Do you believe we were all born to do a certain type of work? More importantly, do you feel you’re doing what you were born to do?
I spent the first 27 years of my life with no feeling of purpose whatsoever. I went to law school after college because I had an aptitude for it … but mostly because I didn’t know what else to do.
And when I quit my big law firm job, I didn’t feel triumphant — I felt like a failure. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I realized I was an entrepreneur, and that’s when I discovered a sense of purpose that has evolved and strengthened to this day.
Chris Guillebeau joins us in this episode of Unemployable to talk about his new book, Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Born to Do. The title itself reveals an important truth — you don’t follow your passion, you discover it.
Tune in to hear some of the ways to make that happen.
The Show Notes
Are You Doing the Work You Were Born For?
Chris Guillebeau: My name is Chris Guillebeau. I'm a writer, traveler, and entrepreneur. And I'm absolutely unemployable, because I can't imagine doing anything different than what I'm doing right now.
Voiceover: Welcome to Unemployable, the show for people who can get a job, they’re just not inclined to take one — and that’s putting it gently. In addition to this podcast, thousands of freelancers and entrepreneurs get actionable advice and other valuable resources from the weekly Unemployable email newsletter. Join us by registering for our Free Profit Pillars Course, or choose to sign up for the newsletter only at no charge. Simply head over to Unemployable.com, and take your business and lifestyle to the next level. That’s Unemployable.com.
Brian Clark: Do you believe that there's a certain type of work that we're all individually born for? More importantly, are you doing the work that you believe you were born to do?
It's an interesting question. In my case, I definitely feel that I'm wired to be an entrepreneur and really not suited for just about anything else. That's a good thing, but it wasn't that way at the beginning. When I got started, I felt like a failure, a misfit, because I was so miserable practicing law and I didn't understand why I couldn't just appreciate where I was at.
Now I know, and that's important, but I think we all kind of feel like misfits when, in fact, maybe we were born to be unemployable. I'd certainly like to think so.
I'm Brian Clark and you're listening to Unemployable on the Rainmaker FM Podcast network. Head over there and check out some of our other shows. It's Rainmaker.fm. And you'll also notice over there that the entire site is built on our own Rainmaker Platform, which you can try for yourself for 14 days absolutely free at Rainmakerplatform.com.
Today, we're talking to my friend, Chris Guillebeau, who has a new book out right now called Born for This. Again, I think this conversation, this book is particularly well-suited for the unemployable type. Depending on where you're at in your journey, you may not feel necessarily comfortable or that you're on the right path. And sometimes a little reassurance with some materials such as this goes a long way.
Mr. Guillebeau, how are you? It's been too long since we've spoken.
Chris Guillebeau: What's up, Mr. Clark? I'm doing great. I'm doing really well. Thanks so much for having me on the show.
Brian Clark: Oh, glad to have you, of course. This is one of those podcasts where we're literally catching up with one another and just recording it for the enjoyment of hopefully thousands of people.
Chris Guillebeau: Awesome.
Brian Clark: But it has been a while. You've got a new book out. By the time this airs, the book is now available for sale. It's called Born for This. I have read all of Mr. Guillebeau’s other books, they are fantastic. And not just because one of them mentions me (we could talk about that in a little bit). At the time that we're recording this, I have not had the opportunity to read it, and I'm kind of glad, because again, we're just going to talk about it.
I'm intrigued by the topic, I'm intrigued by the title, because this is an area that — I don't know if I want to say “struggled with,” but it reflects my own journey, especially early on to where I’ve gotten to today and how I got here, and the misconceptions I had along the way, and all of that kind of good stuff.
There are other people who've come at this topic I think, and you probably are familiar with that work.
What Is the Premise of Born for This?
Brian Clark: I'm really interested what your premise is with Born for This. My first impression question when I saw the title was: is this a “Follow your passion” book or is it a “Find your passion” book?
Chris Guillebeau: Okay, good. Well, I'm all about the real conversation, so this is good. I'll just tell you really quickly what the book is about and then we can move on to awesome stuff.
The subtitle of the book is How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do. I was struck by this concept of certain people in life, whether they are celebrities that everybody knows or whether they're just regular people, that they really have found this special thing that they're really good at that brings a lot of joy and happiness to their life — you could use the word “passion” if you want – and is also viable. It’s financially sustainable, it's rewarding.
