A university professor once told me “PHDs are basically just random ideas from different fields jammed together.”
Her point was that every idea under the sun has been done before. There are no unique ideas. BUT, there are ideas that feel new because they are a combination of ideas that seemingly have nothing to do with each other. They may all be old ideas but the combination is what makes it unique.
For context, at the time we were studying a way to design microchips that someone had come up with called Forced-based Placement. I won’t bore you with the details here but the inspiration came from how spiders spin webs and always manage to create the strongest possible net despite the spider not consciously designing it that way.
I always found it fascinating how that idea came to be, because it combined two very different fields (biology and computer science) and what came out of that combination was something truly unique that left me scratching me head. And what I’ve found over time is that this works for passion projects and FI as well.
One of our most frequently asked questions is “What should I do after FI?”
And usually our response is “find out what you’re passionate about and go do that.” It sounds simple enough, but in reality, getting a passion project off the ground isn’t easy.
This is because most of the time, we’re trained on trying to be the BEST at one skill which takes years or even decades, and the problem is that often times people don’t want to spend a decade mastering a whole new skill before they can start on a passion project in retirement.
And even if you managed to gain mastery in that one skill, it doesn’t mean you’re the ONLY one with that skill. You could be competing against thousands of other people, putting in the same amount of training as you. Just because you work hard at something doesn’t mean other people aren’t working just as hard, or even harder. You’re not gaining that skill in a vacuum.
What we should be focusing is being “good enough” at a unique combination of things.
Being good at a unique combination of things makes you stand out, because even if other people are training just as hard as you, they won’t have the exact same combination of skills.
This is what’s called a “Talent Stack,” a term coined by Scott Adams, the creator of the “Dilbert” comics.
Despite creating a world-famous comic, Dilbert, which has appeared in 65 countries and netted him 75 Million dollars, Scott Adam’s isn’t the best artist. He also isn’t the best writer or the best marketing expert. But he does have a unique set of skills he’s pretty good at.
He’s pretty funny, has passable (by his own admission) art skills, can write well enough, and is strategic enough to test his ideas out to see which ones yield results, and fixes problems to continue improving.
As a result, he found success as a cartoonist with a well-designed “Talent Stack” rather than one world-class skill.
I found this to be true for us as well. Wanderer and I are not the best writers, or the smartest investors. Plus, there are over a thousand finance blogs listed on Rockstar Finance and more are being added every day.
So how did we manage to stand out enough to get 4 million views on our blog in just over two years?
By combining writing that’s good enough, with better than average investment knowledge, the ability to break complex concepts into easily digestible chunks and not being media shy (many finance bloggers are introverts and have trouble doing this), we ended up with a pretty decent Talent Stack.
Don’t forget that the Talent Stack isn’t fixed, by the way. You can always add “good enough” skills to this stack over time. The higher the stack gets, the more unbeatable and unique you become over time.
So when you’re asking yourself the question, “what do I do after FI? “ or “how do I start a side hustle”, develop your Talent Stack to stand out from the crowd.
To figure out your unique Talent Stack, do the following:
1) Write down 10 useful skills you’re good enough at (meaning, “better than the average person”).
Don’t worry if you have less than 10 skills. Just write as many as you think you have. You can always build more throughout the years.
Note: If you have more than 10 skills, fantastic! Pick 10 that you think are the most unique and useful (meaning, can be used to help/benefit the most amount of people)
Note: if you’re a couple or in a partnership, feel free to combine the skillsets of multiple people.
For example, the combined skills we have are:
b) Public speaking
c) Video editing
d) Communicating complex concepts
f) Personal finance
h) Media Whore-ishness
j) Mathing Shit Up
This is your Talent Stack.
2) Rate each skill on a scale of 1-5 (1 being worst, 5 being best) based on competency:
For us, in the context of FIRE blogging, that would be:
a) Writing: 3.5
b) Public speaking: 3.5
c) Video editing: 3
d) Communicating complex concepts: 4
e) Networking: 3
f) Personal finance: 4
g) Coding: 4
h) Media Whore-ishness: 3.5
i) Budgeting: 4
j) Mathing Shit Up: 4
3) Rate each skill in terms of unique-ness (1 being worst, 5 being best) in your field:
a) Writing: 4
b) Public speaking: 4
c) Video editing: 5
d) Communicating complex concepts: 4
e) Networking: 2
f) Personal finance: 2
g) Coding: 2
h) Media Whore-ishness: 4
i) Budgeting: 1
j) Mathing Shit Up: 3
4) Now add together your competency and uniqueness score for each skill:
a) Writing: 3.5 + 4 = 7.5
b) Public speaking: 3.5 + 4 = 7.5
c) Video editing: 3 + 5 = 8
d) Communicating complex concepts: 4 + 4 = 8
e) Networking: 3 + 2 = 5
f) Personal finance: 4 + 2 = 6
g) Coding: 4 + 2 = 6
h) Media Whore-ishness: 3.5 + 4 = 7.5
i) Budgeting: 4 + 1 = 5
j) Mathing Shit Up: 4 + 3 = 7
5) Circle the top 5 with the highest scores:
a. Communicating complex concepts
b. Video editing
d. Public speaking
e. Media savvy
These are the best skills you have that are the most unique within your field.
In our case, even though we ranked ourselves pretty high on Mathing Shit Up, it didn’t make the cut because that wasn’t that unique in FIRE blogging. Since those skills are required to become FI, FIRE bloggers are naturally good at math.
On the other hand, we only ranked video editing as slightly above average, but because there are almost no videos from FIRE bloggers, that became a standout skill. Which explains why we were able to bring in so many readers with our video—it’s a skill that’s unique in this space. Ditto with media savviness and public speaking. Many bloggers don’t like being in the spotlight because they tend to be introverts. I get it. It sucks to get bombarded with hateful comments and e-mails. But in my case, I simply don’t care. Haters don’t bother me at all and I love public speaking. As a result, this is very helpful in order to stand out in the blogging space.
6) Use your shiny Talent Stack to jump-start that passion project!
When it comes to passion projects, don’t focus on mastering a single skill. Figure out what you’re “pretty good” at. Then figure out how special and unique those skills are in the post-FI field you want to go into. That’s your Talent Stack, and that will tell you the approach you should take.
What do you think? What’s your Talent Stack?
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