Adjacent Possible: The Key to Your Next Great Opportunity

“I was wondering if you’d be available to come on the show to discuss the interest rate hike.”

When the email showed up in my inbox, I was flabbergasted.

in 2017, the Bank of Canada raised its interest rate a few times, and unless you’re also a giant personal finance nerd—or the owner of a Canadian variable-rate loan—you probably didn’t notice.

I know, because when that email hit my inbox, I was explaining why an interest rate hike mattered to coworkers who sat near my desk.

But I don’t work in finance.

I work in marketing, and not even financial marketing.

So why on earth would anyone contact me to discuss the interest rate hike—especially on a reputable TV outlet?

This one time, I started a blog

By training, by profession and by experience, I’m a marketer.

I studied it in school, I’ve worked in marketing jobs for my entire career, I teach it, I am a marketer.

But this one time, I started a blog about something I’m equally passionate about: Personal finance.

Because who wouldn’t want to write about their budget on the internet for a bunch of strangers, right?

Except here’s the thing about starting a blog

You’re not writing for a bunch of strangers.

If you’re lucky, you’re writing for three to five strangers on a good day.

You’re probably not even writing for your mom, because let’s be real, you haven’t told anyone that you’re writing a blog about money.

So it’s you, and your three-to-five internet strangers.

But you keep writing

You keep writing, and then all of a sudden, it’s fifteen-to-twenty internet strangers. Some of them have blogs of their own, and you become good (internet) friends with them.

You keep at it—for free—for about ten months, and you get approached by a website that wants you to write for them for money. It’s not a lot of money, but you enthusiastically accept, and that money helps you fund a summer vacation.

Another year goes by, and you keep writing your own blog because you love helping people and talking about money. You pick up a few more freelance clients, and a few more readers.

You get clear on what you stand for, and what you really don’t.

You build a viewpoint, and, against all odds, a voice in the personal finance world.

(This will still seem weird to you. You will still freak right out when people tell you they read and like your blog.)

Then, and only then, do you get asked about interest rate hikes

You realize, at this point, that you’ve inadvertently been following the advice of your favourite career book all along.

That’s what happened to me this week.

Years ago, I read So Good They Can’t Ignore You, by Cal Newport. It’s a valuable read at any point in your career, but you’ll take different things away from it depending on when you read it.

When I first read it, my takeaway was “Just don’t quit your job to become a yoga teacher.” Which, quite frankly, was both good and much-needed advice at the time.

Now, staring down an email in my inbox that I can’t even believe is real, I’ve got a much clearer picture of my real takeaway.

You need to expand your “adjacent possible”

The only way to grow your career is to expand the set of options available to you.

In the book, Newport uses the example of a world-class researcher.

She only made breakthrough discoveries, and got to do award-winning, world-changing work because she was already an expert.

She put in the work until the next logical step in her work was groundbreaking. Her “adjacent possible”, her logical next step, was to step into uncharted territory, which is the fun part of being a researcher, or so I’m told.

You couldn’t just take an introductory science class and come up with the theories or experiments she had, because it wasn’t adjacent to what you already knew.

No one gives you the VP of Whatever job unless you’ve already done some great work in the Whatever field.

People don’t start buying your cupcakes, or woodworking, or dog-walking services until you tell them they can (aka, market your stuff.)

Thousands of people don’t show up to read your work the day after ten people show up to read your work.

But thousands of people might show up to read your work the day after 999 people showed up to read your work.

Your adjacent possible is in your hands

If you think back to the last job you scored, you can probably see how it was part of your adjacent possible.

You took that course, you went to that networking event, you brute-forced your way into writing stellar cover letters. You made room in your adjacent possible for the job you have now to be a job someone could reasonably expect you to do well.

But… what if you want something else?

What if you want to get The Next Job?

Or move into The Next Field? (I hear the Whatever field is booming right now.)

You need to expand your adjacent possible again — and you don’t need to wait for anyone’s permission to do it anymore.

It’s weird that I’m “in” personal finance, to be honest

I don’t live in Toronto. I don’t work in finance. I didn’t study it in school. I should not be a person who people listen to about money.

But… I am?

As truly weird as it is to say that, I have a voice in personal finance. I built it, over the years, by sharing what I know, reading as much as I could, and connecting with people who are doing the same.

That’s why my “adjacent possible” includes the occasional invite to be on TV to talk about interest rates.

It’s why, on a random Wednesday, sitting at my desk in suburban Ottawa, I am far down, but still on, the list of people who might be able to add insight into this national conversation.

And no one gave me permission.

You don’t need to wait for permission, either.

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