There's this Joy-Money-Flow Model, and a lot of these people use similar language. They talk about how they have their dream job, they talk about how they've won the career lottery. And they say things like, “I would go to work even if I didn't get paid for it, but fortunately, I do get paid for it.”
I was interested in what these people have in common, what path they took, as you said. Was this a linear path or was it a non-linear path? Were there false starts? Were there different things they did on the road to that thing they were born to do?
Spoiler: most of them did not follow a linear path. There were lots of changes and trials and things along the way.
And just learning how readers could apply that in their own way. How readers could say, “Okay, I want to find the work I'm born to do, whether it's a dream job, whether it's creating my own dream job, it's creating my own security through entrepreneurship,” just kind of unpacking that.
I've never really been about “Follow your passion,” but I also don't discount passion and joy and happiness, because what else is there in life? Life is short, why not find a way to do something that is exciting to you, but also meaningful and that other people care about as well, which is what The $100 Startup was about. That's the short version there.
Brian Clark: Yeah, I suspected that it's more of an act of discovery, because this is one of the big misconceptions. Again, I think the book is going to do well with both types of people, the “Follow” and “Find.”
Chris Guillebeau: Yeah, I've been familiar with Cal’s stuff for a long time. He's great.
How Can a Side Hustle Lead to Discovering Joy?
Brian Clark: Yeah, he is great. I thought that book did a good job of refuting the “Follow your passion” thing — that you do the work, you try things, you try to master those things. In that process, you actually find that thing, the thing that you love, whether you want to use the word “passion” or not.
For example, back in ‘98, when I was an unhappy attorney and I quit my job, I thought my passion was writing. I thought I wanted to become a writer. And I am a writer, but in an unconventional sense, because I discovered the reality was that I loved starting companies more than I loved writing. And writing was a mechanism that allowed me to do that. That was a huge wakeup call for me at that time. A lot of this show is about reflecting and relating things I learned along the way.
Now this crowd is definitely not looking to find love in their job, but some people may actually have not made the transition yet.
What about the whole concept of doing the side hustle thing as a way to discover the joy? I mean, I guess there's no other way to put it.
Chris Guillebeau: Yeah, I think anything you can do to increase your security and your competence and your confidence is great.
What I have seen over and over is from people who are traditional employees, whether they're trying to escape and do something unemployable (which obviously I respect and identify with) or whether they actually love their job and have found a place in a broader organization. That was one surprise for me, because I'm obviously biased toward entrepreneurship. I actually talk to a lot of people who believe that they could fulfill their mission in life or just find meaningful work being part of something larger or different.
But, regardless, I think what I've seen is you have a disproportionate satisfaction when you have your income coming from more than one source. Even if you have a full-time income and the side hustle is a very small amount of money or a relatively small amount of money, people feel so much better about themselves. People feel like they have more possibility, they have more opportunity.
You’ve probably seen many emails about this in all the work you've done to support entrepreneurs. Whenever I get this email from someone who's like, “Oh, I made $40 and I'm so, so excited. I might have worked 40 hours or something to make that $40 sale, but it's very, very rewarding.”
So part of what I want to do in the book for the traditional employees is to help them create that side hustle, maybe more than one side hustle. Maybe one experiment, maybe multiple experiments. And then, whether they go into full-time entrepreneurship or not, I do think it creates more opportunities for them.
That's what I've always seen in my life. That's how I became unemployable in the first place. I wasn't an attorney, I was a 19 year old working at FedEx, schlepping boxes in the middle of the night for like $8 an hour. I started selling things online and I made like $16 an hour, and I was like, “This is better.”
Brian Clark: Absolutely.
Chris Guillebeau: I wasn't changing the world. I actually didn't really find meaningful work at that point, but I was like, “Maybe this is not meaningful work, but it's very meaningful to me at the time, because it's giving me freedom.”
Anything we can do to help people have more freedom, whether you're an entrepreneur or not, that to me is the goal. That is the outcome.
It's not about just teaching people something that is academic knowledge. I'm not a journalist, I'm not an anthropologist. When I go through this research process and this interview process and try to document these lessons and tips and hacks that people can use, I want them to not get past a page or two in the book without having something that they write down and then take action on. That's always my goal.
Brian Clark: Yeah, it's interesting that you bring up that small amount of money that you earned in an unconventional way. I can remember getting my first Amazon affiliate check back at the very beginning when I really didn't know what I was doing. It was thrilling. I was just like, “Wow! I did that.”
