I found something unexpected when I began romping around in financial journalism.
In 2011 a reader sent me a message that basically said the following:
“I don’t know how you can expect to make money writing for poor people. If you want to make money you have to write for people who have it.”
He was right, and I knew it. Up until that point I was writing for a target audience who wanted to travel the world with very little money — for poor travelers, like myself. These are people who don’t really buy anything, they don’t invest anything, they are about as economically defunct as a 21st century human can be. Who would dare pay me to reach this bunch of miscreants?
I knew then that what I was doing wasn’t going to work out for the long term. Sure, I made enough money to get my family and myself from place to place, but that was about it. Each day was a struggle — I’d open my earning reports and hope that there would be enough in there to get me through the day. If I was going to make enough money as a writer to allow me to actually do it as a livelihood I would need to make some adjustments.
If you want to make money, be useful.
This was the main thing that I took away from well over a decade of traveling and doing odd jobs, freelance work, and writing vigorously just to make enough money to keep traveling.
It was clear then that I simply wasn’t being useful to the right people.
A few years later I found myself working as a financial journalist. The transition was sudden. . . and rather accidental. A freelance position at a top Hong Kong newspaper was offered to me.
I can’t say that at this time I was looking to delve into this branch of my profession. It seemed a little stiff, sterile, perhaps not suitable for a vagabond whose modus operadi consisted of walking around in the streets talking with people rather than sitting in an office looking over charts and graphs. But I took the opportunity anyway. It was something new . . . and it paid well.
I went out and bought a new set of clothes, and set out to Shanghai to gather information for my first articles.
I didn’t know what I was getting into.
I found myself spending my time talking to people who had money. A door opened and I was able to walk into a world that had previously remained concealed from me. I’m a traveler, I thrive on uncomfortable social circumstances where there is a stark contrast between the cultural landscape and myself — circumstances where attention is heightened and each interaction is stimulating beyond the substance of the words alone. I feel comfortable in this place — basically, it was the same game I’ve always played.
Travel is fundamentally about access: access to places, access to people, access to events. This is, ultimately, what makes the profession valuable. This also happens to be what’s of value in journalism. On one evening in early 2014 these two sides came together and I saw how directly one could benefit the other.
What I didn’t expect was how much I enjoyed the work.
Why wouldn’t I enjoy it?
Economics is ultimately the story of everything. I quickly found that I could write about pretty much anything I wanted and it could be molded to fit within my editorial bounds.
I previously viewed economics as a singular subject, as something that could be isolated from culture, history, politics, or even travel. But it’s actually the fundamental framework for just about every sphere we interact in. Almost everything can ultimately be deduced to economics. What happens in this realm is going to have a knee-jerk reaction on and permeate through everything else.
Although it’s cyclical. To be able to write well about economics you need to have a deep knowledge of culture, history, politics . . . It was the all-inclusiveness of it that really got me. Each day was a foray into the Wild West of trying to figure out how this world works. I could travel, research interesting topics, and have access to people and places that I wouldn’t have had access to before. I liked this.
Even the raw rudiments of the subject I was beginning to find fascinating. Everything is cause and effect, there is an upstream reason for every downstream metric, and finding what they are presented a new form of exploration.
Economics is the story of everything, and that is what makes it . . . fun?
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