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Last week, I saw a remarkable photo of Earth taken from Mars by Curiosity Rover. Like that surreal shot from beneath Saturn’s rings, it reminded me how ridiculous we are.
In 1986, Crocodile Dundee explained to a visiting New York journalist who it was that owned the remote land in the Australian outback. “…Aborigines don’t own the land. They belong to it. It’s like their mother. See those rocks? Been standing there for 600 million years. Still be there when you and I are gone. So arguing over who owns them is like two fleas arguing over who owns the dog they live on.”
When you consider how tiny and insignificant we are compared to the majesty of this planet – we’re no better than those two fleas. We worry and argue and fight over the stupidest things. Seen from Mars or Saturn, or that epic view of ‘Earth Rise’, shot from the moon, it’s absurd that all the conflict (internal and external) since the dawn of man is concentrated on that little blue marble dangling in space.
Stating the obvious was a Dundee/Hogan speciality, but all of us can do it. Applying simple truths, though, is much harder. I know I should exercise more, but don’t. I should eat more green-leaf veggies, too, but then I’d have to prepare them and cook them. I should pull Tommy out of school for a month and head to the Outback, but who would look after my clients?
Clearly, I still have a lot to learn.
But that’s why I’m perfectly qualified to share what I’m still learning about living and working on purpose. Like all of us, I’m a work in progress, and I figure when you stop learning, you’re done. As in dead.
As you might know, I usually retreat to my garage each afternoon to read, write, tinker and ponder, and always with a glass of Shiraz in my hand. It’s also a place where many of my best ideas take shape (the other being in the car). Yesterday, in a moment of clarity (first glass), I realised the life I now enjoy – of which I’m immensely proud – has gone through five distinct phases. And like signposts facing the wrong way, they’ve only become apparent after looking back. These are what I want to share with you.
Phase 1 – Work Remotely
I could talk about this till the cows come home. By the way, whose cows are those in my yard?
Millions of people are experiencing #WFH for the first time. Some hate it, many love it. Those I’ve spoken to who love it never want to go back.
So for the sake of brevity, I’ll just say this. Until you make working from home (or an RV or a Bond-style mountain hideaway) a permanent thing, you’ll struggle with the rest. For me, working from home is what made all the other things possible.
For some of you, a hybrid WFH arrangement will be the go, where you’ll visit a concrete tower a few times a week and work the remaining days from home. That’s fine, and it’s still a whole lot better than the old way.
You might be working from home right now, but that could change in an instant. Plus, there are smart ways to do it, and then there’s winging it. I’ve done it for over 20 years, so I’m happy to share what’s worked for me. Here are some useful posts (plus my two courses) on mastering phase one.
Earn the right to work from home – what it takes.
How do you convince your boss to let you work remotely?
With these tools, you can work from almost anywhere.
The Top 5 Challenges of Working from Home
3 Habits Every Remote Worker Should Have
5 Rules for Working from a Home Office
Escape the Office Game Plan (Self-Paced Course)
Remote Work Academy (Self-Paced Course)
Phase 2 – Get Your Time Back
The only person I know who’s never busy is my brother-in-law. I ask him, “So, what did you do on Saturday?” Bob: “Nothing. Just relaxed.” Me: “Do anything Friday night?” Bob: “Nah, just jacked back.”
Everyone else is busy except Bob. Even my 9-year-old, Tommy, says there aren’t enough hours in the day to edit his YouTube videos, design his new ‘merch’ t-shirts for Roblox and learn the latest motion-tracking hacks for Blender. What a geek.
So, what I’m saying is, except for Bob, the best thing – the most important thing – about working remotely is the time it saves you. And don’t forget, time is the one resource we can’t create any more of. All we can do is slice it and allocate it to the things that matter. Each of us has 24 hours a day before the timer resets, whether you’re a 9-year-old gamer or the Prime Minister of New Zealand.
I save around 500 hours every year. That’s 62 eight-hour days a year, or twelve working weeks. Every year.
How else do you think I created two blogs, host a podcast and serve a handful of multi-million-dollar companies, while still spending every evening hanging out with my son?
I have time, that’s how. Which leads me to…
Phase 3 – Get a Side Hustle
I’ve freelanced since I was a kid. During a marathon (2.75 hours!) podcast yesterday with my pal, Mary Rogers, we wondered how we’d both acquired this need for autonomy and self-reliance.
Neither of us could be sure, but we’d both been afflicted from a young age. I started hustling when I was eight. Mary had a business with two dozen staff by the time she was 20.
Back then, starting a business was difficult, risky and expensive. Today, creating something of your own is easier and less costly than it’s ever been. You can build a six or seven-figure business from home without any employees or fancy equipment. Matter of fact, my wife does exactly that from the dining room table on her seven-year-old MacBook Pro.
