Why The Tattoo?

I got a tattoo of a deer today.

Though I do think deer are lovely creatures, it’s not especially about deer in particular. Or at all, really.

I had the idea to sell my Art Outlines illustrations almost two full years ago, and with the support and encouragement of my fellow entrepreneurs, I even built a fully functional website, created a video, and got strangers from all over the web to sign up for the email list.

But then it came time to actually list something for sale. And what did I do?

I shied away from it. I let doubt creep in. I turned my back on the project, thinking it wasn’t good enough. I worked on other things.

Over a year later, deep into my 10-month travel adventure around the world writing The Eat Team, I was getting really itchy feet (and a shockingly tiny bank account). I have a massive drive (compulsion?) to create, and because you can’t take an entire print studio full of hundreds-year-old lead and machinery and boxes full of paper, I couldn’t work on Ye Olde Gangster.

So, even though I felt totally unprepared and scared and embarrassed, I just decided I’d put a few of the illustrations up for sale on Etsy. I was terrified, and I didn’t have a lot of hope, but I asked myself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” And the answer was.. nobody would buy my illustrations and I’d be in the exact same place I was now. Well, that’s not so scary I thought–either I’m in the same place I am now, or perhaps maybe just maybe someone will send me some money for something I enjoyed doing.

Nothing happened for a few months. So, my “worst case scenario” was true for a few months. But of course, I wasn’t really thinking about it much and hadn’t expected anything to happen anyways.

Then, out of the blue, on July 4th, 2012, a stranger from New Zealand sent me $2 for my drawing of a deer as I prepared an American Independence Day feast for my new Australian friends in Melbourne.

“WHAT?!?!?!?” I shouted, I danced, I shoved the email in front of my friends faces. It wasn’t the money that lit my fire.. obviously $2 isn’t gonna stretch very far.. it was the cold, hard, undeniable real truth that I had a viable product. A worthy idea.

It made my heart soar.

So, why the tattoo?

I guess there’s several facets to that answer.

- Commitment to the long haul. It’s always been my dream to support myself with my creativity, and this was a moment I’ll never forget. I know there is no quick fix, no secret to making my dreams come true–it’s hard work and trust and taking risks and getting up every single day and starting all over again. It’s blood sweat and tears and I’m in it, forever. This is a commitment to myself to never give up on my creativity, to never stop growing and learning and making.
- That if I can pull this off, anyone can.

- Reminder that what I do is good enough. For a long time, I was embarrassed that my style of drawing was so childish and simplistic. At some point I decided to embrace that and run with it. It’s amazing how much love and support you get when you say “fuck it” and embrace the differences that make you you.

- Reminder to keep it simple. My whole idea with Art Outlines is to make extremely simple, elegant drawings. To eliminate what’s not necessary, and do only what’s necessary. Focus. Minimalism. Contrast.

- Reminder that imperfection is perfection. That you’ll never feel ready, you’ll never feel finished, but to say YES anyways. To figure things out as I go. Something I learned on my big adventure was that nothing is ever perfect.. but if you can embrace those imperfections, it makes it perfect. That was one of the overarching themes Hannah and I encountered every single day on our crazy trip. If we tried to make things perfect, we wouldn’t have done a single thing. If I had known that I was going to get this deer tattooed on my body forever when I drew it, I would have spent hours trying to perfect it. I love that it has tiny flaws and things I’d probably have changed if I had known.

If you look real close, there’s a little dimple on my deer’s bum–that wasn’t part of the original drawing. That was a speck created by the xerox machine that my tattoo artist thought was part of the image. When we realized it was permanent, she asked if I wanted her to try and pick it out. I considered it, then remembered.. imperfection is perfection. I love that it’s just another layer. Humans are all imperfect, and instead of getting mad or embarrassed by “hiccups”, we can just run with it and love it anyways.

That I’m not the only one involved–the stranger in New Zealand and my amazing tattoo artist had huge parts in it. To remember that PEOPLE are what make the world go round, and we’re all family in some way. To trust others and not try to control everything. I went in thinking I’d get the deer facing me. Alice told me that would be upside down to the rest of the world. And so I worked with her instead of trying to control it, and accepted her expertise since I was a tattoo n00b, and rolled with it, even though it’s not what I first imagined. Give and take.

Life is imperfect, and if we want to LIVE we have to remember and accept and love anyways.

2012

Looking back on 2012, I can honestly say it was the most challenging year of my life so far. It’s also been the most incredible and growth-inducing because of it. I left my comfort zone a thousand times over, and made it through, with some unbelievable memories to boot. I pushed myself to the limit physically, mentally, and emotionally and I came out feeling more alive than ever.

So what exactly did I do?

Went camping for the first time: I spent the beginning of the year tying up loose ends and preparing for extended travel. I also snuck in some fun, and took my first camping trip ever (sad, I know, but better late than never). A few friends, some old and new, went to Death Valley–we hiked, cooked, played games, and shot the shit around the fire. I’d always been wary of camping for some reason, but after this first trip, I got HOOKED. Being outdoors all day, with no electronics, surrounded by upbeat, positive people, and the contrast of being so damn dirty for a couple days and then going home and showering.. oo what a feeling.

