Navigating uncertainty as a creator with Paul Millerd

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Paul Millerd left the traditional path behind in 2017 and hasn't looked back since. Paul is an independent writer, freelancer, coach, and digital creator, known for the popular book, 'The Pathless Path', an attempt at a new story for how we think about work and our lives.

In this episode of Creators On Air, Paul shares a different perspective on being a creator, how to step away from hustle culture and how to share what matters to you.

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Episode Transcript

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So check out story blocks. If you are a creator, chances are you've left the default path behind. You know what I mean? Going to school, getting a degree, going into a traditional job and climbing the career ladder, you've left that behind. But the creator path is one of uncertainty. The people that should not be scared are the most terrified because they've never bet on themselves before.

When you're on your own, you're making it up as you go. You have to find your own meaning. Paul Millard left the traditional path behind in 2017 and he hasn't looked back since. He's known for the popular book The This Path. And let me tell you, this conversation is one. You will definitely resonate. What I'm trying to call out in my book is that the default path is sort of an illusion.

It's this promise of a smooth out existence, uh, that sort of existed for previous generations. Doesn't really exist for current generations, and probably isn't that helpful in thinking about life because. We all go through ups and downs, challenges and disruptions. And I think when there's a disconnect between our stories we think we're supposed to, uh, use to navigate our lives and the reality of life that I think is anxiety, right?

And closing that gap can get us. Basically like more in line, um, more connected to what really matters to us. Yeah, I definitely agree with you, but I guess the fear that comes with. Closing that gap is you are trying to pull your passion whilst also satisfying the need to earn a living. How do you balance the two whilst you are navigating this path?

For me, it was easy. I did 10 years in the corporate world. I did strategy consulting and I, I got enough of a taste. I was like, I'm good. I say this now. It's like I had a job. I don't want another job. So it was very easy for me. I was close. If not completely had extinguished the fire in my soul. Yeah. To like live life.

Right. And when the stakes are that high, it's very easy to walk away. I think the thing is, what often tips the scales and what tips the scales for me to want to take a leap was I was excited about the possibilities of the. And a lot of people have this urge, like, this is not right. Right. I don't think we can pick the perfect path for ourselves, but I think we damn well know what isn't our path.

Right. I, I know you've been in this scenario too, right. The thing is the people that should not be scared, people that are hyper educated, have experience in jobs, are the most terrified one because. They've never bet on themselves before. They've been in a school system that's always told them the rules, told them the assignments, and given 'em metrics to aim at.

When you're on your own, you're making it up as you go. There are no promotions, there are no clear pay raises. Your income can go down just as much as it can go up. And uh, yeah, you have to find your own meaning and all. Your family may be disappointed in you and your friends may distance themselves from you because you make them really insecure and afraid.

But it might also be worth it because living a life true to what matters to you can be one of the most rewarding things in the world. So what advice would you give to graders who are. Kind of doing both. So they're living a life that is meaningful to them. They're creating what they want to do on this side, but they still have their traditional full-time job to sustain them, and they want to take that leap into being a full-time creator.

But they're struggling because they're not yet making. Consistent enough of an income to do that. The key is not to get hung up on other scripts, like don't replace the default script with a creator script. Like I wanna be all in on creating and doing all these things. The reality is the majority of people are not doing that.

There's like, Elite, top tier creators that are really like doing now. All right. But then there are a lot of people like me. I still do some work for the corporate world. I still do some trainings and, uh, coaching with executives. If I could snap a finger and. Get rid of that, would I, I don't know. I, I mean, sometimes it's like that keeps me connected to that world.

I'm learning things, but also like maybe I do wish I didn't have to do that and I could just write most days. But I think it's all about just like figuring out what works for you, right? Yeah. And I think freelancing is totally under. Like just freelance a little bit. Every week is so much better than a job for somebody that needs to create, right?

I'm only talking to people that need to create, and ostensibly, those are probably the people listening to this podcast, right? Freelancing is fine. Make some money and do the other stuff and like play the long game. I made no money in writing online for seven years. I made some maybe less than $2,000 in seven.

And then 98% of the money I made was in the last 12 months with writing. I didn't even expect to make money from my book. I sort of thought if I broke even, that would be amazing because it mattered to me. I wanted to put a book out there and I wanted to pour my soul into it, and the entire year I wrote it.

