Choosing the Rewards You Respond To

Someone in the cruise business told me recently that I should start charging cancellation fees. I have to pay the cruise lines a small amount every time someone cancels a cruise. He is far more experienced in the business than I am, and he is right. I should charge cancellation fees. They cost me hundreds every month, and, as he pointed out, no one complains when you start charging them.

I think he thought I was a little bit crazy (or maybe just dumb) when I said that I’d rather just pay the fees myself. Some part of it is that I assume I might get a few extra bookings from other people who hate fees, so maybe that compensates for them, but mostly I just want my cruise agency to not charge fees, because that’s the kind of place I’d like to book through.

Or maybe, to put it in a more selfish way, I feel better having the freedom to run a business how I want than I would having a bit more money every month.

I’ve found that the more I can separate myself from traditional rewards, the happier I become. I love money and everything it can do for me, but I don’t love it more than a lot of other things. It’s a tenth priority or so. Freedom is much higher. You could offer me a $1MM/yr office job tomorrow and I wouldn’t take it, even though that money could change my life.

My dream is to open a teahouse one day, but I won’t do it until I can afford to run it at a loss and not care. I’m not there yet. I will spend no time selling tea online or to restaurants, and those are the ways in which teahouses actually make money.

Money isn’t the only reward that deserves some distance. Another big one is the approval of strangers. I don’t really know why I don’t care about it at all, but I’m not sure I ever have. People make so many decisions just to impress people who don’t even notice them, and it blows my mind. When I bought an RV and lived behind a gas station in it for years, it never even crossed my mind to care what random people would think about it. Friends would get it, and it didn’t matter if strangers did or not.

Which rewards should you respond to? An easy one is your own life satisfaction. I’d rather be content and middle class than miserable and rich. I’d also rather be happy with myself than have strangers be happy with me. The well being of different groups is another good one. If you can do something that will bring benefits to your family or friend group, you should feel motivated to do it.

You can also change the rewards that you respond to. Back when I had no money, I was motivated to get to the point where I could support myself without worrying. If I had to charge cancellation fees or go hungry, I’d happily charge you a fee. As my life satisfaction has become, essentially, a 10/10 bringing benefits to groups around me has become a higher priority.

Sometimes it’s more powerful to work on what you respond to than what you’re actually doing. With the right incentives you might find it easier to do the right thing without much effort.

Think about which rewards you respond to. What pushes you to do the things you don’t want to do? Build some freedom by cutting ties with rewards that don’t serve you.


Photo is from hot air ballooning over the Teotihuacan pyramids outside of Mexico City.






5 responses to “Choosing the Rewards You Respond To”

  1. Betty Avatar

    I like this post. When I retired everyone advised me to sell my quilts but I’ve always felt that by doing so I would turn something I love doing into work, so I’ve never charged anyone for a quilt I’ve made for them. Many folks have taken to sending me fabric now instead of just telling me what colors they would like me to use. I don’t ask them to do this but it is nice, both because I don’t have to absorb that cost, but also I don’t have to worry that my selections on their behalf are actually what they wanted… Anyway, it’s nice to do things just for the joy of doing them.

  2. Joe Avatar

    This is a great post. You probably increase customer LTV, and gain more customers, by not charging for cancellations anyway. This post feels close to Ikigai.
    Also, I’ve read your blog on and off for years now; I’ve learned a lot, and it’s helped me dismiss a lot of societal assumptions about what a good life is, so thank you. It’s a great resource, and I’ve read a few posts multiple times, which is why I have a request.

    Would you consider organising the posts by category or some other means? Searching by date is extremely 0(n). I’m sure $50 on upwork would get the post sorting done, and I haven’t used wordpress but I’m guessing there’s a ‘menu by #’ tool. I’m sure a lot of your audience would appreciate it. Either way, thanks again for the blog.

  3. TJ Avatar

    Agree with Joe in the comments that the number one thing this blog has given me since I started reading it ten years ago is a sense of distance from popular beliefs and values and a habit of asking ” is this how I want to live?”, “does this make sense?” etc. It wouldn’t be hyperbolic to say that this blog has changed my life, for the better. It gave me tools by which to live better. Thank you Tynan.

  4. John Avatar

    I agree with you. I prefer to run my business my own way. Yes, I could make more money by doing some things differently. I always like to treat the customer the way I want to be treated. I rarely if ever have lost a customer over the years, and most of my new customers come from existing customers referring their friends to me.

  5. T Avatar

    I needed to hear this right now. Thank you.

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