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One thing that a lot of employee-minded people suffer from is opportunity blindness. They’re surrounded by fun and expansive ways to earn plenty of money, but they have a hard time seeing those opportunities. They’ve been socially conditioned to think that getting a job is the one and only way to earn money for them. They complain about a lack of opportunities. But the reality is that they’re blinded by their own limiting beliefs and an inflexible attitude.
Earning money from a straight salary is just one of many ways to generate income. There are many others though.
Here are some ways I’ve earned income in the past (some of these are still active for me):
- straight salary
- cash for simple jobs
- buying and reselling products (buy low, sell high)
- web consulting
- contract programming and design
- personal coaching
- advertising sales (direct)
- advertising sales (commissions)
- affiliate commissions
- joint-venture deals
- licensing (software)
- royalties (computer games)
- book royalties
- cash advances from publishers
- paid speaking
- interest on bank accounts
- certificates of deposit
- stock investing
- stock trading (short term)
- mutual funds
- direct sales (online products)
- direct sales (physical products)
- live events (selling registrations)
- co-creative projects (split the income)
I’ve probably forgotten a few others, but suffice it to say that I’ve experimented a lot with different ways to earn income during the past 22 years.
Some of these approaches were terrible matches for me. I found them so boring or tedious that I could hardly motivate myself to do them. Others were enjoyable but just didn’t pay well at all.
Along the way I discovered the kinds of income streams I like best. I like income streams that:
- engage my creativity (I get paid to create something)
- feel stimulating
- involve some risk (it’s more fun that way)
- are flexible and adaptive (so I can tweak them and experiment in different ways)
- have a low downside and a high potential upside (I hate having a fixed ceiling on the upside)
- are social (working with people, not just doing solo work all the time)
- tie into my path of personal growth (I love testing new streams because I always learn something)
- contribute positively to society
Presently my favorite way to earn money is from doing live events, such as the upcoming Conscious Life Workshop in August. There are several things I like about this type of income stream:
- I get paid to create. When I was a computer game developer, my favorite part of the work was game design. I loved working in the space of pure creativity — the space of ideas. Anything was possible, but there were also practical constraints to deal with. I love designing live experiences too, such as games and exercises to help people transform their lives. Applying my creativity to workshop design is a great way to distinguish my workshops from what other people in the personal growth field are doing. I love to create holistic, immersive, fun, interactive, and stimulating experiences. I like to keep attendees in the sweet spot of stimulation, much like a good computer game does — not overwhelmed and not bored, but fully engaged. This is based in large part on lessons I learned from game design. I love that I can leverage my previous career lessons to benefit this one. I also feel like I’ve just scratched the surface here in terms of what’s possible; there are so many more ideas I’d like to try.
- I never know how much I’ll earn in advance. If I had a straight salary, I’d probably die of boredom. It’s much more fun to have some suspense in my income. I can’t predict how many registrations will come through. The unpredictability makes it fun. Every registration is a surprise.
- It’s fun to earn money in frequent but sizeable chunks. As each registration comes in, I sometimes like to associate it with a pretend prize, like I won something on a game show. Oooh, a new iPad. There’s a meditation retreat in Sedona. And here comes a new bike. Even if I don’t actually spend the money that way, it’s fun to fantasize about what could be done with each sale… or with the net proceeds from an event. In reality I tend to be fairly frugal financially relative to my income, but I see no need to be frugal in my imagination.
- Every sale represents a new social connection. My workshops generate lots of repeat business, so quite often I recognize the names on the registrations as they come in. To me this represents either a new potential friend I’ll get to meet in person, or an existing friend I’ll get to see again. One sale for my first 2009 workshop even turned out to be my future girlfriend.
- Every sale represents a potential transformation. People sign up for workshops because they’d like to change or improve something about their lives. Live events pack in so much more transformational potential than books, online courses, or home study courses, in large part because they surround you with like-minded people who are working on similar transformations. So when each registration comes through, I also love to think about the person whose life will change from being there. Every sign-up means new positive ripples.
- I get paid well in advance of doing most of the work. It does take some work to scout for venues, negotiate contracts, create the event web page, and get the order processing set up. But since we have to book events and start taking registrations far in advance to give people enough time to make travel plans (about 30% of our workshop attendees fly in from outside the USA), I do most of the detailed planning work closer to the actual event. This is sort of like getting an advance from a publisher to write a book. It’s nice to know that there will be real people in the room to benefit from the time and energy I invest in the event. I don’t have to do all the work “on spec” on hope that people will sign up.
