Break Free from Traps and Find Work You Care About

The Sustainability Paradox – A Cyclical Trap

Why is it so hard to move forward in life, save money, find work we love, and be happy?  IMHO, it’s mainly due to a systemic human issue I call the sustainability paradox.

The paradox looks like this:

Survival requires resources —> requiring income —> requiring work or a “job” —> requiring most of our time and energy —> leaving little time and energy left to learn about who we are, what we’re good at, what we love to do, how the world works, what to believe, and what to care about —> preventing us from identifying and understanding the wide range of opportunities outside our comfort zone, preventing us from experiencing the gradual confidence builders of learning and overcoming challenges, and ultimately, leaving us trapped in this cycle.

With enough time and energy available, and allocated for personal growth and exploration, comes a strong sense of self and understanding of how best to find meaningful work and maximize usefulness for ourselves and the world.

Without it, people get stuck in the cycle for their whole lives, adopting a patience and gratefulness to have any job, and/or depression and hopelessness for the mistreatment throughout.

Shouldn’t We Be Grateful to Have A Job At All?

Yes, you should always be grateful for the positive aspects of anything you have, at any level and place in life.  For most, the bittersweet reality is that having a painful job is better than being on the streets without basic necessities.  But this shouldn’t stop anyone from working for a better life that allows enough freedom and personal growth.

Appreciation and tolerance are surely some of the greatest values in one’s life.  We should appreciate life itself, the world, nature, people – it’s a blessing for sure.  But you don’t have to be grateful for servitude and exploitation.  This, you must fight with all that you have.

Society Has It’s Own Sustainability Paradox

Competition is not inherently bad, but like many things, when taken to extremes it can be vicious.  Two people can compete head to head in an intense sporting contest and everyone trains and gains from the experience. And handled in a sportsman like manor, the competition will be fun and exciting.

But when there’s more at stake – large amounts of wealth and resources – people are willing to compete at a more corrupt and dangerous level.  As organizational leaders, they will go to extreme lengths to compete in their industry, creating a wide range of externalities, such as Taylorism / worker exploitation, environmental devastation, an ego-maniacal culture, violence, and many more.  The old adage will hold true, if they don’t operate and compete this way, cutting all corners for the profit-motive, someone else will.

And even if the rules aren’t directly broken, they can be manipulated through changing the laws to benefit the rich and powerful. This is the sustainability paradox for society – how do we get everyone to play on a level playing field, a set of rules established so that organizations bring value while not hurting the public?

As I mentioned, one of those externalities is the oppression, exploitation, and mechanization of human labor (Taylorism), and ultimately humanity.  And this brings us back to why so many jobs are less than ideal.

On the bright side, if you have been through a rough work situation, you have seen the inside of a flawed system, providing you with a first-hand example that there is much good work to do out there – i.e. helping employers improve ethical standards for their employees.  Addressing this issue doesn’t have to be one of your passion projects, but it’s a huge issue that needs work.

So How Do We Break Free?

Like all problems, it all starts with problem recognition.  Do you feel bad at work?  Have you felt like leaving before but justify it because of the money, and ultimately survival? And perhaps you have to support others as well?  Are you trapped?  Or are you apathetic or complacent with your situation?  If any of these are true, own it.

Next you must do anything you can to free up more time and save money. Here are some common examples:

  • Work fewer hours at your current job and be more frugal with your spending since you will make less
  • Find a supplemental part-time job and save for a while before quitting your current job
  • Replace your current job with one or more part-time jobs and be more frugal
  • Using any extra time you have to begin learning and trying freelancing

When I first started Novachrom one of my partners worked valet part time, and saved rigorously to make ends meet. I’ve known other people to establish a skillset and freelance online – writing, coding, graphic design, photography – selling it to make extra money. Figuring this all out is hard at first, but totally worth it in the long run. Delaying is easier at first and will devastate you in the long run. Which sounds better?

