Zero Sum

May 5th, 2010 Comments

hourglass 4Many of us live our lives as if there were few, if any choices. It’s as if we are blind to the options to our difficulties. In reality, we are only limited by our imagination. When things get stressful, and situations feel like they are out of control, we tend to feel boxed in and trapped. We don’t see an abundance of options, we see a scarcity.

However, the truth is, there are an abundance of options.  Not all of them are viable, and not all of them are feasible, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t options.  Yet, how would one know which ones are viable and feasible if we don’t try them?  The alternative, as long as we’re talking about options, is to keep doing what we’ve always done – and keep getting the same results.

While this may seem safe, in reality, it may be the most dangerous path.  Just because it is familiar, that doesn’t mean it is safe.  Although the alternative path, to not try something new, may seem like the most risky – it may very well be the safest path, to try the untested.  But of course, how would we know unless we tried?

When it comes to what make and model of car we should drive, what brand of catchup to use, or whether we should eat more healthfully – we have a range of options.  Realizing this will help you to have an abundance mentality. It will release you to experience all that life has to offer.

There are 168 hours in a week – 24 hours in a day.

However, there are some things for which options are limited.  Time and money are two things that come to the top of my list.  One can’t spend more money than they have, at least not for long.  You also can’t fit more into a day than the amount of available time will allow.  So why is it that we try so hard to spend more than we make, and do more than time allows?  The former we can put on paper and logically conceive, but the latter is a lot harder to realize.

There are 168 hours in a week – 24 hours in a day.  If you’re not sleeping for at least one third of those hours, you’re going into debt and it will be Hell to pay down the road.  Most employers require 40-50 hours of your time per week.  Factoring in meals and commuting time, that leaves you about 42 hours of semi-fluid time in your week.  It’s amazing how quickly those 40+ hours can pass.

We sleep less, drive faster, and eat more meals in the car.  We’re constantly urging the kids to hurry up, and we always feel tired and stressed.

Between household chores, family time, errands, and social events, most of us find ourselves getting further and further behind.  There never seems to be enough time to get everything done.  We sleep less, drive faster, and eat more meals in the car.  We’re constantly urging the kids to hurry up, and we always feel tired and stressed.

Two things happened today that caused me to think about this more deeply:

First, because my daughter had been sick last night, she and The Wife were sleeping in.  This left me and my Smiling Son to fend for ourselves.  Because I’m not a morning person, I tend to hide out in my cave in the mornings.  It’s rare if I eat breakfast with my family.  This morning I was so tempted to give my son a bowl of cereal and then retreat to my office, but I didn’t.  I didn’t have my phone, a magazine, or any outside stimulation.  It was just he and I interacting over our bowls of Cheerios.  It was very good.

The other prompt for this post came from several status updates which I saw on Facebook and Twitter.  One from a friend who had to give up her day off to deal with a work urgency.  Another from someone who over-committed.  I was struck by something I’ve heard my brother say often:  “Whenever you say yes to one thing, you have to say no to something else.”  This is always true when it comes to time and money.

Whenever we say yes to one thing, we have to say no to something else.”

If we say yes to work, we have to say no to something – our families, our health, or the possibility of lowering our stress level. Granted, it’s hard to say no.  Most of us want others to be happy, and we don’t want to be thought of in a bad light.  So why is it that we say no to our families so often?  Why don’t we carve out more time for ourselves?  Why are we willing to spend our future health for the sake of today?  We need to learn to say no.

We need to say no more often and we need to know why we’re saying it.  Having a firm grasp on your values, your personal and family vision, and your five and ten year goals will help you overlook short-term gain for future failure.  This isn’t easy, and it isn’t something that one can grasp overnight.  It takes practice, it takes patience, and it takes perseverance.  It’s important to remember that “progress” is more important than “perfection” in this arena.

We only have about 20 years with our kids…

Just remember, you only have about 20, or so, years with your kids.  The sooner you grasp the concept, the happier everyone will be.

Here are a couple of tricks I use to help me make better choices:

  • Wait. Whenever you are asked to make a decision about something, don’t automatically respond.  Tell whomever, or whatever, is demanding your attention, to wait for  decision.  Whether it’s your employer, your editor, your email or phone, or your kids – you don’t have to answer right away.  Email, like voice mail, can wait.  So can kids and so can your boss.  You can also learn to set aside those inner voices of urgency.
  • Think. Weigh the options.  Realize that if you say yes to one thing, you say no to another – and vice versa.  Count the costs, and realize what you’re giving up before you agree to anything.  There is always a cost.
  • Plan. An important step in all of this is to have a plan.  What are your core values?  What are the principles you use to guide your life?  What are your goals?  Who do you want to become?  With these ideals, written down somewhere, you will have benchmarks to base your decisions.  Besides the macro plan, you need a more basic agenda.  Just like a financial budget can be a money spending plan, it is possible to create a time management budget.  How are you going to spend this week’s 168 hours?  How will you spend today’s 24?  Without a plan, you will fail.
  • Prioritize.  It’s one thing to have a good plan, it’s quite another to do the right things.  Many people do things right, but few understand how to do the right things.  What is the most important priority in your life?  Your health?  Your spirituality?  Your family?  Figure out what it is, and don’t make any decisions that will negatively impact that priority.  Once you understand your top priorities, it will streamline your decision making process above.
  • Courage.  When you take the time to have a plan, it will give you the will to have courage.  It isn’t easy telling people no – especially when it’s one’s employer.  But understanding one’s values gives us courage.  I’d rather live in a shack, then to sell my soul to a misaligned organization.  My family, and our health, is more important than how nice our house is.  Also, one’s reputation is sometimes on the line – but ultimately, reputation is meaningless if your family isn’t healthy.

Understanding your top five core values, your personal and family vision, and your primary five and ten year goals will enable you to be more purposeful in your day-to-day life.  It is amazing how many people let life’s circumstances back them into a corner.  It is up to you to take charge of your own life and move forward in a positive and purposeful direction.

Putting your life’s priorities in order is key to all of this.  Do you live to eat, or eat to live?  Do you live to work, or work to live?  Does your family support your career, or does your career support your family?  Be courageous enough to make the right choices – no matter how painful it is on the short term.  Delayed gratification always pays off!

As for me and my house, family comes first.

Time – it’s a zero sum game.  How are you going to spend yours?

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