How to Do Your Best Work (and Get Paid)

Learn to expertly navigate the modern world of work. Hone your skills, catch the big ones, ignore the small ones, and have fun doing it.
February 13, 2021

“You can’t directly control luck, but you can move from a game with low odds of success to a game with better odds.”—Scott Adams

It’s 2021.

Traditional career paths have lost their strength, security, and simplicity. 

Automation is changing and eroding the paths that haven’t yet been eliminated. Others are increasing in complexity, creating demand for rapid upskilling.

What are you going to do about it?

There are two options: 

  1. Go to a career advisor. Take their advice. Hope for the best. (But keep in mind that most career advisors are living in the 20th century). 
  2. Learn to expertly navigate the modern world of work. Hone your skills, catch the big ones, ignore the small ones, and have fun doing it (while making bank—or at least more money than you’d make following your career advisor’s advice).

Ironically, this is a “career advice” post. 

But instead of telling you to choose X or Y career based on your skills and talents, I’m going to give you a framework. 

A framework for thinking about the next 5-10 years of your life and career. 

The LCI Framework

The LCI Framework consists of three metaskills: 

  1. Leveraging natural curiosity
  2. Compounding personal & career capital
  3. Intelligently exploiting opportunities

You should spend a decent amount of time exploring. Build up skills and relationships, then exploit when the time is right. 

Note: This post is a fusion of perspectives from people like Naval, Jack Butcher, David Perell, Nat Eliason, Scott Adams, and many others. I’ll credit where I can, but where there’s no credit—chances are it’s still derived from someone more influential than me. 

Leverage Your Natural Curiosity

Doing work that you’re naturally curious about and deeply interested in is life’s best cheat code. Better to swim downstream than upstream.

Take playing video games for example... 

If you’re like me, you get interested in a game and play it for hours on end. 

You don’t enjoy the game because it’s easy. It’s not. Most easy games aren’t fun to play.

You enjoy it because it’s interesting, challenging, has layers of progression, and gives you a reward. 

Leveraging your natural curiosity is not about making your work (or life) easy. It’s about making it more interesting and rewarding.

Here’s how...

#1 - Give yourself time to think and play

You can’t leverage natural curiosity if you’re not giving yourself time to be curious about things. 

If all you do is work, come home, watch Netflix, sleep—this won’t work. 

Start carving out time to think and play:

  • Go on more walks, without your phone, and without listening to music or podcasts. 
  • Read more books. Read books that seem odd or weird. Read books you’d never think of reading.
  • In your next conversation with someone, just ask questions. Don’t make statements. Hook on to what they’re interested in and try to learn as much as you can about it from them. 
  • Follow interesting people on Twitter
  • Start learning a new skill.

You need a base level of this think/play time in your life, even if it’s just an hour or two per week. 

#2 - Build diverse inputs (and eliminate bad ones)

To further leverage your natural curiosity, you need the right inputs. 

To me, this means:

  1. Diverse information flow
  2. Elimination of things/people/topics that frustrate me and drain my energy

You can follow 10 people on Twitter who all talk about the same stuff. They regurgitate each other. They retweet each other. It’s basically an echo chamber.

You may learn a couple things from doing this, but your information flow lacks diversity. You won’t be exposed to new ideas very often, and rarely will your thinking be challenged. 

Or you can follow 10 people on Twitter that all come from different backgrounds and are in different fields of expertise. Each time you check Twitter, you’re exposed to new perspectives. You observe disagreements and draw your own conclusions. You learn new things and spark your curiosity. 

Your information flow should be diverse. You should be reading different books, following different people, listening to different podcasts. 

#3 - Convert inputs into action (and repeat the cycle)

When you come across inputs and ideas that spark inspiration and energy—convert them into action.

Converting inputs (ideas) into action (tangible assets like content, products, podcast interviews, systematic note-taking, etc.) is exactly what leveraging your natural curiosity is.

When you’re curious, inspired and energized—it’s easier to do the work. This is why it’s so important to build the right inputs so you feel this way (energized) more often than not. 

It’s a form of mental and emotional leverage. The person who’s curious and obsessed will always outperform the person who’s bored. 

