9 out 10 Americans willing to swap money for fulfillment

I came across an interesting article on Harvard Business Review about how Americans are willing to trade money for meaningful work

More than 9 out of 10 employees, we found, are willing to trade a percentage of their lifetime earnings for greater meaning at work. Across age and salary groups, workers want meaningful work badly enough that they’re willing to pay for it.

If you could find a job that offered you consistent meaning, how much of your current salary would you be willing to forego to do it? We asked this of our 2,000+ respondents. On average, our pool of American workers said they’d be willing to forego 23% of their entire future lifetime earnings in order to have a job that was always meaningful. The magnitude of this number supports one of the findings from Shawn’s recent study on the Conference for Women. In a survey of attendees, he found that nearly 80% of the respondents would rather have a boss who cared about them finding meaning and success in work than receive a 20% pay increase.

To put this figure in perspective, consider that Americans spend about 21% of their incomes on housing. Given that people are willing to spend more on meaningful work than on putting a roof over their heads, the 21st century list of essentials might be due for an update: “food, clothing, shelter — and meaningful work.”More than 9 out of 10 employees, we found, are willing to trade a percentage of their lifetime earnings for greater meaning at work. Across age and salary groups, workers want meaningful work badly enough that they’re willing to pay for it.

Source: Harvard Business Review

It’s personally relatable to me. When I was young, I used to feel jealous of and compare myself to others in terms of title or salary. I resolved to earn a high salary as quickly as possible, which usually goes with a good title. I achieved my goal at the age of 24, earning a top bracket salary for people at my age and working for one of the biggest corporations in Vietnam. But only after three months, the work was meaningless and the working environment was so stifling that it felt suffocating to get up in the morning and go to the office. Plus, life in Saigon or Ho Chi Minh City was no longer enjoyable. I needed a change.

So I took a 50% pay cut to relocate to Danang, Vietnam and work for a much much smaller company. I learned a lot during my time in a 2nd tier city and a smaller organization, as well as enjoyed my life much more with less money. I felt lucky to learn the lesson quite at the age of 25. Till this day, my time at that corporation was the worst I have ever had. Ironically, for a time in the past, it was all that I wanted. How dumb I was.

We give away 8 hours and a significant amount of mental power to our job. In many cases, it involves other sacrifices such as living away from family or daily long commute. I consider it unlucky to be stuck in a meaningless job with no joy. So if you can have a meaningful job at the expense of a portion of income, my experience is that you should. But of course, life isn’t just that simple. Not everybody is lucky enough to have options.

Almond Milk or Soy Milk

Looking for a tasty and nutritious drink besides cow’s milk and store-bought juice. 90% of which is made from concentrate, I decided to do some research on almond milk and soy milk to see which one is the better choice.

One of the benefits of these two choices is that they are great for those who want to lose weight. Both almond and soy milk contain little saturated fat, sugar or calories.

Source: Healthline

Unfortunately, neither of them naturally contain much calcium, though store-bought milk can be calcium-fortified.

Compared to almond milk, soy milk is richer in nutrition, especially protein (the stereotype that almond milk is a good source of protein is false) and more environmentally friendly as soy requires less water than almond.

Soy milk is allegedly related to weakened fertility in men. A Harvard study in 2009 reported that soy milk consumption might have detrimental effects on male fertility.

The soy study was part of a long-term investigation of environmental factors and fertility. The subjects were 99 male partners of sub-fertile couples. Each man had a medical evaluation and complete semen analysis, and each provided a detailed three-month dietary history that evaluated 15 soy-based foods, ranging from tofu and tempeh to soy milk, veggie burgers, and “energy bars” containing soy protein.

The study found that the men who consumed the most soy had the lowest sperm counts. And it didn’t take much soy to do the trick — as little as one portion every other day was linked to a reduction in sperm count. All in all, the men who ate the most soy had counts that averaged 41 million fewer sperm per cubic milliliter than men who ate the least. The impact was greatest in overweight men, and the results remained valid after age, smoking, alcohol, caffeine, body mass index, and the time between specimen collection and the preceding ejaculation were taken into account.

Harvard Medical School

However, the view was challenged by a study by Harvard School of Public Health in 2015 and another study in 2010. A definite conclusion on the matter remains to be determined. Given all the factors above, soy milk looks to be the winner in this contest.

Reading

If you just happen to read this blog of mine for a bit, you’ll know I like to read. Reading is fun and powerful. I learned English and still do from reading, including vocabulary, grammar, nuances, connotation and just how words can be put together. I am still miserable at it, so that’s why I keep reading.

Also, reading expands my horizon and reminds me of how lucky I am. Non-fiction books such as self-help or just pure business reads are incredibly helpful in becoming a better business person or just a better person. Accounts on life in North Korea, Africa or the gender discrimination in Middle East boost my compassion and appreciation for what I have.

I believe strongly that we all should embrace reading. And to give you some motivation, here is a tweet I thankfully came across this morning

Source: Jelani Cobb

I shared it with a friend and his first response was ‘Damn. No excuse’. Indeed, there isn’t.

The baffling relationship between State and The People

The relationship between the peoples and the governments voted by them is intriguing and baffling to me.

The peoples form governments in order to help them run the countries efficiently. Ordinary folks are busy with making ends meet and building families. Government officials, meanwhile, dedicate their business hours to making policies and putting national resources to work efficiently. At the core, governments are supposed to work for the citizens and the citizens’ best interest.

The reality; however, is starkly different. Take the protest in Hong Kong as an example. The people have voiced their opinion loudly and unambiguously. They want independence and autonomy from China. Yet, all the Hong Kong’s government has done so far seems to go in the opposite direction of what the people demand. Worse, they violently tried to subdue the protest and hurt the citizens whom they are supposed to protect and serve.

