Bad Trades

“I’m opposed to animal cruelty. So every year, I donate 20% of my income from my ivory-trading job to the ASPCA.”

See… this is a problem. I think most people would recognize it as such. At worst, it’s rank hypocrisy, but even at best (assuming you really are genuinely concerned about animal cruelty), you’re working against yourself.

So sure, most people would recognize the dilemma there. But fewer people recognize weaker versions of this story, even though they happen every day.

“I care deeply about my children, which is why I put almost all of my income from my 90-hour-per-week job into their college funds.”

You’re trading away the thing you care about in order to support the thing you care about in some other (usually weaker) fashion.

There’s a balance, of course. If I spent 24/7 with my kids, we’d be homeless. But it’s not just a matter of deciding exactly how many hours is the right number versus how many dollars earned is enough. It’s about aligning those things together. Making the pieces of your life work in tandem, instead of against one another.

The person that trades ivory to fund the ASPCA might genuinely want to end animal cruelty, and working the ivory trade might be the most money they can make, so they’ve done some misguided math and decided to stick with it. After all, if they make less money, they’ll have less to donate. But they could instead work for the ASPCA, make less money overall, but help their favored cause more. And all the pieces of their life would be in harmony.

Don’t make bad trades just to maximize a single outcome. Make optimal trades by eliminating internal competition between the various aspects of your life. The less you fight yourself, the better.

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