Also, as you take action, you’ll receive new insights simply from taking such action. This is a new input in itself. 

Compound personal & career capital

To do your best work (and get paid well), you need to intelligently exploit opportunities. 

These opportunities are easier to come by when you have career capital.

So what is career capital? At a high level, it’s:

  • Your network and relationships. Who you know, who knows you. 
  • Past work and portfolio. What you’ve built, how you’ve helped. Credibility. Proof.
  • Skill and experience. What can you do? How can you help?

Career capital is like compound interest. As you keep investing in it, it grows bigger and bigger. 

You take on opportunities because of your existing career capital, which further compound your capital and enable you take on bigger opportunities. 

I discovered this building my first successful business, EDMProd

As the business grew, people came to me for advice on how to grow their own company or project. 

I started making a few deals on the side. I’d charge a consulting fee, do some project work, and in some cases take equity and profit share. 

At this point, I’m confident that I could build an agency fairly quickly due to the career capital I’ve built up (including past work, relationships, and skills/experience). Without this career capital, it would be much harder.

There’s no doubt that building this capital is important, but how do you do it? 

Build the talent stack

Like most of the ideas and principles in this article, the Talent Stack is not mine. 

I first came across this via Scott Adams in his excellent book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

“The future is thoroughly unpredictable when it comes to your profession and your personal life ten years out. The best way to increase your odds of success—in a way that might look like luck to others—is to systematically become good, but not amazing, at the types of skills that work well together and are highly useful for just about any job.”

He goes on to list a bunch of skills that he thinks every adult should gain some knowledge and experience in. 

The point is, you want to be intentional about the skills you’re building and the knowledge you’re gaining. You want to open up doors that exist at the intersection of certain skills. 

And those doors will open up when you stack talent and build career capital. For example:

  • The photographer who also knows how to write good sales copy and market their services will vastly outperform the photographer who just focuses on their one skill: photography.
  • The public speaking coach who learns how to create and sell an online course will make more money than the coach who just focuses on his local area.
  • The marketing genius who develops strong persuasion and interpersonal skills will get more clients than the genius who just hones his marketing craft. 

"It’s perfectly possible to be good at more than one thing in your life, or to be good at multiple things simultaneously. In fact, I would argue it’s easier than people think. Ask any truly transcendent athlete or writer or investor or businessperson, and invariably you will hear them rail against hyper-specialization in one breath and, in the next, tell you how being skilled at many things made them great at the one thing for which they’re principally known. Expertise in one domain may help fuel excellence in another." - Ryan Holiday

Work in public

“Be a maker who makes something interesting people want. Show your craft, practice your craft, and the right people will eventually find you.” - Naval Ravikant

Working in public increases serendipity. 

People want to follow people who are doing things: Moving forward. Creating projects. Offering value. 

Most of us want to build in private and then reveal our great masterpiece to the world, but this is a highly ineffective way to approach things:

  • You forgo potential relationships that will help you build the thing you’re trying to build. When you work in public, you’re more likely to attract people who are interested in what you’re doing and can help.
  • You don’t get feedback to help you improve what you’re doing.
  • You don’t build an audience. 

For most people, the biggest resistance to working in public comes from impostor syndrome.

The easiest fix? 

Acknowledge that you’re still learning. Tell people you’re still learning.

Document the journey. You don’t need to be perfect. You don’t need to be the world-class expert. 

Start & join conversations

At least 50% of building career capital is just putting yourself out there.

Make yourself known.

Start conversations. Ask questions. Offer to help. Provide answers. Argue a different perspective. 

Follow a bunch of interesting people in your field. Start engaging with them. 

Make sure that you’re developing your talent stack and working in public. Slowly, these people will follow you. They’ll notice what you’re doing. Then come the opportunities. 

Intelligently exploit opportunities

Having leveraged your natural curiosity to build personal capital, it’s time to put it to use. 

Three principles...

Swing before you’re ready

There are four types of opportunities: 

  • Those you can’t do
  • Those you shouldn’t do
  • Those you should do but not right now
  • Those you should do

If you’re like most people (including myself), you hesitate to commit and make big decisions. You tell yourself that you have to be better at X, or develop Y skills before you can pursue the opportunity.

