, or ten minutes of nothing, and how this really can apply. Like you don’t have to go through chronic burnout to learn. I hope the message of this book, which is giving yourself the gift of nothing and also not being ashamed. You know when people say, what are you up to this weekend? And you feel like, oh, I can’t say nothing. Whereas now I, you know, I’m proud to say nothing. Um, so, yeah. And you know what? It reminds me a little bit of the conversation around eat, pray, love back in the day with Elizabeth Gilbert, because, you know, I love Elizabeth and and how, you know, people would say, well, I’d have to quit my job and sell my house to do that. And it’s like, well, she did, she did. But also was was in a privileged position too. So I think we can be inspired by something and know that we’re living a different path, if that makes sense.


Jonathan Fields: [00:44:42] Yeah. No, that doesn’t make sense to me. I often think, you know, like I I’ll ask the question in my mind if I see something going on, I’m like, I’m not really in a position to be able to do that. But I’ll ask myself as a follow-up, well, what’s my version of that? You know what is available to me? And like you said, maybe it’s not a year. And probably for most people it’s not. Maybe it’s an hour, maybe, maybe it’s five minutes. You know, like with coffee and nothing else happening in the morning before you start your day. Maybe it’s a weekend, but asking, you know, like if this matters to me. Like, is there a version that is accessible to me I think can be just a helpful question.


Emma Gannon: [00:45:17] Exactly. Um, but actually on a wider level, um, especially in the sort of cities I am noticing it as a trend, people who are selling their belongings on apps, you know, like second-hand websites and really like getting rid of, like the designer bag, for example. I mean, obviously that’s you’re going to be in a privileged position to even have that. But this, this sort of lifestyle choice where people are like, I don’t even want all this stuff in my house. Like, I want to get rid of it and buy myself a month of nothing. It’s kind of kind of exciting.


Jonathan Fields: [00:45:49] Yeah. I do wonder if the pendulum is swinging back, like we’ve had such an intense season of, I think, consumption and hyper connection that I do feel like there’s push back and say, like, I, I want to be able to just have more stillness and and maybe less, less stuff. Because to me, stuff also means complexity. Maybe that’s just my own association.


Emma Gannon: [00:46:11] Oh God totally like the outgoings of a sort of classic, like middle-of-the-road life now of kind of having to keep all the plates spinning. Um, feels like a bit of a trap. It’s like, do I really need to add on another thing that I need to pay a monthly installment for? Like, I just want to strip it back a bit.


Jonathan Fields: [00:46:32] Yeah. And it makes you really think like, what does matter to me? And this is a big like in my mind, it was sort of like the heartbeat of the success myth like that. That book was really redefining success, not as meeting social expectations. But like, who am I? Like, what do I really value? And let me use that as, you know, a compass to really make the decisions. And I feel like a lot of people are actually looking back at their, like, all the quote, trappings of their current life and saying, huh, maybe not so much. Mhm.


Emma Gannon: [00:47:06] Exactly. And, you know, it’s so personal isn’t it. We’re all so different. That’s the beauty of, of the success idea is um. Why do we think it’s one thing, one mold, one life, one pair of shoes? It’s like it’s such a. Yeah. It’s such a personal journey. And and, you know, now when I see people be like, my parents don’t understand this choice I’ve made, but I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. You know, I love those sorts of stories.


Jonathan Fields: [00:47:36] Yeah. Same, same. And we’ll be right back after a word from our sponsors. So as you emerge from this year of nothing as you’re heading through 2023, um, the actual the book, The Success Myth, um, comes out. If my recollection was in the fall 2023 sometime. Right?


Emma Gannon: [00:47:55] Mhm.


Jonathan Fields: [00:47:56] So you’re literally coming out of your season of transformation as this book is hitting the world. Was it in any way weird for you to. Because then, like when a book comes out, like as an author, the expectation is, okay, it’s time to be on again. It’s time to be public again. It’s time to go out there and support this work in a very forward-facing and interactive way. Was there an expectation that you would then flip that switch again, and if so, how did that feel for you after having just navigated this year of saying pretty much no to all of that?


