Complacency is the enemy

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines complacency as:

  1. self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies.
  2. an instance of usually unaware or uninformed self-satisfaction.

We all have instances in our lives where we feel like being complacent.  Humans tend to prefer routines and a sense of normalcy.  We like to get up in the morning, have our favourite stimulating drink, have our breakfast, go through our daily routine and settle down to sleep at night.  It’s comfortable, easy and less stressful to maintain this kind of existence.


Sleeping cats by kattebelletje via Flikr

But, it’ll cost you in other ways.


Suppose you always buy a certain brand of ketchup.  There’s no particularly reason why you always buy that brand of ketchup – perhaps it’s what your parents always bought or perhaps it’s the one that is always conveniently located at eye level.  So you always buy it.  Well, chances are, you’re missing out on buying a cheaper, lesser-known, less conveniently located brand.  We all hear about how grocery stores try to trick you, and it’s true!  The hapless consumer is really the complacent consumer.


That’s kind of a contrived example.  Let’s look at the big picture.


I know people who have lived in the same rental unit their entire time in Vancouver.  To that, I am incredulous.  Landlords are allowed to raise the rent every year.  Why wouldn’t you simply move to a cheaper location every year or two?  That’s what I’ve done, and I’ve never paid more than $1000 a month for a nice one bedroom in Vancouver’s west side.  (I’ve also lived in about 6 different places in the last 10 years…)  It’s easy to stay put and swallow the rent increase… but it’s not that much harder to simply pack up and move.


The area where complacency hits the hardest is your career.


I used to work for a large research organization.  I made about $40k a year, with great benefits, job security and lots of time off.  It was sure easy to become complacent!  After all, why would I want to leave?  The job market was scary, jobs were scarce, and who knew if I even had the skills to do something different?  This was the attitude that most people at work had.  They were all in it for life, collecting their yearly raises and maintaining the status quo.  One girl I worked with managed our breeding colony.  I often forwarded jobs to her because I knew she was more than qualified to manage her own pre-clinical department – easily a $10-15k raise over what she was getting!  But she always declined – she was happy enough with her situation.


If I had stayed at the job, I would be making about $44-45k right now (2.5 years later), based on annual cost of living and merit raises.  Instead, I took a risk.  I left a secure job and went back to school.  Don’t get me wrong – I made sure I had an emergency fund and secondary income streams.  But leaving a job is always a risk.  For me, it was a risk that paid off.  Now, 2.5 years later, I’m going to making a salary in the mid-50s.  It’s much much more than what I would have gotten if I had just stayed at my job and the earnings ceiling in my new field is much higher.  I’m pretty happy about that.  And you know what – as soon as I feel like I’m not growing in my next job, I’m happy and willing to jump ship again.


Consider also, that for each dollar less you earn, your future earnings are also proportionately less. If I work for $40k a year, and I get a 4% cost of living increase, that’s only $1600 more.  If I’m working for $55k a year and I get a 4% cost of living increase, that’s $2200 more.  If you’re at $40k, your next promotion might get you to $45k… but if you’re at $55k, your next promotion gets you to $60k, or more.  Every little bit counts.


In the end, you have to do what’s best for yourself.  That’s usually not the easiest thing to do.  I’m not a complacent person by nature, so doing things like changing jobs or apartments to make/save money come naturally to me.  I’m always looking for ways to get ahead and I enjoy stirring things up and causing “trouble”.  But this is not the case for a lot of people.  Brian, for example, is a rather complacent person (Brian’s note: It’s true. Complacency is not something you overcome in a week – I’ve been working at it ever since I met CF, and I’m still making adjustments) .  I suspect that the majority of people tend more towards complacency than not.


My career advisor at UBC put it to me best.  I went to her for advice on which job offer to take.  I couldn’t decide between choosing a safe, medium sized corporate job and a job with a smaller, but relatively unknown, agile team.  She simply said to me, “What’s the worst that could happen?”  Did I want to jump into a corporate life and grow with the company or did I want to take a job that I would have to leave again in a year or two? Generally, the worst thing that could happen pales in comparison to all the great things that could happen. For me, I chose the smaller team – riskier in some ways, but with greater potential for me to learn about technologies I was interested in.


So consider shaking things up, taking a risk, or trying something new.   Maybe you’ll try a new brand of canned food.  Maybe you’ll start taking a look at new apartments or ask about that promotion in a different department.  The possibilities are endless.  What’s the worst that could happen?

Posted in: Philosophy

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