Ask anyone what their top priority is, and I bet you get at least three. And if you were to observe their actions, maybe you’d notice that the top priority they’re acting on has nothing to do with any of the three they listed.
We all want a lot, and that’s because it’s easy to want a lot. I want happiness, fulfillment, lots of money, great friends, a great relationship, and just about everything else out there.
It’s easy to want a lot. What does it take for me to add something to my wish list? Nothing. I just added a jetpack, and it took me two seconds and felt great. A jetpack! How cool would that be?
But in the same way that great design is defined by negative space, our true wants, those that we will work towards, are defined by those things that we give up.
If you don’t know what you’re giving up or, worse, aren’t willing to give anything up, then you will most likely not get those things you want.
For example, I’ve given up a lot of fun. I have a very enjoyable and satisfying life, and I have fun with whatever I’m doing, but I don’t have a huge section of fun that most people have. I don’t get the buzz and lack of inhibitions associated with alcohol, the high of drugs, the easy entertainment of TV and movies, the gustatory pleasure of unhealthy or fancy food.
I like food and TV and would probably love drugs and alcohol. But I’ve traded them away for better health and more time.
I’ve given up some level of stability in friendships. Today I had tea with my friends Brooke, Lenore, and Jesse, and then I had lunch with Todd. I won’t see any of them for three months. Last week I hung out with my friend Derek for a few days, and we realized we hadn’t seen each other in six years.
That’s a harder trade for me than fun. I’d love to be around these people all of the time and am losing genuine benefits by not doing so. But I’ve traded it to be able to cast a global net for friendships, as well as the other benefits of travel.
I’m somewhat minimalistic and have very few things. That enables me to have better things on average (or more money).
On a macro scale you could also say that I’ve given up a lot of stability as well as chances of “good” results, and have instead increased my odds of both excellent and terrible results. Given my dating habits and pickiness it’s almost impossible that I’ll end up in a ho-hum relationship. Instead I’ll probably either die alone or end up with someone amazing. The same is true of financial success… being unwilling to have a real job flips my bell curve upside-down.
Zooming in, today you have twelve hours. Will you get good rest, or will you get more work done? Will you spend time with your friends or will you work? Will you learn or will you be entertained? The decision will be made, and it’s up to you whether it’s deliberate or accidental.
Let’s say you have choices A, B, C, D, and E. And each one takes 5 “resources” to get, where a resource is time, money, or focus. If you choose not to do A, B, or C, you will spend 10 resources and get two results.
If you don’t actively decide to eliminate those three options, you will spend one resource on each. Then maybe B fades out on its own, so you spend another four resources to do the other four. Maybe you do that twice, and then C fades out. Then you spend three resources on A, D, and E. Then you’ve waited too long and can’t finish A in time, so you drop it. You spent two more resources to finish D and E.
You’ve gotten the same two results, but you’ve spent 14 resources getting them. That’s a lot less efficient. And of course this is a very simplified way to look at things, because sometimes there’s a benefit in doing things partially, but sometimes it takes more resources per item if you spread yourself to thin.
The point is that if you avoid deciding on what you won’t have, you will end up spinning your wheels constantly. Things will take longer and be harder for you.
What won’t you have? And not small sacrifices like “oh, I won’t eat waffles”. Will you sacrifice autonomy and free time for money? What about friendships for travel? Happiness for achievement? Novelty for focus?
If you aren’t willing to make any of these choices, you’re deciding to be inefficient and not maximize your potential. Just because you don’t acknowledge it doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
These decisions are hard, but can be made slightly easier by realizing that they’re not permanent. I gave up dating for three years, but it wasn’t that bad because I knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel. I can always go back to eating different things each day like normal people if I get sick of canned fish and Chipotle.
Think about what you’re willing to give up. It’s harder than thinking about what you like to have, but it’s also the very mechanism that enables you to have those things.
Photo is Queenstown, New Zealand. I had a great time being there and Wellington last week.
Right now I’m going on a cruise with my friend Nick and his family through Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, Talinn, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, and a few others. Denmark, Finland, and Estonia are all new countries for me!
As I mentioned before, I’ll be in Budapest for a lot of September and October. Get in touch if you’ll be there. If I haven’t written you back yet, it’s just because I don’t know when a meetup will be.
Last, a note for a friend– if you have non-reserved AWS instances and pay $150+ per month in AWS fees, email me to save 25% for a few months.