Jennifer Fleming is a best-selling writer. Her book, Spotless, was the highest selling non-fiction title in 2006 and sold worldwide. Her most recent book is The Feel Good Body. With a background in journalism at ABC Radio, she now lives in New York and works as content writer for www.dinkuminteractive.com. Visit her website www.jenfleming.com
Describe yourself in 3 words: Diligent, loyal, fun.
What is your life motto? Run your own race.
When did you start pursuing your career and how long did it take to become successful? I was fortunate to score a job as a researcher at ABC Radio while studying economics at University. Media was way more exciting than economics and rescued me from a potentially dull career path. I’m not sure how long it took to become successful – you have to learn quickly in live-to-air radio. I also kept challenging myself by moving behind the microphone to work as a presenter and I also turned a successful radio segment into a series of best-selling books. You (or your mum) might have a copy of Spotless on your bookshelf – it was the highest selling non-fiction title in Australia in 2006. Now I’m living in New York and working as a writer. It’s not a bad life, really.
How many hours did you dedicate to pursuing your dream? I’ve always put in the hours. At the beginning, I wasn’t necessarily efficient with my time but I’ve learned the best way to work is with focus. So, when I’m at the desk, I try just to focus on getting the work done. And when I’m out having fun, I try to just have fun. There are just so many distractions these days but when you focus, you get stuff done.
Describe how difficult the business really is? As a radio producer, you need to be an ideas factory and make good decisions on your feet. You have to trust your instincts. As a writer, you spend endless hours in front of computer screen and need a lot of discipline. Part of my job these days is charming and convincing clients to change the way they work. People get stuck doing things the way they always have but the Internet means you have to be constantly changing and adapting. Sometimes I wish I could say ‘Because I said so.’ It’s important to be able to read people and get them to meet you half way.
What is the mistake that taught you an extremely valuable lesson? I’ve made plenty of mistakes. I think calculated risks are important – you need to challenge and stretch yourself or risk becoming complacent and stale. Don’t waste time beating yourself up over a mistake. Just don’t make the same mistake twice.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given to date? I was stressing out at work one day and a colleague came over and stuck a Post-It Note on my arm that read ‘Be You’. And it’s true. It’s important to know yourself and be yourself. I used to be a ‘people pleaser’ and tell people what I thought they wanted to hear. It’s best to articulate your ideas and stand your ground even if people disagree with you. People respect you – and you respect yourself.
In your mind, is formal training essential? No. Formal training isn’t essential but I’m glad I had the opportunity to go to University because I was exposed to ideas and critical thinking. I must say, the people I admire most are independent thinkers who formulate their own view of the world. Formal training can squash that kind of thinking. Reading and thinking widely is the most important thing.
Do you think having a mentor is important? How would you go about getting one for this industry? Mentors are great for guidance and motivation. Someone further down the path knows where the cracks are and can help you avoid tripping up. But sometimes, you still trip and that’s part of the learning process. My mentors have been colleagues. It hasn’t been anything formalised – just people I’ve clicked with and have asked advice from. Contact someone you admire.
What are some steps emerging talent can take to start/further their career? As a radio producer, be curious and informed. Watch, listen and read – work out what you admire and why. And then put your own stamp on your work. As a writer, write every day and play with styles. And read good writing.
What kept you going when you felt like giving up? Tenacity is an important quality in most endeavours. I suppose I’ve had deadlines to meet – and rent to pay. Having a circle of supportive family and friends has also been helpful. I also never wanted to regret not trying or doing something – that’s been a big motivator in completing commitments.
Do you believe that ‘making it’ is about luck and being in the right place at the right time? Making it is about working hard, wanting it, being persistent – and then maybe a little bit of luck. I will never be an Olympic champion. Not because of luck but because I didn’t work at it. Sometimes the wrong people are rewarded. But if you have your own criteria for success, it doesn’t matter what happens with other people.