Aug 6, 2017 | Taking risks as a path to safety
In the famous riddle, you are supposed to connect all the dots with four straight lines. You can sweat and try as long as you like but you will always be just one line short from connecting all of them. When you look outside the box though and take advantage of the space beyond the limited area of the square – then, all of a sudden, the task becomes easy. The point is: as a scientist, you are pressed to do multitasking as well. As opposite to industry, in academia you need to prove yourself in multiple different roles every day: as a researcher, as a teacher, a fund-raiser, a philosopher, a physical worker, a salesman, a graphic designer, a writer, a motivational speaker, a negotiator, etc. There are always too many roles to play at a time. The collateral stress is inevitable whenever you are a good or a bad worker. Namely, if you are bad at what you are doing, you will experience stress instantly simply because you know you do not handle your duties. If you are a good worker, on the other hand, people around you will start throwing more and more responsibilities at you – projects, grant proposals, students – and one day, you will become overwhelmed no matter how good you are at what you are doing. And, you don’t even have full control over your life as you are doomed to live in a shadow of deadlines, short contracts, and mutual dependencies as you are by definition bound to a dynamic web of people, some of whom might behave differently than expected.
And if you ask your family and friends about what to do with yourself in such conditions, they will all tell you: go for a walk, meditate, go to the spa, relax, go to therapy, grow flowers, stare at the blue sky, listen to your favorite music. And of course, all of this works to a certain extent. However, after a while, I realized that all these activities are superficial and do not solve the true problem. It resembled trying to improve your looks by using cosmetics to your skin, while you are still filling your stomach with junk food. You just cannot overcome the fear of being broke and jobless by listening to music, because it is a natural fear of death, and every organism in a natural environment is vulnerable to this fear. In a sense, relaxing means taking a step back, and concentrating on licking your wounds rather than on the development, and on solving the true problems.
Therefore, I stepped out of my comfort zone and started looking for active ways of reducing job-related stress. I soon figured out that a private investor – while playing according to very simple rules of sanity – is able to trade on the stock exchange with success. I also figured out that an ex-pat is able to buy real estate in the Netherlands, and that it pays off to sublet rooms in your house since the total amount to gain from rental per month exceeds the mortgage rate even after the taxes. Starting in the middle of my first year of the PhD and spending time on the investments in my free time only, in less than three years I managed to get to a relatively stable passive income. And this is the paradox: risking my money in free time was the key to increase my level of safety so that I have a clearer and more peaceful mind, I can work out better research ideas, handle more tasks and write better papers.
And now it feels like having two homes; I have the scientific environment on one hand and the entrepreneurial environment on the other, both full of smart and inspiring people. Risking is stressful, but risking in a group is much more pleasant and joyful, and I can – paradoxically – recommend it to anyone who feels the everyday job-related stress.