Sep 8, 2014

Committing to Lifelong Work Activities

I want to share with readers a thought process that I have found to be very productive when considering long-term professional and personal goals. Recently this helped me to formulate with near-perfect clarity what I consider to be my "work" and how each of my four main branches of activities should be developed over the next N years.

The most important part was to identify activities that I am deeply committed to — things that I want to be permanent fixtures of my lifestyle. If there is a way to turn these activities into a livelihood, then they can (and should — at least in my case) become lines of work.

The process of developing a de facto commitment to something and then incorporating it into a conscious worldview has taken me many years. Many people develop amazing skills in their youth, only to neglect them entirely as they move into their adult years. When you see people doing amazing things in their early 20s, you can rarely be sure that they'll still be at it a few years from now.

Without going into too much personal detail, here is a list of my four main branches of activity and the ages at which I began, developed a de facto commitment, formulated my commitment, and began earning money through the activity.

23; 26; 36; 27

14; 19; 33 (arguably 19); 21

11; twice: 17 and again at about 28; 30; 36

16 (arguably 6); 21; 34; 37 (probable)

To summarize, it seems that my childhood and teens were a time to discover my main interests. My early adulthood (mid teens to mid 20s) was the time to try working hard at different types of activities without making a firm commitment to one or the other. My 30s have been the time to select the activities that I hope to do for the rest of my life and make them a part of my identity.

I view this step as a transition from young adulthood to mature adulthood. It's like I am finally staking out my territory and saying, "this is mine." In my case the territory is mostly ephemeral (skills, activities, and opportunities), but for some people it could be quite a bit more concrete (property).

What happens when you realize that you are in something for the long haul? It's almost like flipping a mental switch. You start thinking about investing in tools that will help you become as effective as possible at your chosen activity, including: special training, high-quality equipment, routines to maximize your productivity, marketing and branding, etc.

In my case, each of my four branches of activity is a world of its own that has very little to do with the other three branches. I don't know how unusual that is. In any case, making a commitment to these branches has always involved considerable action and investments beyond my previous level of dedication.

As I thought about my activities, I came to recognize that each of them involved the following dimensions: ways of earning money one product or service at a time for a specific customer ("active income"), ways of earning passive income (royalties, advertising, scalable systems, etc.), and a social community surrounding the activity that I enjoyed interacting with and being at or near the center of.

Thus, I ended up with a kind of chart with my branches of work, active and passive income channels, and community development. Cells in the chart where I am currently doing little or nothing show me the large steps to be taken in the next few years. In cells where I am already doing something, in the coming years I simply need to take the "next logical step," whatever that happens to be.

I found this process incredibly satisfying and thought some of my readers might find it useful as well.