The Danger of Pursuing Status

My ambivalence about having been a career counselor rather than a pizza monger.

Posted Oct 18, 2020

Source: Designer798/Pixabay

My most read recent post is Deciding Not to Live Up to Your Potential—almost 50,000 views in the five days since it was published. As is standard, I wrote it in the third person, citing people’s decisions and the undergirding principles.

Here, perhaps you’ll find it useful to know how I personally addressed that issue and my ambivalence about that decision.

Forty years ago, the owner of the best pizza-by-the-slice joint in Berkeley offered to sell it to me. I turned her down, feeling I didn’t want to spend my life as a pizza monger. Instead, I pursued a more professional career: career and personal advisor.

Since then, when I think back on that decision, I’ve always trotted out the old tape that I’m glad I chose something more professional.

And yet today, as I sit here, an alternate view has emanated. I am confident that I would have ended up running a fine small chain of small pizza places, selling delicious and fresh pizza and at a decent price, not the yup-scale prices that now pervade the Bay Area’s gourmet ghetto.  I would make sure that every customer had a lovely experience: beautiful décor, and servers that were gracious, even entertaining. I’d design a timing system that ensured that every slice served was truly fresh. Ingredients would be healthy as possible, consistent with flavor. I would take the time to hire great people and treat them well, including profit sharing, health care, and personal time off. Most importantly, I would treat them as a peer—with respect, including asking for their suggestions.

I could be wrong but I’m wondering if now, these 40 years later, I might have done more net good as that pizza monger. For just a few bucks apiece, I would have delighted thousands and thousands of people and failed with almost none. As a career and personal advisor, I believe I’ve helped thousands of people but am not sure whether that yielded more net benefit. That may seem absurd but remember that when I help a person select a career, many factors can militate for and against their success and happiness in it. When I succeed in helping a person land a job, it usually means that some other person, perhaps someone who couldn’t afford a hired gun, perhaps a more qualified candidate, didn’t get the job. That’s a net negative to the world. Selling a great slice of pizza is an unequivocal net positive. I believe I would have grown proud of my little pizza chain, and knowing me, I would have always stayed involved so the quality remained high and my employees remained happy.

So consider this as another example of how status shouldn’t automatically drive decisions. Ask yourself: Where would I do the most good while making a good living and enjoying the process?

I read this aloud on YouTube.