I turned down opportunities to make money. Like that is the point. Find work that matters to. Do it on purpose and just fight for the right to keep that going. Yeah, definitely. So what do you think changed in the last year for you to suddenly earn so much more from something that you love? Well, Ali, I'll keep sharing my book.

So like, to be blunt, that that is like the best thing that has happened. But also there's, there's an interesting point there because the reason he stumbled upon my writing, His brother stumbled upon some of my posting about work in 2020, right? And his brother invited me on their podcast. I had no idea who Ali Abdal was in 2020.

I just knew who Tamer Abdal was. So I go on their podcast and like started getting a bunch of followers, but like there wasn't really any signal. And Ali kept saying he liked the writing and I know he's curious about similar things. He was navigating a career transition. He's just another person. Ooh. I'm fascinated with his story because I did an interview with him and he said, okay, I'm leaving medicine.

I'm in our world. He's seen as like, oh, this is high status, prestigious. He's crushing it. Yeah. His parents are like, you're not gonna be a doctor, and he doesn't feel good about that. Right. And that's so real. And he's just like anyone else. And I think the thing that people resonate with me is like, I really care about people finding these pasts.

I don't care what your background is, whether Ali or some other person, from all the dozens of countries I've talked to, I've talked to hundreds of people about their relationship to work. It's like people have this burning desire to do things that matter in a world that tells them that that is not the right thing to do.

The world tells us you need to follow the path. You need to stay safe. Employment is the smart thing to do. Betting on yourself, doing your own thing, daring to live a life that's true to yourself is crazy and low status. Right, and it's nonsense. We need to shake this up. We need to unleash people. People want to be inspired.

People want to be creative, and people want. Let's let it rip, baby. Absolutely. I completely agree with you and I, I love that what happened with Ali was so serendipitous. I hope that's how you say the word. I feel like I'm saying it wrong. So how do you think s can embrace more serendipity in their career and almost create, you basically created opportunities for yourself without.

Even realizing like, like how come we do more of that? Just share what matters to you. Everything you share is an invitation to other people to feel seen, to resonate with your story, embed on themselves. It can be encouragement to keep going. Right, and sharing is a generous act. Mm-hmm. I think, right?

Because think about the stuff you've stumbled upon that has inspired you. Think about if. Stuff wasn't shared. Yeah, that's kind of selfish. That's true. Definitely. They're gonna withhold this stuff from you, and so we pair sharing with like, oh, you shouldn't do this. You shouldn't put stuff out there. It's like, no.

The answer for all the toxic stuff on the internet is to share stuff that matters to you, like true deep curiosity stuff that really, really matters to you. I was just sharing stuff about my own relationship with work. The funny thing is nobody was really paying attention before 2020. I felt super silly sometimes.

I was writing about this stuff from 2017 to the beginning of 2020 and saying, we need to rethink our relationship to work. Something is wrong here. The way the stories we're using to say what is normally are crazy, like why are we going to an office every day doing stuff we don't enjoy? And then the pandemic happened and people were like, oh yeah, definitely.

So it was a bit weird, but I just stayed true to what was really, what I was curious about. And I can keep writing about this for another 10 years, and that's all I'm really doing. Like I'm working on my newsletter tomorrow. There's really no point or goal there other than just I like it. And I wanna keep going.

I love how authentic that is, and I love that you mentioned earlier, don't change one script for another, because I feel like that is a big risk. When you do become a creator, you suddenly start seeing what all the other creators are doing, and you think, oh, I should be doing what they're doing. You know, you are hearing things like, oh, I should be on TikTok because everyone else is on TikTok.

Do you ever feel that kind of anxiety. You know, I need to be growing as well. Wow. Even though you, it's something you love. Yeah. So I'm pragmatic and people are saying, TikTok is really interesting. What I'll do is say, okay, can I experiment with that for a few weeks and just notice and see how I feel. If it's really fun for me and I'm like, oh, I want to play this game, I'll keep going.

That's newsletter writing for me. I love it. I want to keep going. I've done a bunch of different experiments with YouTube. TikTok, short form content doesn't really light me up. That's not a game I can win. I'm more interested in the games I can win, which are basically just long games. What can I do over 10 years?

