On Being Yourself for a Living

“Fulfilling work is built on who you are and what you love.” ~ Roadmap: The Get-It-Together Guide for Figuring Out What to Do with Your Life.

This week, I talk to Annie Mais, Education Director of Roadtrip Nation, and co-author of the new book Roadmap: The Get-It-Together Guide for Figuring Out What to Do with Your Life.

After you decide you want to intentionally create a meaningful life for yourself, how do you make that happen?

In this 23-minute episode, Annie Mais and I discuss:

  • How a road trip evolved into a recurring documentary series on public television, bestselling books, an educational curriculum, and live events
  • Roadtrip Nation’s mission and how it relates to Editor-in-Chief
  • Why it’s okay (and necessary) to continually figure out what you want to do with your life
  • The process of “Let Go. Define. Become.”
  • Lessons learned while writing and editing Roadmap

The Show Notes

On Being Yourself for a Living

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Stefanie Flaxman: Hello there, Editor-in-Chiefs. I’m Stefanie Flaxman, and you are listening to Editor-in-Chief, the weekly audio broadcast that delivers the art of writing, updated for the digital age, to help you become a stronger media producer.

On today’s episode, I have a guest. Her name is Annie Mais, and she is the education director of a company called Roadtrip Nation. She is also the co-author of a new book that was just released last month in April 2015. It is called Roadmap: The Get-It-Together Guide for Figuring Out What to Do with Your Life.

I wanted to have Annie on the show to talk about the idea of once you decide that you want to intentionally create a meaningful life for yourself, how do you make that happen? What do you do next? Here is my conversation with Annie Mais.

Hey, Annie, thank you for joining me today.

Annie Mais: You’re welcome, Stefanie. Nice to talk to you.

Stefanie Flaxman: I’m so excited we get to talk, and I am so excited that we get to record it for other people to hear because I really wanted to hear about the new book that Roadtrip Nation just released, just last week. April 7th was the release date?

Annie Mais: Yeah, last Tuesday.

Stefanie Flaxman: Very cool. This will be published a little bit later, but still new, still in the honeymoon phase of the book release into the world. There is so much cool stuff. I know about the book, but I am going to not assume anything and just ask you questions. If we could start with giving a little background about what Roadtrip Nation does, how it got started, and then your involvement in the company and your role?

How a Road Trip Evolved into a Recurring Documentary Series on Public Television, Bestselling Books, an Educational Curriculum, and Live Events

Annie Mais: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a relatively long story, but pretty easy story to hopefully follow. Roadtrip Nation has actually been around for quite a while. We are now in our 11th season on public television, so we are a recurring documentary series. It’s all about sending young people out onto the road in giant green motor homes to go ask questions to people who have figured out what to do with their lives, or who are in the process of figuring it out.

The way in which that all started was our three founders — Mike, Nate, and Brian — when they graduated from college in 2001 — so it’s been around for a while — when they graduated, they had just gone through 20 years of schooling. They were still asking themselves those questions. “I graduated, but I don’t know what I want to do. How do we figure it out? How have other people figured it out?” Their solution at the time was to hit the road in a motor home and go across the country.

They spent about three months prior to that road trip just cold calling people they thought were cool and interesting, and had really interesting jobs. That ranged from anyone from a lobster fisherman off the coast of Maine to … the CEO of Starbucks was actually on that first interview as well. It was just three normal guys who embarked on this journey with a very, very honest intention just to talk to people about how they got to where they are today.

On that first road trip, they met an editor from Forbes magazine, and they did a tiny little blurb on them in Forbes, which then led to a book deal with Random House. They actually came out with their first book in 2003, and that spurred the documentary series, which has been recurring now for the last 11 years. That is a very short version of how the mission and the ethos of Roadtrip Nation came into being.

In those last 14 years, we’ve actually spent the last five years diving into the education space. We saw the impact of these road trips and what impact they were having on these young people. We really started thinking, students are indicating in all these various studies — The Gates Foundation Silent Epidemic report in 2008 basically said the reason students were dropping out of high school is their lack of engagement.

We already had this program and model that was keeping young people really engaged, so how could we replicate that and bring that into the classroom to a younger group of students who haven’t yet made those decisions about where they’re going to go to college, what they’re going to major in, or what career technical institution they might go to after high school. We wanted to try and hit people with this dose of inspiration prior to them having to make those big decisions.