I think there's a good point to the side hustle aspect of the book, in that even if you're happy with your job, maybe your job's not going to get happy with you. I mean, we're living in very disruptive times, technology is impacting the enterprise. Let's just face it. If they can replace you with a robot or a computer program, it's going to happen.
Chris Guillebeau: Yep. One thing I believe is that everybody is self-employed. The more that we can own this concept… I mean, you are self-employed even if you have a job. If you think of yourself as self-employed, you're self-employed and you're going to lease yourself out to a company or an organization for a period of time.
If you can own that concept, I think that's great. Because, as you pointed out, no one is ever going to care about your career more than you will. Even if it's a great organization or a company that's really doing good things, they have their own goals. And their goal is not necessarily to take care of you for the rest of your working life.
Brian Clark: Yeah, absolutely, without a doubt there.
How to Level Up
Brian Clark: Most of this audience has escaped traditional employment, but they are probably looking for the next level. That's a common theme that we talk about. If you're a freelancer, do you want to move away from clients into products? If you're a solopreneur, is your next project more of a conventional startup? Those type of issues.
One of the little points that I noticed in the description of the book is escape from working for someone else (okay, mission accomplished). And then build a mini-empire as an entrepreneur, something that you have certainly done. Tell us a little bit about that.
But I think leveling up, this is the great thing that everyone wants once our needs are met, once our basic needs are met, especially once we've escaped. We feel grateful. It's amazing. We've been able to escape, whether it's through the online project or through some kind of offline business, freelancing, consulting or whatever.
I use this model throughout the book that we briefly touched on, but I don't think I identified it. The model is Joy-Money-Flow. What I saw in the research and the interviews with people is that the way that people leveled up is they got closer and closer to the convergence point between these things. Between something they love to do, something that was financially viable, something that they were really good at. And that thing was called flow.
That thing that you can lose yourself in your work, you work for hours without really noticing. Maybe it's something that other people are not good at, but you are. If you're into some kind of group situation and a task comes up and they're like, “Oh, Brian should do that.” They already see that you have this kind of thing. The closer you get to that, then I do think the happier you're going to be, the more money you're going to make, the more meaningful your work will be.
Something that I think everybody can do when they're listening to this, whether they read the book or not, when they have to make decisions — “Am I going to pursue this product, this service? Am I going to go down the line of reaching these clients or something totally different? Am I going to advertise?” Whatever the whole thing is, is this thing bringing you closer to that intersection between joy, money, and flow or further away? Or if you're choosing between two things, what gets you closer?
I think the most successful people in the world have really truly found that intersection. Whether it's somebody like Beyoncé. We can look at Beyoncé and say, “Beyoncé probably would have been a good accountant.” But nobody would know Beyoncé, so that's not the thing that she was born to do. She's obviously doing what she was born to do. Or Richard Branson or Roger Federer or somebody like that.
Even, not just a celebrity, if we think about somebody that we know. I had this great example that came from my editor, so I can't take credit for it myself. But when we first started writing the book, she said there's this thing where if you went to high school with somebody or you knew someone like 20 years ago and you didn't keep up with them, but then you run into them or you see them on Facebook or something. And you had no idea what they went to college for, if they went to college or what they ended up doing. But now you see what they're doing and you say, “Oh, that makes perfect sense. I knew this person in 11th grade and they had this skill. They were really good with people or with communication or something. And now they’re a teacher, great. They have found the work they were born to do.”
I think leveling up is getting closer to that thing that we were meant to do, born to do. Whether there's one path or not, it's not really about that so much. It is about getting closer to love, money, skill.
Brian Clark: Yeah, it's interesting you use the term leveling up, and of course, talking about concepts of flow, which is so important to doing work that is meaningful. These are a lot of the themes of my other project Further, which is more broader personal development. But that's the theme. You are growing. If you stop growing, it's over.
Chris Guillebeau: Yeah, it sucks. I mean, if you become complacent, it sucks. I have been complacent many times in my life and work, and I can look back and I'm like, “Yep, that period of life sucked basically.” And I could have been successful. I could have been however you define success, I could have had that, but complacency sucks.
How to Maintain Focus on the Next Thing
Brian Clark: Well, let's cross streams here a little bit and talk about your other book, which is The Happiness of Pursuit, which I love by the way. It's the perfect motivational book that is backed up by actual psychological research about well-being and what makes us happy and everything like that.
