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How do you know when you’re at the next level?
Everyone you know is worried about the possibility of making a living once they graduate from college.
You’re worried about becoming wealthy while working less than 4 hours a day, skipping work for weeks at a time, avoiding the computer at all costs, and having the utmost integrity through it all.
These days, there are much bigger problems than money… Like upholding my values, figuring out how to manage a degenerative eye disease, coming to terms with the fact that I do not ever want to drive, and finding clothes that flatter my body.
Worrying about making ends meet by any means necessary is so 2014.
So, how did I get here?
Note that I am nothing special. I get way too many emails that make me out to be some kind of legend, as if it was written in the stars that I would be mildly successful.
I worked very hard throughout my life to learn Skill #1: Writing.
I worked extremely hard to develop my writing throughout the years. I won writing competitions in elementary school, tried & failed to write 2 novels in middle school, and began blogging in high school. Still, this didn’t give me some kind of crazy advantage.
In 2013, I was planning to go to UC Davis, major in Statistics, and go on to get a six-figure job in big data.
In 2014, I failed high school, said “Screw you!” to college, and began thinking about how I could make a living on my own terms.
At this point in time, I was a 16 year old with no real skills (writing didn’t seem that profitable at the time), no network, and no diploma. I worked on a computer from 2009 and had trouble focusing.
I began to learn web development through free resources. Development is the poster child career for high school quitters like me. If I started learning at 16, I thought I could probably get an entry-level job by the time I was 18.
I then said “Screw you!” to a real job and decided to run my own business.
I wanted to work my own hours. I wanted to travel. I hated working with other people, especially “brogrammers.”
I called myself a marketer because I ran a blog that got 10-20k hits a month and tried to get clients.
I sold my first client with the promise of new leads for his business and charged him $100 a month. I emailed him cold, with no introductions or credibility, and somehow got him to hop on Skype with me.
We video chatted, which means he saw and heard I was an extremely young person sitting in my bedroom. I followed a script I wrote in a text document a few minutes before the call, and somehow — it worked! He paid me $100 to spend the next month marketing for him.
This seemed amazing to me. I just made MONEY! I was only 17, so young that I had to use my sister’s PayPal account to get paid.
With the newfound confidence of someone actually paying me, I wrote an ad on a public forum and got over 100 emails from people who wanted to pay me real money to market for them.
I decided to raise my prices 500% to $500 per month, because why not?
Even with this crazy price hike, I had to reject dozens of potential clients. I even had people beg to pay me money.
In a 3 month frenzy, I went from making no money to generating $2000 a month.
By selling myself as a marketer even though I had no credibility to do so, I learned Skill #3: Sales. At this point, any business I start can get 3 paying clients within 2 weeks.
But, I was getting bored. All of my clients had the same problems. I could nurse the wounds, but the majority of the bleeding was internal, where a mere marketing consultant could never reach.
I was scared that I would repeat this process for the rest of my life. I could’ve made a lot more money if I had stuck with it, but I felt stagnant. I wanted to grow in more ways than income.
So, I said “Screw you!” to freelancing and after a few months of loafing around, travel, and deliberation, I decided to get a job.
(Yes, I realize that I rejected getting a job before. Sometimes, we backtrack in our growth.)
I was going to work in marketing at a real company. My ragtag freelancing operation would never have the same scale of challenges that a real company would.
Within a few weeks of getting a LinkedIn, updating my website to be an extremely sparse resume, and involving myself in marketing forums, a few internship offers came my way.
I took one that was local. My mom drove me to the interview, and I got the job.
I was very excited to be at a real company, working on real things with smart people!
I quit within 3 days.
I didn’t even have the courtesy to say I quit.
I just stopped showing up. (This is probably the biggest “Screw you!” I have ever committed.)
I was right the first time I decided not to get a job. My work as a marketing intern at that company was far more basic than my freelance marketing career. I was replying to people on Twitter and had all my ideas shot down (even though I was willing to spearhead the whole project myself).
I felt the dread of waking up to go to work for the first time since I left school. I watched the clock to see when it wouldn’t be awkward for me to say “I’m going home now!” to my boss. The commute was 2-3 hours a day as I moved along Los Angeles’ highways with the mediocrity at my side.
Needless to say, I had my fill of jobs and decided I would probably never pursue one again.
During the 20+ hours I spent sitting in that expensive chair in the windowless room, I thought up a dozen back-up plans. In the same notebook I used to strategize marketing plans for the company, I had a page titled “how to be cool” with business ideas galore.
So, in a miserable job I held for 3 days, I developed Skill #4: Ideas, Ideas, Ideas.
