You Don't Have To Do Everything

Why do people want to do so much?

Really, you hear it all the time: “You haven’t lived until you’ve done X.” “Last year, I went to Y—and it changed my life.”

Whenever I hear someone say “____ changed my life,” I’m skeptical. If something really changed your life that much, shouldn’t it be immediately obvious as soon as I look at you? Shouldn’t your vibe, your energy—even your physical appearance—be dramatically changed by this tidal shift in your understanding of the universe?

Of course.

So why do we always feel that we have to eat every little morsel that someone puts on our plate? More often than not, new opportunities have huge opportunity costs that far outweigh the benefits of seeking out that opportunity in the first place.  

You Don’t Have to Try New Things if the Old Things are Working

I have a friend who likes to get chicken tenders from a restaurant whenever it’s on the menu—no matter where he is. New restaurant? Good; do they have chicken tenders? Big menu? Good; do they have chicken tenders?

As you might imagine, his limited palette elicits jeers from those who think their own taste more worldly and sophisticated.

But what if the chicken tender system works?

Recently I’ve watched a lot of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, with Jerry Seinfeld. In one of the episodes, Jerry had the following exchanged (paraphrased), with Norm MacDonald:

Jerry: Do you like that [food]?

Norm: No. But you have to try new things.

Jerry: No, you don’t.

Jerry’s outlook on life is refreshing. He doesn’t hug you if he doesn’t know you; and he doesn’t really care if he later finds out you’re some popular singer. He's too rich (some estimates suggest he's earned some $700 million from syndicating Seinfeld) to care whether or not he looks good in the eyes of Kesha. Chances are, so are you.

You Don't Have to Take Every New Opportunity as It's Presented

I recently had a productive phone call with Emma Siemasko, a great writer who's been a tremendous help to me in the world of freelancing. Recently she let me pick her brain for insights into the world of entrepreneurship. She told me that when she interacts with new potential clients, she has a system in place for doing things. If the client wants to customize that and go below her minimum engagement rate, she's out.

The advantage of having a lot to offer is that you don't have to accept everything offered. Rather than deal with clients who ask her to work for less than her price, Emma knows what's worth her time and her clients' time. And she's not willing to accept anything less than the minimum she determined.

Do Something Because it Works, Not Because It's Recommended

This all brings me back to chicken tenders.

Ever try something new at a restaurant because "you have to try the veal"? Then the veal stinks. Why didn't you get the cheeseburger? You wanted a cheeseburger!

Yes, there are opportunities in life that are worth the try. I can't count them all here without starting a new post entirely.

But it's important to recognize when opportunities cost more than they're worth, too. Maybe taking $2,000 out of my bank account and visiting Cambodia would change my life...but I think I enjoy my life enough that I'll take the $2,000 and sit here in Wisconsin instead.

Performing a "Why Am I Doing This?" Self-Evaluation

Tim Ferriss' 4-Hour WorkWeek includes "elimination" as the second step to freedom. How do you know which worthless new things you should eliminate from your life?

  • Fire your clients. Okay, not all of them. Not if they're behaving. A good client is worth their weight in gold. A bad client weighs on you just as heavily.
  • If you don't enjoy a thing, find a way to automate it. I'm looking into Buffer for managing social media so I don't have to constantly check it and update it. I believe in the power of social media; I just don't want to waste time on it all day.
  • Eliminate distractions. If your current work is set up so you can't click this and work for the next 20 minutes, then something is wrong.

Most of all, remember the advice of Jerry Seinfeld: you don't have to try new things. You certainly don't have to try them if they sound silly to you. If you want to try something new for the heck of it (to learn, to attempt something by trial and error, etc.), then that's a different discussion. That's worth doing because you're pursuing a goal.

Otherwise? Stick with the chicken tenders.