Thoughts on career, optimization, and arrival
Whatever your definition of arrival may be, money and work that challenges you must be part of it
“What are you optimizing for” is a question that has never stopped haunting me. I remember it when I’m starting something new and when I’m doing the norm.
Optimizing asks what are you getting better at daily? What are you after? When will you arrive? And many more.
When I think about career, I wonder what exactly are we optimizing for?
A lot of us just do the job we do because it is what’s paying the highest per time. Trust me, many times that’s fine. Some other numbers of us are doing what we want to do at the moment and we derive joy in it.
However, for all of us, what are we optimizing for in our career?
Can we arrive?
What will the arrival be? Plenty money or doing a job you find joy in under a condition that is acceptable to you even if it means doing the job for life (of course you get paid for it as well)
Whatever your definition of arrival is, are you optimizing for it?
Optimizing for it will mean each of your actions and inactions takes you closer to arrival. Optimizing for it means everything that you say a yes or no to gets you closer to it.
This topic is board as you might have noticed from all things I’ve said so far. So I will narrow it down to two things.
Whatever you are optimizing for and whatever your arrival maybe, two things have to be included in those definitions. It’s the way of life. Don’t mind that those two things are not new but I want to bring your consciousness to it again and help you chart a way forward.
Those two things are money and work that challenges you.
When you don’t have money your options are limited. Did I say limited? In fact, your only option at that point is one: make money
I know that’s the case because I’ve been there. And it explains why a good number of us are currently on employment that pays us the highest for now even if “the work doesn’t challenge us.”
That’s why I believe money will always be part of the definition of arrival.
Recently, I’ve puzzled about why do people aim for financial freedom, really why? So they can stop working? I don’t think so. In fact, financially free people tend to work more. So why?
Human nature is such that will always work.
Marcus Aurelius said in “Meditation”
“I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for?
To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”
So you were born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them?
Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can?
And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?
You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you.”
Simple, from as ancient as a human being is, we have an obligation by nature to work. The good Book commanded us to dominate the earth. You don’t dominate by stopping to work. So it’s cleared from the table.
When we reach for financial freedom, it is not to an end that we might stop working.
My findings show that our goals are so that we might be able to fulfill the second part of what I considered as two imperatives of arrival.
To do a “work that challenges us”
You have probably been asked the question before “what would you be doing if money stops being your concern?”
Many times you will realize that never will you mention “nothing.” No, no one really said nothing in all my years of asking that questions from people. However, one answer is very common:
“I will stop doing the work I’m doing now”
A lot of people don’t think twice to give me that answer. But, they go on to say some other beautiful things that they will be doing. Some so adventurous you will think why will anyone want to do that and some so relaxing that you will feel like what joy will this person derive from such.
And that bothers me. We are all doing what we are doing now for money and we are ready to take the nearest exit.
How did we get here?
Our beginning wasn’t like that.
The beginning of this century changed a lot for us. Allow me to tell a few things about what our life used to look like a pre-industrial revolution.
There was quite a few kind of work to do then. Mainly around agriculture. So we have lesser options and not so much economic inequality.
Mainly agriculture means my grandpa had a farm that my father inherited and that I am bound to inherit. If I don’t, I was either looking to become a teacher of philosophy or science or what other options are available then.
One thing though, not inheriting the land doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy the economic value of the land.
As an aside, I should mention that my mama still gets palm oil from the farm that her father left behind at death. But guess what, she has no farm left for me. 😂
The security that came with such system means at the beginning of a young wo/man’s career, s/he doesn’t have to start by optimizing for money. That is in a good way secured and if the child chose to continue with the farm, it must be that s/he “finds the work challenging”
The industrial revolution came and changed that narratives. Now farming can be done by 2% of the population and it will be enough to feed a whole nation and even export it.
It also implies more options. The technology that enabled 2% to produce what 100% will eat has to be produced by some people. Now, because of the leverage that comes with such technologies, they could afford to pay amounts that are more than the beginning of the periods’ average. And that my friend is where it all started.
Because I left the farm for a job that pays beyond average wages, I didn’t inherit the farm. That wouldn’t have been a problem in the past but it is now. Subsistence farming won’t survive again so I have to sell the farmland or abandon it.
The security that used to come with such inheritance is gone. Now, my source of income is tied to my employment and that alone. And of course, my children will have no farm to inherit, plus, they can’t inherit my employment.
The source of income becoming one was a main problem. Before then, even if the child chose not to inherit, subsistence farming can still go on while I the child pursue other things. And can earn income from farming and maybe the other adventure.
My father lost that security and I lost it as well. We invented the retirement savings plan to mitigate the net effect of this. I won’t go into that aspect today.
Inequality increased because technology gives an unfair advantage to winners always.
And that’s how we got here.
A new era
But a new era is beginning. It’s a silent revolution brewing underneath and may take a few years to explode but it will.
