I make a living playing a sport you’ve never heard of
I’m a professional Jiu-Jitsu athlete. I finally feel comfortable saying that.
However, Jiu-Jitsu isn’t exactly a “major sport”, and making a living in Jiu-Jitsu can be strange and difficult. Most people have never even heard of the sport that I practice for 3–6 hours every day.
Some of the top Jiu-Jitsu athletes in the world are so broke that they live in their gyms.
I do not live in a gym or sleep on a mat. I live in an apartment in Chicago and I sleep on a nice cushy bed. I pay for the apartment with the money I make from doing Jiu-Jitsu and writing about my experiences with doing Jiu-Jitsu.
I’ve had to learn how to make money in a sport that is notoriously difficult to make a living in.
2 years into my “full-time” Jiu-Jitsu dream, I’m not exactly a zillionaire, but I make a living doing what I love. I wake up and make my own schedule.
Here are 10 things that I have learned throughout the last 2 years as I’ve transitioned from working as a social media manager and copywriter for small businesses to working as a “pro athlete” for myself.
In what I do, followers don’t pay your rent, fans do.
True fans do.
I only have a little over 1000 followers on Instagram, under 2000 on Medium, and about 4000 on Quora. I still make a living with my personal brand because I have a handful of people who really support me and want me to do well.
I have a tribe of people who back me up. These people help me make a living doing what I love.
You don’t need to go viral on TikTok or get a million Medium followers to do your thing at a high level, you just need to build a little cult.
Just maybe don’t call it a cult — people don’t usually love that.
Do what you’re good at.
In my case, there aren’t that many people who write and do Jiu-Jitsu. It’s uncommon, but writing is my skill set. YouTubing is not my skill set. TikTok is not my skillset.
I am a writer, a teacher, and a fighter. I spend all of my time focused on these 3 things and doing them as well as possible.
Instead of contorting my skills to the market, I have spent a considerable amount of time building up my skills so that I can monetize them.
Good skills are better than trendy skills.
Prizefighting is cool, but I’m aware of my limits enough to know that I can’t fight for money forever.
That’s why I teach and write. These skills will outlast the limitations of my physical body.
Writing, speaking, and teaching is 3 key skills for artistic entrepreneurs.
People talk a lot online about how they “grind” and “fight” for their success. Most of these people have never been in real fights.
Running a blog is a service industry. It’s entertainment. It is not a fight.
Teaching Jiu-Jitsu is a service industry as well.
These activities require collaboration with an audience, not an ego with something to prove.
In service industries, I’ve found that being more aggressive is not better. Fighting is “show business”, and that’s a different skill, but teaching and writing require self-awareness and compassion instead of pure hustle and grit.
If you’re an indie creator, you have to leave the cutthroat mentality to the corporate folks. You need love to succeed, not “hustle”.
Learning to extract lessons from your skill is the key to moving from a general audience to a niche.
My general audience could be people who do Jiu-Jitsu or people who like to read blogs, but my specific niche is people who are interested in the combination of martial arts (or sports), life lessons, and self-improvement.
In terms of monetization, specificity and value are more important than reach, but you need reach too. You have to give value away for free to prove yourself in the digital market.
Think about what you’re really writing/making content about. That’s where your audience is.
Just because you took the time to create some art (a book, a set of martial arts skills, or a song) doesn’t mean anyone has to care about it.
Find out what people want and learn to dance with the market.
That’s how you make a living as an artist in the modern era.
I’ve lost a lot of fights over the years. I’ve also written some shitty articles that no one read.
Most of my writing has been stunningly mediocre.
It’s okay though. Competitive sports, digital writing, and solopreneurship are volume-based games. The more you play, the better chances you have of winning. Stop romanticizing your artistic ability, and press “publish”.
Then do it again. And again. And again.
In case you needed to hear it from someone who’s been there too: individual failures (and successes, for that matter) do not define your competence.
I’ve been doing grappling sports for 12 years. When I win nowadays, people think I’m talented.
I promise, I’m not. I’m not even really a natural athlete — just ask my parents.
It just looks like I’m good now because I’ve worked super hard for a super long time. Consistency is what most people are lacking.
If that offends you, it probably applies to you.
Here’s a little story:
I launched a premium newsletter last fall. For a while (about a month and a half), I had 2 subscribers.
I was writing 5 extra articles per month for 2 people.
I was thinking about abandoning the project because clearly, it wasn’t working the way I wanted it to.
I didn’t stop though, I just kept writing articles and pumping out content for those 2 readers. I was grateful for their 5 bucks a month.
Over time, I noticed that the premium subscriber number on my newsletter was slowly increasing. It wasn’t quick. It was never more than 1 in a day, but it was and has been growing.
That was undeniable, and that was enough to make me realize that I had to keep going and I had to be more patient. I had to maintain my consistency over a longer period of time. I had to be more patient.
Now, my premium newsletter nets me an extra $100 per month. Patience and consistency. That’s my strategy.
Who knows where I’ll be in a year.
When it comes to making a living as a pro-athlete/writer, I’ve tried nearly everything.
I’ve fought for thousands of dollars countless times. I wrote an ebook. I have a newsletter. I teach seminars. I do private classes. I blog. You name it, I’ve either tried it or thought deeply about trying it.
Some things have been massive successes for me, and others have been massive flops. Others have taken a while to start building. Others started off fast and died out quickly.
2 things have remained consistent though. One is me, and the other is my constant habit of “trying new stuff”.
Experimentation is a requirement for growth as a creator.