I have a collection of loyal clients who keep me in Shiraz and vintage cheese – people who I love to serve, and who appreciate my work (and pay on time!). I’ve also built two blogs over the last few years – first Midlife Tribe, and now this one. I’ve been in no hurry to earn a living from either of them, but the foundations are there if I decide to go all-in.
Side hustle opportunities are everywhere these days, but there are traps. Here are a few to ponder.
If you only chase money, you’ll probably fail. There are lots of reasons, but here are the main ones:
- You’ll likely fall for get-rich-quick schemes.
- You might pursue things you’re embarrassed to share with family or friends.
- You’ll do things you don’t enjoy, which means you’ll run out of energy before you get anywhere.
- You’ll make poor decisions based on the wrong metrics.
- The only caveat is this: If you pursue something because you know it’ll be profitable and you’re happy to work hard to make it so, then go right ahead. My wife is a lot like this – she loves business for business’s sake and doesn’t care whether it’s selling groceries, DVDs or skincare products. If it challenges her and she can make it work, she loves it.
A good side hustle is usually found at the intersections.
It’s found between something you enjoy doing/curating/talking about, two or more of your skills/talents, and any leverage, influence or credibility you possess. To learn more about uncovering them in yourself, read this hugely popular post, ‘Create a business from what you already know‘.
Start small and move one step at a time.
Don’t worry about step 37 when you’re at step 3. Chances are, you’ll be a different person with better resources, greater knowledge and more leverage by the time you approach the later steps.
Good branding is the side effect of doing the right thing.
Keep learning, and don’t try to act bigger than you are. People, especially those with power and influence, can spot a bullshitter a mile away.
It’ll probably take a lot longer to earn a buck than you expect.
Make sure it’s something you’re prepared to refine and iterate over the long haul. Play the long game, and know when to pivot if required. Seth Godin wrote a brilliant post on ‘good ideas‘ the other day. Here’s an excerpt:
“And then what happens?”
Repeat the question 100 times. Because after every good idea, there are at least 100 steps of iteration, learning, adjustment, innovation and effort.
Starting with the wrong idea is a waste of energy and time. But not committing to the 100 steps is a waste of a good idea.
Phase 4 – Become a Better Version of You
Like you, I’m tired of the whole ‘be the best version of yourself’ movement. Why does everything we strive for have to be the best, greatest, or fastest? What’s wrong with better?
When I was 22, you’d have struggled to find a more ambitious, energised individual. I wanted to make it big, and yesterday would do just fine, thank you. Being the best and getting there the fastest was everything to me. God knows who I was competing against.
Fast-forward thirty years, and I’ve learned a thing or two. Sequential failures will do that for you.
I’ve learned that the most valuable things I’ll ever possess are:
- Peace of mind
- Good health
- Quality relationships
- Time to explore and appreciate life
- Working on projects or passions that matter to me
The rest, I’ve found, is window dressing. Mere distractions. And interestingly, neither status, fame, nor great gobs of money is required to achieve any one of them. Let me explain.
Once you wrest back some control over where, how and when you work, you free up precious, immensely valuable time to explore other opportunities, tinker with a side project or begin freelancing a little. Time to discover what makes you happy. Time to broaden your earning potential through consulting, writing, or making something.
It gives you the headspace and bandwidth to look at what’s possible.
This extra time also helps you repair or improve relationships with those you care about – especially your kids, your partner and your parents. Instead of collapsing on the sofa after a day at the office, you can kick a ball, go for a walk, help out around the house, or just talk. Imagine talking just for the sake of it – not with a phone in your hand or with a TV squawking in the background. Just you and someone else having a conversation. You might be surprised just how invigorating and satisfying it can be.
Phase 5 – Create a life you’re proud of.
In about 120 years, almost every person who’s alive today will be dead – including you and those you love. If you’re around my age (52), you have another few decades in you if you’re lucky.
How much of your remaining time will you spend doing things that bring you happiness, joy and peace of mind? How many beautiful moments will you experience before your joints stiffen, your ticker starts skipping and your bladder begins to leak?
Having gained control of my time, engaged in a few important (to me) projects, and set aside time with my family, my life is unrecognisable from those early anxious days. I’m improving myself a little every day – learning, serving, and growing. And now, because of the changes I made, I’ve been able to create a life that I’m proud to call my own.
In recent years, I’ve taken up golf, bought a dirt bike so I can ride with my son, fixed my finances, rediscovered camping, and cemented a bond with my kids that’ll last a lifetime. I’ve devoted more time to my parents, and I’m planning new adventures as I write.
These five phases manifested a whole new life for me because of deliberate decisions that supported them. And each phase revealed new lessons and fresh opportunities to learn and improve, and be grateful.
I know I’m just a Quark on a dot in the inky blackness of space, but I’m getting better at living my life on purpose.
And in the final analysis, that’s all I’ve ever wanted.
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