(This is a guest post from my boy, Nate St. Pierre, who shares a secret with us that I only found out myself just a few weeks ago. Treat him well! :))
On August 15th, I was living in Wisconsin, using food stamps to pay for my meals, and renting a house I’d only lived in for about six weeks. Seven days later I signed a $75,000/year contract and was packing my bags for a move to Los Angeles. Life changes pretty quickly when you have no defined plans…
I’ve been running my “change the world” philanthropy projects since the summer of 2009, which I began while I was working for a company in Milwaukee. By early 2010, these projects consumed all of my available free time, plus I had a bunch of side deals being discussed for ways to earn an income through related work . . . so I quit my day job. I’ve been working for myself ever since, right up until the day I decided to upend my current life.
One thing I’ve learned during the last couple of years (and I think J$ can attest to this) is the fact that things rarely work out the way you think they’re going to, especially when it comes to possible income-generating projects. At the time I quit my job, I had no fewer than seven big-name organizations talking with me about using my ItStartsWith.Us system to mobilize and engage their members. And by “big-name”, I mean exactly that – the two biggest were Google and the U.S. Government.
Every single deal I had in the works fell through for one reason or another over the next few months. It’s the downside of working with such large bureaucracies – they have so many levels of approval and oversight that no one person (unless you get to the very top) has much real authority to get things done. Many new ideas, especially those that are innovative and relatively untested, get talked about for a long time before ultimately getting shelved.
This was obviously a blow to my finances, as I was now running a couple of philanthropic projects with no steady source of income other than the occasional speaking or consulting job. In a very ironic twist of fate, it turns out that I don’t really enjoy doing the very things that people in my position (including many of my friends) usually do to earn a living, namely: speaking, consulting, and writing books.
Fast-forward to the summer of 2011 and I’m still in the same boat, with an added philanthropy project in the form of Love Drop. Now I have three charity projects, none of which pay me anything (unless you count hugs?), and all of which take my time to run. With Love Drop we always had possible side deals in the works, especially from L.A. folks who wanted to turn it into a reality series to compete with Extreme Home Makeover. But as we’ve continued to learn, even though they get talked about a lot, things like that don’t usually tend to work out.
Because I rarely accepted speaking engagements or took on consulting projects, and I was spending around 15 hours a day running my various projects, I found myself with only modest expenses, but desperately low income. I know that most of you financial folks will think this a ridiculous situation to find yourself in, and you’re absolutely right. I had so many irons in the fire, from so many different projects, that I thought one of them was bound to come through and get me on the right track. But all that ended up happening was that I became more successful at building and leading charitable endeavors . . . which was great for getting critical acclaim, but not so great for getting paid. And every time I found myself short at the end of the month, I borrowed some money (collective groan from the audience).
And so there I was, in summertime of this year, looking to most of the world like I was doing very well, but realistically poor enough to qualify for food stamps from the state of Wisconsin. In late June I took them up on their generous offer and started using my state-issued card at the grocery store. Needless to say, it did not feel good. This was a big wake-up call for me, and it was at that point I realized that I really needed to do something about my situation. I started poking around Milwaukee, looking for work I could do . . . a “real” job, since I’d learned that I didn’t like doing the things one “should” do in my position.
On Monday morning, August 15th, I saw a note come across the Facebook feed for a Community Managers group I’m a member of. A tech startup in Santa Monica needed help from someone with that expertise. L.A. has recently been a city on my radar, so I emailed the girl and asked her to tell me more. She replied instantly, excited that I had responded. She told me that she was a member (!!) of all my philanthropy projects and was honored that I was interested in the job. Shortly thereafter I was on a Skype call with the founder of the company. We talked for an hour, and towards the end he asked if he could fly me out to L.A. on Thursday to interview. I went out there and met with the team on Thursday and Friday, and they offered me the job over the weekend. That Monday, seven days later, I accepted the offer and made plans to move.
You’ll be interested to know that J$ and I had already booked flights to do Love Drop #8 in Wichita, Kansas that upcoming weekend, but I called and asked if he would be up for flying into Milwaukee instead, helping me load up the U-Haul, and then driving with me all the way to L.A., stopping in Kansas along the way to do the Drop. At first he was skeptical, but when I told him that he’d have to do all the end-of-month Love Drop work on his own, since I’d be on the road, he changed his mind and came with. :) (EDITOR’S NOTE: This is true, but you also knocked some sense into me NOT to pass on a once in a lifetime cross-country trip! Which I of course blogged about ;))
And there you have it, folks. Food stamps to $75,000 in seven days. I actually started working for the company while on the road, unpaid. I’ve been liberal with my time working for them, because they’ve been generous in allowing me time off in order to continue my important work with Love Drop. Everything is negotiable – always remember that.
Here are the three biggest things I’ve learned from this little adventure:
- Always keep track of your finances, and make plans to fix things that are going wrong before they become a big problem. I failed in this, and have a lot of debt to pay back as a result.
- Continually build. You never know what your small hobby or project could turn into a year or two down the road. I got a great “real” job based solely on the community management experience I gained by working on unpaid philanthropy projects.
- Follow your heart, even if you don’t know where it’s going. If there’s something that’s on your heart or mind to do, but you don’t feel you have the time, talent or money to accomplish, please don’t let that stop you. Figure out a way to start small and work consistently. Over time you’ll progress further than you think, and you never know what kind of life adventures you’ll have as a result.
I hope you can look at this example and realize that you never know what’s going to happen in this life, but you can almost always take away something positive from the unexpected twists and turns. If you have any questions or anything you’d like to discuss, let’s chat in the comments. You know if I don’t, J$ will punch me in the face when I see him on our next Drop. ;)
PS: Yes, I still have massive debt which I am now working towards clearing. To the tune of $50,000, ugh. But yeah, sometimes a valuable experience comes at a great cost (especially when you’re not paying attention).