Five years before Kevin Johnson became the Starbucks CEO, he was jobless and unemployed -- on purpose.

Johnson had been the CEO of a different company at the time, tech company Juniper Networks. He had been diagnosed with skin cancer. 

Johnson found himself putting CEO duties over his treatment, often rescheduling doctor's appointments for work commitments. He spoke about it to Harvard Business Review: "Why am I prioritizing some business commitment over a health priority that could be fatal?"

So he quit his CEO job.

Johnson quit to focus on getting better and to spend time with family and friends. This is when he adopted his new life mantra -- which, he says, was an important step that led him to where he is today: CEO of Starbucks, the coffee chain with 24,000 stores across more than 75 markets and counting. 

The mantra the Starbucks CEO still lives by.

After Johnson quit his former CEO job, he tells HBR he started living by one life mantra. Going forward, he would only do things that brought him joy.  

Fast forward a couple of years, when the founder and then-CEO of Starbucks Howard Schultz reached out about joining the company. Johnson became its president and chief operating officer in 2015. In 2017, Johnson succeeded the Starbucks founder to become the company's CEO.  

"Anyone can do it."

Should you follow Johnson's lead and quit your job to pursue a life of joy? Sounds nice, but that's not feasible for most of us. We're not all tech CEOs. (Although, if you're miserable at work, it could be time to quit. Research suggests no job at all is better for your health than a toxic one.)

Yet Johnson thinks his "pursue joy" mantra can still be a guiding force to people at all career levels. 

"Anyone can do it," he told HBR. "But it does take a journey of self-discovery. To be truly authentic you have to show vulnerability, and it has to start from within."

Step one: Get real with yourself. 

Johnson's point is that to pursue joy -- whether that's in making life or career decisions -- you have to actually know what makes you joyful. One has to know thyself. He recommends getting real about the experiences in your life that have shaped you and digging deep to truly understand what your priorities are. 

"And then, once you get to that point, at least in my case, it was liberating," Johnson says. ​