I keep coming back to that theme, I think really here in Unemployable and with Further which is: what's the next thing? In your language, what's the next quest? I know that's important for you. You did something absolutely amazing, which is visiting every country on the planet.
But let's talk about quest in the context of Born for This. It's a process of self-actualization or an attempt to get there, right?
Chris Guillebeau: Yeah, absolutely. I think both the journey and the destination are quite important. I think people always ask this question: isn't it all about the process? Well, it is about the process, of course. And the process is the day-to-day, and if we don't appreciate that, then we're just kind of slaves to something in the future that may or may not happen.
However, what I learned in my own experience of the 11-year quest of going to every country in the world, as well as talking to lots of other people who undertook some really incredible quests that were far more challenging than the one I did — there was a guy in Australia who spent 28 years trying to produce the world's most difficult symphony before finally succeeding. There's somebody else who ran 250 marathons in a single year, all these kind of crazy things. And they weren't all like athletic things like that, but quests.
The thing I learned was that actually having a goal, even though the process and the journey is ultimately what it's about, having the goal and the destination and the end point is really important. I think it does provide this anchor and this foundation.
So, yes, we want to be improving ourselves every day. We want to be appreciating the present moment. But it's also good to say, “Okay, I'm working toward this thing. Here's this identifiable thing, and I will know that I have achieved it when X happens.”
When I was going to every country in the world, I got a lot of criticism from time to time, because people would say, “Oh, is this just about checking off a list or something?” At first, I was very defensive about that and I would say accurately, “Well, it's not just about that, because I love to travel,” and I did love to travel. I love every aspect of it.
But as I got closer to the end, I realized there was actually joy in checking things off, and I liked that. I liked working towards something and knowing that there would be an end point somewhere.
I think that's really helpful in business as well. Because like yourself, you've started what, how many businesses? Is it like eight businesses or something that have all been successful?
Brian Clark: Yeah, and the first one didn't. So, nine – eight successful.
Chris Guillebeau: That’s a pretty good track record. I think that’s a fairly acceptable track record. But the point is you didn't just stick with one thing. I mean, you did something for a while, you did something else, and that's very common. But you had goals, you had some end points in mind. And maybe they all didn't wrap up precisely, but presumably, they did.
Brian Clark: Yeah, destinations are important, goals are important. I mean, you get in trouble when you're a little too rigid about your goals, because you've got to be able to flow even in the broader sense with reality.
But destinations are incredibly important. I just think it's important… and you and I talked about this before we started the episode, which is, “Okay, I made it to this destination …” And there's a reason why I sign off Further and this show with “Keep going,” because there's only one ultimate destination and that one is not one we're necessarily in a hurry to get to.
In the meantime, while you're alive, you’ve got to find the next thing. And I think that relentless kind of restlessness is more apparent maybe in some than others. And yet, again, going back to that research, this growth process is what produces happiness, not necessarily staying at one destination.
Chris Guillebeau: Well, discontent is a very powerful force, and being dissatisfied is an incredible motivator. So I would imagine that most people who listen to a podcast called Unemployable understand that very well. The goal is not always to be contented, to be satisfied, because when you're discontented, that's when you are in that place of growth. That's where you want to keep going. That's when you are asking, “What's next? How do I level up? How do I change?”
You have correctly identified that for many people on the planet, whether it's universal or not, who's to say. But for many people on the planet, we are motivated by seeing how we can continue to improve ourselves, continue to improve the circumstances of those around us, whether that's our employees or clients, customers, or whatever. That is ultimately what it's about.
The Importance of the Audience
Brian Clark: Yeah, absolutely, I agree. So you were a little self-deprecating a minute ago when we were talking about your empire compared to ours. Number one, I think most people would love to achieve half of what you've done. Number two, some days I want to be you.
But let's talk about one thing we definitely have in common even though we've taken different path, which is we built an audience, and from that the privilege of being able to serve this discrete group of people. And no matter how large it gets, it’s really what we owe our success to, even though we took different paths.
Do you cover that in Born for This? Is that an aspect of the book?
Chris Guillebeau: Yep, there's a whole chapter in it called “DIY Rockstar,” which is essentially about this new model that you have talked about for years, of course. This new model of recruiting fans and followers. It talks about actual musicians and bands that have done this, as well as authors who have done this, people doing this in different ways.
Obviously, it does ultimately come back to… it's not just the fans. People always say historically, like musicians, “Oh, it's all about the fans.” It's about the relationship you have with the fans.
