I've Stopped Caring About Finding My Purpose

I don't care anymore about finding my purpose, finding "my passion." I don't think there is one monolithic "life work" I'm supposed to accomplish. Instead, I've shifted my focus to building side projects and businesses. Each of these side projects will help people in some different way by providing a service they need. It might be freelance work, video courses and screencasts, or writing a book.

James Altucher says the average millionaire has 7 sources of income. When I learned that, something clicked in my brain. I don't need to try to find a life purpose. I need to build income streams, and with each income stream, do it in a way that:

1) benefits others in a tangible, meaningful way (talk is cheap - people pay for what brings them value)
2) makes me happy
3) furthers my goals of freedom and travel

That's it. And I can build each of these income streams to the absolute best of my ability, one a time. I'm currently working on my first tech education course, and it's been an extremely difficult but rewarding process so far. The learning curve of your first course is steep, but I am becoming a much better teacher and developer in the process. This course has the added benefit of making me better at my day job, which makes me more effective of an employee.

My goals are simple: 1) increased freedom and 2) helping other people in a meaningful way. Freedom has many facets. When I was in working for a brokerage that served fee only financial planners, I started seeing how regulatory issues can follow you and destroy you, even if you'd done nothing wrong. Simply having an accusation of fraud was enough to set your career back, cost you a lot of time and money, and endanger your license. I didn't like that. I didn't want to be beholden to an industry with ever-changing regulation that, frankly, is run for the benefit of the rich. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with that, but I knew I was crazy if I thought anyone would have my back if the rubber met the road. I wanted control over my career, and web development provided that.

So I hustled and hustled and spent as much free time as possible getting my skills back up to par and learning from everyone who would give me the time of day. Once I felt good enough for an entry level developer job, I talked to my company about letting me move into tech. They shot me down, so that's the day I started applying to jobs in Portland. A few weeks later, I had an offer.

Fast forward and now I'm in the best job I've ever had working with wonderful people. Is it a bummer being stuck inside all day? Sure, and my new definition of freedom includes location independence and the ability to travel. But I'm in zero hurry to jump ship unless and until I have solid, repeatable income from at least one other side business. I'm building those slowly and methodically while learning from anyone I can. Until then, I'm going to give my all to this job during the day.

Anyone who tells you to quit your job before you're ready is either 1) crazy, 2) evil, or 3) short-sighted. I know this because when I started selling life insurance, I had absolutely nothing. I had no other income, no savings. Let me tell you, the first year was absolutely miserable, and the second year was still incredibly stressful. I had to borrow money from friends and strangers, work part time at McDonald's, and, most importantly, work as hard as possible to make sales.

So, this time, I'm doing it right, and doing it slowly. I'm building savings, building income streams, building businesses, and learning from everyone I can.

There's also a larger, more meta reason I'm doing this. The economy is shifting in a major way. It's happening little by little, but in 30 years we are going to be living in a different world. There are many trends I am watching:

  • The internet of things (connected devices)
  • Cryptocurrency
  • Drones
  • Virtual reality
  • Self-driving vehicles
  • Robotics
  • 3D Printing

These things taken together mean the end of huge swaths of human labor. Here are a handful of examples:

  • Drones will replace nearly all safety inspections.
  • Self-driving vehicles will replace cabs and truck drivers.
  • Robotics and the internet of things will eventually eliminate most food and retail jobs.
  • 3D printing will completely turn the manufacturing industry on its head.
  • VR won't just be about games: imagine being able to shop in a virtual mall and have real items delivered to you (by drone, obviously).
  • Cryptocurrency eliminates large parts of government and many financial institutions.

And that's barely scratching the surface. I haven't even talked about the impact IoT and robotics will have on industry and agriculture, from farming to timber to railroads. Portland is a hotbed of 3D printing and IoT development right now, and I am seeing crazy stuff already.

