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Earn or Learn?

One of my favourite venture capitalists is Mark Suster, who has an excellent blog called Both Sides Of The Table.

Mark writes about the hard realities of venture capital, as both a founder and an investor. One question he posed really stuck with me, and is something I’ve found myself repeating over the years.

“...is it time for you to earn or to learn?”

A great question, and the rhyme certainly helps it stick. What I like is that it acknowledges that both are good things, but become more or less critical depending on what season you’re in.

When you’re young, there’s a temptation to chase the highest paying job, overlooking the lack of future prospects or the repetitive work. It takes discipline to see that the money you make in your 20’s isn’t as influential as the experience you gain, and how employable/valuable you become as you approach your 30’s. When you’re young, go for the job that teaches you the most, there’s time for perks later.

Similarly, when you’re 40 and have three kids, money makes a big difference in your quality of life. Once you’ve established that you’re a valuable part of a team, then it’s only logical that you go where you can be well compensated.

Robert Greene’s sensational book Mastery is dedicated to this topic. It examines the lives of the most prolific, talented individuals throughout history, drawing out common factors.

The most noticeable? A 10 year apprenticeship in their industry. No glamour, no early success, just a long term commitment towards learning is what set them up for their ultimate success.

Apprenticeships aren’t just for tradies, it’s a way of thinking about your work while you’re young. It’s about humility, learning from the best and doing sometimes-ugly work in order to build on your talents. This completely changed my way of thinking about the work I’m doing now.

 

Advertising John Hegarty in his book Hegarty on Creativity frames it similarly:

“Money is a tool, not a philosophy”

 

Ask yourself; is this a season where I need to earn or learn? Which is more valuable?

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