Category Archives: Concepts

Eat Pancakes and Change the World

When I say “make money from your passion”, this is what I mean…

A post came through my Twitter feed this morning called Paid to Eat Pancakes: The Truth About “Passions”. The author argues that the idea of making money from your “passions” is overdone and trite, and ultimately misleading.

First of all, let’s take a closer look at the word “passion”. The Dictionary application on my Mac offers this as the first definition:

strong and barely controllable emotion

Yes, there are other definitions, but this one is pretty telling about our misuse of this word. I have no problem with your really enjoying making candles or hand-sewing your own undergarments, but let’s pump the brakes a bit before we start calling these things “passions.”

I obviously can’t say this for sure, but when I hear somebody talking about being passionate about composting, I don’t think I’m being unreasonable in thinking that, maybe, they’re overstating it a smidge. In recent years, people have gotten into the habit of using “passion” as a drop-in substitute for “thing I like doing on a Saturday afternoon while I have my Mint Julep.”

My take on passion

As one of those people urging you to make money from your passions, I feel (barely controllably) that I ought to respond in some way. And since I believe that in this case, the difference of opinion is due to a miscommunication, I’m going to clarify what I mean when I say I want you to make money from your passion. (I obviously can’t speak for anyone else).

Don’t get me wrong: if there’s a hobby you enjoy, I’m all in favor of your making money off of it. And I’ll be happy to help in any way I can. I’m not opposed to your making money from candles or hand-stitched underwear or compost.

But it’s not, ultimately, what I hope for.

My passions

I have a friend who’s a writer. Never mind that she’s never published anything: writing is in her soul. Honestly, it’s a passion (and/or a compulsion, but in this context they’re the same). She’s going to write anyway; the royalties from a published book might not be much, but it would be a little passive income no matter what, and it might let her become a full-time writer. But she refuses to even consider submitting any of her writing for publication. This makes me so mad I want to shake her.

I volunteer on a church trip for local ninth graders. Each year I watch 30 – 50 amazing young people come to grips with the idea that they’re maybe — just possibly — not scum. For ten days, I watch as they come to life, connect with their own soul and with others’, and form a beautiful, loving community. Then I have to send them back to a school that, in most cases, is doing its best to beat down all beauty and creativity and individuality. I want to cry. I want to smack the high school bullies. I want to march into the principal’s office and tell them off for allowing this to happen day after day, year after year. Instead I try to connect with the ninth graders on Facebook and be there when they need a hug.

This TED talk on the endangered ethnosphere does make me cry. I visit American Indian reservations in Arizona, and watch their ninth graders getting ready to make the single biggest, black-and-white decision of their lives: do you want a long and wealthy, but ultimately meaningless life as a US citizen? Or do you want a meaningful, happy, poverty-stricken life as a Hopi? The Lexus or the Olive Tree? Why not both? Who said it has to be one way or the other? Why do we keep doing this to each other??

It all comes down to money

When the Europeans exported their culture in the 1500s in the name of God, Gold and Glory, one of the things they imposed on the world was our current capitalist approach to resource distribution: if you want things like medical care, nutritious food, electricity, etc, you have to pay for them with money.

If you want money, you have to work a job — mostly Monday – Friday, 9 – 5.

If you want a job, you have to do exactly what your boss tells you to, no matter how stupid or degrading.

If you have a 40-hour-a-week job acting like a trained monkey, you can buy necessities and luxuries, but you’re still a trained monkey. We’ve gained the whole world but lost our souls.

We need a different way to make money

Some people say that we should eliminate capitalism entirely, and thus eliminate that whole problem. But there are several problems with that plan: communism on a large scale (and the current global population is a very large scale indeed) doesn’t seem to work; it’s unclear how to fairly divide the resources that currently exist under the capitalist system; capitalism is so entrenched worldwide that it would take enormous effort to nudge it, much less abolish it; and frankly, I kinda like capitalism. It’s done a good job with a lot of problems, even if it did a lousy job with others.

