“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” - Joseph Campbell
This is how the story usually begins:
You read a book titled The 4-hour something...and think it’s an epiphany.
You do some research about working for yourself. And maybe signed-up for a few seminars taught by someone named Tony.
You browse over the internet and stumble upon many “nomad” blogs. You feel intoxicated and start to fantasize about doing the same thing yourself. Maybe you’ll do it in Bali, Thailand or some other island.
You feel amazed by the beautiful pictures nomads post online. You start using your imagination to outline the “perfect” plan.
You think really hard and finally decide to take some time-off from work to give a shot at freedom.
Three months later...
You’re broke! You’ve just wasted your savings account on hostel rooms. You start blaming the people you heard or read about. And if you’re lucky, you still have the old job waiting for you back home.
And little did you know, the people writing these books, posting pictures online, and speaking the seminars are leaving something BIG out.
They didn’t tell you they’re a trust-fund baby.
They didn’t talk about having a fat-bank account even before they started their venture.
They didn’t mention about their true intention - which usually involves selling you something else.
But this is not that story. It is not about how I found my passion for teaching, and threw away my old job and degree. I’ve written that in another story. This is a story about how I mastered a skill that I needed to put myself in a position where other people need me, so that I can quit my job and be able to make a living without a job.
You Found It! Now What?
“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matter of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” - Steve Jobs
Some people are lucky enough to work in an industry and love their work at the same time. For others, they are caught between working and spending their money to do what they love. But you should realize that doing what you love and getting paid for it is not that hard to figure out. You just have to know how.
When I started teaching, I had some ideas about starting and running a business from the time I was working at my family’s eye clinic. And that was all I needed. Trust me, you only need the basics. Chris Guillebeau, author of the book $100 Startup, has a very simple summary: “The basics of starting your own business,” he writes, “are very simple; you don’t need an MBA (keep the $60,000 tuition), venture capital, or even a detailed plan. You just need a product or service, a group of people willing to pay for it, and a way to get paid.” And believe it or not, it is really that simple!
Before I go into the details, I want to get something clear. Many people think teaching is not a financially rewarding career. But it is simply not true. Yes, there are teachers who are extremely underpaid. Nevertheless, teaching is a noble career, and teachers are usually good at more than just teaching; they’re also good at adaptability, communication, planning, and coordination. And these skills can be put to good use in building a business.
“Needs are imposed by nature. Wants are sold by society.” - Mokokoma Mokhonoana
While I was still working at my job, I began to realize there are people in need of my skills and willing to pay for it, independent of a school. However, this was only the beginning of my quest for freedom. I still had to figure out what valuable things I can offer using my skill set. If you have a group of interested people but nothing to sell, you don’t have a business. If you have something to sell but no one willing to buy it, you don’t have a business. But, if you have something to sell and a group of interested people willing to pay for it, you’re in business, and congratulations - you’re now an entrepreneur!
I remembered the first time I taught a student outside of work, her parent said, “Just talk to her!” And I did just that. Little did I know, her parent actually gave me what the market needed. Once I figured it out, I’d immerse all my students with conversations and open-ended questions. It is not surprising many students in China do not have sufficient listening input and conversational-based output. The primary school system do not have sufficient English classes. Most of the learning centers outside of schools are focused on strict curriculums and lack flexibility. And they are not willing to take the risk of being flexible because most of the people they hire are not qualified teachers and lack the proper credentials. But it doesn’t matter. After all, who would you trust to teach your children English, a White Caucasian or an Asian American minority?
The moment I started teaching, I knew I was talented. I loved doing it. The more I taught, the more I understood my life’s purpose. I felt invigorated and ecstatic every time I did it. And what would be better than doing what I love and getting paid for it at the same time?
The simplest way to match your love doing and what people care about is to identify the convergence between the two. Convergence represents the intersection between something you like doing or good at doing - preferably both - and what other people care about and are willing to spend money on.