I'm pretty sure I can write a newsletter for the next 10 years. I tried like TikTok, I can't really play that for more than a couple weeks. The funny thing is like when I quit my job in 2017, there weren't, wasn't the label of creator and I just reject any script. I'm so skeptical of anything that looks like a path.

Um, Like I had a job. I know what that looks like. I know what that feels like. I know all the propaganda surrounding that. And like after 10 years I just sort of developed an immune system to that. And when people are like, you have to do x, I just. Don't really trust that, right? Mm-hmm. There's a really interesting thing with books.

A lot of creators will do everything themselves, run their own courses, do their own videos, do their own editing, produce, and manage their own podcasts. Then they want to go publish a book and they're like, publisher, save me. I want to be chosen. And it's like, why are people doing that? Like self-publishing is awesome and I wish more people would bet on themselves, but I think people are just scared because.

It's still somewhat of a new path. And so I'm always looking for the hidden spaces that like other people aren't thinking about. Like, I'm just gonna keep writing a newsletter. I, there will be interesting things that emerge from that cuz that's really easy for me. Yeah. And so when you are not following a script, what are the signs that you look out for that are telling you that everything's gonna be okay?

Like even if you're not on a path, like, you know, things are still gonna work out. I. For me, it's just time on path. I have that feeling. Oh no. What's the future look like? I mean, I'm having a kid and there's all sorts of anxiety that gets injected on you by other people. Aren't you worried about this?

Aren't you worried about that? Don't you think you should get a job with a kid? Aren't you worried about the increased healthcare costs? All these things, and it's like, okay, I've been on this path for six years. I've had this anxiety creep up, and really now it's just. Oh, I've seen this anxiety. It shows up like once a month, so it's like 50 plus times at this point.

It's like, all right, I have enough awareness to be like, all right, anxiety, emotion, I see you. Yeah. Like, I'm not gonna let you run my life. And this is the thing. A lot of people take their anxiety and say, well, I don't like this anxiety bubble that floats in my. This safe path over here promises to let me get rid of the anxiety, but I think that's a lie.

I think what happens is that everyone just agrees not to ask each other about their anxiety. True, right? So you're in a job, everyone's a bit anxious and insecure cuz there are no paths anymore. Anyone could get fired. Yeah. You have to keep moving jobs in companies, everyone knows this. This is common knowledge, so you just get a job, buy into the script, which is you are safe, you are smart, you're secure, everything is figured out, and then you agree not to ask anyone else about it, but this is why I like creators.

It's like, Oh, you're uncertain about your future. Cool. Me too. Let's feel vulnerable together and we can, and we can support each other because it, it's like, I know this is hard and like I really am inspired by anyone that chooses to bet on themself. Yeah, I agree. It's like this accepted truth that we've.

We all know it's there, even though sometimes we don't talk about it, we know it's there. We, we know we're all going through the same thing, and that's oddly reassuring to know that somebody else feels an exact same way. Well, also it's, for me, the goal is to just keep staying on this path. It's not to get rich.

That's other people's goals. Yeah. Right. Yeah. So I have made more money in the last year, and that means like I can add more to my savings account, which to me is my runway. So it's like more time to experiment. So always in my head I'm thinking about, Can I spend a year making no money? It's like right now.

Yes. And that's freeing, right? Because I have enough experience to say, okay, I can bat myself, I can figure something out. Worst case I get a job, it's no big deal. I don't wanna do that, but I could. So how much do you put towards a runway? I'm really curious. Like how much do you protect yourself against that uncertainty?

So I probably have about two years of savings, um, in cash. That's amazing. Which is probably a little high, like I'm probably underinvesting. The business school brain in me is like, you should put more money in long-term investments and retirement. But the upside of being able to confidently stay on my path is really exciting.

That was sort of my metric for the first four years of my path. It's like, all right, break even. Try to not have the savings shrink. So the savings did shrink, uh, a little. Then they went up, but they were kind of floating around This level I had when I left, which was was about one year cost of living, but that was like adjusted for living in Asia, and I was only spending like two grand a.

I see. And let's talk about your income as well. So since you've left that traditional path, what have your income streams been like and how have they evolved over this journey? When I first started, um, working on my own, I, but I had no idea I wanted to do this like creator path. I just thought I'd become a freelance consultant and try to work less, make less money, and just like, I don't, I have no idea.