I don’t want to eliminate capitalism.

But the next few links in the chain are much weaker.

What if your job didn’t require a trained ape? What if your job wanted someone creative, bold, artistic? What if going to work every day was challenging, rewarding and meaningful? Seth Godin believes that’s the economy of the future.

What if you didn’t need a job to get money? What if you were self-employed, and could take days off whenever you needed to in order to watch your kids grow up, celebrate your religious holidays, or do some deep introspection in times of crisis? What if you had a business that required only a few hours of attention each week, and left you free to eat pancakes, or make compost, or perform music, or help disabled children in Tanzania?

What if gaining the whole world didn’t cost your soul?

What I Want For You

I want to help you figure out your passions.

If they overlap with the world’s needs, I want to help you make money from that.

If not, I want to help you make money in a way that leaves you free to pursue your passions.

With that money and freedom, I want you to change the world.

Opportunity cost: more is not always better

Every Easter, my fiancé’s family goes to Grand Junction, which is out on the western edge of Colorado and shares a climate zone with the deserts of New Mexico.

The city doesn’t have any snowplows because (contrary to your vision of Colorado) they get less than two feet of snow a year, and what they do get melts within a day or two because it’s a desert, and snowy days are followed by hot, dry days.

Except last year.

Last year, when we arrived on Good Friday, all the roads were icy, snow-packed or both. It seems they’d had a pretty heavy snowfall — 6+ inches — and then a string of cold days. And all that frozen water was sitting in the roads, because Grand Junction has no snowplows.

What does it cost?

You could tell that the citizens of Grand Junction had been grumbling rather loudly, because the entire back page of the newspaper was a letter from the City explaining that this kind of thing happens only 4 times a century, and that Grand Junction doesn’t spend taxpayer money on snowplows that would only be needed once every 25 years.

Is Denver’s snow removal better than Grand Junction’s? Kind of. Denver’s snow removal is faster. But Denver spends a lot of money buying snowplows, maintaining snowplows, hiring snowplow drivers, buying salt/gravel/magnesium chloride and distributing it, then cleaning the groundwater that has salt and mag chloride contamination.

Grand Junction doesn’t pay for any of that. They spend the money on textbooks and school lunches, public playgrounds, firefighters and policemen, or really nice wide sidewalks and a beautiful pedestrian mall. And for 9124 days out of 9131, it’s a great deal. On the other 7 days, getting around town is kind of a pain.

Both cities have snow removal that’s appropriate to their situation.

What’s appropriate to your situation?

It’s common for people to beat themselves up because they don’t keep “good records” — not like that gal down the hall who has every receipt, every transaction, every bill, all filed in alphabetical order.

But do you need all that? What does it cost you when you can’t find a receipt? And what is it costing her to alphabetize every single one?

Software companies fall into this trap all the time: they add on as many features as possible so that the back of the box has lots of bullet points on it.

How often have you been frustrated by software that seems to do everything except the one thing you want it to do? And how many sales is the company missing by not releasing the software early?

I don’t have a “good” laptop. I have a laptop with a tiny screen (13″ diagonal), a tiny keyboard, a tiny processor, a terrible sound card, and a hard drive that is considered small by the standards of the industry. But the tiny hardware fits in my tiny backpack, I don’t do anything that requires an awesome processor, and I’m using just over 1/3 of my hard drive. Oh, and it came at a 66% discount off a “good” laptop.

More != Better (More does not equal better)

Especially here in the US, we tend to associate bigger with better. More is better. Stronger, more powerful, more detailed, more thorough. But “bigger” and “more” come at a cost. And very often that cost is not worth it.

What can you do less?

If your house was a little messier, would you have time to create a blog?

If your DVD or shoe or gizmo collection was a little smaller, would you have the money to start a business?

If your product had fewer bullet points, could you ship it right now?

