Leave some of it on the field
On the pursuit of tenure, the costs of winning championships, and why balance matters even for high achievers
From University of Zurich economics professor Dina Pomeranz comes this sage advice to academics: "Don't do anything in the process of trying to get tenure that you would regret if you don't get tenure." It's advice equally applicable to any other career field, and to non-career pursuits as well. Just replace "tenure" with whatever it happens to be that you are pursuing.
■ Incentives are often misaligned in the lessons society teaches youth. Quite frequently, we offer young people tournaments and competitions in which only one participant or team emerges as the winner. Phrases like "leave it all on the field" are used uncritically, and the word "champion" is invested with such wonder and awe that it could easily seem to the impressionable young mind that all of life consists of zero-sum games in which going to extremes in pursuit of victory is just what rational actors do.
■ In reality, most "games" in life are not zero-sum. They are often long-running, open-ended, or collaborative instead of competitive. Training people to see the flaws in the "no pain, no gain" attitude starts young, and it's vital to forming adults who value balance appropriately.
■ Should everyone accept some struggle in life? Absolutely: Struggle is often the price of things worth having.
■ Should anyone compromise their integral self in the hope of an uncertain payoff? The answer should far more readily be "no".
■ Gaining outcomes at a cost of health, conscience, or loving relationships ought to be avoided. It's no small matter to know that life is precious and too often short, so living well along the way is essential. Moreover, life has to be lived in totality; every part has a season, to be sure, and within those seasons, different priorities prevail.
■ But of the big aspects to a well-rounded life -- like family, productive work, learning, wellness, creativity, and recreation -- there are rarely times when it's appropriate to shut down any one of them altogether. The single-minded pursuit of any outcome can raise the dangerous temptation to let only one of those matter at the cost of the others. It's best to avoid that temptation.