122: The Most Important Decision You’ll Make as a Writer

Life is full of choices. Between the clothes we wear, the food we eat, and the words we speak, we make hundreds—if not thousands—of choices every day. But out of all of the choices we make, there’s one important thing you have to decide when it comes to your work.

The Most Important Decision You'll Make as a Writer “The number one most important thing is knowing why you are doing what you are doing.” This statement was made by Derek Sivers at the 2015 World Domination Summit. It cut me right to my heart.

At the time, I was fairly new to working full time as a writer and running a small, yet growing business. I was just starting to see success and make good money, but I was really struggling with the lack of freedom I had.

When it comes to our work, Derek pointed out that we really have to decide is whether we want to pursue money, fame, or freedom. We can end up with one or two of these, and some of us may end up having all three. But here’s the truth: We can’t pursue them all at once.

What you want out of life will determine how you pursue your work. It will help you set goals, define boundaries, and pick priorities that move you in the direction you want to go.

This week on The Portfolio Life, Andy Traub and I share a clip from Derek Sivers’ talk at World Domination Summit, and discuss how it helped me to think through my work, and how you can decide what matters most to you.

Every writer and creative person will wrestle with this decision. Listen in as Andy and I share our personal experiences with the choice we made to better understand what path to pursue.

Listen to the podcast

To listen to the show, click the player below. (If you are reading this via email or RSS, please click here.)

Show highlights

In this episode, Andy and I discuss:

  • Optimizing your life for what you—not others—want to accomplish.
  • My struggle with identifying the most important thing to me.
  • Why you can’t pursue money, fame, and freedom simultaneously.
  • Being aware of what’s most important to you.
  • Understanding the pros and cons behind our pursuits.

Quotes and takeaways

  • You can have anything you want. But you can’t have everything.
  • More and more money won’t make you happier.
  • Don’t build a company if you don’t want to run a company.


What are you optimizing your life for? What steps do you need to take today? Share in the comments

39 thoughts on “122: The Most Important Decision You’ll Make as a Writer

  1. Hi @Jeff,

    It’s still a toss up for me, fortune or freedom. The good thing is this post helped me pin down that I’m not really comfortable with fame at the moment 🙂 For now, got to choose which one am I optimizing in the moment 🙂

    While writing this short comment, I find my self leaning towards optimizing for fortune so that I can spend more time reading and improving myself. Yeah, I like the idea of doing just that.

    Tweeting about this, Jeff! Would be interesting to discover their answers to “I am optimizing for ______ so that ___”

  2. Thanks Jeff and Andy for sharing part of the conference and your thoughts. This helped me sort something out I have been pondering for years. I had a bit of fame at one time. I was featured on national billboards and ads. Friends and family were so excited for me. My Dad used to find billboards on various streets and take photos of them to show his friends. My stepdad dedicated a walll in our house posting many of them. And I got paid really well. However I never had a sense of accomplishment or even joy at what many spend their lives trying to achieve. Even looking back at some of my “work” a connection is eerily missing, almost like I am looking at a stranger. This podcast brought back my questions about why I never experienced the same excitement others did watching me. What your podcast helped me do was to see with more clarity that although it seemed like a dream come true to others, because it wasn’t really mine, I could not enjoy or even optimize it. I actually feel a bit of closure and even hopeful that my greatest work days are ahead and not behind because this dream will be mine based on what makes me come alive not what others want for me.

    1. That’s so interesting. Thanks for sharing, Rebecca. I have had similar experiences with my own small snippets of fame as well. It’s not as fulfilling as I thought it would be.

    2. Thank you for the gift of your story Rebecca. What I found most powerful was when you said, “although it seemed like a dream come true to others, because it wasn’t really mine,”

      I pray you find your dream. I believe you will. Thx for listening and commenting.

  3. Hi Jeff…thanks for your insightful posts.
    To answer your question, I’d say that for now my priority is the freedom that money can give me. At the same time I find it imperative that I keep an eye on the boundaries of my freedom because I ‘ve found that it does not take long after finding what I really want, that the yearning for more creeps in and over rides what was once satisfactory. I ‘m in that inbetween place where my previous dreams were fulfilled but now I require a more reliable means of making money to support my freedom and to take me into a different expression of freedom.
    As for fame… That is not part of my bucket list. I’ve had tiny snippets of this but it does not cut the cake for me so to speak. A question I keep open about the fame thing is if it happened to happen would I turn it down or ride it gracefully? For this I have no answer.

