Avoiding the Red Queen’s Race

In the 1740’s , indentured servitude allowed people to work 4-7 years of their life in exchange for an education and the tools necessary to build a life for themselves.

Fast forward 270 years. Now we’ve got 30 year mortgages, income taxes, property taxes, death taxes, capital gains taxes, and student loans.

These are all weapons of mass indentured servitude.

By manipulating raw human emotions and hiding true costs, we’ve gotten much better at convincing people to work at running in place for longer and longer.

But at what point does the friction built into the system become so much that it feels as though we can’t make progress anymore?

In Lewis Carrol’s Alice In Wonderland, the Red Queen asks Alice to join in a race where you have to run as fast as you can to stay in one place. You can’t help but ask yourself if there isn’t a modern corollary.

So, how can I make sure I’m not running the Red Queen’s Race right now?

As an entrepreneur, I define my job as a wealth generator. Everything I do must take from a pool of limited resources, and end up creating more wealth from the other end. If I’m not creating more net wealth, I’m failing.

Notice I didn’t say my job was generating money, or creating profit. Instead of going the traditional capitalist’s route, I’ve decided to use wealth creation as my personal measuring stick.

In the beginning, I used money as my motivator. And money was a horrible motivator. The things money can buy are great, but for me personally, they simply weren’t a good enough carrot at the end of my stick. I’ve been around money, and I know it really doesn’t change much.

So I now measure wealth generation in the broadest sense.

How much wealth am I contributing to the world versus taking out?

And in doing so, I’ve come across a radical transformation in myself. Despite any outward circumstances, I now feel inwardly wealthy, as I look and measure myself in terms of wealth contributed.

That takes care of the motivation to keep running, but what of the results from what seems like running in place?

Learning to Ignore Your Present Results

When I started building businesses, I took great comfort in that statistic that 9 out of 10 businesses fail within the first year. For me, it seemed like I was only 10 tries away from a winner, and building a lasting contribution to society. Five years later, I now realize it’s absurd to assume doing something important would only require 10 tries. Depending on the level of difficulty, a number like 1,000 to 10,000 is probably more accurate.

Like Thomas J. Watson of IBM said: “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate.”

One thing I consistently see people getting hung up on is their expectation of results. I can relate, because I’ve only become aware of it very recently.

Top performers become indifferent to results.

Consider: If you wanted to become a world class writer, how much time would you give yourself to develop the skill, starting from zero?

A top performer’s answer should be as long as it takes. However, most people get caught up in looking for results, and run from one project to the next, never really following though to completion on any one thing. And we’re all guilty of this.

But I Need Results Now!

I’d argue that this is the core reason people get stuck in running the Red Queen’s Race. We get caught up in focusing on our immediate needs, and never take a longer term approach.

So how do we pick, and how do we stay focused? I’m already old, I don’t have the time to invest 10 years in developing skills to be at the top of my chosen field. I need results now!

This short sightedness is really one of the greatest reasons I’ve seen for the destruction of wealth.

Consider the housing prices in 2006. We all knew that houses would be unaffordable for just about anyone. And yet everyone wanted to refinance and get access to all that hypothetical equity now.

Taking the long term picture and minimizing our financial footprint are boring exercises. They don’t change anything radically, and yet they are precisely what builds the wealth we all dream of having.

But we still see bubbles within the marketplace, and we still have kids taking out massive loans for schools that don’t guarantee a real income. We’ll continually be hustled and dragged down from every which way if we don’t become conservers, and manage to limit our real needs.

One thought on “Avoiding the Red Queen’s Race

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