One of the most important questions in life is where to spend your time, talent, and treasure.
This question must be probed throughout life to remain relevant in a rapidly changing environment.
Billions of people are competing in the talent market.
Your life will be dictated by how you play and the product you have to offer.
In the world of product strategy, product-market fit, describes the moment when a startup finally finds a widespread set of customers that resonate with its product (The Lean Startup by Eric Ries).
You are the most important product of your life.
By applying time-tested business and product strategies, you can actively manage career fit throughout your life.
This can increase the likelihood of the outcomes you seek such as autonomy, direction, purpose, achievement, financial rewards, unique experiences, and fulfillment.
The answer of where to spend your time and why will not come easy – you will need to do the work.
The Target Concept
A “target” is positioned as a visual metaphor for finding your optimal career fit.
Throughout your career, you will likely have many targets as your interests change and the dynamics of the world unfold through forces you do not control.
Narrowing into the bullseye of a target requires exploring the concepts of concentric circles starting from the outermost circle. After you gain a deep perspective in an outer ring, you carry that mental model into the next. The fit strengthens as you move closer to the center.
Finding your target will require exploration and iteration over time. Akin to machine learning models that iteratively seek to find a new optimum as the input values change. Think of this exercise as a way to establish your mental model that is ever-present to guide your daily actions that optimize career fit and a set of desired outcomes in your life.
In practice, you will likely spend years in each circle gaining skills and adapting how best to deliver value. Reaching the center to call the career shots on your terms is only possible when you have amassed the skills, experience, and credibility in your field. There are no career and life hacks to start in the center. It will require patience, focus, and endurance to reach the center.
The steps below weave together my ideas with those of other strategists that I have referenced in the Resources for Deeper Study section. The links in the passage will take you to my notes from the books I recommend you read in there entirety. I selected these books given how they have influenced my career strategy thinking over many years.
Here are the essential steps:
1. Target crafts you love spending time on.
You have 6 months off with no obligations other than to yourself.
Rekindle interests from your childhood or crafts that you have lost touch with due to the forces of life.
Think about what intriguing and meaningful problems you would love to solve.
Explore a broad set of fields and topics to understand what you’re curious about and dislike.
When performing work, identify when your Mojo is at its peak – this is a strong signal to what you are doing matters and that you enjoy doing it.
Write down “why” you love spending time on these things.
A career with extraordinary achievement is a marathon – you must be willing to train to build skills and battle obstacles every day.
This will eventually lead to mastery and achievement – a craftsman so good they can’t ignore you.
2. Target a path that is a product of your individuality.
With skills, knowledge, and self-awareness you are now in a position to explore paths that fit and derive value from your individuality.
Think about the causes you have empathy for that serve a specific audience – ideally, a minimal viable audience.
Listen and trust your inner voice to build a connection with your mission and purpose in life.
Discover what could blossom from your inscribed individuality: the configuration of your DNA + how your brain is wired + your life experiences.
Be an explorer to iteratively experiment with fields or jobs that will maximize match quality – the degree of fit between the work someone does and who they are.
Choose a path that you can adapt to your uniqueness – a space to call your own.
3. Target a problem or need where you create unique value to fuel your life.
People and companies are willing to exchange hard-earned money for solutions to problems they value.
Be original and avoid the crowds to a common destination or problems that are already solved – they have already beaten down the path to money and success.
Compete to be unique instead of competing to be the best – choose a path different from that of others.
Research trends, what is going on in the world and take note of unmet needs in everyday life.
Weave together a range of personal capabilities and knowledge to solve a unique problem. A single talent is more easily neutralized than a range of knowledge.
Invent a thing worth making, with a story worth telling and a contribution worth talking about.
Proceed down a path when you have a signal your value proposition will financially fuel the life you envision – be realistic and understand the economics of this choice.
Run experiments – even side hustles – to test how your value proposition is valued by the market. This will reduce the risk of going heads down a path that is not financially viable for survival.
4. Target a space where there is sustained opportunity.
Delivering value is essential but sustaining this value over a long period of time is critical to your livelihood.
Understand how the five forces influence your ability to compete in your chosen field and dictate industry economics.
Inspect the supply of talent for a path you are considering and the demand for that talent – this will influence the price of your services.
Remain in a craft where the barriers to entry are high – continue to deepen skills that raise the stakes for your differentiation.
Select a craft where the switching costs of the “service” you offer are high. Conversely, exit a craft with low switching costs.
Analyze how likely it will be for a substitute (e.g., people, technology) to neutralize or eliminate your value proposition.
Select a craft that is not governed by rules that can be easily automated by machines.
Commit to learning, adapting, and mastering your craft each day throughout your lifetime – your livelihood depends on this.
5. Target a venture that is within your control.
You have reached this point because you have something that is valuable that people or companies are willing to pay for, have been able to sustain over time, and continue to do it because you love spending time on it. Now is the time to flex your career muscles to experience freedom on your terms.
Be the owner.
Yes, it’s risky but in return, you have full transparency and the financial upside for that risk.
Spend time and energy on things that you have control of.
Set the culture and vibe of your venture that is uniquely you.
Don’t ask for permission, care about what others think or have to explain yourself.
Be the face that delivers value to customers – middlemen can be eliminated.
Embrace your peculiarity as fuel to power your brand and travel down a path that no one else can.
6. Target Multiple Paths.
It’s unlikely that a single path or job will meet all of your needs.
Diversify your career and financial portfolio by architecting multiple paths.
Use talents across these paths to bring something unique to each – you will be amazed by the opportunities once you see this perspective.
Plan and invest in future paths to mentally prepare for when that day arrives.
Experiment with a side hustle to explore a new path in a low-risk way.
There will be many work experiences throughout your career journey – some with a better fit than others.
Your ability to measure fit and pivot accordingly will dictate your success.
Keep yourself adaptable and on the move – nothing is certain.
The product is in your hands, head, and heart – build a product that has never been seen before.
Your product lifecycle has an end, not under your control – get building and creating value.
Resources for Deeper Study
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t by Jim Collins
Chapter 5 – The Hedgehog Concept
How to Find Your Personal Hedgehog Concept
Understanding Michael Porter: The Essential Guide to Competition and Strategy by Joan Magretta
Chapter 2 – The Five Forces – Competing for Profits
The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
Law 20 – Do Not Commit to Anyone
Law 23 – Concentrate Your Forces
Law 25 – Re-Create Yourself
Law 48 – Assume Formlessness
The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene
13 – Advance with a Sense of Purpose – The Law of Aimlessness
This Is Marketing: You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn to See by Seth Godin
Chapter I – Discover Your Calling: The Life’s Task
The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene
8 – Pick Your Battles Carefully – The Perfect-Economy Strategy
A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine
Chapter 5 – The Dichotomy of Control – On Becoming Invisible
Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, How to Get It Back If You Lose It by Marshall Goldsmith
So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport
How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen
Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein
You, Inc.: The Art of Selling Yourself by Harry Beckwith and Christine K. Clifford
Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days by Chris Guillebeau
Photo by Ricardo Arce on Unsplash