[PMC Weekly Consulting Insight] Enjoyable lucre

The next cohort of The Expertise Incubator begins Jan 13, 2020. If you’re curious, let me know.

I’ve gotten questions from y’all via my post opt-in survey. I’m answering the most difficult ones here each week.

Q: How do I choose a specialization that is both lucrative and something I enjoy?

A: What a beautifully simple question containing a devilishly difficult tension!

There are easy, fluffy answers: “Just become the best in the world at something you love!” Those neglect the importance of the market’s role in your business’s earning power.

And there are answers that attack the premise of the question: “You’re asking too much of a career to insist on both maximum economic success and maximum enjoyment.” Those neglect the wealth that is within arms reach for many of us and the leverage & access that technology offers.

I’d love to know how you define “lucrative”. I have a sense we all do it in a relative-to-our-current-financial-position way rather than some global absolute way. The archetypical Warren Buffet wouldn’t get out of bed for what might be a lucrative opportunity for me.

If you can invest deeply for 5 to 7 years at the expense of immediate earnings, you can tolerate uncertainty, and you encounter an average or above-average amount of luck, then you can make lots of wierdass specializations into lucrative market positions.

It’s somewhat rare to encounter someone with a vision for combining investment, self-made expertise, and entrepreneurial opportunity in this way. But if you are one of these people, a) you and I have a lot in common and b) you can choose a specialization that is both lucrative and something you enjoy.

You’ll just have to invest a lot to get the lucre part happening. You know… delayed gratification! That thing that like every advisor on finances tells you about.

It’s reasonable to ask: “You said there’s a tension between lucre and enjoyment. Is there actually an inherent tradeoff here as well? Is it impossible to get both immediate enjoyment and immediate lucre?”

It’s not impossible. In fact, it’s not that hard to get both immediate enjoyment and immediate lucre if you’re willing to endure cyclical powerlessness in the future. 

If you’re willing to periodically — say every 5 to 7 years — be significantly deprived of lucre, enjoyment, or both for a year or so while you re-orient to new market conditions, then you can probably get access to both lucre and enjoyment very quickly.

The technology world, where most of you live, is sufficiently full of variety and novelty that your chances of finding something you enjoy that is also lucrative are quite high. The norms of the tech skills market (there’s no need to get licensed, the ability to rapidly learn is facilitated by cheap or free tooling and a culture of sharing, and you can work with clients remotely) make it easy to pursue interesting, lucrative opportunities.

The problem: most of these interesting-now and lucrative-now opportunities are defined in terms of skills rather than expertise. Skill is knowing how to do something; expertise is knowing how to achieve impact. Skill is modularized and ultimately becomes commoditized; expertise is a value-producing network of data, context, perspective, and experience. Skill is relatively easy to obtain; expertise less so.

Here’s what I’m arguing: the crucial tradeoff is not between lucre and enjoyment. It’s between now and later.

In practical terms, the tradeoff is between enjoying/monetizing skill now and building expertise now that you can enjoy/monetize later.

Yes, dear questioner, you can choose a specialization that is both lucrative and something you enjoy. If you need to have both of those now, pick a “rising star” platform, try to arrive to the party early, and you’ll get 5 to 7 years of enjoyment and lucre. Don’t get complacent. Be very alert to the early signs that the platform is losing momentum or becoming commoditized, look around for the next rising star platform, and try to repeat the process there.

If you’re willing to invest a bit in future lucre, then some really interesting opportunities are open to you!

Opportunities that won’t require you to accept cyclical powerlessness. Opportunities that are more like assets than fads or trends.

I help my clients cultivate these kinds of opportunities: https://philipmorganconsulting.com/services.

-P