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.

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.