We tested a similar post title in a tweet “Follow the $$$ Not Your Dreams”. In short, following your dreams is usually a sure fire way to fail. The skills that a person has will unlikely match perfectly with his or her dream business/career. When people think about their dreams they are really thinking about the life they want to live. They do not think about all of the work and adaptation that it takes to get there.
A Successful Person Wants to Be the Best
Generally speaking, a successful person is most interested in being the best. It is humorous that people view successful people as arrogant and hard-headed because the only way they became successful is by focusing on what they are *good* at. Maybe they were more interested in Topic A but they realized they were phenomenal in Topic B (a close topic but not the same). They admit the following to themselves:
“Well, I would love to be in the top 1% in skill A but realistically I would only be in the top 20%. If I remain *adaptable* and go for skill B I will be in the top 1%.”
Get to the top 1% in practically any skill and you’re going to be rich.
Extremely Basic Example: Lets assume someone is trying to attend the best possible college. Their goal is to get into a top university. Why? The top 25 schools are practically the only ones that will lead to an extremely high paying career.
This person realizes he may be able to obtain a scholarship for sports in either Water Polo or Tennis. Great. The problem is that he’s in the top 5% among High School students in Tennis but in the top 20% in Water Polo. The answer? Even if his “dream” is playing Water Polo in College… He should quit playing it.
By focusing all of his energy into Tennis where he’s clearly on the borderline of being “elite” he’ll increase his odds of getting a scholarship and *in addition* he’s thinking about his future (a top university).
Finally, he is still an elite athlete and he will be given even more resources to potentially become a professional (IE: the top colleges will have the top coaches as well). It is a no brainer to stop following his “dream” and adapt.
This is what a successful person will do.
Skills Are Not Created Equal
Now that a person is focusing on skills rather than dreams, one has to ask himself “what skills are actually valuable”. Again. The answer is going to be based on the return on your *time*. We only get about 80 years to live and those last 10 years will be much less exciting than the first 40 years. A person’s body is never going to beat time. Better use it efficiently.
Language Example: Lets say one of your interests lies in languages. It would be wise to choose one that has a high probability of being useful for you in the future. If you decide to learn a language that is spoken on one remote island… You’re wasting your valuable time. Instead you can come up with a handful of languages that would be valuable for different purposes.
If you’re interested in using it for business in the future… English and Mandarin are the best bets.
If you’re interested in using it for outsourcing purposes… Hindustani makes sense
If you’re interested in using it for political discussions with Putin… Russian is your best bet (half joke).
Payback Period on the Skill: At this point, hopefully we are in agreement. Our time is limited and freedom in our 30s is significantly more important than a life of mediocrity chasing “dreams” for 40 years. The biggest question to ask is “what skills will be a necessity for everyone?”. Here is a list of 10 items that offer a tremendous payback:
1) Sales: We’ve beaten this one to death in a separate post but it needs to be mentioned again. Sales will be used every single day in your life so you better learn how to do it today.
2) Public Speaking: This is the number one fear for Americans. It makes no sense. If someone intends on being successful they will be forced to make presentations at some point in their life. They can remain in the background for a long time… But… Eventually they will be forced to make public speeches.
3) Writing: While our entertainment writing is mediocre at best (just look at the blog!) you’re going to need solid writing skills for putting together contracts. At *minimum* everyone needs to understand the basics. In addition, you’re going to be forced to communicate with people (a lot!) assigning tasks via email etc.
4) Reading: Yes. Reading is a skill. The ability to understand tone and context in written form is a lost art. And. It doesn’t stop there. Everyone needs to learn how to read body language as well.
5) Math: Quick math is the real key. When people chat about numbers, you can do a spot check in your head. If someone claims to make $500K per year but later states that he makes just under $1,000 per day, you know he’s lying somewhere in there.
6) Ability to Play Dumb: Yes this is a skill as well. When you meet someone you don’t want to keep in contact with, it is best to smile, nod and agree. This is actually the hardest skill to learn.
In addition, when you hear people make comments that are completely wrong, *let them run with it*. Letting someone run with false information about you (or a specific topic) can give you an enormous edge. You’ll have to pick your spots on when to call them out and when to let them run with bad information.
7) Dating: After our post on personal finance and dating we stopped arguing as broke people invaded the comments section like the Mexican border. They all had “rich friends” who don’t do well (IE: ego protection since their wallets are light). While it is true that dating is a complex topic where you can do poorly even if you’re rich (and well even if you’re broke) it is best to learn every angle possible.