Sometimes this is the case, especially with opportunities that you should do but not right now. It can be hard to think critically about these opportunities and whether you’re ready to take them on or not. 

But a good general rule of thumb is that you’re probably just scared. You should swing before you’re ready. 

Here’s why:

  • Taking on an opportunity that’s above your skill level and confidence (but not too far above) is the best way to rapidly develop such skill and confidence.
  • Challenge, discomfort and personal growth are what makes us human. 
  • You’ll always find new rationalizations as to why you can’t do something. At some point, you need to shut this little voice up and just get started. 

There’s very little to lose if you follow this approach and swing before you’re ready, as long as you follow this second principle...

Protect your time, downside, and independence

The modern age allows for opportunities unlike ever before.

If you have strong personal capital and a good network—you can find opportunities that:

  • Don’t take up too much of your time
  • Have little downside (but good upside). In other words, they are low risk. 
  • Let you retain your independence

Here’s what I mean…

If someone comes to me and asks if I do marketing implementation or consulting, and they really want me to do it (not someone else), then I’m in a great position to negotiate my terms. 

I might:

  • Only offer marketing strategy, not implementation (which is time-consuming). I can then refer the person or company to people who can implement the strategy. This protects my time
  • Refuse long-term contracts beyond 1-3 months, and make sure there are no damage clauses in the contract so I protect my downside. In other words, if they implement my strategy and lose money—I don’t get screwed. 
  • Ask for a profit-share stake in the deal so I get exposed to uncapped upside if things go well. 
  • Dictate communication terms (unless urgent, don’t call. I only respond to email once per day, etc.) This lets me retain my independence. 

As you build up more career capital, you can negotiate better and optimize for what you want. 

It’s also useful to see these three things: time, downside and independence as adjustable levers. 

Sometimes you might want to sacrifice independence for less downside. Or you might want to sacrifice some more of your time (in the short-term) for potential upside. 

Optimize for ownership and asymmetry

Protecting your time, downside and independence is great. But you still need to get paid.

The best way to do this, especially over the long term, is to optimize for ownership and asymmetry. 

By ownership, I mean:

  • Owning your own business, or part of a business (or part of multiple).
  • Having equity/profit-share stakes in consulting deals
  • Having your money work for you in investments

Essentially, your goal is to start detaching your income from your time. 

Going back to the client example. 

If you’re working with a client that you like and believe in—and you truly believe you can offer value to them—what do you do when they make a great offer for your services?

What if they say, “Hey, we’ll pay you $XX,XXX for this work”

And it’s more money than you’ve been offered before?

You could take it. There’s no harm in that.

But if you truly believe in what they’re doing, and understand that they’re hiring you for a reason (to make more money), then most of the time you should take lower upfront cash and push for a profit-share stake. 

I learned this lesson the hard way when I charged well above industry rate for a website + sales page copy. The client asked if I wanted a profit-share cut instead of a high upfront payment. I opted instead for the higher upfront payment.

I could have made double, if not triple the amount of money had I taken the profit-share. But instead I’d capped my upside. 

Beyond ownership, you want to optimize for asymmetrical opportunities. 

Some opportunities have a 1:1 payoff. You put one unit of your time and effort in, you get one unit of reward back.

Other opportunities have a 1:10 payoff. 

You want to find opportunities that have a high potential rate of return. 

Part of this is ownership, but it’s also having the patience and fortitude to reject low upside opportunities. The last thing you want is to be hustling and grinding for a 1:1 payoff. Sometimes it’s better to wait, hone your skills, and search for the better opportunity. 

Most of the time, however, you don’t need to search. These opportunities are right in front of you. 

If you run your own business, there’s probably 3 initiatives you could enact right now to increase your revenue by 30%. 

Chances are, they are the simple, obvious things that you just don’t want to do. You want to chase the shiny objects instead. 

But the asymmetrical opportunities are right there, waiting to be exploited.

A final word

This is not a conclusive guide to career planning. It’s not even close.

These are simply principles that I’ve found helpful, and I hope you do too. 

For further reading, check out: 

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