Big Picturing

I get a lot of emails from people asking me how to make money. How does one start a business? How does one sell a product?

Yes, there are things a person can do that makes earning money more likely. But why? Why do these people want this money? What will they do with it?

When I ask people this question, I usually get something trite or borrowed from tech conference lingo.

“I want to change the world by providing (insert something here that probably won’t change the world, it will just earn them money).”

“I want to change the world by (insert something here that impacts other people who work in the tech industry, and who can afford to live in the nice parts of big cities, but is irrelevant to anyone outside of that tiny circle).”

“I want to change the world by (insert clone of idea someone else already had here).”

Don’t get me wrong: I think there can be value, for someone, in any business idea. And in the hands of some people, money is a marvelous tool. It’s something that allows them to be more fulfilled and happy as an individual, and will perhaps even speed their pace toward a goal that they truly care about: a cause that will be furthered because they now wield more monetary influence.

But that’s not why people typically want to earn a bunch of money. The money is the goal, and how they get it is somewhat immaterial.

Yes, they’ll parrot the “We’re going to change the world by…” phrases that they’re supposed to say, but their actual goals end at, “Earn a bunch of money.”

They’re betting that they’ll either be happy as soon as they’re wealthy, or they’ll be able to swing that bag of cash around until they hit something that makes life worth living.

This is why, these days, when people ask me how they can start up a business or earn more money, I tell them things that may, at first, seem off-topic.

I ask them to take a step back and figure out why they want the money, and how much they think they need to achieve their actual goal. I ask them if the business or product or service they’re considering is a means to a monetary end, or an end unto itself; something inherently worth doing.

I tell them to read fiction. It helps you empathize with those outside of your default social group and can help you imagine possibilities beyond concrete reality.

I tell them to travel. Whether you experience new geographies and new cultures, or just try new things, new lifestyles, and new ways of thinking in your own backyard, expanding your horizons helps you see the world from novel perspectives, and those perspectives will help you figure out your ‘why’s.

I tell them to focus on being happy with what they have now. If you can achieve happiness before earning fat stacks of cash, you’ll be less likely to sacrifice the most important things in your life for more money (because you’re not desperate to find something that will fulfill you). You’ll also be more likely to spend that money wisely, and on things that actually matter to you, rather than swinging that cash-bag around, hoping to have someone else hand you prepackaged fulfillment.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with money, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with pursuing more of it if doing so will help you become more you and allow you to do more of what makes you feel alive. It’s also important to have enough so that you can keep a roof over your head and food on the table: I’m certainly not suggesting that the desire to have any money is a waste of time, particularly when it allows us to sustain the fundamentals.

Just make sure you know why you’re pursuing it. That you see the big picture and allow it to guide your steps.

Make sure that you’re not running in the same direction as everyone else, not because you want to get where they’re going, but because following the crowd is the easiest option when you have no idea where you want to be.

Update: April 21, 2017

I’ve gotten pushback on this concept from some of the people who asked for this type of advice. Some of the responses amount to, “That’s not what I asked you, I want a trick that will help me earn a million dollars overnight. Enough of this hippy bullshit.”

Thankfully, most of the responses imply the person on the other end of these messages get it, and realize that a perspective shift in this regard can be useful, and isn’t a barrier to wealth, but rather a reassessment of it.

There’s not much I can do about the former group, as I was there once, too, and I may have responded the same way. But the latter group is heartening: perhaps they’ll be able to avoid some of the mistakes I (and many people like me) have made in the past.


Practical Philosophy

Our beliefs are shaped by countless variables: from our families and friends, to our educational experiences and lifestyles, to genetics and chance.

But these beliefs are often more about theory than practice. One’s philosophy is essentially a label applied to oneself, and if one should fail to live up to this philosophy, the repercussions are minuscule or nonexistent.

Consider that a self-proclaimed pacifist can get into a fight every single day and still call themselves a pacifist: there are no philosophy police. If confronted about this misapplication of title to action they may claim to be an ‘aspiring pacifist,’ or maybe even a ‘bad pacifist,’ but they can still claim the philosophy either way.

One’s philosophy, then, is often more about intention than practice.

While living in Iceland, I learned a word that changed the way I view beliefs. Lífspeki is not just an adorable-sounding word (it’s pronounced “leaf-specky”), it’s also a way of looking our beliefs and the role they play in our lives.

Lífspeki is an Icelandic word that means ‘the practical philosophy by which you live your life, which you define through your actions.’

So while your philosophy is something you claim, your lífspeki is something you show. No aspirations: with everything that you do — every step, every word, every breath — you concretely demonstrate your beliefs.

I took a close look at my life after learning this word to see what my actions were telling the world about my beliefs. I had already spent years recalibrating my life toward something more aligned with my convictions, but I was still doing things out of habit, out of laziness, out of ignorance, that didn’t align with my beliefs. From this new lífspeki-catalyzed perspective, I could see which aspects of my life would need to be shifted into better alignment.

Theoretical philosophy is wonderful, because it allows us to explore horizons we haven’t yet reached in our own lives and understand why others do the things they do.

Taking a practical approach to philosophy allows us to see whether the things we claim are our priorities are actually being prioritized, and where we’re failing to live in accordance with the ethics we claim to hold dear. This allows us to reach each new horizon in one piece, happy for having made the journey.

Update: April 21, 2017

I love this word.

This essay, I believe, was a shortened summary of a talk I gave during the Asymmetrical Press Wordtasting tour, during which I brought up a handful of words I’d picked up while traveling, all of which changed my view of the world in some way.

This new way of seeing my philosophy, though, as something active not theoretical, was immensely influential on what I did next, and how I live my life today.