I came across a quote recently that I think is powerful.
This idea eloquently captures the reality any adult has faced: that you can only will yourself to do something you don’t care about for so long.
Eventually, you end up either cultivating a taste for your discipline, and thus continuing it, or you quit.
In the context of this article, I lack intrinsic motivation to read, watch, or otherwise consume mainstream news.
What I mean by mainstream news.
I mean I don’t regularly consume content from any major newspapers or television from any major news source.
I don’t avoid it dogmatically.
In fact, I occasionally scan the front page of The Wall Street Journal that my office receives.
I just don’t typically make time for mainstream news consumption.
I do read about things that interest me including finance, technology, entrepreneurship, pop culture, and more.
I find I often have an inkling about cultural trends because I see them through the lens of these subjects I enjoy reading.
Although I don’t believe this sentiment is uncommon, many seem surprised when I openly discuss my lack of concern with mainstream news.
This lack of concern largely stems from my understanding of why people prioritize the news today.
News (aka gossip): The Evolutionary Origin
Most human behavior fits neatly into the evolutionary framework.
Following the news is no exception.
Imagine a pre-historic situation in which some people closely follow “the news” like:
Where the best hunting opportunities are
Where to find water to drink
When a leader from an enemy tribe has died and thus when they are vulnerable
What mates are available
Knowledge of this sort of news (or gossip) in the prehistoric world would certainly increase your odds of reproduction.
Thus, I believe we live in a world where that trait is extremely common as the evolutionary timeline has resulted in an abundance of news followers.
However, we no longer live in a world where our survival depends on “the news.”
And yet, mainstream news still very much exploits our evolutionary tendency to find importance in it.
Mainstream News’ Exploitation of Evolutionary Tendencies for Monetary Gain
Most mainstream news outlets optimize their articles for clicks since a greater number of clicks typically means more money for its creator.
Clickbait posts in tandem with social media’s optimization for engagement have resulted in a world where mainstream news no longer educates.
Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, has recognized this failure of the news to educate.
To combat misinformation, he released a free PDF version of the book, Factfulness, to college students on his website.
Here’s what Bill has to say about Factfulness.
In Factfulness, author Hans Rosling, provides a fascinating deep dive into the economic situation of the 21st century world.
Rosling’s extensive research reveals the shocking reality that, according to almost any metric you can find, the world has gotten healthier, wealthier, and safer in the past 50+ years than it has ever been.
If mainstream news reported this reality, it wouldn’t be shocking.
Rosling also points out through survey how few people know about this reality.
According to his surveys, most people believe the world has either gotten worse or is far less healthy, wealthy, and safe than it actually is.
Among the various cohorts of people surveyed, journalists scored just as poorly as everyone else in having an accurate understanding of the world’s economic situation.
This seems to be proof that misinformation from mainstream news is not with malicious intent since some of those most deceived by it are its creators.
Instead, it’s likely the result of incremental shifts toward profitability in a world that appears to reward taking advantage of our evolutionary tendency to fear predators (at least in the short-term).
I don’t think every mainstream news journalist, falls into this trap.
In fact, I think excellent journalism occurs at many mainstream news companies.
However, it seems to be the exception rather than the rule, particularly in the case of video and television.
This is why the evening news from any TV network always feels “spun” to me.
“If you don’t watch the news, how you do stay informed?”
Being informed is a largely subjective measure.
What’s informed to some isn’t necessarily informed to others.
Furthermore, it seems unlikely that mainstream news will truly inform you in light of Rosling’s research in Factfulness.
Instead, it will keep you apprised of certain negative events that others who consume mainstream news also know about.
Consuming mainstream news is a good way to fit in with others who follow mainstream news.
I understand the desire to feel like you’re part of a social group, but I think there are better things to rally around than mainstream news.
However, I think you can get sufficiently up-to-speed by chatting about current events with a knowledgeable friend when it suits you.
I have a handful of people in my life who are truly passionate about current events.
They do the deep work necessary to uncover the truth, and they consume news from a variety of sources, mainstream and otherwise.
Anytime I want to vote or just have a question, I chat with them and they get me up to speed.
Though this might sound involved, it’s actually really simple.
Usually chatting with them for a few minutes on the phone suffices.
However, I occasionally spend an hour or so with a friend who explains to me the current geopolitical landscape.
It’s fascinating and extremely enjoyable.
“I thought you weren’t interested in the news.”
In general, I don’t focus on consuming mainstream news.
However, one of my favorite things is talking with friends about their interests, even if their interests are not my primary interests.
Learning about geopolitics from a friend whom I trust in a context where I can ask questions is thoroughly enjoyable.
“Isn’t it embarrasing to not know what’s going on in the world?”
