In my latest podcast episode I talked to one of my besties, Jennifer Puno, or as she’s known to most, “Puno.” She, along with her husband Daniel, has created the curated photographic map of cool and beautiful places across the globe, “Made with Map.” Aside from MAP, Puno has a million other awesome projects – “just cuz,” including a Star Trek homage – with photos and gifs, shot on location in Iceland, with photographer friend, Ken Lin.
The topic of this interview is “Path-Forging.” Basically, authoring your own life – fearlessly, but intelligently – including pragmatic steps to take if you’re in need of a total career-change.
In my opinion, Puno took on this process in the best way possible: with data and spreadsheets to ensure she had the right back-up plan and savings mapped out while she figured out her next step. For those of us who find all numbers to be super hard, the budget and growth spreadsheets are available for free, plus our awesome dance party dressed as Hammerhead Sharks. I hope you enjoy!
Here’s the paraphrased transcript of our chat:
Sarah May Bates: Hi Puno. The main reason I wanted to talk to you is because you have reinvented yourself, and life and do so everyday – you are very uninhibited, motivated, super intelligent, beautiful, funny, and supportive and inviting to others – I’m kind of obsessed with you. Seriously though – you’re one of those people who every time I am around you I feel I evolve to a higher level of myself. So as I was thinking about what is so inspiring about you – it’s two things, one that you’re totally uninhibited – and when people are authentic, it’s like a magical elixir that allows others to be themselves, too. And you’re very celebratory of what others are passionate about – like you evoke more awesomeness / individuality. And secondly, that you are extremely capable. Very smart, adept and talented visually and also when it comes to learning. So I think that your brain is one of your greatest assets.
So the two top traits I would say are openness and intellect. And what happens when you combine those two things is limitless. I was thinking what the greatest lesson you could give to people would be how to know when to quit your job.
A lot of the Teaspoon fans are people just like us and they’re working professionals, but maybe they have another passion that comes much more from who they are – their creative spirit. And to start up your own company, quit the traditional paycheck and go for it – takes a lot of balls. So I wanted to interview you about that exact decision. How do you know when to quit your job? How did you decide to commit to being your own boss?
Jennifer Puno: That part was easy because I was tired of being told what to do. We worked together, and that was good compared to my last job – and I was just so tired of getting orders from someone I don’t respect.
I was super okay with learning from someone else – I wasn’t allowed to make mistakes. I was always expected to be an expert or have experience. I felt like I could not experiment at all. When I didn’t have that control, I couldn’t let me team do that. And then all of us stopped momentum. And I really try to create a culture like that – where you can go for it. Trying to be my own boss – that was really a no-brainer.
SMB: Were you afraid? How did you overcome the fear if any?
JP: That part was very black and white. There are other things that keep you sustaining. The jumping in part, I’m like that anyways. I don’t have a lot of fears. The part that’s hard is maintaining being the boss. There are times that I’m tired of making all the decisions – that’s the real struggle I have.
SMB: Consistency? Stamina?
JP: Yeah. The stamina – the emotional weight of decisions you have to make. You have the weight so if something goes wrong it’s all up to you. Jumping in is way easier than doing that for the rest of your life. But if you make it fun, it’s not like that.
SMB: What did your husband say? Did you both agree from the start?
JP: When we got married he quit his job – so he was already off of work for 2 years, learning how to program. We already knew we wanted to do this but what started it was working together on Octofeed. He was playing around with the Facebook API. I designed it – and a little bit of marketing, it got a little bit of traction with a little bit of effort. That’s when we realized we could work together. The actual meat and bones of MAP and how we want it to grow, that’s an everyday kind of thing. We still have to figure that out.
SMB: You have clear vision, though a lot of people are worried about taking risks – it’s a gift to have that trait. When you take steps you are thoughtful. What was your worst-case-scenario? What was the back up plan?
JP: We decided Daniel was going to be CTO (my aunt told me this) and then I would be CEO and CFO. So I had to take care of the money. I was better at hustling and doing freelance and he’s really good at programming so we split that. So the worst case for me was that I wouldn’t be able to bring in the money. But it really wasn’t that bad because I had a backup plan – that I could always go back to work. And anyone can go back to work. If freelance wasn’t continuous enough, that would be a problem.
