Jewel was broke and homeless, but she still turned down a million dollar check when she was 19 years old.
Jewel was broke and millions in debt after selling 30,000,000 albums, and built back from scratch when she was 30.
Jewel has switched genres, written music from folk to pop to country to even children’s music. She wrote a children’s book.
I love Jewel.
Abused from the ages of 5 to 15. Moved out of the cold barn she was living in at 15 to live on her own. And three years later she was homeless.
“I didn’t want to be a statistic,” she told me she was afraid when she was 15. “I looked around at other girls who were in my circumstances and things went from bad to worse”
And yet… she ended up a statistic. She realized this when she was 18, living out of a car, and attempting to stuff a dress down her pants in a store so she could steal it.
When I was 18 I feel I was privileged. I had no real worries. I was "suburban lucky." Luck ruined me and made me complacent. I never would have made the good decisions Jewel ended up making.
That’s why I love her. That’s why I’m glad she came on my podcast. I’m sure she’s done 100s of interviews to promote her new book, “Never Broken”, an excellent book.
But I wanted to break her down. I wanted her to laugh. She was so smart and serious. Trust me: I got her to laugh.
A) Hard wood grows slowly...
Why did a homeless girl who sang for pennies in a cafe turn down a million dollar offer?
“Hard wood grows slowly,” she said. "I saw that as a kid. The soft trees would break. The hard trees would grow and live forever."
She said: I knew I wanted to grow for a long time in this business. I also knew we were still in the grunge era and I was not grunge.
If I took a million dollar deal, I read that I would have to pay it back. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to and I would be dropped by the label and that would be the end of my career.
In fact, my album didn’t do well the first year. But then went on to sell over 10,000,000 copies.
They didn’t drop me because I was just that girl they paid twelve dollars for. You have to think long-term instead of short-term always.
She was 19.
I do NOT think I would have made that decision. I think I would have made the wrong decisions.
How does one take such a long term view at such a young age. I think it was the ten years she had spent developing her skills, singing in bars all over Alaska, preparing for this moment.
Confidence is really difficult to develop. I don’t know if I have it even now. But I’m going to remember this lesson on the next business decision I have to make.
B) Reinvention is non-stop...
Jewel has written children’s books, gone from folk music to pop to children’s to country. She’s been a rancher. She’s been homeless.
I asked her, “You had the benefit of really cultivating your talent from ages 5 to 15. You sang with your dad at gigs every week.
“Do you think someone starting from scratch at 50 can do this?”
“Absolutely,” she said, “Reinvention never ends. It’s every day. Pursue what you enjoy and move towards it and there will be opportunities.”
I look at my own life today. I’m about to finish a children’s book. I’m looking into TV. I’m working on a novel. I have other business things.
I don’t know if any of them will work. But I know if I don’t keep trying I will slip back into whatever hole I constantly have to dig myself out of.
There are two days to start something new. When you are five years old. And today.
C) Create art for yourself...
I said these words: “So when you were talking to Neil Young…”
What funny words to say to someone, I thought at the time and told her.
Neil Young told her: don’t ever write for radio!
Meaning: don’t write for the masses, write for yourself.
I asked her, “Isn’t there a tension there? Like what if you write for yourself and then nobody likes it? Don’t you want to write something that people like?”
She said, “We all have common experiences. Ultimately when you write for yourself, you tap into that common cultural experience we all share.”
That was eye-opening to me.
If you put in the time to develop the skills, eventually you will burrow so deep inside yourself with your art that you will tap into that same vein of blood that runs through each of us.
The key to good art is figuring out who you are.
Writing for yourself, then, becomes the best way to write something that can be enjoyed by everyone.
D) Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself...
But, still, a relationship has to be earned back.
Around the time she was 30, Jewel had sold tens of millions of albums, was doing 700 shows a year, and had no money. In fact she was two million in debt.
How could that be? She had given all control to her mother and her mother had destroyed it all.
Since 2003 she hasn’t spoken to her mother.
She made back the money eventually, and has been incredibly successful since then.
“Will you ever talk to your mother again?” I asked.
I forgive her, she said. But forgiveness is the gift I had to give myself. Forgiveness is not for others.
