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#11: The Law of Trade-Offs

You Have to give up to grow up


"People will cling to an unsatisfactory way of life rather than change in order to get something better for fear of getting something worse." -- Eric Hoffer

Just a short time ago, I was making a life for myself in Colorado Springs, CO. I was a successful business manager for an excellent company where I had good relationships with my employers and my team members, plenty of vacation time, benefits, consistent salary increases, and a flexible schedule. I had purchased my first home and had just completed a series of remodels to make it a place I could call home. I lived at the foot of the Rocky Mountains and enjoyed the splendor of creation every day. Good food, shopping and entertainment options, cultural experiences, and more surrounded me.

But I couldn't shake the sense that I was made for and could do more.

The Law of Trade-Offs says that if you want to grow up to your potential, you must be willing to give up some things you value. And that's precisely what I did.

I quit my safe, steady job. I moved to Pennsylvania to have a lower cost of living and be closer to a support network. I took the proceeds from selling my house to start my own business. Did I take a risk? Absolutely! Did it hurt? You bet! Do I still question whether or not I made the right choice? Sometimes. But I had a vision for my life, and I was willing to give up everything I had built for a chance at doing something that would take me closer to my potential.


Everyone makes trade-offs throughout their life, whether they recognize that or not. Life is full of intersections, opportunities to continue in the same direction or veer onto a new path. We make choices at each of these intersections; we trade one option for another. The question is whether you will make good or bad trades.

1 - Trade-Offs are an Opportunity for Growth

Author Denis Whaitley once said, "A sign of wisdom and maturity is when you realize that your decisions cause your rewards and consequences. You are responsible for your life, and your ultimate success depends on the choices you make." When we grow through change, we become active and take control of our attitude and our emotions.

2 - Trade-Offs Force Us to Make Difficult Personal Changes

As a general rule, people fear what they can't predict or fully understand. Eric Hoffer's quote from the start of this post sums it up nicely; unsuccessful people are unwilling to change because they would rather be unhappy in the known than take the chance at happiness and success in the unknown. But the difference between where we are and where we want to be is created by the changes we are willing to make. It's often not easy, but making the right changes are always personal, possible, and profitable.

“Don't fear failure so much that you refuse to try new things. The saddest summary of life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have.” — Louis Boone

3 - Trade-Offs Usually Feel Like a Loss Before We Gain From Them

We often want a change but don't want to wait for the result. We immediately feel the loss of the trade-off, but it may take days, weeks, months, years, or even decades before we see the gain. There is no sugar-coating that this transition period can be challenging. How well you adjust to this uncertainty depends on your personality and attitude. You can't change your personality, but you can choose to have a positive attitude and focus on the upcoming benefits of the trade-off.

4 - Not All Trade-Offs are Worth the Price

While making trade-offs is part of life, we must be intentional with them; not all trade-offs are of equal value, and some are not worth the price. For example, a bowl of soup isn't worth the cost of an inheritance, but a buried treasure in a field is worth the cost of the land.

Do you know what kinds of trade-offs you've been making? Have you developed guidelines to decide what to strive for and give up in return? If not, John Maxwell gives several trade-offs that might help in the development of your own:

  • I am willing to give up financial security today for tomorrow's potential.

  • I am willing to give up immediate gratification for personal growth.

  • I am willing to give up the fast life for the good life.

  • I am willing to give up security for significance. (It's important to note that Maxwell's definition of "significance" is investing in the lives of others.)

This week, write your list of trade-off principles. If you're unsure, use the four "I am willing to" statements above as a guide. Think about what might be needed to reach your potential and what you must give up to fulfill it.

It's just as important to know what you are not willing to give up as it is to know what you are willing to give up. Think through and list the things that are not negotiable (i.e., family, values, personal time, etc.), and then identify the most significant potential threat and what safety measures you need to put into place to protect it.

Finally, think about the trade-off you must make now but have been reluctant to make. Maxwell recognizes that "most people settle in and learn to live with a limitation or barrier that can be removed by making a trade." What is the next thing you need to trade for, and what must you give up to get it?

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