You probably know lots of examples of people with very small audiences or communities, or whatever you want to call them, who have actually been very successful in a financial sense or in whatever the metric is. And there are also people who have a huge audience, but they just don't have that same connection with them that the person with a small audience does.
It is ultimately about how you build that relationship, the strength of that, and then how that relationship is expressed. Is it expressed through purchasing products and creating things for them? Is it expressed in events? Is it expressed in something completely different?
I've tried to focus on that throughout the years as you have done. I feel like in some ways I've gotten it right and in other ways I still have a lot to learn.
How Much Did Your Audience Influence What You Did Next?
Brian Clark: In your own business, in your own experience, how much did your audience help inform what you did next? Obviously, it's a personal decision to write a book, because God knows, you're putting a lot into it.
Chris Guillebeau: Sure, sure.
Brian Clark: But you've got to get indications I think from people that, “Here's the next thing I'm going to help my tribe with.”
Chris Guillebeau: Yeah, very, very good question. I think it can be tricky to go either way, because you want to be a leader. You want to try to put forward something that is, if not 100% unique, at least some sort of substantial original contribution. And if you're going to be a leader, then you're not necessarily just following what you hear or what people are expressing.
What I try to do is identify the underlying need, identify the underlying concern. What are people talking about? They are talking about finding meaningful work, they are talking about forging hybrid careers through entrepreneurship and employment and a combination of the two and consulting and freelancing and this whole new world.
We used to call it the “new economy” and I call it the “new new economy” now, because I feel like it has changed. It changes so much every two years or maybe 18 months or just along the same path of a social network.
I think what I try to do is, “Okay, let me think what is the overall thing that I'm trying to put together?” And then once I have that vision, then everything else absolutely does come from the community.
I've written four books so far and all four of them include stories of people that I've met through traveling the world, through online connections. And a lot of the ideas, a lot of the tips, a lot of the hacks come directly from the community. It's very much a two-way process.
Tell Us About World Domination Summit
Brian Clark: That's very cool. Speaking of community, for those of you who don't know, Chris is also the producer of the World Domination Summit which is, in the very best sense of the word, the closest thing to a cult I've ever seen. And I mean that as a compliment. I mean, you get people fired up, “Brian Clark says a ‘good cult.’”
People just live for this. There are people I know that have gone every single year. I don't know, it's because of my commitment to my family during the summer that I've never made it yet. I may surprise you and just show up, but tell us about this year's event.
Chris Guillebeau: Yeah, we've been doing WDS for six years now. It's completely organic. We've never had any advertising or really even any PR for the most part, which is interesting. Everybody comes through word of mouth. It's a gathering of creative, remarkable people. We meet in Portland, Oregon, as I call it, “The People's Republic of Portland, Oregon.”
Brian Clark: That's what we call Boulder, okay, man?
Chris Guillebeau: I know and Austin too. There are a couple other places.
We have the mainstage talks. Brian, you weren't at WDS, but you were actually a keynote speaker at Pioneer Nation. It’s a sister event.
Brian Clark: Yeah, I loved that event.
Chris Guillebeau: That event’s a little bit smaller, but also a gathering of great people. We just try to bring people together — mainstage talks, lots of workshops and meetups, and then lots of fun as well. There are some parties.
But it has a purpose to it. It's not just an unconference. I'm actually trying to help people, to support their dreams, and to support other people's dreams as well.
This year it's in August. We'd love for people to come.
Brian Clark: August, what's the actual date?
Chris Guillebeau: August 10th through 15th.
Brian Clark: Okay, we'll put that in the show notes. We will definitely link up a link for Born for This. Or you can simply Google it. Trust me, it's easier than spelling Guillebeau.
Chris Guillebeau: Yeah, that's always been setback.
Brian Clark: I’ve always had a challenge with your last name.
Chris Guillebeau: You say you want to be me, but sometimes I wish I could be Chris Clark.
Brian Clark: Yeah, well, that is a very boring name, but it is easy to spell. Sometimes someone will tack an e on and you get a little spice, but that's about it.
Chris, thanks so much for the time. I'm really looking forward to reading the book. I think it's going to be a winner, and I think it's going to help a lot of people, which as you know, that's probably the definition of a winning book right there.
Chris Guillebeau: That is absolutely the definition. Thank you so much, Brian. I appreciate it.
Brian Clark: All right, Everyone, I hope you enjoyed this episode. I hope you pick up the book and it helps you to — you know what's coming — keep going.