It’s important not to get too comfortable in life.
Many people spend their lives asking themselves how they can get comfortable, how they can get to a point of having enough money and a stable job to make money. They may have goals beyond that, but they are usually vague or ill defined. Once they start making decent money and are pretty comfortable in their lives, they rarely work on their future goals. Why is this?
Human beings are antifragile; they grow through stressful and uncomfortable things. Conversely, they will lose skills and their drive if they aren’t used and they get too comfortable.
Most of us have that friend or family member that seems to have just settled down and doesn’t seem to have any ambition. But only a few years ago, they were going after new opportunities and building amazing things. What happened? Oftentimes, they were somewhat successful and stopped pursuing their loftier goals. The old version of them that was ambitious and creative probably lived in a barely adequate apartment, ate sack lunches, and barely had enough money to pay their expenses. They needed to hustle. Now they might live in a nice house and have money to spare. Once people get comfortable in their position, life, and social standing, they often stop advancing.
What you can do.
On a small scale this happens to all of us from time to time. You realize that you aren’t working as hard as you used to, or your personal projects aren’t getting completed on time. You need to make sure that you are challenging yourself, preferably daily. If you work a flexible job where you can take on extra responsibility, like a startup, try and do so. There’s no need to overload yourself — just put in a little extra work, enough to stretch yourself a little. If your job isn’t challenging you enough, take on a challenging personal project. Don’t do something you know how to do already — instead build something you aren’t sure how to do yet.
Your mindset is going to be the biggest role in all this. Whenever you accomplish something, don’t just rest on your laurels. Don’t just think ‘I’m done, good job.’ Always think about what your next step should be, and where you want to go next. Perfection is impossible, so you should have no trouble finding a goal that you haven’t achieved yet. Always think about how you can move forward, and make sure to act.
Not just individuals.
It happens to large companies too, not just individuals. A single company rises to monopoly power and dominates the market for a period. These large companies typically don’t remain that way forever though. They often stop innovating once there are no obvious competitors, and fail to take future trends into account. Their products remain stagnant, and they have no real reason to build better ones. Why should they? They still have their monopoly and profits. Eventually a new competitor appears, and the once monopoly holding company has to compete again. The problem is the old company has often forgotten how to compete, and loses its position in the market it dominated for so long.
The opposite is often true — a company that barely has any market, or has looming debts or some other sufficient motivator often exploits every opportunity it can find. The startup, the company sinking in debt, and the company that is embroiled in fierce competition has to innovate or die. Many companies don’t make it out of this situation — most go bankrupt. The company that finds its way out of the dire situation, though, is all the stronger for it. These companies often go on to dominate their respective market and become the big established company. A few decades down the road these companies often are in the position of being lazy and comfortable, and they themselves become disrupted by other new startups or companies. Sometimes the established company comes out of this stronger than ever, and sometimes it is disrupted permanently, going bankrupt or becoming a shadow of its former self.
Let’s look at some examples of the companies where this happened. The tech space is particularly full of these examples. Apple computer was founded in the 1970’s and rapidly became a massive force in the personal computer industry. However they became stagnant, many of their original founders and workers, including their CEO, Steve Jobs, left and the company was outmaneuvered and outpriced by Microsoft Windows and their pc clones. By the mid 90’s, Apple was headed for bankruptcy. After a complete restructuring of the company and some wildly successful gambles on new products, the company was able to rebuild itself into the juggernaut it is today. IBM was founded over a century ago, and has gone through many disruption and stagnation cycles. From electronic calculators disrupting mechanical ones, personal computers taking over where centralized mainframes once ruled, to their recent transition into cloud software, IBM has been disrupted and reformed many times.
More recently, the semiconductor manufacturer Intel has been completely disrupted by another manufacturer, called AMD. Intel invested heavily in it’s manufacturing technology over the years, and was known for it’s ever more efficient processors and world leading technology. In 2017, Intel’s schedule slipped for the first time in decades. Now, when we are almost to 2021, they still haven’t shipped what was originally supposed to come out in 2017. Meanwhile we have AMD. In 2015 they were heavily laden with debt and had woefully uncompetitive products. Many believed that they would be bankrupt in a few years. Instead they rapidly innovated, and in 2020 are the market leader for computer processors, the same year that many analysts predicted they would go bankrupt.
The story that we can draw from all this is you shouldn’t allow yourself to grow complacent and content with your current situation. Both large companies and individuals progressing in their career have to have something to strive for, and some bigger goal to meet. They have to stay a little bit uncomfortable.
As Steve Jobs said, ‘Stay hungry, stay foolish.’