A useful way to think of yourself is to think of yourself as someone who’s self-employed.
You’ve actually always been self-employed. But nobody ever told you. It’s like breathing. You’re aware of your breathing after you’ve been reminded of it.
This isn’t about quitting your day job to start a company. This is an exercise in creating a mindset. A mindset for deciding what work you’d like to do, why you’d like to do your work, how you’d like to do your work, and for whom your work is for.
One way to become self-employed is to start asking yourself some questions: What am I employing myself to do? What am I employing myself to learn? To which cause am I employing myself to? What work can I do to become more valuable to myself and the people I wish to serve? Who do I want to serve? Why do I want to serve them?
You can ask yourself these questions even if you work in a large company. And you should do so especially if you work in a large company. In a large company, it’s difficult to know exactly who’s giving you a task. You could be given a task from your boss. But your boss was told by their boss to give you that task. And you’ve never met your boss’s boss. You don’t know why your boss’s boss wants your boss to tell you to do that task. Now the reasons for you to do the task are too vague. Why would you do anything for a vague reason?
The self-employed person doesn’t deal with vagaries. The self-employed person knows exactly why they’re doing their work.
What work does the self-employed person do? The work that only they can do. Work that they enjoy doing. Work that makes full use of their interests, hobbies, and personality.
You know yourself better than anyone. You know what your work stands for. You know where your money is going. You know how you’re going to do your work. You know who your work is for.
Unless of course you don’t know any of these things. In which case you’ve got work to do. Five types of work. No two-week notice required.
The 5 Types of Work for the Self-Employed
Self-work is the work you do on yourself. This work could be called inner-work, or spiritual work, or psychological work, or religious work. Self-work is done through introspection, long periods of thinking, meditation, going on a walk without your phone, prayer, anything that allows you space and time to just think.
Self-work is the most important kind of work. Self-work is the work of deciding to become the person you need to become to do the work that only you can do.
Work on yourself, as Jim Rohn once said, “harder than you work on anything else.”
- Meditating in the morning
- Going on a walk
- The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy
- Stillness is The Key by Ryan Holiday
- Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
- The Tao-Te-Ching by Lao Tzu
- Writing in a journal
- Reevaluating your belief systems
- Quitting habits that no longer serve you
- Quitting habits that never served you
Brand-work is the work you do around deciding what work you’d like to be paid for. Your brand is the body of work you’ve created. Your brand is every piece of your work that you’ve put online. And if your work isn’t online, as Austin Kleon says, “It doesn’t exist.”
Brand-work deals with these questions: Why should people hire you? Why should the company you currently work for continue to keep you hired? Why should you be paid, with either time or money, for your work? Why should people listen to your podcast instead of someone else’s podcast? Why should people read your blog instead someone else’s blog? How much are you going to charge for your work? Do you work for quality or mediocrity? What’s the story you’re telling about your work?
- Akimbo, a podcast by Seth Godin
- This Q&A by Seth Godin on The Tim Ferris Show
- Linchpin by Seth Godin
- Seth Godin’s definition of brand.
- Crush It! By GaryVee
- Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon
- Buying a domain name (yes, I still need to do this)
- How to Do What You Love by Paul Graham
Money-work is the work you do around getting your finances in order. I don’t think I’m qualified to go any further than saying that. So I’ll keep this section short and provide you some recommendations:
- Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey (I know. Don’t judge a book by its cover. There’s lots of useful things to know in this book)
- I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi
- Money Master The Game by Tony Robbins (again, don’t judge a book by its cover. This book is huge, but you could do with skipping the last 200 pages)
- Vanguard.com (I think I’m supposed to tell you that I am in no way affiliated with Vanguard)
- Simple Steps to Financial Freedom by Matt D’Avella
- Everything you’ve been told about money is wrong by Matt D’Avella
Technical-work is the work you do to set up the infrastructure of your days. Technical-work is about setting up systems that allow you the space and time to work on the projects that you’d like to work on. This work can be done with or without technology. I prefer technology, so my recommendations will be based on tech:
- Momentum dashboard for Google Chrome (This app is wonderful. It doesn’t seem like much at first. But after awhile, I promise that your productivity will increase, especially if most of your work is done on a computer)
- Google Calendar
- The Blog of Tim Ferris
- 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris
- Essentialism by Greg McKeown
- This episode of The Tim Ferris Show
- Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule by Paul Graham
- Rework by the guys behind Basecamp
If you’re not good with tech, don’t worry. The apps are just electronic versions of the physical thing. If you can’t use Evernote, use a real notebook. If you can’t use Google Calendar, use a real calendar.
There are two parts of relationship-work: The work you do for other people, and the work you do to nourish the relationships with the people you love.
The work you do for other people
Define who you’re working for and why you’re working for them. Your work does not exist in a vacuum. It’s no use making something useful if there’s nobody to use what you’ve made.
Some questions to ask yourself: Are you working with/for people that hold you to a high standard? Are you working with/for people that expect quality? Do you know your demographic, your niche? Would these people miss your work if you were to stop working? Have you defined what kind of people would (and would not) be interested in seeing your work?
Nourishing your relationships with the people you love
This takes work. Love isn’t something that happens automatically. What will happen automatically is the degradation of your relationships if you stop nourishing them.
While it’s great to do work that only you can do – work that you enjoy – you must be careful not to fall into the trap of always being busy. You may need to admit that your work isn’t so important.
Be aware of the trap of busyness especially if you’ve discovered work that you enjoy doing. Because you enjoy doing this work, you might find yourself working more. It’s great to work in a state of flow for several hours, but don’t force yourself to keep working any longer than necessary.
- The Busy Trap by Tim Kreider
- 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam
- Essentialism by Greg McKeown
- Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and It’s All Small Stuff by Richard Carlson
- Write a handwritten letter to someone you care about
Understand that, as Jim Rohn once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
What about getting paid?
It’s great to great paid for doing work that you enjoy doing.
But for a long time, that won’t happen. You won’t be paid for your work until you’re good enough to be paid.
Are you willing to put in the work without being paid a dime?
What about retirement?
Hayao Miyazaki is 79 years old. He’s still working. Why? Because Mr. Miyazaki enjoys his work.
For the person who loves their work, there is no such thing as retirement.
Many people will tell you that they enjoy the work they do. Some people might be telling you the truth, but often, they’re lying to you and to themselves. A great way to tell if they’re lying about this is to ask them if they’d do their work for free.
Do you enjoy your work so much that the concept of retirement seems ridiculous to you?
You’ve got a job to do
A job that only you can do. Nobody else is going to do your job for you.
So employ yourself. Do the work. Love the process. Remember to rest. Forget about outcomes. Forget about making connections. Forget about retirement. Make great work worth sharing. Make useful things. Share what you’ve created with the world. Know who you’re working for and why you’re working for them. Start over. Rewrite. Reevaluate. Rethink. Don’t aim for perfect, but don’t settle for mediocrity.
Will you decide to become the person you need to become, to do the job that only you can do?