Doing a job is like climbing a hill. One of the problems we face while we’re climbing is that we can see all of the other hills and mountains we’re not climbing. How do we know when to keep going or to drop down and switch up?
Truthfully, the bigger the hill (think: achieving career objectives) the harder it is to switch once we’ve started. How’s that passion project side hustle really fit in? What about the other business idea we always wanted to explore but know won’t quite cover the mortgage payment? If you’re ambitious, the risk of abandoning the current climb can be nauseating.
Luckily, straight out of computer science, there are ways to help us think about and digest these decisions. Here’s Venture Capitalist and professional hill-switcher Chris Dixon on the topic (and metaphor):
But the lure of the current hill is strong. There is a natural human tendency to make the next step an upward one. He ends up falling for a common trap highlighted by behavioral economists: people tend to systematically overvalue near term over long term rewards. This effect seems to be even stronger in more ambitious people. Their ambition seems to make it hard for them to forgo the nearby upward step.
This is the big idea: Just because the next step is higher doesn’t mean it’s the one we need to take.
Full stop. Take that in.
It’s ok to switch hills in front of a better hill so long as we do it with purpose. This isn’t a pro-ADD rant or an excuse to never finish a project. It is a reminder to figure out what hills you actually want to climb and then summit them. Don’t be on the wrong hill just because upward mobility is the thing to do.
Sometimes we all need the reminder – another step up isn’t necessarily our best foot forward. A step in the right direction, the one we really want to go on, is.
I highly recommend Chris Dixon’s full post, especially for people early on in their careers or at a time when they’re thinking of making a change. See, “Climbing the Wrong Hill” for more.