Hong Kong is not the only case. Citizens give government officials and police power. Yet, the power is then used to harm the citizens and there is no mechanism at the moment in countries to timely take away the power from those who misuse it. By the time a new election comes, it will be too late. Yet, politicians need time in the office to see through policies. It’s impractical and impossible to set a policy and expect it to work after one month or three.

I do believe there is a place for centralization. Otherwise, it would have been there for the last thousands of years. Yet, we haven’t mastered the art of giving and taking away power timely and properly.

Reputation

As I am looking to buy a car, the last few days have been an arduous and time-consuming quest for finding the one that ticks all the boxes on paper. Online reviews were checked. Car reports were seen. Prices were compared. And of course, opinions from friends were sought after as well.

One thing that stands out to me is the reputation of Japanese cars. Deep down inside, I already have more trust in Japanese brands such as Toyota or Honda. As safety and durability are my highest priorities, Japanese brands stand a notch higher than others in my mind. My friends’ opinions align in that as well. The people I talked to all suggest that I look out for Toyota or Honda first, if possible.

What a great advantage to have! In a saturated market, trust and good will from customers are so valuable. Even if Japanese cars may cost me a bit more, I will be willing to spend a few more bucks because of that trust and good will. It may seem obvious now, but it is the fruit of years of work to build and maintain this image. Toyota and Honda don’t come out of nowhere and do nothing to enjoy this advantage.

It applies to humans too. We take up the words of some people faster and more assuredly than of others.

I have one professor in Finland before who used to work in Treasury. He told us in a class that if he recommended us, we could take his words to the bank. If I am to have that reputation and brand, I’ll need to put in the work, constantly, now and in the years and years to come.

Andrew Yang’s big idea

Andrew Yang is running as a Democratic presidential candidate. His flagship idea is to give out a universal basic income or a monthly dividend of $1,000 to every American. He often cited the dividend from Alaska Permanent Fund as an example for his policy. Let’s take a look at the idea and the Alaska Permanent Fund.

Would it be passed as laws?

I don’t know, but I think it’s highly unlikely. The partisanship in the government will make it so difficult that if he becomes the President (a big if), he will still have to garner enough support from both parties in the House of Representatives and the Senate. I don’t know the practicality of passing it with Executive Order, but given the financial implication of this policy, I really doubt he can do it without support from both sides of the aisle.

How would it be financed?

$1,000 a month for every single one of more than 320 million Americans is a phenomenally expensive bill to pay. Yang said he would find income from properly taxing tech companies. It sounds good, but keep in mind that companies pay a lot of money on lobbying to make sure that lawmakers are as friendly as possible to them. So, it may not be easy to pass laws that can generate enough money from companies to pay for his idea

Would it work?

Let’s say that he found a way to make it a federal law and pay for it. Would it bring the results as he wanted? It depends.

If he wants to make Americans happy, it would do the job. We don’t need academic studies to know that folks become happier after getting from free money. But in case you need one, take the experiment in Finland as an example. Finnish government ran a two-year program in which they gave out 560 euros each month to a select test group of citizens aged 25 to 58. The results are that the recipients of the grant became happier, but there is no favorable impact on employment rate.

Since Andrew Yang is fond of using Alaska Permanent Fund as an example, let’s take a look at that. Alaska Permanent Fund was signed into laws in 1976 by a Republican governor named Jay Hammond. The fund gives out an annual dividend to residents who live in Alaska for a full year and intend to stay indefinitely. In the past year, the dividend was worth around $1,600/year. According to a study by Jones and Marinescu, the fund’s results are as follows:

The employment to population ratio in Alaska after the introduction of the dividend is similar to that of synthetic control states. On the other hand, the share of people employed part-time in the overall population increases by 1.8 percentage points after the introduction of the dividend and relative to the synthetic controls. The unconditional cash transfer thus has no significant effect on employment, yet increases part-time work

The Labor Market Impacts of Universal and
Permanent Cash Transfers: Evidence from the
Alaska Permanent Fund

What it means is that it cannot be statistically proven that the dividend decreases the employment rate, even though does increase part-time work. However, it isn’t proven to increase employment either.

As the two cases of Finland’s experiment and Alaska Permanent Fund show, whether Yang’s proposal would work depends on the questions asked and what outcome is desired. If it’s happiness, the answer is likely Yes. If it’s meant to increase employment, it remains to be seen.

One thing to keep in mind is that Finland is a small country with a population of around 5.5 million people and high with homogeneity. Alaska, I would think, has more or less the same conditions. Applying the Universal Basic Income to a small test population with people from the same background, mindset and needs is one thing. Doing so to a population of more than 300 million people with various backgrounds, mindsets, cultures and needs is a totally different issue.

Be smart when working with data

I was given a specific task at work to analyze some credit card data. After spending a few hours on the code and trying to process the data, I realized that the numbers didn’t match with the universal truth accepted around the company. Hence, if I had presented what I have, all the credibility would have gone out of the window in the first couple of slides.

The reason is that I jumped into retrieving this specific dataset too early, eagerly and ignorantly. There are many nuances and things that I still need to learn about the data and logics. What I should have done is to get a foundation data with very few criteria, verify it to make sure it is correct and work my way from that foundation down to a smaller subset by adding one criterion at a time.

If you pull a report from an established source like WSJ or cite an academic article published in a journal, their credibility helps yours. However, when you pull the data yourself and present insights mined from such data, ensuring that the data is accurate is paramount to the success of the analysis. One mishap shreds your credibility and trust in your analysis. That’s the hard part, or at least one of the hard parts of working with data.

I should have done better today, but I learned a lesson, a lesson that I hope will serve me well and that we won’t have to meet again.