How many ‘I quit my six figure job to go broke traveling the world’- type articles popped up on your newsfeed in 2015?
Maybe you clicked on one. Maybe you even shared it.
These stories are wildly popular because they give us a taste of ‘the dream’, letting us live vicariously through those willing and able to prioritize their lives around the things they value most. There’s a lot to admire and celebrate in these stories, but there’s also an unfortunate system of belief they tend to reinforce – namely, the fallacy of ‘either/or thinking’ and narrowly framed decision-making.
Either I can work like crazy and make a lot of money or I can scrub toilets while traveling the world.
Either I can follow my dreams or I can work a passionless, stable 9-5.
Either I can stay at my day job and collect my benefits or I can risk everything to start my own business.
Like many artists, I believed I could either pursue my love of theater professionally and be broke or get an unfulfilling ‘real’ job that paid me well. I was essentially giving myself the option of starving artistry or miserable stability. What a lose-lose!
Why do we make decisions in the context of these ridiculously narrow frames when so many more options are out there?
Authors Chip and Dan Heath explore this concept of narrow framing in their best-selling book, Decisive: How to Make Better Decisions in Life and Work. Their research finds that our natural decision-making tendency is to limit ourselves to ‘either/or’ options and ‘whether or not’ choices, leading us to overlook countless alternatives that may be better suited to what we’re trying to achieve.
It was only a few years ago, when I began writing what would become The Broke and Beautiful Life, that I found myself deviating from the default ‘either/or’ approach.
“I want to retire someday, but not at the cost of giving up every pleasure and whim of the present. And I want to enjoy the here and now, but not for the price of my future. Regardless of my current circumstances, I’m determined to achieve financial freedom and live a glorious and beautiful life on my way to getting there.”
I have a feeling The Broke OR Beautiful Life would have been a far less compelling read, and it certainly would not have put me in the position I’m in today– doing what I love AND making good money. Serving others AND providing for myself. Building a profitable business AND traveling the world. All of these ANDs are possible because I explored the options beyond the black and white of ‘either/or’ thinking.
There’s a basic rule in improvisation known as ‘Yes, and…’. Essentially, it challenges you to accept whatever circumstances your partner presents in the scene while adopting those truths and adding onto them in your response. You can’t say “no”, negating the reality your partner has created and you can’t just say “yeah,” adding nothing to the scene. You have to accept the situation at hand and you have to make it work moving forward.
What if you took this practice of ‘Yes, and…’ and applied it to your life? Accepting the circumstances at hand and challenging yourself to find a way to make them work for you, instead of succumbing to the more limiting ‘either/or’ default.
In my case, I didn’t want to choose between the black and white of professional acting or career stability, so I dove into the grey, saying yes to my circumstances of being broke and leveraging that experience using my love of storytelling to develop a meaningful message that could help other people like me. It was through that process of taking action in the grey that I found a way to create on my own terms and monetize my expression in a market with high demand.
I now live in the grey of decision-making. It’s where I find all the best opportunities.
Last year, for example, I wanted to go to a conference in New Orleans, but I couldn’t really afford it. Rather than thinking ‘I can burn through my savings to go to this conference’ or ‘save my money and stay home’, I found a way to say ‘yes, and’ to make it work for me.
I applied for a scholarship that covered the cost of conference admission plus a $100 stipend for additional expenses; I travel hacked my way to a round-trip flight for less than $20; and I set up a home exchange, getting four nights free housing in NOLA. All told, the conference, plus a few evenings of debauchery in New Orleans came out to just over $100.
I’m using a similar approach now to figure out how to incorporate more video on my website. Rather than getting stuck spending a lot of time teaching myself how to edit and self-shoot poor quality video or spending a lot of money to produce awesome videos with no guaranteed payoff, I’ve been reaching out to past clients to see if I can secure a production partnership. I’ve been contacting friends with skill sets that compliment my own to see if I can barter services. I’ve been thinking of ways to schedule multiple video shoots in one day to minimize the total costs of production. There are so many more potential solutions I probably haven’t even considered, but I know for sure there’s a lot more than ‘either/or’.
These examples may seem trivial, but it’s this practical practice of ‘yes, and’ applied to day to day living that enables us to see beyond ‘either/or’ in the moments that really matter and when making the decisions that have the potential to change our lives.
So when you read those headlines about making the choice between ‘money and career’ or ”travel and freedom’, or any incarnation thereof – know that those are false choices and you can choose not to buy in. You can choose to say ‘yes, and’.