Three(ish) Years of Side Hustle
Three(ish) years ago I stopped writing for myself.
They say there’s no money in writing — that it’s useless, but that isn’t true. There’s no money in writing what you want; there’s plenty of money in writing what other people need. That’s what I’ve done for the last three(ish) years. At my job I write what other people need, and after 5:00 p.m. I go home and do the same thing.
Needless to say I’ve neglected things in pursuit of wealth, like keeping contact with family and friends, and writing when it’s cathartic. I used to blend the two by blogging, back before I learned blogs can make a lot of money.
So I guess this is a break back to then, before I cared about writing for money, or traffic, or rankings. Here are the things that I’ve learned and experienced, for what they’re worth to you, and for understanding and remembrance to me.
I Built a Website
I didn’t follow my passion. I found an opportunity in the market to fill a need (and rank). It wasn’t quick, or easy, or even simple. It was nine months of 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., partly because it was just me, but mostly because I had no idea what I was doing. After ten months I hit publish.
I made money.
Next month, I made more money.
I thought to myself, “This is easy! I should build a website in a competitive vertical with higher earning potential.”
So I did.
I Built Another Website
Like the first website, but in less time, and in a big market, like fitness, or payday loans, or porn (it wasn’t porn).
But it didn’t rank.
And I didn’t make money.
I wrote and published more content. Better content. The best content on porn (not porn) you’ve never read. But it still didn’t rank, and the traffic was abysmal, so after a few months I quit.
I Did Nothing
Well, nothing useful anyway. I thought a lot about business, and principles, and the gap too often between them. I tried to think of what I wanted to do next, but for a long time could only think of what I didn’t want to do, which it turns out is a pretty good way to determine what you want to be doing.
Not surprisingly, I learned more in a short stint of nothingness than I did while going hard. The lessons deserve more attention than I’m presently willing to give them, but here they are anyway, which I’ll hopefully flesh out more articulately… someday.
Commitments come in one of two fashions:
- I’m going to do this no matter what.
- I’m going to do this unless.
When I built my first website, I was going to figure out this whole internet marketing thing no matter what. If that meant cutting into gym time, or missing birthday parties, or dying 20 years younger from stress, so be it.
When I built my second website in a more profitable but shady niche (not porn), I was going to make money unless it compromised my emotional well-being. When it did, I quit, which — as far as quitting goes — is a damn good reason to quit something.
The majority of resolutions I’ve made with the intention of the former (no matter what) but reality of the latter (unless).
Sometimes the stipulations that justify quitting are legit, like leaving a demanding job for a lesser one to spend more time with your family. Sometimes they’re not, like skipping leg day because you hate squats. I suppose the only difference between a reason and an excuse is whether or not you choose to accept it.
As for my opinion, it’s not okay to quit because things are hard, but it is okay to reevaluate as our priorities change and unforeseen variables impact our lives. We make goals from where we are, not from where we’re going.
On Passive Income
I have never explicitly wanted to earn passive income. I just want to be able to do whatever I want, whenever I want to do it, including work. That’s not passive income. That’s wanting control over your life.
When I mistakenly tell people my side hustle, they usually say, “Like Pat Flynn!” and I say yes because it’s true. Pat Flynn makes money online. I do that too.
But both of us are still working. I think a lot of people misinterpret Pat’s brand from his business model, the brand being passive, the business model which he very actively works on.
A couple years ago I read an article that said something to the effect of, “There is no such thing as passive income, only neglected businesses.” The more I work, the more I find this to be true, and the people in pursuit of passive income with lofty dreams of doing nothing all day either:
A) Have never done nothing long enough to realize that doing nothing gets boring quickly.
B) Already spend the majority of their time doing nothing, so they’re already living the dream.
On Problems (And Solving Them)
As I was there doing nothing I thought about doing something, but not just any kind of something: It had to be something BIG. Like reversing how we’re all going to melt relatively soon, or making sure everyone has access to clean drinking water, or ridding the world of plastic.
But I told myself that I couldn’t fix those problems because I was lazy in high school and didn’t go to MIT, then I was lazy in college too and got a crappy arts degree. Then I beat myself up some more for continuing to be lazy and make excuses, because if I was serious about solving those problems, I would find a way, but the closest I got to making a difference was occasionally walking to Hy-Vee instead of driving, and buying a faucet filter, and recycling.
It was hard to admit that I wasn’t serious about fixing those problems because I knew practically nothing about them. I think a lot of people feel the same way in that we want to solve the big problems but don’t know how. Maybe that means we’re lazy, or maybe there are better problems for us to solve that aren’t so big, but they’re still important.
Maybe the problems we’re meant to solve are the ones we know best.