Traveled around the world: My longest adventure yet lasted almost the entire year, and so if for no other reason than sheer quantity (though there are definitely more reasons), this adventure was MASSIVE. I spent 8 months with one of my best friends traveling all around Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand. I learned how to cook in the jungle, rode an elephant, swam in oceans and waterfalls, peed on a snake, sweated my ass off in Thai swamps, couchsurfed with Polish folks in Malaysia, met people every single day, walked across a jungle canopy, explored a letterpress print shop malaysia, ate a worm, ate frog, ate kangaroo, saw the mist roll across tea plantations, lived on a flower farm for 3 weeks, had close encounters with a Wallaby, saw Karen O perform live in the Sydney Opera House, lived in Melbourne for a month with a group of students, to name just a very very few of my favorite memories. I saw things I never thought I’d see, went places I never knew existed, and basically had my mind blown by the vastness and at the same time, the smallness of our planet.

Let go of YOG: After my year in Germany in 2011 working on my greeting card business,Ye Olde Gangster, it was really hard for me to say “see you later” to it as I left for my long travel journey. I spent a few months before I left stocking up on inventory and even getting a mentee-intern to ship the cards for me while I was away, but in the weeks leading up to my departure, a huge part of me wondered, “am I making the wrong choice traveling? I’m so close to getting somewhere juicy with my little company, and I’d really like to push it further. Am I making a mistake starting something new before I’ve “finished” Ye Olde Gangster?” But I had committed to the trip and so I followed through, I took a leap of faith and went with it. That’s not to say it was without difficulty or hiccups–in the first couple months of traveling I tried to work on it from afar. That only led to disappointment and frustration for both projects–Ye Olde Gangster and my travels. I wasn’t living “in the moment” on my trip and obviously you can’t get very far on a project that requires your presence when its thousands of miles away from you. With the help of my travel partner, I let go. I said, “see you later” to what felt like my baby, and let it do it’s own thing.

That opened up my days to adventure and new experiences, and it was also a great experiment to see if the business that I built to be “passive income” really worked “passively.” It was pretty incredible to see that it did in fact–I continued to make sales throughout the duration of the trip. While I slept, while I tanned on the beach, while I motorbiked across an island.. that was a truly satisfying feeling. To know that it could sustain itself. Waking up in the morning to an alert saying “you have received payment” is something that truly never gets old.

Sold my first Art Outline: I had the idea to sell my illustrations as vectors almost 2 years ago and even created the website for Art Outlines over a year ago. But I let doubt creep in, and before I could gain any real momentum on the project, I turned my attention elsewhere and let Art Outlines sit on the backburner. As I was unable to work on Ye Olde Gangster due to being so far from it, I decided to turn my attention to something I could work on during my down time on the road. I finally got the courage to list some of my illustrations for sale. I decided to stop stalling, stop waiting for the perfect moment, and just experiment a little. And then what happened? Absolutely nothing. At least for a while. But a couple months after I posted my first Art Outlines illustration for sale, something magical happened. On the 4th of July, American Independence day, a stranger across the world sent me $2 for my drawing of a deer. The money itself wasn’t what got me so damn excited. It was the fact that I had real live proof that I had a viable product. All I had to do was keep going.

The Eat Team: My long trip was about more than travel. My partner Hannah and I also endeavored a project along the way called The Eat Team. We interviewed artists, chefs, entrepreneurs, and creative people everywhere we went. We sought to meet people who really walked the talk, who went after their dreams instead of just thinking about them. The Eat Team got us out on the streets, and involved in the communities of the places we went in a richer way than either of us could have ever imagined. It gave us a reason to meet people we admired and wanted to share with others.

Faced one of my biggest fears: being flat broke. I have a long history of being a massive worrier. One of my biggest worries has always been running out of money, even when I had no reason to be worried. I have a history of saving for savings sake, and although that was good in a way because it allowed me to do what I did this year, it also set me up for a lot of stress. I knew going in to this trip that I would be exhausting my monetary supplies. But “they” say that you’ve gotta face your fears to overcome them and I guess I did just that. A funny thing happened as my account crept closer and closer to zero: I became realistic with my choices. It forced me to get super specific and realistic with what I could and could not afford. It forced me to hammer out my budget. I also learned one of my biggest lessons–don’t try and handle a problem before it becomes a problem. There is absolutely no point in worrying about “what could happen” because you’ll never actually know what will happen unless you reach it. And I found that when I hit rock bottom monetarily, absolutely nothing bad happened. I was still a worthy person, I still had a home, I still had shelter, I still had food in my belly. And when it came time to take action and make more money, that’s exactly what I did. There is absolutely no reason to worry, if you know you can rely on yourself, and that there are always enough opportunities given to make shit happen, you will make shit happen. Two friends who had been in similar situations told me the exact same thing separately: it comes down to unjustified faith in yourself. Unjustified faith in the universe doesn’t hurt either. You don’t have to worry if you know you’ll be there for yourself.

Got closer to Oprah: I met four people who know Oprah. This gets its own category because Oprah is a mega badass and it’s one of my dreams to meet her and work together one day.

