Why Everyone Needs a Do Over: Q&A with Jon Acuff

04/09/2015 04:15 pm ET | Updated Jun 07, 2015


This past year, I experienced my first Do Over moment.

I was suddenly laid off from a startup and left scrambling to rebuild my career. It worked out for the better when I found an exciting new job, but for a few months there, the future got scary.

We've all been there - whether it's a layoff, a promotion, a job change, or a switch to self-employment. When you go through a big career transition, the future gets exciting, scary, or both.

New York Times bestselling author Jon Acuff has been there quite a few times, so you can see why he might pen a new book called Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work, and Never Get Stuck (Penguin). The book was born out of Acuff's own Do Over moment, after he left his dream job in 2013 to become a full-time author and speaker.

In the middle of that chaos, Acuff considered what it took to survive a Do Over, and concluded that it's all about how you invest in your career. Do Over breaks that investment down into four key factors: Skills, Relationships, Character, and Hustle. Jon Acuff believes in these elements; he says Do Over is his best book yet. Sounds like Seth Godin might agree, too, judging from his front-cover endorsement ("best career book ever written").

As a member of Jon Acuff's private Facebook groups, I've watched how his books have helped many pursue their career dreams (more on that in this Huffington Post article). He might just be on to something here. Read this conversation I had with Jon about Do Over and see what you think.

Who did you write this book for?

I wrote Do Over for anyone who has a "what if" idea. I believe two things: I believe you're capable of more than you think, and I believe it's going to take more work than you think. A lot of times authors, speakers, and people on the Internet talk about the first part. Anything is possible! But they don't talk about the second part, which is all the hard work that makes the first part possible. Then there are books that have the hard work stuff, but there's no inspiration or fuel to get you through. I wrote the book to say, "Hey, you're capable of more than you think, and here's how to make that possible."

You said you feel Do Over is your best book yet. Why is that, and what makes it so important?

It's important because we're in the middle of this huge transition culturally. The Boomer generation can't retire like they used to, so they're not leaving jobs, which means they're not leaving spaces for Gen X to jump into. Millennials graduate from college, and there's this logjam of career challenges. 70% of people feel dissatisfied or disengaged with their jobs. That's why it's important right now.

It's my best work because of the process, like the editor I'm working with at Penguin. She's a fan of great writing, not a fan of me. She'd cross out a 1,000-word story and say, "I'm not a fan of a joke for a joke's sake. It either serves the reader or it moves the narrative along, and this one does neither."

The third thing is that my wife really challenged me with this book. I didn't let her read my last book, START, until it was published. She's someone who knows my voice and would call me on things that were silly or dumb, so that was a huge miss for me. This time we had those conversations, and that's why it's the hardest book I've ever written. I rewrote it a number of times to get it leaner, to work on it, to be deliberate about balancing the hope and the plan.

You often share stories about how your wife, Jenny, challenges you to be a better writer. Why is it so important to have another person to challenge you?

One of the ideas I talk about in this book is the importance of having an advocate. It could be someone who's ten years ahead of you and has some expertise, like industry expertise or life expertise. There's also what I call "you" expertise, or people who know you well enough to tell you the truth about what you're doing and why you're doing it. That's what I believe a spouse or best friend can do.

Leadership that can't be questioned ends up doing questionable things. We've all had bosses like that, who we can only say yes to. They had a terrible idea and everyone had to compliment it and say, "Yeah, totally! Burlap bags full of ferrets? Who wouldn't like a ferret? That's a great promotion!" Then in the breakroom you hear, "She's crazy! Why can't anyone tell Sheila that's a terrible idea?" I believe a spouse can do that. They're able to say, 'Hey, this thing you're afraid of, here's why you're afraid of it. Or this thing you're excited about, here's why I'm excited about it too.' Whether it's a partner, spouse, or best friend, there's a tremendous power in being united and pushing in the same direction. That's why Jenny's been instrumental in all of this.

What advice would you give to my generation, Millennials, who have graduated into this economy, but are struggling to find a job they're passionate about and can get paid for?

I think you give it time. The problem is that people in my generation say to the Millennials, "What's the plan? Get your life figured out!" The reality is, nobody had it figured out at 24. You won't get your dream job right out of college. That's just not going to happen. I hope you don't! I don't want you to peak at 22. Your first job's job is to teach you how to have a job.

Remember it's about the next job. You don't have to find the perfect job. You find the next job, and then you build on that one and find the one after that. It's about making incremental changes, versus going, "I'm 26, I have a degree, I need to work on my passion 100% of the time or it's a failure, and I have to get the perfect job." No, you don't. Give yourself some permission to figure it out over time.

For more information about Do Over, watch the video below or visit