Underutilized Me

I work 8-5 and do IT support and web design nights and weekends. My wife sells essential oils and makes soap for Skinny Coconut Oil. We have 5 kids. I go to church 2 times a week. I have an hour commute.

There’s just not a whole lot going on.

I’m underutilized. There are whole evenings where no one has any work for me to do. There are no meetings to attend. I spend entire Saturdays and entire Sunday afternoons with no work requests. So what do I do?

I rest. I meet with friends. I read articles on the Internet. I make videos. I tweet. I update my website. I go for a walk. There is still more time. There is a ton of time. I take the kids to the park. I read to them. Still more time.

There have been times in my life where I’ve felt overwhelmed or underwater. But even in these times, with a little bit of diligence and perspective, the short periods were not as bad as I originally thought. It was okay.

In January of 2012 I wrote, Problem Solver Seeks More Things to Fix, which I later regretted when hard problems began to present themselves (be careful what you ask for). But that’s essentially what I’m doing now.

The world is apparently changing exponentially, but the news seems slower than ever. We are living in amazing times, so why do I feel bored? Why do I just want to throw rocks in the creek and climb a hill?

Do I need more purpose in my life? Do I need more goals? How do I determine success? What do I want? Maybe I’m being too introspective and I’m asking the wrong questions. Maybe I should look outward more.

Who can I help more? How can I start thinking more about other people’s needs, rather than my own? How can I seek to add more value to the world than the value I take from it? What I can I do to get started?

In order to reach my next goal of earning $20,000 a month, I’m aiming to create $200,000 a month in value to the world (or $2.4 million in value per year). This changes how I think about the problem I’m solving.

I don’t know how I’m going to get there, but I’m going to document the process so you can follow along with me. I’ve heard that if I ‘take massive action’ or even if I ‘work a little bit every day’ I’ll get there. We’ll see.

10,000 Hours

Have you ever heard that it takes “10,000 hours” to become good at something or that you should “follow your passion” and “do what you love”? If you’re still wondering What Color is Your Parachute? and you still don’t know what you want to be when you grow up, it may be time to take stock of your current skillsets and strengths to see how close you are to being an expert and whether or not that field is a vehicle that can economically provide a reliable income into your future.

In 2013, Cal Newport wrote Don’t Follow Your Passion, Follow Your Effort, where he talked about how becoming an expert in something makes you passionate about it, not the other way around. But what if you could have both? In 2001, Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton wrote a book called Now, Discover Your Strengths and developed a test called the Clifton Strengths Finder to help you identify your strengths. What if there was a way to test for your “10,000 hours”?

Becoming an expert at something doesn’t mean it’s the only thing you’ve worked on for the last 5-10 years. The accumulation of all of your experiences has led you to the position you’re in today. There is no one else who has had the exact same experience as you. No one else has the exact same perspective as you. There is already something you are an expert in that you can do better than anyone else in your area, if not the world. This experience is your “10,000 hours.”

What do you do that's better than anyone else?

What do you do that’s better than anyone else?

Andy Johns, who was on the user growth team for Facebook, Twitter and Quora, recently wrote about Finding Your Career Economy, in which he says, “Everyone has their inherent strengths and weaknesses. I’m of the camp that believes that people should focus most on playing to their strengths and to align their strengths with a role that requires them to use their strengths regularly.” Shortly thereafter he spoke on Eric Siu’s Growth Everywhere podcast something similar:

When I thought about my career, the mental model I used was an economics one. Where I thought that, “If I go and try and learn be a developer at this point and try and write code just as good as some of the Facebook developers,” like – just a huge fail, it just wasn’t going to happen. And frankly I just wasn’t interested in that. I didn’t think that’s where my heart was, nor was it where my sort of intrinsic abilities were.

Instead I was like, “Well I’ve got to find this thing that I’m interested in that aligns with my strengths, but that also has an economy around it in the sense that someday there is going to be tremendous demand for this skillset – with very little real supply of that – and I wanna own that supply. That’s a position of leverage.

For me the thing that I settled on – the position of leverage that made the most sense for my future potential – was “How can I be one of the best people on the planet in terms of understanding end-to-end, comprehensively from either one million to a billion users, ‘How do you grow something?’” – team building, analytics, experimentation, organization…the whole thing.

That seemed like a tremendously powerful thing because the thesis or the hypothesis I had was that: more consumer Internet companies needed to have growth teams and no one was stepping up to the plate to do that. That’s what I wanted to do…and that’s been my sole objective since then – since I made up my mind about that in 2009.

One thing I’ve noticed from listening to over 600 hours of business podcasts is that a lot of the people who are successful now started in 2009. It took them about 5 years to get from “go” to “grow” to “show”. Coincidentally, people work about 2000 hours a year so 5 years is about 10,000 hours. I read the same business books these guys listened to. I started blogs the same time they did, but somehow the result was different? Why was my 10,000 hours different than theirs? Because the vehicle I chose was different.

The choices we make in life matter. Life is a game and not everybody wins, but everyone who can keep moving forward is capable of learning from their mistakes and doing better the next time. This is what startup culture calls “failing forward” and what normal people call “persistence” or “grit”. Those who are able to leverage their experience, focus on their strengths, and continue to improve will see return on their investments provided they select an economic vehicle capable of sustaining that activity.


The Value of Conferences and Trade Shows

Mike McDerment, the founder of Freshbooks, recently wrote a post titled How I Earned A Lot More on Projects by Changing My Pricing Strategy in which he talks about how he used to be a web designer (only) and it was his frustration with invoicing that moved him to create Freshbooks, which is online accounting and invoicing software for small business owners. McDerment recently released a free ebook that is similar to the Brennan Dunn’s Double Your Freelancing Rate book called, Breaking the Time Barrier: How to Unlock Your True Earning Potential. McDerment will be speaking in Indianapolis at MixWest (formerly Blog Indiana) August 7-9th, 2013, which reminded me of the value of conferences and trade shows to your business.

I last attended Blog Indiana in 2011 and have since wrote about it in My Local Heroes, Mesh Networking, and Networking Indianapolis. It’s also how I know most of the people I now know on Twitter. In other words, it was very impactful to me and part of the reason I decided to attend The Combine that same year in Bloomington, Indiana. People I met at Blog Indiana and The Combine I later ran into at Verge in Indianapolis, at the Lean Startup Circle, and at Agile Indy. I was starting to be a part of a community of like-minded individuals, which has intrinsic value.

Vishen Lakhiani, founder of Mind Valley, talks about how attending conferences changed his company and allowed it to grow. Pat Flynn, owner of Smart Passive Income, talks about how he met one of his best friends and business partners at a conference. In Terry Lin’s Build My Online Store podcast #45, Matt Kowalak talks about how attending trade shows is a critical part of the marketing of his business.
The bottom line is that while it can cost a lot of money to go to conferences, there is a lot of value in going to conferences. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people is powerful, and it can change your business. For encouragement, collaboriation, or learning from others who have paved the way before you, meetups, conferences, and tradeshows can help you become a success.

Know you can succeed, and you will.