- I can customize the event for the actual attendees. I get a chance to hear from a lot of the people who are registering to learn what they want to get out of the event. Sometimes I have a separate auto-responder that gets sent out a little while after people register; it invites them to email me back with more information about their personal challenges and what kind of transformation they’d like to see. I read and review all of this feedback when I do the detailed design work for the event. This allows me to custom-tailor the material and exercises for the people who actually signed up. Because of this I never do the same workshop the same way twice. Every event is a different experience.
- There’s some risk but not too much. I do have to put some skin in the game by taking a little financial risk to book a new event, but so far I’ve never lost money on an event. The risk is enough to make it interesting. There’s a part of me that still likes to entertain thoughts like, what if no one signs up? Having some risk makes it more stimulating for me.
- I get paid for doing something that used to scare me. That’s something I especially love about getting paid for public speaking. I used to dislike it very much. In my youth I was one of the worst in my class at it. I used to wish there’d be an earthquake on the day I had to give a 5-minute speech or presentation, hoping that I wouldn’t have to do it then. Eventually I recognized that facing fear is part of my path of growth, and I invested heavily in overcoming this fear and turning it into a valuable skill. Now I absolutely love speaking and doing live events, and I often speak at other people’s events for free, just for fun. Knowing that I used to fear and resist speaking adds an extra edge of sweetness to the experience every time I do it. It also validates for me that I’m walking my talk. I know that investing in personal growth pays off because otherwise I wouldn’t even be able to do what I can do now.
- I grow from doing workshops. A major lesson I learned many years ago is that my writing and speaking has to keep pace with my own path of growth. It’s difficult for me to write and speak on topics that I feel I’ve pretty much mastered. There’s no growth for me in that type of sharing, so the work becomes stale and boring. The best creative energy flows through me when I’m surfing on the edge of my comfort zone or when I’m writing and speaking about topics that I’m actively exploring. Even though I’ve experimented with income generation a lot already, it’s still a topic that’s of great interest to me today. Lately I’ve been exploring co-creative income strategies (including being involved in a co-creative workshop in Bucharest last year and a co-creative, soon to be released new product). Doing a workshop to help people explore fun, creative, and engaging ways to earn money aligns very nicely with my own path of growth right now. I fully expect to enjoy some transformational gains from the workshop too, just as I’ve experienced from previous workshops.
Your favorite way to earn money will probably be different from mine. My goal isn’t to encourage you to copy my approach but rather to copy the general idea behind it. The idea is to align your income generation strategies with your personality. I love stimulation, creativity, and a bit of mystery, and I find it much easier to earn money when I weave these aspects into my income streams. If my income streams were fixed and secure, I’d be so bored that the motivation to do the action steps would drain out of me.
Do you find it easy to earn money? If so, then I’d say you probably have a good alignment between your income strategies and your personality. But if it seems like earning money is a struggle and if you’re frequently pushing against the urge to procrastinate, then you’re probably missing the sweet spot. Maybe you’re a very security-minded person who’s stressing out over too much risk. Or perhaps you’re a highly creative, stimulation-loving person who’s trying to use someone else’s mind-numbingly boring “system” to generate income in the most uncreative ways.
If you had told me in the early 1990s that I’d love earning income from doing live personal growth events, I’d have thought you were nuts. That’s the benefit of experimentation. If I hadn’t kept trying new ways of earning income, I wouldn’t have found such a delightful sweet spot.
What you’re looking for is a strategy for earning income that is both motivating and effective.
If it’s motivating you’ll actually do it. You’ll take the necessary action steps. You’ll do the work because you like it. Procrastination shouldn’t be a serious issue.
If it’s effective you’ll get good results with it (i.e. a very nice income). Positive results will help fuel your motivation as well, which in turn will generate even more positive results. That’s the sort of upward spiral that will keep you going.
I enjoy public speaking to such a degree that I’d do it for free. I know because I still do a lot of speaking for free, even if it means traveling to another city just to speak for an hour or two. But when I can also generate substantial income from it, it’s even sweeter. That makes it easier to justify doing more immersive events, like a 3-day workshop.
Have you discovered an income strategy that hits the sweet spot for you? If so, what is it? How did you discover it?