SMB: If it was, you would figure out a solution?
JP: In March we’ll be coming up to the end of savings, so that’s going to be an interesting time. We’re trying to do it right now – hopefully build that now and give it some time to iterate and hopefully by March we’ll see.
SMB: Would choose to do anything differently if you could go back in time?
JP: Big thing I would do – I wish I took a break. I did after I realized it. I worked at Activision for 3 years – I was a total emotional wreck. I was a drunk girl crying on the curb. I didn’t realize what I was doing to myself. I would go to work and I’d be shaky.
SMB: It’s like killing yourself.
JP: It is like killing yourself. So right when I quit I lined up 2 months of freelance. I wish I didn’t do that because I needed to just cleanse. And Daniel was like “Yeah who knows what it’s done to you.” So we took a 3 week vacation to Thailand. Which is not the same as coming back and dealing with your crap. So that was the big thing – building a freelance life that I didn’t resent. I had to be really clear about only working the right amount for clients because I had a habit of overworking myself.
SMB: I feel like it comes down to an awareness of your own value – you have to respect your own value and talents so you can require standards for yourself. A lot of people do that, because they’re worried about not being the best.
JP: They’re also worried about the next dollar. I think freelancers have to realize that their time is more valuable than your money. So I started using Harvest for that – so I now know how much time things take. I do realize now when I pull and all-nighter, I didn’t manage my time well. It’s really you setting up the boundaries.
SMB: You can leave yourself out of it – like it’s not personal. What’s the most profound affect of starting MAP – in your life and your person?
JP: I always wanted to build my own online party. You have to introduce people to others – there’s a lot of human dynamics going on. And I feel like I got to do that with MAP. And we have an amazing community – they’re all over the world. I treat customer service like I’m talking to anybody. I look at their Instagram and their website – and I bring context to my customer service, so because of that I get to meet all these really cool people. Now I know if I ever go travelling I have all these really cool friends everywhere. Except Antarctica.
SMB: WTF Antarctica!? What structure did you build for yourself before “jumping”? What do you think the most basic and necessary steps are before quitting a job to “figure it all out”?
JP: Definitely figure out your financial situation. Not necessarily how much you have – but how much you need. That’s the first step. And not budgeting yourself too much, because you need to make this sustainable. So spend what you would spend, and backtrack from there. Use spreadsheets and you figure out how much you need to make. My friend wrote a book called “You are a circle” – but I call it ‘Juggle the three p’s’ – basically, you should always have three projects. One that will bring you money, you can definitely count on. The meat and potatoes. Second, one that you can experiment with that might bring in money, but let’s you play a little bit and dabble in new areas in life. Third, one that makes zero dollars but you get to have lots of fun. It’s just for you – it’s so fulfilling. It feeds your soul and makes you thrive. If you juggle these three things at the same time, you’ll eventually be able to have job 3 as your job 1.
SMB: Because of the nature of investing time – that it will grow.
JP: Totally. Success is just investing time in something. When it comes to changing jobs, it does start with budgeting money. There are only so many hours in a week that you can dedicate to these jobs – so you need to know how much time you can give to Job 1 – while keeping the other two. That amount of time will dictate how much you need to get paid at that job. That’s how I realized I had to raise my rates. I saw I needed more time for the other two. (Disclaimer: You also have to prove your skills first – you can’t just say “I’m a million dollars an hour.”) I have been freelancing the last year – and it’s great. Sometimes that second job doesn’t turn into anything. I started doing photography – and I realized it took a lot of time, so I had to put it on the side.
SMB: I think that’s one of the most valuable practices –creating a hierarchy for your goals. Once you have that list in order of importance, you have to abide by it religiously. Sometimes you have to say “no” to things you really want to do because it will take away from what’s at the top of your list.
JP: After I quit and got a break, that’s when I really got to play. That’s when you probably saw me change. I was doing photography, I was styling with photographers I really admire, I was driving across country. I was a counselor for this camp. When you’ve been in corporate 9-5 and a rigid schedule, you also need to make new friends, and that takes time, but you’ve also got to give yourself time to play for at least a couple months.
SMB: It seems like you had to pull from vast areas that were different and great but beyond where you were to bring them back into your life.
JP: I know, and I can’t replicate that step, like I have to try something new to create growth in my self the next time around—which, is the fun part.