Emma Gannon: [00:48:29] Mmm. It was a really strange process because, um, I got the proof in the mail, which is like, you know, the, the early copy. And, um, I saw it and I had a panic attack. So it was like my body was like, oh, God. Um, which is not a nice moment because it’s meant to be a happy moment. It’s meant to be like my book, this amazing thing. Like, that’s meant to be the thing that you film and, like, put on Instagram and be like my book. And, um, and I couldn’t look at it and I really didn’t want anything to do with it. And that was a weird thing, because I love the book. I actually really am very proud of it. And I think it it’s meaningful. I tried to not do the audiobook, like I told my team at the publishers that I can’t do it. Um, I actually ended up doing it, but it took a long time. I did it in very, very small chunks. And I’m someone that has like did a podcast for six years and is like totally good behind a mic. Couldn’t do that very well. Well, um, it wasn’t easy for me. And so that whole situation. Yeah. Wasn’t wasn’t how it was meant to go. I don’t know if that book really got the push it sort of deserved in a way, because I wasn’t being I couldn’t do jazz hands. And I think that’s another sort of conversation around how authors, you know, a lot, a lot of it is on the author’s shoulder or shoulders without the author, you know, the book. How does the book get out there? So yeah, it wasn’t the best time to have a book out.


Jonathan Fields: [00:49:50] Yeah. But I mean, it’s interesting because you use the phrase like the push that it deserved, as if this inanimate object, like, was deserving of something that was required from your life, that would make you very uncomfortable at that moment in time and take you out of like a new version of you that you had just worked so hard to step into. So it’s an interesting tension, but at the same time, it sounds like you also made a decision like, nah, you know what? I get that this is the expectation. I get that there are people who have expectations from me at this moment in time. I’ll rise to them to the extent that I can, but given what I’ve just been through, like that last part needs to be a really sacred qualifier.


Emma Gannon: [00:50:34] Mhm. Yeah. And it was quite an incredible experience because I would say I would class myself as a people pleaser. That was me before burnout is I’ll do anything for anyone else. I’ll do anything to please a company or an external person or you know, I was someone that would answer, like any, any email that someone wrote to me, I felt grateful, I felt indebted, which is an interesting choice of word. And then when you get that ill, I think you realize that nothing is worth going back there. So you have a boundary like I have boundaries now, which is a new thing and and an incredible thing. And actually maybe part of aging, like I’m excited about my older self because if I’m learning what boundaries are, you know, that older me is going to have even better boundaries.


Jonathan Fields: [00:51:19] Um, yeah, I it’s funny, um, I have a lot of friends who are sort of like their, their motto is yes to everything, the classic year of yes. And my default is these days it’s no to everything. Yeah. You know, because every yes has an opportunity cost. And when the opportunity cost is your mental health or your physical health or both. And oftentimes it is. But we don’t realize it. Like for me, there has to be a really compelling reason for something to become a yes, given sort of the, quote, stack of things that I’m already doing in relationships that have already said yes to. Um, so as we sit here and have this conversation now, you know, in 2024, um. How are you?


Emma Gannon: [00:51:59] I’m really, really good. Yeah. I’m feeling very creatively fulfilled. You know, this, this a year of nothing, but is independently published. Um, I’ve had full creative control. I have taken lots of breaks. I’ve really looked after myself. I go to the gym now, I don’t drink anymore. I know who my friends are. I mean, I could go on with, with the like, life lessons that the burnout has taught me. And I really, really value life. And I feel really grateful to have gone through a hard thing. And so. Yeah. I mean, I’m surprising myself by saying this because because it’s, you know, in the last maybe few months, I’ve really turned a corner, so it’s been slow. Um, but I’m, you know, the butterfly wings are back on, I think.


Jonathan Fields: [00:52:45] Yeah. And it’s interesting also that as you described that this, this new book, A Year of Nothing, actually, two books is really you publish in a very different way where you could have control over the process and do it in a way that felt nourishing to you. So the only obligation here really is to you and the people who are, you know, like who are showing up to support it. What’s it like going through what you’ve gone through and then turning around? Because my sense is you never intended to write about this originally, now that you have and now that it’s moving out into the world, how is that?


