in life

Do Anything You Want by Figuring Out What You Need

Money. I hate it. Seriously. Who invented the idea that everything had to have a price tag? Life would be a lot simpler if we weren’t driven by the almighty dollar, but unfortunately, money, like it or not, is necessary for survival.

What I’ve also found is that money, above all else, is the most common reason (excuse) people give as to why they’re not doing what they want to be doing. Maybe it’s valid, maybe there’s absolutely no way you can pursue your passion until you save up a little cash. Or maybe it isn’t…

Is money holding you back?

Maybe ‘money’ is an excuse. Something you use it to justify your complacency – a means for you to say “maybe tomorrow”. Sound familiar? I’ve been there myself. It’s time to throw away that excuse.

When I take the train into the city, I almost always hear others complaining about the routine – getting up, spending an hour on the train, taking the bus to the office, working all day, hopping a bus to the train station, heading home, making dinner, and going to bed. Let’s face it, many people out there, many of you have a similar routine. I’ve been there and done that myself.

Growing up we’re force-fed that this whole routine thing is ‘normal’ – and that at the end of the day, it’s all about bringing home a paycheck. We go to college and the teachers tell us that we have to get good grades so we can get a good job to make good money that’ll support our family and allow us to buy more “stuff”. The good life, right?


The New American Dream

The American Dream of old is gone. It has evolved. The American Dream is no longer singular, it’s plural - there is not one “dream” – there are many. The American Dream is whatever you want it to be. Travel the world and live out of a backpack if that’s YOUR dream – grow old, build a white picket fence collect your pension and retire if that’s YOUR dream. There’s no right or wrong, there’s no set path. I’m sick of everyone out there trying to tell you what path you ‘should be’ following. Screw that, I’m making my own rules, you better be doing the same for your own life.

I’m living my passion right now – I’m living a life I never thought I’d be living, especially not before my 25th birthday. Married, running my own business…never would I have guessed this when I was handed a college diploma only two years ago….

We’re somehow convinced throughout our lives that our dreams should stay dreams. Hell, even I’m guilty of using the word ‘realistic’ far too often. But it doesn’t have to be this way. All you have to do is take action to make those unrealistic dreams a reality. Here are a few things to consider:

Step 1: Figure Out Exactly What You Need

Not want…but need.

Whenever I talk to anyone about starting a business or doing anything outside of what you’re ‘used to’ – I tell them that first and foremost, you have to figure out what you absolutely need to maintain your quality of life.

When I decided to pursue my current business full-time, before anything else, I thought about one thing – and one thing ONLY. What did I absolutely need to survive? How much money did I need to make to pay for the essentials, what did I have to come up with to keep a roof over my head and food on the table while making sure to not put any additional burden on my wife?

I had that number. I wrote it down. I pinned it to my refrigerator, and then I got to work.

Figuring out what you need = instant clarity

When you take a step back and think about what you NEED (not what you want), it makes things much (much) easier to achieve. When I did this my fear subsided and I was able to regain my confidence. I had direction, I had focus. I was ready to rock and roll.

Folks, getting there is the easy part – it’s figuring out where you need and want to be that’s tricky (I know that may be the opposite of what you’re used to hearing). But once you have that, once you know what it is you want, it’s like instant euphoric clarity. It’s one of those rare brilliant moments that lets you breathe easy and say, “I can do this”…

You can do what I have (well, maybe not get fired, I wouldn’t recommend that). You can do anything you want. That lady on the train, my next door neighbor, and yes – even you – can go out there and do what you want to be doing, you CAN break free from the routine. You’re not trapped.

There’s a lot of help out there

Having a strong support group around you is so important. It may sound like it, but none of this stuff is easy, doing what you want is going to take risks and it’s going to be challenging. But the reward will far outweigh any challenges you may see ahead of you.

