Thursday 20 January 2022

The Potential Cost of Easy

While not yet in the league of Morgan Housel, at least in my opinion, Nick Maggiulli who writes the of dollars and data website has some interesting posts.

His latest hit close to home, although I'm a little older than the subject (28) of the original Reddit post (above), and I can't claim do have done as little as 50 hours "real work" in the last 6 years. Heck, I've probably done that many in just the past six months, although the use of the term "real work" is subjective.

With the exception of a few work trips, for almost two years I've "worked" from home with a typical day requiring me to join two or three Zoom meetings, quite often as an observer rather than as a participant, and either delete or file away some emails. (Unlike some people, I like an empty Inbox).

Some months are busier than others of course, but even on a fairly busy day, any more than four or five hours of work is a rarity.

Last night, before I saw this article, I checked my calendar to see what awaited me today, and jokingly told my wife that I had to work from 9am to 11am with only 30 minutes for lunch. But that's really how it's been for a while now. (One of those 30 minute meetings was postponed, so I did get my lunch hour after all).

While I haven't "automated" my job like the protagonist of the story, I have put people under me who take care of almost everything, meaning that I only need to get involved if there are any escalations or my boss needs something, and with several peers and, say it quietly, mostly stable applications, his attention is not usually focused on me. 

As I'm at the end of my career rather than at the start of it, using my free time on non-career activities doesn't have the same potential hard consequences that Maggiulli talks about in his article.

Personally, I've get a head start on some of the activities planned for retirement, or indeed planning retirement given the amount of books and articles I've read on the subject! Travel beyond a few miles from home isn't a realistic option right now, given the challenges of navigating the rules around COVID and never knowing when the boss may need something, but reading and research and updating various spreadsheets can be quite time consuming. These profitable sports investment strategies didn't just throw themselves at me.   

Anyway, here is the post in full, The High Cost of an Easy Job - click on the link for the original:

I recently saw this Reddit post about a guy who automated his job and collected a paycheck for 6 years while doing basically no work. Sounds like a nice gig, right? Who wouldn’t want to get paid to do as little as possible? Who wouldn’t want to make money while browsing the internet or playing video games all day?

I can see the appeal. Compared to putting in 70+ hour weeks or working a job that you hate, this is a far better situation. But, most people who idealize this lifestyle probably haven’t considered the costs associated with it. You might be thinking, “What costs? How could getting paid to not work be a bad thing?”

Because, when you get paid to do very little, you end up giving up two of the most important things in your life—your time and your purpose. Ex-U.S. President Richard Nixon summarized this idea beautifully in this interview:
The unhappiest people of the world are those in the international watering places like the south coast of France, and Newport, and Palm Springs, and Palm Beach. Going to parties every night. Playing golf every afternoon, then bridge. Drinking too much. Talking too much. Thinking too little. Retired. No purpose.

As so, while I know there are those who would totally disagree with this and say, “Gee, if I could just be a millionaire that would be the most wonderful thing. If I could just not have to work everyday. If I could just be out fishing or hunting or playing golf or traveling, that would be the most wonderful life in the world.”

They don’t know life. Because what makes life mean something is purpose. A goal. The battle. The struggle. Even if you don’t win it.
Unfortunately, our society has glorified leisure for so long that we’ve lost our way. This is why some people said that the guy who automated his job to collect a paycheck had “won the game.” But no, he didn’t win the game. He may have won the battle, but he surely lost the war. After six years of doing nothing at his company, he was fired and immediately experienced an existential crisis about his future.

Where did he go wrong? It wasn’t when he automated his job. That’s actually admirable and I support it. No, he went wrong with how he spent his free time after automating it. Because you can spend your time doing something that provides you with deep satisfaction or you can waste it in endless entertainment. I know what it feels like to do both.

From age 22-27 I spent far too much time on the latter. Whether it was wasting time on social media/YouTube (while rarely contributing to these platforms) or getting drunk at parties, I was on a leisure binge. While I don’t regret hanging out with people or learning stuff on YouTube, I know I could have used my time more efficiently.

I only know this because of how I’ve used my time since turning 27. It only took five years to get on a completely different path. This made me realize something—it’s not about how much time you have, but how you use it. It reminds me of this quote from On The Shortness of Life by the Stoic philosopher Seneca:
It’s not that we have a short time to live, but we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested.
The more I write about investing, the more I end up talking about time. Because everything in investing, ultimately, leads back to time. A decision you make today could have a huge impact on your future. That’s what compounding is all about—decisions and how they move through time.

Compounding also explains why you shouldn’t settle for a nice paycheck from an easy job. Because every second you spend doing something that you don’t find fulfilling is another second you aren’t doing something that you do find fulfilling. It’s another second without challenge, without drive, and without purpose.

Once you understand this, it completely changes how you look at the world. You quickly realize that life isn’t about maximizing reward while minimizing effort. It’s about finding what you like to do, and doing it for as long as you can. Much like investing, it’s all about staying in the game.

Unfortunately, so many people don’t. Benjamin Franklin said it best:
I’ve seen men die at the age of 25, yet buried at the age of 75.
Don’t be one of them. Don’t let the world prevent you from doing what you were meant to do, from becoming who you were meant to become.

This is easier said than done. Trust me, I know. Because along the way there will be plenty of things to tempt you off the path. There will be easy outs, get rich quick schemes, and an endless array of mindless entertainment. There will be cheap dopamine and shortcuts for every occasion. Why do work when you can not work, right? Why build something when you could not build it? The choice seems obvious, doesn’t it?

But the easy choices come with hard consequences…later. They show up where you might not expect them. With regret. With nostalgia. With sadness. The easy way out always has hidden costs. The question is: are you willing to pay them?

Thank you for reading!

No comments: