How to Get Paid to Exist

Mysterious image

Image by h.koppdelaney

Wouldn’t it be nice to get paid to just exist?

I think so.

In fact, that’s my gig right now.

I exist. And I get paid for it. And it’s pretty awesome. So how is this possible? Well, it all has to do with…

The Revolution of Branding

Except it’s much cooler than the word branding (think livestock) makes it sound.

If you asked anyone what a brand is twenty years ago, they’d probably respond: “Coca Cola.” But if you asked them what a brand meant, you’d surely be meant with a blank stare. No neurons firing there.

In the past few decades, things have changed. Not only do people understand what a brand is and what it does — much due to social media — we’re starting to understand what personal branding means.

But despite a lot of people now knowing what personal branding is, most don’t really know how to use it effectively. (Not to mention, the word “personal branding” is on the verge of being akin to such overused buzzwords as “friending” and “crowd-sourcing.”)

And there’s a problem: Only half of the map is there, but people are walking around as if they’ve got the whole thing.

The first part of the picture (the one people get): Branding is something that you do to set yourself apart. It’s how you market and present your skills to others. It’s your unique combination of talents and skills that you communicate through personal branding that makes people want to work with you or buy your stuff.

The second part (the one that’s overlooked): Branding isn’t just about what you’ve got or what talents make you different, it’s about YOU… as a person. It’s about what makes you cool, geeky, sexy, mysterious, funny, passionate, and whatever other qualities that make you attractive. The second part is not just about communicating the skills you have, but communicating how you, as a person, deliver those skills in a way only you can.

It’s saying: You don’t just want to work with me because I’m a badass webdesigner. You want to work with me because I’m a baddass webdesigner in a bomber jacket that drives a Prius.

How This Started to Matter

It’s becoming more and more possible to get paid for being you. There are a lot of complicated reasons we could go into, but it really comes down to one thing: motivation.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to go all Tony Robbins chest-pounding on you. I’m talking about something entirely different.

See, not long ago, before things like cars and planes existed, most of our motivation to work was because of the desire to eat. Pretty simple, right? Nice motivator, if you ask me.

Now the second motivator after food is taken care of is security. But once you realize that that doesn’t mean much when you could get hit by a bus at any moment, the next motivator is: Passion. In other words, giving a damn.

People want to give a damn about the people they interact with. People crave to interact with people they admire, respect, and most of all, people they connect with.

And that is what personal branding is really about. Showing people why they want to be like you. Why they should care about what you have to say, or what you can offer. Not just because you’re really good at it, but also because you’re intensely passionate.

Some People That Are Really Awesome at This

Remember earlier when I was talking about how no one understands what personal branding really is? Well, I take that back. There are a few people that understand, and they harness its power brilliantly.

Just a few:

  • Naomi. You’re probably sick of hearing this woman’s name already. I know I am. Everywhere I turn, everyone is talking about her, but for good reason. She’s ridiculously good at getting paid to exist. She marketed herself as the “potty mouth / filthy marketing whore” (she’s not really a whore, I promise; she just has that reputation for using filthy marketing tactics in an unfilthy way) and she blew up. She founded an “anti-market” (or exploited a gap) for people looking to start their own unconventional online business that didn’t have a huge budget.
  • Steve Pavlina. While maybe everyone may not think Steve is cool (it’s really hard to make personal development hip; trust me, I know), he has won a huge audience just by being himself. People are attracted to his natural curiosity that leads him to conduct unconventional experiments like polyphasic sleep, raw diet, and others.
  • Leo Babauta. I’m not just saying this because I write for the guy (he has over 100k subscribers, after all). Leo’s philosophy, personality, and essence radiates simplicity. Most of what he writes focuses on this central theme. He even wrote a book about it, called The Power of Less. He doesn’t have to try to attract readers; they are attracted to him by him being himself.
  • Chris Guillebeau. Chris runs the popular blog The Art of Nonconformity. He’s a world traveler and makes a living writing about unconventional pursuits like renegade self employment and vagabonding. He naturally attracts readers (and buyers of his products) by virtue of simply being himself.

The Objection

Yes, of course your talents are one half of the deal. You will always want to hire the audio video guy that knows how to setup a sound system, over the beautiful airhead that you “resonate with” that forgets how to turn on the mic.

You probably also won’t care much about the accountant that has the same favorite band as you, but has trouble with 3rd grade math.

But, the business consultant that can double your income and is in tune with your vibe, will always be the first choice over the guy that can double your income that likes to discourse on how fascinating 12th century librarian toupee styles are.

Know what I mean?

But It’s Not an Ego Race

You don’t tell people why they want to be like you, or why they want to connect with you. You show them. It’s not about trying to win a popularity contest. It’s about boldly emitting the frequency that you resonate on. Sending the signal “This is what I’m about and why it matters.” When people pick up on that authentic wavelength, if they connect with it, they will naturally be drawn to you.

What it all comes down to is creative self-expression + a creative collective demand. It’s where your unique genius meets the world’s deep need. When you find a place where your passion, purpose, and market intersect, that’s when you’ve really figured out how to get paid to exist.

Now let me be clear here. I’m not saying it doesn’t take effort. I’m not saying it’s easy to find where that crossroad is. It will take some soul searching, marketing, some business savvy and honing of your skills. But once you do that, you’ll feel like things finally make sense. Your work may still be a labor, but it will be a labor of you. Not a labor of someone else’s goals; not some corporation or institution’s agenda; just you. All you.

Sounds scary? It is.

Is it worth it? Totally.

About the author: Jonathan Mead is a life coach, mad scientist and essential renegade. He blogs over at Illuminated Mind. To learn about more cool things you can get by just existing, grab a subscription to Illuminated Mind. And while you’re at it, you can follow Jonathan on Twitter.

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Responses to this Post


  1. As long as you are yourself there are bound to be people to like you for it. Internet has blown up the scale to which you can meet other people and other people can see who you are.

    No matter how small the niche is you are in. (Perhaps you’re a 20 something guy playing magic the gathering for a living) Of the millions of people out there, there are bound to be others who like you for who you are.

    At the same time, there are so many people out there that our personalities end up being the deciding factor in who to communicate with. There are hundreds of 26 year old bloggers out there writing about life, but how many out there have long hair, ride a motorcycle, read a lot and are Dutch…

    I haven’t found another one yet. πŸ˜‰

  2. Branding to me is what the facet of oneself on which one chooses to focus public attention. It is merely one facet, authentically, that one is choosing to passionately promote. The rest is still there and the public today enjoys learning what’s not under the magnifying glass.

    Good time to be an artist.


  3. Personal Branding is such a cool idea!

    I think we have to realize that we get to be more than one thing. Then we prioritize what we want to show the world.

    The old way was to specialize and be a limited definition. Like maybe your job or your hobby. Now we need to be our whole selves so that we are easier to relate to.

    Great article I hope a lot of people get to read this.

  4. You write,

    “It’s about boldly emitting the frequency that you resonate on. Sending the signal”

    I believe that if a blogger has a unique persona and way of expressing him or herself, it will definitely help the bloggers ability to succeed. And I suppose strategy can be greatly involved in this endeavor too.

  5. I really like this post. Especially in a down economy, it might be tempting to tailor yourself to suit your clients, but I truly believe that keeping up the integrity of your personal brand is important no matter what.

    I love organizing, I love creativity and creative people, I love making people laugh. If *all* those things don’t appeal to a particular potential client, we probably don’t have much of a basis for a working relationship anyway.

  6. Great post!

    I came across your blog via twitter…just added your feed to my reader.

    Keep up the great work and enjoy getting paid to exist πŸ™‚

  7. Nice post πŸ™‚

    I’m all over this personal branding stuff right now! Love it.

    Steve Pavlina: a great example that you dont need to censor yourself.

  8. I love what you have to say and really appreciate you being so honest about it. Would be thrilled if you checked out my recent presentation on the same topic and gave me your thoughts:

    Much appreciated!

  9. Personal branding in 2009 is like having swagger in 2008. The real power is in the connection that your brand has with the people. That’s when you get paid to exist.

  10. You nailed it.

    It’s passion. I’m a fan of living my values. It’s the only way to fly.

    Passions is one of our key assets in today’s economic landscape. It’s the stuff that will keep you going when times get tough.

  11. In any aspect of your life where you are a figure (professionally, artistically, socially) this personal branding is exceptionally important.

    Why you get hired for gigs as a skilled teacher who is approachable genuine dancer over the teacher who is self-entitled and aloof is part of the personal branding.

    Who you want to be and who you are hopefully line up and if you can let that resonate authentically, like Jonathan has written, it draws others on the same wavelength in.

    Best line from this post: “People want to give a damn about the people they interact with. People crave to interact with people they admire, respect, and most of all, people they connect with.”

  12. This article seems to equate personal branding with running a marketing blog.

    Beyond actually maintaining a high-content blog (and thus taking away valuable time from things I actually like to do), what concrete steps do you have for displaying your passion to the world and receiving a benefit from this?

  13. Hi Spacey,

    This isn’t about running a marketing blog at all. Actually, in my personal experience marketers happen to be some of the worst people at doing this. They think that being transparent means mentioning that they like to play frisbee on the weekends.

    Personal branding is mostly just making an effort to show people the traits that you love about yourself the most. Not in an egotistical way, but in a way through emitting those qualities to others, you allow them to pick up on them and either resonate or not resonate.

    You can obviously do this through a blog, but there are others ways you can do it as well. You can do it through the design of your website, your about page, your twitter profile and the types of messages you put out. You can do it on facebook, your business cards, the way you talk to people and the things you share with them. There’s a lot of possibilities, some of them are a little more evident than others.

  14. Hi Jonathan,

    I like your post. I was almost about to disagree with it till I read your last paragraph and that clarified the whole post for me. But its scary when I think that for some their existence is so bland that just being themselves might not make the desired impact.

    That’s why we live in a world where most people try to escape from being themselves to trying to be someone else regardless of whether that person is a hero or villan.

    Thanks again.

  15. Anonymous says:

    So wait, that means whenever someone experiences you personally, they would have to pay you money, or else they’ll be stealing, well, unless you give out your actions freely… Holy balls…

  16. Excellent stuff! Thank you!!