March 07, 2005

Now & Later

mentioned in a previous entry that I intended to discuss the trade of today’s labor for tomorrow’s leisure. (See March 2) This is a concept we all recognize and follow, but I doubt that many people really sit down and think about it.

College is a lot of work. We read, write, study, go to class, participate in extracurricular activities, work, and otherwise keep ourselves busy. We’re working hard now in hopes that the fruit of our labors will be a better paying job down the road. Granted, some want a genuine education just to “know stuff”, but even that has an ends in mind. There is an objective to all of this.

When we get to the “real world” just about all of us will have an entry level position. We’ll have the cubicle instead of the office, work late shifts, and have minimal vacation time, all for low pay. At this point, we’ll be “paying our dues” to our careers, or “getting experience under our belts”.

Eventually, we’ll claw our way to the top, or at least to an acceptable level of mediocrity. From here, we’ll have the jobs we always aimed to hold, be paid well enough to have our homes with picket fences in suburbia and send our kids to “good” schools. We’ll be able to enjoy our leisure time thanks to the efforts we had made previously.

We’re paying for that riding lawnmower, Volvo, and vacation to West Palm Beach just as much now as we will be in 20 years. Our labor now, both academic and physical, is an investment. Education is considered capital- the same as the machinery of an industry. It’s an asset that provides for a better likelihood of gains in the future.

We are trading today for tomorrow.

To put this into a microcosm, think of a big final you have to take. To prepare, you could very likely spend 8 hours in the library, studying, cramming, and rereading the chapters. In the course of doing so, what are you missing out on? Time with your friends or family? A party or social event? A date with your significant other? You make the choice to skip those activities and study because of the promise of a better tomorrow because of it. You believe that if you nail this test, you can celebrate that evening, or just enjoy the satisfaction of an A. Regardless of the grade you get, you missed that time with friends, that party, or that date. It is now gone because you traded it away.

The converse is also true though- sometimes we trade tomorrow for today. To demonstrate with an extreme, think of a drug addict. A person who is ruthlessly addicted to heroin surrenders time, money, their work, and much more to get that high. They’re trading away their potential tomorrow for that buzz right now.

Another microcosm you may be familiar with is drinking alcohol. On a Friday night, you may go out with friends and have a fun time. You may drink excessively, knowing full well that Saturday morning is going to be less than pleasant. You’re willing to exchange the hangover for carousing the night before.

The exchange is a sacrifice for one to improve the other. Is the trade of today for tomorrow and vice versa worth it? That of course, is up to you.

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