So the last five years, we have developed a curriculum based entirely on the interviews from the series on public television. We’ve reached about 140,000 students nationwide. It’s been really, really fun and really exciting. My role within all of this is, I head up our education efforts. Making sure that our curriculum looks and feels as Roadtrip Nation does to our general audience and that it’s something fun that the students are engaged in, in the classroom.

That is my role here at the organization, but I am also one of the co-authors for Roadmap. The full title is Roadmap: The Get-It-Together Guide For Figuring Out What to do With Your Life. That’s kind of where we are at right now.

Roadtrip Nation’s Mission and How It Relates to Editor-In-Chief

Stefanie Flaxman: You’ve got a lot going on. I loved the evolution of one task, one thing, or one idea and, the, one thing leads to another. You guys are all over the place now. You have one core mission, and then you’re able to implement it in so many different ways to reach so many different types of people.

There was a Tweet that you guys sent out. I think it’s a quote from the book. I just really liked it because it was short. It summed up a lot of the — not your mission — but your idea of what you want people to realize through the work that you’re doing. The quote is, “Fulfilling work is built on who you are and what you love.”

Annie Mais: Yes! I guess we pulled that out if you saw it in a Tweet. That is essentially the thesis of our book. The cool thing about the book and the mission of Roadtrip is that everything we have done and continue to do is all about promoting this idea of putting your interests first and building a life around your interests.

And you’re right. We’ve been able to manifest that in a few different ways. When you were talking about that I was just thinking, “Yeah, it is interesting.” But it just stems from it being a very common experience for people that people don’t often talk about. That they were maybe lost at the time. They didn’t know how to make a big decision. They felt stuck, or they felt confused.

When you think of people who are “successful,” you don’t imagine them in that place. If you’re standing at the beginning of that process, it can feel super overwhelming. Whether it’s the curriculum or a television series or now this book, it’s all about giving people the tools to help them feel a little bit more comfortable with that trepidation or that uncertainty.

Why It’s Okay (and Necessary) to Continually Figure Out What You Want to Do with Your Life

Stefanie Flaxman: Very cool, because it’s bringing to the surface things that people sort of hide or the things that you don’t really hear about that are common experiences that everyone has to go through while people are figuring it out. It’s people of all ages, too. If you’re targeting millennials, it’s not necessarily just that age group. You could want to reinvent yourself, or people’s lives take so many different turns.

So I don’t even think it’s a matter of age. I think it’s more of things that happen in life and times that you evaluate what you need to do next and knowing that there are other people out there just were just in the same exact position as you. You’re not going through something completely unique or out of the ordinary. Then learning from those people who have overcome that.

Annie Mais: Yeah, exactly. In the book, too, kind of along the same lines with that thesis is just this process that we try and outline as simplistically as possible. The book is actually divided up into three different sections. Section one is “Let go.” Then we have “Define” and “Become.” So “Let go. Define. Become,” and we try and set that up.

The book is definitely geared for a millennial audience. But just like you said, we want to teach this process. This is something that is not a flash in the pan: “Here’s a program to figure out your next job or what your first job is going to be.” This process should be something that you should and could refer back to at any inflection point in your life.

Stefanie Flaxman: How did the book actually — I know the first book was 2003 I think you said — how did the need for this book, or why was this book the avenue you wanted to go in? What exactly is the content? What was the writing process like for that? So I guess I’m asking a few things at once.

The Process of ‘Let Go. Define. Become.’

Annie Mais: No, it’s good because the writing process evolved just from us really thinking about, “We’ve been doing this for 14 years.” The first book was more about showcasing some of the interviews that we had been on and the people that we had talked to. It was more about the people that we talked to. We’ve just been able to build this wealth of knowledge through our interview archive of people who are living a life around their interests.

All of us felt like it was time for us to take a stand on that and say, “Yes, we believe it is possible to build a life around your interests. Here are thousands of people who have done it, and here’s what we’ve learned from them.”

Even our curriculum — we call the people we interview “leaders” — is very leader-focused to now this is more of us explaining what we feel the process is to be, to find something that you really love to do with your life. Then to take a stand on how to go about doing that and the lessons we know to be true.

To answer the second part, the writing process. There were five of us who were the core team for the book, but really this book was a massive, massive effort by every single person who has ever touched Roadtrip Nation. We tapped into not only the leaders, but to people who have worked with the organization — past roadies, past roadtrippers — and then our staff to really drill down into what we feel are the most important things.

