Winning at Salary and Hierarchy, or Perhaps Something Else

“Crushed in a game that turns into a blowout.  Don’t get hurt, don’t let it burn into tomorrow”.  This is the first verse of some lyrics I wrote for a song called Underachiever (on Spotify)  The problem, which the Underachiever was starting to figure out, is that they were playing by someone else’s rules of success.   Change the rules before you get injured. 

The lyrics were actually inspired by playing hockey.  I always say there are three possible ways to win an adult rec hockey game: don’t get hurt, play a personal best, or team win.   Agree or disagree with my philosophy, but I have a lot of influence on my results under that rubric.  I win most games on at least two of three measures of success. 

Some people truly want to win at salary and hierarchy; it’s a deeply personal mission.  They need to become a Vice President of something or other, and it doesn’t really matter what specifically.  I have no philosophical issue with this.  These people often make good widgets along the way.   But the rules of that game, like winning hockey at all costs, involves signifiant injury risk.  You may end up exhausted trying to work at 55hr week.  You may end up divorced.  You may end up friendless outside the office environment.   I think a professional hockey player doesn’t mind losing a few teeth to win a championship, and I think that some strivers feel the same way about other injuries.    

If I reflect on my own finance world motivations: I did it for the money.   I’m not embarrassed by that.  Money itself is not a terrible thing.  If the money is evil, it’s only because of how you get it, and how you spend it.  Just having it is a store of resources, like squirrels with nuts in trees.  I’m a squirrel.  I played a game to maximize income subject to some basic constraints on personal injury.  I often thought what I was doing was “useful” to broader society, but there were many things the companies did that I wasn’t pleased about.  I’d call that cognitive dissonance a minor mental health injury.  Physical injuries from sitting in a chair for 20yrs will play out their consequences for the next 20yrs.  I did make some true friends at work, because there were actually plenty of office heretics like me.  They arrived for similar reasons, and half of them quit finance before I did. 

“Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life” - is not good advice perse.  If I look at myself early career, I had so little self-confidence at age 24 I would have been paralyzed by fear if I didn’t have a salary.  I didn’t want to be a burden to anyone else, and I wanted to actually be able to support other people.  These things were more important to me than any fantasy career.  Anyone who could manage a happy-go-lucky approach is not reading this.  I’m mostly just suggesting to not admire business executives very much for the achievement.  Having done it, I think the differentiator is more sacrifice than talent.   Instead admire happy people.  People who were wise enough to recognize how to achieve their own happiness, even if they are also business executives, even if they sustained small injuries along the way. 

How did the Underachiever deal with their crushing loss, and re-define objectives for a winnable game?  You’ll have to go listen to the song to find out.  I will only reveal that it is not autobiographical.

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