Sunday, December 09, 2007

Is there more to life than money?

Whenever there is a discussion about joining a startup vs working at regular job, someone will defend the boring 9-5 job by saying, "there is more to life than money".

These people are, of course, right. There is plenty of evidence that happiness is only loosely correlated with wealth. People seem to derive a much greater sense of satisfaction from good relationships, and having a sense of purpose and meaning in their life. Money matters too, but not as much once the basic need for food and shelter are addressed, and those aren't big issues for most people deciding between joining a startup or a big company.

Furthermore, most people who do join startups will never experience a huge payday. Google distributed billions of dollars to thousands of employees, but that was truly exceptional. Even moderately successful startups that eventually sell for $50 million dollars or so will only make a couple of people rich.

If all you care about is money, I doubt that joining a startup is the right way to go. You'll probably make a lot more at a hedge fund, or by becoming a lawyer, or something like that.

Maybe it now seems like I'm defending the boring 9-5 job, but it's actually just the opposite. Those 8 hours/day are a huge chunk of of your waking life, and don't forget that you'll probably also spend a few hours preparing, commuting, and "unwinding". Even worse, bad or boring jobs can sap our energy, so that at the end of the day all we feel like doing is sitting in front of the tv.

That's no way to live, if you can help it. Why surrender such a huge chunk of your life just to get some money? For some people, that's the only option, but for those fortunate enough to be smart and educated, there's a better way.

Instead of throwing away your "working hours", why not make every minute count? Why not find work that you can actually enjoy, work that's fun and meaningful?

Of course that's easier said than done, but it's not impossible.

For reasons that will have to be left for another post, the structure and systems in big companies tend to make work meaningless and life unpleasant, at least for me. Of course smaller companies can be awful too, but they have a greater potential to be good.

If your job isn't working for you, if it isn't making you happy and energized, then why are you still there? I can't guarantee that you'll find something better, but perhaps you should at least try something new. Don't just give up on life.

I truly enjoy writing code. I love creating new products and features. I like getting feedback from users and finding ways to solve their problems. I like the game of business. I like helping people. Of course there is always some amount of unpleasant work that must be done, but that can be contained (my rule is that work should be no more than 10% awful).

That's why, even though I don't financially need to work, I choose to work (and end up staying up until 4am pushing new code). It's why we created FriendFeed, to have a great place to work, a place where we can build great products and have happy users. Of course I'd also like to earn a few billion dollars, and I plan to make all of our employees very wealthy, but that's more like a bonus. I don't believe that you can be happy and make great products and treat your users right if all you think about is money.

There's more to life than money.

My first Google pay-stub (including note from Heather). Money isn't everything, but this zero-dollar check did make me a little nervous.