SMB: And you have to also trust that it’s going to happen that way—through external inspiration. I think a lot people can’t figure out their job path because they can’t figure out that next step, but it’s because it’s not in your learning yet. So you have to expand and it will come to you – from outside of where you are, right now.What is the most meaningful lesson you’ve learned about creating your start-up business – in the last 6 months?
JP: Just keep doing it. It’s the craziest thing, the hardest thing – but it’s the most important thing. You just have to do it. Do it everyday. I just started a side project with a friend of mine called “I Love Creatives” and I only dedicate “x” amount of hours to it each week, and that’s why there’s not a lot of momentum. I worked on it a lot one week and there was a lot of momentum. It’s so correlated – you work on it, things will happen. If anything it will get you quicker to the next thing.
SMB: I heard Seth Godin on an interview recently, (he’s written like hundreds of books) and one of his most important pieces of advice: once you push yourself outside “enough,” then you get successful. Push yourself to an inconvenient level of effort and be consistent, and then the real results start to show up.
JP: Yeah. Like an athlete – you will see people working out and think, “You’re not really pushing yourself.”
SMB: What lesson hurt the most to learn?
JP: Not much with the new life, that all has been great. Really just that I wish I did it sooner. I think at the time I was waiting for something else to change – and usually – if something is going to change in your job, it’s very apparent. Not like you’re just going to keep waiting and “One more year – something going to be different.” But it won’t be, not really. Now, with my projects, I can feel the change. Because you watch it happening. So if things aren’t happening – you have to figure out what motivates you. You have to ask yourself – why are you here?
SMB: I think when you’re in that place, it’s like a habit – self-imposed stuckness. You don’t realize that you have to decide to just jump – and not really “know” yet, which is terrifying for most people.
JP: I think the main reason is money – and not knowing what to do next. And money, that’s a simple problem. If you look at it non-emotionally, it’s super simple: this is how much I spend, this is how much I need to make or save. So you have to figure out a budget. That’s where all the anxiety comes from – thinking you’re not going to have money. And the second one – just let yourself grow, just accept it – that you don’t know. Take advantage of this time – it’s okay to mess up, because no one is watching you. You get to play.
SMB: Yeah. It’s like an incubation period to see what “sprouts” on you. Since I’ve know you, you have always been very confident and self-assured –What or whom would you credit for having created such a solid foundation in you?
JP: I guess my parents. I got a lot of praise from my mom, and my dad treated me like an adult and didn’t tell me what to do.
SMB: That’s so true – when someone puts their trust in you, you rise up to that bar.
JP: That’s why I get really disappointed in myself when I don’t accomplish what I want. He wouldn’t reward me that well – it was more “Yeah. That’ good! Uh.. You want to go on a shopping spree or something?” This sounds terrible, but my dad occasionally would forget to feed me – not because he’s a terrible dad but because he’s forgetful. So he would say, “Sorry – but I left a $20 there, so you can get food..” and I would say, “But I don’t know what to do with a $20.” And he’d say, “Oh – just get pizza!” So I figured it out.
SMB: So you became very empowered as like a 3 year old.What gave you the most inspiration – as a kid? What sparked something in you – passion-wise?
JP: I got into big trouble when I was 11 – so my parents sent me to my grandparents, then I was like unbelievable bored. And everyone at the new school was totally drugged out – waaay worse kids. You’d think it would be bad but it actually turned me off to drugs – there was a 17 year old in my Junior High, and I was like, “That’s sad.” So they moved me back after a year – then to a different school, so I had to go through the lunch room by myself back to back. So I learned how to master that quick. I knew how to make friends fast – so I just said hi to everybody, so I’d have someone to eat lunch with.
SMB: That’s like when you glean new skills when you’re forced into uncomfortable circumstances. Like comedians—their greatest skill-set is from being bullied—only you went to a boot camp of social skills. Did you always know you’d be successful?
JP: When I was in high school I had to get my parents to trust me again so I did everything right. I got straight A’s, I was on the debate team, I was prom queen, homecoming queen, class president, I was in the top 30 of my class, but it was all basically to get my parents to trust me again.
SMB:Whatever motivates you!
I think after a while it was just fun. And we had a great vibe in our class. But the drive was really my family – like my grandfather, still to this day – every time I see him he’s like, “Don’t go to hell – okay? No more sins.”
