Today’s one thing: Doing stuff because you have to.
That one thing, better: Doing stuff because you know it matters.
You’re doing something. You think it’s critical to your success.
But what if it’s not?
Maybe it’s a job or a relationship. Or a thing you make. Or a task you perform. Or something you buy. Or a habit you have.
Whatever it is, this thing does not bring you 100% joy — but you do it because you think you must. Because it makes you money, or gives you status or purpose, or advances your career in ways nothing else will.
But again: Do you know that for sure?
Today, I’ll help you decide what’s actually worth doing — by breaking your efforts down into two categories: It’s either a toll… or a scam.
And I’ll start with an entrepreneur who discovered this for himself — after a shocking, panic-inducing accident.
When the sky didn’t fall.
I recently met a local supermarket owner. About 10 years ago, he had a full-blown crisis.
It went like this:
Every Sunday, he ran a big, expensive advertising insert in the local newspaper. Maybe you remember those things. Many pages, photos of food, lots of coupons — kinda like this:
But then, one week, there was an error at the printer. His insert wasn’t created.
When he learned about this, he panicked. This ad was critical to his business! It told people about his products and sales, which is why they shopped the entire next week!
He scrambled to save his store. He shrunk inventory. Discounted products.
Then Sunday came. No ad in the newspaper. And… nothing bad happened.
The same number of customers shopped that week. They spent the same amount of money. “I couldn’t believe it,” he told me. “All this time, I thought the advertisement was our power center. But it wasn’t.”
Now let’s think about you. Are you paying for your own version of an unimportant advertising insert — a thing you think is critical to your success, but that actually isn’t?
To answer that, let’s look at it another way:
What’s a toll, and what’s a scam?
Nobody likes paying tolls. But it’s the price we pay to reach our destination.
Metaphorically, we pay tolls all the time. I do boring stuff at my job, because it’s the toll I must pay to have a job I otherwise enjoy. I convince my kids to brush their teeth every night, which is the annoying toll I must pay to raise healthy kids.
But sometimes, we pay a price and get nothing in return. This isn’t a toll. It’s the definition of a scam.
If you don’t like doing something, you are paying a cost for doing it. Maybe that cost is money. Or time. Or energy.
So it’s worth knowing: Are you spending wisely? Are you paying a toll, or a scam?
This is a complex question!
First of all, tolls can become scams. Something might have started as important, and then lost value. Maybe those supermarket ads worked at first — but once customers habits were set, they became unnecessary.
Also, a “scam” is usually designed to trick us. But the way I’m using it here, that’s not always true. Scams may not be driven by someone’s bad intentions. The newspaper wasn’t trying to scam the supermarket; it just happened to sell something that wasn’t useful.
It’s hard to tell the difference. So…
Let’s figure out which one you’re paying.
Of course, there’s a clear way to find out: You could just stop doing whatever you don’t like doing. See what happens!
But that’s a big, risky, possibly unrealistic step. I’m not suggesting it right now.
Instead, let’s run a thought experiment:
Step 1: Consider the thing.
Think about this thing you’re doing — this thing you’re not sure is worth your time or energy. Why is it so important?
Step 2: Now consider an alternate reality.
Imagine that you stop doing this thing. Whatever it is. You quit the job or relationship, or at least demand some change within it. You stop doing the task, or paying for the thing.
OK. This next part is the most important:
Imagine that, when you stop this thing, you are still happy and successful.
Step 3: What’s up with that?
In this world you just imagined, you stop doing something supposedly important — and everything is fine.
Ask yourself: Why would that be?
For real! What would the answer be? Take this fantasy seriously. Logic your way through it. Things did not crumble, so what happened?
For example, let’s go back to the supermarket owner. What if he’d just imagined that he stopped running the ad — but that his business was fine. Why would that have been?
He might have made a list of possibilities:
My customers don’t look at the ad.
They look at the ad, but it doesn’t influence their decision to shop.
They already like my store and don’t consider my competitors.
My other marketing efforts are more impactful.
When I stop spending on the ad, I use that money to reach people in better ways.
These are all good hypotheses.
What is it for you? Maybe you quit the job, but the skills you have are transferrable. Maybe you leave a bad relationship, and then spend more time with friends, and end up happier than before. Things shift. Factors change. Nothing is static.
These are nice hypotheticals for now. Time for the final step:
Step 4: Test your hypotheticals.
In step 3, you created some positive outcomes: Everything is fine because…
It’s time to test if you’re right.
If you’re the supermarket owner, and you’re still running that ad, you can ask people: Do you see the ad? Does it influence your purchasing decision? Look at the impact of your other marketing efforts. Explore what happens if you shift your budget.
Maybe, after all of that, the supermarket owner might realize: This ad is still very important. That’s good to know!
But what if the supermarket owner learned something different?
What if you learn something different?
Maybe it’s time for some serious conversations. To see who’s in your corner. To see what you’re capable of. To interrogate the things you take for granted.
Here’s my guess: If you think something is important, that’s because it is important… in maintaining your life exactly as it is.
But if you’ve read this far, maybe you don’t want your life exactly as it is. Maybe it’s time for something to shift. To adjust. To improve. And what you need to know is: There are fewer third rails than you think. Some things are important, but very few are critical.
Once you start challenging your assumptions, you realize that, actually, there are a lot of other important things in your life too. Things you like more. Things better worth your time and energy and money.
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