Sacrificing Your Flexibility
I visited Tikal last week. These massive pyramids are the remains of a once-thriving Mayan city. Painted bright red, they overlooked the common courtyards where the citizens traded, played ball, and offered sacrifices to the kings and gods.
UNESCO calls this place a world heritage location, and it’s clear why. These structures took hundreds of years to build and the civilizations that built them were some of the most powerful in North America.
I was talking with a friend from California about this recent trip yesterday. For him, Guatemala feels far away, a place he’d like to visit but probably won’t be able to.
It got me thinking. How was I able to visit Tikal, all the way in Guatemala, on a Monday, without thinking twice about it?
For most people, it’s a massive hassle to visit places like Tikal, the Egyptian Pyramids, the Eiffel Tower, or the Grand Canyon. It involves months of planning, months of waiting, and then a rushed 1-2 weeks to take all the pictures and see what you can.
The truth is, visiting special places like Tikal takes just a few hours and about $80. It’s not a big deal, so why does it often feel that way?
Giving Up Your Flexibility Too Soon
There is a pandemic among young people today. They’re giving up their flexibility too soon.
It’s difficult to be spontaneous, say, taking an unplanned trip to Tikal, if you’ve signed your time and your money away and you don’t have any left for yourself.
Perhaps a job or school already takes up your time. You need to be there 40 hours per week, every week. In reality you lose much more than 40 hours thanks to useless ‘friction time’ like the hours lost in your commute. (2 hours each way in LA)
You can’t travel much, and if you want to you’ll need to fit everything into a short vacation slot, most likely just 2 weeks per year if you’re young.
In addition to your time it’s also easy to sign away your money and future earnings. You can sign the lease, take on the mortgage, go into credit card debt, and take on the car payments. You may also have signed up for crushing student loans.
It’s relatively easy to get into debt, but much more difficult to get out.
With all of your time and money signed over to others you don’t have much left, limiting your ability to be spontaneous, take on risky challenges, and enjoy being young.
Don’t Invest In A Rigid Structure Too Soon
Once you invest too much time and money structuring your life it will be very difficult to un-structure it. It becomes more difficult to change your mind and make new decisions.
Worse, when you’re young and your interests, relationships and income are changing quickly, these expensive ‘investments’ often become worthless.
If you’re 3 years into an undergraduate biology degree and realize you don’t like biology, it’s a very difficult to leave if you have racked up $100,000 in student debt. You may feel trapped in a career because it allows you to pay the bills.
When you take on a mortgage for a house it becomes more difficult to travel or move to a new city. When you sign a car lease you commit money each month that you now can’t use to fly to Asia, start a business, or pay your expenses as you learn about a subject that interests you.
Don’t invest too much too quickly. Small decisions and small commitments give you flexibility and allow you to change your mind without major consequences.
First, Build Your Life Around Flexibility
Imagine the Mayans building Tikal in 400 B.C. They didn’t just start building on the first spot they got to. They did lots of scouting, planning, and discussing before they decided where they were going to build their massive, stabile and immobile cities and temples. It didn’t make sense to invest 200 years building a pyramid without knowing for sure that you were building it in the best location possible!
I like being a digital nomad because it allows me to be flexible. I’ve kept my options open. I can see Tikal today and head to El Salvador tomorrow, and I can fly somewhere else after that.
I’m not like the debt-ridden biology student who feels ‘trapped’ and can’t get out.
When you haven’t signed your time and money away to others you have the flexibility to actually do all the things you want to do, instead of just lusting over them indefinitely.
The question “What do I really want to do?” becomes actionable, not just rhetorical.
Because you can do more, you learn a lot more about yourself. You get a better sense of who you are and who you want to be. (And who you aren’t and who you don’t want to be)
If you give all your time away you won’t be able to explore and discover. You’ll be left asking ‘What if…?’
Eventually, when we’re done exploring, when we know the world and we know ourselves… we will probably be happier with a little more stability in exchange for flexibility. This may be when you want to build a family, launch that ‘big’ business, or take on any challenge that requires making long-term commitments and big investments.
But, if you’re young, that’s time is probably not now! This is your time to explore, learn about a variety of interests and get a taste the world so you know which flavors you like.
Embrace the flexibility you have. Don’t be in a rush to give it away!
Once it’s gone it’s hard to get it back.
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