Updated on 07.16.09

Review: Career Renegade

Trent Hamm

Every other Sunday, The Simple Dollar reviews a career, entrepreneurship, personal productivity, or personal development book.

career renegadePerhaps it’s just my perspective, but there seem to be a lot of books out there right now that seem to encourage people to make a radical change in their careers. I think these books all come from a general sense of dissatisfaction with the old style of career path, where you give your loyalty to an organization in exchange for some degree of safety. Today, obviously, the “safety” part of the bargain is gone, so where does the loyalty go? I think people begin to feel loyalty to themselves – a healthy response – but it can also easily foster a general unhappiness with the sacrifices expected of them by the old career model. You’re expected to be loyal to the organization, but you’re given nothing in return but a paycheck and a lot of stress about what tomorrow brings.

The solutions seem to go in a bunch of different directions. Perhaps adopting different attitudes and mores in the workplace is a way to go. Maybe hands-off entrepreneurship is the right thing to do. Maybe it’s hands-on entrepreneurship… or perhaps self-employment/microentrepreneurship.

It’s impossible to say what direction is right or wrong for a given person. Different paths suit different people well.

One avenue that I think is quite strong, though, is the path espoused in Jonathan Fields’ Career Renegade: make yourself into a personal brand that has a lot of inherent value. His argument is that by putting a lot of effort into making your name well-known to people in your field and associating it with a lot of usefulness and positive value, you’ll get your foot in the door in countless places and your career choices, whatever they might be, can be much easier.

Obviously, this takes a lot of work. Career Renegade focuses on how to make this possible. Let’s dig in.

What Makes You Come Alive?
Every career has people that somehow rise above the fray, creating some sort of niche for themselves where they can earn a healthy income no matter what their field is. This is fueled by passion, but it’s fueled by something else, too: they simply stand out from the crowd. How? Fields points out three key factors: experience, flow, and people.

Experience simply means that you’ve put in the hours to learn your craft. Diligent and deliberate practice have made you good at what you do, and a wide variety of situations have shown you countless ways to apply that practice.

Flow means that you can get yourself into a mindset where your full concentration is devoted to that work. You’re able to shut out external inputs in your life and can simply bury yourself deep in the area of your expertise. The maximum amount of your mind and your soul are engaged in it, opening the door to creating great things.

People means that others are aware of the work that you do. You’re not hidden from the world – in fact, you’re open to it. You make an effort to make it as easy as possible for them to discover the good things you do. You surround yourself by people that bring out the best in you, and you allow that “best in you” to shine as brightly as possible so that many can see it.

What Kind of Renegade Will You Be?
All of us have a pool of passions and skills and knowledge to draw upon in our lives. We’re passionate about some things and have well-practiced skills in other areas, as well as information worth sharing to others. The way to stand out is to find a unique or rarely-used combination of these skills, knowledge, and passions that others might find value in.

Fields shares examples of a passionate artist who was raised in a family of bakers. She took a skill she thought she’d never use again (baking), combined it with her passion for art, and began selling artistically-designed cupcakes. Another story involves a woman who was passionate about wines and had a natural skill for painting landscapes, so she combined the two, painting vineyards for display in wineries.

I combined passions for personal finance and writing, a skill for turning out decent writing at a high volume, and tossed in some experience with designing websites. The end result? The Simple Dollar.

There is no pre-set formula for this. You just need to start throwing things together.

How to Master Your Passion and Build a Worldwide Following
You’ve found this perfect unexplored niche and you’re seeing a bit of small success. Now what? Now’s the time to get the world’s attention.

The best way to do this is to go online and start talking up what you do. Make videos of your work, take pictures of your work, and share them. Make useful instructional videos. Start a blog. Join Twitter and talk about your passion. Share all of this material with your already-existing customers/fanbase and encourage them to talk, too.

If you’re actually putting some value out there, people will start to look. They’ll join in the conversation. They’ll see what you have to offer and they’ll become customers/clients/fans/job offers.

