The Ideal Intersection of Ideal Work

The Ideal Intersection of Ideal Work | Leaving the HerdI have a good friend who has joined me recently in this transition from employee to free agent, which has triggered some dialogue around what the actual goal is.

We are conditioned from an early age to conform and gear up for a long career of working for other people. However, we are simultaneously infused with the goal of doing “work we love”.

This is the ultimate ideal in many of our minds: If I can just monetize what I love to do, I will have truly won. So at mid-career crisis time, when many of us realize we simply cannot perform within the confines of a typical organizational hierarchy, we begin searching for work we LOVE.

This is usually a mistake.

I love to cook. I love to garden. I love to read. But no one is going to pay me to cook, garden, or read – at least not without a long upfront investment in establishing expertise and marketable skills in those areas.

The second downfall is this: Even though I really, really love to do those activities, doing them for many hours a week for other people isn’t going to translate into that same blissful experience.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have folks who are pursuing any means to produce instant wealth.

If you don’t want to ruin the activities you love by turning them into hourly labor, why not come up with the next big idea? Whether it’s an app, a new tech widget, or the next infomercial rotisserie, the idea is that you can invest a lot upfront in order to create long-term income, allowing you to cook, garden, and read all you want.

This is fraught with risk.

I have quite a few friends and acquaintances who are pursuing the next big thing dream, and I wish them all the luck in the world. I know a few people who have made a real career out of launching new products, but they also still work 40+ hours per week and they’re in their late 40’s, so I’m not sure they are gardening or reading much. Ultimately, most of the people at the entrepreneur events are upside down in debt and praying their next attempt flies.

So what is the ideal intersection of ideal work? What is realistic for any one of us to accomplish while also providing an enormous amount of fulfillment now, rather than hopefully in 10 years at IPO time?

A good friend started a business about four years ago, pretty close to on accident. She has an affinity for cupcakes and has mastered her own unique method for creating the most scrumptious filled cupcakes on the planet.

She shared some photos and ideas on Pinterest and now she caters adult birthday parties and other celebratory events.

Her business combines the freedom and autonomy of being self-employed with a genuine personal interest and talent. It’s never going to attract a million dollar buy-out. It simply monetizes something she is great at.

In my humble opinion, ideal work is the combination of producing your own results doing what you are already amazing at while claiming the freedom of soaking in the hot tub at any odd hour of the day.

It’s about freedom, and if we are all honest with ourselves, our best days are now.

How can you earn an income off of your unique talents?

6 Comments
  1. I love this post Emily. I’ve spent the past couple of years bouncing between these two extreme ends of the spectrum (much to the frustration of my poor wife!). I’ve either come home from work some days saying I want to quit, start a business, and create ‘the next big thing’, or work like crazy towards becoming a partner at my firm. But other days, I come home saying ‘life is so short, I have to enjoy what I’m doing now, so I’ll quit and just follow my ‘passions”, regardless of how much money I make.

    I’m certain somewhere in between is the answer, but as you say, there is no ‘ideal’. The way you summed up ‘ideal work’ at the end of your post is pretty much what I’m after, as well as DB40’s circumstances below. I actually do enjoy my work for the most part, it’s just the ‘all-consuming-ness’ of it I can’t stand. Hopefully I’ll find my way towards that sweet spot shortly 🙂

    1. Good luck on that journey, Jason. I am still prone to the wild hair here and there. I haven’t quite found the “ideal” income activities, but the uncertainty is worth the freedom to vacillate and the opportunity to try on different hats until you find one (or three) that fit the best.

  2. I’m ashamed to admit I read this at a McDonalds this Saturday, wolfing down a quick dinner before heading out to a concert. It was like being 21 all over again! But hey, free wifi and good blog reading make a bad dinner good.

    Just a fantastic idea to write about, Emily. I feel like I might be in that ideal work sweet spot now, as I am good at my job without being able to say it’s my passion or anything. Still, I have a ton a freedom working from home. I can toss the ball with my dogs on a quick break and take conference calls in my bare feet. Maybe this is as good as it gets?

    1. Sometimes I could totally go for a Big Mac…

      I actually really struggled with the title for this post, because I can see how the pursuit of the “ideal” is actually part of the problem.

      The bottom line is that ideal is different for each of us – you’ve combined talent with freedom/flexibility and you’re happy with it. Sounds pretty ideal!

  3. This is depressingly true. I have repeatedly turned something I loved to do for myself or for friends into something I do for clients, only to find I HATED it. Just because I (also) love cooking, doesn’t mean I’m amazing at it. Need to find the combination of talent and interest.

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