8) Health and Fitness: You only get one body. Again. You only get one body so if you don’t treat it correctly you will lose time and money. Health > wealth every single time.
9) Technology: You would be surprised at how little people know (this includes us). You can make a living by simply setting up websites for people. Once you learn the skill, you pitch it as follows “I will set it up for you and do everything… but on an annual basis you will pay me x% on top of the hosting fees which I will cover”. Then the person will write you a check every year.
How do we know this works? It’s exactly how you’re reading this blog (although we did it that way for an extremely obvious reason).
10) Style and Design: Most people do not know how to dress. They do not know how to make a presentation look good. They do not know what colors go where and why. In short, they are lost. Learning how to dress (at minimum) is extremely important as people will judge you in less than two seconds!
Time to Go Niche
If someone is proficient in all ten of the items above, he’s going to have the correct building blocks to go niche. This means you have built the foundation. You didn’t waste the most energetic portion of your life (18-25) building skills that don’t have *broad appeal*. Your skills are extremely good and broad so you can target niche items you know extremely well. Examples below:
Style and Design: Lets say you know the basics but you suddenly realize you’re getting complements left and right on your hats. This may sound boring to you… But… a $20 hat can carry margins in the teens. You can quickly target the specific niche and create a website selling products for other people or creating your own actual hat. Given that it would be your first stab we would go ahead and sell the hats you approve of and that would create an “authority” website on hats. Again. This may sound dumb but the hat industry makes billions per year. (notice you’re combining many of the 10 skills here)
Motivational Speaker: While we would never be caught dead at a motivational seminar after seeing them back in our teens… They are cash cows. People *will pay* a lot of money to “feel like a winner” for a short period of time. Of course it is all a sham. But. This is also why people get emotional over their home sports team. People will pay thousands of dollars to be associated with a winner if they cannot win themselves. (notice you’re combining many of the 10 skills here)
Private Gym Ownership: Becoming a physical trainer is generally a losing battle. You’re trading your time for money. Starting an actual gym can be outstanding. Private trainers make $100+ per hour and if your knowledge exceeds theirs… You can monetize your physical health knowledge to create a business. (notice you’re combining many of the 10 skills here)
Copywriting: In the case your main skill is writing and you have a solid understanding of sales… Learn to copywrite. If you become good enough… you can then charge a fee based on performance rather than an hourly rate. Even if your “dream” was playing in the NFL, you can go ancillary and sell NFL related items for a large margin. (notice you’re combining many of the 10 skills here)
Your Skills Become Your “Dream”
So far we’ve done the following: 1) focus on skills, 2) what skills are valuable and 3) examples of niche skills becoming profitable. Now the obvious question is “what about my dreams?”.
The problem with this question is simple, if you followed your skills you’ll be *as close as possible* to your dream scenario. Want proof? Look at Mark Cuban.
Mark Cuban made his billions in the technology industry. What is his passion? Apparently basketball.
You can take one single look at Mark Cuban and know he would never play basketball in the NBA. He probably didn’t even play in college (we don’t know his story that well) but he certainly has a “passion” for basketball. Fast forward to today and what happened? He owns the Dallas Mavericks.
If you don’t have the *skills* to do exactly what you want, being the owner of the exact industry is probably the best alternative.
Finally, the average person is going to say “What does software have to do with basketball! He could have worked in the basketball industry and been just as happy!”. While the argument sounds good, it does not make any sense. If Mark Cuban lacked the *skills* to start and sell a software Company and his only skills were basic sales… He would probably take that path. Instead?
He was smart enough to find out exactly where his skills were. If you find your skills, you’ll end up as *close as possible* to your dream scenario.
1) Following your skills will lead you as *close as possible* to your actual dream
2) People who argue that it is smarter to spend 40 years doing something you enjoy (for peanuts) do not understand the time value of life. Do not waste time arguing with them: Smile, nod and agree
3) A successful person is more interested in being the best. If you’re the best (or close to it) you’re going to have the *freedom* to do what you like. In addition, you’re acknowledging your dreams may change in the future. (IE: a real open mind).
4) We have listed 10 life skills that everyone will need to use: Sales, public speaking, writing, reading, quick math, playing dumb, dating, health & fitness, technology and design.
5) Once you find your skills. Once you have a solid understanding of the ten life skills. And. Once you have comfort in which skill you will be *good* at… You go niche.
In short? Just because you’re interested in something doesn’t mean you’re going to be the best at it. If you’re the best at something, you’ll have your entire life to explore all of your interests.