From my Monday question pile Jennifer asked:

How do you find your niche?

This seems like a simple question but the more I thought about it the less I liked it. It’s a question filled with assumptions. Is there just one niche for every person? Can you make your own niche rather than find one? Is this even the right metaphor? Niches are places carved into stone for stone figures to spend all eternity. Unless you want to spend all of your waking hours in the same place until you die, a niche isn’t the best way to go.

But the word find is good because it’s a verb. Consider the question: How would you find your car keys? How does anyone find anything? The answer of course is you have to look. People who are better at finding are better at looking, or are willing to look in more places and do a more thorough job in each place they look. Or consider: How do you find what clothes to wear? You probably go to your closet and try different things on to see how they fit and look. The advantage of trying to find your place in life, as opposed to car keys, is that like clothes there isn’t just one good outcome. And to follow my mixed metaphors further, while you can’t make car keys or clothes, you can possibly make your own career, or blog, or lifestyle (Actually, unlike me, you might be able to make your own clothes too).

The easy conclusion then is people struggling to find something need to improve their looking skills. They need to do more experiments with their lives and more passionately invest in those experiments. Far too many people dream about a different situation but take little action, and the actions they do take are by half, with one foot always on the ground. They never realize it’s their lack of commitment that  causes the emptiness that disappoints them. But of course there are no guarantees: it’s always possible you’re looking for something that doesn’t exist. The rub of being a seeker is the acceptance that not everything can be found.

Related things people wish to find include:

  • How do I find what to do with my life?
  • What should I do for a living?
  • Where should I live?
  • Who should I spend my time with?

All of these questions have the same solution: you try something, you pay attention to how you feel about it, and then you try something else until you are fulfilled enough that you’re not asking these questions all the time (or you reset your expectations).

In a post I wrote called How I Found My Passion I told my story of how I ended up as a writer. In that post I mentioned four piles to think about:

  • Things you like / love
  • Things you are good at
  • Things you can be paid to do
  • Things that are important

It’s rare that one activity qualifies for all four, but your niche is likely found in activities that qualify for more than one. And even if you find your niche, always remember it’s ok if you outgrow it – just repeat the process and find a new, or make, a new one.

 

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4 Responses to “How to find your niche”

  1. Mike Nitabach |

    Yep. If you don’t try different stuff, you can’t know what you will enjoy the most!

    Reply
  2. Jason |

    What do you think about the “change only one thing at a time” advice that’s popular when changing roles? Or similarly the “pivot” approach from the lean startup movement? Or is the tendency not to make big changes the real thing holding many of us back?

    Reply
    • Scott |

      The fewer variables the clearer the data, That’s definitely true. If you do more than one experiment at time it’s easy to draw the wrong conclusions.

      Pivot sounds fun but it’s generally painful. Many famous pivots were desperate acts where the company was in trouble. It’s a good thing to keep in mind (“how else can we use what we’ve made?”) but I don’t think anyone goes around on a daily basis trying to pivot major decisions they made.

      Reply
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