When I was 34 years old I read the book, “The Four Hour Workweek”. In case you haven’t heard of it or aren’t familiar with it, I’ll summarize what the book is about. Essentially, it’s about ways to automate more of your life, maximize more of your time and create a more flexible, mobile and ultimately, more fulfilling lifestyle. It’s a great book and it inspired me to move my life in a completely different direction. I ended up creating a website and started generating about 3K a month online, about six months after starting my site. I ended up heading to Costa Rica in 2008, for what would be my first in a series of extended travels throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. My internet income, combined with my licensing income, provided plenty of money to travel and even live abroad for extended periods of my time.
I can remember an experience I had the first time I took one of my extended trips that I’ll never forget. I was in Nicaragua, where I went after a few weeks of travel through Costa Rica. I had met a group of travelers in Costa Rica that I ended up travelling to Nicaragua with. During this time, I would usually work at least a few hours in my hostel each day, and then head out to explore whatever area I was visiting during the day. On this particular day I had gone to a beach near the coastal town of San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua. I spent a couple hours surfing and then decided to venture off on my own to walk a stretch of isolated beach near where we were surfing.
As I walked that stretch of beach, a feeling of complete bliss swept over me. I was walking alone, in the middle of nowhere, in a foreign country in the middle of Central America, on a Tuesday afternoon in January. For some reason, when this reality hit me, I felt an enormous feeling of warmth and gratitude. A year earlier, I would have been stuck at a job that I despised, in the cold winter of Chicago, struggling to pay rent in my tiny studio apartment. I had managed to come a long way in a short time, and I felt ecstatic about my new life and my new adventures.
That feeling didn’t last however. Although those initial few months were exciting and life changing, slowly reality set in. Although I had managed to create a flexible, revenue stream online and was able to work from new and foreign environments, it quickly became clear that I was going to have to work much more than four hours a week to create and sustain the life I really wanted. In fact, what I soon realized, was that I was actually going to have to work harder than ever in order to succeed on my own.
The four hour workweek is a great, catchy title. It also sounds like an envious lifestyle. Who wouldn’t want to work four hours a week and kick back on a beach the rest of the time? But the truth is, after having spent eight years working for myself online, it’s just, simply put, not at all realistic and probably wouldn’t really be that fulfilling even if it was. In any industry, things are constantly changing, competition is changing, technology is changing, information is changing and so on. If you’re running a business, and want to stay in business, you have to keep up with and adapt to these changes. Working online is no exception to this. Even though I was able to generate money in a more flexible way than I had before, it quickly became clear that if I wanted to grow, or even just sustain my income, I couldn’t slack off for long.
So, after a few months of traveling around, and dwindling funds, I headed back to the States to regroup. When I got back home I spent a lot of time thinking about what I really wanted to do and what direction I really wanted to go in. One of the frustrations that I experienced that inspired me to travel and make such a drastic change in my life, in addition to my job situation, was my growing frustration with playing in bands and pursuing music. At this point I had spent about a decade, playing in different bands and trying to get a band off the ground. I was burnt out on trying to make this happen. The last gig I played In Chicago during this time period, I ended up losing money on. I’ll never forget the sense of disappointment I felt when I realized I owed more money for the sound guy at the end of the night than the band I was performing with took in at the door. I needed a break.
Developing the ability to make money online changed my life pretty dramatically. In addition to allowing me to leave my “day job” and travel, it also allowed me to take a step back and reflect a bit. I had spent most of my adult life up to this point chasing my dream of playing and performing music. I had experienced some high highs and some pretty low lows during this time. In the end though, I started to feel pretty cynical about the music business. I knew success was possible and I still believed in the power of music, but it seemed so hard to get off the ground that I felt like there had to be a better path for me. I was willing to fight and work hard for success, but I started to not really enjoy myself, which seemed to defeat the whole purpose of wanting to play music and spread positivity through music in the first place. I started to get bitter, which wasn’t something I could stand to feel to feel about music.
So, after a few months off, and having carved out a new and emerging path for myself, I decided to devote myself more to licensing my own music and teaching other musicians about licensing. Many of the most influential people I've had in my life have been teachers. Something I read during this period, and I don’t remember where I read it, was that if you can provide value for others, you’ll never go hungry. In other words, if you can make yourself valuable and provide a service or product others value, you’ll always be able to provide for yourself. I decided that I didn’t want to leave the music business and I still wanted music to be a big part of my life, I just wanted to find new ways to provide value and new avenues to pursue.
As I started to focus more on my website and licensing and less on performing and touring, I started to see growth pretty quickly. I managed to discover a niche in the music business, that, at least at that time, not that many people were really addressing. My website, to the best of my knowledge, was the first website of its kind devoted to teaching musicians about music licensing. Now of course, there are quite a few competitors, but back in 2008 when I started, I wasn’t aware of anyone else offering the sort of services and products that I provide.
