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The Successful Sacrifice

Improving Systems and Habits

Scott Miker is the author of several books that describe how to use systems and habits to improve.  This free blog provides articles that to help understand the principles related to building systems.  

The Successful Sacrifice

Scott Miker

We all have our own idea of what success means. We envision money or accolades, excess or riches. We picture contentment and pride.

But one thing that seems to have spanned the history of man is the idea that successful people sacrifice. Usually they sacrifice gratification now for some additional value in the future.

In 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, author Jordan B. Peterson says, “People watched the successful succeed and the unsuccessful fall for thousands and thousands of years. We thought it over, and drew a conclusion: The successful among us delay gratification. The successful among us bargain with the future. A great idea begins to emerge, taking ever-more-clearly-articulated form, in ever more-clearly-articulated stories: What’s the difference between the successful and unsuccessful? The successful sacrifice.”

When you break this down it makes complete sense. If we sacrifice going out and having fun now to study, we will do better on the exam, get better grades, get a better job, and ultimately earn more money down the road.

So do we look at the party we were invited to as an invitation to a fun time, or a chance to earn less in the future by sacrificing the future for now?

If we sacrifice the juicy cheeseburger and fries today and instead opt for a healthy meal with grilled chicken and broccoli then over time we will start to see the incredible benefits of eating healthy.

Obviously if we do this enough we can easily see that the successful sacrifice more in the present instead of the future. They bargain with the future and make deals that end with them being better off later instead of right now.

When I was in college I didn’t understand this. Instead I always wanted both. I wanted to have fun now AND gain more in the future. This left me chasing get-it-now approaches. I always wanted the shortcut.

It took me a long time to realize that this is actually very transactional. The range of success isn’t in the fact that there are shortcuts but that there is leverage and risk involved.

Make a sacrifice now like saving your money in an investment means that you are trying to leverage that money for future money. If you take on too risky of an investment you are likely to lose all of your money. Or you could get lucky and greatly increase your investment.

So what happens is that risk and leverage (or luck and position/talent/teachings etc.) get all mixed up and we miss the fact that it really is very transactional – sacrifice now for a better future. The level to which this occurs is based on leverage and risk.

Some people may have only sacrificed a little and gained a lot due to taking a risk that worked out in their favor (luck). Some people sacrifice a lot and gain a little due to not properly using leverage or taking on risk that didn’t work out in their favor.

But this just complicates things. This just muddies the water and gives enough to point to in order to make us feel like these exceptions are the rule.

If we want to improve our situation in life we have to learn how to sacrifice now for the future. It could be that we spend time investing, exercising, earning a degree, etc. It could be that we spend our money on assets instead of toys. We always have options but the core of improvement is that today’s work brings tomorrow’s fortunes. Today’s pleasure brings tomorrow’s troubles.

Therefore, before we really even dive into leverage and risk, we have be disciplined enough to sacrifice today for tomorrow. If we can do that consistently we will have more available to leverage and risk. If we don’t sacrifice today for a better tomorrow, then we will constantly be at the bottom, with nothing to leverage and only high-risk options.

The successful sacrifice. They trade today for a better tomorrow. Then they learn how to take better risks and leverage what they have for an even better tomorrow. They do this over and over. It soon grows larger and larger and they learn the whole time how to do it better and better. That is why the successful sacrifice.