A Reply To JW Black

Raging narcissist that I am, one of my self-indulgent Google alerts led me to this post by JW Black (read it first) over at In Mala Fide. I typed out a pretty lengthy reply, so I thought I’d paste it up here for all and sundry to read.

Greetings from Sihanoukville, Cambodia!

This is an excellent post. There are indeed a large and growing number of websites out there that purport to teach you how to make money online by – teaching others how to make money online! Gary Vaynerchuck, The Art of Non-Comformity, Advanced Riskology – all of these guys are worth a read, but I take them with a grain of salt. Check out Dan Andrews’ Tropical MBA and Sean Ogle’s blog for examples of guys who are living the 4HWW dream by doing something other than blogging.

As for me, I’m certainly not making enough money off of book sales and affiliate commissions to live the international playboy lifestyle, but I am making enough to travel slowly and like a bum. And this is despite:

1) Having written a far inferior book than I could have (I still think it’s pretty good, but the 2nd edition will be radically different), and

2) Doing an absolutely piss-poor job of marketing it.

I’m coming to the end of my fast-paced ‘vacation’ month of traveling, and am looking forward to putting down some roots for a few months in various cities and grinding out F25 2.0, a new book, and a few other projects that I have a lot of confidence in. By the end of it, I think I’ll be able to say that I am making a good-to-great living, from anywhere in the world I want to be, doing something I love. It’s taken (and will continue to take) a ton of work, but it’s possible.

As I said though, I agree with a lot of your points. Leaving the desk job grind isn’t easy – I wrote shitty stories, articles and blog posts for years before I created anything that anyone wanted to read. Even still, I’ve only ‘made it’ by a laughably easy standard.

I also 100% agree that you should always try to avoid burning bridges whenever possible. In my juvenile angst phase, I flirted briefly with the scorched earth approach to my old job. Fortunately, calmer heads prevailed and the door back to that life is still wide open. I’m (perhaps irrationally) confident that I will make it as a writer, but even if I don’t, I’ve got an alternative to giving handjobs for crack in a back alley somewhere.

But all that said, I think you are too pessimistic. I come from a lower-middle class background, and went to the Canadian equivalent of a tier-2 state school for undergrad, and that has certainly closed a few doors for me in life. Even though I did my post-grad at a fairly elite school, I went something like 0/100 in my job applications to the elite banks and consulting firms in the world. Many of the traditional, 20th-century paths to wealth and fame are closed to me.

But alternative careers don’t have the same barriers to entry. On the internet, no one knows that you’re a dog – or that you went to public school. The only real barriers are a lack of intelligence and conscientiousness. Not to be a dick, but I consider myself smarter than the vast majority of people, and I have taken a few tests that back my assessment up. If Tim Ferriss were honest, he would include the disclaimer that his advice is only useful for 120 IQ-plus folks, but do you need connections and an IV league degree to start a website? Nope.

Anyways, I can hash out my reasons for why I think the 4HWW offers a valid alternative to men like us, but at the end of the day, I rest my case on this: I have met dozens of guys out here in Asia who REALLY ARE living incredible lives with location-independent businesses. I’ve met a few each with their own information products, artists, adsense-generating website builders, SEO guys, writers, poker players, rental property managers, and so on.

I’ve also met quite a few who are traveling on a budget and making ends meet by taking on jobs bartending, working for hostels, deckhands, ski instructors, and even a few tradesmen. I would put these guys in a different category as the true location-independent crowd, since they still often have to work for 10-30 hours a week, but it’s a valid alternative to 9-5 regardless.

This post is a useful counterpoint to the relentless enthusiasm of the majority of lifestyle design writers (including Ferriss), but like them, you go to far. Connecting technologies really are changing the workplace, and many established industries (publishing, music, film, advertising, sales, politics) are going to be radically upset in the coming decades. There’s a lot of opportunity for smart young people with an ability to ignore conventional wisdom (Hey there, IMF readers!) to build empires in those fields.