If you think you can’t take that leap of faith, if you’re fear is holding you back, if you have ANY doubt or questions, I encourage you to reach out to the likes of Sam DavidsonEverett Bogue, Ashley Ambirge, Jonathan Mead, Adam Baker – even myself – people who are truly living the lives that they want to be living, passionate individuals and ‘life artists’ who are dedicated to helping others get the most out of their personal and professional lives. Leading by example, even if that’s not their intent.

Surround yourself with people you respect and admire, those who challenge you and push you to be at your best. People who will play Devils’ Advocate and ask “why” – forcing you to think outside the box.

Are you stuck in a routine?  Take a step back, relax, and take control of your life…it honestly may not be as terrifying as you think.

And it can happen whenever you want. Why not right now?

Add Your Voice



  1. Hey Matt, nice post. I don't know what generation I'm in, but I believe that the generation now is a lot different from my parents. My dad's work life is exactly how you described it in the first section. Go to work, come back home, watch some TV, go to sleep, and repeat.

    Everyday I read blog posts that inspire me and teach me what new values and beliefs we can adopt. Now longer do we have to go with the conventional thinking of what our college professors intend for us and I love the idea that in today's age, the resources are out there to help us make our own rules, our own life, and our own dream.

    There's a lot we can do in this day and age, but we first have to find a way to survive financially and then work our way from there. If we put in the effort, opportunities will come to us. Thanks for this post man.

    P.S. You misspelled “you're” in the first paragraph under The New American Dream. Just a heads up in case you want to fix that before you get more comments.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Hulbert. I've been surrounded by people who are living and working within that routine, and often, people fall into that rhythm because they've convinced themselves that there's nothing else they can do – that there's not enough money, not enough time, they're too young, they're too old. Life in general is full of excuses, I'm guilty of falling into a ton of them myself.

    I'm not at all trying to convince people that they shouldn't be doing what they're doing – it's just about being happy – and if you're not doing what you want to be doing, getting OUT of your current situation may not be as hard as you think once you really step back and consider not what you want, but what you NEED. Cheers, buddy.

  3. Hey Matt, awesome post and a great call to motivation!

    I think the important thing is to take control as early as possible. It's far harder to figure out what you need and live accordingly if you've spent a long time prior to that living according to what you want (or are told to think you want). That takes a far bigger shift in perspective. For starters you need to get rid of a lot of crap and break out of routines and bad habits that have built up over time. Consequently, what you feel you actually need to survive gradually becomes more and more of a burden. I guess it's all about constant streamlining thoughout our lifetimes to enable us to move quickly and easily when required. That's something I'm currently trying to rectify.

    I find it's far easier to find motivation in a challenge if you're not immediately facing obstacles of your own making.

    Cheers, Tim

  4. Hey Tim. Getting rid of a lot of crap has been such a relief for me personally. I started working when I was 15 and up until graduating from college, I didn't have a dime to show for all of those years of work. Having a “bangin” car audio system (that got stolen), a lot of video games, way too many nights out drinking – those were all more important to me. So, I was quickly getting into the position of forcing myself into a routine and being terrified of breaking away from it because, financially, it wasn't feasible.

    It all comes down to figuring out what you need and cutting out some of the wants. When you sit down and write out what you NEED, you'll come to find that it's probably not all that much. If you're someone like me, I can say “OK, I need X clients this month to pay my rent, my bills, etc”. Figuring out the bare essentials is key before you take any leaps into the unknown because, let's face it, money IS important, like it or not.

    Your last point is spot on. We have a nasty habit of creating our own obstacles out of thin air. Guilty as charged. Why do you think that is?

  5. Hi Matt:

    Great post. I know what you mean…taking the train downtown is an interesting experience. There are so many people, judging their body language who dread their days. I've been there myself. I do like your advice about figuring out what you need and I commend you on living your dream. I know I've had to revise my dreams and I'm still trying to figure things out, but I know that figuring out what I need is a great first step. Thanks for doing what you do.