Said goodbye to my best friend: After 17 years together, I had gotten so used to leaving for long periods of time to travel or live in another place and coming home to find her still curled up on the couch, that I guess I thought Sweetie would never kick the bucket. I thought, she’s so damn old, she’s passed the point of dying. If it was going to happen, it already would have. But one winter’s day in Australia as I was skyping my parents, they had a funny look on their faces. They told me she wasn’t doing well. “What do you mean?” They told me she hadn’t moved much at all for a week, that she grew weaker and thinner by the day. I was angry they hadn’t called to tell me. They put her on the camera and with tears in my eyes, I called my kitty’s name. My parents said it was the first time all week she moved. I cried and said goodbye to a friend who’d been with me through thick and thin. I was grateful to get to “see” her one last time, and just let the sadness wash over me. It was one of the purest and strongest feelings I’ve ever felt. I was happy and grateful for the times we shared together, and just so sad I wouldn’t see my friend again.

Got an mentern: I hired my first employee, to ship my Ye Olde Gangster cards while I was away in return for mentorship on her own projects. It was pretty terrifying to hand over my entire business to someone else, but I took a risk and tried the experiment and it was definitely worth it. I think we both learned a lot about working relationships. Just like any other relationship, it takes a lot of communication for both parties to get what they want and for the team to run efficiently.

Came Home, reconnected: Returning home was just as good as leaving was. It was also pretty heavy. I went through a pretty rough transition period as I digested what I had just experienced. I broke down and then broke through. I picked myself back up, surrounded by friends and family and familiarity. I rediscovered myself and came through the other side feeling revitalized and strong.

Found a way of eating: I had been looking forward to trying the Paleo diet for quite some time, and I finally got to devote some real time to it upon returning to America. After many months on the road having a pretty wild diet (aka eat anything and everything because I’m traveling), I was feeling more than ready for some consistently healthy food. Hannah and I did a Paleo experiment together, inspired by Joel Runyon’s 6 pack experiment. We were strict about it for 3 weeks, and combined it with short but high intensity workouts 6x a week, and even in that short period of time, it was apparent in body and mind how beneficial the effects were. Almost 3 months later and I’m hooked for the foreseeable future. I feel like I found the style of eating that really nourishes me, and that I enjoy. It’s hard to call it a diet when I get to smother everything in bacon fat and avocado.

Moved to Portland: After 8 months of constant travel, I was really looking forward to setting down some roots and routines. I’ve only been here for a few weeks so far and I’m still in the midst of setting myself up, but it’s been apparent since day 1 how incredible this place is. I came here without a place to live, without many friends, and without a job. And though all of that did scare me, I remembered how I felt inspired when I made the decision to live here, and so I didn’t allow doubt or worry to take over. I put my forward-facing-blinders on and charged ahead, doing everything in my power to get what I want (a beautiful place to live, a supportive group of friends, an additional source of income) and let things happen. I repeated the mantra “unjustified faith in yourself, in the universe” over and over, and told myself “UR DOIN IT RITE!” and somehow all the pieces of the puzzle have been falling into place. I feel incredibly lucky and grateful and am damn excited to see what the future brings here in my new home.

Met the most amazing people: It all boils down to this. People are the real juice of it, the real heart of any story. I met so many damn inspiring people it makes me well up a little just thinking about it. There are way too many names to name so I’m not even going to start.

What did I learn in 2012? I guess I’m going to have to write a whole book to answer that one, and it’s probably not a coincidence that’s exactly what I’ll be doing. I learned about “going with the flow”, letting go of one thing in order to fully experience another, not asking “why” (the answer is only ever “because”), and the secret is.. there is no secret. Life is pretty damn simple, you just have to really do and experience things. You can’t just talk about them.

I learned that living a good life “on paper” is as good as having a piece of paper. It is meaningless. Life happens in us, in other people, in other living beings. That contact, connection, experience, that’s what matters. And numbers and papers are big piles of nothing. I learned to give less attention to paper, and more attention to reality.

But the biggest thing I learned was how to be with other people. Traveling with my buddy Hannah, I shared my whole life, every waking moment with another person. I learned how to be myself around others, and how to really stick together. To see something through from start to finish, no matter what. I learned that you have to constantly communicate with one another, to say what you’re thinking and feeling, because nobody can read your mind and nobody else knows what you want but you. It’s nobody else’s responsibility to take care of your needs, and if you’re not speaking up for yourself, they won’t get met. I learned to take responsibility for myself at all times, and how to embrace the “two heads are better than one” idea. I learned what it meant to work out issues as they arose, and know that we’d get through things together. That a discussion never had to be an argument. That an issue never had to be a problem. I learned how to give and receive in a free way, where both parties enjoyed and benefitted from both aspects. I learned about honesty, at all times, and practiced it with increasing directness, only to find that I felt better and other parties appreciated it too. I learned a lot about accepting my feelings, no matter what, and taking it a step further and sharing them with my friend. I learned that life doesn’t fit in a box, that people don’t fit in boxes, and that the beauty of it all is sitting with discomfort. Accepting and embracing that silence. And doing it with other people is just as great as doing it alone.

I think in essence, I learned how to love more.

Overhauling the Publishing Industry


To anybody who likes books & having the freedom of creative expression:

Today the The 4-Hour Chef is out.  It’s a followup to a book that undeniably changed my life.

Maybe even more important than the incredible content inside it, author Tim Ferriss is currently fighting a battle against the traditional publishing industry.  The 4-Hour Chef is banned from 1000+ bookstores (including all Barnes & Nobles) because it’s the next big bet by Amazon Publishing.

The success of this book threatens the stability of the traditional publishing industry.  It could also pave the way for bigger and badder things.  As I’m getting ready to publish my first book, I’ve seen first hand how outdated traditional publishing methods are and how their restrictive nature of it all doesn’t do much to benefit the author or the readers.

