wall niche

The Niche Myth


Small Holes

When you think of a niche, an image of a penguin might come to mind. Penguins have mastered their frigid environment, huddling together in the cold, and sliding on their bellies doing badass backflips off of glaciers. An ecological niche is when an organism is well adapted for its environment.

“If you put a gun to my head and said, ‘You have to come up with a story for Happy Feet Three,’ I’d say shoot me.” – George Miller

Or, for you architecture buffs out there, you may think of niches’ second, and less commonly used definition, a shallow recess in a wall. I don’t know how frequently this applies to anyone, tbh.

Today however, we will be discussing the third definition of niche:

(n.) a comfortable or suitable position in life of employment

** N.B.: the English language loves to overload definitions

Comfortable or Suitable Position? The Heck?

To be fair, that definition is pretty sucky.

Organisms in general, prefer comfort over conflict. People are no different. So, let’s just define comfort as being in a comfortable state most of the time.

Ok, how about suitable? That word is well…suitable. It acknowledges that no situation will ever be entirely ideal, but it can be suitable. In other words, “Meh, I’m ok right now.”

this is fine

Environment Envy

Arguably, one of the reasons the human species is so successful on Earth is how quickly we adapt to new environments. Hot, cold, mountainous, desert, or rainforest, you will find people all over the surface of the planet.

According to natural selection, success is determined by survival and continuation of the genes of an organism.

In business, success is defined as making more money than you’re losing. Whether you sell shoes, technology, or insurance, the goal is survival and growth.

The environment is an always changing system. The larger the environment, the harder it is to predict change.

Big businesses are harder to operate because they are less adaptive. For a real life example of this, decide what you’re going to have for dinner tonight. Now, ask a friend and decide together. Now, ask another. For every friend you add, the more complex the decision becomes.

Much like an environment, the market must be worked with, not against.

Success in a market is a combination of timing, a solid product, and the ability to sell. Without all three of these being present in some shape or form, a venture will be dead in the water. For a real life example of this, try to open a lemonade stand in December.

The Common Advice

People argue the importance of finding a niche, a hyper-specific use case for your skills/product/juggling talent. This advice is well founded. Many successful businesses we see in our day to day lives do something well enough to get people to part with their money. Even in a sea of competition, they continue to generate value and capture a percentage of that value.

However, I’d argue that the way most people go about finding their niche is flawed.

Better Advice

When choosing a niche to work in, set out to find your particular competitive advantage. If you don’t think you’re good at anything, what do you suck the least at?

Competition

Examine the competition. Monitor what makes the Taco Bell franchise successful, or why Apple has so many raving fans.

After you examine businesses you admire, throw out your findings. You are not Taco Bell. You are not Apple. Imitation will only get you so far.

Great artists steal, but their personality isn’t run over by the stuff they stole.

The Benefit of Staying Small

The smaller the better! Right? Well, kinda. Being small can actually be a bad thing, if you’re small in the wrong thing. For example, if your niche is making boots that are for moon walking, your audience is going to be pretty small, if not zero. Not that many people have been to the moon.

So I should go broad?

On the other hand, if your audience is too broad, it’s likely that your product won’t be good enough at solving a specific problem and you’ll disappear into the noise. For a real life example, look at most YouTube channels.

“WHAT IS UP YOU GUYS THIS IS ** insert channel name here ** !”

Strike a balance. Build something brand new, but make sure it’s something people actually want. People may say they want a live-action remake of Hey Arnold, but they probably don’t need it.

How do I find my niche?

Unfortunately, I haven’t found one answer. I spent weeks trying to narrow down into a niche for my YouTube Channel. I’ve tried podcasts, comedy styles, how-tos, video diaries and more.

I do have tips to share though.

The first thing is to make content that you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy the process, you’ll eventually burn out.

The second thing is that the content worth creating will signal back to you. People will come up to you and ask you about it. They love your neon chair lights, or your charisma on stage, or the way you make that dank soufflé. This shows genuine interest, and is a sign from “nature” that you’re on the right path.

