Is a “dream job” just “capitalistic conditioning”?

This tweet raises a few questions:
  • Is working for the rest of one’s life a worthy goal?
  • Is work depressing? Should we strive for a life of work or something else?
  • Do “dream jobs” exist, and should we try to pursue them?
  • Is the idea of a “dream job” a form of “capitalistic conditioning”?
First, let’s consider the facts. 92% of Americans are satisfied with their job, and 57% said their job provides a sense of identity, while 40 percent said their job was just what they did for a living. Most people enjoy working to some extent, even if there is a large portion that isn’t. But maybe that is just “capitalistic conditioning”?
There are religious and philosophical perspectives on work, but let’s start with the facts: first, that human beings must work to live, and second, that the labor of others must first create all goods and services we consume. Until we invent robots capable of automating the economy, most people must labor for a large portion of their lives to enable our current living standard.
Faced with these facts, we have two options: to accept our share of responsibility in making human life possible or to try to shirk that responsibility and mooch off the labor of others. In this matter, I believe two things:
first, that we have a responsibility to create value for others
and second, that we have a right to enjoy the product of values that we create
This is a moral philosophy and observation of human nature: we thrive best when life balances work and play. Working all the time is a recipe for misery, but so is unlimited leisure.
While it is true that work is rewarding for many, we should also admit that it isn’t automatically rewarding. Not all work is enjoyable or meaningful. When I was in high school, I worked as a grocery store bagger for a short time. I enjoyed it and took pride in being the fastest bagger in the store. But I knew that it was just a teenage job for a year or two. If I had to bag groceries, or serve fast food, or work on a factory line for the rest of my life, I’d be miserable.
Under an industrial capitalist economy, many jobs are boring and meaningless. This is not unique to capitalism: there has been tedious, repetitive work as long as there have been humans. The difference with capitalism is that we can now appreciate that it doesn’t have to be so. Capitalism has created sufficient wealth to give us visible examples of intellectuals, artists, entrepreneurs, and others who need not perform any manual or rote labor. We complain because we know there is an alternative to boring jobs. Zebras don’t complain that they have to search for grass to eat all day, and lions don’t complain that they have to hunt all the time, but humans have noticed that some jobs are more interesting than others.
Capitalist economies have now been accumulating productivity-enhancing productive capital (factories, machines, tools, and more) for several hundred years, and the percentage of “fun” jobs keeps growing. In the distant past, 100% of people were hunter-gatherers. A few hundred years ago, 98% of Americans were subsidence farmers. Today, the vast majority of Americans need not perform any hard labor in our work. If we allowed them too, entrepreneurs would eventually create sufficient wealth and technology that all the “boring” jobs will be automated.
First, we invented the tool to amplify our muscles. With tools, we built machines to replace our muscles. Now we are building automatons to augment and replace our minds, and when we complete the transition, our mere wishes will turn desires into reality.
Boring jobs are a temporary feature as capitalist economies from pre-industrial to industrial to post-industrial information societies. For the vast majority of people, boring jobs ought to be a transitional feature during their lifetime. As we gain skills, we ought to grow in our careers to the best of our abilities.
I think this is where “capitalistic conditioning” goes wrong. It’s not capitalistic at all, but a derivation of the Prussian education system, which created the factory model of schooling to indoctrinate obedient factory workers and soldiers into obeying their orders. The capitalist model is the opposite of this mindset: an entrepreneurial attitude that focuses on personal experiences, local problems and opportunities, spontaneous order, and that questions all orthodoxy in search of innovation and profit.
I believe that a career progression ought to have two goals:
first, to reach a level of mastery where the challenge is entirely creative,
and second to build sufficient labor that any additional work is performed for its own sake rather than because we need the income.
This applies to all work. Regarding the first goal, consider an athlete. Superficially, the labor of an athlete is hugely physical. In the beginning, a junior athlete works at a physical level at the direction of a coach. However, as they develop, their physique is mastered, and more and more attention is directed to the mental aspect: the training regime, technique, and the inner mental game that makes a champion. Eventually, they may become a team lead, coach, or narrator of the sport.
Regarding the second goal, I remember many times when I felt tired of being a software developer. I enjoyed some aspects of my work, but I worked on many projects I had little interest in. However, from the age of 15, I had a goal of reaching financial independence. By my late 30’s, I accumulated enough passive income to ensure that I would never need to work to meet my family’s basic needs. Any additional labor I perform for the rest of my life will either afford a luxury or because the work is worthwhile in itself. If my investments are successful, even my luxuries will be covered by passive income, and I will only take on projects that I find meaningful and rewarding.
Today, I work as CTO, leading teams to build products I believe in. I wanted to be a CTO since I was a junior in college after I realized that a career as an aerospace engineer or an economist was not for me. My job is not perfect, and it’s not always fun, but I would like to do something very much like it, even if I wasn’t paid to do it, and I think that qualifies as a dream job.
I’ll close with a question for Awlmond – what is the alternative to a life of work?
Consumerism? Will you enjoy the goods and services that other people spend their life creating?
Political activism? Will you spend your time destroying the work others have created? (This is not to say that there are not causes worth supporting or institutions worth destroying, but life must be primarily about creation, not criticism, and creation is much harder.)
Artistry? With no meaningful struggle, what experience will your art be about?
Meditation? What will be the object of your mediation? What inner conflict will you seek to resolve?
Friendship? What will your conversations be about? What struggles will you bond over with friends?
There are many ways to view work, but ultimately, an unproductive life will leave you an empty shell of a human being.