What can you do with less?

The 4-Hour Workweek Book Review

The Cover of Timothy Ferriss' The Four Hour Work WeekYou need to read this book. Go to the library, bookstore, or whatever source you prefer to use. Get this book. Read it. Then read it again. If you are serious about monetizing yourself without working 40 hours/week, this book is the single greatest resource towards that end. (Other than me and my website, obviously.)

And if you’re just looking for the summary of the review, you can stop reading. But I’ll go into more detail, in case you’re interested.

Why you should read this book

Because it helps explain the whole monetizing-yourself concept
I posted a while back about resources for self-monetization fundamentals, and included The 4-Hour Workweek in that list. Timothy Ferriss is well aware that what he’s advocating is not normal. There’s a significant section on how to accept not being normal, realize that “normal” actually is really pretty awful, how much work it’s going to be, and why it’s worth the work. In fact, about half of the book has nothing at all to do with money, and instead talks about the actions and ideas that you’ll have to incorporate into your life to make this transition.

Because it’s specific
There’s still a lot of stuff you’ll have to figure out on your own, don’t get me wrong. It’s the nature of this new world — if you make the decision to be in charge of your monetization, then you have to accept that you no longer get your tasks spoon-fed to you in idiot-proof sound bytes. But each chapter ends with specific actions to take that will help you implement the ideas in that chapter.

Because it helps you build courage
I explained a while back why I focus on courage so much– because you’ll need it in many different aspects of your new, non-employment life. Ferriss is also aware of this need, and so each chapter also has “Comfort Challenges” to help you get comfortable with being uncomfortable, starting with the fairly low-risk “Look someone in the eye until they look away” and becoming progressively more scary, although no more dangerous.

Because it’s inspiring
Monetizing yourself is a lot of work. Consider the amount of work you know you’ll have to put in — finding a niche, learning new skills, implementing your plans — and consider that there are probably some things you don’t yet know about. Then consider that the amount of work you have to do in the world is 50% – 90% less than the amount of work you have to do on the inside to develop your strength, courage and tenacity to the point where you can do the “outside work”. It’s a lot of work.

The 4-Hour Workweek includes stories, ideas, and descriptions of what else you could be doing with your life, if you didn’t have to spend 2/3 of it working. Stories from Tim, stories from people he’s helped, or just ideas of things you might like to do. It can be a nice reminder when you are feeling overwhelmed and frustrated.

Read this book

That is all.

Define Monetize

Since the name of this site is “Monetize Yourself”, I suppose I should define monetize, in the interests of completeness.

    To Monetize (v): to make money from something

    “My website used to be an expense, but I monetized it and now it more than pays for itself.”

    “The number of Twitter users may be growing at 1385%, but if Twitter can’t monetize that, the company is still worth nothing.”

Monetization is the process of making money from something. It originally meant the process of making something into money, ie molding gold into gold coins, but it got co-opted, and is used today primarily in relation to websites and blogs: lots of people have websites and blogs, but if you want to be a professional blogger, you need to monetize your blog.

Let’s take a closer look at how you go about doing that…

Step 1: Identify an asset

Monetization is something that’s only done to an asset. Before you can monetize, you must have something — a skill, a location, an item, a gold mine, whatever — that’s valuable to other people.

Sometimes this is obvious: if you’ve got an apple orchard, then you can provide value to other people in the form of apples. Everyone needs to eat, so that value is fairly easy to spot.

Sometimes it’s less obvious: the Middle East, for a long time, was valuable not for anything it had (it was always fairly desert-y), but for where it was: at the intersection of Europe, Asia, and Africa. To get from one place to another, you had to pass through Persia.

Sometimes it’s really obscure: John Elway, here in Denver, realized that he had an obvious asset: the ability to play American Football really well. But he also realized that he had another, less obvious asset: the fact that he was well known for playing football really well, and that people (especially here in Denver, where we adore our football team) really liked that.

