Addicted to the Salary

“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Nassim Taleb has been making his rounds lately as his new book just came out. Whenever I hear his name I think of the quote above. Obviously there is some hyperbole in that quote, but overall I think it makes a lot of sense.

Heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary. At first, you may be thinking “one of these just doesn’t belong.” The problems with heroin are quite obvious and well documented. Carbohydrates, while not really on the same spectrum as heroin, can be quite addicting. This is evidenced by the obesity problem in America, with over 30% of the population being classified as obese. Finally we come to the monthly salary.

Those lucky enough to be burdened by a regular salary directly deposited into their checking account are also faced with a problem. Payday is essentially a holiday. Spouses tell each other “work was alright today, but it was payday!” Coworkers may walk around the office saying “Good morning Jane, it’s payday today!” This is why we do the day-in, day-out slug called “working for the man.” We trade our time for a paycheck and hopefully gain some decent benefits, friendly coworkers, and work that on occasion can be challenging and rewarding. What’s the problem with this? People become addicted to it.

When people are fat and happy collecting their paycheck in a job they are comfortable in, creativity falls by the wayside. People become their job titles and descriptions. Very few people are blessed with careers that allows them to flex their creativity muscle on a regular basis. They become cogs in the corporate machine. After spending 5 days a week, almost 50 weeks a year at work, our work becomes more and more of our identity. That far fetched business idea the college student chatted with their roommate about all semester, is forgotten.

Personally, I have noticed I do my best work outside of a 9-5 routine, when there is more on the line. I think better work is done when an individual has more skin in the game (like Taleb’s newly released book), such as working for yourself.

When elderly are interviewed about their life, the three takeaways that seem to repeat are: I wish I worked less, I wish I was nicer to people, and I wish I did more for me and less of what I thought others expected me to do.

How to break away from the addiction

I completely agree with Taleb’s view that a salary is an addiction. It has been for me throughout my career. Below is a list of things that could help break the addiction. Having all of them is great, but having at least one will definitely be beneficial.

  • Live below your means. If you were to lose that salary, make sure you can live without it for at least three months, preferably six months or longer. Have an emergency fund or F-U money.
  • Have a side hustle. Earn money from something other than your day job. If eventually this earns more than you spend, then you don’t need the day job. You’re free to hit eject at any time.
  • Build up a robust network. If your job gets toxic, have a network of people you can contact in your field (or another field you would like to work in), and let them know you are potentially looking for a job. The time to look for your next job isn’t when you NEED to, it’s now. It’s much less stressful to go to work everyday knowing you have two other jobs offers lined up if you needed them.

Some people find contentment working for a salary, and that’s great. They are lucky in a sense. But don’t become addicted to it, because then you’re not free to choose.

2 thoughts on “Addicted to the Salary

  • You are correct, Ferv, that the regular salary is an addiction as strong as coffee, beer or cigarettes. The key, I believe, to breaking the cycle of addiction is putting yourself in the position of being able to live on less, even much less, than you currently do. Once that has been accomplished, the natural by-product will be increased savings and you are off to the proverbial races on overcoming the addiction. Only in self-mastery will one find true freedom.

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