A victory for the 4-Hour-Chef could mean getting more books and information into the right hands, and more creative flexibility for authors.  It’s a win-win scenario (except for the big publishing corporations.)

If The 4-Hour Chef “wins” in any capacity, authors will feel freedom to experiment. If this book “fails” because the old guard makes of an example of it, their message wins: don’t mess with the system that keeps us fat and happy, or we’ll punish you.

Our world is changing.  We’re noticing the unhappy effects of our “dog-eat-dog world” of the last decades, and seeing that “sharing is caring” goes a lot further.  We’re working on updating health care, we’re working on updating our views on race, gender, gay marriage, the environment, and more.

To me, this is just one more small step for man.  Let’s make it happen.

 

Passive Income Update

My best-selling set.

In May, I wrote about my goal to ”create a new stream of passive income by September 30, 2012, that generates at least $50 per month on average and endures for a minimum of 10 years in a way that delivers strong value for many others around the world.”

Since the “deadline” date has passed, I thought I’d share an update on how I did.

The plan was to monetize Art Outlines by selling my illustrations as downloadable vectors for other designers to use.

My plan was to group sets of drawings together into full-sets, each of which would be one page in the upcoming Art Outlines book.  For example, I created a full set of banners, vegetables, stars, christmas illustrations, and so on.  I drew a page per week and listed each page on my etsy shop for $12.95. And then…

…I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And then, on July 4th, American Independence Day, something magical happened. I made my first sale. A stranger sent me $2 for my drawing of a deer while I slept.  Fucking magical.

So was it a success?

I’m pretty damn stoked (and surprised) to be able to say yes, both monetarily and otherwise.  After the initial $2, I ended up meeting my monetary goal of $50 passive income per month after September 30th.

I didn’t exceed it by much, but something interesting happened: I ended up starting a new form of active income as a by-product.

By listing my pre-made Art Outlines illustrations on etsy, people started getting in touch about creating custom illustrations in the same style.  I was getting fresh eyes on my work and exposure via the etsy platform from people searching for quirky illustrations.

As well as making a fair bit more money than the passive stream, I also really enjoyed actively creating illustrations for customers with a set brief.  It’s a fun puzzle for me to solve when a client tells me what elements they would like to include, and then I get to figure out a way to make it happen, using my judgment and creativity to fill in gaps.

I liked having the balance of creating pages at will for the book based on my own wants, and creating something more structred for my active clients.

I really loved making custom illustrations for new clients.

Here’s my Art Outlines monetary earnings breakdown since I started my goal:

JUNE: 30.00 active

JULY: 14.95 passive + 175.00 active

AUGUST: 38.85 passive + 90.00 active

SEPTEMBER: 37.95 passive

OCTOBER: 64.75 passive + 180.00 active

Passive Total: 169.45

Active Total: 475.00

Total Total (passive + active): 644.45

Reflections

I’m really, really excited about my progress on this so far.  Art Outlines is pretty much my ideal form of supporting myself: I can work from anywhere, any time; I get paid to use my creativity and make art I want to make anyways, I’m providing value for others while providing value for myself, and it’s completely passive because I created an automatic download page which customers are emailed after purchase for my completely digital product.

I guess all there is left to do is.. keep going.  Based on the fact that people are actually ordering and paying for what I’m making is a clear indicator that I’m heading in the right direction.  All I need to do is persist if I want to increase the volume of orders.

A couple folks commented on my initial goal blogpost that a goal of $50/month was too easy.  I thought about changing it to a higher goal, but decided to stick with my initial instinct.  I didn’t want to set the bar higher because I was (and still am) in the midst of constant travel.  During the entire time I’ve been working towards this goal, Art Outlines has been a side project.  I couldn’t give it my full attention, as my full attention has been dedicated to my main goal of traveling and working on The Eat Team.  I reckon if Art Outlines was my main focus, I could have upped the ante a bit.  I’m proud that I was able to meet my goal while exploring and journeying through Australia, New Zealand, and the west coast of the U.S.

I’m looking forward to seeing this project through to completion and earning enough money through passive income to fully sustain my life monetarily.  I’m still creating one new set per week, so the finished Art Outlines book should be finished in the next year.

One of the biggest parts of creating passive income streams according to Steve Pavlina is mastering the mindset and really thinking about what you’ll do with your time once you fully sustain yourself with passive income.  I think I’ve also been successfully acting upon my answer to that: I’ve been traveling, cooking for friends and family, creating, dancing, and making the most of what I earn.  I’m looking forward to fulfilling the remainder of that list in the months and years to come.  I’m in it for the long haul and won’t quit till I get there.

How I Won Tim Ferriss’ Competition And A Ticket Around The World

Last year Tim Ferriss posted an article on his wildly popular blog titled My Unusual $20,000 Birthday Gift (Plus: Free Roundtrip Anywhere in the World).  I read the article and thought, “Hey, that’s cool.  I should enter.”  I glanced at the due date for applications and, noticing that I still had a whole month to participate, told myself maybe I’d do it later, like thousands of others.

A couple days later, a friend of mine reposted it in our 4HWW Berlin group and I noticed that I had read the application date wrong–rather than thirty-two days until the fundraiser and competition was complete, there was actually TWO days.  I thought, “shit, it’s now or never, isn’t it?” I noticed that there were hundreds of comments supporting the idea or contributing to the conversation about it, but there was a relatively low number of people entering the competition part of it to win that roundtrip ticket anywhere in the world.

