Cultivating a Creative Life After a Nervous Breakdown with Jim Woods

Today, I’m talking with Jim Woods, author of two bestselling books, Ready Aim Fire and Focus Booster about cultivating a creative life. These days, creativity plays a significant role in his everyday life as an author, freelance writer, book marketer, and writing coach—but that wasn’t always the case. We’ll be talking about the period in his life where he ignored his creative nature and how this manifested itself mentally and physically. Jim will be taking us through his journey of quitting a job that gave him heart palpitations to put new pieces together and build his creative life.

What to Listen For: 

  • Who was Jim Woods before he dove into the creative community?
  • What he went to school for and why
  • What he always wanted to be “when he grew up” that never panned out
  • The moment that he realized he wanted a change

“I was chatting with a coworker, just having coffee, shooting the breeze. It was something we would do like before work in his office. And I was like, ‘Hey, what’s, what’s that on your wall?’ And he’s like, he’s like, ‘Oh, that’s my number.’

I’m like, ‘what do you mean your number?’ He’s like, ‘it’s 342 days until I retire.’ And I was like, ‘okay.’ He was just checking off the days until he could leave. And that was a big inciting incident for me.

I realized it was like, you can do this until you retire. And I was 30 at the time, and I was like, I’m not going to do just this. I’m not going to do this till I retire.

  • His creative release during that time – spoiler alert: it wasn’t writing
  • The story he was spinning in his head as to why he needed to stay at his job
  • How this story lead to a nervous breakdown

“I felt like that scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom where they’re in this room and spikes come down and the walls keep getting closer. I remember that point distinctively. I was in the bathroom, just sitting there avoiding being in the office, cause anywhere but my cubicle, anywhere but my office. And I was just trying to avoid it. 

I think I was playing a video game on my phone or something, and I was just like, I can’t go back. This is terrible. And I just remember that image in the movie. And I haven’t seen that movie in years, but it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so eerie. It’s so similar.’

And at that point, my body just started rebelling against me.

  • His action plan as his body started trying to tell him something was wrong
  • Having body aches, high blood pressure, and heart palpitations
  • Thinking he was having a heart attack at 30
  • Giving up caffeine, as a new parent, no less!
  • Not getting answers from doctors
  • Feeling hopeless and becoming deeply depressed

I was depressed too. I was like feeling more hopeless as all of this stuff was just piling up. My wife was concerned. She said she thought I was suicidal.

I never felt that I wanted to inflict injury. I just was internalizing a lot of my frustration, and I didn’t go to a counselor. I didn’t talk it through with anyone. I just was stuffing everything inside and trying to find those distractions, you know, the, ‘Hey, we made it to Friday.’”

  • The coffee shop that turned out to be a turning point
  • Attending the Quitter Conferences with John Acuff
  • His biggest takeaway from the conference
  • Feeling his hope return through finding his community
  • Ditching the stereotypes and showing up as a writer his way

I can wave the ‘I’m a writer flag’ and kind of push aside this image in my mind that you have to look a certain way. You have to have a cabin in the woods, a typewriter, a pipe, and a sweater. There are all these silly ideas in my head were floating around like, I’m not a writer. This doesn’t make sense.

  • Releasing the pressure in making connections
  • Becoming a networking machine in a very natural way
  • How he discovered his love of writing

“Just the idea of looking back at what I did in the past, what I really enjoyed. And I also found this file on my computer, it was just an experiment, just something that came on a whim, but I wrote this children’s book, and it didn’t even take me long at all.

It was like, okay, this will be fun. And I remembered back in school when I first heard Edgar Allen Poe and read some of his stuff, and I was like, ‘Whoa, this is really good. This is so different from everything else.’ And I just kind of connected the dots by looking in the rearview mirror.

  • Putting all the pieces down and seeing something come to the surface
  • Learning how to break himself out of the accountant mold

If you do something over time, it just becomes the norm. If you’re depressed and unhappy or unfulfilled, and you’ve been that way all along, that’s the norm.

I took a Myers-Briggs test, and I’m not saying that’s the be-all and end-all, but it was important for me because I really thought, okay, you’re this bean keeper. And I kind of always knew, well, that’s not really me, but I’m really good at pretending. I’m really good. I can convince myself for quite a while, but that’s not me. That’s more a role I’m playing.

And it said I was an INFP, which is like, the artist, essentially. I was like, wait, this is weird. And I was just blown away by that. And, I remember reading, and I was just crying. I was like, this explains a lot. If you’re more wired for something completely unrelated, at least that’s how I thought I was like, okay, I’m a square peg round hole kind of thing. In reality, I don’t view it as much as that, as much as like, you weren’t using all those gifts.

You weren’t intentionally creating, you were analyzing. I wasn’t telling stories. I was examining stories, and I think that’s something we all kind of get caught up in. It’s like it’s kind of close, but not the right fit.

  • Seeing hints of his true self in his work
  • How he began to pivot into writing

I think it was just embracing my love for story was the big hinge moment for me too, where it says, okay, you love stories. You do love to investigate. Let’s pull together these things you really like.”

  • Being willing to experiment – aka: doing the thing even when you have no idea what you’re doing
  • Not making what you do your identity
  • How collaboration opened doors for Jim
  • The power of what if
  • Reaching the breaking point where he knew it was time to leave his job

“At the end, where I kind of finally hit that road of like, I gotta leave. I can’t take anymore. I got to put in my two weeks. That was a really scary time. I didn’t know the next steps. I just came to the point where it was like, I can’t do this anymore. I can’t. I just knew in my heart it was the right move.

  • Landing his first freelance client two days after submitting his resignation
  • Growing his empathy during his transition and using this to help others
  • Be honest with yourself, feel what you’re feeling, and don’t go it alone
  • Everyone needs a coach
  • Growing into his new role as a writer
  • Overlapping journeys with his network that helped them all align
  • Jim’s gauge – Are you better than you were yesterday?
  • How his faith has evolved as he’s grown as a person

“I’ve done enough of that. Checking the box during my time as an accountant, I really want to pursue bigger, better things. Help some people, encourage some people, give some hope, tell good stories versus, you know, ‘Hey, I made X dollars today.’

I feel like our lives are too short. I’m not in it for the money. It’s not about the money. It’s about the stories and the relationships and helping and serving others.

  • The role mentors have played in his life
  • Jim’s advice on working with mentors
  • What he would tell his younger self about limiting himself and waiting for validation
  • His life goals – work with good people, tell good stories

About Jim Woods:

Jim Woods is the author of two bestselling books Ready Aim Fire and Focus Booster. He also loves helping others bring their stories into the world. His work has been featured in Fast Company, Life Hacker, Goinswriter, The Write Practice, and other publications.

Website and social media links: 

Check out Jim’s free email course on how to write a book here:


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