  4. This was really insightful, Jeff. Thank you. Without giving it much thought, my gut reaction is to select freedom, the most noble of the three. But the truth of the matter is that, at this point, this early on in the game for me, I’m pursuing fame. That sounds really conceited, but I’m okay with that right now. It’s a means to an end.

      1. I’ve been following you for a little while now and you have really helped me to begin shedding the misconception that fame or even fortune (financial stability) equals greed. If my purpose were to write for the sake of writing, then I’d be done, but I want more. I want to help people, and that means reaching them first.

  5. Hi Jeff. I really appreciated your posts today. I think my direction would be toward financial freedom rather than fame. I am part of the older generation and as such were taught that fame is fleating but financial freedom is a stronger foundation to build your life on.

  6. Hi Jeff, Thanks for you post! It really spoke to me. I will optimize my life for freedom! Thanks for the reminder!! (Gal. 5:1)

  7. It amazes me to think of Jesus being rushed by the crowds to be healed. He could have been famous on the spot, but he moved to the next city. He said, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” Luke 4:43. Jesus said, “no” to lots of things because he knew why he came.

  8. This is interesting. Without knowing it, I picked freedom when I quit teaching to write full time. I know I’m in a privileged position to be married to someone with a steady paycheck and insurance, as advances and royalties aren’t steady in any way. But the freedom to pursue my writing, even in the face of failure, was a huge draw. Seven years and five book contracts later, I’d say freedom still wins out over fame or money.

  9. At 65, I treasure the freedom I have to do what I want with my time. Sure, things come up that aren’t in my ‘plans’, but overall I live with MY choices. Would I like more financial stability – absolutely. I’m looking at my writing to help provide me with some ‘play money’. Would fame be fun? At this point, I’m not looking for that much exposure or responsibility.
    Maybe fame within a certain circle of people but not out in the wide open spaces.

  10. I’ve always pursued freedom, though I think I have to have a middle step in between…like much of my generation, I’m swamped with student loan debt (owing more money than I’ve ever made in my life), so I think that in order to be free I need to focus on making a decent living first. It’s hard because I’m extremely reluctant to give up freedom for the sake of a paycheck. I guess that’s why I keep trying to make freelancing work — I don’t mind working very hard at something, as long as I set the terms and find meaning in the work.

    But yeah. So…freedom…with money as a stepping stone, I suppose.

  11. Great talk thank you for this. I am building my portfoilio different than before. Before i did architecture/interior design and professional massage therapy. My portfolio now is so much different. I found my niche and working on that. I am a writer,poet, blogger. Working through the hardness of that… it does take work see i left the other careers I mentioned because of medical reasons I had about 30 strokes, yes you have read that right… now to have peace and feel good at what I do. A few people have said to me but you have perminant disability. just rest and get your benefits. I do rest but I can live like that. I believe whole heartedly God gave me these talents to share and perservere with it. Go forward… that is what I like about Jeff Goins no fools need apply here.

  12. Hi Jeff,
    Fame, fortune and freedom means different things to different people. To me they are really subjective, and relative, at the same time. Depends on situations and circumstances that prevail on a person’s life from time to time. One can’t really choose one and keep the other too. With fame and fortune one may have to discard freedom; but that’s tying oneself down to drudgery. Whatever choices one tries to make, there’s always has to be at least one choice that has to be forfeited…no matter how much one juggles. Most of us make the ‘wrong’ choices of money and fame, later realizing that it’s freedom alone that matters…only, quite paradoxically, sometimes one really doesn’t have the freedom to choose freedom.

  13. ‘If the spotlight is on you, the reason is so you can turn and point at something else.’

    Man, this conversation is simply so insightful and useful. Real food for thought.

  14. First, thank you for creating The Portfolio Life podcast, I truly loved this episode! I started a boutique creative agency so that I could have freedom to pursue public speaking, music and be with my family. I have found that I’ve lost sight of that work/life balance and need to refocus. Money is helpful in life but never my motivating factor. While I’m not seeking fame to be known, I am seeking a platform to share my story and in return inspire and help others.
    Second, I’m glad you didn’t cancel the podcast altogether but instead took a moment to reflect and refocus, it’s inspiring me to do the same!

  15. I’m optimizing for those three. But right now, im focusing on money, buying all the things that I need in setting up my business. I have a day job but still I started to become a virtual assistant and hopefully start my own niche on teaching other people who have the same passion with me.

  16. Thank you for a great podcast. It reminded me of the old race car adage, “Pick two: cheap, fast, reliable – because you can’t have all three.”

    Whether it is with racing cars or with building a business, no matter what you choose, make it intentional. For me, that choice is freedom. Again, thank you!

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