In a fascinating discussion today between NPR’s David Greene and Shankar Vedantam, the two analyzed why we subconsciously tend to gravitate toward the more boring career choices. Their inspiration behind this talk was Albert Camus’ essay “The Myth of Sisyphus,” which delved into the very heart of what makes some of our daily jobs so boring.
Vedantum had previously spoken with Peter Ubel of Duke University, as well as Ubel’s colleague, David Comerford. Ubel explained that we tend to go after what is ultimately the more boring job because our perception of the job is usually significantly different from the job it turns out to be. Surely, you have held at least one job in your lifetime that seemed to be so good when you were going in to it, only for it to become claw-your-eyes-out dull once you were in too deep to turn back.
Ubel compared the average job to working in a museum. At first, you might love the idea of working somewhere that literally pays you to stand around and do nothing. But once you accept the job, it dawns on you that you got exactly what you wished for - standing around all day doing nothing.
No cell phones. No computers. No handheld video games. There’s nothing to take your mind off of the humdrum. Your job, for eight hours a day, every day, is to stand there and keep an eye on people, to tell them not to touch the art, or not to use the flash on their cameras. You have to watch other people have fun, while not getting in on any of it yourself.
Sure, the first time you see all of the paintings and sculptures, you might be just as fascinated as the rest of the guests. Though, when Friday rolls around, and you’re now seeing all of this artwork for the fifth time this week, you’re probably already over it. By the end of the second week, you’re already drafting your resignation letter. Remember this the next time you get called out on your behavior by one of these people and you judge them for being cranky.
Vedantam also connects this concept to the locations in which we work. To use his examples, if someone offered you a job in warm and sunny California, you’d probably be more likely to take that position than an identical one in the colder Michigan region.
However, after you’ve already packed your family up and moved cross-country, you may realize that there are plenty of things you don’t like about California that you wish you would have known ahead of time, such as dreadful traffic jams and a significantly higher cost of living.
Vendatam refers to a concept that Ubel and Comerford have discussed, known as “effort aversion,” which has a meaning that is as lazy as it sounds. We tend to take the job opportunity that seemingly requires less effort from us, unaware that these jobs tend to require even more effort that we don’t realize until it’s too late and we’ve already been welcomed to the team.
Per Ubel, the lesson to be learned here is that when you make a choice in life, particularly when it comes to a job that may end up becoming your career for years to come (or that you may end up stuck in when the economy tanks), make sure that you are weighing all of your options before you accept. Don’t dive into a position while wearing rose-colored glasses. Be sure to consider all of the potential positives and negatives in order to ensure an optimal level of happiness for yourself.