Make These 5 Trade-Offs for a Brighter Future

UPDATED: May 23, 2024
PUBLISHED: January 1, 2019

Children’s toys have come a long way since I was a boy. We didn’t have video games and “smart” toys back then. We had marbles.

Smart or not, you can learn a lot from something as basic as a marble. In fact, I learned an incredible lesson that would stick with me for the rest of my life when I was just in elementary school—although I didn’t realize it at the time.

Some days back then, we would play marbles all during lunch and recess, and it was a lot of fun trying to beat friends and win their best marbles from them. One of my best friends had a big, beautiful cat’s-eye marble that I wanted very badly, but he wouldn’t risk it, so I never had a chance to win it from him. He just held onto it and liked to show it off. So I developed a strategy. Rather than convincing him to play me for it, which he wouldn’t, I offered him a trade. First I offered any marble I had for it. He wasn’t interested. Then I offered two for it. Then three. Then four. I think he was finally willing to make the trade when I reached seven. He was happy because he got seven marbles. I was happy because I’d given up several average marbles for one beautiful marble.

Here’s the lesson: Life has many intersections, opportunities to go up or down. At those points, we make choices. We can add something to our life, subtract it or exchange one thing for another. The most successful people know when to do which of those three—when to trade off their dead-end career to take the risk of starting a new business; when to exchange the relationships that are holding them back for those that will encourage and strengthen them; when to add a positive new habit at the expense of an old one that wasn’t producing results.

In general, I believe that unsuccessful people make bad trade-offs, average people make few trade-offs and successful people make good trade-offs.

It is important to remember that we don’t always get what we want, but we always get what we choose.

I’ve made dozens of significant trade-offs in my life, and I’ve come to realize that I have to be willing to continue making them if I want to keep growing and striving to reach my potential. When I stop making them, I will arrive at a dead end in life, and at that point, my growth will be done. That will be the day that my best years are no longer ahead of me, and my potential is behind me.

It is important to remember that we don’t always get what we want, but we always get what we choose. What kind of choices have you been making so far in life? Have you developed guidelines to help you decide what to strive for and what to give up in return? Allow me to give you five trade-offs that I have thought through, which may help establish your own guidelines.

1. I am willing to give up financial security today for potential tomorrow.

Physician and writer George W. Crane said “There is no future in any job. The future lies in the man who holds the job.” I have always believed that to be true, and as a result, I have always been willing to bet on myself, so much so that I often accepted financial risks or pay cuts to pursue what I believed was a good opportunity.

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

When it comes to growth and success, immediate gratification is almost always the enemy of growth. We can choose to please ourselves and plateau, or we can delay our gratification and grow. It’s our choice.

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

We live in a culture that idolizes movie and music stars, drools over opulent mansions, idealizes travel, and plays the lottery in hopes of someday getting the chance to live the fast life it so admires and emulates. But most of that is an illusion. That’s why I choose to forgo the fast life in favor of the good life. What’s that? Missionary Albert Schweitzer said “The great secret of success is to go through life as a man who never gets used up.” To keep myself from getting “used up,” I try to create greater capacity in myself and therefore margin time in my life.

4. I am willing to give up security for significance.

You’ll never get anywhere interesting by always doing the safe thing. Most people are capable of making a living. That’s the safe thing. The significant thing is making a difference. The great men and women of history were not great because of what they earned and owned, but rather for what they gave their lives to accomplish. Every trade-off is a challenge to become what we really are. Done correctly, we can create opportunities to help others become who they really are.

5. I am willing to give up addition for multiplication.

My attitude in the beginning of my career was What can I do for others? But that is addition. Once I began to learn leadership, my question changed to What can I do with others? That’s multiplication. I want to encourage you to explore developing your leadership potential. Your investment in others will have a multiplying effect, and you won’t regret the time you give.

Most people try to take too many things with them as they journey through life. They want to keep adding without giving anything up. It doesn’t work. You can’t do everything; there is only so much time in a day. At some point, you reach your limit. Besides, we need to remember that if nothing changes, nothing changes!

If you want to reach your potential, be willing to choose wise trade-offs.

Related: You Are Filled With Extraordinary Potential 

John C. Maxwell, an internationally respected leadership expert, speaker, and author who has sold more than 18 million books, has been named an inaugural SUCCESS Ambassador. Dr. Maxwell is the founder of EQUIP, a non-profit organization that has trained more than 5 million leaders in 126 countries worldwide. A New York Times, Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek; best-selling author, Maxwell has written three books that have sold more than a million copies.