I don’t think mainstream news accurately portrays what’s going on in the world.
Thus, I typically don’t feel insecure about not consuming mainstream news.
“If you don’t consume mainstream news, don’t you live an echo chamber of your own opinions?”
I go out of my way to consume content from thoughtful people I disagree with.
An example of someone who falls into this category for me is Ray Dalio.
I remember chatting about after school career prospects with a friend at USC my senior year.
As a French major, business minor, I didn’t feel confident about my career prospects.
I remember this friend asking me, “Well, what are your skills?”
“Skills?” I thought.
This was the first time I really considered what skills I had that a company could monetize.
At the time, my conclusion was that I didn’t have any monetizable skills.
I know now this conclusion was wrong.
But I’m afraid many people underestimate their skills.
For those who do, I hope this post provides you with the tools to better brainstorm what skills you have and how you might monetize them.
Step 1: Create a list of any and all skills you have. (Don’t filter in this part of the process.)
This step is harder for some people than it might seem.
Like I said above, after 4 years at a top-25 American university, I seriously thought I didn’t have any monetizable skills.
And although I may have chosen one of the least practical degrees possible, I had skills I could monetize even with my impractical degree.
But we are often most blind to our own skills and strengths (and weaknesses).
For this exercise, I encourage you to think about skills as something that you’re moderately good at.
Many people think that you have to be in the top 10%, 1%, or .01% to consider something a skill.
Instead I recommend considering something a skill if you think you might be in the top 50%.
In other words, if you choose 100 random people and compare your skill level to theirs, are you likely better than half of them at this skill?
If so, it’s a skill you definitely want to list in this brainstorming process.
Lastly, though I share some thoughts about monetization in the section below, I recommend not focusing on monetization in the first step of your brainstorm process.
It’s better to come up with an exhaustive list of your skills and filter them for monetization potential after than to rule something out early in the process that may actually have potential.
An Example of My Skill-Sets Immediately After College
Thankfully, I’ve gained several skills since entering the workforce.
But this is how I thought about my skills shortly after college before gaining several skills from the work place.
Hopefully my skill break-down sheds light on your own situation.
I am a native English speaker.
English is the language of business, the language of the world.
Many foreigners would love to have native speaker fluency of English because many jobs require it.
[When many people want something you have, that usually indicates economic opportunity].
Remember the value of your native language, whatever that language is.
My sister-in-law’s first language is American Sign Language.
She has used this skill to become a full-time interpreter.
I can write.
This is an example of the a top 50% skill. Though I may not have been an excellent writer after college, I think I would be in the top 50% of a random selection of native English speakers.
There are plenty opportunities for writers like blogging, SEO, and/or copywriting for a marketing agency.
I’m handy with computers.
I built my first PC when is was in elementary school.
Ever since then, I’ve been learning about technology.
I also spent a summer in college learning basic HTML and CSS.
I wasn’t career ready with my technical skills at the end of college.
But it would have been a good starting place.
I play several stringed instruments.
I played violin in elementary school.
Although I didn’t stick with it, violin led me to the guitar which led me to other stringed instruments like the mandolin, banjo, ukulele, etc.
I still play the guitar to this day.
Again, this is probably another top 50% skill where I’d only be slightly above average at playing guitar.
However, you don’t need to be a highly skilled musician (or even top 50%) to teach guitar.
In fact, sometimes guitarists who have overcome greater difficulty in their pursuit of the guitar can teach beginners more effectively than those for whom guitar came naturally.
Regardless, I imagine I could have leveraged this skill to teach the guitar if I set my mind to it.
I am interested in videography and can operate a camera.
My friends and I made movies in high school for fun. Although this was more of an interest than a skill, I could have possibly cultivated it into something more.
Incidentally, I have ultimately monetized this skill becoming the photographer (Insta husband) for my wife, @jasminealley.
I am conversational in French.
My degree did supply me with at least one skill. And although this skill doesn’t clearly lead to a highly profitable monetization path, I could likely have become a teacher with this skill.
If you’re having a lot of trouble with the brainstorming process, you might consider Noah Kagan’s tactic.
Noah was employee #30 at Facebook and #4 at the personal finance web app, Mint.
He’s also had incredible success building his own company, Sumo.
Noah recommends asking friends and family what they think your skills are or what they imagine you doing professionally.
Noah says that what’s difficult for you to determine is often obvious to those who know you best.
Step 2: Think about monetization by grouping similar skills.
Hopefully now you have a handful of your skills in list form ready for classifying.
Why classify or group your skills?
This can give you a better sense of what direction you should take to monetize them.
Start by grouping obvious pairs or closely related skills.
For instance, photography and videography are a natural pair.
