In our personal lives, we know it's incredibly hard to have it all, at least in the short term. If you're hitting the gym regularly and advancing your career with a side hustle, chances are great you're not getting enough sleep. If you're content with how much time you see your friends and family, maybe you're not climbing the ladder at work as fast as you could.
Randi Zuckerberg famously called this the entrepreneur's dilemma, summing up the tradeoffs in a viral tweet.
The entrepreneur's dilemma:-- Randi Zuckerberg (@randizuckerberg) December 9, 2011
Maintaining friendships. Building a great company. Spending time w/family. Staying fit. Getting sleep.
Given the massive response I got when I highlighted her comment here on Inc.com, it seems this dilemma rings true for way more people than just entrepreneurs.
But might a similar trade-off exist just within the professional sphere too? A new, equally thought-provoking tweet suggests that not only can we not have it all in life, but we also can't have it all at work.
You're probably asking way too much of your job.
The tweet in question comes from blogger and product manager Jacob Falkovich. It's part of a tweetstorm kicked off by a prompt from fellow blogger Venkatesh Rao, which challenged his followers to exercise their creativity with a "one-opinion-per-like personal challenge." Just as the name implies, you offer one idea in your domain of personal expertise every time someone likes your tweet. Falkovich chose the broad category of life advice for his challenge.
The result is a fascinating list of 100 ways to live better, which I found myself compulsively reading recently. And then, a little way down the list, I came across this tweet.
30. You won't get money, status, fascination, impact, and career capital at the same job. Pick two, get the rest elsewhere in your life.-- Jacob Falkovich (@yashkaf) December 14, 2019
The echoes of Zuckerberg's dilemma are obvious, but is Falkovich on to something? Is trying to have it all at work as fruitless as it is in life generally?
First, let's define our terms. Everyone knows what money, fun, status, and impact are (though each of us may define them differently for ourselves), but what's career capital exactly? According to 80,000 hours, an organization dedicated to helping people make wiser career choices, "career capital is anything that puts you in a better position to make a difference in the future, including skills, connections, credentials, and runway."
A job at a startup will throw you into the deep end with a small team and probably teach you a ton. It's career capital heaven. If it suits your personality, it may also be fun. But famous success stories aside, statistics suggest it probably won't make you rich or change the world.
Work at an investment bank and you get money and status (and maybe career capital) but forget the other areas. A nonprofit gig offers impact, possibly fun, and the status that comes from being a do-gooder. Money and career capital not so much.
Thinking through alternatives like these gives you cause to quibble with Falkovich. Some careers seem to offer three benefits, and there's a lot of wiggle room depending on how you define your terms. Maybe some folks find being a patent attorney fun. Others think there's plenty of impact in being a plumber. But despite the complications, for me the basic premise holds.
Call off the unicorn hunt.
No matter how much you fret and search, no career offers everything. Rather than looking for the golden unicorn of jobs that gives you pay, status, fun, impact, and advancement, we would do better to spread our needs around and ask other areas of our lives to shoulder more of the burden.
Got a dull gig that's otherwise great? Maybe take up hang-gliding or adventure travel. Want to make an impact but work in a corporate back office? Volunteer on the weekends in your community. The point isn't the exact formula offered by Falkovich. It's the truth that we often ask an impossible amount from our jobs and drive ourselves crazy in the process.
Do you think Falkovich is on to something or is the perfect job a unicorn worth hunting?