Life Traps

Written on March 20, 2009. Written by .

One of the main reasons I end up planning and analyzing too much is to avoid falling into traps. There are many kinds of traps that you can fall into. The common property that they have is that a trap is difficult to get out of. For example, a famous historical trap is the serfdom trap in which you take a job that requires a lot of work and pays just enough to survive on. When you enter serfdom, you don’t have the time to learn new things or find ways to earn more money, and you don’t have the money to quit the job, so you are stuck. In America today, true serfdom is essentially impossible due to the welfare system and its concomitant labor laws, but varying degrees of it still exist. The reason it can still exist, however, is largely due to the financial choices peope make. The biggest culprip is the decision to have children, which comes with both a financial burden and a significant time commitment. And this decision is not easily reversible. Perhaps the second biggest culprip is school loans, which can extend into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, and is also irreversible. But this is much easier to manage than even a single child. Most of the remaining financial decisions are reversible issues with spending habits. People try to live above their means and end up living paycheck-to-paycheck. This is what we refer to as the rat-race. But the rat-race is not such a deadly trap. If you ever find yourself in the rat-race and don’t like it, all you have to do is sell all your expensive stuff and start saving and you will be out of the trap in no time. Even if you are in a low-paying job, if you are only working 40 hours a week, there is plenty of extra time to work on improving your situation.

Traps can be more serious if they come with psychological reinforcement, like the overachiever trap. Overachievers are not necessarily workaholics, but they constantly sacrifice themselves for their future, fearing that they will be miserable if they don’t have prestige and a six figure income. The reason this is such a nasty trap is that once an overachiever has set their course, they have trouble backing out because of the sunk costs associated with their sacrifices.

The dangerous traps are the ones you don’t realize you are in, like the pseudo-stimulation trap. The pseudo-stimulation trap occurs when you work at a job that mentally drains you without actually providing mental stimulation. Since you are drained, you are less likely to be interested in simulating activities after work, so you end up not getting much stimulation at all and you run the risk of intellectual atrophy. This can be hard to identify because pseudo-stimulating work can be challenging and seem like it should be stimulating. In fact, I would say that most well-paying jobs are pseudo-stimulating. Even a job that requires highly-educated and skilled workers, like software development, can be very mechanical and tedious much of the time. If you are just working according to a standard algorithm, then there isn’t much room for mental maneuvers. This can be an important trap to watch out for if you want to start a business or work on serious projects outside of your day job.

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