5 Things You Need from Your Job to Advance Your Career

Your job won’t always be your dream job. Sometimes you’ll take on projects you don’t like, work with people whose company you don’t enjoy, or get paid less than you think you’re worth. Sometimes, your focus will be on getting by until you find your next gig or get promoted. However, no matter what you do, there is almost always more to gain from your work than a paycheck.

Many employees think of their salary as the sole value they derive from their job. Career growth requires a deliberate focus on personal growth to prepare yourself for the next rung on your career ladder. Here are five goals to focus on in your work:

A story is a narrative that you can use to demonstrate the value you created for your organization. Stories are much more powerful than a list of responsibilities. A responsibility is blindly following what your manager tells you to do. A story shows that you have the understanding, initiative, and follow-through to create value for your organization.

Let’s say you work at a pizza parlor. A responsibility might be “I made pizzas, ran the cash register, swept the floors, and closed the restaurant.”

A story could be:

I started out washing dishes. After two weeks, I learned how to mix the sauce and throw the pizza, and was able to handle all the kitchen duties on my own on weeknights. After a month, I offered to close the restaurant so my manager could see his son’s little league game. He taught me how to run the cash register, and soon after, I was able to run the pizza parlor on my own when needed.

This story demonstrates ambition, progression, and responsibility. It adds context, credibility, and an emotional element: Every restaurant manager wishes for someone reliable to trust when he needs to attend to personal matters. I did not approach my first summer out of college with this attitude, but I did master pizza-making and created a veggie stromboli that was added to the menu.

Imagine how many more entrepreneurs we would have if every college student approached his summer job with the goal of running a small business. Don’t start writing your story when trying to write your resume—your story should be the most important consideration when you decide which opportunity you want to pursue.

Skill-building is the second essential goal you need from your job. Building skills requires your attention when looking for a job and an entrepreneurial attitude when on the job. Especially when you are starting out, it is often worth it to sacrifice salary in exchange for skills.

My first job out of college was to build a customer relationship management platform for a small machinery sales business and run their IT operations. It didn’t pay much, but I had complete freedom to architect a software solution to the business, which I then abstracted into a software product we sold to another company.

 I wasn’t paid much that year, but I gained tremendously valuable experience for my career that would not have been possible for a junior developer on a large team. After a year, I was able to jump right into a mid-level role and more than double my salary.

No matter what your boss or HR says, it is up to you to build your toolkit. Be on the lookout for developments in your chosen field and try to steer to projects that build on that. Some of my peers in software worked themselves into a career dead-end by jumping into high-paying roles for major corporations that involved arcane and proprietary programming languages. Despite years of experience, they had trouble moving on because their skills were too specialized to be interesting to anyone else.

Your salary is a reflection of how much value you create for your organization. If you want to increase your compensation, you must increase your value to your employer. Do what your boss asks first, but then discover what builds value for your employer and focus on that.

Consider making the value you create visible within your company as part of your job description just as much as the work you are responsible for completing.

The fourth asset you need to derive from your work is your social capital. The best leads for your next opportunity will come from the people who see you at your best—your coworkers. Use your time at the office to establish connections with peers, mentors, and influencers who will aid in your career.

Even lunch should be a strategic tool to advance your career. Don’t have lunch with the same people every single day: Use it as a mentorship or networking opportunity by inviting someone from your organization. Don’t gossip, complain, or brag—talk about some work you are excited about or ask for advice—and find people older and more experienced than you whose advice is worth asking and who can vouch for you when your name comes up for a new project.

Finally, you should find a job you love. Especially when you are young, make your job your primary focus in life.

This is not to dismiss the value of family, friends, etc., but as far as goal-pursuit is concerned, you need to prioritize your career. If you come in the morning tired from video games, partying, reading books, or engaging in other hobbies, think hard about your life and your time management. Schedule your social life, put time limits on games, and sip your liquor; do whatever it takes.

