» Finding Income in Unlikely Places

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Josh Lew lives in the Midwestern US when he is not traveling. He is a columnist for Gadling and has contributed to Hackwriters and Skive Magazine.

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I recently saw a nature show about Chinese fishermen who had their regular income decimated because of overfishing and pollution. The species of squid and mackerel that they had harvested to make their money were become rarer and rarer, with jellyfish, an invasive species, taking over their fishing grounds. Rather than dock their boats forever, the fisherman started catching these jellyfish and then found a market for them in Southern China, where they are considered a delicacy.

It's everywhere!

What do jellyfish swimming into nets on the other side of the world have to do with anything? What struck me about this story was that these fishermen, faced with financial ruin, where able to see an opportunity that was right in front of them, and turn their fortunes around. I started thinking about how I could find my own jellyfish (metaphorically-speaking, of course). The economy hasn’t been very kind to me, or anyone else, for the past few years. So I started thinking about all those opportunities out there that were right in front of me but that I wasn’t able to notice.

When you think about it, some of the most successful people in the world simply saw a glaring need and then addressed it in a profitable way. Sure, you could look all the way back to Henry Ford, or just as far back as Bill Gates and Mark Whathisname, the Facebook guy. But that kind of billionaire status is earned through genius and luck.  Millions of other people around the world make a good living and increase their wealth by grasping opportunities that are right in front of them, like the jelly-fishermen did.

Of course, it’s not that simple for many people who have lost jobs or, just as bad, are stuck in dead-end jobs.  It seems that lots of so-called gurus out there are willing to sell you a pat on the back (in the form of encouraging, but mostly useless, books, seminars, and so on). The only truth to any of these is that it is completely up to you to find your way out of the financial difficulties that you are facing.

What keeps people from thinking outside of the box and finding more opportunities? I think it is difficult for  career-bound professionals to even imagine doing anything else because they have spent so much time building the career and also subconsciously, making their profession a major part of their identity. The truth is, though, that no matter how awesome a job is, it is merely a way to make money.  When you are gone, someone else will move in and take over or, even worse, no one will need to take over because your job is redundant or your skills obsolete. Efficiency guru Tim Ferriss talks about building a business so that you have time to do those things that you are passionate about.  A business itself is not the ultimate goal, having time and financial means to follow your passions is. Take this approach, and it’s easier to think outside the box

And then there are people who fool themselves about their skills. What if those jellyfish guys had decided that they wanted to be professional basketball players or iPhone app programmers.  Being honest about your skills and knowledge is always the best policy. Also, it might not be as limiting as you think.  I’m a writer, and I am always surprised by the sheer amount of niches for people in my industry (everything from commercial scripts to slogans for t-shirts to articles about personal finance). I wouldn’t try to make a living by catching jellyfish (or programming iphone apps, for that matter). It simply wouldn’t be a practical.  On the other hand, some people overlook some of their skills.  Hobbies and passions can be turned into profit-making ventures as easily as skills gained in the workplace or classroom.

Stuck in a dead end job or in unemployment (or just getting out of college and wet-your-pants scared about finding a way to make an income)? It’s tough, I know. But the opportunities are out there, swimming around like jellyfish.

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