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The Universal Law of "Give-to-Get"


It seems to be a law of the universe that for everything a person gets, he has to give up something. Some summarize this by saying, "there is no free lunch". I'll call this concept "the law of give-to-get". I was a big M. Scott Peck fan. In one of his books, he gave an example of this. In his case, in order to have a better relationship with his daughter, he was forced to give up his intense desire to win at games, because his competitiveness caused her pain.

When I was in school, I gave up everything in my life for five and a half years to get BS and MS degrees in engineering. It wasn't so much that I made this decision consciously as it was that there was just no time for anything else. No hobbies, no personal reading, except between semesters, no dating, no free time. I gave it all up to spend 80 hours a week in class and studying. No summers off, either. This is what it took for me personally to get the good grades I needed to get my first job as an engineer, the job that set the tone for the rest of my career. If I had another 20 IQ points and a better memory, I could have done other things while in school. But I didn't. So, I compromised everything else in my life to get what I thought I wanted. It turned out that my first engineering job was a huge disappointment, and if I could have gone back to do it all over again, I would have done some things differently. But, after 15 years of jobs that I mostly disliked, things improved, and I began to enjoy my career more. Mostly this had to do with getting to a point where I was allowed to do my job without interference.

In order to work as an engineer on projects that interest me, I give up stability in my life. I move from job to job as the interesting work at each job ends. In the past, rather than letting managers assign me work that I was not interested in, I chose to be laid off and start looking for the next job, much to their surprise. On multiple occasions, I have chosen to quit jobs, rather than to continue putting up with micro-managers who were preventing me from doing my job.

I have a girlfriend who lives in another state. I don't see her much, because I refuse to live in a place I can't afford with limited job opportunities. I have chosen not to give up my career for her, and she has chosen not to give up her career for me. So, we see each other whenever we're both available. Over the last year, that has been less and less, as she has begun working the equivalent of one-and-a-half jobs in order to feel like she is doing something of value in her life.

My feeling for many years has been that early in peoples' lives they don't understand the law of give-to-get. Boys in high school don't understand what they are giving up to own a car. My nephew didn't understand that he would be giving up the lower part of his leg to show off on his motorcycle. Young men and women get married and start popping out babies before they understand what they have to give up to have a spouse and children. Many, having just started working, are still getting used to having what they consider to be a "large" income. They haven't yet grasped the concept of wage slavery. Most get a spouse, a mortgage, and children before they grasp this concept. The problem is that you can't have two lives and choose which one you like better. You only get one life, and many of the decisions you make can't be unmade to have a different life. For example, my knees will never be as good as they were before I injured them running track in high school.

The law of give-to-get affects our lives in many ways that we don't fully understand until it is too late. Young people who don't understand the law of give-to-get are unable to look ahead to see what their lives will be like after they drop out of high school. Inner city children often don't understand that the world is immensely larger than just their neighborhoods and their small circle of friends, so they don't have a good grasp of what to give or give up. People are unable to see what they are trading for sex as teenagers, or even as adults. They don't understand the good health they are giving up to start the smoking habit or that it will add nothing of real value to their lives. They don't yet understand addiction, but they will.

For the life we get, we give up all others.



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