  6. Right on, Matt. I recommended that my protege take a pay-cut for a better job. He said that it was the best thing he'd done. A slightly different spin on your notion, but still it rejects the notion of always more pay.

  7. Less pay for more fulfilling work is something I will always personally pursue and recommend to others. I understand everyone's goals are different, but 'making a ton of money' has never been near the top. Of course I want my family and I to live comfortably, but don't ever need to live in excess – I'd rather be doing something I love.

    The ultimate? Doing what you love AND getting paid well to do it. Can't get much better than that, right?

  8. Hey Tim. So this post started as a simple observation on the train – usually I have my headphones on and don't pay attention to other conversations – but yesterday I was 'eavesdropping' and it was almost unanimous that people were complaining about their jobs, about having to take the train, about what they'd have to do once they got home.

    I'm not sitting here saying that every single day I'm whistling and skipping down the street loving every second, there are always going to be ups and downs. But, I think, like the 'other Tim' said above, we are notorious for creating our own obstacles that may not actually exist. We tell ourselves that we 'have' to be doing something and that there's no escape, when there almost always is.

    I'm right there with you figuring things out. I'm 24 years old – I nowhere near figuring out what I'll be doing with my life – and honestly, that's OK. Part of the journey right?

  9. Excuse me but did you write this post after having one of our long Caribou Life Design therapy sessions?! Haha I felt like this post was written for/to ME (I'm sure others can relate). It's been a very interesting 2010 and I have a feeling it's about to get even more interesting thanks to a lot of this type of advice you've pounded into my head over the past 6 months. You may be surprised, but I even agree with the comemnters below to absolutely take a pay cut to get on a better path. Stay tuned…

  10. Matt,

    It's very true. I mean, if you want success, you need to define what success is. And before we start a game of soccer, last time I check we need to agree about the location of the goal post.

    On top of that, it's also easy to classify things we don't need in the 'things we need' group.


  11. Haha I wrote this last night but yes, much of it came from the conversations we've had over the past few months. I'm not surprised at all by you following the mantra of taking a pay cut for better work – I know very well you are far from money-grubbing and individually, and together, I'm excited to see where both of us are headed and what our coffee-shop chats will sound like a year from now.

  12. Right on. Like everything it's important to set goals and know 'where you're going' (but it's also OK to not know your exact path – I don't – but I have a general idea and continue stepping forward toward that direction. I think it's the obstacles we make up in our own mind, that may not exist in reality, that hold us back. YOU are your biggest obstacle. Agree?

  13. Yup. I very much agree with that.

    Getting started is overrated. Or, precisely, getting started on an exact path/direction is overrated. If I may go to a slight tangent here, we have to start. Do something. Figure out what we want and need. Figure out where you're going. Sort of.

    Because, let's be honest, we never know for sure where we're going. For me, I'm still in my 20's. I'm not gonna say I know where I'm going, because I don't.

    In the process, we'll discover what we're good and natural at. More often than not, it is often a surprising one.

    Like Steve Jobs said, connect the dots. But we have to create the dots in the first place.

    In my path, I stumbled upon you and your blog. That's one dot. I don't know how this particular dot will connect with other dots, but I'm sure something good will come out of it.


  14. Matt,

    I think you're spot on with this. When I spoke with Dave Navarro he said that you should determine your lifestyle that is idea first, and then build your business around that. One of the biggest problems we have in our society is that people don't know what they actually want. They know what they think they want which has been what they've been told growing up. In my community as I've mentioned before, there are lots of doctors, lawyers, and engineers. I wonder sometimes how many of those people could have been phenomenal writers, artists, and musicians if they hadn't been told from a very early age what the right career path was.

    I think over the next year or two you will start to see more and more out of the box thinking and unconventional careers.

  15. Agreed – the rise of the 'unconventional' is upon us – which I think has a lot to do with the current economic recession. More and more people are being forced out of their office jobs and must then come up with something creative to get by and pay the bills. That side project can then turn into a full-fledged business. I'm living proof of following that exact path, thrust into what was a very shitty situation and having to think fast to react and adapt. Here I am now in the drivers seat – still with a TON of unknown ahead of me, but feeling great that at least I know the general direction I'm headed.