It will because we are never static as a race. It will because what we have now (where we all want to quit our job at first instance once the money isn’t our problem anymore) is not sustainable. And like all systems that make the world go round, they always tend towards perfect optimization.
So where are we headed and what’s brewing?
What gives me great joy is that the same technology that brought us to where we are today is also what’s providing a way of escape.
We are entering a new era where the security (farming) that we used to have is coming back and the other things we used to adventure in can be done pari passu.
It’s what Li Jin of a16z referred to as the “Passion Economy“
The redefining of our earnings model optimized for security
The Passion Economy is anchored on an idea that every human has a passion that can be monetized. That’s not strange it has always been in us we only had to close it at a point in our history. Now is a reawakening.
Remember that the prior to industrial revolution, if I chose not to inherit my father’s farm, I can still be assured of the security it brings and in effect if what I am working on by the side doesn’t work out, I can return to the farm or at least feed from its proceeds.
That economic model is back.
Quick one, at the advent, the industrial revolution, such model became impossible because the good part of your days is invested in the work at your company.
Alright, with that made clear, let me drive you down how technology is birthing that economic model again.
We have a proxy for our farms now and surprisingly, that’s our current job.
In the new economic model of earnings, as anchored and being redefined by the internet, your current job serves as the safety net in case “what you do by the side” doesn’t work out.
What you do by the side is what is called Passion in the new economy.
It’s a passion because, among other things you could do if money wasn’t anymore the problem, it is one of such you could still do now that money is the problem and continue to do even if you aren’t getting paid for it. So you don’t mind having a sleepless night on it or having to spend your weekend on it.
As you do those things, the passion economy (anchored on the infrastructure of the internet) opined that you will leverage the internet for the distribution of your passion.
It further postulates that with enough distribution, you will find at least 1000 true fans among the currently more than 7 billion humans on earth who shares the same passion with you and are ready to pay you for sharing with them.
If these 1,000 true fans should pay you a sum of $100 per year for a product you sell to them or the service you provided, you would be earning $100,000 per year. That’s an amount that is enough to sustain a very okay standard of life anywhere on the planet as we know it today.
What if your passion can’t produce such a result? You will agree with me that in life that you don’t only wish you can do one thing but several things. So you keep on doing (your passions) until you arrive.
If non of your passions work out still, in the end, you have a safety net – your job (even though fragile).
If it works, you can either keep your farm (job) while still earning in it or you let go of it for you have arrived – enough money and work that challenges.
Of course, we don’t have a perfect solution yet. For one, not all passions can be monetized through the infrastructure of the internet.
However, if you look at the majority of us whom the wind of the industrial revolution as brought a great dislocation to the most, a lot of our passion tends to be such that can be hosted on the Internet infrastructure.
This wasn’t possible before just because of the problem of distribution. How can I find my #345th true fan who’s domiciled in Japan when I’m here in Nigeria? The Internet solved that friction.
Another reason is also that the safety net (job) is still taking way too much of our time. Thanks to COVID19, it accelerated another working style which means we are all at our confine doing whatever we like as long as the safety net’s responsibility also gets done.
Will what COVID19 enabled stay for long? I don’t know but what I know is even if it doesn’t, that’s where we are headed. Generations unborn will struggle to understand why on earth we have to be under a roof to get a job done.
Their era will be such that one person having more than one job (source of income) becomes a norm. That’s the future. One job may be paying the highest but the other is their passion and soon they will have some 1,000 true fans.
So from where we started, whatever you may be optimizing for as an individual, we agreed that money and work that challenges you will almost always be part of it. Money because you need it to get by on earth and work because as we learnt from Marcus Aurelius, is in our nature to do it.
Work is the current problem, we all have to take one that can pay us the highest so we can quickly reach financial independence and then do whatever we have passion for seeing money is no longer a problem.
That has changed, you don’t need to wait for financial independence again before you start to work on your passion. The infrastructure of the internet plus the time made available by remote work now means you can work on your passion pari passu with your safety net (your highest paying job).
However, your goal with your passion is to ensure that you get the hypothetical 1,000 true fans. Once you do, you won’t have to necessarily keep the safety net again.
And that’s it, you are freed from a wishful life and ushered into arrival.
If there’s a thing of enquiry that I will like to pursue from here, it will be to answer the question “how many years will such model take for one to attain arrival?”
We know the erstwhile model takes about 35-40 years (to retirement).
If history is indicative of anything though, the answer to my question will be 10 years. Yes, 10 years. No more 35 years of working towards retirement but 10 years of working towards arrival.
Why 10 years? People (entrepreneurs) who have gone that route seems to have a common notion around that. That’s my reason for 10 years. Maybe less or longer. The combination of working on your passion plus getting a safety net is great enough.
So what’s still your excuse for not starting to work on your passion?
What are you currently optimizing for? Arrival after 40 years of working or Arrival after 10 years of working on your passion and having a safety net?