Job vs. career

July 27, 2018

In America, we believe everyone should get a fair shake. Our nation was founded on the rejection of a monarch, the ultimate form of heridetary privilege. And so the American obsession with fairness—university admissions, equal pay for men and women, discrimination training—isn't so surprising.

What surprises me is how little any of this matters. What sets the rich and powerful apart from everyone else in this country is their understanding of time and compounding. That is it.

Imagine you started earning $1/day. Not much. Increase that 1% each day, and after 5 years, you'll earn 77 million dollars per day.

This—the power of compounding—is the fundamental difference between "job" and "career", a concept I didn't understand growing up. A job is something you do for money; careers compound. Jobs leave you basically where you started, but a little older; careers accumulate, building progressively on experience, reputation, and knowledge. A career is something built over time, something permanent, that goes with you wherever you end up.

Most software developers don't understand this; we're a bunch of middle-class folks whose parents worked middle-class jobs in the suburbs. For the most part, children of the rich don't go to engineering school in the US; they end up in law, medicine, banking, or art/film school. The high pay of software jobs today has turned Silicon Valley into a bizarre anthropological experiment, putting tons of money into the hands of middle-/lower-middle class people who aren't used to having it, and never expected to get it. Many of us have no idea how to navigate the upper-middle class world of white-collar work, yet, that's where we find ourselves. It's odd.

The more general lesson: figure out how to put the power of compounding, and capital, to work in your own life. It comes in many flavors: financial, reputational, business, social, knowledge, even credentials. Figure out a plan and stick with it, because it's both easier and more rewarding, than grinding it out until you drop.

I feel like this whole topic is what sets upper-class people apart from everyone else; it's like some kind of weird secret they understand, that everyone else doesn't.

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