Emma Gannon: [00:53:22] You know, it’s fun. It’s good because I feel boundaried. So I feel safe. I know where my limits are. I know how to put my phone on airplane mode for five hours and go and do something else. Like, I’ve learned these tools now. It’s also a memoir, and it’s been crafted in a way where I’m sharing the bits I want to share. Like it’s not a diary. There’s another version somewhere that I’m not going to share with anyone. So that’s all in my control. And, um, and honestly, it’s kind of proven to myself that whether I like it or not, I’m a creative writer because I thought my year of Nothing was like devoid of creativity and that I’ll never write again and my career is over. But what I’ve shown myself without realizing is you can write about anything. Like I went into this void of emptiness and I still wrote a book. And I’m not saying that it’s all to do with productivity. It would. My life would still be good if I hadn’t written this book. But, um, what an amazing thing that, like, we can write about anything we can write about, you know, going outside and looking at a blade of grass like that, sort of what writing is. And it’s made me think, you don’t have to have this big, exciting, dramatic life to be a writer, and that’s a nice thing to learn, I think.


Jonathan Fields: [00:54:35] Um, do you feel like in a in a weird way, your life now is smaller but better?


Emma Gannon: [00:54:40] Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Definitely. And also, I’m not performing like I’m being me. I think I was tap dancing around before, and, um. I think that can burn you out because you’re using up so much more energy. It’s exhausting trying to be liked all the time, and it’s nice just to kind of show up as you, I think.


Jonathan Fields: [00:55:00] Yeah. So as you sort of like step back into the world and being more public on your terms, thinking about, okay, what do I want? My career, my work and my life to be like, what’s important to you?


Emma Gannon: [00:55:13] Um. I think it’s important for me to like myself. So that means being in integrity. Like having my integrity feels very important. I’d rather have less people view my work or earn less money like and be me, rather than be a version I don’t like and be popular. I think this sort of that the balance that we’re all meant to have, you know, it feels kind of difficult and tricky, but an element of balance feels really important. Now, I do believe we have different parts to ourselves, and I think every part needs to to be understood. And like my child, like part is, is wanting more air time. I’m noticing like I want to draw, I want to swim, I want to like those things my 20-something self wasn’t interested in. And I’m more interested in that now, like playing.


Jonathan Fields: [00:56:03] Mmm, little internal family systems coming into the equation.


Emma Gannon: [00:56:06] Exactly. Richard Schwartz all over that. Um, so, yeah, because the scary career part of me had taken over way too much.


Jonathan Fields: [00:56:15] Mmm. That’s amazing. It feels like a good place for us to come full circle as well. And like my final question, you may have actually just answered in your own way, but I’ll still ask it, you know, in this container of Good Life Project, if I offer up the phrase to live a good life, what comes up?


Emma Gannon: [00:56:29] To live a good life? Just give the world your love. Essentially, I think that’s I think that’s all we can do is, you know, just give from a place of like, that sort of abundance of life. I think, you know, that sort of you can’t run out of that stuff and realizing.


Jonathan Fields: [00:56:50] Mm. Thank you, thank you. Hey, before you leave, if you love this episode, Safe bet, you’ll also love the conversation we had with Cleo Wade on Words for Tender Times. You’ll find a link to Cleo’s episode in the show notes. This episode of Good Life Project was produced by executive producers Lindsey Fox and me, Jonathan Fields. Kristoffer Carter crafted our theme music and special thanks to Shelley Adelle for her research on this episode. And of course, if you haven’t already done so, please go ahead and follow Good Life Project. in your favorite listening app. And if you found this conversation interesting or inspiring or valuable, and chances are you did. Since you’re still listening here, would you do me a personal favor? A seven-second favor and share it? Maybe on social or by text or by email? Even just with one person? Just copy the link from the app you’re using and tell those you know, those you love, those you want to help navigate this thing called life a little better so we can all do it better together with more ease and more joy. Tell them to listen, then even invite them to talk about what you’ve both discovered. Because when podcasts become conversations and conversations become action, that’s how we all come alive together. Until next time, I’m Jonathan Fields signing off for Good Life Project.


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