It was around 2001 or 2002 when an office coffee customer took me into the back room to show me a Keurig machine. “This is going to change the coffee business” he claimed. No more glass pots and “who left the coffee maker on?” burnt smell. What’s more, people can now make a fresh cup to their own choosing, opening up all kinds of premium blends for the consumer.
I got it immediately. Like my customer, I knew I was staring at innovation right in front of me. We were both excited. I could feel his energy like a shot in the arm. As a dutiful corporate soldier, I reported this information up my flag pole. My boss deflected me over to Marketing. Marketing’s response: “what’s a K cup?” sent me back to them with more enthusiasm of how this innovation was going to change the game. But over time, and declining interest in anything new or emerging, I realized that our company wasn’t in the innovation game. I was still young and naive. I thought big companies had big resources to invest in new ideas. Maybe some companies are driven this way, but not the company I was working for. Innovation for us is line extension. A new flavor. Maybe a new pack size.
My wife was not working, choosing to stay home with our two young children at the time. My corporate job was a good job. A company car, 401k, and lots of stability. What a foolish consideration to leave all this to chase rainbows. The grass is not always greener, as they say.
So I trudged on. Marching as a corporate foot soldier.
I saw the gradual decline of products and categories I was selling in the food business. I saw the rise of emerging, more healthy products (Kind Bar) and more functional products (Red Bull) and, of course, more convenient products (K cups). I learned how to navigate within a big company, and how to produce results, without rocking boats.
But I was desperate for a shot in the arm, the energy that comes from creativity and innovation. Every once in a while I would try to fulfill it within my day job, developing a promotion or a nice looking flyer with a compelling tag line, but mainly these efforts were little recognized (at best), or ended up giving me more work with no more pay or accolades (at worst).
The corporate job wore down my innovative spirit to a dull axe. It became not even worth trying to swing for change within my company. I sought knowledge and guidance.
I read The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson.
I read Free, by Chris Anderson.
I read A Whole New Mind, by Daniel Pink.
I read The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield.
I read The 4 Hour Workweek, by Tim Ferriss.
I read The Purple Cow, by Seth Godin (and then every other thing he’s written).
I began to understand that my employer does not owe me fulfillment. I would perform the duties of my “day job” while maintaining enough energy and free time to actualize fulfillment with things I love “on the side.” Hobbies, they call them.
But I didn’t want to go bowling or collect stamps. I had the entrepreneurship bug. How can I be an entrepreneur and be a corporate soldier at the same time?
I got a personal laptop. It would sit on my desk next to my company laptop. I took the advice of the books I was reading and started a website about something I love and believe in. A friend framed up the site and helped me think clearly about focus areas within the subject. I would perform the duties of my corporate job while at the same time, researching, posting, “giving away” free relevant content about my interest.
I figured out that I could invent something, something not too close to my day job. And I did that.
I figured out that I love building wood burning saunas, so I started building saunas for others.
I figured I could write an ebook about building saunas, to help others, and I did that too.
I realized that the more fulfillment I got from my side gig, the better corporate soldier I became.
Then I read Antifragile, by Nissam Taleb:
Some of Taleb’s advice is solidly practical. If you’re interested in a high-risk career such as acting, he suggests using “the barbell strategy” by pursuing acting along with another stable career, like accounting, thereby exposing yourself to maximum positive risk. In the worst-case scenario, you’re a respectable accountant engaged in the local theater scene; at best, a superstar actor who never had to starve.
My advice for people with an entrepreneurial itch is to apply the barbell strategy.
- On the left side is your day job, your stable career, that which puts food on your table.
- On the right side is your side hustle, your muse, your entrepreneurial endeavors. Your passion.
Before Taleb, I would challenge my oldest son: “it’s about AND not OR.” We don’t have to make sacrifices to spend time doing what we want to do (or “make the angels sing,” as Pressfield calls it).
Contrary to popular belief, time is not fixed. Parkinson’s Law: “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion” is in step with the axiom “if you want to get something done, give it to someone who is busy.” Saying that “I don’t have enough time” means that we are simply afraid to make time to do what we are set out to do (very Godin-esque). It also means that we haven’t figured out systems to be more effective (4 Hour Work Week).
Doing what we love seems to take very little energy. Spending time doing what we love actually fuels us, and gives us energy. We can spend all day doing what we love and have tons of energy, or we can spend hours doing what we hate and be exhausted. But it’s not always easy to make money doing what we love. Those with tons of energy have carved out the time to do what they love.
And there’s an argument that trying to make money doing what we love can turn what we love into a job. (I believe this!). Someone may love surfing but they may easily start to loathe surfing by trying to become a professional surfer. There are all kinds of statistics that indicate that after about $100,000 in annual income (after needs are met), most people are not any happier with more money. Once we rationalize this, we can start to accept that making a ton of money may very well not make our lives any better. Once we accept this, we can pursue our endeavors “without dollar signs in our eyes” and without the pressure of turning our side gig into the next big thing.
Those with enough money have enough freedom of time and energy to do what they love.
Like a hike in the woods, the journey is its own reward.
“If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Decisions we make should be about AND not OR.
3 thoughts on “Career development, fulfillment, and happiness explained via the barbell strategy of “and” not “or””
You are a natural born writer
Reading your essay was like watching the recent monarch
I couldn’t get enough.
You are writer entrepreneur!
You and Jonny Sabes should send your writings out to the entreprenuer pubs enjoy some extra cash to add a few more weights to your barbells.
Ps We have many new activities to catch UpOn
Thank you Mr sauna man!
Passing this on to kids I mentor who struggle with the emmediate need for cash and the need to feed the soul. Myself as a lifelong entrepreneur allways looking for support I asked Scott Olson how do you keep your enthusiasm when it seems to dry up on a project. He said work on something else.
Hmmm, so simple. To the serial entrepreneurs, find creative ways to add complimenting weights on your barbell.
The Barbell Strategy, from its origins, is an investment strategy, founded by Nissam Taleb: Highly conservative investments on one end and highly speculative investments on the other end. “Antifragile:” an investment strategy that benefits from disorder.
Taleb goes on to say: “Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and (they) love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.
Not a bad way to go through life, right?
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