Specialize in Adaptation

If you must specialize, specialize in adaptation. The environment isn’t static, so specializing in the traditional sense can cause more harm than good! If your soufflé business is going under, utilize your baking skills and pivot to the hot new dessert!

Handedness

When I first wrote this article, I wanted to examine the relationship between niche and handedness. It didn’t end up fitting the vibe, but damn it, I’m gonna address it anyway!

I’m left-handed. About ~10% of the human population are left handed.

Why is this important? Well, almost by definition, left handed people are more adaptive to the environment. We have to be. Tools, cars, written language; are all made for right handed people.

For a real life example of this, ask a left-hander to write anything with a pencil and have their hand not look like this when they finish.

the struggle is real

Unfortunately, we also don’t get to complain about it. The environment very clearly signals that righties are dominant. Lefties must find their small hole as it was. Sitting on the left side of dinner tables as to not bump any elbows. Using notebooks with rings on top, etc.

Embrace your inner lefty. Adapt and utilize your strengths in any environment.

to each their own

to each their own
or so I’ve been told

some will stand
others will fold

the apple; doesn’t fall far from the tree
golden or rotten, it’s all the same to me

a person manifests their destiny by taking action
the universe responds with an equal and opposite reaction

Planning

“A man without a plan will quickly become banned/canned/overly tanned.”

I hate planning. I also love planning. I love feeling like I can control the outcomes of things, that a plan I’ve written down is exactly how it will play out in reality.

In the tech world, everyone loves “sprinting”. A sprint is a two-week period of a project, with a planning session at the beginning, and a retrospective session at the end.

Most of the time, in my experience, the “value added” hierarchy to the project goes:

doing the hard stuff > talking about what broke / what was learned from doing the hard stuff last time > planning the best way to do hard stuff.

Ideally, a plan is a document that will illuminate problems before they occur, so they can be safely avoided. Some plans are skeletons, others are so full bodied, they take more time to do than the project itself.

The problem is, plans never play out like they should. At best, plans save an equal amount of time on doing the hard thing that they cost to formulate. At worst, the time is entirely sunk because the plan is a steaming pile of garbage.

Whether you are writing a book, learning to fly a plane, or just how to make a burger; get to it. The less thinking and planning, the better, or so I’ve found.

First Month Retrospective

Intro

It’s been one month since I started working on my side projects full time. I’ve learned some things in this month. I’m not sure if any of these will be helpful to anyone since everyone has their own situation, but I hope something will be helpful to someone, somewhere.

Time

Having all your time back isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

I thought that regaining back my hours of the work day (9-5) would allow me to feel that time is abundant. I was wrong. While it’s true that I get to decide what my hours are spent on, that doesn’t mean that they are spent better. A lot less time spent at a desk, but a lot more time on Netflix.

Night ?== Day

One of my friends asked me how my days are structured. I replied: “It’s like summer vacation, but worse.” For those of us who haven’t had a summer vacation, it basically means that all the days and hours blend into each other with no one hour being more important than any other.

I attempted to set up a schedule with Google Calendar, but I found that it was much too rigid. Next month, I’m experimenting with a more fluid schedule that enforces the number of hours worked, not when the hours are worked.

Money

Budgeting

I started a budget last year. It’s been a phenomenal help to me. This month I spent what I considered to be “very little”, but I was still surprised by how much I spent at the end of the month. When moving your side projects into full time gigs, you need to calculate “runway”. I know mine, but let’s just say I’ll be eating rice and beans for the next…while.

my spending in june vs july

Spending in June vs my spending in July; still higher than I would have liked.

No Paycheck

My first month without a paycheck was interesting. One gets used to a certain standard of living when every two weeks money magically hits your bank account. I’ve really been able to reflect on what I need, and what’s worth abandoning. This quote from Nassim Taleb sums it up beautifully:

‘The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.’ – Nassim Taleb

Making Money from…something?

My initial goal was to work on my YouTube presence until I started being visible to sponsors. The goal would be to continue putting out content I enjoy creating, and live off of ad revenue and partner opportunities. If this month has taught me anything, that is a long way off from happening. In the meantime, I’m considering freelance opportunities and keeping my ear on the ground for opportunities that are remote and part time.

