The Stability / Stimulation Tradeoff

I’ve talked to four different people in the last two weeks about this fundamental dilemma in their career:

Stick with a stable but uninteresting job or move to an unstable but interesting one?

My theory is that many of the most stable “activities” (which includes a job) are often the least interesting. If you go to work for a huge corporation or big law firm and labor away for 20 years you can pretty much bet that in the 21st year you’ll both have a job and it will be well paying. In exchange for this predictability you have traded away some intellectual stimulation.

Starting a business or being one of those “floating consultants” who do various odds and ends may provide more and better stimulation but you can’t count on a regular paycheck. In the end, we need to pay the bills, so intellectual stimulation can’t trump everything or else we’d all be living in the mountains studying philosophy!

The very best activities, I would argue, combine both an element of stability with an element of genuine intellectual stimulation.

Here’s my question: In the end, most of us try to get to “stable/interesting”. Do you think it’s easier to go from an unstable/interesting activity to a stable/interesting activity or to go from a stable/uninteresting activity to a stable/interesting one? In other words, is it easier to turn a start-up into a stable business or to re-invent your law practice after 20 years to find new intellectual stimulation?

How have you seen this tradeoff manifest itself in your life?

13 Responses to The Stability / Stimulation Tradeoff

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