Scalable vs Non-Scalable Career: The Difference and What You Should Choose

Many of us see those building large businesses and desire it. We see those earning money from “their passion” and we want it. We also see those who flaunt their wealth on social media with the caption “working from XX Island” and we crave it.

It’s not bad to desire, want, and crave those things. However, I have a message for you about that lifestyle. Yes, you. Before you overly punish yourself for not having the same lifestyle.

Firstly, let’s agree on one thing. That there’s a wide range of distance between how the world works and how you would like the world to work. And wisdom requires that you find a sustainable balance between these two and enjoy your moments while they last.

Many of us are troubled because the world doesn’t work as we want it to work (having a similar lifestyle to those who flaunt there’s on social media). That’s unfortunate because it rarely will. You have to see the world for what it is many times.

Sure, you can set out to bend the world to your ideals. But you must be equally prepared to pay the price. And paying the price is not a guarantee that the world will still bend. It just means you have tried your best to bend it to your ideals. That’s it, nothing more.

And your attempt may be worth it. Jeff Bezos in his last annual letter to Amazon shareholders wrote:

“The fairy tale version of “be yourself” is that all the pain stops as soon as you allow your distinctiveness to shine. That version is misleading. Being yourself is worth it, but don’t expect it to be easy or free. You’ll have to put energy into it continuously… You have to pay a price for your distinctiveness, and it’s worth it.”

Did you notice that out of all that I mentioned earlier that we may desire, there’s not one person there who took the traditional career route. It is hard for them to be heard about. And if you can’t hear about them, how can you covet their lifestyle? It is the outliers that are easy to notice and outliers are called that name for a reason.

Unfortunately, that’s what we all desire. We all want to be the outlier. But we won’t all get it. What we can all get is something around the mean with some standard deviations.

Scaleable vs Non-Scalable Career

In his book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, Nassim Taleb explained the difference between that kind of career (scalable) we all wish for and what we should mostly be embracing (non-scalable).

Scalable careers are careers where your output is highly disproportionate to your input. Non-scalable careers are careers where your output is capped based on your input. The surprising detail: we all want the scalable option.

Scalable careers allow you to make more money without an equivalent increase in labour/time. An author writes a book one time and his effort is (basically) the same whether he sells 500 or 500,000 copies. A Hollywood actress need not show up at every screening of her movie to make money off it. If you have created a digital product before, you can relate well, it’s the easiest example.

We all like that but here’s also a surprising feature of such careers as Taleb noted.

“A scalable profession is good only if you are successful; they are more competitive, produce monstrous inequalities, and are far more random with huge disparities between efforts and rewards — a few can take a large share of the pie, leaving others out entirely at no fault of their own.”

Going for a scalable career is betting on yourself to become an outlier. Because results in such a space are random with a huge disparity between those who succeed and those who don’t. Unfortunately, we don’t hear a lot about those who don’t for us to learn that those who succeed are indeed outliers.

Taleb advises an average person to settle with non-scalable careers because so much of one’s success in scalable careers can be credited to randomness and luck. Remember that in a scalable career, “a few can take a large share of the pie, leaving others out entirely at no fault of their own.”

And I do advise a Non-Scalable career as well. Of course, the choice is yours to choose from. Depending on if you want to bet on yourself to emerge as the outlier.

Like I said from the start, it’s about how the world works. Where extreme success exists for a lot to covet, a lot of uncertainty also lies in there. You can’t have it all.

Non-scalable careers on the other hand are different. Every doctor for instance will be able to buy a car, build a house, and pay their children’s school fees. So will an average employee from a well-paying 9-5 job.

There is little variance in the outcome of the life of those in the non-scalable career. And the choice is largely yours.

Do you still desire that glamorous life you see of “successful” people? Know what you desire.

Because a scalable career introduces extra uncertainty to our life…

And if there is one thing I know very well that humans do not want, it’s the presence of uncertainty in them. And they will naturally do all things within their grasp to eliminate the uncertainty.

Why have I shared this with you? It’s simple. I want you to be aware of the trade-offs between both worlds. So that you can choose what you think is good for you once you become aware of the features of both worlds.

Once you do, you need to purge yourself of jealousy and anguish that may come with your choice. Because you are fully aware of it before choosing it.

That’s how the world works. And you must embrace that.

If you enjoy this, then you should read Biased Towards Monopoly