Becoming a wedding photographer/videographer is the application that immediately comes to mind as a path to monetization with these two skills.
But there are several commercial paths you could follow with photography and videography.
In my case, my native speaker fluency in English and my conversational capacity in French are a natural pair.
With this duo, I could probably become a French teacher to native English-speaking students.
Or I could become an English teacher to native French speaking students.
I might need to take some web courses, get certifications, build a portfolio of work, and otherwise brush up on them.
And that’s probably true for you as well.
As you think more about skills to monetize, you’ll probably need to do some work on them before you can use them to generate income.
Now that you’ve gotten the hang of this step, let’s move on to my favorite exercise in Step three.
Step 3: Consider how to monetize unlikely skill combinations.
Scott Adams, the creator of the hit comic, Dilbert, recommends considering the intersection of two or three of your skills as your skills stack.
Adams says that you are often in the top 1% of that intersection or skill combination.
For instance, Adams considered himself moderately funny and a decent comic artist.
Combining comedy with his artistic skills to create Dilbert launched his financial success.
Notice that Adams wasn’t in the top 1% of either skill-set, but when combined he had great success.
He says this practice is particularly powerful when you can combine a skill with effective communication.
There are countless examples of public speakers who get paid to talk about their skill-set even when they may not be the best in their field.
The same goes for writers and authors.
Returning to my skill list mentioned above, I could potentially combine my guitalele skills (a guitar, ukulele hybrid) with my interest in videography to create a top guitalele YouTube channel.
The viability of this concept as a business model merits further consideration.
But you can see how Scott Adam’s skill combination process can result in money-making ideas to consider.
Step 4: Determine your focus.
Now is the time to pare down your skill list to those that you want to pursue.
Because you have limited time and you can only pursue one or two monetization projects at most.
This step is hard for me.
I’ve always wanted to feel free to pursue whatever I want, whenever I want.
But the reality is that, if you don’t focus, you won’t get results.
How do I know?
Because I’ve tried to build many side hustles at once only to burn out.
When you try to do too many things at once, you move a little bit in every direction instead of going far in the right direction.
John Lee Dumas’ advice is to F.O.C.U.S or Focus on One Course Until Successful.
John followed his own advice and recorded a podcast for his (now) hit show, Entrepreneurs On Fire, every single day for 9 months without making a penny.
He continued producing daily content for 2,000 days and now he regularly nets six figures in profit per month!
Warren Buffett’s advice along these lines is to make a list of your top twenty-five priorities, circle the top five, and then never look at or pursue the other twenty until you’ve achieved your top five.
People tend to overestimate what they can accomplish.
Focusing on five gives you a reality check as to what you may actually be able to accomplish.
If you crush your top five, you can always revisit your list later.
But in your top five, make sure to consider the already existent time commitments in your life.
For instance, if you want to spend time with your family, and you must spend time on a day job, these two already significant time commitments eat into the time available for pursuing monetization side-projects.
My guess is that most will only have time to develop one or two skill sets into viable money makers.
When in doubt, focus on fewer than you think you can accomplish.
Step 5: Stay consistent.
Once you’ve decided which skill(s) you want to monetize, you need to stay focused on monetization for a long time.
How long till you see results from your efforts?
As usual – it depends.
But you can find success stories of people who have made money from the skill you’d like to monetize to get a ballpark estimate for how long it will take.
For instance, many novice coders using the coding website, freecodecamp.org, have gotten job offers in under a year.
More specifically, one of the founders suggests 2 hours of coding a day for nine months minimum before you might see career prospects as a result of your skills.
Whatever results you find regarding timelines till success, remember that your efforts may very well take longer than what you find on the web.
Most people don’t publish their failures, only their successes.
So for every success story you read or hear, remember there are countless stories of failure that were never told.
Best-selling author and researcher, Angela Duckworth, found that “passion and sustained persistence applied toward long-term achievement, with no particular concern for rewards or recognition along the way,” (how she defines grit) is the leading predictor of success in any endeavor.
Whatever skill you want to monetize, know that consistency, or sustained persistence as Duckworth would say, is a critical component of the grit required for success.
If you have laser-focus but only for a week, it’s unlikely you will see any progress.
But if you focus on monetizing your skills day-in and day-out for years, you will stack the odds of success in your favor.
Like anything in life, results take time.
You find the theme of consistency over a long period of time in nearly every success story.
When bodybuilding.com asked Jeff Seid, the youngest IFBB bodybuilding pro in history, what his secret was, he said it was that he hadn’t missed a workout in over ten years.
If you have the dedication and consistency to improve and monetize your skills over the course of 10+ years, it’s hard to imagine that you won’t succeed in some form.