Discovering what you love to do and getting someone to pay you to do it seems almost mermaid-unicorn-triple-rainbow unachievable nowadays. It isn’t. But getting there does require a lot of finesse and hard work, especially when you’re in that terrifying post-graduate oh-no-life-is-real-now stage.
A few months ago, I came upon the work of a young author and speaker named Charlie Hoehn. Charlie was not immune to the panic of job desperation. In fact, he spent quite a while in the throes of it and his brilliant break-through solution actually occurred to him when he was lying on his bathroom floor, in his parents’ basement, in what I can imagine was not exactly a state of zen.
Charlie’s solution was, “Work for free!” Unto itself, this may not seem like a revolutionary plan, but if you implement it correctly, it is.
Here are the steps:
1. Stop acting entitled. (Seriously, holding onto this helps no one.)
2. Choose a few areas that you’d like to work in. (Disregard what you majored in, what your parents want — figure out what’s of genuine interest to you.)
3. Get skills. (There is always someone with more experience vying for the same job, but if what you bring to the table is enthusiasm, consistency and a set of specialized skills, you’ll be ahead of the pack. Side note: The most valuable skills are in high demand and difficult to learn.)
4. Build an online presence. (This one’s pretty straightforward, but as Charlie so scientifically puts it, you know: “blog, blog, blog, dorky stuff.”)
5. Pay the bills and cut costs. (When you’re doing your main gig for free, side income becomes a necessary evil.)
6. Contact the people you’d like to work for and prove your worth to them. (I realized this step is a big one, but if you’ve laid the groundwork, it should be pretty organic.)
7. Transition to Paid Work. (Same here. Big step. But if your work is consistently excellent, they’ll be sadder to see you go than they will be to part with a few shekels.)
Free work gets your foot in the door, it gives you lots of experience, a great resume, and the connections you need to move forward in whatever industry you choose. Employers are terrified of parting with their hard earned money, now more than ever, in what I like to call “the era of the intern.”
Play into that dynamic. If they don’t want to pay you, tell them why they should. Give them value first. Prove your excellence. Then the opportunities will pour in.
Charlie has had enormous success implementing these tactics. He’s had the opportunities to do high-level work for hugely respected author and coaches and has now become one in his own right. His totally enlightening Ted Talk is available on YouTube. Both of his excellent e-books are free on his website. And now he’s actually offering a master class, that costs about the same as a one-month phone bill.
It took me years to figure out that writing was a calling, not just a thing to do in my journal. When I eventually, sheepishly told my loved ones that it was something I wanted to do professionally, there was a resounding, “duh!”
I had always just assumed that because I had never been paid to write, I never would be. Well, now I am… sometimes. And other times, I enjoy doing the work for free, because I know how to turn it into opportunity.
I didn’t think I needed someone like Charlie to tell me to go ahead and pursue my passion. I didn’t think there were secrets to doing work the right way. I held a million different peculiar jobs that did not improve my life or my resume. But we all need encouragement. We all need to be nudged in the right direction. We could all use a Charlie.
Photo by Emily Long