What job will make you happy? The fallacy of infinite choice

2016/03/07

As mentioned earlier, my peers and I are in the early stages of job hunts. For many people, including me, this process can feel overwhelming. There are zillions of jobs out there. How do you know which one is a good fit for you?

For folks pursuing academic careers, this choice ends up pretty simple: you’ll need to take a postdoc after doing a PhD, so it’s just a matter of finding some lab that will help you get from your PhD to your eventual faculty position. This choice presupposes that a faculty position is the optimal end goal, so the hard work has already been done.

I’ve suffered from, and I’ve seen others suffer from, a problem that arises when you’re not sure about what end goal is the optimal one. This present a question: by what metric should I determine which end goal is optimal? What job maximizes some utility function?

This thinking leads quickly to (what I call) the fallacy of infinite choice. The fallacy goes something like this:

I don’t think anyone says this train of thought aloud, but I do think it sneaks in to their emotional attitude toward jobs.

I think the resolution of this fallacy is that the multiplicity of jobs does not imply that there is a perfect job. The perfect job probably does not exist, and, if you’ve done your homework, you’ve probably found a job that is close to the best job. It is, I think, a game of diminishing returns.

Much of what makes a job good or bad are the expectations and attitude we bring in to it. The more you apply yourself to a job and try to love it, the better you’ll do. In my humble opinion.