That surprised me.  Still, I didn’t feel I had a reasonable shot at winning because several of the people who had actually entered seemed to have quite a large following, compared to me but also by most standards.

But then I remembered what Ferriss wrote in his very own book–”Ninety-nine percent of people in the world are convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre.  The level of competition is thus fiercest for ‘realistic’ goals.”

I remembered the story of how he offered a class of students a free trip around the world in return for writing to 3 seemingly-impossible-to-reach people and getting a reply from one, and not a single student even tried to complete the challenge because “all of them overestimated the competition, no one even showed up.”  And I thought.. well, I’m probably not going to win, but I’m going to give it all I can.  I can still “show up”.  If I don’t enter, I can’t win.

To enter the competition, all you had to do was leave a comment telling how you promoted his charity drive.  I looked at my situation, and assessed it.  For spreading the word about his charity goal, most entrants had tweeted, facebooked, and emailed their followers and contacts.  In terms of social media, I had a modest twitter following, a strong but small email list, and a fair number of facebook friends.  So if I was going to go the “traditional” route, it looked like my chances were slim.

I sat down with a blank piece of paper and thought, “how can I go the extra mile?  how can I leverage my strengths and what I DO have to set me apart?”  I focused on my strengths and what resources I had at my disposal.

“Ninety-nine percent of people in the world are convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre.”

One of my favorite parts about Tim’s ideology is that you can create win-win situations.  It just takes a bit of planning and creativity. The gist of what he writes about is that you can make money through your business, help others and provide immense value to them with your work, have plenty of time to do whatever you want by creating passive income streams, and even enjoy the work you do.  He asserts that life doesn’t have to be trudging through a dull job you dislike just because its “normal” and it pays the bills.  And I know its true because I’ve had a taste of it myself, both with successes in my own company and vicariously through many of the friends I’ve made from our 4HWW Berlin group.

So on my blank sheet of paper, I took stock of my resources and racked my brain to formulate a win-win scenario.  I wanted to tie everything together–to incorporate my greeting card company (which is even based on the 4HWW model), benefit my customers and potentially bring in new ones, harness my best skill (creativity), advance the charity drive, and create a positive feedback loop to “pay it forward”.   I came up with an idea, and before I could second-guess myself, I took immediate action right then and there with the mantra “I’m going to give it all I can.  If I don’t enter, I can’t win” on repeat in my head.

The idea was this–I released a brand new design for sale in my store dedicated to the charity drive, and created a storewide sale in which the customer received 50% off and I gave 50% to the Room to Read Charity in Tim’s drive.

After several hours of this inspiration-fueled burst, I felt satisfied that I gave it my best.  I had no idea if it would be enough, but at the very least I could be proud of myself that I did all I could.  The rest was in the hands of Tim and his crew–they would choose the top 5 commenters who would proceed to the next round in the competition.

The deadline for the charity drive passed and amazingly (but unsurprisingly) his readers and followers exceeded the $20k donation goal, meaning Tim would also donate his own $20k.

Two weeks passed, and finally there was a new post about the great victory for the charity, as well as the names of the 5 top commenters who would move on to the next round of the competition.

My name was among them (and my jaw was on the floor).

The next stage of the competition, which was to decide the winner of the roundtrip ticket, would be decided by a pure and simple vote.  I still didn’t think I stood a serious chance, especially up against a guy with 50,000 youtube followers and a woman with an incredibly heart-wrenching story among the lot.  But I stuffed my worries and reminded myself what mindset got me into the competition in the first place–it was one where dreaming was allowed and I went for it anyways with a “why not?” attitude.

My strategy was simple.. to ask everyone I know to vote for me.

I wrote and messaged and called as many people as I could personally, one by one, telling them how grateful I’d be if they could vote and spread the word in any way.  I included a message they could copy-and-paste as their statuses, so that if they wanted to, they could repost it or edit it.  I asked my friends to help me brainstorm and get involved.  I talked about it to everyone I encountered and asked them to go home and have their moms and dads and grandparents and cousin’s dogs vote and spread the word.  I asked everyone in my 4HWW group.  I even made a joke youtube video.  I exhausted my brain and my body and then let go–I waited to hear the results for several weeks, without trying to think or worry about the outcome (especially because I was traveling at the time).

Almost four weeks from the original post went by and I heard nothing.  One day I woke up early to go on a run–I was in Geneva in a hostel on a trip with my brother.  I checked my email and saw nothing of interest, then loaded up Ferriss’s website to see if there was any news.  I saw that the results had been posted, and since I hadn’t received an email I didn’t think I had won.

But my name was there again.  And it was at the top.  I won.

I shook my brother.. “I won.  I.. won.  I won.”

He thought I was joking.  I repeated it a couple more times and shoved the computer towards him.  I felt a huge rush of adrenaline rush through my body, jumped up, shaking, excited.  After a while I remember I was going on a run, so I headed out the door and along Geneva’s picturesque Rhône riverside in the morning sunshine.  The rush of adrenaline lasted the entire run and I felt a huge wave of appreciation and gratitude.

The secret to winning didn’t have a lot to do with me–I could only vote for myself once.  It was my friends, family, and contacts who made it happen and for that I’m extremely thankful.