Step 2: Make money from it

Once you’ve identified what value your asset can provide, you have to figure out how to get money in exchange for that asset. Again, in many cases this is pretty clear: you have apples, you exchange them for money. No problem.

Persia was a little harder, and no one, simple solution suffices. Instead, Persia made use of its central location by

  • Selling services directly to tourists and merchants (guides, maps, advice, translation, etc)
  • Taxing trade that passed through the area (in times and locations where they were strong enough to enforce that)
  • Setting up marketplaces and trusting that the traffic from those markets would spill over into local businesses like restaurants and hotels
  • Serving as a home base for merchants who ran trade routes through it

John Elway monetized his football skill by playing football for the Denver Broncos. But, having taken business classes in college, and aware that the football gig is only good for a few years, he also monetized his football-related fame… by starting a series of car dealerships in the Denver area. They were as good as any other dealerships (sometimes better) and you got to drive a car with John Elway on the back, so they made quite a good profit for him.

You are an asset

So that’s how I define monetize yourself.

Notice that when I tell you to monetize yourself, I am claiming that you are an asset. And so I believe. Furthermore, I believe you are an asset that’s worth more than the brainless-labor hourly rate that you currently get paid.

I believe that there are better ways to monetize yourself than to sell the precious hours that make up your life to an uncaring boss. Your assets are worth more than that, and we need more from you than 45 years of labor.

How can you monetize yourself without getting a lame job?

Resources for Further Reading
HomeworK: Figuring out what to do
The slightly smaller big picture: how to monetize yourself
What do you want to be when you grow up? A stupid question
Finding Your Niche

The downfall of big business

If you’ve been paying any attention to business discussion, you’ve heard something about how the rules have changed, business is different, blah blah blah. It’s kind of a required topic for a small business guru, so here’s my essay:

Once Upon A Time…

…communicating with far away people was very expensive, and only a few could afford to do it. And the more people you wanted to talk to, the more expensive it was, so that only a few big, very rich Corporations could afford to do it. And only a few, very rich Big Corporations could afford to pay those corporations for the right to use their communication ability. And so the era of Commercial Television was born.

In the era of commercial television, everyone wanted TV ads, because TV ads could sell anything, even if the product was terrible. Because communication was so expensive, “consumers” couldn’t afford to talk to each other, so they didn’t know the product was terrible until they bought it. This made Corporate Executives very happy, because their job was easy: make new stuff and buy TV ads! Small businesses couldn’t compete, because they couldn’t buy TV ads, so they went out of business. Corporate Executives liked that, too, because it left more “consumers” for them.

Then one day, a small pest came to the land of Commercial Television. It didn’t seem dangerous: it had a bright, colorful logo, not like the serious important-looking logos of the Big Corporations. And it had a silly name: Google. The Corporate Executives weren’t worried — no one would ever take such a silly-looking company seriously.

But they did! Google got lots and lots of money and sold its stock at really high prices and people bought it! And more pests came! Facebook! Twitter! YouTube! Blogs! Podcasts! Oh Nos!

Now “consumers” could talk to each other. And it turned out that consumers — all consumers, everywhere — are actually people. They do things that people do, like camping and laughing and procrastinating. They like things that people like, like connecting to other people, telling stories, and having their lives made easier. And they don’t like things that people don’t like, like being manipulated by Big Corporations into buying Stupid Stuff.

But the Corporate Executives weren’t worried. They knew the secret to persuading people: TV ads. Big Corporations spent more money on TV ads, so they could drown out the message from the pests, and run them out of business. Only it turned out that people had stopped being consumers buying stuff from the TV. It turned out that consumers liked being people, and talking to each other. They liked it so much that they turned off their TVs and talked to each other instead.

And so the Big Corporations sulked in the corner until they slowly starved to death, and everyone else lived happily ever after.

The End (for some)

The Beginning (for the rest of us)