Friday, March 8, 2024

What Should You Work On? (Assuming You Want to Make a Living at It.)

Let’s consider three essential factors: Aptitude, Interest, and Market, which you can remember with the word “AIM.

*AIM diagram by James Gurney

Here are three overlapping circles. One represents “What I’m good at,” the next represents “What I love doing,” and the third is “What someone will buy.” The three circles overlap in a central section marked “What I should work on.” That intersection is the sweet spot where you can be productive, happy, and make a living.

To be fulfilled at making art (or anything else), you have to be skilled at what you do, but you also have to be interested or even obsessed with it. But if you want to survive doing it, there have to be people willing to pay you for it, either a few people paying a lot or a lot of people paying a little. It can be an existing market that you serve or a new market that you create.

It’s not enough to have training and passion if you can’t find a buyer. You can’t work happily for long hours if you are not interested in it. And if you don’t have the skills and knowledge required in your field, you’ll be out-competed by people who do.

These circles will shift and change throughout your life as you evolve new interests and skills, as tastes change, and as new technologies for production, distribution and monetization appear. Every few years you’ve got to check and see if that sweet spot has shifted under your feet.

*Note: After I developed this concept and Venn diagram on my own, I discovered that there's already a similar concept in Japanese culture called "ikigai.” Apparently the word "ikigai" translates as "purpose in life" or "reason for being." It seems to be a somewhat broader idea, sometimes including a fourth field labeled "What the world needs." Check it out, let me know your thoughts, and share with a friend.


  1. As a retired ACCD grad who worked in commercial art, then gallery art ,( and recently doing art restoration ), I think that AI has made the inner circle EXTREMELY small. Would I choose Art again to make a living, no. I’d leave it as a hobby.

  2. I wonder how "Available Time" could be factored into this diagram.
    Despite having a strong APTITUDE, passionate INTEREST, and robust MARKET, a single father of three small children with many responsibilities and little available time would have great difficulty making a living.
    On the other hand, a young man with little responsibility and plenty of free time could manage to make a living with average APTITUDE and a weak MARKET, as long as he had the strong INTEREST to work extraordinary hours.
    It seems like "Available Time" plays a critical role in the outcome.


Due to a high level of spam we must moderate comments. Please identify yourself by name or social media handle so we know you're not a 'bot.'