Overcoming “The Paycheck Paradox” (so you can make a living doing what you love)

Welcome to Day 5 of 5 in the series
“Cracking the Code to Unlock Your Creative Potential”

If after reading you’re inspired to design your dream career:

👉 Come Meet Me @ Office Hours Open House!
Tuesday, Jan 30th – 8-9:45am (Pacific)

– Learn how to set better career goals (and build systems to achieve them)
– Participate in Live Q&A
– Register for your chance to do a 1:1 Hot Seat with me!

In Part 1 of “Unlocking Your Creative Potential” I shared with you three important questions to help you better understand how you can leverage a lifetime of your work experience, skills, and abilities to optimize your career path.

In Part 2 I shared with you a simple framework to structure your outreach such that you can build genuine relationships with new people (instead of bothering them), reconnect with existing connections, and optimize your network.

In Part 3 I revealed the biggest reason your résumé is probably disappearing into cyberspace (b/c you’re telling the wrong story) and how to reframe your mindset around all of your presentation materials and optimize your brand.

In Part 4 I discussed the importance of having confidence in how you’re spending your hours, days, and years in alignment with your values, and how your career (and life) can change once you optimize your time.

Unsure where to focus your energy & attention next?
👉 Click here to hop on a quick Zoom chat with me

Today’s conversation is about the most common obstacle stopping many creatives from unlocking their true potential → $$$ MONEY $$$.

But, but…we creatives don’t do it for the money! It’s all about the art. But let’s be honest…it’s about the money too. And the current state of our finances is not good.

I’ve heard countless times over the last year, “I really need to work with you…but I can’t even afford rent right now.” If that sounds like you, rest assured you are not alone. I’ve talked to colleagues who have pivoted from working on globally recognized shows to delivering Uber Eats.

It’s ugly out there.

If you’re in a similar position, let’s reconnect in a future semester. I have zero interest in adding more financial anxiety to your life. However, if you’re fortunate enough that paying basic living expenses isn’t a concern right now, then let’s address the irony that your paycheck might be the #1 obstacle between you and your dream career.

Part 5: Optimizing Your Finances

World renowned trader, scholar, author, and “the hottest thinker in the world” Nassim Nicholas Taleb is famous for writing the following:

“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.”

When talking to creatives interested in making a career pivot, the obstacles are almost always the same:

  • I have no idea what my path is (or what to do next)
  • I don’t know the right people to talk to (and I HATE networking!!!)
  • I’m not sure how to sell myself since I don’t have the right experience
  • I never have the time (or the energy) to get anything done outside of my day job

And the most common obstacle striking fear into the heart of anyone courageous enough to pursue a career pivot:

  • I can’t afford to quit my current job (even if it means working with assholes)

If you hate your job but you can’t afford to leave your job, I call this dilemma The Paycheck Paradox. Like a Chinese finger trap, the harder you try to escape, the tighter the trap becomes.

The Paycheck Paradox:

When the paycheck that sustains you constrains you.

If this sounds familiar, the good news is there are a couple different strategies to escape The Paycheck Paradox.

  1. Having a rock-solid financial workflow (and knowing your numbers) such that you can sleep easy knowing exactly how much freedom your money can buy you.
  2. Having a strategy to diversify your skills & abilities into multiple income streams such that your livelihood no longer depends on a singular specialized craft.

Let’s dive into strategy #1 → Knowing your numbers.

Whenever I ask someone who hates their job why they said yes, they often respond with “Because I needed the money.” My immediate follow up question is, “Are you sure you needed it?” Sometimes a paycheck job is the only option, I totally get it. There is no shame in needing a paycheck to support you and your family.

But more often than not, people say yes to shitty jobs because it feels like they need the money, not because the numbers actually say there is no other option. They fear the idea of no cash coming in (not to mention the identity crisis associated with not working).

As a freelancer in the gig economy, it is absolutely imperative that you know your numbers, specifically your:

  • Survival Budget – What’s the minimum cost you need to live each month?
  • “Sleep Easy” Budget – What else does it cost to maintain your present lifestyle?
  • Runway – How many months can you afford to “sleep easy” with $0 of income?

Designing your dream career requires the freedom to say no to projects (and people) that don’t align with your vision.

Money = FREEDOM.

The main reason I’ve had consistent stretches on numerous TV shows (4 seasons of Burn Notice, all 3 seasons of Shooter, and now going on 5 seasons of Cobra Kai) is because I’ve built financial systems that allow me to say NO to projects that are not opportunities but instead distractions.

I’d be happy to spend 8 weeks breaking down every nuanced step of the financial system that has helped me weather the lean times between gigs (as well as extended unemployment), but in the meantime here’s the actual cashflow template I teach all of my students how to build.


To put it simply…

Do you know how much freedom you have to pursue dream projects while saying no to everything else?

Now let’s dive into strategy #2 → Diversifying your income.

I promise not to get on my soapbox again about the pending transition of the global workforce from specialization to generalization (oops…looks like I just did).

But the reality is:

Over the coming years it’s going to become increasingly difficult to make a secure living only doing one thing.

Last year as artificial intelligence began to emerge as a creative tool across multiple industries, specialists in many different fields started freaking out at the thought of having to supplement their income someday by taking on multiple types of jobs.

This is how my writer & actor friends responded:


Whether or not we collectively make the transition from specialization to generalization, the lesson I hope we’ve all learned from the chaos of the last four years is that we can no longer assume a single job = security.

Specialization is the riskiest path of all.

I’ve spent the last several semesters with my Optimizer students helping them find the unique intersection of the many skills, abilities, passions, interests, and unique knowledge they possess that can generate new streams of income.

One student who specializes in editing docs is getting his commercial drone license.

Another student is starting a YouTube channel to teach finances & accounting.

Another student launched a business selling crocheted plushie toys!


None of these students have to “start over.” They simply have to better understand where their skills, passions, and knowledge could provide value to others willing to pay them in return.

Where do your experience, skills, and abilities intersect with other interests & passions that could help you generate multiple streams of income?

Interested In Optimizing Your Finances?

This semester we’re launching TWO brand new 8-week live classes (via Zoom) to help you better understand cashflow for creatives as well as how to diversify your skills & experience into multiple income streams.

In the “Cashflow For Creatives” class you’ll learn how to:

  • Redefine how you budget & spend your money in alignment with your values
  • Organize your money so you know your numbers
  • Build automated workflows so your money largely manages itself
  • Set targets, goals, and create a “Freedom Fund” so you can say no to projects (and people) that don’t align with your goals

In “The Creative Multipreneur” class you’ll learn how to:

  • Identify the many skills, abilities, passions, and unique knowledge you possess that can be monetized
  • Better understand who your target audience is
  • Investigate the problems that your target audience will pay to solve
  • Strategize the best kind of side-hustle for you

👉 Click to learn more and/or schedule a Zoom chat

Keep an eye on your inbox Monday morning, because enrollment opens for the latest semester of the Optimizer program!

Zack Arnold (ACE) is an award-winning Hollywood film editor & producer (Cobra Kai, Empire, Burn Notice, Unsolved, Glee), a documentary director, father of 2, an American Ninja Warrior, and the creator of Optimize Yourself. He believes we all deserve to love what we do for a living...but not at the expense of our health, our relationships, or our sanity. He provides the education, motivation, and inspiration to help ambitious creative professionals DO better and BE better. “Doing” better means learning how to more effectively manage your time and creative energy so you can produce higher quality work in less time. “Being” better means doing all of the above while still prioritizing the most important people and passions in your life…all without burning out in the process. Click to download Zack’s “Ultimate Guide to Optimizing Your Creativity (And Avoiding Burnout).”