Diversify your career like your financial portfolio.
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100% of your income from a single source is still the standard for most of us. Yet for some reason reducing that percentage is seen as the risky option. Starting a business, becoming a freelancer, taking on a few consulting projects, part-time teaching – while all increasingly popular, those who haven’t done it are terrified of it. The thought that working for yourself (the one person who is truly vested in your success) would be less risky than working for a company that could toss you to the curb for factors out of your control, remains puzzling to those who have already made the leap to the other side. If someone gave you a million bucks would you put it all in Apple stock? Maybe, though if the recently exploding financial independence community has taught us anything, and it most certainly has, we now understand the value of not investing in the needle in the haystack when we can simply invest in the haystack.
Why then do we refuse to view our work that way, even when we live in a time where it is increasingly viable and practical to do so? Doesn’t it only make sense to diversify our income streams the same way we do our financial portfolios, hedging against the downswings of various asset classes? Working for someone else (or at least working entirely for someone else) is inherently the riskiest option available to us, but there are a few reasons why we tend to look at this backwards…
Predictability gets mistaken for security
At a moment’s notice, we can get re-orged to a new department or a manager that we struggle working with. At a moment’s notice, our branch could get shut down. At a moment’s notice, we can get laid off. We’ve mistaken subsidized insurance, paid time off, and a predictable payment cycle as security blankets. But the biggest risk of all – trapping yourself in the wrong career or losing all income entirely – lives in this space too. We’ve evolved to view order as a means of survival, so the associated risks in that order have become so deeply integrated into our daily lives for us to even acknowledge.
“Nobody panics if things go according to plan, even if the plan is horrifying.” – The Joker
If comfort in predictability is what handcuffs us, how do we spread our risk once we are willing to make a change? Some of it is simple. Some of it more complicated. All of it requires planting seeds in the right places so your efforts can grow and compound.
What CAN the alternative look like?
The full-time job starts to bleed into a few consulting or writing projects. Moonlighting as an independent blogger winds up getting picked up by a couple of key publications with significant reach. A now robust writing portfolio built over the course of a year or two generates opportunities to ghostwrite for executives for solid pay. Your writing and personal branding efforts start to augment your consulting work and your consulting work augments your writing and personal branding in a perfectly wound virtuous cycle. You still have your expertise from your day job so you combine your new skills with your old to create and sell some ebooks on Amazon, maybe cross-promoting some paid online courses on Udemy and through your expanding email list from your website. You start a podcast on SoundCloud to amplify the path you’ve taken and inspire others. Sponsors latch on. Speaking engagements arise. Maybe one day you even write a book or two to string together all the breadcrumbs you left along the way. YOU become the product, and your job becomes the CEO, CMO, CFO, and [insert fancy title] for that product, with all seeds of your digital and offline footprints growing from one another.
What WILL the alternative probably look like?
The above scenario is obviously a highly fortunate one predicated on years of relentless work and probably a lot of luck. Maybe that’s in the cards for you, but even if it isn’t, what if you got 20% of the way there? What if simply planting the seeds in the ancillary streams of value closest to your areas of expertise started to sprout to the point where, collectively, they replaced over half of your corporate income with an uncapped potential for future growth? How on Earth would that not be worth it?
The snowballing effect that your content and brand can see across the endless nodes of your social graph is among the most powerful elements of distribution that exists today. It does, however, require patience. Notoriety and audience build inch by inch, person by person, with the occasional shot in the arm (landing a huge client, getting published by an A-list media outlet, etc.). If there’s one idea of success I hear repeatedly from those who are far further along in this journey than I am, it’s this:
The media, blogosphere, and entire Internet are endless and crowded streams of content and individuals attempting to be heard and to live on their terms. But the vast majority of people who attempt any version of this quit within the first few months, or even less. Simply remaining persistent and pushing through the barriers where most people decide to stop puts you in exclusive company.
This doesn’t mean you’re going to be a blogging millionaire – you’re not. But if you actually put some effort into it and break through the technical and psychological barriers that stop most of your peers, you can probably change your life dramatically by doing what you want to do and getting paid for it. Crazy concept I know.
Assets vs Hours
The beauty of productizing yourself is that you can generate income from your assets instead of your hours. You might write a book that barely sells. That’s fine. It might actually continue to trickle in sales years later with no maintenance or upkeep. Do this a few times and it adds up. Or better yet, one of them actually hits and more than offsets lackluster sales from all the others. Regardless, you create something and you own it. There are royalties behind whatever you build, either formally (e.g., books/publications) or informally (e.g., content generating ad/affiliate revenue months or years after written). You should fully expect these royalties to be small or even non-existent at the beginning. But just as with investing, a $500 investment here, a $1000 investment there – this creates seeds that grow without you needing to constantly maintain and nourish your initial investment. This is why personal finance blogs are so perfect and compelling. Their craft is at the perfect intersection of asset creation and compounding investments. Learning that space will undoubtedly encourage your willingness to diversify your work, spread your career risk, and create lasting value doing something you enjoy with ultimate flexibility.
Remember, don’t chase the needle in the haystack when you can own the haystack.