Paul Graham argues that people take bad jobs for the same reasons they eat bad food. The advantages of both are immediately apparent: convenience and immediate satisfaction. The disadvantages take longer to realize. Bad jobs drag down your soul the way bad food drags down your body.
I first read Graham’s essay You Weren’t Meant to Have a Boss when he wrote it three years ago. I read it again this morning when I saw a link to it on Hacker News. I found his thesis less convincing this time around. But he makes two general points that I think I missed the first time.
- Watch out for things that are immediately appealing but harmful in the longer term.
- Watch out for being part of someone else’s scalability plans.
The first point is familiar advice, but worth being reminded of. The second point is more subtle.
Companies sell bad food for the same reason they offer bad jobs: it scales. It’s easy to create bland food and bland jobs on a large scale. Fresh food and creative jobs don’t scale so well.
When you choose to eat junk food, you more or less consciously choose convenience or immediate satisfaction over long-term benefit. But it may not be obvious when your range of options has been selected for scalability. For example, few students realize how much the educational system has been designed for the convenience of administrators. Being aware of an organization’s scalability needs can help you interact with it more intelligently.