I just wanted to like escape the former path I was on. But, um, In the freelancing, I found like, ah, I don't really like this. So I discovered some writing by Andrew Taggart and he had this idea that work just is dominating every moment in our life. He had this term total work. He wrote a lot about this in 20 18, 20 19, and I sort of asked myself like, what would life look like if I just didn't try to make money or didn't work for a few months?

So after six months, Figuring out the freelancing and making some money. I think I made like 45 grand in six months and I just decided, okay, I'm going to like spend as long as possible, not designing my life around work. And over the next, I think. The next 18 months, I think I made like 25 grand and just made my life like very minimalist.

I moved abroad and cut my expenses down to like a thousand a month in Taiwan and Bali and places like that. And just like a lot of stuff started opening up, I started creating. I started writing more frequently. I ended up creating the course. I now make money from Think Like a strategy consultant, like a very early version of it, and I started to get in touch with this.

So freelancing went from like money to like basically zero. So like I was making zero income for about like nine months in my second year, but I didn't really know if I could make money on the other stuff. I just thought it was worth spending times on things I cared about. And I was still in Asia, like cost of living was low and my conception was I'll just like live minimally and I can live like this, happy for the rest of my life.

And my wife is very similarly. To me, she loves being creative, doing learning new things, doing things she cares about and doesn't need much in terms of material possessions. So we're very aligned on that. Slowly, like my course started making more money and probably from 2019 to 20. 21. My course was like most of the income and I designed that to be a self-paced course.

And then I sometimes offered coaching on top of it, but was working very little on that, and that was basically paying me a basic income. So I spent all my time doing my podcast, um, writing. For fun for free, and ended up writing my book in 2021. Also started doing like corporate coaching and training. I designed like these training packages on top of my course where I was like, okay, I'll do exactly this only in this way for this amount of money.

And those started taking off in 2021 as well. So in 2022, I ended up making a lot of money from my book I sold. 10,000 copies and made about, I think 50 to $55,000 did that. And then the course made about $85,000. I ended up making like $50,000 from some of the consulting and training, and then there were some other random income streams.

So those are really the things, and I have a post about this. I shared. Data just to show how it evolved over time. But yeah, it, it was all just like, just continue to tinker and do stuff. And I designed everything around how do I actually only do stuff I like doing and can continue doing. So the longer you stay on this path, more opportunities open up, but you don't want to create a job for yourself.

So I'm totally fine if my income goes down or like the book sales starts slowing down and things like that. I, I don't know what it'll look like, but we'll figure it. No, I like, I like your approach to it. And do you feel like, we talk about work-life balance a lot, which I think is really significant when you don't enjoy what you're doing.

But I feel like it is also really significant when you love what you do because it can be so tempting to always work and it, it is still work even though you love what you're doing. Do you think balance is still important at that point? Like is that something that you still think about or is it not really part of your life?

I don't, I don't work that much. Um, I, I don't start with the assumption that I should work most days. I've always been sort of hostile toward work because I found so much work just not worth doing, but I really like what I'm doing, so like writing to me does not feel like work. Some of the stuff I do for corporate trainings and stuff, It's like it takes a lot of activation energy for me to get to do that, but there's a lightness to my days.

I don't do a lot of meetings. I'm not super ambitious with a lot of the things I'm building. I'm really just taking it slow and trying to figure out things I can do over the long term. So most days I might work like three to four hours, but I typically go to the gym in the afternoons, go to the sauna. I always prioritize time with my wife, especially while she's pregnant.

Like on Wednesday we just, like, we went out for brunch and we went for a hike in the afternoon and yeah, it was a chill day. And if you're not taking advantage of the freedom of self-employment, I don't know what you're doing. Like, I'm always shocked that these people that are just working every day.

Yeah. Um, it's like, why not? You should probably just get a job because jobs can pay really well if you're, Devoted. Exactly. Yeah. It's like treating one rat race for another really, isn't it? That's, I feel like it's a danger with side hustles sometimes. Yeah. I could never do side hustles. I never had enough energy after work.

Like my energy was so zapped by my job that I just had. I don't know what these side hustle people are like. And I think this is a challenge, right? This is mimetic desire. We want what other people want, right? So we see the loudest voices of these, like especially if you're on Twitter, these hustle entrepreneurs, they desire wealth.

