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Who doesn’t want to be free? To possess the ability to do what you want, when you want. I’ve always felt like life is too short. It’s definitely too short to be unhappy.
When I was an undergraduate at Santa Clara University studying business, I was unhappy. Most of us aren’t sure what we want to do when we’re young. Some of us follow the advice of our parents — I had. The only thing I knew at age 19 was that I didn’t want to major in business. I didn’t want to work for anyone else. And as far as I could tell, that was what I was being taught to do.
Related: How to Make Lots of Money…Your Way
To get away from the business department, I signed up for an art class on a lark. I discovered magic. I loved working with my hands, it turned out. Suddenly, it became clear to me: I wanted to be creative. But how do you make a living as an artist? I didn’t just want to make a living — I wanted to have the financial freedom to live life on my own terms. I wanted to live comfortably.
Somehow I knew pursuing work I truly enjoyed, even with the understanding most artists never make much, would lead to opportunities. One great thing about committing to being creative — it never gets old. There’s not so much burnout.
This is what I’ve learned over the last four decades about how to create financial freedom.
1. Become an expert.
The only way to do so is by dedicating yourself and your time. (If you find something you really like to do, it will feel less like work.) Once you become an expert, you’ll grasp the big picture — how things actually work. You’ll discover that sweet spot where the dollars are. I’d argue becoming an expert is easier today than ever. You can study up on, observe and identify individuals who are doing exactly what you want to do from every corner of the Internet.
When I first started out, I became an expert at creating 3D plush toys. Today, I’m an expert on licensing. I worked with my hands when I made 3D plush toys. But licensing afforded me the financial freedom I so desired.
2. Surround yourself with talented people.
I was fortunate enough to meet my mentor Steve Askin early on. He invited me into his much bigger world. He challenged and coached me. Really, he opened my eyes to a world of possibility. What can you do? Focus on continually upping your game. To become a better player, you need to be around better talent. Don’t settle. Seek out others who are doing well. Attend meet ups, join organizations and make a point of going to events — whatever you have to do, find those individuals who are succeeding at a higher playing field.
3. Create flexibility for yourself.
By that I mean, don’t overspend. Don’t live beyond your means. Be frugal and smart with your finances instead. You need time to look for the right opportunities. When you’re so busy chasing every dollar, you inhibit your ability to look forward. When you completely stress yourself out, if you put yourself in a financial situation that is unthinkable, you lose the power to say no. And really, that power is everything. You need to be able to turn down opportunities that don’t fit into your plan, and say yes to others.
When we’re younger, we want material things. But once you obtain financial freedom, those things become less desirable. You only want them, because you can’t have them. When you have financial freedom, those things do not have power over you. What am I saying? Never let your sense of self-worth be defined by the job you have. Just make sure what you’re doing fits into your plan. Don’t be afraid of taking jobs that will lead you towards opportunities you actually want. Don’t be afraid of taking jobs that you know will teach you the skills you need.
4. Seek out the multiplier effect.
My father gave me great advice when he told me that to earn financial freedom, I needed to find something that didn’t require my two hands — my physical presence. I’m talking about creating a multiplying effect. I could be sleeping or vacationing: Either way, passive income would lead me to freedom. When I discovered it was possible to license my ideas in exchange for royalties, I was sold. I could be creative, but I wouldn’t have to manage a business.
5. Don’t waste your time, which is precious.
This is one resource you must protect. Make time for yourself. Carve out time to participate in the pleasures of being human — learning, observing, enjoying. Have a sense of wonder. Find things that excite you, things that make you nervous. Avoid people who make you unhappy.
When I graduated, I thought, “If I just work harder than everyone else, I’ll be fine.” That working harder was the key, the magic formula. I succeed playing sports by doing just that. I know now it takes much more. You need to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right experience and the courage to take advantage of the opportunities that arise. You create your own luck when you hang around long enough.
Financial freedom is not about how much money you make. It’s that which allows you to create the life you seek. Remember: Time is the new money.