You may not know Jack Canfield, but you likely know his books. Collaborating with Mark Victor Hansen, Canfield compiled a collection of 101 inspirational anecdotes that the authors called “Chicken Soup for the Soul.”
It was a title that had come to Canfield during his daily meditation when he was thinking about his grandmother and what she told him about her soup: It would cure anything. Canfield was sure the same was true of the inspirational vignettes he was collecting.
Not everyone was immediately drawn to the title; in fact, one of Canfield’s assistants at the time quit because she thought writing such a silly book would hurt the company (then called Self-Esteem Seminars), which provided corporate training. And multiple publishers in New York would turn down “Chicken Soup” before it was picked up by a small Florida imprint in 1993.
Hansen, however, saw the potential when Canfield told him about the project when the longtime friends met for breakfast one morning. Canfield had compiled 70 stories at that point; Hansen said the book should have 101 and offered to find another 31. “He did, and the rest is history,” Canfield said.
That first “Chicken Soup for the Soul” sold 11 million copies and grew into a profitable brand that still publishes about a dozen new titles every year and has branched into other businesses, like pet food and entertainment.
Why, then, did Canfield walk away from the thriving business in 2008?
There was no conflict between the partners; Hansen and Canfield no longer work together, but they remain friends. And Canfield didn’t want to retire. At 77, he’s still coaching and writing; he is the author or co-author of more than 150 books, including “The Success Principles.”
Instead, it was the combination of a good opportunity and Canfield’s personal policy of letting joy lead.
Here, Canfield talks about how to know when it’s time to move on from a job or a business, the mindset that kept his business alive during the pandemic, and what he thought about Stephen R. Covey and the late Utah businessman’s famed seven habits.
As told to Jennifer Graham
I’ve always followed my heart, in the sense that if something starts to feel dead or flat to me I honor that, often at great risk.
For example, shutting down a business and moving to California and selling “Chicken Soup for the Soul” to a company in Connecticut. Call it follow your bliss, follow your passion, follow your heart — however you want to say it — every time I’ve made that decision, it’s worked out really well for me.
The other thing is, I take 100% responsibility for my life and my results. I had a mentor who drove that into my head when I was in my 20s. I used to live by the principle “If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me.” Nobody else is responsible for my life. It doesn’t matter what else is going on — the environment, the economy, new technology, other people — whatever is happening is just happening, and it’s my job to respond in a way that allows us to be successful.
It’s the same thing with the pandemic. When the pandemic came along, we had deposits of $800,000 for live trainings and all of a sudden we couldn’t do them. We had to pivot and start doing everything online, which was a big challenge. I told the staff I didn’t want to fire anyone, and the staff said, “We’ll take pay cuts, but nobody’s leaving, and we’re going to have to get really creative and develop new courses and put them online.”
One of the big things we found was that when we do live trainings, we get 300 to 500 people, but when we do online programs, we get people from 47 countries. People from 47 countries were not going to get on a plane and fly to L.A. for a training. So we have a much bigger global reach now.
The big principle here is something I always say: No matter what’s going on, it’s happening for you, not to you.
During the pandemic, my wife and I started to play pingpong; we play every day for 30 minutes; she usually beats me by two or three points. And I’m writing three new books. My wife says, “Why don’t you retire?” and I say, “And do what?” I’m having too much fun.
My personal purpose statement is to inspire and empower people to live their highest vision in the context of love and joy, in harmony with the highest good of all concerned. I love collecting stories of people who have overcome, people who have done the loving thing, taken the risk, contributed, made a difference. The kind of things that when you read them, you smile, you get inspired, you get goosebumps. There’s a science to that now: positive psychology. Everything we used to do intuitively is now backed up by neuroscience.
I liked Stephen Covey a lot. And (like Covey) I don’t think you can think your way to success. It’s a combination of mindset and skill set and action. When he talked about the seven habits — and later he came out with an eighth — I was saying, come on, there’s 64, Stephen, let’s go.
I wrote a foreword to a book called “The Billionaire Dollar Secret.” The author, a friend of mine, interviewed 21 billionaires about their habits. Every one of them, from age 39 to 81, had a routine which typically including reading, exercise and meditation. I say that success is like a combination lock; if you know the numbers and have them in the right order, anybody can open it.
Someone once said don’t ask what the world needs; ask what makes you come alive. Then do that thing, because what the world needs is people who come alive.
Your natural passions are a clue. I believe God put in each of us a purpose, and we’ve been given talents for that. Your joy is your feedback mechanism. It’s telling you if you’re on course or off.