How to Build a Career and Life You Love (Without Getting Lucky)
I’m very lazy. I’m a chronic procrastinator. Keeping myself organized is like pulling teeth. In spite of all this, I’ve built a career and life I love.
How did I overcome my obstacles?
Well, let me tell you.
I have tried a lot of different routes to success. Most of them failed. I joined more than one pyramid scheme masquerading as a business. I sold cutlery door to door. Prior to the last 5 years, I was fired from every job I had.
Something changed a few years back. What, exactly?
Are you ready for the secret?
I found something I liked and had a natural talent for.
That’s it. That’s the whole entire key to career success. You don’t have to get lucky or find the “perfect” job.
Your dreams have to meet a few simple criteria:
- You have to base your dreams on something you like or enjoy
- You have to have a natural talent for the skills needed to achieve that dream
- Once you get traction, you have to double down on that skill and add others
These steps seem simple, but few people ever do them.
Why You Have Shiny-Object Syndrome
“Focus on your strengths and don’t [care] about what you suck at” — Gary Vaynerchuk
Focusing on your strengths seems straightforward until you have to deal with the influences that pull you in a different direction.
You hear that computer programming is lucrative, but you don’t have the type of technical mind to pull it off.
Or maybe you heard that real estate is a great investment, but you don’t have the interpersonal skills to build the relationships needed for a successful company.
Writing might be the number one example of careers people chase without the innate ability to be great or even good at it.
Why do we chase after goals and dreams that have nothing to do with our innate talents and aptitudes?
One, we focus on the rewards instead of the means to those ends.
Two, we’re chasing after a goal for status reasons. I see this a lot in writers. Writing isn’t a great way to get rich and famous. You should only write…if you want to write.
Three, it’s not fun to think that you can’t do anything you want, that there is a cap on your talent for certain fields, or that the industry or field you’d be good at isn’t sexy.
But you’d be surprised at how rewarding it is to live a life that’s calibrated to your true tastes and talents, even if you don’t become famous and super-rich in the process.
A Perfectly Pained Picture of a Productive and Passionate Career
If you’re looking for lucid wisdom, Charlie Munger is a great bet every time. Take a look at this quote about talent:
“If you want to be the best tennis player in the world, you may start out trying and soon find that it’s hopeless — that other people blow right by you. However, if you want to become the best plumbing contractor in Bemidji, that is probably doable by two-thirds of you.”
There are so many attainable dreams for most of us, but we lose sight of them because we want to be big, bold, great, and famous.
He goes on to say:
“So some edges can be acquired. And the game of life to some extent for most of us is trying to be something like a good plumbing contractor in Bemidji. Very few of us are chosen to win the world’s chess tournaments.”
What’s wrong with being the best plumber in Bemidji or any one of its equivalents? Absolutely nothing.
It’s weird. We have a tendency to undersell ourselves in our day to day life and simultaneously fantasize about grandiose dreams at the same time.
Being right in the middle — getting really good at something that is achievable for you within reason — is a rarely held but extremely rewarding position.
That’s where I want to be with writing. I may never become Malcolm Gladwell. All of my books might be self-published and never hit the NYT bestseller list. But it doesn’t matter because I’m not playing that game.
I’m playing my own game and I’m winning.
Play games you think you can win.
It’s Imperative You Get this Right
You spend a significant portion of your life working. It seems insane to spend that much time doing something you hate, but people do it. Why?
Well, you need to eat and so does your family. You need a roof over your head and to be able to see a doctor when you get sick. Doing something you hate to pay the bills isn’t enviable, but it is honorable in a sense.
You’re making a sacrifice to make sure the people you care about most are taken care of. There’s nothing wrong with that.
On top of it, making career transitions isn’t always as easy as it looks on the surface. You need experience, education, connections, and time to enhance all of the aforementioned. It’s no easy feat. But it is doable. And it’s worth doing.
This means you might have to construct your life in a way that seems unfair in the short run and do things that, initially, will make your life harder — wake up early to work on your side gig, go to night school, take online courses, reach out to others to network, and then also take care of the responsibilities you already had prior to trying to make the switch.
But, as I said, it’s both doable and worth it.
And me urging you to do it or making you feel bad for not doing it isn’t helpful at all. Instead, I want to make your options crystal clear and let you deeply contemplate them:
Keep doing what you’re doing…
…or try something that will be hard initially and rewarding later down the road.
What’s more tolerable, really? Doing whatever you are doing for the next 10, 20, 30, or 40+ years or making that tough but rewarding transition?
The latter is more tolerable in the long-term, but you still have to do it.
How to Become a Doer
I wrote an article called Stop Thinking, Start Doing.
Here’s a short synopsis:
- Take an inventory of your interests and talents. I have an in-depth guide on doing that here.
- Experiment with this new skill, path, or potential career. 90 days is a good time frame.
- Analyze your results based on whether or not you enjoyed what you were doing, not how hard it was.
- If you enjoyed it, double down. If it really didn’t seem like a great fit, try again.
This is how I built my writing career. I didn’t make big goals when I started. I just wrote one article, then a second, third, etc. until I hit a groove.
My experience while developing my skills can be summed up by this quote:
“Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.”
The writing was never hard for me. I wasn’t good at it right away, but I liked it. I didn’t necessarily love it either. It wasn’t like the clouds parted and a ray of passionate sunshine shot directly at my heart.
No, that type of passion is rare and a fool’s errand to chase.
If you can find something that makes you go, “hm…I kind of like this!” That’s all you need.
Then, you double and triple down. I’ve been writing for almost five years and I know I’m nowhere near my potential. I know I’ll read this post a year from now and cringe. And I love it because this is a game I can play for a very, very long time.
You can find that game, too. It might not become apparent right away. But conduct enough experiments and you will find something.
A Way for Ordinary People to Become Extraordinary
“The idea of a talent stack is that you can combine ordinary skills until you have enough of the right kind to be extraordinary. You don’t have to be the best in the world at any one thing. All you need to succeed is to be good at a number of skills that fit well together.” — Scott Adams
So you’ve got traction in one area. Now, you add more skills to your tool belt and you become great at the intersection of those skills.
I know I’m not the best writer in the world. But I think I’m a good writer who can eventually be pretty damn good. I know marketing and I know my way around a computer. I’ve practiced public speaking and even gave a TEDx talk. I plan on learning to code and maybe speak a second language.
To pour gasoline on that talent fire, I read a lot because I want to have a general knowledge of different subjects that are important.
Add all that together and I get a great life.
I’m not Jeff Bezos, but I have financial security. I’m not famous, but I have a tribe of readers who seem to like my work and I love creating it for them. Every day of my life I get to read, write, and do marketing experiments for a living.
It’s pretty damn awesome.
The Icing on the Cake
After you find something you enjoy, double-down on it, add skills, and build your own version of becoming “the best plumber in Bemidji” you do this:
You don’t take any crazy risks and you build your f*** you fund.
When you build a career based on becoming the best version of yourself, you’ll have money.
Live well below your means, put the rest in retirement and index funds; safe stuff, don’t touch it, and put yourself in a position to never rely on anyone and spend the rest of your life doing what you want to do.
I make more money with my side-businesses than my actual job (which I also get paid well to do), but I keep my job.
Why? Because I like and can handle both. I’m stacking up my f*** you fund and taking a patient and risk-averse path to building a life I want to live.
This is the American dream.
Ayodeji is the author of You 2.0 — Stop Feeling Stuck, Reinvent Yourself, and Become a Brand New You. Want a free copy of my first book? Get it here.