SMB: Who inspires you most in the world, why?
JP: Is this cheesy to say? Daniel.
SMB: Awwww, it’s her husband.
JP: I really like people who I can understand how they got there. I can see how much care and detail he puts into his work everyday. So when you’re surrounded by that, it’s just like – you want more. It’s just the attention to detail.
SMB: Yeah, it’s like intoxicating when you’re around people who are just “excellent.” It brings out my best. You become accountable when no one’s looking to a different degree – it makes you want to show up way better than what you’re used to.What took the most blind “jumping” vs. pragmatic / systematic learning / following a set track?
JP: Mostly design, the decisions I make now are off-the-cuff because I have other stuff to do.
SMB: I think that’s a good habit to have because you have to just get it out.
JP: I used to spend hours on one design, but now I spend like 30 minutes. I mean design meaning visual design. Not UX – that takes time. But with art direction, I have to just put it out there.
SMB: I think that’s a new lesson for me – especially for anyone working in production where there are 100 different people responsible for perfecting one tiny piece of it– you get in the habit of working on perfecting every little tiny thing, but you forget that it doesn’t matter: no one will notice it. So you have to untrain that habit in yourself because it literally doesn’t matter – you’re wasting time. You have to train yourself to stop noodling.
JP: Now I just tell clients, “I don’t think anyone will care about this – but if you want me to change it, it will cost $300.00” and they’re like, “Okay, we don’t want the swipe animations with the stars…” Now that you’re creating your podcast, I’m sure you feel that way as well – because you have to be so hands-on.
SMB: Yeah, I think there’s a certain point where you’re out of time – literally – and you just have to put it out there and let go.
JP: And it looks great – and it’s okay to grow with people watching. People love it. I get so many letters from people who have been watching MAP grow and they feel great to be a part of it.
SMB: I just started getting letters like that from readers who say they’ve been a fan of mine for “years and years” – which is such an amazing concept. Because suddenly I look up and see that I have this legacy – I’ve been writing for Hello Giggles since Zooey started it.What’s your favorite thing about the life you’ve built for yourself?
JP: The freedom to do whatever I want to do. It’s so awesome. Just being able to say “I want to work on this project – or I want to work on this feature – literally anything. Anything! But that’s the hard part – you can’t do everything, you’ve got to pick one project and do that for a while before you can move onto the next one.”
SMB: What experience-learned-knowledge do you wish you could give to everyone in the world? Like if you could install it into their gut?
JP: That sense of fearlessness. It will take a little bit more time and effort – if you’re not naturally like that. So that fearlessness – and just that clarity, knowing it’s not gonna be that bad. It’s just a job-change. You can always go back to your previous job. Because you got that once, you can get it again. It’s not that bad.”
SMB: Totally. And you’ll have more insights the next time around. You’ll approach it in a better way. And if you do return, you have greater insights to bring back with you. When you get stuck in a job, your world becomes shaped by that job – and you get an insular cult-like blindness and you forget your value outside of that place.
JP: I have a lot of friends who returned happier. And that’s really important to have freelancer values: you have to understand and write down the things that are important to you – like work environment values. Like, “I don’t want to work with crazy people.”
SMB: Do you ever get emotionally “stuck” and if-so, what’s your go-to tool to get back to your super-center?
JP: Every week I usually meet someone new. A lot of the people who are on MAP are in Los Angeles, so I will contact people for a meet-up. I can talk to them about what I want to do with MAP, and learn about things they’re doing – and getting that feedback is always like an instant boost.
SMB: It’s kind of like a version of a therapist – it’s just the actual practice of talking something out with someone else, that furthers your progress so quickly. It allows you to talk something out and get it out of yourself. What’s the most valuable advice you got – that changed your trajectory?
JP: It’s from that book “The Five Love Languages” book I think – but it’s basically, “It’s not as good as you want it to be, but it’s not as bad as you’re making it.” It’s really important for me because I have really high expectations for myself and for others, so I get really frustrated when people are not at my level or things don’t go the way I want them to. So it’s really helpful for me because I have to remind myself that I’m just an extreme person.