    When I graduated I thought I'd be at an ad agency climbing the ranks and that was literally it for me. That was going to be my career life. Things have totally changed now and it just goes to show how rapidly things can completely do a 180.

    I think having an idea and then figuring out how to make money with it is easier said than done, but that is the key to success, money, and happiness, all thrown into one.

  16. I'm confident that it will as well – a lot of 'dots' have been connected here and I'm forever grateful for the connections I've made by simply buying a domain name and starting to write. It seems so simple in retrospect, and yet, so incredibly valuable.

    I had coffee with a friend the other day and she asked me, “What are you BEST at”. I didn't know how to answer, because I don't know that yet – I'm learning what I'm good at, what I'm not good at, and it's all a part of the evolution. It's hard to pinpoint down to one focus because I have so many interests I want to explore, but I know I'll figure it out as time goes on…

    Cheers to you as well!

  17. OK – what you need. Great idea. I did this when I first started out but honestly, I didn't get it right. I let a few wants slip in there and have since had a couple of minorly (huh?) painful reworks of what we NEED. Getting better at that, practice practice practice.

    What am I doing with this new business? I met a good friend earlier this week. Among other things he asked me to describe what good looks like when all the cards I'm holding fall into place over the next three months. I described that. It went something like: delivering the project we've just been awarded (yay – how excited are we!), planning my next conference and winning a big pitch with a local authority I'm developing. He said to me, start to believe it Doug. Really believe it. Up to now I think I've been a bit….tied to the old corporate life I left behind last year. Now – I'm much more future focussed. I'm the founder of What Goes Around Limited, and we do cool stuff that makes other people's work better. And we sing sings sometimes too. Fun.

    My friend I just mentioned – he is part of the help you mentioned. I've always been OK with asking questions – reaching out. And it's kept me sane, and grown a great network and it's slowly and surely starting to co-create the value we need to sustain and grow.

    Keep it going Matt – I enjoy your scribblings and draw inspiration from them, and maybe even toward them sometimes. Yay for comments – Smashing!

  18. The life insights in this post were great and fit right into my current existence. I needed this blog in my inbox today, so thanks :)

  19. I really love this post. I was fired in March, and began pursuing a freelance writing career. It's the peculiar combination of “never thinking I could do it” and “always knowing I wanted to do it” that is what makes it surprising, scary, and wonderful each day.

    Thanks so much!

  20. Great thoughts of encouragement Matt!! This is so true as I constantly argue this with my parents in how I don't live out the typical American Dream. I'm attempting to live out my dream!!!

  21. Hey Matt, really like the post and concepts discussed. As you've said, “it’s figuring out where you need and want to be that’s tricky.” I know from personal experience that is true. I've always seemed to take the opportunities that present themselves to me at the time, rather than pursuing a passion or interest because, frankly, I'm not sure what that passion/interest is. (Haven't figured out why I'm here yet). Any words of wisdom or advise on finding what it is we want/need to be doing? I know it's a tall order, but thought I'd throw it out there.

  22. Re Bukhariramli: The research on careers, especially that of Herminia Ibarra of Harvard and Hazel Markus of Stanford, supports your notion completely. It shows that we are not one true self, but a lot of selves, and that context has a great deal of impact on our direction. Furthermore, it shows that we can barely forecast what our career will look like tomorrow. If someone had told me in my twenties that I'd be doing what I'm doing now, I'd have laughed them out of court. I've had at least 10 jobs, and I'm in my 5th career after 50 years. There are some constants in my career, but there are far fewer than I'd ever have imagined. I address both the research and the issue in a blog on how to choose a career:
    –Dan Erwin

