Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are ‘It might have been.’ – Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle
(By the way, if you’ve never read it: you should.)
We play in the land of “What If” frequently, but almost always in reverse. We let our imaginations wander to what could have been, but so rarely even glance in the direction of what could still be.
Let’s say you make $50,000/year right now. If it could lead you to being able to make $75,000/year in five years, would you switch to a $30,000/year role right now?
That’s a good deal. People should take it more often – and the deal is there to take. Why don’t they?
The deal is there because there are lots of people who could very reasonably make more money by switching industries or learning a new skill, but they’d have to “start at the bottom.” Lots of people won’t do that, for a variety of reasons. The two biggest, I think, are these:
- Status matters to people. I think a lot of people would trade being being rich for being perfectly perceived as rich/high status by 100% of the population. Even the temporary loss of status is too much for some people to bear.
- People often can’t afford to have their income decrease even a little. We have a terrible tendency to let our expenditures rise exactly to (or even past!) our level of income, such that a minor decrease is incredibly difficult to bear.
As much as possible, be mobile. That can mean a lot of things. It can mean not anchoring yourself to a physical location, but it can also mean being economically mobile. If you live cheaply but have lots of savings, you can afford to make more money in the long run.
I admit, this is a mistake I’ve made in the past. When the oil industry was booming in North Dakota between 2006 and 2012, I thought about how I could have packed up and jumped on it and made a lot of money, but I wasn’t mobile enough.
Stay flexible, and consider what can be, instead of what might have been.