Pick Your Overlord

I’ve had many overlords in my life. In high school, it was a collective of some 30 or so teachers, all of whom I had to please in some year or other. In college, that number grew larger and extended to professors, teaching assistants, exam graders, and fellow students affecting group work evaluations — except I knew most of them a lot less than I knew my high school teachers.

As an intern at BMW, I had 4 bosses, all of them kind but one of them difficult. When I became a coach, I had up to 50 overlords at any one time: my clients, all of them wonderful but every one with different needs and expectations. On Medium, Quora, and Four Minute Books, my overlords became individual algorithms no single individual could fully understand. Whether it was a recommendation or a search engine, fickle machines are always hard to satisfy.

The list goes on and on. From platforms to editors to customers, there’s always someone you’ll have to make happy in order to get your money. The question is who — or what — is it, and how fragile is the system of feudality you find yourself in?

While it comes with its own challenges, I’ve always enjoyed the diversity and control of selling my own products. Whenever a customer wasn’t happy, I could always refund them. Whenever a customer was rude, I could not do business with them. Often, having many overlords is better than having just one. Everyone is moody, including algorithms, but that way, it takes more than any one entity’s bad temper to crush your spirit and wallet.

There is no life without overlords, mind you. The point is to find one, or some, that don’t oppress you. A master can be a beautiful friend. Pick your overlords wisely, and if you find you’ve picked wrong, well, then go out and pick again. It’s all hard work around here, but some bosses deserve our dedication more than others.