  23. You and I are in a VERY similar place then (was fired in February and since have been pursuing my own business). I shot you a DM, but I think I'll be in Nashville soon if you're around and want to grab coffee. Always great to hear what others are doing on their own when life throws them a curve ball…

  24. Haha….parents are the hardest to convince. Every time I talk to my Mom or Dad they ask me if I'm looking for a job, if I'm interviewing, etc. I have to keep explaining to them that I have a job…even if it doesn't involve the morning commute, the cozy cubicle, and the regular paycheck…

  25. I wish I could answer that for you Paul. You're asking a 24 year old man who has no idea what he's “best” at. I sat down with a friend earlier this week who asked me that exact question – if I knew what I wanted to focus all of my attention on – what I was “best” at. I couldn't answer it because I don't know yet. I'm young and figuring things out – I think I'll always be figuring things out but right now, I have too many interests to settle on just one.

    The key is to have a general direction, and go with that. Experiment with different things and various interests but maintain focus. And, be OK with changing directions. I never thought I'd be where I am two years ago, a year ago, even six months ago. And here I am…

    Thanks for coming by Paul!

  26. Always great to hear from you Doug. I forgot to mention it in the post above but I think it's REALLY important to let the wants 'sneak in' from time to time. Rewarding yourself for a job well done – set goals, and when you meet them, go splurge a little. I hit a milestone with my business and to celebrate, I went out and bought a Macbook – certainly not a NEED but something I've wanted for a long time (and now have a love affair with). It's important to have a little fun along the way, right? :)

  27. It's so nice to hear other people's thoughts on the things that go through my head daily. I was just like many of the people here working in corporate America, hating my job, and living for the weekend. Now I haven't been in that environment for a whole year. Everyday is a new day and I can approach life and make decisions on what I want to do and how I can reach my ultimate goals instead of just waiting on a promotion or raise. I have control of my destiny and while it can be scary it is also exciting to know that I am pursuing my goals NOW. I was always saying “Ultimately I want to be an entrepreneur…” but I was never acting. Now I am forced to act in order to live. And forced to live in order to act. I can live where I want. Work when I want. (Sometimes I work best at 2:00am…no idea why). But no matter what I am learning how to be an Entrepreneur; which is what I have always felt myself to be. In High School a ran for the VP of my class and my campaign was simple: Ryan Collins, why not? So as I go out in life everyday and try and make it as an entrepreneur I'm running with the same campaign. Ryan Collins, why not? You should too!

  28. Good point dude. Reminds me – when I used to be in the world of employment I was often asked “how d'you manage to have so much fun @ work?”. I shoulda said “It's important to have a little fun on the way, right? :)” Nice.

  29. “getting there is the easy part – it’s figuring out where you need and want to be that’s tricky”

    very interesting…

    Perhaps our greatest problems are internal, not external. Particularly moreso now, what with the advent of technology.

  30. It's 100% much more of an internal struggle. YOU are your biggest obstacle – I have always believed that and overcoming your 'inner obstacles' is no easy task…

  31. I think that's the greatest part of what I do – the most exciting (and admittedly terrifying) part of running your own business is that YOU are the master of your own destiny. The beauty of every day is that no two days are exactly the same, right? Being 'forced to act in order to live' is pretty damn empowering…feels good, don't it? :)

  32. I have to tell you a secret Matt. Once you have lots of money, you actually love it. You love it because you never really have to worry and think about money anymore. It’s really that simple. You focus your attention on other stuff that you like, which makes you like having money even more.

    It’s not an evil like. It’s a happy like. When I was 22 years old, I got lucky in a stock that went from $3,000 and sold at $158,000. I was dumbstruck, and I was actually very happy! If I didn’t have that initial boost, I donno. It would have been hard to travel the world, eat out, buy a condo etc. Money is good. And with money, we can do good things.

  33. This post was written a long time ago but still contains amazing value!
    I agree with so much on this post! Money is merely a means of exchange and it holds too many people back because they believe they need so much of it.

    Needs and wants are way different!