Neil Tambe

I'm a Detroiter who happens to enjoy writing, national parks, orange juice, the performing arts, and fanciful socks. More than anything though, I aspire to be a good husband, father, and citizen.

Jobs pay a lot when they suck

I don't think a high salary necessarily indicates that a job is "better." Most of the time, I think jobs are high-paying because they suck. Of course, I'm being a bit hyperbolic, but, here's what I mean.

Let's say there's a dollar value, let's call it $I (for income), and $I is the average amount of money people in America need to have a pretty good life. Nothing super fancy, but something nice enough that the average person is happy with.

Now, why would anyone take a job that pays more than $I per year? After all, if you're happy with I, why bother doing something that requires more effort (which is presumably the case because you're getting paid more).

There are two types of reasons:

1) Because you're awesome 2) Because the job sucks

BECAUSE YOU'RE AWESOME You might take this job for more money, because you're valuable. Maybe you have a special set of skills and therefore, companies have to pay you more because of competition in the marketplace. If they don't pay you a premium, someone else will. You get paid more because you're awesome.

This is ideal, because you're not sacrificing anything to get higher pay. You're happy, and you are really skilled so you get paid more. Wonderful.

BECAUSE THE JOB SUCKS An alternative explanation for taking the job that pays more than $I per year is that something about the job makes it less desirable. Maybe it's because you have to work many hours, or the work is physically demanding. Maybe it's boring or worse, maybe it's not meaningful. Maybe it's humiliating or dehumanizing work. Maybe the job is difficult and you're likely to fail. Maybe the work/company isn't prestigious. Maybe it's stressful.

In this scenario, if the company doesn't pay you a premium you wouldn't want to do the job. You get paid more because the job sucks.

In reality, the wage we're all paid is probably a mix of both - being awesome and the desirability of the job. If you  have a high paying job it's worth asking yourself, and I direct this at my MBA classmates, is your job REALLY paying you a premium because you're awesome, or because the job sucks?


  • How much of our educational life prepares us for being awesome, and how much of it prepares us for dealing with stuff that "sucks?"
  • What careers do you think are the most desirable? How much does it pay? Does it seem high or low, why?
  • Are there other reasons why some jobs pay a premium?