‘Never Settle’ Is A Brag

From a famous Steve Jobs Stanford graduation address:

Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle. (more; HT Alex)

Now try to imagine a world where everyone actually tried to follow this advice. And notice that we have an awful lot of things that need doing that are unlikely to be anyone’s dream job. So a few folks would be really happy, but most everyone else wouldn’t stay long on any job, and most stuff would get done pretty badly. Not a pretty scenario.

OK, now imagine that only graduates from colleges like Stanford or better followed this advice. Since such folks have more fulfilling job options, a larger fraction of them would end up really happy. But we’d still have too much job turnover among our elites, with too much stuff done badly.

Now notice: doing what you love, and never settling until you find it, is a costly signal of your career prospects. Since following this advice tends to go better for really capable people, they pay a smaller price for following it. So endorsing this strategy in a way that makes you more likely to follow it is a way to signal your status.

It sure feels good to tell people that you think it is important to “do what you love”; and doing so signals your status. You are in effect bragging. Don’t you think there might be some relation between these two facts?

Added: Will WilkinsonArnold Kling and Megan McArdle weigh in.

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