Overcoming Bias : ‘Never Settle’ Is A Brag

Robin Hanson on Steve Jobs’ commencement speech:

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?

Megan McArdle’s follow-up:

The problem is, the people who give these sorts of speeches are the outliers: the folks who have made a name for themselves in some very challenging, competitive, and high-status field. No one ever brings in the regional sales manager for a medical supplies firm to say, “Yeah, I didn’t get to be CEO. But I wake up happy most mornings, my kids are great, and my golf game gets better every year.”

She continues, talking about talking about her own awesome job with aspiring young folk:

Usually, what I tell them next is that it’s not a tragedy if they don’t do what they thought they wanted to do at 22; that they have more time than they think to figure out “what they want to do with the rest of their lives”; and that the world outside of school and words is more interesting than they probably suspect.

Similarly, Will Wilkinson on commencement advice:

“Find what you love and never settle for less” is an excellent recipe for frustration and poverty. “Reconcile yourself to the limits of your talent and temperament and find the most satisfactory compromise between what you love to do and what you need to do to feed your children” is rather less stirring, but it’s much better advice.

Overcoming Bias : ‘Never Settle’ Is A Brag