The virial theorem in the workplace

There's a theorem from mathematical physics that may have an application in the workplace. This is the virial theorem, and its workplace analogy may explain why every job has its annoying parts.

One version of the virial theorem roughly says that for a finite collection of point particles interacting gravitationally, the time average of the kinetic energy is half the time average of the potential energy, or

<K> = – <U> / 2

The virial theorem is useful to astronomers because you can use it get a good idea of masses of distant objects, which you can't really observe, from their kinetic energy, which you can observe. The reason that we think that dark matter exists is basically from observations like those plus the virial theorem.

Driving in to work today, I had the thought that an appropriate analogy for the virial theorem the workplace might be that the bad parts of a job are always proportional to the good parts of a job. In my experience, this seems to have always been true.You probably have some relationship like this, for example:

<Bad> = – <Good> / 2

When I was an officer in the US Army, there were lots of good aspects of the job. There's nothing in the world as rewarding as working with soldiers, for example, and getting paid to work with explosives and fire guns is also lots of fun. To make up for this, however, there's also the fact that the military is really part of the government, so you're really part of a large, mind-numbingly bureaucratic organization.

Or when I used to do what's probably best called applied physics research, it was great fun working with things like lasers and electron microscopes. To make up for this, however, there's the never-ending battle that you have to fight to get funding for those expensive gadgets.

Or when I did mergers and acquisitions consulting, it was great fun getting a look inside lots of different companies in lots of different industries and seeing how they worked. The pay wasn't bad, either. To make up for this, however, there were the 20-hour days and the backstabbing from other consultants (particularly the lawyers) involved in the M&A projects that you had to keep a constant eye out for.

So although I'm not sure that you can write down a set of assumptions that lets you rigorously prove an analogy for virial theorem for the workplace, it certainly seems to be true. If there's a job out there for which it doesn't hold, I'd definitely like to hear about it.

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