Inspiration and Motivation

It’s tempting to just “wait” until you feel so inspired to be productive. Unfortunately, inspiration rarely follows any logical schedule.

Cognitive Dissonce Hurts

I recently learned a new word! Akrasia. Akrasia is a Greek term for “the state of mind in which someone acts against their better judgment through weakness of will”. Basically, Akrasia is when you have a feeling that you should be doing something, but you’re not. You should be mowing the lawn, but you’re on Reddit. You should be working on that React Native app, but you’re watching The Office again.

Akrasia: “the state of mind in which someone acts against their better judgment through weakness of will”

When you have a boss, you have performance reviews, you have entire teams of people tracking your output. When you’re on your own, you become the manager and the managed. The only way to get something done is to do it. Simple as that.

Consistency

Showing up every day. Compound interest. Garbage in, garbage out. Don’t skip leg day. Building a business is a marathon, not a sprint (or at least, that’s what I’m telling myself).

compund interest

Compound interest doing its thing! Snapshot of July from my Youtube analytics page.

Authenticity

I’ve always been a closet nerd. I own six Hunter x Hunter shirts. I spend a lot of my days on YouTube watching One Punch Man and DBZ reruns.

But since I’ve always “disliked” that side of my personality, I haven’t been able to integrate that into my work. I hope to change this next month, to be able to release content that is true to my soul; and non apologetic.

Habits

Exercise

This one is huge. Exercise truly is what it’s cracked up to be. Stressed? Jog for a bit. Tired? Knock out 15 pushups. Need a morning routine? Head to the gym.

Exercise feels like a Swiss army knife and has become a core part in my routine, and helping me maintain a level head and getting me swolleeee.

Omega 3

The science isn’t conclusive, but I can say that taking omega-3 supplements have helped me feel less lethargic and more motivated when I would normally fall into patterns of depression.

(I’m willing to acknowledge that maybe it’s a placebo effect ¯ \ (ツ)/¯)

Sleep

My sleep hasn’t been great. I’ve been able to sleep in, but I’ve been getting to bed too late. It’s incredible how an entire day can go by without a single good idea, but then 2am hits and the mind becomes a F-35.

Reading

I’ve been able to read a lot more, which is awesome. My favorite reads this month were Skin in the Game by Nassim Taleb and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, for entirely different reasons.

Regrets

Still none…well no major ones, at least. I do miss the snacks in the office.

Wins

  1. Podcast with Max Hertan
  2. Finished my portfolio
  3. First stream on Mixer
  4. 24 subscribers (small, but a big deal to me!)
  5. Daily* conversations with my friend Ulrik, keeping me both grounded and motivated

*okay, maybe every other day

Losses

  1. Still no solid niche idea for YouTube
  2. Still spent more money than I would prefer to
  3. Too much time spent unfocused, neither resting nor working; just upset and unfocused

Plans for Next Month

  1. Find a monetization strategy to help propel business (profit first!)
  2. Find a mentor

Conclusion

I like the feeling of control. This world has so many incalculable variables, it’s a fool’s errand to try and control everything. But there are some things I can control. My time, how I spend my money, appreciating who I have and what I have.

This month has taught me a lot about self-reliance. I’m excited for the next one.

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if youre happy youre successful

Fortune Cookie Wisdom

Today, I had some medium to poor Chinese food, but the fortune in the (stale) fortune cookie was very insightful.

“If you’re happy, you’re successful.”

Mindfulness is back in vogue recently, and a lot of people are realizing that keeping up with the Joneses’ isn’t any way to establish long lasting happiness.

I’ve been working on my entrepreneurial projects and a thought occurred to me. On the off chance I do succeed, I have to acknowledge the fact that I won’t be happier. Thanks to the Hedonic treadmill, we can pretty much guarantee the our baseline is where we’ll spend most of our life, no matter what events occur.

On the off chance I do succeed, I have to acknowledge the fact that I won’t be happier.