It’s a long process and you need time. This is your re-education, your way. Why do you think Mark Zuckerberg is investing the majority of his wealth into personalized education? Because it’s quite possibly the single-most important thing we all need and should have been a big part of our education all along.

Once you get started “breaking free” into a more you-focused path, use every spare moment for personal growth. Learn about everything you care about. Learn about your skills and interests. Find some people who are doing cool stuff and read about them and how they got there, and even try to meet them if you can. Learn about the big picture – human issues, politics, law, money, business, science, math, technology, art.. and everything in between. Connect the dots. Establish a world view. Find everything wrong with the world that you might want to fix. Get inspired to do great work.

Once you understand more about yourself and the world, you’ll have passion for what work needs to be done and be able to inspire others to work with you, invest in you, and believe in you.

Focus on these areas:

  • Personal Growth? – who am I and what am I good at now, and interested in now?
  • The Big Picture – how does the world work, connecting the dots of all subject areas, and what’s my world view?
  • Skill-Building – what can I do now and what do I add to the toolkit to make it stronger?
  • Freelancing – take your skills to the market and practice – check UpWork’s master list of digital freelancing options here
  • The World of Meaningful Work – who is doing great things and how can I connect with them?
  • Maximizing Usefulness – how can I best use my skills and interests to help humanity?

Over time you start to see how everything is connected, what’s most important, and how to best approach and execute your life. Albeit overwhelming at first, once you wrap your mind around it, you get inspired and never want to stop learning. You become confident with small victories. you begin to “break out.”

Entrepreneurship Starts Small – Just Get Started

If you toss your job and go out on your own, many entrepreneurs will tell you that in the first 5 years everything is a “grind” – you’ll eat Ramen noodles and work 60+ hour work weeks. And what is this all for, to chase dream project that you haven’t had time to realize yet, and will probably fail like most do because of stress, lack of resources, and no experience? Is it worth it to just “go for it?”

Or have you heard the percentages of businesses that fail – what is it 80%, 90%?  These daunting odds can overwhelm, and make the idea incomprehensible, and kick you right back into the sustainability paradox – feeling grateful to be doing un-meaningful work with a paycheck.

But there is something really huge missing from these odds.  Entrepreneurship isn’t about big App startup or failed businesses.  It’s about serving others in some way, selling products and services to make a living.  So this could start incredibly small, like dog-walking and SAT prep tutoring, or massive like Lyft and AirBNB, and everything in between. What’s important is that you pick something that you enjoy, can learn, and execute to make some money, thus gaining invaluable freelancing experience. By doing so you’re creating your first building block, a foundation to something bigger that you can’t predict, but will realize after a long road of good work.  Even the smallest of these successes can transform your confidence, and make you thirst for more.  And, you’ll be creating all of this your way, in your own image.

Are rat-racers lazy and stupid?

Mostly yes, but the good news is that they can become productive and smart. We’re now starting to talk about rehabilitation as the primary response to addiction and criminal behavior rather than punishment and incarceration because we know it’s inhumane, and we know that people can get better. If we believe that people can and should be productive and smart to live useful lives, we should start to see laziness and stupidity as a health problem.

And for the people that scream that they want to be “free” to be lazy and stupid – a) if it’s you you’re talking about, I know down deep you want a better life and b) if it’s someone else’s freedom, well they can speak for themselves.

Society Has it’s Own Sustainability Paradox

As Peter Joseph pointed out so well in all of his work with the Zeitgeist Movement, we’re living in an outdated social structure.  So many of those who have power are hyper competitive, and become selfish, greedy, and ego-maniacal.  Some of them even believe they are acting on God’s behalf with everything they do – they are the chosen ones – but to do what?  If they were chosen by God they would be helping make society better with every ounce of effort, like a Ghandi, Mandela, or other freedom fighters.  Warren Buffet was hyper competitive, but even he gave all of his money away to humanitarian causes in the end.  But for so many, the “I’m a winner and better than you” mentality holds true, and the pain and suffering it causes others goes unregistered or unappreciated.

