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A Righter Way

Professions, like relationships, change over time.

Sometimes the changes are small, maybe a move to a different department within the same company, or moving up the corporate ladder from Junior Whatever to Senior Whatever. Sometimes they’re much larger, representing a fundamental shift in what you focus your attention on, and how your lifestyle and brain function.

I know this perhaps more than most people my age, as I’ve jumped between fields several times in my 26 years, moving on whenever I felt the need, or started to feel constrained by the tools I had at my disposal.

Not counting one-off, career-non-specific jobs (like waiting tables and working at a bookstore), I started my professional career as a journalist, writing articles and columns for my school and local newspaper between classes. From there I segued into design work, while on the side I sold a few paintings (a budding career that never quite blossomed).

My design work forked off into the diverse paths of illustration and web development, the latter leading me to learn HTML, CSS and PHP, and eventually to take a job where I learned all about broadcast design and production, while the former had me designing t-shirts for a few clothing companies.

The arsenal of skills I had built up (writing, design, illustration, development, and production), along with a penchant for sociology and psychology, led me to branding, which in turn rekindled a previous interest in entrepreneurship.

My writing skills were once again resurrected when I started blogging, and eventually led to the lifestyle that I live now, where I leverage those branding skills for my entrepreneurial endeavors, blog to build relationships and audiences, and write books based on my travels and what I’ve learned along the way.

This summation of my work history is meant to illustrate how various fields of study can lead to and support one another, should you choose to view them all as pieces of the same puzzle rather than radically different pursuits, completely removed from each other.

Many of the most interesting people I’ve met are folks who have made some kind of radical transition, leading them to bring ideas and lessons from their previous craft into their new one. Or people who are curious about everything, leading them to jump around from career path to career path willy-nilly, happily gobbling up whatever info and skills they can before moving on to something else.

We’re told that in order to be truly great at something, we must specialize in it. We must invest 10,000 hours of study into that craft, or go to school for four to twelve years in order to master it.

Which is generally true, of course, but what if we spent 5,000 hours each on video game development and horticulture?

Or went to school to dual-major in architecture and electrical engineering, with a minor in food science?

Imagine the revelations that could emerge from someone capable of seeing the world and solving problems from such diverse perspectives.

I, for one, feel like the meandering career path I’ve taken has given me an advantage in each and every field in which I’ve been involved.

I’m able to approach writing from the standpoint of an entrepreneur, coming up with new business models an author without such experience wouldn’t be as likely to develop. I’m able to approach entrepreneurship from the standpoint of a creative, building brands alongside business models for optimal compatibility.

At the moment, I’m teaching myself to develop in Python, and with every new bit of syntax and structure I learn, I can’t help but think, “Ah, I wonder how I’ll be able to use that in some unexpected way. Maybe this will help me publish, and that will help me manage brand resources…”

Consider doing the same. Or at least imagine what it would be like to leverage your current skills in another playground.

Think about a field that you’d like to learn more about and browse the web for tutorials or pick up a book on the subject.

Try it out and don’t be afraid to do things ‘the wrong way.’ It’s good to know the rules of a craft, but with your unique standpoint and ignorance of convention, you may be able to come up with an even righter way.

Update: February 14, 2017

Today I would probably sum this up by saying there are no divisions between bodies of knowledge, only perceived separations. The more we connect these ideas and practices, the more capable we are of developing new and useful ideas and perspectives.

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My Six Life Focuses

The basics of what keep me motivated are deceptively simple and easy to relate as six main points of focus.

1. Increase self-reliance

It’s important to me that I’m able to operate without crutches as much as possible, and dependencies and addictions get in the way of having a fully-developed, internalized ‘living mechanism’ that can get you through anything and help you achieve whatever you want to achieve.

To that end, I try to make sure I’m always on the path to greater self-reliance, and as a result, self-confidence, so that other people and things in my life can be happy additions, rather than desperately sought-after saviors, to my lifestyle.

2. Increase personal freedom

Freedom can mean a lot of different things to different people, but to me it represents options.

Being financially independent and physically capable person gives me the option of traveling full-time, and right now I’m exercising that option. I also have the freedom to stop traveling, should I want to, and to open up a restaurant or become a clown or spend my life in a library, paging through ancient manuscripts for no other reason than I want to.

In my mind, personal freedom is the gateway to personal evolution. It gives you the time and excuse to do whatever, whenever. That’s a powerful thing. As such, I do what I can to remove anything from my life that hinders my personal freedom.

3. Continue personal evolution

Some people (myself included) have wondered aloud if I am addicted to change. I would say that ‘addicted’ is probably too strong a word, but I do enjoy it. Change allows you to grow as a person, and sometimes by leaps and bounds.