This takes a lot of work and a lot of dedicated patience, but it works.

Let the Revolution Begin
It’s a long, hard road to get to the point that Fields describes. How do you get from where you’re at now to that point?

Fields offers a ton of tactics to help with the transition. Three I liked:

Imagine the consequences of not trying. You stay where you are, stuck in place, in a job you hate, for the rest of your years. Your ship is not coming in. Why not seek something better?

Visualize your dream outcome very day. Keep the big dream in mind at all times. It’ll make all the little steps, stumbles, and challenges quite a bit easier.

Don’t do it alone. Find others that are attempting to transform their lives, too, and share experiences and ideas and leads. Doing it alone makes it very difficult in every dimension.

Is Career Renegade Worth Reading?
Career Renegade is a solid read if you’re willing to spend your spare hours building upon what you already have. To follow what Jonathan suggests, you’ll have to go through some painful years of a lot of work without much reward, but when you come out the other side, you’ll have built so much intrinsic value in yourself that doors will open for you.

In some ways, this is what I did, just without a guidebook. For years, I burnt every minute of my spare time writing and communicating with readers and communicating with other writers. Over time, I got my name out there and people kept coming to me. Eventually, I was able to make a shift and live life on my own terms – but the path to get there was hard.

If you want a new path but are afraid to just walk away from your career as it is now, give the ideas in Career Renegade a try. You might find the path you’re looking for.

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  1. guinness416 says:

    By bizarre coincidence I just finished reading this book last night. Great review. I was somewhat disappointed in it though. For me personally, would have liked to see more focus on how the non-“internet famous” people profiled in the book succeeded; the guy has a fascinating background and I’m pretty sure twitter profiles and ebooks weren’t how he started gyms and yoga studios, so would have been more interested in that than the long “how to start a blog”/”here’s a long list of websites about subject X” chapters, which I feel like I’ve read a zillion times before.

  2. steve weaver says:

    I’ve been following his blog for a few weeks and have found it extremely useful and inspiring. Just because I’m years away from being in a position to quit my “day job” doesn’t mean that it’s too early to be exploring other options. Just this week, I started a website that’s months away from being “Launched”. Without the information provided by Jonathan Fields and Leo Babauta, it probably would have taken me several extra months to even figure out where I wanted to go with it. Thanks again Trent for making us aware of other helpful people.

  3. Matt says:

    Excellent review Trent. This was a book I discovered through Scott Fox’s website, and I found it very helpful with changes that I’m currently working on with my career. I agree that mastering your passion and building a world wide following isn’t an easy proposition, but if you want to live your dream you have to be willing to put in the hard work, build good relationships and over time you will see just rewards.

    Keep up the excellent work Trent, I follow your site every day- and I own your books as well.

  4. Dan says:


    Read up on the characteristics of Generation Y…I think, as an X’er, you’ll find there to be many other reasons as to why there is less company loyalty these days.

  5. Tyler@Feettothefire says:

    I have not yet read the book but I think that Trent is definitely on to something when he says that people are dissatisfied with their relationships with their employers far more than before. Jonathan Fields, Timothy Ferris, and other authors are mining this dissatisfaction to great effect.

  6. @ Trent – Thanks so much for the kind, insightful review. I think many of us have ended up figuring out how to “go renegade” on our own for so long, it’s just nice to be able to add whatever collective knowledge I can to the process. Reading reviews like this and your community’s comments help make me a better, more responsive writer.

    @ guinness416 – Thanks for reading the book and sharing your thoughts. Interesting observation about the case studies, too. They were actually evenly split (6 out of 12) between tech/social media and brick and mortar, but you’re right, there is so much time spent on how to leverage the web for research, marketing and tribe-building, I can see how the overall feel would read as being more technology/social media heavy. Definitely food for thought for me.

