Losing an extra few thousand dollars may not seem like a big deal. However, over a long enough period of time, small things become big things.
According to an analysis by Salary.com, negotiating your initial salary and renegotiating every few years will earn you over $1 million more during your career.
Here's the kicker: Raises and future offers generally build on your current salary or position -- which means your first mistake can haunt you for a long time.
I had a conversation with Jeff Goins, best-selling author of The Art of Work, about eight months ago. I asked his advice about publishing a book I wanted to write, and he said, "Wait. Don't jump the gun on this. I made that mistake myself. If you wait a year or two, you'll get a 10-times bigger advance, which will change the trajectory of your whole career."
Most People Can't Wait
In the famous Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, 4-year-old children were offered a treat of their choosing (an Oreo cookie, a marshmallow, or a pretzel stick). They were told they could have the treat now, or, if they waited 15 minutes and "resisted temptation," they could have a second treat.
So, for waiting 15 minutes, the kids who waited would get a 100 percent increase in their reward.
Follow-up studies on these children later in life found that those who delayed gratification were more successful in generally all areas of life.
We've all heard this before. Yet, despite knowing about this famous study -- and the loads of research on willpower and self-control since -- most people are still impulsive about their decision making.
The Wrong Motivations
The reason most people fail to make the best long-term decisions is because they don't know what they really want.
If you don't know what you want, of course you'll take the best thing offered you.
In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins said, "A 'once-in-a-lifetime opportunity' is irrelevant if it is the wrong opportunity." According to Collins, most companies don't go from good to great because they lose track of their original intent.
When you start to succeed (or get a degree, etc.), more opportunities come your way. Unless you know exactly what you are and what you're not, you'll be easily swayed.
Because most people haven't decided what they intrinsically want, their primary motivation becomes external validation. Thus, rather than actually being good, the objective is to look as good as possible.
Why do you really want to do what you are doing?
Ryan Holiday, best-selling author of The Obstacle Is the Way, told me that people write a book for one of two reasons:
- Get a book deal
- Write a book that does well long into the future
Most people trying to develop a writing career, if they were honest with themselves, want to get a book deal. They'd sacrifice the long-term goal of writing a classic at the expense of merely "becoming an author." The same is true of most people trying to start a business, or doing anything else.
The problem is, in most cases, it doesn't go both ways. Holiday, for example, took a substantially smaller book contract for The Obstacle Is the Way because the book was on an unproven concept. But he was fine with the initial pay-cut, because his goal was more long term. He wanted to write a book that would continue to sell well years into the future.
This is the exact opposite of how most people approach their goals. The goal for most people is to be a "bestseller," or an "entrepreneur," or a "college grad." It's all about the image. The external validation becomes more important than truly doing great work.
The Benefits of Delayed Gratification
Holiday differs in one more way than most people in his space. He was offered a book contract for the book that would eventually become The Obstacle Is the Way several years before he wrote the book.
Of course, he was ecstatic! He told his mentor, best-selling author Robert Greene, about it. Holiday recollects about that conversation:
Robert was as happy for me as everyone else, but he told me he didn't think I should do it. Not because it wasn't a good deal, but because I wasn't ready. You're 22 years old, he reminded me. Are you sure you can speak from a place of real understanding about the subject matter, he asked? He told me that every day I was experiencing new things, that I was widening my understanding and authority on the topic by living, and improving as a writer. 'The book would be better the longer I waited' was his nice way of saying 'It wouldn't be any good if it came out now.' He advised me to pass.
Unlike so many others, Holiday delayed gratification. He further explains that over the next few years, he'd learn things and have experiences allowing him to become the person that could write The Obstacle Is the Way.
Could he have written a great book at age 22? Probably.
Would it have been a classic? Probably not.
The question is: Do you really believe you could create a classic?
Or, do you believe you can create something truly impactful?
Rather than just "starting a business," do you believe you can create something truly important?
Do you really believe in yourself?
This may sound like a trite question. But it's serious.
Of course you believe you could create something. But I'm talking about something real. Something of enduring quality. Something truly great.
Do you believe YOU could do that? Or would you rather create something quick and inferior, but that gives you a false sense of achievement?
Said Tony Robbins: Life gives you exactly what you ask of it, no more and no less. You get in life what you're willing to tolerate. It's all about your personal standards.
Most people get less in life than their potential because they have low standards for themselves and those around them.
The greatest reward for delayed gratification is who you become. It's not necessarily about the work you do. More, it's that you became someone who could do work at that level.
Your work is a reflection of you. Who you become determines the quality of your work. The quality of your work influences the lives of other people.
You'll Know When It's the Right Time
An obvious objection, or question, you should be having right now is: What if I wait too long?
Waiting to act and delaying gratification are two completely different things. Perfectionism is not delaying gratification. Perfectionism is a disease that leads to procrastination and waiting.
The time to act becomes painfully obvious, not only based on intrinsic feelings, but also based on external demand. It's not enough to feel ready. There must be clear evidence that you are ready. That can only occur through experience in the real world and not merely in your head.
80 Percent of Life Is Showing Up
In his book, The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It, Michael Gerber explains that the natural thing for a new business to do is grow.
Most people wonder if they will get any traction for their concept. This fear is legitimate, but beside the point. If you start a business and work at it, it will grow.
Most businesses fail when things start growing. The owners get too excited by future prospects and don't continue the technical and organizational stuff to support the growth. Of this, author and strategist Greg Mckeown has said, "Why don't successful people and organizations automatically become very successful? Success is a catalyst for failure."
You must balance 1) your plans for the future with 2) doing and improving the actual work (i.e., your products) and 3) keeping things well-managed.
If you keep these three things balanced, your chances of success during growth are substantially higher, Gerber explains.
If you're willing to wait an extra year or two, the quality of your impact as well as the quality of your life could dramatically improve.
You must first know what you want. Until you do, you'll be swayed by the first offer you get.
You must also know why you are doing what you're doing. Until you do, you'll be more concerned about looking good than actually doing something of lasting and significant value.
Expect that when you go into business, it is going to grow. When it does, don't get distracted by all the "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunities that come your way. Stay the course. When needed, delay the gratification for something good in order to create something truly great.
You'll never regret that extra six months, or year, or few years you were investing in yourself. When the harvest comes in, you'll look back with a satisfaction most people could never imagine.