But I'm not the only one sporting a tin-foil hat. A few years back Oxford published a study that concluded that about 47% of jobs in the US will be computerized over the next two decades. The most at risk are jobs that are 1) repetitive or 2) dangerous, but highly skilled tasks like surgery could one day also be on the chopping block. Of course, it's the repetitive and dangerous jobs that make up infrastructure, the backbone of the economy. Jobs like truck drivers, equipment inspectors, railroad operators, fast food. It's not like this is happening overnight, but it is happening. And it will be more profound and more widespread than we're prepared for.

For me, I realize there is nothing special about writing code that one day some fancy machine learning couldn't do in my place. We're seeing Google, Wolfram Alpha, and a number of other companies do some mind-boggling machine learning work (check out Google's Cloud AI), and companies like Netflix, Facebook, and Amazon help the cause with their vast data-mining and algorithm-building efforts ("Alexa, listen to everything I'm saying and advertise to me more effectively."). Big data leads to increased machine intelligence, which leads to better automation, which leads to job replacement.

So my desire for eventual self-employment is both a personal challenge and, as I see it, a necessary part of future-proofing myself.

My current focus right now is building video courses. Currently, it's a tech course where I use Camtasia to record screencasts and narrate what I'm doing to walk students through code. I'm doing this project with two partners who are handling the platform and the marketing, so I'm just responsible for the content. Despite the learning curve, I am loving it. It feels natural for me, just like teaching normally does, and it's a medium that makes sense. I am going to continue making tech screencasts, for sure. I have a number of ideas for future courses ranging in size - but first I need to finish this one.

I'm also considering doing video courses based on the other stuff I've done in my life so far, from breaking into finance and tech to losing weight to the financial lessons I've learned both personally and through my work in the industry (I've sat across the table from hundreds of families and business owners). I took Ramit Sethi's Zero to Launch course, which was absolutely excellent, and it has provided the basic framework for what I'm doing.

I'm also thinking of writing a book. The first one wouldn't be for the sake of making money (it almost never is), it would be for the sake of spreading a message, telling my story, and making me a better writer. I don't want to write a self-help book. I want to write about how I've changed in the last four or five years, and if other people can learn from my mistakes and speed up that process, I would love that. It's fascinating for me to look back and try to piece together exactly how I've experienced such massive shifts in my mental, emotional, physical, and financial health. It feels sudden, but I know it wasn't. It happened very slowly, very gradually, and, frankly, very painfully - one step at a time.

Before I remembered that, I was just giving advice to everyone under the sun. But I've since learned all advice is autobiographical, and that people only want help when they ask for it and are ready to receive it. So I'm ditching "you should" and simply talking about what I've experienced since my divorce. How have I gone from a big mess of depression and insecurity to extremely confident, 60 pounds lighter, and light years better off financially? I'm just a regular guy. I didn't make millions and lose it all or anything like that. I don't have a body like an athlete (at least not yet). But I've learned something the last few years that is very valuable and will serve me for decades to come: the art of creating happiness, completely from inside, not dependent on a relationship or a job or a government or a religious institution. At the same time, I didn't create that happiness in isolation by any stretch of the imagination. It was through the help of exactly the right people at the right time along the journey from Gainesville to Portland.

Luckily, we live in an age where self-publishing is inexpensive, accessible, and with a much reduced stigma as the quality has increased. Years ago, MP3s, Garage Band, Napster, and a host of other music production and distribution tools brought a new level of accessibility to the music industry that unleashed a flood of new artists (heck, even my own band Swim Atlantic is on everything from Spotify to Google Play). The same thing has happened with publishing, largely thanks to Amazon's efforts with Kindle, CreateSpace, and Audible. Anyone can self-publish now and use the internet to build an audience and make a living if they'd like. That last part isn't easy, but it's definitely possible. I'm following people like James Altucher and Steve Scott for learning about self-publishing. Of course, this one will also have to wait until my tech course is out.

Along the way, I'm also keeping my ears open for other investment opportunities related to the trends above, whether direct crypto investments, business ideas, or stock in semiconductor companies.

I'll keep documenting what's working and what's not, and in doing so hopefully I can save other people some time and frustration along the way.