I used the ticket I won to do just what I said–travel around the world and write a creative cookbook called The Eat Team.  For the past 5 months, I’ve traveled Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and today I’m writing to you from Auckland, New Zealand.

It’s that time of year again, and Tim is currently hosting another charity and win-a-roundtrip-ticket contest at this very moment.  Could this one be your ticket around the world?  Go enter now.

I Made $2, Hell Yes

Sold!

I mentioned in the previous post that I am working on building a passive income stream with Art Outlines, my vector illustrations website.

This week I made my first passive sale!  Two dollars might not ordinarily make me jump up and down like a hyperactive 7-year-old, but this time was special.  It wasn’t about the money (I guess $2 isn’t gonna get me far, especially traveling in Australia).  No, it was proof that I have a viable product, that I’m heading in the right direction, and that if I keep going, I could very well reach my goal.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve also had three requests from “strangers” for custom illustrations in the Art Outlines style, which leaves me feeling even more excited about carrying on.

And is it just a coincidence that my first sale came on Independence Day?

Woohoo!

 

My Passive Income Goal

One of my favorite writers, Steve Pavlina, is currently publishing an excellent series of articles which walk you through creating a stream of passive income.  Passive income is a stream of money which continues to create income after you’ve finished the work to set it up.

One of his suggestions was to post your goal where you can see it every day. My goal is:

I am now successfully creating a new stream of passive income by September 30, 2012, that generates at least $50 per month on average and endures for a minimum of 10 years, and I’m doing this in a way that delivers strong value for many others around the world.

I’m posting my passive income goal here to commit to it publicly.  I plan to finally monetize Art Outlines, an idea I had last year.

This will be my second passive income stream.  Although I’m already making $150-400 per month with my first business, Ye Olde Gangster letterpress cards and my current travel project will also eventually create passive income, I’d like to reach the point where I can sustain myself comfortably without needing to work or have a job.

It’s not that I don’t want to work.. quite the contrary.  I love to work: to actively push my mind, learn, create, and share.  And without the pressure to earn money actively on a daily basis, I can work and live completely on my terms.

That brings up one of Steve’s biggest points: defining your reason for creating a passive income stream.

“Suppose you really get there. Suppose you cover all your expenses and then some with passive income. Then what? What will you do with your time? And will you be truly happy doing that, year after year and decade after decade? Or will you feel even more lost than you do now?”

So, he suggested to answer the following question.  I did, below.

How would you choose to live if all of your expenses were covered by passive income, and you didn’t actually have to work to pay the bills?

Cook a lot at home, using high quality ingredients and taking my sweet time to hone new recipes. Invite friends for dinner and host fabulous dinner parties.  Join a dance class and/or work on my own dance show.  Travel every month (as little as a couple days or as much as the whole month), while maintaining a home base.  Set up my home base as a beautiful little studio apartment in Berlin with few but high-quality items.  Include a well-equipped art studio for printmaking, drawing, and letterpress that I can use whenever I feel like. Continue making Ye Olde Gangster cards without the pressure to make money.  Open a small art gallery below my flat.  Set up a second home base in San Francisco.  Visit friends & family in LA regularly.  Purchase travel tickets without flinching at prices or buying in advance. Work on my Big Idea (can’t say more about it yet other than it’s a tangible object to inspire the masses), partner with investors, and invest substantial money of my own into its growth.  Teach letterpress to kids.  Volunteer at an animal shelter.  Date someone fabulous.  Start a silly or educational youtube channel.  Give talks and workshops like at Hello Etsy conference and betahaus.  Host couchsurfers and give of my time, knowledge, and materials generously.  Teach and help others how to create passive income.  Write another book.  Continue creating every day.

Have you been thinking of starting a passive income stream?  Let’s do it together.. we can egg each other on.  You can never have too many cheerleaders.

Photography Recap of 2011

Year in Review Melissa Rachel Black

As human beings, we often overestimate what we can accomplish in a short period of time, but we drastically underestimate what we can accomplish in a year or two.  - The Minimalists

It has been an incredible year of intense change, rapid growth, love, loss, gratitude and contentment.  Here are the most kick-ass, memorable parts paired with some of my favorite shots from 2011.

Landed my “dream job.”  I worked 9-5 as a graphic designer and letterpress printmaker in Dusseldorf, Germany, making fancy-ass wedding invitations.

Melissa Rachel Black

Landed my “dream job” as a letterpress printer & graphic designer.

Quit my dream job. I realized it was someone else’s dream, and what I really wanted was to sustain myself through my own creativity, my own decisions, and on my own time.  To have time to live and experiment and give back and do crazy things.

Moved to Berlin.  Fell truly, madly, and deeply in love with a city.  Met amazing people, danced till sunrise, ate enough falafel to last a lifetime.  I recommend you move there like Maneesh says, or at least visit it.

Berlin by Melissa Rachel BlackMoved to Berlin. (You should too.)

Berlin by Melissa Rachel Black

Sparked the creation of a group of 4-Hour-Workweek entrepreneurs which still meets weekly and has grown to over 150 people.  Found some of my closest friends, mentors, and inspiration within it.  One of the most life-changing and amazing things I’ve ever experienced.

