Get a boring job in a small division.

When it comes to dominance and submission, humans are very close to our ape relatives in our relationships. Not only do the power dynamics profoundly influence our everyday interactions, but we also love being dominant and get chemical and neurological boosts from it.

In primitive societies there was a small ratio of leaders to followers, so becoming the top dog was a lot easier than in modern society (if you ignore the fact that competing could mean death). Today, we –at least in theory – have most of our interactions with our equals. This is a great outcome for our ideological and normative standards but plays havoc with our body chemistry and need for status. Our animal brain does not understand that being a subordinate is not life-threatening today. This really becomes a problem when you take into account how luck allows two people with identical skill sets to earn money that differs by many orders of magnitude.

The hard-working and intelligent college graduate may struggle to get by, but (because of survivorship bias) be surrounded by people who are a lot less qualified but earn many times what he does. He feels like a failure (and his wife agrees), yet he is seeing only the one-in-a-million lucky fool while more than 90% of the people who have the same qualifications as he has are earning significantly less. 999.999 of the people who did what the lucky fool next door did went bankrupt or are making peanuts on the dollar.

Often the advice of “do what rich people do and to become rich” is a quick way to bankruptcy. They will tell you about high-risk strategies which are much more likely to fail than succeed. The ones you see were just the ones that got lucky. You don’t see the ones that lost everything.

This is not to say that you cannot become rich by virtue of skills because you definitely can. Just take lucky people’s advice with a ton of salt. Ask yourself what happens to most people who follow the same strategy as they did. Taking large risks with a big chance of blowing up will result in disaster if you do it repeatedly.

Above a certain level of income, more money does not increase your happiness but more relative income does. If you are middle class and want to be happier, go live in a neighbourhood where people are generally poor. It works a lot better than surrounding yourself with people who regularly outspend you and constantly feeling poor.You can be the rich person on the block and enjoy all those delicious health and mood benefits of high status instead of constantly trying to play catch up.

What doesn’t make sense is trying to compete against the whole world for the (extremely) limited positions in the fields where it is winner-take-all. Do not derive your satisfaction from vagaries of chance. If you play music, do it for the love of music, if you paint, do it for the love of painting. Don’t chase fame for fame’s sake because most people cannot be famous.

For your income start with a base of location-specific services, and then do side gambles like an online business, a music career, etc. Location specific means you have to be physically present to provide the service. Dentists, lawyers, massage therapists, property agents or psychologists are examples. Choose something where you don’t have to be the best or the top 1% to earn good money, you just need to show up and do your job as best you can. Even if you are lucky enough to successfully be a professional athlete, make sure that you have another potential source of income as well. Choose something where you do not have to compete against the entire world, only against the few people in your physical location.

The exception to getting a location specific job is if you can start getting results that point to definitely being able to make a living from your service-at-a-distance before you are forced to become self-supporting. Eg. Making gymnastics videos and earning $100 a week from them before leaving school. Then you know that you could probably grow your subscribers and income still substantially. That’s what I’m doing. If my gamble does not pay off within the next few year then I will have to do something else with results that are more guaranteed than blogging. 🙂

Don’t get a job at a big company, or if you do choose a small division. It is easier to be the big fish if the pond is small. You might learn less, and earn less, but you will probably be happier. We may deny it, but we like being the boss. Such are the trade-offs in life.

In the title, I said get a boring job. This was only intended in the sense that you should choose a job where success is predictable, and not based on the chaotic logic of fads. It does not mean you should get a job that bores you. Do not do that. You cannot perform at your best if you are bored.

To happiness, and beyond!

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