Also, since my marketing ideas were honestly better than my “Director of Marketing” boss’ ideas, I guess I learned Skill #5: Digital Marketing.
I went out of there with a plan. I was going to be a freelance copywriter. Previously, copywriting seemed like a sleazy world filled with mystical writing powers, but thanks to a few people I discovered that week (shoutout to Danny & Alexandra), it now seemed like a legitimate business.
Unlike my previous freelancing effort where I was selling a variety of work to a specific industry, I was now selling something specific to a variety of clients. I could make this work, and I did.
I went from $15 to $100+ an hour within a few months. It was a genuinely good gig, and led to a lot of interesting work with interesting people. I felt good about what I did and I worked entirely on my own terms. My copywriting funded a few international trips and contributed heavily to my move-out fund.
With the sales, writing, and marketing skills I developed over the past few years — this was ridiculously simple and easy. I showed up, wrote some words that I knew were better than 98% of the population, and people threw money at me. It was amazing.
But of course, good things don’t last.
Instead of me saying “Screw you!” to the job, the job said “Screw you!” to me.
Copywriting depends 100% on me, my health, and my abilities. This meant it wasn’t really compatible with my rapidly degenerating eyes.
I’m still in the stage where I’m transitioning out of this, but here’s where I am in January of 2016…
I have to rebuild my entire business from scratch. I’ve upgraded my workstation to a $400 Lenovo, but I still have major problems with my working stamina, the fact that I could face 6 weeks of bedrest at any moment, and most of all — I’m deeply disadvantaged by the fact that my eyes hurt whenever I see any and all words.
So, my current pursuit is hiring people to write for me. I’m developing Skill #6: Hiring!
Before this, I’ve hired twice in my life, both times for extremely small gigs. One experience was good, the other was horrible.
Note that I’m the girl who’s publicly said outsourcing your work is a dumb idea. I wholeheartedly believed that it would be near impossible to find someone as skilled, reliable, and communicative as I am, at a price that makes sense for me.
If someone’s that good and charging a price that would make sense for me, I felt like I would be taking advantage of them. I don’t want to be responsible for other people’s income! I have a reputation to uphold and no one can fulfill that as well as I can.
Most of all, I’m 18! Career advice for people my age is to take low-paying jobs, “hustle,” and work to gain experience. Instead, I’m the one hiring people significantly older than me to get their first experience. Hiring is so out of my element. I feel like a fraud. I shouldn’t be allowed to do this. I feel like some business police is going to come find me and say, “WE KNOW YOU’RE ONLY 18!”
But now, I have to get over my fears, because it looks like the only way to achieve my ideal lifestyle is through hiring. I can sell anything to any market, but I can no longer do the work that I’m selling.
So far, it’s been really, really hard, and a bit expensive, too. But, early indications from my first week in business say this will work.
If it doesn’t work, I will make it work. I have a dozen back-up ideas about how I can use the same talent to sell a different product. If I can crack this hiring & management code, I have another extremely marketable skill I can show up and demand money for.
How to Start Making Money & Gaining Success on Your Own Terms
For those of you who email me asking about how to do this, here’s all the things you don’t need to become mildly successful:
- Any kind of degree
- Website/blog. (My blog led to nothing but friendships & emails with random people, seriously.)
- Any kind of social media
- “Passion,” “hustle,” or any other buzzwords
Here’s what you do need:
- Recognize that most of the world has a shortage of talent, even though everyone around you is saying there’s a shortage of jobs.
- Talent is not a degree or experience. Talent is showing up, saying you can do something, and doing whatever it takes to do what you promised.
- Start offering your talent wherever you can. If you put yourself out there, you’ll quickly realize it’s not about a lack of opportunity, it’s about saying yes when it matters.
- If you’re going to say “Screw you!” and quit, do it fast. Don’t hold onto something just because you feel like you have to.
- Learn from everything. Become a multi-talented unicorn.
- Rule the world. Email me once you do.
Know that this isn’t for the faint of heart. This is constantly hard, weird, alienating, and extremely confusing.
But, if you do all the work required to not be too worried about making money anymore, you’ll be ahead of most everyone you know.
Instead of money anxiety, you’ll experience the following world-shattering problems:
- Getting notified that you got paid while you’re out with friends who are in a lot of debt
- Crying about your inability to find fashion that suits you even though you have an unlimited budget
- Finding an arcade that looks like heaven at 2AM in the pouring rain of Montreal
- Going to the mall or beach at 10AM on a Tuesday and only seeing retirees and moms
- Getting 2000-word emails from strangers and feeling bad about instantly hitting delete
Who knows what’s next?
P.S. Movie quote in the title is from Almost Famous (2000). I will tour with a band someday.