Sparked the creation of a 4HWW Entrepreneur's group.  With Maneesh, Rachman & Tim Ferriss.Sparked the creation of a 4HWW Entrepreneur’s group. With Maneesh, Rachman & Tim Ferriss.

Started my first business.  Out of my love for jokes, letterpress printing (and the desire to be my own boss) grew Ye Olde Gangster, the world’s first collection of gangster-rap birthday cards & love notes.  Got featured in some awesome places, was selected to sell at Neurotitan’s brick-and-mortar, and teamed up with the Hipstery, the raddest company ever.  Got two menterns to teach and learn from and keep things running while I start the next adventure.

Ye Olde Gangster by Melissa Rachel Black
Started my first biz, Ye Olde Gangster, handmade gangster-rap greeting cards.

Launched Art Outlines, a collection of handmade outline illustrations I draw for folks to use in wedding invitations, website design, books, etc.

Art Outlines by Melissa Rachel Black

Launched Art Outlines.

Broke up with my boyfriend.  Stung like hell for a while, then turned out to be a blessing.  My new freedom allowed me to refocus my energy, meet loads of new people in a new city, and clarify my priorities.  We subtracted the parts that weren’t working but kept the parts that always rocked, meaning our friendship was able to regain its full strength and we each had space for fresh opportunities.  He’s still one of my favorite people.

Won a trip anywhere in the world from my favorite author, Tim Ferriss. I ignored the voice in my head that said I wasn’t good enough or big enough to win a competition of this magnitude, and with a little (no, A LOT) of help from you my friends, managed to win!  You guys rocked my world and I won’t waste this opportunity: I am using this ticket to share something awesome with you.

Spoke at an international Etsy conference with my favorite Etsy blogger, Danielle Maveal on small business, passion, and making it happen.

Learned German.  It’s nowhere near native level, but I moved to Germany without knowing a single word, and by the time I left a year later, I could read and write and communicate just about any idea (as long as the listener was patient).  I keep up now by reading my great friend Sebastian Michel’s blog, Mr. Minimalist.

Traveled.  With my brother for the first time–had stinky cheese with our friends in France and a picnic in Switzerland.  Harvested honey at my friend’s parents farm in Germany.  Couchsurfed with vegan anarchists in Czech Republic.  Climbed the Swiss Alps in the pouring rain (scared shitless, literally thought I was going to die) with new friend.  Traveled all over California and stayed with old friends from college in Oakland, Santa Cruz, & San Francisco.

 Got to try life on the farm with my friend's family in Raakow, Germany.

Got to try life on the farm with my friend’s family in Raakow, Germany.

Learned Capoeira.  Sucked at it, but enjoyed getting sweaty, meeting new people, and trying something new for a few months.  Started an exercise routine that sticks.

Launched The E.A.T. Team, a project where I’ll use the ticket I won from Tim Ferriss to  travel across Asia, Australia, New Zealand and USA in 2012 to interview artists and chefs for an inspiring cookbook I’ll co-create with one of my best friends.

Met some of the most inspiring people I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.  This is the most meaningful part of the list for me.  I’ve learned and changed a lot over the last few years, 2011 especially, and meeting people who embraced these new ideas that I loved fueled my fire and I am incredibly grateful for that.  It’s not often you “click” in a deep, fundamental essence of being like I do with my friend Sebastian Michel of Mr. Minimalist.  I got to live and work and play with Adam Fletcher, Maneesh Sethi, Rachman Blake, Mars Dorian, Marcel Phillippe, Fab & Vivien, and a few awe-inspiring people here and there who don’t live on the internet ;)  I also met some of my favorite authors and entrepreneurs, including Leo Babauta, The Minimalists, Tim Ferriss, Charlie Hoehn, Corbett Barr, Camila Prada, Nicola Rowlands and more.  The cliche of surrounding myself with like-minded people turned out to be an extremely worthwhile one to pursue–it’s like having a big non-cliquey family who cheers each other on.

The big life changes don’t happen over night. Give yourself some time. Put in a lot of effort and keep at it. You’ll be surprised with what can happen in a year. The Minimalists

The biggest lesson I want to carry into 2012 is living without expectations of myself or of others.  I feel like every single second, no matter who you are, there are enough blessings in your field of vision to last a lifetime.  Knowing that you are, have, and do enough in this moment, you’re set for life.  Happy New Years and here’s to an epic 2012!

Help Wanted: A Mentern

One of the new holiday cards in my shop.

One of the new holiday cards in my shop.

As things have expanded, I’m looking to hire a Mentern (Mentee & Intern) in the San Francisco bay area or Los Angeles for my growing gangster-rap greeting card business while I travel to Asia and Australia to write a book on food and art.  Basically I am looking for someone like me a few years ago: a creative, smart, motivated individual who doesn’t want to settle for anything less than the most awesome life they can imagine.  For me, that meant quitting my dismal 9-5 life that society promotes and carving out my own place in the world, to be able to pursue a passionate existence.  I’d like to offer my knowledge and expertise to someone interested in pursuing their dreams in return for help running my online shop and as an assistant organizing my projects.  Not only will you learn tricks of the trade “on the job” from managing the shop & tasks below for an average of 5 hours per week, I will chat with you weekly for an hour & provide 1-on-1 coaching to help you reach (or figure out) your dreams and start making money with your own business or at your dream job.  I want this to be a mutually beneficial partnership, where we both grow & succeed.