She said: Everyone still has to earn back the relationship. Forgiveness is not the same as condoning something.
E) We all self-medicate...
“I saw this at 8 years old,” she said, “Singing in bars. Everyone would be unhappy, they’d drink, and they’d get more unhappy."
“I swore to never drink or do drugs."
“But we all need ways to cope - to ‘medicate’ our issues."
“I started writing every day. Journaling, writing the lyrics to what became my songs."
“I found that every time I wrote, it reduced my anxiety, even when I was living in my car.”
Writing music became the way she self-medicated. It worked.
F) Watch the hands...
Fears and anxieties sneak up on us. Suddenly, we don’t know from where, but we panic and feel that constriction in our stomach.
It’s hard to observe our thoughts before it’s too late.
“So I watch my hands,” she said, “I started keeping a journal of what my hands were doing.”
What do you mean?
“Was I opening doors for more people? I’d count up the times I’d open doors for people, I’d shake hands with people, I’d be open with people instead of having my arms crossed.”
Watching the hands taught Jewel when she was kind and had compassion and was less anxious.
There’s a quote in her book, “Emotions are the shadows of thoughts.”
I think also, Actions are then the shadows of those emotions.
“Starve your negative thoughts,” she said. By being aware of them in any way possible (watch the hands), you can stop them from being obsessive, then you starve them of the attention they need from your brain.
They stop growing, they disappear.
You can go from homeless, to finding a cafe to play your music, to putting flyers around town, to getting an audience, to attracting music executives, to getting a million dollar deal.
While living in your car.
G) Accumulate your influences...
While we were talking, Jewel mentioned: Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Loretta Lynn, June Cash.
But not just music. She quoted Brene Brown’s book, "Daring Greatly." She quoted philosophers. She spoke about physics, about the neuroscience of sea slugs.
Getting influenced (through reading or listening) is the way to absorb another person’s entire life and learn from it.
Then you can combine it, throw in your own art and skills. And now you are on your way to world greatness.
Is it that easy? I have no idea. I hope it is.
H) Fame magnifies what you have...
It doesn’t add to who you are. It just magnifies it.
If you are a jerk, you will be a bigger jerk. If you are someone who wants to improve yourself, you’ll have more opportunities to improve yourself.
You have to be content with yourself first. Before fame.
I have to admit, I am probably the biggest idiot ever. And when I first made money it magnified it in every way.
I try now to like myself better. It’s not like I wake up and say, “I love you” to myself. Well, maybe sometimes.
I) No one can keep you captive. No one can keep you unhappy...
In 2014, she went through a divorce. “I wanted my son to have the kind of mother I wanted to be.”
At each step we have to decide if we are content with where we are. We get to choose and nobody else does. Whether it’s a spouse, or a record executive or a parent or a friend or whoever.
“We’re like a car,” she said, “And the brain is just the steering wheel. We’re outside the brain. We get to steer the car.”
Events can be good or bad. But we 100% get to choose whether or not we will be happy.
J) Change one thing about your life every day...
This wasn’t in the podcast. It was in her book.
I wanted to ask her about it. But I forgot. I always forget at least half the things I intend to ask about.
But I like the idea of change every day. Even a little bit of change. We always have to explore.
I was just reading that Haruki Murakami has kept the same writing routine for 24 years. Every day he wakes up at 5am, writes, runs, eats, etc.
I like that. I like routine. But I want to make sure every day I do enough change that I can learn from it. Only then do I get new things to write about and think about it and improve from
If I didn't do these podcasts, I'd probably talk to nobody all day long. But doing them forces me out the door to meet and learn from incredible people. And hopefully, to change a tiny bit.
I’m completely selfish. I get to call up these amazing artists and get them to come to my podcast studio and ask them whatever questions I want.
They have to answer. I feel like this brutish monster forcing them to talk to me.
But I learn from each one. And I fall in love a little bit with each guest.
They all seem so smart and accomplished and confident. I even find myself jealous that Jewel was homeless for a little bit.
What a great story!
We posed for a picture with her book, "Never Broken" between us. "I'm still broken," I said. And she laughed.
Then the picture snapped and she left.
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