Work-Life Strategies & Solutions

On the Evolution of Work Systems in the Digital Economy

What a Financially Comfortable, Successful, Laid-Back Professional Looks Like

Over the years I’ve noticed personality psychology related posts are visited most frequently. So, I’ll expand on a popular, though cryptic, post on particular facets of the Big Five’s Conscientiousness scale and success in various professional contexts. Whereas that post explains in abstract terms, this one provides a concrete (and personal) example. With the lazy days of summer ahead, I’ll discuss that which seems impossible, or at least improbable, for those who live life in the slow lane – laid-back, Type B people with high achievements and financial comfort.

It stands to reason, as popular culture tells us, that hard-driving folks enjoy more fruit from their labor than their counterparts do. It might be hard to believe financial comfort is achievable for the latter if I didn’t have a source of inspiration, a family member that I’m nearly a carbon copy of personality-wise.

Revisiting Posts on General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord’s Wisdom & Lessons from Gaming

He’s never worked more than 40 hours per week and, through progressively transitioning to different paths related to his educational and professional background, he’s arrived at a destination (now at the last phase of his work life) that would inspire envy among many. He could have retired years ago but wants life as it is now – the work he performs, absolute control over his schedule, and abundant free time to lounge around or engage in recreation.

In short, he went from physician working at a hospital to owning his own private practice and,  now, to surgical assisting. One look at his lifestyle, this perfect personality-career fit, and the earnings makes me wish I’d hopped on the family bandwagon and pursued medicine.

See A Day in the Life of a Surgical Assistant: The Truth, Un-Sugar Coated for the lifestyle perks and refer to Chron.com regarding the following information on income:

Although the average starting salary for surgical assistants is $55,000, the average annual salary is $75,000 and a surgical assistant may earn as much as $200,000, according to the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Programs. One reason for the wide variation is that surgical assistants are paid at the level of their primary profession, such as registered nurse or physician assistant.

The aforementioned post on variation in conscientiousness states that there are different ways of demonstrating merit. Merit is ultimately what is rewarded with advancement and financial compensation. This doesn’t have to come from working yourself to the bone, though some do work long hours or multiple jobs to achieve what they have. (See Erin Lowry’s How I Went From Making $23k To $100k In Just 4 Years.) Alternatively, merit could be about the value of your amassed knowledge (i.e., increasing value of your time rather than contributing more time and effort). It’s up to you whether you work more hours or fewer for that 6-figure income.

You might say that surely medical school was hard work. However, when speaking of experiences, subjectivity figures in. Hard work is relative to the individual, meaning what’s hard work for one isn’t hard for another due to different abilities. In fact, my family member was a bit precocious (skipped 3 grades upon entering school – not due to prior training or tutelage at home… He just played basketball). He didn’t experience medical school the way most do. One aspect of physicians’ work that made this hard work for him, however, was dealing with people in a customer-facing manner (a non-issue in surgical work since patients are unconscious).

In sum, working against your nature is harder work than working with your nature. This ties in with another post which explains that, no matter who you are (irrespective of IQ, etc.), you make the greatest professional gains in the least time by taking paths (which may be a trial and error process as it was for my family member) that align with natural strengths and interests. This is the path of least resistance.

The Natural Versus the Striver

What may be surprising (and good news for some) is that, in hiring situations, the natural talent (“the natural”) is often selected over the hard worker (“the striver”). In People Unconsciously Value Natural Talent Over Hard Work, Melissa Dahl writes:

The researchers also included in their paper exactly what the hard workers would have to have to match the appeal of those with apparent natural ability, including four and a half more years of management experience and 28 more IQ points. And yet this appears to be an unconscious bias, because before the experiment began, people told the researchers they preferred hard workers.

See People Prefer Hiring “Naturals” Over Hardworking “Strivers” for a thorough explanation of the study and results and also Sorry, Strivers: Talent Matters.

This preference makes sense for a few reasons:

  1. Unlike naturals, strivers undergo greater pain, pushing themselves out of shape and risking burnout, to accomplish something naturals do with less effort.
  2. Alongside effortless vs. effortful achievement and potential burnout (in #1), an expectation that the natural can contribute even more whereas the striver will “top out” and burn out with overexertion (akin to the ease that a car vs. a bicycle can be made to go beyond 80 mph).
  3. The prospect that, all else being equal, naturals accomplish the task in less time than it takes strivers to do so.

In any case, the takeaway is that there are opportunities for talented, laid-back professionals who have high standards for success and financial comfort. They’re not everywhere and there aren’t any guarantees in life. So you must do what it takes to identify and snag them.

A Personal Note

Readers might notice that I hop from one endeavor to another (unrelated) endeavor frequently. Like many, I don’t know where I’m meant to be career-wise. I struggle as much as anyone to figure this out, find my way, and find opportunities. Part of this is due to having chosen Psychology – which is applicable to many fields and contexts. The flip-side of this flexibility and adaptability is that the parameters are looser than for other paths (e.g., doctor, lawyer, or engineer for those who grew up in conventional Asian homes).

Life might be simpler had I taken the path most trodden by my predecessors (and I’ll certainly miss the gallows humor that is part of medical communities). However, even my family member didn’t find what he wanted until late in life. In a sense I’m following his footsteps, hoping to replicate what he’s attained in a different field. Thanks to him for proving that financial comfort and a slow-paced life aren’t mutually exclusive. This post was written to honor him for demonstrating this and for his wisdom in knowing when to change course.

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2 responses to “What a Financially Comfortable, Successful, Laid-Back Professional Looks Like

  1. cindy knoke May 19, 2017 at 8:48 pm

    Fascinating post Lynn. It is interesting how much we let our sense of personal identity and happiness get tied up with work and what we “do.” I think this is a product of capitalist societies that only values people in terms of their contribution to the means of production. I have for decades, read a lot of non-fiction about people who never buy into these values, live unconventional and possibly more contented lives. The whole Woodswoman book series, “The Wildest Woman in America,” and “The Stranger in the Woods,” are a few examples that come immediately to mind, although there is so much more. Earlier in my life I read Emerson, Rilke, Thoreau, Jung and other thinkers who see personal growth as a result of of separation from the dysfunctional values of a ever striving populace.
    So if you are non-standard, and aren’t playing societies game, I salute you.

    • LP May 19, 2017 at 11:10 pm

      As always, thanks for commenting Cindy! I’m not where you are in terms of your critique on capitalism. I look upon the example of my family member as proof that there are different possibilities within our system for different people, even if they want to live a laid-back life, to find and snag opportunities to do this while also enjoying some measure of wealth. Otherwise my family member wouldn’t have been able to find what he found if capitalism really barred this as a possibility. To me, a free market system as we have expands choices for different people more so than any other system (especially a market that is managed top-down by a bureaucratic behemoth, which would be the worst thing ever in my mind) and, to that end, I’m supportive of a more free market system. Though, to be clear, what we have is crony capitalism, which, elements of have made private practice difficult for doctors – so as luck would have it, I dodged a bullet by not aspiring to be a doctor in private practice.

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