What you will work on:

  • Fulfill orders
  • Correspond with customers
  • Create content for the mailing list
  • Research physical stores to stock cards in
  • Update the facebook fan page (jokes, sales, etc) & website
  • Browse Etsy for cool items, think of creative themes & create Treasuries around them
  • Read & contact art/design/gadget blogs, magazines, & newspapers for features
  • Research & contact chefs & artists to interview for the aforementioned book
  • Copy write & create etsy listings
  • Update Flickr
  • Write blog content
  • Update website
  • Maintain flexible: I will have different and varied projects for you.
Location:
  • Your home, or wherever you are.  I know you don’t need a watchdog.  Best case scenario, you’ll live in SF, Oakland, Berkeley, Santa Cruz, or Los Angeles, as I intend to work in print studios in those areas and it would make giving you the prints easy.  Also, if it interested you (hopefully), you could come with me to the studio and see how I work.
Required skills:
  • Reliable, timely, and excited to use your own creativity.  I will give you tasks, but for much of it, I want you to get to exercise your unique skills & innovation.
  • Desire to make a positive impact in your life & the lives of those around you.
  • 100% honest, all the time.  I will be with you, and you will be with me even when it gets awkward.  That’s the only way we can make progress and learn from eachother.  As they say, the truth will set you free ;)
  • People person (good on the phone, in writing, and not scared to say what you mean)
  • Bonus points but not necessary: knowledge of Etsy, graphic design, wordpress, photography, printmaking/letterpress, blogging, SEO, facebook fan pages, twitter, art world, html etc.

This is an ideal Menternship for you if you are interested in most of the following, as I kick ass at and can help you with:

  • Defining & pursuing your ideal life
  • Supporting yourself through art, design, creativity
  • Graphic design, fine art, illustration, bookmaking, printmaking, photography
  • Running an etsy shop for yourself
  • Living and working on your own terms (avoiding the 9-5 to create your own path & enjoy life, or finding & landing your dream job)
  • Starting, running, or building your own business
  • Making money from a passion
  • Learning about entrepreneurship, freelancing, marketing, and advertising
  • Building a network of supportive people
  • Learning about printmaking, letterpress, paper
  • Traveling while still making money from your business
  • The “4 hour workweek” lifestyle introduced by Tim Ferriss
  • Minimalism, a “less is more” lifestyle (have less things, but more experiences)
  • Reaching your full potential/living as your best self

If this sounds like you:

  1. Please check out my creative endeavors here, my earlier blogposts, and my about page  to see if you’d like to work with me.
  2. Email me without hesitation at melissa@yeoldegangster.com a paragraph or two telling me about yourself and why we would be a good working match.  Attach a resume just so I know what you’ve been up to, but know that I’m choosing based on business compatibility and how much I think we can benefit one another, not what brands you’ve worked with.
I’ll be in the Bay Area to pick a Mentern until early December.

Thanks & looking forward to hearing from you,
Melissa

Berlin 4-Hour-Workweek Recap for 6/3: Forums & Blogging

Abuela by Melissa Rachel Black

What would grandma say when you're not sure how to proceed with your business? Just keep trying till something works.

Perhaps the most successful 4HWW meeting yet, we’ve adopted a new format.  Rachman leads the discussions, and asks if anyone has any specific questions or needs help on a particular area in their muse.  I think it’s a great format because its structured like a 1-on-1 conversation which gives individual people real feedback, and the material is useful for the group as well, and everyone is free to jump in to the conversation.  We talked about:

- Hiring SEO experts on Odesk to write affiliate/adsense articles

- Using Feedback Army for real live humans to test the usability of your site and give you feedback, for a small fee.

- Using Appsumo to get daily web coupons (“groupon for web applications”)

- A/B testing with Optimizely is free and highly-recommended by Fabian Dittrich

- You can buy facebook likes for your business or website to increase “credibility”

- Using forums on your blog to increase interaction and productivity, in two ways: 1. Posting on existing forums to bring traffic to your site, or 2. Finding a niche where there isn’t already a forum and bringing it to life by building a forum  on your site.  Increase interaction while at the same time increasing content on your site.  PHPbb is free to build a bulletin board/forum.

- Using Balsamiq for idea prototyping to create digital sketch mockups of a product.

- One of our new visitors, Erik Frank, told us about his site where you can rent great apartments in Berlin for vacation or short stays at berlincribs.com

- Using kickstarter to fund creative projects–a really unique, community-building way of raising money for doing what you love.

- Putting things in terms of dollar signs is a great strategy because it gives customers a good perspective.  For example, a customer who wanted to quit drinking asked Rachman why his site Make Habits cost so much to join, and he told her that she’d save the $39 in a week or two of not drinking, as that’s only 5 or 6 drinks at a bar.

- Sebastian Mikaelson (who is bringing minimalism to Germany at Mr. Minimalist) increased efficiency of his blog by making an elite area and newsletter.

- Using Google Keywords to help think of words to include in your blog’s articles to boost your blog’s appearance in search engines.

- Sebastian also recommends Copyblogger.  He says it provides great content to help new bloggers.

- Mixergy has tons of inspirational videos of successful entrepreneurs.

- Lynda has training/how-to videos on EVERYTHING.  You have to pay, but its a great service according to several folks in the group.

- We all committed to a weekly goal.  Mine was to contact 20 people for my etsy shop.

Looking forward to next week!