Fame status and we can trick ourselves into thinking we're like them, but I'm skeptical of any of that, which is like, I'm just wired differently. I'm not that ambitious. I have to like practice trying on ambition to come up with ideas. I literally don't think of these ideas. Unless I'm forcefully putting myself in that mode.

Whereas, yeah, like some people are thinking, okay, how do I make a million dollars? As I just said that, I'm like, I've never really thought about that. No, same. And how do you think people can tune into more of what's their own voice versus that of what. You know, consuming online to know that this is actually what I want.

Not because I've read it on Twitter. I think it's just doing the work, right? So I write most days and just, I don't know, in other domains, I know you do a lot of stuff on YouTube, I think. The creative process over time demands truth. You can't really trick the creative process. Right? True. Maybe you can run some sort of like content SEO strategy if you're trying to sell something else, but if you're playing a long game, it is really hard to Yeah.

Um, short circuit your own like, Truth and ideas. I read a lot of creators and follow a lot of people's stuff. It's inspiring for me. I love being like, I call it like a creator fan, like I just wanna root other people on. It's just fun. But I'm also reading a lot of books. I'm asking my own questions, and I think it's very important to just sort of block a lot of mainstream ideas.

They're, mm-hmm. They're just not that good. Um, so I think it's important to create your own. Of interesting ideas that excite you. Agree. I'm gonna end now with a quick fire round. So it's the same questions that I ask every creator that comes on air. So what's your favorite thing about being a creator?

The freedom and the liveness. It's, it's amazing also just the creative act, like just sitting down and writing. I love it. It's so much fun. Yeah. Agreed. And what's something that gives you the most inspiration for your work? Uh, people like. That dare to create, like in today's world, the world tells us that we shouldn't be doing what we're doing and choosing to do that, just every random person that is leaning against that and leaning into what they're curious about, that is so inspiring to me.

Mm-hmm. Yeah. I get inspired the same. I love it when I see people doing different things. It's so cool. Yeah. Um, what's one tool that helps you as a creator? Pa, passion fruit. It's very good. Oh, we appreciate that. Um, another tool. Yeah. There's so many good tools. I think that makes it amazing. Like Teachable has been incredible for me.

Convert Kit has been amazing. Twitter is amazing. Riverside trying to get Riverside to sponsor me, so if you're watching this Riverside, Um, I mean, we can send them a memo because they sponsor, they're sponsoring quite a few of our episodes, so, uh, I can let them know. Um, yeah, so there's so many tools and I think that's what makes it so cool is like you can do amazing stuff like this and create cool video podcasts.

Absolutely. And we've kind of touched on this, but what's one thing that helps with your work-life balance, which I guess you don't really need. Just my natural d n a, I think I'm like default skeptical of, uh, working too much. So, yeah, I, I'm very good at this. I haven't, I haven't really had like any, I haven't felt disconnected or overworked in six, almost six years now.

It's, I'm, that's amazing. I don't know why. You know, I have to say you are, you are our first podcast guest who. Has given me like an easy answer. Like everyone else is like, oh my God, I can't answer this. I struggle with it so much. People, the O oh, struggle with it at all. You're the OIE person who's like, yeah, this is so easy.

It's just part of me. So I love that. Um, yeah, and everyone should just work less. Like, yeah, chill out the day off in the middle of the week. Like, why are, what are we doing? Just go do what you want. You're free. Agreed. And what's one piece of advice that you'd give to other creators? Take a day off in the middle of the day and just wonder, go for a long walk and see what emerges.

Like. To stay in this path, I think you can play short-term games that maximize extrinsic goals, but the only way to sustainably stay in a path like this is in which you're connected with yourself. And the easiest way I know how to do that is go for a walk without a destination and see what sort of feelings emerge and try to get more in touch with yourself.

I love that. Thank you so much, Paul. This has been such a breath of fresh air. I love how different you are to other creators. It's just, I think it's something that we all need to hear more often, so thank you so much. Thank you. Yeah, I think you're channelling a lot of the same energy, so keep going on your side as well.

How do you feel about the uncertain creator path? You can find Paul on his website newsletter, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, his podcast. Or read his book, the Pathless Path. And if you are a creator, check out PassionFroot. We help you secure sponsorships without the hassle. Thanks for listening in, and I'll see you in the next one.