Stefanie Flaxman: It’s cool because it’s such a collaboration. I don’t like the word “normal,” but it’s a collaboration from ‘normal people’ who have gained all this experience. I guess in opposite to normal, what I was really thinking is someone who is a professional writer, not that you’re not professional, but an author who is getting a book deal to do this or is. This is from people who are trying to figure it out rather than a media darling — you know what I mean?

Annie Mais: Totally.

Stefanie Flaxman: I’m so sorry. I didn’t know how to get around using the word “normal.”

Annie Mais: No, no, no, you know what, though? That’s kind of like our brand. That’s the brand that we want to put out into the world — that this is a very common experience. We want everything that we do from the book, to the series, to the curriculum, to our content, to really feel like it’s levelling the playing field. That it is “normal” people who are all struggling to figure it out.

No one has it all figured out. We firmly believe that, but people don’t often talk about that or somehow forget the process that they went through to get to where they are. We want everything that we do to feel very authentic, and it’s coming from a real place. Anyone who has ever stepped foot into the doors of our offices or have seen our content have felt that real, genuine yearning for help and guidance. That’s something that people relate to.

Stefanie Flaxman: Yeah, the exploration comes from everyday “normal” people figuring out …

Annie Mais: Yeah.

Stefanie Flaxman: You didn’t really have an agenda other than exposing this.

Annie Mais: Exactly.

Stefanie Flaxman: That’s one of the things that I love about what you guys at Roadtrip Nation are doing and also just the concept of being yourself for a living. That’s what you are extracting from all these interviews, all this guidance, and the guide book that you’ve outlined within the text.

Annie Mais: Exactly.

Stefanie Flaxman: That’s what you’re trying to let people … spread this awareness that it’s possible. There’s not one way of doing things. You can make it work for you.

Annie Mais: No, there’s no formula. What works for one person might not work for another person, and that’s okay. That that’s something really important, too. One of the stakes in the ground — that we put in the ground — was that there is something called the ‘invisible assembly line.’ There’s a lot of comfort in doing things like the person before you or like everyone else.

That’s not the reality in terms of people who have really followed their heart and let their interests be their guide. That hasn’t been their reality. They had to step off that assembly line. That’s one of the clear early stakes that we put in the ground at the very beginning of the book. You do need to be brave. You have to take a little bit of risk and follow what you deem to be most important versus what everybody else says, or does, or is encouraging you to do. There’s a difference between helpful and meaningful advice versus just what we call “The Noise.”

Stefanie Flaxman: Right. I just love the title Roadmap. I think it’s summing up everything that I was trying to formulate in my head. “Okay, so once you decide you’re not happy doing the status quo, and you’re not happy just following in the footsteps before you. That’s one big leap you have to make and that take a lot of courage.” Then it’s like, “What do you do now?” How do you actually figure it out? You know you don’t want to do one thing, but what’s the next step? What do you do? That’s where Roadmap comes in.

Annie Mais: Yeah, I’m glad you like the title because it was a very painstaking process to figure out what the title should be. There is that argument of, “Well does a roadmap mean that people think that they are going to get this and automatically have it figured out — is that what it means?” So I’m glad that it speaks to you at least a little bit because it was, in terms of the writing process, probably the hardest part.

Stefanie Flaxman: Oh, yeah. Headlines, titles, absolutely. It’s your baby, so you want to make sure it accurately represents what you’re putting out into the world. For me, it stood out as you make a decision to do something that you know is going to be fulfilling and make you happy, but you need some guidance somehow to actually make that work. You need to constantly keep your spirits up and be inspired, but in a practical way.

Annie Mais: Yeah, exactly.

Stefanie Flaxman: Yeah, where you can actually implement things that push you forward, and you’re going towards that fulfilling work — even if you might have to take detours for practical reasons or whatever.

If there were so many collaborators writers actually working with the content, what sort of writing or editing lessons did you learn as the content evolved and how it shaped up to be the actual final product?

Lessons Learned While Writing and Editing Roadmap

Annie Mais: It’s interesting. This process was a very unique process. In some ways, kind of a silly process that ended up getting us to where we wanted to be. This book was entirely written in a Google Doc. It was five people collaborating and taking different spins and stances on different sentences. Literally, each word in this book, five people had an opinion on it.