    Also, one of the big benefits of that in this economy is that leveraging the web allows folks to expand beyond the limitations of their local markets, which is often a massive barrier to launching and succeeding. Again, thanks so much for your thoughts, you’ve given me something to think about.

    @ steve – So glad you’ve been enjoying my blogs, always my pleasure to be able to share what I discover along the way

  7. Dan (3)–I’m not at all certain that lack of loyalty is remotely restricted to Generation Y. Too many in the Baby Boom gen on down have been burned, either through job eliminations, or the relentless squeeze of more work, more responsibility and more broken promises. And much of this became the norm well before the downturn.

    There may be some organizations out there who are providing a forward path for the motivated, but too many people find themselves in positions they can’t imagine being in in another five or ten years.

  8. Gigi says:

    I’m the very tail end of the baby boomers, so maybe I’m missing the point on some of this ‘branding’ stuff. But just because you brand yourself as talented/dependable/the go-to person doesn’t mean a thing to me. Maybe its because the people I know who are branding themselves are the least talented I know in the profession I am in. Hard working? Yes. Using every avenue to forward themselves (sometimes to the point of almost being unethical) yes, but I’m finding this twitter/facebook/whatever everyone-look-what-I’m-doing to be a real turnoff. There’s kind of a smugness to some of it “Just did a blah-blah on a Friday afternoon, guess the work of a blah-blah is never done!” And the people I know who are doing the video/blog type stuff, aren’t experts, and are giving some bad information (along with some good). Anywone can say they’re an expert! I’m trying to change my mindset because this seems to be the way things are going and I of course, want my business to pick up and be more successful…

    Trent, I don’t follow you on Facebook or Twitter (I don’t Twitter at all and am nominal on FB), I do like what you do with TSD and look forward to it, so maybe there is a way to do this without being annoying.

  9. Kevin M says:

    I wonder if it’s really worth devoting time to a blog for someone like myself (local oriented CPA) on the off chance someone will find it and read/follow long enough to become a client.

  10. Dave says:

    I was the Renegade back in March. I quit a secure, reliable job surprisingly in the financial market. The company had never laid off anyone. Everyone thought I was crazy. Not for leaving the company, but for quitting a safe job. But ‘everyone’ also had tons of debt. I had very little and wanted to try moving to Aussie. I did it and I ended up moving back to the States. The thing about being a Renegade is that it’s going against the grind and usually it involves making independent decisions. If people would realize the possibilities of being a Renegade, I think they would quickly change their financial habits to become one as well. I will have to check this book out at the bookstore. Thanks for the advice!!!

  11. I’ve been working my way through this book as well. It will be a while until I’m free of my cubicle prison, but I’m getting there.

    Didn’t realize how much having my own website would change my mindset from “I work for XXX Corp.” to “I’m a writer” (and if you ask, I work for XXX Corp.)

  12. My blog and the career I hope to have out of college are way different…. One is a dream, fueled only by passion and interest. The other is the logical choice, the fallback and one that I’ve shown an aptitude for and still have an interest in. Naturally, the first is my blog and the second is finance.

    I’d love to someday be a freelance writer and photographer in the automotive genre, but until I get better at both writing and photography, and possibly move to a better location for both, it’s a pipe dream I’m not sure I can chase. Once student loans are off the table and I’ve got one job to focus on and not two, I’ll gladly throw myself more into my hobby in the hopes of getting rewarded in the end.

    I’m hoping I can avoid a life of disappointment by learning early that dreams and passions are worth chasing, if it’s what you really want. Sadly, life seems so disenchanting once people deem you old enough to understand, for some reason, that logic tends to trump passion in life.

  13. Kate says:

    @Kevin M,

    As an accounting student, I have also been thinking about branding and marketing tactics to implement once I graduate.

    Most local firms seem to focus on community involvement in some form, since they are serving a local or area community.

    A regularly updated web site is a good thing to have, and it does not necessarily have to be in the form of a daily blog. I would think a blog would be more difficult to keep up, especially during busy season.

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