Career Counterfactuals

Two summers ago I was catching up with a friend and he asked me a common question, “What’s new at work?”. I couldn’t think of a single thing. It stuck with me.

After mulling it over, I decided that I needed to invest more in my education. I looked around and saw my peers continuing to take on new roles, saw graduates entering the workforce with new skills, and worried that my own career toolkit was lacking. I felt I’d be better positioned to invest the time necessary to improve that toolkit in my 20’s than five or ten years down the road, when I had less flexibility and more obligations.

But for the next year and a half I stayed put and continued to collect my biweekly paycheck, and I kept coming up with explanations for why I shouldn’t quit. Those explanations boiled down to what I think is called a counterfactual, what Wikipedia refers to as ‘something that is contrary to what actually happened’.

My counterfactual went something like this:

‘If I had quit however many years ago to focus on my education, I’d have missed out on income I’ve earned since. Therefore, I shouldn’t quit now, because I’ll miss out on future income.’

It’s hard to argue with a counterfactual, because there’s no data. I didn’t actually quit however many years ago, so I don’t know what the actual opportunity cost would’ve turned out to be. It was easier to just worry ‘What if?’, and take the career path of least resistance, than to actually go ahead and do the damn thing.

Eight months ago I resigned from my job and went to a coding bootcamp. I’ve learned a lot of new things since then, and I plan to keep on learning. I’ve lived in a new city, met great new people, and tomorrow I start a new job as a software engineer. I’ll never know what would’ve happened if I’d stayed put at my old job, and I have no idea what will happen at my new one. And that’s ok.

A week ago I was catching up with a (different) friend and he said he liked my old writing, so I figured this is a good place to start again. Good luck everybody and thanks for reading.


Like what you read? Give Eric Mustin a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.