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041: Imaginary Pie

On taking breaks, and zero-sum thinking.

Jeremy Finch
Jeremy Finch
4 min read
041: Imaginary Pie

This was written by my friend's husband.

The message resonated.
So I wanted to share an excerpt here.

"The thing Jay dreaded most about his otherwise-good previous job was the performance review cycle, where managers would come together to grade employees, stack rank them, and dole out bonuses according to those ranks. It was so stressful that many people would freak out about it as soon as each of the cycles concluded. Employees would optimize their work and their networking to get as high a score as possible, even if it meant rushing a job or prioritizing short-term goals over what was better for the long term. It was a game at its core, and not a fun one at that.

This sort of thinking isn’t unique to corporate performance reviews: We see it on social media, in our peer groups, or even in our own minds - where we compare ourselves to others, hoping to be better, make more, own a nicer home, work a nicer job, raise more successful kids, or have more friends. Society teaches us to stack rank, and if you’re fortunate, you end up on top and reap all the spoils. If you’re not, then you either need to try harder or are just plain not good enough. Tough cookies.

We fight over pieces of an imaginary pie instead of asking how we can make that pie bigger for everyone. We create rankings where there are none (unless you’re talking candy bars - in which case, Twix over everything, no question). We make decisions using rules we dislike, optimizing for outcomes that society tells us are good, rather than those which bring joy and fulfillment.

What a terrible game.

One of the best things about being on sabbatical is the opportunity to step away from such an overbearing process and ask ourselves what game we really want to play. It’s harder to compare ourselves to co-workers because, well, we don’t currently have any. We can’t compare our career progress to those of our peers because, well, we’ve decided to take a break. We, at least for the moment, are playing a different game, so it doesn’t make sense to compare. Just like you can’t compare how good a basketball player is to a soccer player. Their objectives are different. You can celebrate the beauty of each player’s game without asking whether one is better than the other.

Now that we’re making our way back into the job market, we try to remind ourselves about the bigger picture we’ve been able to see since we’ve been given this precious opportunity to watch everything from the stands. Are the decisions we’re making, including the jobs we eventually take, helping us become better spouses, family members, friends, and contributing members of society? Or are we jumping into a game whose rules cause us to think and act motivated by scarcity rather than by abundance?

What game are you playing? Maybe it’s time for a timeout to see."

Can you relate?

Update :
Thanks for the replies!

042: Reader Mailbag (IV)
Your responses to “Imaginary Pie”.

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A flying leap. And Bertrand Russell.
093: Paleolithic Emotions
A simple (powerful) paradox.
019: “Enlightened” Review
My thoughts on Enlightened (TV series).
055: Divide et Impera
The history of “Divide and Conquer”.
045: Different Scales
What are the smallest / largest things?

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