On Security and Living Well

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"A career won't wake up one morning and tell you it doesn't love you anymore."

I've seen this sentence -- or some version of it -- posted across social media dozens of times over the past few years. The message is clear and simple: work hard at a career and don't waste your time on fleeting things like relationships. Being career-oriented is better than being relationship oriented. It's usually (although not always) posted by women -- a kind of middle finger to the cultural biases against career-oriented women.

But there's something really odd about this to me, and it doesn't have anything to do with cultural biases about career women. It's got something to do with security.

My initial reaction to sayings like this goes along the lines of, "wow, that's a really sad way of looking at the world," and then shifts into, "okay, but you can wake up in the morning and your boss can fire you, or the big sales deal fell through, or you failed raise more VC, or you could wake up incredibly ill."

We like to focus on the idea of security because it gives us the impression that we control our lives. Work hard at a career and, even if you do lose your job, you can still chug on forward. But there's something lost in this conception of life. It assumes a way-too-simplistic view of the world.

It assumes no black swans. No unpredictable factors in the career like those mentioned above. It assumes far too much self-knowledge (people are notoriously bad at knowing what they'll want in the future) -- what if you wake up one morning to discover you no longer love your career but can't exit due to lifestyle inflation and golden handcuffs?

What if people also value something beyond the very most simplistic view of security? People don't work arduous hours for little pay on the prospect of making a steady paycheck. Entrepreneurs work hard for years, slugging through drudgery because they work for something more valuable than the most simplistic idea of security (I've heard some interpretations of entrepreneurial work that say it is the most secure because more is in your control).

We face tradeoffs in the real world. Sometimes these tradeoffs are between things like simplistic security and living a more exciting, more valuable existence. You should strive every morning to get as much value out of what is in your control, try to minimize the downsides, and realize that you can't discount black swans until you see one.

I'm Zak. I'm a venture capital professional and writer focusing on how to build a great career. You can find my writings here or reach out to me at zak@1517fund.com.

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