By Leo Babauta
I was once unemployed, and I know the debilitating depression and the feelings of frustration and helplessness that can come with that. I’ve been stuck in a job I hate, and I felt imprisoned, trapped doing work that bored me while following orders of others and helping them achieve their goals.
Those times were … less than ideal. In fact, those were some of the worst periods in the story of my life.
Luckily I rose above those traps, but I have to admit it wasn’t easy. The solution has been one of the most liberating, empowering, joyous things in my life.
I wanted to share that little secret with those of you who are having a hard time finding a job, or who feel trapped in a job you hate:
Create your own dream job. Don’t wait for someone to hand it to you. Don’t hope that you’ll win the lottery. Don’t give up and consign yourself to a fate of misery and (worse) dullness.
Create your job! It might sound far-fetched for some of you (while others have already done it) but it’s very possible. Not easy, mind you: it takes hard work and smarts and passion and a crap-ton of learning and a willingness to take risks and make mistakes. If that sounds like you, read on. If not, stop reading.
Your Big Idea
You might already know this but if you haven’t given it much thought, start to consider: what do you truly love doing? What are you passionate about? If you’re lucky you’ll have multiple answers. If you have no answers, it’s time to start finding things to be passionate about. Read more: The Short But Powerful Guide to Finding Your Passion.
If you have multiple answers, just choose one. Or find ways to combine two of them (if you love sewing and Star Wars, sew Star Wars costumes and put them on Etsy). Don’t be paralyzed by this choice: if it turns out this isn’t what you want then you can always start another business later. You learn by doing and making mistakes, not by analyzing every possible outcome and factor.
This passion will become your dream job.
This is how I did it. I love writing and I love taking steps to change my habits and my life. I started Zen Habits just for fun and it turned into my dream job.
How to Find Funding
You need a lot of money to get started, right? No. I explicitly reject the idea that “you have to spend money to make money”. Sure, that can work, or it can lead to a mountain of debt and monthly expenses that greatly exceed your income and possibly failure before you’ve had the chance to succeed.
I started my business with nothing. Zero dollars. In fact I had less than nothing: I was highly in debt and broke. I started with free online services (there are plenty — I used Blogger.com and Google Adsense and Google Analytics, but those are just a few examples). I refused to even buy my own domain until I made more money from my business than the cost of that purchase. I refused to pay for my site design or to use a paid host until I was making much more money than those purchases required.
My rule: spend much less than you make. It works for personal finances too.
Actually I didn’t start with nothing. While I had no money, I had some pretty big assets: my mind and talents and hard work and life experience. Those translated into a strong business, it turned out.
How can you start your business with nothing? I won’t create an exhaustive list but here are some examples:
- Someone I know wanted to start a marketing business. She didn’t need an office and staff and stationary — all she needed was her laptop (she had one), her skills (she had the experience), her contacts (she had a lot of them), and for people to know she was out there. And for that last bit, it just takes some … marketing skills. Hit businesses up and offer her services. Network online and gain clients that way. If she has expenses for a job she can charge those to the client.
- My sister wanted to start a ballet school. I suggested instead of building a studio and being hugely in debt, she start by going to private schools and offering to create an after-school ballet program at the schools. Parents would love it, the schools would benefit because parents want services like that, and she has practically no expenses.
- My other sister wanted to become a personal trainer. I encouraged her to start in her home, with minimal equipment, or go to her clients’ homes and businesses, or do outdoor bootcamps. She did and is amazing at it.
- Love to play video games? Start a site where you show people how to become elite players. Offer coaching.
- Start an online store where you sell stuff you make.
- Teach people how to do whatever you’re good at. They’ll pay you.
- Want to be a chef? Host dinner parties with gourmet cuisine, and charge $50 a head. Sell tickets in advance and use some of that money to buy the food and some dishes.
Again, these are just a few ideas. Sure, there are some businesses that require an initial investment but I suggest you find ones that don’t. Start free or cheap, borrow space from friends if necessary, and get started.
If you want to make a living at what you love doing, you need to get good at it. Some of you are already good at what you love — you’ve been doing it for years, either on the job or as a personal passion. Others are just starting out, but that’s not a barrier — you just have to put in more time and effort.
I was already an experienced writer when I started Zen Habits (I’d been a journalist for about 18 years), but I didn’t know a thing about blogging or teaching people to simplify, improve their lives, change their habits. I knew about how to do that myself (though I was still learning) but I’d never taught anyone. So I learned: I read other blogs, read personal development sites and books, read blogs about blogging, studied the best, figured out what they did that made them successful. It takes a lot of study, a lot of analysis, a lot of trying and doing and seeing what works and what doesn’t.
I made a ton of mistakes. That’s a good thing. You can’t get good at anything without making a huge amount of mistakes. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes — they’re stepping stones to greatness. Try everything, see what works, see what doesn’t. Stick with the things that work.
Put in a lot of hours of practice and doing. The more, the better. Reflect on what you’ve done and what you’ve learned, write it down. Put it in your blog so you can help others learn, but more importantly you’ll force yourself to learn from your own experience.
Get good. Others will gladly pay you if you’re good.
Build an Audience
Any business, big or small, benefits from an audience. That’s different than a customer base — an audience is a group of people who you help and who love you. They might not pay you. Some will want to pay you for more of what you offer, but many will just love you, and that’s a great thing.
The best way to attract an audience is to provide really valuable content. It’s that simple. Help people solve their problems, give away lots of powerful information to do so.
Building an audience is tough. It takes time, it takes a lot of giving, it takes a willingness to wither criticism and to learn from that criticism (though ignore the idiots).
OK, you’re pursuing your passion, you’ve developed your skills, you’ve built an audience. Now what? How does that pay your bills?
You build income streams. There are many, many ways to do that, including:
- Give away free articles but charge for ebooks or other digital products (that’s what I do).
- Create a subscription or membership service for powerful content.
- Create online courses.
- Sell ads or run ads from ad networks.
- Do consulting or freelancing.
- Do speaking engagements or training seminars.
- Sell physical stuff online or on a site such as Etsy.
- Create an app and sell it on the Apple or Android platforms.
- Build a web app and charge for the premium version.
- Provide a service where you go to people’s houses and do something for them (yardwork, massage, fitness training, houspainting, etc.).
- Sell T-shirts or coffee mugs or stickers with your slogan or logo.
- Sell other people’s stuff as an affiliate and get commissions.
Which of these should you do? Try one, see how that works, then try another, then another. See what works best and be willing to build multiple income streams.
The Empowerment of Creating Your Own Job
I’ve only given you a rough outline but if I gave away every step that would be taking away all the fun. The fun is learning how to do it yourself!
There is something incredibly empowering about seizing control of your life and creating the job you want, rather than waiting for it to happen or waiting for someone to give it to you. You are no longer a passive viewer of the world, but someone actively changing it. You become your own boss, pursuing your own goals. That’s incredible.
If you’re out of a job or stuck in a lousy job, I feel for you. But look at your horrible situation as a wonderful opportunity to change your life and do something great. It could be the best thing you’ve ever done.