Here’s a theory: the more secure we are, the less productive we become. The less risk and uncertainty we have in our lives, the more likely we are to amble along, getting by just fine but never really doing anything worth talking about.
Think about the sophomore album from bands that finally got their big record deal after years of struggling along. The first album is awesome; the second, mediocre.
Think about the reputations of professors at the last university you attended. If they were untenured (but on a tenure track), chance are they were more productive than tenured professors who had already obtained permanent job security.
You can probably think of other examples – bureaucrats, for example, who have safe but boring jobs.
Yes, there are exceptions to all of these. Some bands put out great sophomore albums, and some tenured professors become more prolific in their academic security. These exceptions, however, stand out because they are so unusual.
To simplify: complete security equals at least partial complacency.
I write this because we are living in uncertain times, at least financially speaking. Unless you have been living under the proverbial bridge, you’re probably aware that the U.S. economy hasn’t been performing as expected lately.
Where are our 15% a year gains? How come mortgages keep falling? And why are stocks still going down even though oil prices are also declining?
Someone else will have to answer those questions in more technical terms than I. Last week, I heard someone on Twitter say, “My 401k has become a 201k.” Ha ha. Except we’re not laughing, because as of right now, a great deal of wealth has disappeared into thin air.
As for me, I haven’t logged in to my Vanguard account since March or April. It kind of sucks, but what can you do? If you sell your retirement fund now, you’ve locked in your 20% loss. Better to stick it out, I say, and focus on what you can control.
If we were 100% secure, according to the theory of security and complacency, we’d become nonchalant about our most important work.
Complacency means you aren’t hungry for good work. You don’t get out of bed in the morning excited about the day ahead. You don’t go the extra mile, and you settle for “good enough,” because you correctly suspect that most people won’t notice the difference.
This is sad, but common. I’ve let it happen to me many times.
I’m not sure why some people are able to succeed without any uncertainty. All I know is, I am not one of those people. I’m best as an untenured underdog. I’m best when the risk of failure is high and success is far from certain.
Give Me Neither Poverty Nor Riches
Because security can be such a demotivator, the opposite is true as well: a healthy amount of insecurity helps us Get Stuff Done. For example, I told you when I started writing here that I would post three times a week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
You know what? I’m scared of missing a day, because I know if it happens, it will become a lot easier to miss another day sometime. I’ll discover that the world doesn’t end and no one is really that mad or anything. But then, I’ll get complacent. And that, I am absolutely certain, is NOT a good thing for me at all.
Steven Pressfield writes about this in The War of Art, the best little book (it really is little) I’ve ever read about the need for scheduling your creative work. Thus, I keep the schedule. I haven’t missed a day yet, even though there are a couple of times I’ve finished something at 11:45 p.m.
A Short Unconventional Guide Update
I’ll post up the promised analysis of the Unconventional Guide to Working for Yourself launch on Wednesday, but in short, it’s gone very well. A lot more people than I expected have purchased the guide, and in the beta-test for the new affiliate program (invitation-only for now), several affiliates are also having good results around the internet.
I talked to another blogger on the phone a couple of days before the launch, and I said that I hoped it sold well “but not too well.” He thought that was odd and had never heard someone say something like that before.
I realized he was right: it is odd. It’s just what works for me, and I don’t necessarily recommend you follow this model. Anyway, I’ll give you all the details on Wednesday.
For now, bring on the uncertainty! The work will be better because of it.
Stay eager. Stay tough. Get up and fight. Nothing is guaranteed.
What else is there?
Image by PhotoGraham