I was talking to one of my student the other day about what will be the best business in China, and she mentioned “senior care” is one promising field. With a robust senior population due to increasing life expectancy, it’s obvious many people think this is a great opportunity. And I couldn't agree more! But there is also a growing population of pets. So, a vet or any pet business would be a promising choice as well.
Look, this is all a good exercise. But what have we done so far? We've looked at things from what others care about. None of this should matter at first if you do not know, what are you good at, or what do you love to do. Knowing them is the first step towards understanding how to turn your passion into a profitable business. Once you know your passion and what others care about, then it is time to study the convergence between your passion and what people care about.
Of course not everything you are passionate about or skilled in is interesting to the rest of the world, and not everything is marketable. I can be very passionate about working out, but no one is going to pay me to do it. Once you’re able to provide valuable product or services in the convergence between the two circles, where passion or skill meets usefulness, you’re in business.
Low Supply, High Demand
We all crave for the good stuff. But that is where all the crowds go. To be truly competitive you have to be in the least crowded channel. You have to be able to put yourself in a position where there are very few competitors but very high demand.
There is a lot of teachers who would prefer to work in a school environment, with excellent class facilities, a stable paycheck, and generous benefits. Not many are willing to face the uncertainty of not knowing how much income they will make each month, expend a lot of energy commuting from class to class, and purchase their own health insurance. But this is where the channel is least crowded.
Parents have busy schedules. They do not have time to take their kids commuting to different classes. When the intelligent teacher chooses to put himself in a position to serve the people in need, he would make a fortune. And with a population of more than 20 million people in Shanghai, he should have plenty of students on his plate.
The intelligent teacher doesn’t work for a big firm. He doesn’t have an office. Nor does he have the title CEO, CFO, SVP, or GM after his name. What he does have are the skills, and he brings them every time he teaches. He goes to work on a mobike, not a BMW. But he will probably retire long before a new homeowner can finish his mortgage. People would not believe him if he told them how much he makes. Because they think it’s not real. After all, who would you believe could accumulate enough wealth and retire in less than a decade, the gentleman with an Armani suit and a Tag Heuer watch, sitting in an office with a nice view of the city, flies business class, stays in the Westin and drives a Maserati, or the humble teacher wearing jeans, carrying nothing but his backpack?
The Not So Distant Time
“The best way to predict your future is to create it.” - Abraham Lincoln
Before you go and start outlining the perfect plan to quit your boring job, I want to stretch your imagination just a bit. Think of this as an intellectual gymnastic for your mind.
Imagine one morning you wake-up, walk into the kitchen, and open your refrigerator door. You realize there’s no milk. So you switch on your iPhone and browse the online supermarket store. After clicking a few buttons and ten minutes later, someone knocks on the door. You open the door and a robot delivers your milk, not a human.
After taking a shower and getting dressed, you start searching for work online. You don’t see any manual labor job posts because all the low-level jobs have been replaced with more efficient machines, like the one who just delivered your milk. So you start thinking about your law degree and maybe do some legal work. But there are none, because the law firms have installed complex AI systems to do all the legal paperwork. And let’s not talk about lawyers - they’re extinct. The judge is now a big computer screen. The only jobs you see are software developers, consultants, creative writers, and artists. Oh no! What should you do?
Now, I’m not a fortune teller, nor do I want to be. But I’m certain the future is unpredictable. And I do believe, someday, everyone will eventually work for themselves. There will be no more HR department because companies will just buy another piece of robot instead of hiring humans. In spite of all that, what we can do is position ourselves by developing skill sets. These skills need not be the ones we are talented at, but the ones society needs when the time comes. Nevertheless, when you can develop the set of skills and combine them together with your talent - you have the winning formula.
And even though, my wife thinks the keys to success in the future will be creativity and luck, I beg to differ. Yes, I have some degree of creativity. But we create our luck when we place ourselves in the right position, just in time when the market needs us. We cannot possibly be lucky in a particular field when we’ve never been involved in it.