I was at the bank today, dealing with a young, freshly-hired teller. It got me thinking about how my life could have been with just a few different turns.
I used to find big, comfy jobs very seductive. I remember getting hired at Fido in 2002 and thinking “This is a big brand, a well-paying job, this could really work for me.” The idea of finding your place is seductive and it’s very easy to get lulled into a sense of having “arrived.”
I thought about this as I chatted with the teller. I could have been her. She looked really happy working here. She had been chosen among numerous applicants. Her employer puts her in a kind of prestigious position. I remembered applying for bank jobs before, and how it made me feel to possibly be a part of that team.
That isn’t what happened to me, though. Laziness set in. I almost got laid off repeatedly because I hated it. This is what happens to most people, I’m guessing. They slack off and coast and, as a result, stop getting promoted. They get put into a position where they’re no longer advancing. They settle.
The thing that kept me out of this was being on the web in a really significant way. I saw alternatives (podcasting at the time) that were different from what I was doing or what my parents taught me, a different form of upward mobility that relied on my wits and ability to create content and compete. This helped me let go of the safe job. I eventually reached what some people would call escape velocity and got out for good.
I wonder now about how I could have done it on purpose, instead of just floating around on a sea of chance, and I think that one way to have done this is to make myself unemployable on purpose. But there is an inherent conflict here inasmuch as one of the things that keeps one moving is tension, but the more broke and down on our luck we are, the more we will search for an easy liferaft (like a cushy job).
What is the solution here? Is it to purposefully put restraints on yourself so that you can try harder? Is it to put yourself in a comfortable position so that you feel the liberty to do riskier stuff (and land on your feet)?
I think that the answer to these questions lies in a definition of risk that changes for each person. To one person, starting a company is infinitely risky because they aren’t comfortable with what they assume it means– a misunderstanding of risk in which we assume that certain projects are way more dangerous than they really are.
This weekend in Vermont we spent a few hours hanging out by the river and we were jumping into a deep section of it. Some of us were obviously more comfortable with this than others. Some needed to see someone else jump before we were willing to do it ourselves. This is natural, environmental feedback that tells us that something we do is safe instead of dangerous. Without it we are ignorant of the true danger of any situation and, as such, we make it seem bigger than it really is. This applies not just to jumping in rivers, but to everything. We don’t know how deep the water is, so we don’t risk it.
So maybe the solution is environmental. One of the people I read the most about when I was young was Shannon Larratt, who founded BMEzine.com in the nineties and was largely unemployable because of his tattoos and huge lobes (far bigger than mine), but who was simultaneously highly employable as a programmer. I think this became my water depth– so the place from which I chose to jump was very similar. I saw that the jump was possible, so I did it too.
So if you are young and looking for career advice, I think my best advice may be this: Find people that do not do normal things. Be traditionally unemployable but have many friends and associates who are working doing extraordinary things. This will give you alternative paths to follow than what your parents surrounded you with early on, possibly helping you reprogram yourself. The result of this is hopefully new neural pathways that you can follow yourself. Good luck! :)