I don’t recommend that necessarily, but what I did learn from that is how important it is for something like this to have as many perspectives as possible offering contributions. There were many times when we looked beyond just the scope of the five writers and talked to the staff and talked to past people who had had interactions with Roadtrip to really get their feedback and opinions. We wanted this to be representative of as many different perspectives and inflection points as we could think relevant. So that was part of it.

In terms of the editing, it was so important for us to keep it simple in our message. The message was and is, “Let go. Define. Become.” If we couldn’t map back to those three simple words in terms of what the chapters were and what was in each chapter, then we would put it on the floor. That really was helpful in us staying true not only to our mission, but it was such a clear and concise mission statement and a practicum for what we wanted people to experience as they were going through the book.

Stefanie Flaxman: Oh, I like that a lot. In terms of editing, too, as you’re going through it and refining it, you have to think, “Does this serve our ultimate goal?” Then if not, you cut it.

Annie Mais: Totally. There were some things that it was such a struggle to cut them because we felt so attached to them. Ultimately, if the reader was not going to have a clear outcome of getting through this book and understanding the process, then we had to cut it. It was definitely the best conversations and the hardest conversations amongst us came at that point — in that phase, not the fine editing phase, but the phase where we had to make major decisions.

Stefanie Flaxman: Where you have to really take a step back from you and put the reader first. You really like the content for whatever reason, and it could be valuable. One of the things that is hard is sometimes you have to cut content that is really valuable, but it doesn’t serve what the immediate readers needs are.

Annie Mais: Exactly. If someone could not define the process of “Let go. Define, and Become” after getting through this book, then we would have failed. I think that we stayed pretty true to those three components in each chapter that we wrote.

Stefanie Flaxman: Awesome. So the book is available now. Can you let everyone know where you can find the book, where you can buy the book, and also where you can find out more about Roadtrip Nation?

Annie Mais: Yes. You can actually find out more about Roadtrip Nation at RoadTripNation.com/About. That’s the easiest way to find out about Roadtrip Nation. To find more information about the book itself, the URL for the book is TheOnlyBookYouNeed.com — which we all thought was great.

Stefanie Flaxman: Was that from the publisher, or did you create that name for the website?

Annie Mais: That was our doing, yes. Then as far as where you can purchase the book, you can purchase the book at any independent book store, any Barnes and Noble, so major bookstores or book retailers. Amazon is another great place. Urban Outfitters. There’s a variety of places that somebody can go to find Roadmap.

Stefanie Flaxman: Who is the publisher?

Annie Mais: Chronicle Books in San Francisco.

Stefanie Flaxman: Did you work with editors on their team, too? Did you have a back and forth, or was it a lot internal that you did?

Annie Mais: We did. We worked with editors and designers on their team. We were responsible for the majority of all of it, but their editors and our designers were so instrumental in just keeping us adhered to the mission that we set out to do. I don’t think we could thank either of those teams on their end enough.

The design, when you hold the book in your hands, we’re so proud of it. We didn’t want it to feel like a textbook. One of the things we wanted was that you could be in a coffee shop and hold it and not be embarrassed that you were reading a self-help book. We wanted it to pass that test.

When you look at it, there’s this bright orange roadmap. It says “Roadmap” in really cool neon orange, so it definitely sticks out. That’s what we want. We want someone to feel like this is a different approach to figuring out what you want to do with your life. Chronicle was super instrumental in getting us to that place with the final product.

Stefanie Flaxman: I’m so excited for you guys.

Annie Mais: Thank you.

Stefanie Flaxman: This is such good work, and it helps so many people. I’m so glad that it’s out there for people to consume.

Annie Mais: Yeah, we are very, very excited. It has been two and a half years in the works. We are very happy it is now in this stage of the process.

Stefanie Flaxman: Well, thank you for sharing with me today, Annie. I really appreciate it.

Annie Mais: Thank you so much, Stefanie.

Stefanie Flaxman: If fulfilling work is built on who you are and what you love and you want to create that world online, you could possibly build it on the Rainmaker Platform.

Editor-in-Chief is brought to you by the Rainmaker Platform, the complete website solution for content marketers and online entrepreneurs. Find out more and take a free 14-day test drive at Rainmaker.FM/Platform.

That is all for today. I hope you will join me next week. In the meantime, if you’d like to hop on over to iTunes and leave a rating or review, I would appreciate it. Thank you very much for that.

I’m Stefanie Flaxman, thank you for listening to Editor-in-Chief. Now, go become one.