Three-Minute Interview: Jon Acuff

By Natalie Dupuis, March 6, 2015

Jon Acuff_by Jeremy Cowart copyJon Acuff seemingly does it all: comedian, entrepreneur, blogger, consultant, influencer, 2012 Rejuvenate Marketplace speaker, best-selling author. He has a lot on his plate. But opportunities like opening for Jeff Foxworthy or speaking at the Museum of Modern Art in New York don’t appear out of nowhere. Acuff worked in corporate America for 15 years, found his dream job working with Dave Ramsey, and then walked away a few years later. Somewhere along that path, he decided he wanted to take back the workweek. He wants to encourage people away from the cultural belief that work has to be miserable: “We eat at TGI Fridays, not TGI Mondays, because we’ve culturally accepted that the workweek is a bad thing. You should never trade 50 weeks of misery for two weeks of vacation. That’s bad math.”

In your latest book, “Do Over” (on shelves April 7), you explain the Career Savings Account. Why does it matter?
The basic idea is that every great career has four things in common, and it’s a formula: relationships + skills + character x hustle = a Career Savings Account. The challenge is that we spend 18 years getting ready for college, and then we graduate and the next thing we get ready for is death and retirement. There’s this 40-year gap where we don’t invest in our careers. So the book is about how to take these four very simple things in your life, how to invest in them, and how to blow up your Career Savings Account until it’s worth billions and you can spend it on the type of career and dream you want.

Do young people cling to this idea of finding their dream job more than others?
It’s fascinating to me to see how new generations approach their work. I have a friend who is doing a report on Generation Edge [13- to 17-year-olds], and the studies he’s been seeing show four out of five of Generation Edge believe they’ll do their hobby as their full-time job when they grow up. But I always tell people there’s no such thing as a perfect job. In every job, you do something you don’t want to do. That’s part of having a job. Don’t feel like you have to find the perfect job because it’s a false expectation. It’s going to make you feel like a failure the minute you have to do something you don’t want to do.

Do Over - final copyYour previous books [“Start”, “Quitter”] as well as “Do Over” talk a lot about the concept of hustle. Where has hustle gone wrong today?
The challenge for culture is that hustle has been so abused on the Internet. It sounds like an Axe body spray scent right now. Online, people will ask for things they shouldn’t ask for, or step on relationships in the name of hustle, by saying things like, “Sorry, just hustling!” So in some ways, my hope is to redeem that word because there’s a thin line between hustle and hassle.

At the same time, some people take the word hustle and think it means workaholism, and it doesn’t. The goal of doing a job that matters is not to destroy your family in pursuit of that job. Rest is part of hustle. In a world that praises busyness, rest is an act of bravery.

How can people use social media as a benefit to their career?
When people ask if you can start a relationship on Twitter, I honestly believe that you can. The shortcut we want is this: “I tweeted Richard Branson and now I’m on a space shuttle to Mars.” But it’s not that you blanket that person with tweets, or say, “Please retweet this,” or, “I want to go on vacation. Fund my Kickstarter.” There are ways to be smart about it.

That being said, I keep learning how important face-to-face is, and how important events are for this career growth. I think sometimes in the sexiness of online, we think events don’t have the same impact. But I think it’s the opposite. The more time I spend online, the more I realize how much face-to-face matters.

Do you ever foresee a day that live events won’t exist?
I hope not. That would be miserable! We need community. There’s a magic that happens face-to-face, when you’re within the same geography as someone else. There’s investment. Just to get there, you both invested something. There’s body language. There’s honesty. You play off of each other. Things happen that you couldn’t have known were going to happen.

I love social media and I’ve seen tremendous community happen on it, but I think there will always be a place for face-to-face community. I also don’t think you have to choose one or the other.

What are the qualities of great event planners you’ve worked with?
I think the best planners are flexible and have a sense of humor. Planning an event is hard. I didn’t understand just how hard until I tried. Now I have great empathy for what event planners do. You can plan for a year, and then a palm tree falls over and ruins a cake. Or a speaker gets stuck somewhere in a snowstorm, so you have to think on your feet and manage your plan.

Any tips for planners based on your speaking experience?
You can tell when an event planner has an understanding of the texture of an event. They know the house lights need to be down during certain sections and why. Because I like to communicate with humor and stories, it’s always weird when I’ll follow the really sad, terrible moment, and then I have to figure out a way to transition into laughter.

Also, it’s a huge gift to me when the planner gives me a testimonial. Once the event has happened, it’s hard to go back and remember to do that because there are a thousand other things, and I don’t want to chase anyone down for it and make them feel like they’ve forgotten something.

Photo credit: Kacey Lanier; Jeremy Cowart

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