The Danger of Pursuing Status
My ambivalence about having been a career counselor rather than a pizza monger.
Posted Oct 18, 2020
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.