The Trade-off

The Trade-off

You stare at the menu at the coffee bar in the airport knowing that you only have three dollars in your pocket. The rest of your hard earned cash has been exhausted on goods smashed into your suitcase and on that sneaky overweight fee you had to pay at departure.

Blurry eyed and jet-lagged, you try to make the decision between a latte that will give you a jolting caffeine boost and the tempting pastry that will stave off the hunger pangs until the bland airline snack arrives in six hours time.

You can only afford one, somewhere in the decision making process you have to make a trade off.

I was reminded this week of the concept of trade. Not as it just applies to the exchange of goods and services, but as the medium through which we conduct our lives. So roll with me a little as we explore the idea.

At a basic level of understanding trade is an exchange; we trade our time for money, and our money for goods and services. You buy that cup of coffee at the airport and you have traded a steaming pot of java for a few dollars that represent value.

But if you look deeper at the story, you have also made a trade between the coffee and the croissant. You will have traded thirst for hunger.

Our choices between items and activities are themselves a trade.

Each of us starts the day with a finite amount of time. How you leverage that time to get things done determines what you trade your time for. You can spend overtime at work, or you can spend time with your family. You are trading one for the other.

The impact and value of that trade depends entirely on your circumstance and the possible outcome of your choices in the future. You can be a successful (on the surface anyway) businessman who misses their son’s rugby game, and then wonders why his son would rather spend time smoking with his mates than talking to his dad.

Now there is a time and a season for everything and it takes a bit of thought to work out what the best exchange of your time may be.

The way you trade your time reflects your inner values.

The way you exchange your money, for many of us money represents our time, will show where your value lies.

Here is a great question to ask yourself: what would I exchange 24 hours of my life for? The reverse of the question is ‘How much of my life would I be willing to exchange for this item?’

  • Would you be willing to swap a year of your life for perfect physical look?
  • To live one year less, but be a demigod in the eyes of the opposite sex for what you have left?
  • What about that car you want?
  • Or a million dollars for dinner with the woman of your dreams?
  • For a patched relationship with your daughter?
  • For a happier work environment?
  • For a better marriage?

Chances are you’re already living out the answer to the question.

Moral trade occurs when we exchange our integrity and our conscience.

Every time you engage in a crooked deal or pay a bribe, you are trading part of your soul for a quick fix. Sooner or later it will catch up with you. Sure, no one may see your inner loathing of yourself, but give away enough of your conscience and you will be an empty shell of a man with a pile of regret. You get to choose the level you trade at.

Relationships are built and broken on trade—trade of words, ideas, memories, time spent building into each other’s lives. The term ‘to exchange words’ is an apt term for an angry trade. Words once spoken are hard to trade back, erasing the memory of such a negative emotional transaction can take years of counsel to try and attain some sort of healing.

My challenge to you is that for an entire week you ask yourself each time you are faced with a choice ‘What am I really trading?’ For every activity that you do, ask ‘What am I exchanging this for...financially, morally, in terms of relationships, in terms of other areas I could be investing my time?’

And finally, ask ‘What may be the long term returns, positive or negative, on this trade?’ It is a sobering exercise, but a revealing one. Have fun with it and hopefully your trades get smarter, wiser, and more inspiring.

(photo via spyros papaspyropoulos)