I’ve spoken with a number of people over the past couple of weeks that are searching for their work-lives – for what to do with themselves and, typically, like a Bordertown, they’re drawn to the internet. Partly by stories of heady profits made by people who don’t treat work as a source of meaning – they’re in it for the fast buck, quick hustle, in and out and retire in Aruba. Partly, it’s the knowledge that some people really do find meaningful, fulfilling work on the internet, and free themselves from an increasingly oppressive corporate millieu. One senses a great swell of interest with much less direction.
The problem, as I presented it to one client, is that you need either a unique idea, a specialized niche, or a supremacy of passion about what you do. You ask yourselves questions:
- What are you good at? So good at that you know you’re better at it than almost everyone else?
- What are you so passionate about, not that you’d throw down work if you could and do just that, but that you’d do all the work every day needed to make a business related to that? [You always hear someone say "I could golf all day, and do nothing else, easily." Sure, but are you willing to work all day at a golf-related business? If not, then that's not your thing, not really.]
- What niche can you occupy – where can you squat in the market – that no one, or almost no one else is really addressing?
- Is your idea unique, or are there hundreds of other people doing it, and you just “hope” to tap into some of that free flowing sap from the main trunk line? [Have you looked? Often, the very thing that shows you people are making money - "I found 200 web sites of people selling web sites" - shows you that it's a serious gamble to hang out yet another shingle on that street]. Search the discussion groups – how many of those people are struggling to earn a living wage from what they do – and that’s what you want to take on as a new business? The question is really: What is your idea that’s, in an economically significant way, different than theirs?
Part of the desperation that can lead people to make bad choices is in not yet having the answers to these questions. These are not small questions – they’re part of the hero’s quest. They are the classic questions: “Who am I?” and “What should I do?” They are right up there with “How should I live?” They’re questions of religious import, and too important to be left to “faith”. They’re questions that, if you’re going to ask them at all, you need to know that you know the answers to, even if you’re building the answers over time.
When it’s no desperation, it can be despair. Paralysis. Doing nothing, because we don’t know what to do. That too is a mistake because, sooner or later, you drift farther and farther from that shore, and the genuine voice that asked those questions in the first place begins to be incomprehensible. The true despair, the permanent kind for the not-to-be-redeemed, is the nihilism that has given up, that no longer believes there are answers to ultimate questions.
I usually have a standard piece of advice for people that don’t know what to do next, and have been tempted to leap without looking, to jump based on hope, or else give up based on despair:
BLOG. Blogging will tell you who you are. Start a blog. Start three blogs. Don’t worry about what they’re about – that’s the point. Blog whatever you’re thinking about, every day. If you’re thinking about it in the shower, and you’re not blogging it, why not? If you’re considering it, pondering it, laughing about it, raging against it, for Christ’s sake why aren’t you blogging it?
There’s no instant cure in blogging, though there can be instant relief. Over time, though, you’ll begin to see patterns in your many blog posts. Don’t look too soon. Hold out, persist, don’t try to move the Ouiji – let it happen for real, or you’ll get made up answers from the bewilderment of your subconscious. But eventually, re-read everything you’ve written, and make notes on the patterns. Do meta-blogging (it’s a kind of meta-cognition): think about thinking – about your thinking in particular – and blog about that too. This will begin to fill in some of the raw material out of which answers to some of those important life questions will come. Not all the answers are within, but some very important ones are.
It’s a hard thing, even with help, to decipher. This culture tends to confuse person (who you are) with operations (what you do) with nature (what we all are), and that fundamental error, rooted in ancient theological mistakes, queers the attempt and the journey. But ask those questions separately, and don’t confuse them, and you’ll do all right.
And you can’t be a perfectionist if you want this to work. That’s about what you demand right now, and not about what you need to accomplish what you’re talking about. Be willing to write drivel. Be willing to break all the rules, when you blog. Be inconsistent. And eventually, be prepared to scrap it and start a new blog, or completely revamp (which happens over time anyway). Entrepreneurs prepare for failure and, in fact, count on it; most of their initial ventures will be replaced with later ones, and some of them all along won’t pan out. If that weren’t true of you, you wouldn’t be setting out on this journey.
Blogging will tell you who you are, what you think, what you want, what’s important to you and, ultimately, it will help you gain insight into what you should do. As far as how you should live, that questions comes from out there… and blogging, as a social instrument, can help with that too. It doesn’t always, but it sometimes does.
See you in the blogosphere.