SMB: I think that’s a symptom of a capable person – when you are very good at doing a lot of things, when things don’t go the way you planned it’s like, “NOOOOOOOO WHHHHHHYYYYYYY!!!” It feels like such an injustice. I think one of the greatest gifts I give myself is letting go of all expectations. Always. Just letting go and saying, “Well, it’s going to be fine – no matter what.”
JP: It’s so freeing to think that way. Yeah and it’s not that you’re not caring it’s just knowing your expectations are let go.
SMB: And knowing that it’s not real – whatever scenario you’re playing out in the future, is made-up. You don’t know what will happen yet. If you could take on someone else’s quality – what would it be?
JP: Probably Daniel’s patience. His attention to detail, and ability to just sit down and thoroughly just go through everything.
SMB: I feel like you have that but not as extreme as Daniel. I was thinking of Nancy Silverton, one of my heroes – she’s like that – has the commitment to perfection to do everything right. Because I am not like that, I like to cheat and cut corners and do it quick.
JP: Daniel said I’m “efficiently lazy” – because I am not good with consistency, but I’m good at hiring people and training other people. And now I freelance more so I can hire more people to work on MAP. I listened to a podcast about that – and some people are just not “implementers.”
SMB: Right now, what’s your favorite business-podcast? What’s your favorite fun one?
JP: I really like “Smart Passive Income” with Pat Flynn – I like the guests he brings on the show, even though I wouldn’t necessarily do the things that the guests are doing, I like learning about them. Like the people reselling on Amazon, or an internet cooking show. For the fun one, I love “This American Life” and the new show that the creators of “This American Life” started – called “Serial.”
SMB: If you were speaking to someone hates their job but to consider leaving is just too scary – what would be your war-cry to them? Maybe they’re on the fence – and you’re trying to give them a “push” in the “what if” or “go for it” direction?
JP: You want to act like that person?
SMB: [We begin to role-play as said-person] I’m afraid to quit my job, because I’m going to have kids soon, and it pays me.
JP: What do you want to do next?
SMB: Write music
JP: That’s awesome! I’ll give you my spreadsheet – how much money do you need to make?
SMB: Wait! Can I really post that?
JP: Yeah! I give it to everyone.
SMB: Awesome! I will post the spreadsheet that figures out how much you need to make.
JP: Basically a lot of people who are on a salary don’t know their hourly “rate” – so let’s say you make 65k a year. Then you calculate how many hours a week you work – and it will probably come out to $25.00 an hour. Then you realize you can find a job that pays $25.00 an hour. So then, on another spreadsheet, you figure out how much money you need a month – so let’s say it’s $3000, and from that you calculate how many hours you need to work.Then, you would need to figure out – what can you do with music-writing that could get you this much money.
SMB: And that’s a super-concise problem. That’s something easy to Google that I can look up and read books on.
JP: Yeah! You can just Google, “How do I make money writing music” – I love Google. Thanks Google!
SMB: When you allow yourself the FREEDOM that comes with allowing yourself permission to fail – to try something new – uncharted, a million new doors appear in front of you. It’s something you can’t see when you’re hiding behind a self-made wall. So as a starting point, decide to break the habit of saying “But” and change it to “Maybe” or even, “Why not?” Because right now, if you’re stopping yourself from even starting – you’re creating intentional “stuckness.” And that’s not helpful to anyone who wants to live a rich and bountiful life.
The last thought I will leave you with – because I think it’s the most relevant to anyone in this place in life, right now. If you’re “meh” about work, but you’re sentencing yourself to it, because “meh – all work is work, even if it’s gonna be my own thing. . .” What you fail to realize is that that super power elixir of PASSION is something you forget exists – when you work a job you don’t like. That is fuel that is similar to the first day of summer vacation: it’s super-power-juice for your soul!
Everything is fun – you have limitless energy and your time COUNTS. It’s not lost or squandered or “to be moved through as quickly as possible” – it’s of true value in your life, so much so that you don’t want to go to sleep at night! That feeling is one of the greatest parts of life – and it’s everyone’s birthright – along with sex, and love, laughter and delicious food. So if there’s something that betrays all items on your list of reasons not to jump ship, it’d be that: because though you’re working, and maybe for less money, it makes every moment you work – worth it – for more than what it pays you in dollars.
I hope you enjoyed this – and don’t forget to smile peeps! xox Sarah May B.