My personal development is important to me because I remember I time in my life when I plateaud, and it was the only time I’ve ever been utterly discontented and somewhat depressed. The static-nature of my existence was a weight on my mind and well-being.

These days, I have the ability to immediately put into practice what I learn and to try out new versions of myself and my life whenever I like, which makes me happier than just about anything else I’ve encountered thus far. As such, I make it a key part of my everyday mission to continue to grow and change and evolve as much and as quickly as possible.

4. Learn more about more

The pursuit of knowledge is important to me, and being a ridiculously curious person I’m fulfilled when I’m learning new things, expanding my mental-map of how the universe works and where each and every detail is pinned on that big picture.

To this end, I spend a great deal of my time reading all kinds of things about all kinds of things, talking to folks who know things I don’t know, and trying my hand at different professions and skill sets in an effort to better understand how it all fits together. Perspective is also key, as being able to see the world from new angles gives me the ability to solve problems before they become problems.

Learning more about more makes me happy, and increases my ability to evolve, which in turn increases my level of personal freedom.

5. Maximize value created

In everything I do, I see opportunities to increase efficiencies and effectiveness. It’s a fun game I play with myself to see how far I can push to achieve greater gains in this area, but it’s also a goal that allows me to create more value with less effort, which bears all kinds of fruit.

I see value creation as a ratio. I spend x amount of time to create y units of value. My goal is to increase x:y, so that less effort is required to create more value. (For example, I could spend 1 hour creating 1 blog post, 1:1, or I could spend 10 hours writing 1 ebook which contains 100 times more value than a blog post, 1:10).

This gives me more personal freedom, of course, but it also gives me the ability to create excess value which I’m then able to give away, increasing the quality of other peoples’ lives and my community for the better in some small way. In my mind, both of these outcomes are equally important, as benefiting myself is good for the short term, while benefiting others is a solid investment (for me and for everyone else) in the long term.

6. Have fun, always

In my mind, life without fun, even an incredibly successful life, is a little pointless. Sure, there are other biological drives you can pursue, and you could become fulfilled by dominating your career or having kids or whatnot, and that’s cool if that’s what you want.

But for me, there’s little point to accomplishment if part of what you’re accomplishing isn’t ‘having a good time.’

You have exactly one life in which to do everything you’ll ever do. After those hundred-or-so years, you’ve got nothing. Everything you’ve done will eventually be forgotten, and everything you’ve built will be gone. But even so, if you can look back at your life while on your death bed and say, ‘You know what, I had one hell of a good time,’ you’ve accomplished a level of success much greater than an unhappy tycoon or restless politician.

Find what makes you happy and figure out a way to do more of it. Bonus points if you can help others do the same along the way.

Update: February 14, 2017

The seeds of my book Act Accordingly came from this post. And these are all still true, though I might explain them differently, today.

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My Brain Rickshaw

I like to picture myself as a machine, churning forward while burning a combination of calories, fatty tissue, and expectations.

Utilizing laws like thermodynamics and making clever uses of the Earth’s own gravitational pull, I hurl my machinated body toward problems and with a whirrrrrr and a series of clicks, I begin to process them, rearranging metal beads on my internal abacus and spouting out a torrential downpour of printed paper containing mathematical ephemera, moderately inappropriate quotations, and the occasional doodle of a chimpanzee.

But this mental metaphor isn’t quite right, because there is a power source present in everything that I do which doesn’t fit within the steam punk schema of an entrepreneurial mechanical turk.

Perhaps I’m more like a rickshaw, pulled by the most basic physical functions of a human being, but supplemented by gears and sprockets and education and Pareto Principle-like shortcuts.

As I softly pedal, using the least amount of energy I can possibly expend on such a task, my mental spokes spin faster and faster, and as a result of the machine on which I metaphorically perch, every unit of energy spent results in a drastically-increased amount of effort or ingenuity or imagination gained.

Yes, I think I could be okay being a rickshaw.

It doesn’t have the immense speed and maneuverability of a motorcycle, but it also doesn’t have the downsides: the pollution, the cost, the danger of an accident or fuel-explosion or just tipping over. It allows me to get where I’m going when I want to go there.

But more importantly, with little extra expenditure of energy, it also allows me to take several other people along for the ride.

Update:February 14, 2017

Relevant to this same topic: cyborgs. Humans augmented by machines, and interfaced with them in some way.

Today, we’re all cyborgs. Most of us, anyway. Have a smartphone? Use it or a computer to hop on a network like the internet? You’re cyborging like a champ. I tend to think a more likely future than humans being replaced by robots and artificial intelligences is humans networked with and through these technologies, and becoming all the more capable as a result.