Write the story you want to tell about your job. Discover what skills your market finds valuable. Build social capital with mentors and influencers.

Cut out the non-essential junk in your life so you can come in and perform like a rockstar every morning. You’re not a kid anymore, and you need to start adulting ASAP. If you can’t get sufficiently motivated about your job to do that, create opportunities to combine your hobbies and your career.

Making your career your primary purpose in life does not mean working more hours. Not only is overwork counterproductive, but it is also often the excuse to avoid taking the few, uncomfortable steps needed to actually make progress in life.

Write the story you want to tell about your job. Discover what skills your market finds valuable. Build social capital with mentors and influencers. Finally, find work that you find truly satisfying.

Originally posted at

Is your “side hustle”​ holding back or advancing your career?

I encourage people to develop a “side hustle,” but they are not suitable for everyone, and many people get hustles that do more harm than good.

The proper function of a side hustle is not to earn a few extra dollars — it’s to grow your value proposition and train for a life of financial independence and entrepreneurship.

Many people get a side hustle that distracts rather than enhances their career. Driving Uber at night or hosting Airbnb guests every night is not going to enhance your career unless your dream is to be a chauffeur or enter the hospitality industry. Same with being a jack-of-all-trades who takes whatever job he comes across.

Is your side hustle causing you to sleepwalk through the workday or work on your gigs from the office? Are you spending more money on tools and supplies for each new gig that you bring in? Are you growing as a professional and building a sustainable, revenue stream with customers that come back to you, or are you doing random, one-off jobs, often for free? Are you giving up new projects at work, a promotion or a demanding new job for your side hustle? If so, it’s holding you back rather than helping you. You don’t need more spending money: you need to create opportunities for you to grow.

A good side hustle should help you to grow in your career or to explore a new one. You should come to the office excited to try out new ideas, not just tired from staying up all night working in an unrelated field. And if your idea is so great that you can’t perform your day job, don’t try to do both: quit and pursue it full time. You’ve saved up your reserve fund already, right?

Four income streams that young professionals should develop

“According the IRS, the average millionaire in the United States has at least five different sources of income.” –James Altucher

Whether you’re making minimum wage or pulling down $250K per year, if your day job is your only source of income, you should start working on developing additional income sources. The biggest reason to do so is to start transitioning from working for your money, to making your money work for you: you need passive income sources which build wealth with minimal effort.

While you might never want to retire, financial security (not being financially stressed by losing your job) is something you can achieve in your 20’s, and financial independence (not needing to work a regular job at all ) is possible in your 30’s or 40’s.

Here are the four income streams you need to build:

1: Your day job. This seems obvious, but keep in mind that you don’t need to quit your day job to pursue your passion – you can use it to fund your passion if/until it becomes your day job.

2: Your investment portfolio. Even if you make minimum wage, you can save $25 every month and invest it in Stash Invest. If you invest $500 per month, you can be millionaire in under 30 years. If you invest $1666, you can do it in 15 years (at 10% return).  Build an aggressive but diversified portfolio with minimal fees by using a robo-trader. 

3: Your side gig. You may love your job and make great money, but it’s always smart to find something to do on the side. Side projects in your current field often allow you to be in charge of a small project and use the latest technology or techniques that are too risky or difficult to approve with your boss. I’ve used this trick to qualify for jobs that I couldn’t dream of otherwise. If you don’t like your job — here is your chance to develop a new skill! If you can’t think of anything else, try driving for Uber, put up a room on AirBnB or sell something on Etsy. If you can’t think of anything, volunteer for a cause to help you develop useful skills.  Most people find that their lifestyle grows with their income, so it is difficult to achieve a high savings rate from your day job – side gigs are a great way to generate income that goes directly into your savings.

4: Asset-derived income. This is money you earn from buying things that grow in value or generate money. For most people, this is real estate, including their own home (don’t buy one until you read this), or better yet, properties they can rent out. However, you should also consider diversifying into gold, cryptocurrency (such as Bitcoin), or other assets which you believe will appreciate in value. You should choose assets that you will hold for years if not decades because you believe in their fundamental value, and not because you’re betting on short-term trends.  For entrepreneurs, this also includes ownership in businesses which produces income from dividends.


Here’s why buying a home is a terrible idea for young professionals

Here’s the main reason why I don’t think young professionals should buy a home:

If I get fired or quit my job tomorrow, it won’t be a big deal. I’m confident that of the seven billion people on this planet, there is a person or group somewhere who will find my skills valuable enough to pay me enough to support my family. It may take me some days, months or years, and take me to Kentucky, Seattle, Shanghai, or Kathmandu, but I have no loans, debts, or any other ongoing financial commitments, so my savings will last long enough until I find the best opportunity for me.

