80 – 20 Rule

I read somewhere that 20% of the men have sex with 80% of the women. It was in one of those how-to pick up women websites. I’m pretty sure it’s true and I’m definitely sure I am not in that 20%, sadly. This rule also applies to the labor market. 20% of the labor force get 80% of the good job. Obviously, the numbers aren’t scientifically calculated and it’s probably not as skewed but the principle is clear and true. I know because I am THAT 20% and I know quite a few people in the 80%.

As a software engineer in NYC, I am in a perpetual state of balancing multiple freelance assignments. I’m never not working unless I choose and I have turned down three six-figure jobs since October. I have politely aksed recruiters to stop calling and have told the more persistent ones to fuck off. This steady flow of freelance work and full time job offers is not without some effort on my part. My skillset is always evolving and I release iOS apps and web apps that clearly demonstrate my abilities. I keep my resume up to date and scan the LinkedIn/StackOverflow listings maybe once a week. I average 2 – 3 meetings per week with potential clients and companies. What I am trying to convey is that I am overemployed. There are too many job offers and freelance assignments to choose from. Recently, it got to a point where I considered hiring my own iOS developer to sub-contract the work. I know my experience is not unusual for developers because in the past, I have seen other engineers deal with similar issues.

Contrast this with the experience of some of my friends who are chronically unemployed or employed in shitty dead-end jobs. These people aren’t stupid. They’re college friends and I went to an Ivy League school. One of them graduated with a higher GPA than I did. He was unemployed for two years (roughly 2008 to 2010) until his benefits ran out then he took a shitty job in Queens doing some kind of data entry. Another college friend works as a research clerk and lives at home with his parents. To say he hates his job would be like saying LeBron is okay at basketball. These guys are in the 80% (ironically, the second one is the 20% when it comes to women – he has had to use my apartment in the past). To these guys and many others I know, life just sort of happens to them. That’s how you end up in the 80%. It’s the same with women. You don’t go to the bar and wait for women to walk up to you.

It comes down to where you focus your energy. If I put all my time and effort into making myself more appealing to women, I don’t know if I would crack the 20% but I would definitely do better than my current level. But I don’t put my energy into that and I’m okay with it. Almost all of my time and focus goes into improving my programming skills: learning new techniques, languages, frameworks. My friend who works as a research clerk devotes his free time to being good with women. He got very good at that. That’s where his head is. My head is stuck in a GitHub repo somewhere. Paul Graham, the y-combinator founder, once wrote about natural focus – where does your head wander when it’s not supposed to be somewhere. Whatever the answer, that’s where your focus is.

Like I said in the first paragraph, the 80/20 rule is exaggerated. It’s probably more accurate to say 30% of the people get 70% of the GOOD job offers. Anyone can get a shitty job for low pay. Just like anyone can get a girl if you lower your standard enough. But the principle of the rule is clear – you’re either in the 20 or you’re in the 80.



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