Working for the side-effects

When I was 18, I spent a summer working on the factory floor of a metal parts manufacturer. My job was to use a CNC punch machine to cut shapes out of large sheets of metal like a cookie cutter. I worked ten-hour night shifts with frequent overtime. It was loud, repetitive, and physically taxing.

But the work had a side-effect: carrying around the heavy plate-metal was building my upper-body strength. By the end of the summer, I was able to do 80 consecutive pushups. I’d be lucky to do half that now.

Since then I’ve realized something important: Jobs don’t just pay you. They change you. Sometimes the changes are physical, but I’m more interested in the ones that aren’t. The ones that change your attitude, your skills, your knowledge, and your connections.

When we’re looking for work, we have a tendency to overvalue the direct outcomes, like salary, and undervalue the indirect outcomes, like the skills you get on the job.

Any job can pay you money, but that money will be gone tomorrow. It’ll be eaten up by some boring necessity like rent, insurance, or lunch. But long after that Taco Bell has exited your system, you’ll still have the skills you acquired.

In choosing where and how we work, we ought to optimize for the effects that last the longest.