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This Time It’s Different

A common question in my Inbox reads something like this:

“I really want to pursue [activity, trip, or transition that involves change], but right now I can’t because of [reason or roadblock].

I could spend the next [long period of time] preparing for the big change, but I worry if I wait, I may never do it.

Should I apply myself for years to improve my situation, or should I find a way to do it now?”

Details vary, of course—but I hear versions of this question several times a day.

I’m not in the business of telling people what to do, and this question is especially contextual: the right answer will always depend on the specific situation and person. Some people should probably wait it out, and others should probably quit waiting and start taking action—but here’s a general answer that may be helpful.

It seems that some people can indeed wait, saving and preparing for years, and then actually move forward with their goal. My favorite example in this regard is Jodi Ettenberg, who devoted years of her work as an attorney in New York to saving for a different life. Six years in, she left to travel… and hasn’t returned to the world of “real” work in the three years since.

Only you can answer the question of whether you could do the same. If you can, that’s great. I would suggest, however, that most of us are not like Jodi. Most of us find that life gets in the way. We find other reasons to delay or defer. This is why I tend to have an action bias. Whenever I have a choice, I want to choose forward motion.

When someone says “I have an idea to do something next year,” I think “Great! How about next month?

When someone says “I might do this one day,” I think “Great! Why not today?

This answer isn’t the same as just saying “Go for it!” Sometimes, “Go for it” is the wrong answer. I’ve just learned to choose action over inaction whenever possible.


Another way to think of it comes from something that Sir John Templeton said:

The most dangerous words in investing are ‘this time it’s different.’

What he meant was that investors tend to repeat common mistakes, failing to see that the results will be the same even if a few irrelevant circumstances have changed. This is why people continue to lose money and fail to learn from their mistakes.

These words—“this time it’s different”—are dangerous in more than just investing, because of our tendency to wrongly predict the future.

If you’re facing a dilemma of wait-it-out-or-do-it-now, ask yourself, “If I wait a year or two, what will really be different?” Only you can answer it, and the answer will determine your best plan of action.

You may be able to split the difference … but don’t count on it. Sooner or later, you’ll probably have to choose.

How about you—are you waiting it out or taking the leap?


Side note: I also hear a lot of questions from readers about traveling independently as a woman. Since I’m not a woman, I send them to Jodi—and also to JunoStephanieShannonJoumanaCrystalJaniceTraceyCailin, and Kelly.


Photo by Markus Spiske