The super-star and the super-chilled

Exploring different ways to succeed in the remote marketplace.

Photo credits Unsplash team

Economic historian Dror Poleg expects knowledge work to shift toward a winner-takes-most marketplace. Between remote work and technologies that allow people to scale themselves like never before, highly specialized and productive individuals can access remunerative jobs all over the globe.

Here’s Dror in an interview with Scott Galloway:

The splitting of this original Creative Class into another layer at the top which includes maybe 10-15% of people who are now released from those corporate jobs and also released from the constraints of geography. They no longer compete for jobs or projects just in their own city but they can compete for jobs all over the world and someone who values them for their specific expertise is going to pay them ten times more than an employer in the same city because that’s how optimal matching works.

Another interesting point is that the winners are not exactly winners.
The future of work is not a game that you simply win and then rest on your laurels. We’re all becoming movie stars. We have the potential to make 100X more money than before because of the internet.
But all the anxieties of being a star come with that as well.

It seems that to succeed in the remote knowledge economy, the only option is to become a super-star. But this highly paid path comes with increased anxiety.

Is all the effort we put into sharpening our skills, picking up new ones, and fine-tuning our productivity setup only going to make us more stressed?

Not necessarily. It’s possible to navigate the remote marketplace without the anxieties that come with reaching and maintaining the super-star status. We can play the game in ways that optimize metrics other than salary and instead pursue a calmer life.

Today, many people already intentionally avoid being super-stars and instead aim to be super-chilled. Here are a few examples of how to leverage remote work and productivity-boosting technologies in ways other than reaching super-star status.

Remote work allows for working from anywhere, not just the place you happen to live at the moment. You could relocate to an area with a lower cost of living without giving up your salary and work towards Financial Independence and Early Retirement (FIRE). Or you could use the freedom from geographic constraints to travel the world as a digital nomad.

Increased productivity means you can do more work in the same time as before. Or, the same work as before but in less time. You could maintain your current level of delivery for your employer while reducing your work hours and enjoy more free time. You could dedicate yourself to demanding triathlon training or help your community with volunteer work. Granted, this assumes working with a result-oriented organization, and those are, admittedly, rare. But remember that you now have access to a global marketplace, so the chances of finding one might be higher than you think.

For those with children, working from home on a flexible schedule allows integrating family and work commitments. Family life is made of countless mundane moments that are invaluable in retrospect. Some parents might want to slow down their career pace and become intentionally inefficient to share more time with their children.

But it’s not only parents who benefit from the customizable schedule that working in distributed organizations allows. If your chronotype doesn’t suit the nine-to-five mold, join an async-first company to work at your peak hours and tap into all of your creative potential.

Digital nomads and present parents, FIRE devotees and triathletes are only some of the options available when you are creative with your work-life setup.

What all those options have in common is measuring success on a different scale than salary and prestige. For some, it’s the amount of free time; for others, it’s how much they can travel; and for others still, it’s the number of meals they can share with their family. They all trade the chance for the “100x more money” Dror Poleg expects for less quantifiable but equally satisfying rewards. In doing so, they escape, at least in part, the stresses and anxieties of the super-star path.

At this point, it might seem I consider the super-chilled a better path than the super-star. In the end, it’s not about my perspective, but what resonates with you. This is what intentional productivity should be about, getting the most out of what matters to you.

There is no better or worse path, only paths that are more or less aligned with what you value. Besides, super-star and super-chilled are just extreme ends of a wide spectrum that you can move through as you see fit.

That’s what I hope you’ll take home from this article. It’s all up to your preferences, ambitions, and the stage of life you are at.

The future of work may create super-star paths that are even more monetarily rewarding than today. But that doesn’t mean we’ll be all locked into a perverse career competition with winners and losers.

There are countless paths you can walk in the knowledge economy. And if none fits, you can always pave your own.

Creativity is the defining trait of knowledge workers. We generate value with creative problem-solving. But we can do more than that. We can direct our creative skills to integrate work in the broader context of our ambitions and values.