So I guess the only rational path to happiness is to fall in love with the journey, not the outcome. The outcome isn’t the prize.

fog

Next Steps

“Two paths diverged in a yellow wood…”

I just left my job.
Worse yet, I left my job to chase a quote-on-quote dream.
Even worse than that, my dream isn’t even well defined, isn’t supported by $10M seed funding, and doesn’t have the support of a university or company behind it.
And the worst sin of all? I don’t feel bad about it.

Some background

I’m very fortunate.
I’m extremely fortunate to have a functioning body, a functioning mind, and a network of family and friends that inspire me and care for me.
I have an education, experience in a field that taught me a lot about the world and to live in a city that taught me a lot about people.
I’ve learned a lot of life’s lessons early on in my life. Lessons of mortality, lessons of money or lack thereof, lessons of love and lessons of hate.

Reality

“The more in harmony with yourself you are, the more joyful you are and the more faithful you are. Faith is not to disconnect you from reality – it connects you to reality.”
– Paulo Coelho

I find that it’s important to be realistic. It’s important to list out as objectively as possible the things that are true. Things that are tangible: my height and weight, my favorite foods, places I like and places I don’t. Things that are intangible: the times of the day I’m most focused, the books that make me happiest, the songs that make me feel most alive.

I find it’s important to be realistic about death. How long, yet tragically short, life can be. I find it’s important to acknowledge one’s “dream”, and to mercilessly pursue your own meaning in this universe (because no one else will do it for you).

Insecurity

“I Am an Old Man and Have Known a Great Many Troubles, But Most of Them Never Happened”
Old Man

As a consistent journaler, I began to notice trends. Patterns in my behaviors, in my wants and needs. Things that rattle my nerves, and most importantly: my insecurities. Oh, my insecurities! So many and always changing, never fully healed and constantly tender, like open wounds.

My most tender wound? The feeling of renting out my time on something that I don’t own. I guess this insecurity can be blamed partly on my ideology, from being raised in a WEIRD household. The need to feel like an individual, and to feel I’ve left a legacy on this planet. For my life to feel bigger than it is, to feel longer than it is, and to be more meaningful than it is in reality.

And so, with time, effort, and a lot of self reflection I threw all of my realities and motivations into one “pot” and stirred. Stirred and waited. After a while, something emerged from the cloudy liquid. Then all I had to do is take whatever emerged seriously.

Permission-less Work

“Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.”
– Thomas Jefferson

Can I? May I? Should I? We spend so much of our lives asking other people if we can do something. To a point, this is logical. Often, people will try to protect you, they care for your growth and safety, and value your comfort. The problem is, when you ask other people for feedback on your motivations, other people are really just granting permission for themselves, veiled as permission for you.
We can only perceive the world as we know it. If you ask me “Can I be a chef like Gordon Ramsay?” I may reply, “Yeah, I love the stir fry you made the other night! But aren’t you still set on med school?” Whether or not I truly believe you could succeed as a chef is irrelevant, in this moment my main concern is to maintain a positive relationship with you by telling you what you want to hear.

In the extreme, some people will refuse to act, and refuse to be, unless they have assurance from other people. They’ll assign their identity to their profession, the school they went to, or the town they grew up in.

My favorite thing about our current era, the Information Age, is the driving force of social evolution, and how anyone, anywhere, can create something that creates immense wealth for society (e.g. Google, Uber, Facebook, etc.) in less than a lifetime. In this world you can be whoever you want to be.

Say it with me: you can be WHOEVER YOU WANT TO BE.

The barrier of entry is much lower. You no longer need to take a physical risk to extend influence and to create something that matters to you. In this day and age, opportunity is abundant for those who are willing to look for it. People all over the world are meeting each other for the first time every second of every day, most over a screen. Their words enter your mind, and their feelings enter your heart. Even now, this post is my feeble attempt to join in on this great game, to meet and hopefully help people who I’ve never seen before.

I guess, in a way, I’m setting out to test this hypothesis. I’m setting out to find out if everyone is right about the way the world is supposed to work. If we’re meant to consign ourselves to doing things we don’t enjoy in this world, because “that’s just the way things are, and that’s the way they always have been and always will be.”