On some level, especially in one’s initial pursuits into the business world, competing to win comes from the need to survive.  People are merely participating in the system as it exists and trying to figure out what works.  But the competition should be done in a sportsman like manor.  Just like sports, we have rules, and we appreciate sportsmanship.


But it shouldn’t take too long to realize that you shouldn’t have to hurt others to win.


And depending on the business or industry these businesses may have to participate in some level of exploitation to compete – it’s the old adage that if we don’t, our competitors will and we will lose.  We see examples of this everywhere.  Take Donald Trump and North Korea for example – we have to do bad things in the name of preventing other bad things.  I call this the sustainability paradox for society.  But we can’t let the initial competitive to survive menta

Historically people have believed in the idea of “limited resources.”  If we don’t get them first, others will get them and we’ll be left without.  So, we have to be selfish and get them first for our own survival.  To believe in this you first must believe resources are limited.  If you live on an island, or in a bubble, you might actually be truly limited, and these ideas are natural and reasonable to survive.  But most people around the world can take steps to open up more opportunities and resources, and don’t have to resort to competing or stealing from others.  And yet, many if not most still do.  This is the profit-motive, and the essence of capitalism.

The resources that are valued the most are fought for and the winners keep the spoils.  This is true in all areas of business – military, political, corporate – and at all levels – international, national, state, local, neighborhood, organization, and individuals.



While the competitive spirit is not inherently bad in my view, it does open up the door for cheating, abuse, and corners cut to succeed, win, whether legal, unenforced illegal, or enforced illegal.

Anything to get ahead.

And with this competitive culture comes a decision of how to treat those that you pay.

If you need to apply poor work, work practices, and pay for your workers to compete, you usually will.

And even if you succeed in the competition, this mindset allows you to continue doing so.

In the end, you associate any exploitation toward your workers on the notion that this is the way that the world works, and people are on their own. If they don’t like it they can find work elsewhere.


This cycle, just like the cycle for the individual, can be broken. No one is forced to exploit others.

It’s a choice that you make to be a part of this system or to find other paths for how you build your organization, and how you treat others.



The competitive “winners”, or the rich, powerful, and privileged want to keep/expand their position —> requiring competitive advantage / profit motive  —> creating something positive (product or service) for society and maintaining a good image, while also creating negative externalities, examples including corruption, environmental devastation, planned obsolescence, and Taylorism/cheap labor —> increasing world problems while limiting the worker’s ability to do the good work of solving them.

Do greedy, powerful, oppressive forces purposefully keep workers in the rat race?

Mostly yes, but the good news is that this is dependent on the first answer. If workers find alternatives, oppressive powers shrink.

With all of the work that we can and should do to improve our world, why are most of us stuck with dead-end jobs in the rat-race? Why such a disconnect?

Like most major human issues, this one’s deep rooted in history. In short, we need power to maintain civilization, but concentrated power gets corrupted by greed. We’ve learned to maintain checks and balances throughout all systems to improve accountability, order, and law. And technology has helped us with everything in our lives, perhaps most importantly collaboration and people-power.

But we’re still stuck in the past with our work. The same business mentality dominates the world and

At some point in my adult life I started to redefine the word “work.”

Ever wonder why so many people struggle to find meaningful work? We are all familiar with the term “rat-race” and “9-5 job.” And people seem to complain all the time about it. But even politicians that claim to want to fundamentally change the system tend to talk about “jobs” as if just having one is all that matters. Just once I’d like to hear the term “quality jobs.” From my estimation humans don’t look from a worldly perspective until their thirties, so an understanding of meaningful work has yet to be truly realized.

And a 40+ hour work week, keeps all of the energy and effort tied to something that is in exchange for money, which is tied directly to one’s survival, and represents one’s ability to invest and save carefully to get ahead over the long run. For the conservative and diligent, they will still stay tied to their job for 5-8 years before finding slight upward mobility in their company, or a lateral move towards more meaningful work.

Sure, some people figure out what they care about early in life and pursue higher education, but if later in life they realize their young career choice was perfect isn’t this just lucky?

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