So, what’s the lie I told myself about success? Well, when I decided to go out on my own and work for myself, I was disillusioned with both the corporate world and the music business. I wanted to find a way to provide for myself but also keep my sanity and pursue things I loved. I wanted to find an easier way. If feeling burnt out and frustrated with the way things were going felt so horrible, I felt like success must be the ability to somehow hack the system and circumnavigate all the hard work and monotony of day to day life. This turned out to not be the case at all. Success has to be earned.
I was attracted to the four hour workweek because it seemed to offer a formula for making money that would give me much more free time and flexibility to explore other things I was passionate about. This was true to a certain extent. By following the principles and ideas outlined in the book I was able to travel and do things that before I didn’t have the schedule to pursue. But, and this is a big but, I still had to work really hard to make it happen and have to keep working hard to maintain my business. There is no literal four hour workweek, at least not one that I’ve found that works for me. That probably doesn’t come as a surprise to most of you reading this. Success, in any field, requires hard work and persistence. There is no easy way out.
As much as I was burnt out on trying to make it work in corporate America and the music business and wanted to find a way out, in the end I had just found a more flexible way to work hard. I could work more on my own terms and from my desired location, but I still had to put in the hard work to grow and sustain my business. It reminds me of a joke I heard about being an entrepreneur; the great thing about working for yourself is that you get to choose the 16 hours a day you work. There really is no shortcut to success. Whatever you decide to do, if you want to be successful at it, you’re going to have to work hard.
These days I’ve been averaging about 10 hours a day on my various endeavors. I have a very exciting update regarding How To License Your Music.com that I’ll be announcing soon, several new courses in production, a new music pitching service and a new batch of my own songs in the works. Although I’m probably working harder than I ever have, I’m probably also the happiest I’ve been in years. When you’re on a path that you’re excited about and proud of, it doesn’t really seem like hard work. Perhaps that's been the biggest lesson. Success isn't about kicking back on a beach, lounging in hammock, drinking pina coladas. Success is about finding things you're passionate about, setting goals related to those things, and working your ass off to make them happen.
It reminds me of an interview I did with the musician Chuck Hughes for my podcast. Chuck has managed to create a full time income from licensing and performing and he summed it up great, “you’re going to have to work hard whether you work for someone else or you work for yourself. You mine as well work hard for yourself doing something you love.” That sounds about right to me.
3/23/2016 09:40:18 am
I get a lot of emails from you. I read about 2% of them. I happened to have a minute and read this one. It is exactly what I needed to read. Thanks for this great story/article/experience.
3/23/2016 10:26:29 am
Thanks David! I'm glad you enjoyed the article.
3/23/2016 12:48:24 pm
Look forward to more
I'm a big fan of Tim Ferriss so the title of your email caught my eye. Everything you've described about T4HWW is pretty accurate when it comes to reality for most people, but it's still thought provoking and inspiring, as are your emails. Reading about the things you've gone through make me feel like I'm on the right path, but they also remind me that I've got a long way to go. Please keep up the good work and keep inspiring the rest of us!
3/23/2016 12:30:34 pm
Yeah, it's a great book, even though the title is a bit misleading. I still learned a ton of concepts that I apply to this day.
3/23/2016 01:37:17 pm
Loved the article....have watched you through this...you have discovered the joy of accomplishment through hard work....it is quite satisfying and also enhanced if you have a great relationship with God and a significant other..Love you Aaron James
3/23/2016 02:00:34 pm
Hi Mom! So glad to see you reading my blog and commenting. I hope all is well :) I love you.
3/23/2016 07:21:52 pm
I read everything you send me. I have written many many songs. Funny thing is the most downloaded song, is one with not a fantastic production behind it. If I was to make my songs perfect for licensing it would cost me a fortune. Even my well produced demos fail for licensing because they're not over the edge production. So for that reason, and I'm sure a lot of other songwriters are in the same boat. I will keep on reading your newsletters etc, because they're very informative, but until I can come up with money for higher quality produced songs, I'll just keep reading and learning. Thanks for the posts, love them,
3/24/2016 03:56:35 am
Aaron, I really enjoyed reading your article of your journey for the past decade. Very well written.Glad to hear you have truly found joy.
3/24/2016 09:19:28 am
Hi Jill! Nice to hear from you. I hope all is well with you and your family.
3/25/2016 05:53:37 pm
I can relate, I am teaching a songwriting class and the students are so inspirational!
3/26/2016 02:22:05 pm
I enjoyed this read. Keep up the good work.
4/2/2016 10:14:43 am
I agree that there probably is no real thing as a 4 day work week and I also agree that finding what you're passionate about helps make "work" seem less depressing. The struggle I have had (as one-half of a songwriting team) is now that we have decided to take the bull by the horn and embark on music licensing--like you did--is that I MUST get majorly better at being a salesman and marketer (something that I have resisted since 1986). I am finally committed to learning as much as I can and actually being the sales person--since the cavalry ain't coming--I struggle to go between being creative--we've got a blog, a YouTube channel, a podcast, and albums circulating--and being a promoter. I battle with these two sides of myself every single day. The best news is that I am coming to terms with this new role and know that if I, again, work hard at it, success will happen for what we're doing.
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