Knowing this is very powerful: it means I can take risks and opportunities that others can’t. I can propose a risky new project to my boss, even if there is a big risk that it will blow up in my face and I’ll be laughed out in disgrace. I can propose a big new role for me, even if I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to do it. I can browse open jobs on LinkedIn and seriously consider taking them even if it means dropping everything and flying across the world. I can really negotiate my rates knowing that there are plenty of other options for me.

Now consider Kathy: a 30 something with a mortgage and auto loan. In between her mortgage, insurance, taxes, HOA fees, cable contract, etc, most of Kathy’s after-tax income goes to pay for fixed costs. She can’t get out of these commitments without months of effort and a big loss.

Will Kathy make that risky proposal to her boss? Will she surf around for better jobs in Seattle? Will she be able to tell her boss that his idea stinks or drive a hard bargain when negotiating a raise? How can she, when losing her job risks not being able to pay off her house and car? She would have to scramble to find a new job before her savings run out — and she will be limited to an area within commuting distance of her house. Besides, she has her children to think about — she has to be a responsible caregiver.

Besides mortgage worries, there is the constant risk of repairs — if her roof leaks or her fridge breaks — can she pay for unexpected emergencies? Can she take time off work for the plumber or kitchen remodel during a critical project launch at the office?

A mortgage can be paralyzing for anyone who still has their prime career years ahead of them. You may as well admit “this is as far as I will go up in the world.”

Even if you have the cash to purchase a home outright, there are still many costs to consider. First, there are the ongoing costs: property taxes, HOA fees, lawn maintenance contracts, repairs and more to worry about. More importantly, paying a large fraction of your net worth to purchase a home outright is a poor financial decision: it invests a huge portion of your net work in an illiquid and risky asset. Historically, a diversified stock portfolio is both safer and gives a higher return than a home. Even if you have cash to spare, it’s still wiser to pay the minimum downpayment and invest the rest.

When we rent, it is clear that the money is a cost spent on a service. What’s not clear is that paying a mortgage is also a form of paying rent on a service — with the addition of a high-risk, highly-leveraged real estate investment, huge transaction costs, and major restrictions on your lifestyle and career options.

Make your job your primary focus in life

Our culture has shifted away from viewing work as the main focus of people’s lives.  Part of the cause is economic: most people no longer need to work hard in order not to starve to death on the streets. Furthermore, the differences between income levels are far less important: your friend might have $1 or $1 million in the bank without much noticeable difference in lifestyle, whereas it used to mean the difference between a poor house or a mansion. Another aspect of it is philosophical: we have lost the understanding that markets are responsible for civilization, and so place far less value in productive work.

Career advice for the young: your job should be your primary focus in life. This is not to dismiss the value of family, friends, etc, but as far goal pursuit is concerned, you need to prioritize your career. I see young people who come in the morning tired from video games, partying, reading books, hobbies, etc. You guys need to think hard about your life and your time management. Schedule your social life, put time limits on games, sip your liquor, whatever it takes.
Cut out the non-essential crap in your life so you can come in and perform like a rockstar every morning. Playtime is over — you’re not a kid anymore and need to start adulting ASAP. If you can’t get sufficiently motivated about your job to do that, quit now and find something that drives you to perform your best. Trust me – it will be worth it.

When I give this advice, people inevitably complain that by stressing the importance of work, I dismiss the value of family. Nevermind that young people today don’t place much value in family either – the kind of diversions I mentioned have little to do with forming meaningful relationships. In one aspect, however, I think I value family more than most of my critics. I used to dismiss stay at home moms (or dads) as incomplete human beings who failed to reach their potential. Over time, however, I saw the value of attachment parenting – close physical and emotional contact between parent and child is very important. Furthermore, the financial advantage of two working spouses is less than is often assumed and misses out on major non-material costs. So I’m not so “anti-family” after all.

Finally, making your career your primary purpose in life does not mean working more hours. Not only is overwork counterproductive, but it is often the excuse to avoid taking the few, uncomfortable steps needed to actually make progress in life.  A good work-life balance doesn’t mean arbitrarily delimiting work/non-work hours. It means evaluating what habits and activities in your work and personal life are worthwhile investments and which ones are not, and delegating time accordingly.

Financial success for young adults in 4 easy steps

1: Apply for any credit card with no annual fee. When you receive it, cut it up and throw it away. Every year, apply for another no-fee card, tear it up, and ask to triple the limit on your existing cards.
2: Invest $25 using an app like Stash Invest. Doesn’t matter in what, just pick any 10 stocks and keep them forever. Set it up to transfer $25 every month. Double the amount every year.
3: Don’t buy a house. Pay cash for your car with the profit from your stocks.
4: Retire at 30.