Calculated Risk

“Between calculated risk and reckless decision-making lies the dividing line between profit and loss.”
– Charles Duhigg

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about risk. Taking on risk is well… risky. Why expose your feelings by asking out the person you’ve been secretly crushing on the past five months? Why bet your life savings on a startup? Why move out of the city you know, with people who love you, with $20 in your pocket to go and pursue an idea you had at 5am one night?

The obvious answer is reward. Reward can technically be unlimited. The greater the risk, generally correlates with a higher reward. This is due to the increased accountability in the endeavor. It was a major risk to be the first people to fly to the Moon. The reward is being known as the first people on the Moon forever.

With increased risk comes increased chance of failure. Some failures are minimal, and wounds can be licked. Others are earth shattering and catastrophic. If startup culture has taught me anything, it’s that it’s better to fail forward, tripping a little bit each day, rather than to succeed for a consistent period of time and then suffer a major setback.

I’m a firm believer that empty platitudes don’t do anything. That it’s better to make mistakes of ambition rather than mistakes of sloth. That failure is a healthy and integral part of growing up and creating something that matters. That improvement is a continuous process with peaks and valleys, but trends upwards if you put in the effort.

So What Projects Are You Gonna Be Working On?

At this moment in time, I am driven solely by my obsessions. Tasks that intrinsically motivate me, that make me feel alive.

These obsessions are: music, coding, acting, writing, reading books, and public speaking.
Tomorrow my obsessions may include cooking or skiing, who knows. People change, value calculations change with new inputs, the things that are important to us today may not be important tomorrow.

I’ll be working on this blog, on my music, on more open source projects, getting involved with the tech community at large, and some projects that I hope to make money from.
I’m going to continue uploading to my YouTube channel about rapid skill acquisition, and my videos will continue to get better, because I will get better. I want to spin a podcast off of the channel as well, interviewing experts and trying to hone in on what sub-skills people should focus on to grow rapidly.

P.S. reach out to me through e-mail if you are an expert in your field, I’d love to interview you.

Most importantly, I’m not gonna ask anyone or wait for someone to tell me yes to make something I want to make. I’m just gonna do it.

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And 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 matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.
– Steve Jobs

What am I worried about?

Bye bye paycheck (for now)

There is a certain standard of living one gets used to after making consistent money, but that is no longer the case for me currently. I’m hoping Seneca is right about our relationship with daily comforts and fortune; that it’s out of my control in the first place, and I should be grateful for what I had and what I have now:

“Remember that all we have is ‘on loan’ from Fortune, which can reclaim it without our permission—indeed, without even advance notice. Thus, we should love all our dear ones, but always with the thought that we have no promise that we may keep them forever—nay, no promise even that we may keep them for long.”
– Seneca

My own self doubt + other’s doubt at the same time

It’s one thing to have to battle your own demons, it’s another altogether to have to fend off family and friends from the quote-on-quote poor decision making I’ve done around this. 😉

Loneliness

I don’t mind being alone in a room for hours on end. My books and work keep me company enough. That said, it will take more effort now to meet people who will inspire me and help me to grow, and I’ll need to take a much more active role in my social development.

Managing my own discipline

Discipline is never one of those things that is truly “solved”. It’s very dependent on mood, motivation, and physical state. There are great tools out today that can increase productivity, but I can’t imagine it will be easy.

People are less effective solo than on a team

There’s honestly only so much output one person can do in any given day, and honestly, it won’t be as high quality as what a team is able to produce. I’m excited to push my boundaries with the resources and skillset that I have, but I do worry about “not being good enough.”

Uncertainty

By and by, I have no idea what’s going to happen. That sucks, let’s be frank.

Where Do You See Yourself 5 Years From Now?

I’m not sure what I’ll be doing one year from today, or even scarier, who I’ll be. Will I have to go back to a full time job? Will one of my family members get sick? Will I get sick? Will I make zillions of dollars, win a Nobel Prize and be the first man to successfully bake a souffle on the moon? Probably not.
None of us can predict the future, but I think that future vision might suck the fun out of life. Spinning the wheel is only fun if you can’t predict the outcome after all.

All I can see, all I can do, is take the next steps.

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